Sunday, December 24, 2006

We lost Beleghata, so they dared Singur

Four years back, they beat us at Beeleghata. Five years back, they beat us at Tolly's Nullah. Few were there to fight. That is why this time they dared so much at Singur. I wrote this statement for ICS, of which I was then a member. We need to go back and look anew at the old battles.
Stalinists Observe Human Rights Day by Fighting for Neoliberal Policies

(Statement of the West Bengal Committee, Inquilabi Communist Sangathan, Indian Section of the Fourth International)

On 10th December, 2002, on the day observed annually as Human Rights Day, police in Calcutta unleashed brutality on shanty dwellers in the Beliaghata Canal area. A large number of people were evicted from the only homes they had ever known, for the crime of being “illegal squatters”, in a country where a huge number of people live below the poverty line and where the idea of a room of one’s own is a distant dream for most men and women. Protesters were beaten up, and over a hundred were arrested, including Sujato Bhadra, former General Secretary of the Association for the Protection of Democratic Rights, West Bengal, Shaktiman Ghosh of the Hawkers Sangram Committee, and Pranab Bandyopadhyay, veteran Gandhian and local community activist. Subsequently, the shanties were set on fire.

For the last half a decade, the neoliberal turn of the ruling combine in West Bengal, the Left Front, has been steadily deepening. They have not given up their authoritarian mould learnt from Stalin (the CPI( M), the major partner, remains one of the world’s most fervent admirers of Stalin, going to the extent of defending the mass murders of the 1930s), while adding to it a sustained commitment to neoliberalism. As, for them, a top-down bureaucratic control had been synonymous with socialism, the failure of that bureaucratic dictatorship compelled these rudderless leftists to an open accommodation with the most acute capitalist counter-offensive. West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee explained that his party was opposed to globalisation only insofar as a handful of countries benefited from it. So as long as the capitalists of India also make a killing, it is good.

However, the left front has a distinct vote bank, and therefore requires a different discourse. It has to proclaim that all its policies are for the majority. It boasts that it has a government of a different kind. It even claims that it is opposed to unwarranted evictions of toiling people, and asks people to remember how Sanjay Gandhi and Jagmohan had evicted people from the Turkoman Gate area during the Emergency of 1975-77. Since a series of its own measures nowadays are palpably anti-poor, anti-working class, it needs redefining what being for the people means. Development is the key word. In the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, development used to mean creation of new jobs, setting up new schools, public health care systems, and so on. Now, the word has been entirely emptied of the old meanings in even the most reformist and moderate forms. What does the improved Left Front mean by development? When pavement hawkers were removed, with payloaders smashing their stalls and the cops seizing their goods, a government utterly incapable of providing jobs to people, declared that urban development and beautification was the goal. The meaning became clear soon enough. In order to enable motor manufacturers to sell more cars, shiny new flyovers, built with money loaned by Japanese and other funding agencies, started coming up. At the same time, tram services were reduced, and kept in archaic forms of the pre-independence era rather than being modernised. This, despite the evidence that they provide a cheap and environmentally safe mass transport alternative, and that increasingly they have become important across Europe. In fact, it is part of the acceptance of the globalisation agenda, that instead of improving public transport systems, the government has gone in a big way for the development of conditions facilitating the sale of more and more cars.

The partially successful eviction of hawkers was followed by yet another development discourse – this time targeting shanty dwellers along some 11 canals in and around Calcutta. The first attack in 2001 threw out settlers along the Tolly Nullah. A year later, a People’s Commission On Eviction and Displacement, heard about the evictions and issued its Interim Report. The Commission consisted of Justice R. Sachar (retired) Chairman, Justice Moloy Sengupta (retired), Pijush Som, Dunu Roy, Maitreyi Chatterjee, Samar Bagchi, Sanjay Parikh, Colin Gonzalves and Monideep Chatterjee. The Commission report stated that : “In all the cases investigated, the commission found that it was the poorest of the poor who were the victims of demolition/displacement. The commission was shocked to find the residents of the rail bridge at Tollygunge living under railway platform, in extremely inhuman conditions like rats in their holes, with the fear of being crushed by a train at any time. They have been living animal-like existence for decades, it is extremely distressing that the government has not paid any attention to their pitiable condition. Similarly, those at Beliaghata (canal side) were living in an area completely unfit for human habitation. Most of the persons evicted were either rickshaw pullers, domestic workers, casual labourers, tribals, fishermen, and self employed persons. A large number were scheduled caste and scheduled tribe. We found their family income before demolition very low, and most often, below the minimum wage. After demolition their families shall become utterly destitute”.

Concerning the citizens’ right to information, the Commission noted: “Article 19(i)(a) of the constitution of India speaks of freedom of speech and expression. This has been interpreted to include the right to receive information – the right to know. And yet we have found not only in this case, but in all the cases of eviction and displacement, that as far as the government of West Bengal is concerned, they appear to have a right to hide the truth from the public. The West Bengal government officials appear to go out of their way not only to keep all information relating to their development plans top secret, but in fact, they do worse, and deliberately mislead the public as to their intent. This point was forcefully stressed by Mitul Dhar, one of the deponents before the commission.”

Concerning rehabilitation, the findings of the commission began with the damning indictment that: “The simple principle of rehabilitation which is required to be followed is: ensure requisite rehabilitation at the new place before displacing a person and uprooting him from his traditional roots. The people are questioning as to why the brunt of development is borne by the suffering displaced persons who are not benefited by such developmental activities. This commission therefore makes a strong appeal to the government to follow a policy on rehabilitation before displacing the poor”.

The Commission also found that the use of force had been massive: “In all cases we found extreme force being used against the civilian population. In this respect, a comparison with the British police may be in order. There is absolutely no attempt made to carry out the evictions with even a trace of humanity. It is obvious that in the contemplation of government, the poor figure lower in the ranking order than animals, and perhaps even lower than garbage. Bulldozers were invariably used, a large police force with lathis and guns were invariably on sight. The Rapid Action Force was used in the Tolly Nullah eviction. Lathi charges were common. The demolition of houses with people inside was reported. Eviction at gun point was reported.”

These were some of the interim recommendations of the Commission:
1. The persons proposed to be evicted should be given full information and consulted well in advance in respect of whether the eviction is necessary at all, and if necessary the framing of the rehabilitation scheme necessary and the manner and mode of shifting.
2. Resettlement is a result of development projects. These development projects, as well as the rehabilitation schemes, must flow from the right to life and livelihood.
3. In all cases, it should be the responsibility of the state not to shift people and, as far as possible, to integrate peoples' housing in the very place where they are staying according to a scheme.
4. In cases where it is unavoidable that people be shifted, the new site ought to be as close as possible to the original site. Adequate time should be given for a transition to the new site. The entire scheme should be planned in consultation with the people. Adequate finance should be made available including finances for shifting people and the cost of construction.
5. In no circumstances should the shifting be done in bad weather.
6. The state should avoid in all cases, the use of force. This is unacceptable in a democratic state.
7. Refugees living in the country for decades have to be treated like human beings and be rehabilitated in a humanitarian manner.
Quite clearly, Minister for Urban Development Ashok Bhattacharyya and his boss, the patron of arts, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, found this a joke. So flagrantly violating all norms of humane behaviour, ignoring the UN Commission on Human Rights, 54th Conference principles, as well as the “National Policy On Resettlement And Rehabilitation,” 1998, they have proceeded to evict people without any alternatives being provided. They have denied that the government has any duty whatsoever to provide for any living space for these people, since they are illegal occupants. Possibly, their first illegality was to be born at all, since they cannot afford to live in the Brave New World of privatization, increasingly expensive housing and transportation, to say nothing of food costs, being brokered by Bhattacharjee as the way to development.

It was symbolic, that the Left Front Government chose 10th December as the latest date. It sent out a message that the squatters and such other people do not merit human treatment. It is for the oppressed to draw the necessary conclusions. Once again, many had hoped that the government would relent and either provide alternative space, or stop the eviction. Others had placed their hopes on the Trinamool Congress of Ms. Mamata Bandyopadhyay, or on lesser Left Front parties like the Forward Bloc, CPI and the RSP. They must now recognize that in fact, none of these parties will really fight. In a political system where parties contest for votes, it is important for Ms. Banerjee to show an apparent pro-poor stance while she is out of power. But she will not fight. She was conveniently in a hospital, and the rest of her party was marked by its absence. Indeed, the Mayor of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation is a leader of her party and he has strongly supported the evictions. As for the FB, CPI and the RSP, while they were concerned with their local bases, they are even more concerned with their ministerial berths. They know quite well that none of their parties are going to wage a fight for a break with capitalism, so why risk cabinet berths for issues where the mind of capital is clearly made up? The only way ahead is to build organizations of the different oppressed groups, and to begin the process of linking these up, as well as to fight within the organized labour movement for a turn to active solidarity with all such marginalized groups of people.

· Stop all further evictions.
· Immediate rehabilitation as well as payment of compensation to all the evicted people without looking at issues of whether they were “legal” squatters.
· Resist neoliberal globalisation.
· Oppose capitalism and all parties serving the capitalist class.
· Build organizations of the oppressed.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Defending Human Rights the Buddha Way

10th December was observed as Human Rights Day all over the world, including in West Bengal. The interesting thing about West Bengal was the programme organized by the State Human Rights Commission. In the presence of Shyamal Kumar Sen, the Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission, West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadev Bhattacharjee explained that there is a difference between preserving human rights and hobbling the police. When it is a matter of fighting terrorists, police should not be demoralized by criticisms. Excesses against terrorists should not be viewed as human rights abuse.
This speech by Mr. Bhattacharjee came just five days after The Telegraph, English language paper claiming to be most widely circulated in West Bengal, wrote an editorial, where it advocated a very hard line against Maoists. It argued: “The menace of Maoist violence is not new to West Bengal. When it had first surfaced in the late Sixties and early Seventies, it was eradicated through counter-violence. Mr Bhattacharjee must learn from that experience and nip the present movement in the bud before Maoist weeds strangle the hundred flowers of West Bengal.”
There is a pattern in this approach. And that pattern is called drive to authoritarianism. It is possible to conduct seemingly democratic elections, when an organised cadre force, backed by the police at need, threatens and cows the whole of rural Bengal, as well as substantial parts of cities, before election time. At that stage, a few protests do emerge, and of necessity, some of them become violent. Every violent protest can then be labelled Maoist, or terrorist. If this sounds too outlandish, we should remember some news The Telegraph or Ganashakti never published. A few years back, there was a panic (and manic) arrest of people suspected to be Maoists. Now the CPI(Maoist) or its predecessors, the CPI(ML) PW and the MCC, were not banned organisations in West Bengal. But people were picked up on suspicion, tortured, harassed. One man named Abhijit Sinha was so shattered by his experiences that he committed suicide. An Association for the Protection of Democratic Rights activist was arrested for possessing, among other things, a copy of From Marx to Mao Tse-tung, written by George Thomson. This is a book any political science M.A. student might consult. In May 2002, Sheila Roy and Mamata Ray in North Bengal were suspected of being close to the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation, and were made to stand in the courtyard of their own house and brutally beaten up. Mithu Roy and Shampa were two of the urban women arrested in this phase. Shampa, a first year student of Gurudas College, was arrested for being a member of the Peoples’ War Group.On 16th August 2002, she was presented before the Baharampur Court, and told the judge that for the past four days she had been kept in the police lock up without any food.
Coming to recent events, like the peasant protest at Singur, we have had a very interesting development. First, a sizeable part of the mass media (not including The Statesman and the Bengali Dainik Statesman) has been supporting the ruling party and the government to such an extent that even honest reporting of news has been given a go by. Just like the CPI(M), these papers went on repeating that only outsiders were fomenting trouble. An English daily even sought to link up every issue in West Bengal with Singur. A train hijack was associated with Singur. And the responsibility for the violence in Singur was laid on the doors of Maoists coming from outside. As a matter of fact, the Chief Minister was even more explicit. According to him, these were Maoists from Jadavpur University. Yet, eyewitness accounts, police arrest lists, all show that in fact, most of the people were locals, and it was a massive police force that committed violence, entering peoples’ houses, often helped by local members or supporters of a particular party, and dragging out and beating up people. One woman, Swapna Banerjee of Nari Nirjatan Pratirodh Mancha, was arrested, and a widely circulated English daily promptly turned her into the key Maoist organiser. The police also treated her in the same way. So she was taken to the police lock up, and according to her own testimony, she was locked up inside the toilet. Even after the bail petition was granted by the Calcutta High Court, it took nearly 48 hours before she was released.
In another case, Abhishek Mukherjee, a young man who had suposedly attacked a Tata showroom, was charged with ‘Conspiracy Against the State’.
Just these few cases give an indication of the utter lawlessness of the police in West Bengal. If some minister or CPI(M) functionary turns up to say, as they are doing these days, that the police always behaves like this, we need to turn to the Chief Minister’s comments. We do not, at least according to the Constitution of India, live in a police state. We live in a democratic state, says the constitution. There is a rule of law, not a rule by the police, says the constitution. Every person is presumed innocent, till found guilty by a court of law, in a trial where proper procedures are followed and the accused have full rights to defend themselves. The elected government is supposed to represent the people, not rule it like a medieval ruler with his soldiers.
If our “Marxists” wish to show contempt for the constitution, we should pay heed to the attitude of Marx and Engels. Writing to August Bebel in 1874, Engels commented: a free state is one in which the state is free vis-a-vis its citizens, a state, that is, with a despotic government. So for Marx and Engels, the aim was to maximize democratic popular control over the state. As Marx put it about the same time: Freedom consists in converting the state from an organ superimposed upon society into one completely subordinate to it. And near the end of his life, Engels dotted the ‘i’s and crossed the ‘t’s when he explained that the dictatorship of the proletariat he and Marx had talked about was realised by the Paris Commune, which had an absolutely democratic, pluralistic, multi-party government, accountable to the people.
So what is Mr. Bhattacharjee arguing for? What are certain newspapers urging him to do? We can now put it down in simple terms. Mr. Bhattacharjee believes that if he wins elections, this gives him a mandate for riding roughshod over every oppositional viewpoint, emerging from all layers of society. He and his government are willing to allow people the right to protest if police have actually beaten a suspected thief to death. But for any matter relating to government policy, civil society protest will not be tolerated. First, it will be branded anti-development. Then there will be the charge of being ‘outsiders’. And finally terrorism related accusations would be brought forth. Once that is done, the police would have the right to apply any manner of brutality, without being challenged. For after all, the Chief Minster says criticising them when they are fighting terrorists will break their morale. And then they will shoot people in the back, claiming these were encounter deaths. This was how the Naxalite movement was broken in the early 1970s.
What the turncoats from Marxism and the liberal ex-professors of History do not seem to realise is the simple lesson of history, that once we create a police state, it does not stop with the “right” victims. When the Weimar Constitution, hailed as the most democratic of constitutions, was created, it left one loophole for emergency rule. This loophole would be used for years to rule without a parliamentary majority, further whittle down democratic rights, till that in turn paved the way for Hitler’s rise to power. The Maintenance of internal Security Act was originally brought forward by Mrs. Indira Gandhi ostensibly to fight Naxalites. In 1975, leaders and cadres of every opposition party realised that by not fighting tooth and nail against the MISA, they had created the situation where they too could be arrested and put under bars.
We can of course understand the motivations. Hailing from a Stalinist tradition, Mr. Bhattacharjee and his party are people who never recognised real right to dissent. They remain one of the few big political parties in the world that even today believes that the genocide (of communists, of peasants not willing to hand over land for collectivisation, of national minorities) carried out by Josef Stalin was really good, and it “built socialism”. So even when they give up socialism and opt for globalised capitalism, they have not changed their methodology.
As for that section of the media yelling for blood, we can understand their motives too. Liberalism comes in two basic forms, within which there has always been a contradiction. Political liberalism stresses civil liberties. Economic liberalism stresses the right of capital above all. If, to uphold that, political rights like civil liberties have to be jettisoned, so be it. Behind the seemingly proper words “counter-violence” lies the reality that the state is being asked to ignore all constitutional guarantees. We have, under the tender ministrations of Mr. Bhattacharjee, already slipped a long way down that road. Unless we act at once, the result will be terrible, not just for Maoists, but for all of us who value our democratic rights.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Violence in Singur: Hardselling Capitalist Globalization in the name of Left Alternative

Kunal Chattopadhyay

Several thousand police and paramilitary forces are now roaming Singur and adjoining areas in Hooghly district, West Bengal. On 2nd December, they fired tear gas and rubber bullets at villagers and a few outside supporters who had gone to the area. Television channels, so far strongly supportive of the moves of the Buddhadev Bhattacharjee government, now found themselves projecting a story totally at variance with the words their newscasters were being made to utter. Even as the bourgeois media went on mouthing claims that locals (later changed to Outsiders) were attacking the police, what could be seen , for example on the Kolkata or the Tara News channels, or even in Star-Ananda, was the picture of half a dozen hulking cops converging on individual hapless villagers, and brutally beating them up with truncheons. One could also see the tear gas shells being lobbed and the rubber bullets being fired, and huge paddy dumps being set on fire. All the while, the Channels were seeking to divert attention by asking viewers to send sms on whether they condemned the behaviour of the (right-wing opposition) Trinamool Congress members’ action in smashing up property in the Vidhan Sabha (the State legislature, where TMC MLAs had gone berserk on 1st December).

Left wing Model of Development?
To understand what was happening we need to go back and look at the model of development being pushed by the Buddhadev Bhattacharjee government. When Bhattacharjee replaced Jyoti Basu as Chief Minister, it was a signal to the Indian capitalist class as well as capitalists from everywhere else, that a new attitude was being developed by the CPI(M). Singur is not an isolated case. All over India, the process of taking over peasants’ land is going on. The Special Economic Zone Bill says that the SEZs created by taking over land will be like a foreign country. Those who invest capital in those areas will function under laws different from the laws for the people throughout the country. In Kharagpur, West Bengal, the Tatas want another 1240 acre land. Total targeted land in West Bengal is nearly 1,00,000 acres. In Gujarat, it is the Reliance group that is staking major claims. Farmers in Gujarat are fighting the Reliance group just as farmers in West Bengal are fighting the Tatas. In addition there are transnational companies. The Salim group of Indonesia were feted a short while back by the Left Front ministers. The group had a strong role during the coup in Indonesia that led to the murder of some half a million communists. But that is all old hat, and seemingly the left ministers cannot be bothered by such sentimental issues when behaving like hardheaded businesspersons.
It is in this context that the government’s plan for Singur must be seen. The story of the “industrial turn-around” of West Bengal begins with the election results earlier in 2006. The CPI(M) led Front had won a thumping victory, thanks to the first past the post system. With just over 50% votes, it had obtained 235 seats, reducing all oppositions to such a minor proportion that as per legislative assembly rules there could not even be a formal leader of the opposition. As the CM was addressing a press conference at the CPI(M) office, an aide brought in a message, and the elated CM informed the press that the Tatas wanted to build a car factory in West Bengal. Within a few days, a hush hush deal was struck. The Tatas asked for close to 1000 acres of prime agricultural land – nothing else would do for them. The government complied with such alacrity that one might be pardoned for thinking that they were bound serfs of the Tatas. They did not consult the Gram Sabha or any other elected local bodies, though even their gurus at the World Bank go through the motions of suggesting the need to consult with local bodies. Tata Motors want to launch a new car model by 2008, the one-lakh-rupee car. According to the Left Front, this is development, and cannot be opposed. It will put West Bengal in the industrial map of India. According to CPI(M) Politbureau member and West Bengal State Party Secretary Biman Bose, those who are opposing the move are fronting for other big companies who sell overpriced cars!
We need to look a little more closely at the entire process. The land that Tata wants is prime agricultural land. There is plenty of poor quality land in West Bengal, for example in Purulia district, or elsewhere. Plenty of old industries are in crisis and their land could also have been converted. But this particular area has a good road connection, as it links up with the Delhi Road. That is the first real reason why Tata is pushing for this, and only this area. A second reason, likely to come up after a decade, will be argued below.
So how did the state government act? Did it, in its new found faith in market economics, tell Ratan Tata and his minions to go and negotiate land price with the peasants? Even that would have been detrimental to the sharecroppers and agricultural labourers, if direct sale of land had simply ousted them. But keeping to the spurious logic of the free market, at least this should have been done. Instead, the state government used an act, the Land Acquisitions Act, which was originally devised in the colonial period, to take over the peasants’ land. They were offered a price worked out as the average of the previous three years’ price, plus a 30% hike known as the solacium. The full details of the deal with Tata are not known, but from the little information that came out, it seems Tata will not even pay this much to the government. According to Debabrata Bandyopadhyay, former Commissioner, Land Reforms, West Bengal, (and who is, according to many people, the main burueacratic impulse behind Operation Barga, the registration of sharecroppers, the reform measure that a generation back had enabled the Left Front to gain solid and unwavering rural support), the government has in fact saddled the people of West Bengal with a huge burden in order to bring in Tata Motors.
The West Bengal government claims this investment will create many new jobs and be a major developmental project. What is the truth? Between 1980 and 1994, General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, the three top US car manufacturers, cut down the total number of their global employees from 7,50,000 to 3,75,000. Why should the Tatas behave any differently? If they are really going to sell cars at the rate of Rs. 1 lakh (US $ 2246), they will be cutting costs. They have no intention of running a loss making factory.
Another question is, why do they want nearly 1000 acres of land? Maruti-Suzuki, a major car manufacturer in India, need 296 acres of land on which they produce over 600,000 cars per year. Moreover, we should remember that while Maruti builds the entire car in its factory, Tata will only assemble the car there. So what is all this land needed for? It is likely, that after the hue and cry has died out, much of this land would be reconverted to agricultural land, but run by the Tatas as an agribusiness. Reliance in Gujarat is going in for marketing organic food. The Hindustan Motors of the Birla Group, which had been given about 750 acres of land in Konnagar half a century back, could use only 350 acres and has now sought permission to reconvert the rest of the land. Moreover, plenty of industrial land was left, for example in the Durgapur industrial area. So targeting high quality agricultural land and insisting that nothing else will do is bound to create this kind of doubt. Clearly, the tale of alternative, left wing model of development peddled by Battacharjee, his industries minister Nirupom Sen, and his finance minister Ashim Dasgupta, is a murky tale indeed.
Media reports indicate that the land is being taken over by the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation at a cost of Rs. 140 crores. The Tatas have informed the West Bengal Government that they will compensate the government to the tune of 20 crore rupees after five years with a 0.01 per cent interest. The discounted value of the money in today’s terms will be about 12 crore rupees. So the West Bengal government is giving to the Tatas the sum of Rs. 128 crore rupees (28749185 US dollars). This money will come either from taxes, or from loans contracted by the WBIDC, which again must be repaid through taxes or through cutting costs in social sectors like health and education.
The most important issue of course is the story of sacrifices. Ever since independence, when foreign colonialism could no longer be blamed directly, people have been asked to make sacrifices for the nation. Not very surprising, though, that it is workers and poor peasants, tribals and low caste people, who end up making the sacrifices, while the wealthy, the bourgeoisie, the urban middle and upper middle class, the upper castes, all end up with profits. For whom is Bhattacharjee proposing this development? For Tata? For the shareholders of Tata’s companies? What about the ordinary people? The peasants are being given a paltry compensation. Even that is murky. In many cases, the land was sold to other people, by a small number of landed elements who knew about the deal in advance. But they still had the papers, so they were identified as owners deserving compensation. In many, even most cases, owners did not want to sell the land. They are aware that what skills they have are as peasants. Cash compensation is no good to them for they will not be able to use the cash in an effective way. Urbanisation of the area, inevitable if a factory comes up, will raise the cost of living. The landowners are not going to become traders all at once. As one of them quipped, if we all set up shops, in any case, who will buy?
Five villages of Singur, namely Gopalnagar, Beraberi, Bajemelia, Khaser Bheri and Singher Bheri, are affected. While peasants here are not rich farmers, nor are they absolutely poor. Net income of the owner of 1 acre of land is about Rs. 1,00,000. So for 1000 acres the net income is around Rs. 100 million (US $2246030). The gross income is even more, about Rs. 250 million (US$ 5615075). Apart from the peasants or landowners (in some cases the owners are absentee), there are the share-croppers and agricultural labourers. All told, some 7/8 thousand people are employed, and their total income, Rs 250 million, was being added to the GDP of West Bengal. This seven to eight thousand is based on economic calculations suggesting that for around 5000/6000 peasants there will be an added 1200 or so share-croppers and about 1000 agricultural labourers. And how many workers will the Tatas employ? Despite the Right to Information Act, in West Bengal all real information is firmly hidden. The West Bengal Government has refused to divulge these figures to organisations who have sought them. But one such organisation estimates it will be around 250 employees. If their average monthly income is pegged at Rs. 50,000 the total wage bill will be 150 million rupees (This average takes in the high salaries of the managerial cadre). Then there will be the profits of the shareholders and the concern, which after all is the main reason for this investment. Clearly, this is a model of development that will intensify disparities.

If Fraud does not Work, Use Force:
Initially, the government went into raptures about the benefits to the province. Somehow, though, the peasants did not respond. And so, pressure on them began to mount. Apprehensive of losing their sole safeguard to life, the farmers got together to launch a resistance movement under the banner of ‘Krishijami Raksha Samiti’ (Association for the Protection of Agricultural Land). From the very beginning, women have been in the forefront of the movement. In recollection of a famous song of the tebhaga movement, the greatest peasants’ movement in Bengal in the twentieth century, with ‘life and honour as stakes,’ they began to ‘hone the scythe.’[1] The state government, hardly bothered about the plight of the farmers, remained stubborn, repeatedly reiterating that the Tata factory would come up on that piece of land. If the slogan of the alleged Rambhaktas (the RSS and its allied outfits) was ‘Mandir wahin banayenge” (the temple will be built just at that spot), the slogan of West Bengal’s alleged bam (left) CM was “factory wahin banayenge”. On 25 September, there was a massive attack. In a pre-planned move, a reign of terror was unleashed on thousands of peaceful protesters at the Block Development Officer’s office in Singur. It was the first day cheques were being handed over to those who had agreed to hand over the land for compensation, and the demonstration was a form of pressure on them as well. By the afternoon, several cases were detected in which those who had already sold off their land to others, but the mutation process was not complete, were being given cheques, denying the present legal owner. Protesting such illegal deeds by government officials, the demonstrators sat on a dharna at the BDO office, even gheraoing the District Magistrate for a brief period. At this point, Mamata Banerjee, leader and Supremo of the Trinamool congress, arrived and joined the dharna. A little after midnight, a black-out was created, and under the cover of darkness, a huge police force, according to the victims well lubricated with alcohol, attacked and brutally beat up the protestors, men, women and children. Ms. Banerjee was also manhandled, and her sari torn. She was then bundled off to Calcutta by force, and had to be admitted to a hospital.
Hundreds were severely injured in the police assault and 72 put behind bars. Women with small children were arrested under the Arms Act and/or charged with attempt to murder. Payel Bag, a two-and-a-half-year-old, spent four days in prison, along with two pre-teen boys. 26-year-old Rajkumar Bhul became the first martyr of the Singur struggle after he collapsed with severe internal haemorrhage from police beating. Bhul’s mother, in an open letter to the Chief Minister, squarely blamed him for her son’s death. According to Sumit Chowdhury, one of the most commited “outsider” activists, who has been writing and organising solidarity, when he went to Singur two days later as part of a fact finding team, and also during subsequent trips, “the hapless and angry women in the villages – some with broken arms, bandaged eyes and scars here and there – said that the policemen were drunk, cursed in the filthiest language, kicked and molested them”.
The subsequent responses not only of the government, not only of one or two individuals, but of the entire CPI(M) was damning. Prakash Karat, the General Secretary of the CPI(M), who has never set foot in Singur, announced from the CPI(M) headquarters in Delhi that Singur has one-crop land, that the farmers are queuing up for cash, and that the demonstrators were anti-development hoodlums. Evidently, the protests against land takeover for SEZs and similar issues are reserved for provinces where the CPI(M) is not a major partner in the government. Equally evidently, when Prakash Karat wrote his introduction to a recent publication entitled The Left and Environmentalism, he should have entered a caveat that all his pious utterances do not apply to West Bengal and his comrade Buddhadev Bhattacharjee.
On the night of the violence, Buddhadev Bhattacharjee had his alibi. He and other party top brass were in Delhi. But the alibi is thin. The same day, he also met the Tata top management. The next day, there was a report about a community package promised by the Tatas for Singur. But examined carefully, it was mostly verbiage. One needs to remember that the massive investment of the in Orissa and Jharkhand, two of Eastern India’s poorest provinces (though very rich in minerals and forest resources), has not led to any positive development in the conditions of poor peasants, tribals, and others. On returning to Calcutta, the CM posed as injured Christ, stating, “forgive them for they know not what they do”. After a huge outcry, two days later he was forced to say that police action had been “unwarranted”. But no single policeman is known to have been punished.
At a meeting called by the Chief Minister, even a number of Left Front partners criticised the way the factory was coming up, but at the end of the meeting the government announced that the Tata Motors factory would come up on Singur at any cost. On 9th October, the opposition parties, both right and left, called a twelve hour bandh (general strike including total stoppage of public activities). The CPI(M) threatened to unleash its cadres.[2] But if anything, this threat made people fearful and stay indoors.
From this point, terror became the order of the day. Any ‘outsider’, unless a staunch supporter of the CPI (M) come to campaign for handing over the land to the government, was treated as a member of one of the Maoist groups.[3]
Terror was of different kinds. Nirupom Sen, the industries minister, warned the locals that all developmental work in Singur would be halted if land was not handed over. One minister even termed opposition to the project as ‘anti-national’. As a result of this unrelenting government pressure, some land transfer began. There was an added dimension to the handing over. As we noted earlier, some people had actually sold the land to others, but the mutation had not been done. So they took advantage of this to claim compensation.
The struggle continued nonetheless, and therefore terror took on more concrete shapes. Several of the deep tube-wells of the area, essential for regular irrigation of the fields, were vandalised at night. And this happened despite the massive (already, at that point, several hundred) policemen and women posted in the region. From early November, agitation and terror both stepped up, with the government threatening to take over the land and hand it over to the Tatas at any cost by December. Women played a militant role, resisting all threats and blandishments.

One of the regular refrains of the government and the CPI(M) was that the real owner have accepted compensation, it is outsiders who are causing trouble. We will discuss the issue of “outsiders” later. Here we should note that indeed, the lead in the struggle was taken, not by well to do peasants, but by share croppers, agricultural labourers, and the smaller owners. This is the rural mix which fought six decades back, in the tebhaga uprising.[4] This was the base which gave the left its decisive majority even in the occasional periods in the last three decades when in the cities the Left was on the defensive. So it was inevitable that the Left Front, notably the CPI(M), would not be willing to accept that this base will now speak in its own voice. Yet that was inevitable. The tebhaga movement had been so massively successful because the authentic voice of the rural poor had been well represented by the undivided CPI and the All India Kisan Sabha. By the present decade, the AIKS was a bureaucratised carcass living on the memory of past glories. Present day leaders of the AIKS have not even seen the tebhaga. The younger among them became leaders after the Left Front was already in power. So for them the role of the peasant organisation is to collect money, collect votes, and on occasion collect lots of people in trucks and take them to Calcutta for central rallies. The apparently impressive anti-imperialist demonstrations, and so on, organised by the CPI(M) conceal a reality where mass organisations act as transmission belts of a high command, herding people in different ways. And so resentment and opposition grows. In Singur, the direct attack on livelihood turned the sullen resentment into organised politics, as the Krishijami Raksha Samiti brought together most of this rural poor, albeit in a small area. This challenge could never be allowed to grow. The Left Front has always been sensitive to the emergence of left wing oppositions and alternatives from within the working class and poor peasantry. It is aware that it has little to fear if the right wing is even fully mobilised. As long as there is no serious left wing alternative, it can expect to get fairly close to half the votes every time, and therefore get a majority in the first-past-the post system. Mamata Banerjee was the only right-wing leader to recognise this, and therefore to develop a populist political style. But lacking a solid trade union and rural poor implantation, she has never, even at her most creditworthy performance proved to be a match for the CPI(M).
Every time a single trade union, or a single rural area, has shown autonomy, the CPI(M) has thrown more forces in the field to smash it, than it has for defeating its right wing opponents. Early in the Left Front period, electricity workers had a couple of left wing, but non-Left Front Unions – the Workers’ Union and the Technical Workers Union, in a number of plants. Repeated violence, repeated attacks on the workers, arrests, were used indiscriminately to smash the unions. In the 1990s, the struggle of the Kanoria Jute Mills took on epic proportions, as did the regime’s attempts to malign the struggle. So in retrospect, it was not, or should not have been surprising, that despite (or because of) its Left credential, this regime was more aggressive to the peasant struggle than almost any other regime in India.
Since this may sound a bit of a hyperbole, let us take a concrete, very right wing example, to make our point. Medha Patkar has already made the point. A lot of people thought Medha was indulging in shock tactics when she said the Left Front is worse than the Gujarat government.[5] But this is the picture if we restrict ourselves to the attitude to peasants and industrialisation, and the violence on them. Patkar argued that even in Gujarat, she had not been restricted in her movements as much as in West Bengal. We should add, that by now the virus is spreading. First, she was debarred from Singur as an “outsider” fomenting trouble. Now, when she went to Presidency College, Calcutta, to speak at the invitation of students there, SFI thugs beat up students of the Independent consolidation, and the college authorities shut the gates on her face. She then climbed on top of the gates and spoke. But we can also go beyond what she said to add another point. In Gujarat, the government made a commitment that it would provide land for land to all the people ousted due to the Sardar Sarovar Dam. The Narmada Bachao Andolan argued that it cannot be done. Indeed, proper land-for-land rehabilitation has not proved possible even for those who have been properly identified. As I saw in two trips earlier this year, village communities have been split up, with one village resettled in 8-10 new sites. People have been given plots for cultivation, but not enough grazing land and open fields necessary for their survival. Often there are conflicts with the original inhabitants. Sometimes, after people were settled, this new land was partially taken away in order to build the canal network that would carry the waters from the dam to the target areas. So rehabilitation has received much flak. But if we look at the entire process, we find two waves of campaigns. We find a fairly long period, so that people could get some information and try and seek redress. Pro-dam but pro-rehabilitation NGOs, such as Arch-Vahini and its activists like Anil Patel, waged one type of campaign. They sought a compromise, and the whole concept of land-for-land rehabilitation came because of such interventions. When the NBA, led by Patkar and others, criticises the rehabilitation and resettlement schemes, it is because they see the land-for-land proposal as inadequate in theory and fraudulent in practice. They see it breaking up the community, creating much social disorder, and all for the benefit of small elite groups. Whether they are right about the dam benefiting only small groups is of course much debated. But we have sought to show that the picture is much more open and shut in the case of West Bengal. The peasants, share-croppers and agricultural labourers are being pushed out of land. They are not getting any alternative land. Many are not getting any rehabilitation at all. It is our experience, from Madhya Pradesh, were the government has used cash compensation rather than land-for-land rehabilitation whenever possible, that peasants, unaccustomed to large sums of money, sent it on consumer goods, on building big houses, and so on. At the end of a relatively short period, many of them had neither land nor money. Of course, if we extrapolate from this and argue that in all respects the West Bengal government is worse, we would be in error. But Patkar has not made such a sweeping generalisation, nor are we.
Perhaps confirmation of a different kind came in the newspapers recently. On 5th December, Ananda Bazar Patrika reported that there were differences within the BJP. Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi had told his party that it is opportunistic of them to try to exploit Buddhadev Bhattacharjee’s recent difficulties, and they should support him over the issue of land acquisition.

November 30 – December 2 and the aftermath:
On 30th December, Mamata Banerjee and her supporters were prevented from going to Singur, because Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, disallowing any congregation of five or more persons, had been clamped in that entire area. Angry, and losing her head as she is often accustomed to doing, Ms. Banerjee told her supporters to turn their motor cavalcade back and drive straight to the West Bengal Legislative Assembly. From late afternoon, TV channels had a field day. No sports, no cartoon channel could compete with the live show, and then the re-runs, of MLAs smashing furniture, and generally wrecking havoc. Then she called for a Bengal bandh on 1st December. In view of the massive publicity given to the antics of her party, the bandh was a partial failure, even in areas thought to be her stronghold. South Calcutta, her personal fief, alone saw a near complete shut down. An emboldened Bhattacharyya moved in for the kill. On 2nd December, several thousand police started storming Singur. According to Samir Saha, reporting in the Bengali Dainik Statesman, ordinary police, Rapid Action Force and State Armed Police all together numbered 20,000. Even the pro-CPI(M) Kolkata TV channel reported at least 6000 police. From the first, they seemed to have been instructed to go on the offensive. A wide area was surrounded, and then tear gas firing began at random. The next task was to find out the aggrieved peasants. For the police, it was of course difficult to know who was an aggrieved peasant and who a party loyalist. So this task had been given to party cadres. As Ganashakti, the CPI(M) daily, admitted on 4th December, in many cases locals themselves were identifying and fighting the opposition. Only, they were not fighting alone. They were moving as agents of the police, identifying specific houses.
There was of course some resistance. And the resistance acted as proof that the police attack was right and proper. But if paddy stacks are set on fire, if even tomorrow’s food, let alone next year’s, is snatched away thereby, who would not resist? So peasants, already pledged to resist till the end, did strike back. The fight was utterly uneven. Stones, knives, perhaps a few crude home-made bombs (if at all we are to give credence to this part of the police story) were hurled. According to the Chief Minister, the violence was entirely the work of outsiders, anti-socials, SUCI and Naxalites.[6] CPI(M) State Secretaiat member and long time trade union leader Shyamal Chakraborty asserted, “The police were attacked first. The police showed great restraint. If they had not tackled in this manner they themselves would have been beaten up.”[7]
From the paddy fields, reporter Ashish Ghosh could see the ‘anti-socials’ being dragged into police camps. They included lungi-clad aged peasants, as well as young rural women. Near the highway, Ghosh could see a different scene. The Superintendent of Police smilingly reporting to the Inspector General, “Sir, we have already arrested fifty. By tonight we will set up camp at Beraberi.”, and the IG responding, “in three more days we will complete the operation”. Sitting next to the police was the CPI(M) Panchayat Pradhan Dibakar Das. Food packets were being brought from a car for the high officers and their cadre friends. Meanwhile ripe paddy was being trampled underfoot or set on fire, one scene even the most pro-government channel could not avoid shoeing, since in one case that was also a major battle field which the channels were keen to sow, since it “proved’ their claim that it was all the work of outsiders.

The Outsider:
For the last two months, the ‘outsider’ has been a major target of CPI(M) propaganda, especially outside Singur. On 4th December, Ganashakti wrote, only outsiders are resisting the government at Singur. Ephemera are always bolder. So a poster put up by the Students’ Federation of India, the student wing of the CPI(M), asserted that urban people dressed as peasants had done all the mischief. In other words, even if you see peasants being beaten up on TV, don’t worry, they were all urban Naxalites playing at revolution in Singur. Ganashakti of course charged Medha Patkar too, with being an outsider. A CPI(M) leader, evidently more illiterate than the average, asked why she did not agitate in Gujarat against land take over, and why she came to West Bengal. Medha, typical of her track record, managed to get to Singur despite the thousands of cops and plenty of party cadres keeping a watch on outsiders. This of course suggested she had a lot of local sympathisers and insider help. But of course, we rule out such a possibility a priori. And so, Ganashakti also had a big story about how many routes there are to Singur, and why the police failed to stop Naxalites and Medha Patkar from entering the village. Medha confronted the police, and for her pains she, Association for the Protection of Democratic Rights activist Amitadyuti Kumar, and Sumit Chowdhury were arrested, dragged to a car and thrown out. She was then taken to a State Government Guest House in Calcutta, seemingly because someone higher up had realised that a faux pas had been committed. But she refused to be a guest of the State Government. After spending the entire night in the police van, from which she refused to budge, she gave the police aslip and went off to Chandernagore, where the seventy arrested people had been kept.
If Medha Patkar was one outsider, the “Naxalites” were another category. As the CM told the media on the 3rd, there had been students of Jadavpur Univeristy. This was a coded signal. Jadavpur University, rated in recent times by the UGC as one of India’s top five, has an ill-reputation because all its teachers are not housebroken partisans of the CPI(M), and even more, because the Faculty of Engineering and Technology Students’ Union has been under the uninterrupted control, since 1977, of the Democratic Students Front, a non-party far left association which has allowed in every shade of radical left, Maoist, Trotskyist, and other. As late as 2005, JU engineering students had been beaten up by the police in order to break a peaceful hunger strike. So when Bhattacharjee said JU students, he implied radical left, militant, and “mal-adjusted”. Yet how many JU students did they find? Out of the around seventy arrested, there is one student of JU, currently in a hospital, with a broken hand.
Another arrested “outsider” is Swapna Banerjee. A fifty year old school teacher, Banerjee is a member of the Nari Nirjatan Pratirodh Mancha. Women’s involvement in the struggles led to her being closely involved in the area for several months. Immediately, The Telegraph, on 3rd December, invented a story that she was the main ultra-left figure in organising and fomenting trouble.[8] Between the police, the Chief Minister, and the inventive staff of The Telegraph, local resistance was wiped off the map. Becharam Manna became a non-person, as did 81 year old Saraswati, who gave an interview to Soma Marik a few days earlier and promised to continue fighting till the end.[9]
But there is another, even more crucial aspect of the invention of the outsider. On one hand, we are told that even the nation is too small a unit. We are asked to accept globalisation as the inevitable goal. On the other hand, in every battle where we try to organise resistance, we are told we are outsiders, or that we have outsiders amongst us. Medha Patkar is of course the great outsider in India. She has been branded an outsider in Gujarat, in Madhya Pradesh, and now in West Bengal. In Gujarat, the regional language papers are always attacking her, arguing that as an outsider she has no business talking about the Sardar Sarovar Dam on the Narmada, which is supposedly the sole hope for Saurashtra and Kutch. In Madhya Pradesh, I was asked why Medha Patkar is sniping at the MP government, and not at others. And for the last few days, the CPI(M) and the media that has, in the interests of big capital, placed itself entirely at the disposal of the CPI(M) for the moment, argued that as an outsider, Patkar has no business in West Bengal. In flagrant violation of law, she was stopped repeatedly from going to Singur, even when she was not violating Section 144 of the CrPC. She was kept locked up, along with Anuradha Talwar of the Sramajeebi Mahila Samity, at Dankuni on the night of 4th December, and told on the 5th that she could go anywhere else but Singur. Yet, she had not been formally arrested, so she could not be served an externment order. In other words, what was being done to her was sheer hooliganism, even if done by men in uniforms, backed by a Chief Minister.
What was unique was not the charge, “outsiders”. This is a necessary salami tactics applied by rulers. They would like each fight to be an isolated one. They can bring 20,000 police from all over West Bengal, but the peasants of Singur have to be alone. For they know, at the present level of class struggle probably better than the toiling people, that in solidarity and unity alone lie chances of victory.
What was unique was something else. This was the fact that a so-called Communist Party is doing the propaganda. After all, exactly who built this party? What was its founding ideology? Were Muzaffar Ahmed, S.A. Dange, themselves factory workers? How many acres of land did Muhammad Abdullah Rasul or Bankim Mukherjee cultivate? Did not Somnath Lahiri say, that they were often called the “strike-babus”, because they would rush to any mill where a strike had broken out, in the hope of making contact with militant workers. And even if we forget those heroic pioneers of the early twentieth century, and concentrate on the prosaic present day leaders, Shyamal Chakraborty is still hailed as a Centre of Indian Trades Union leader. When did he last, if ever, work in a factory? Is it not a fact that Brinda Karat and Sitaram Yechury represent West Bengal in the Upper House of Parliament? If the CPI(M) is going to turn regional chauvinist at this date, should it not start by inquiring about how that could happen? We for our part believe that the Leninist party building concept clearly rejects this particular notion of “insider” and “outsider”. We are even prepared to concede that within the parliamentary framework, even a CPI(M), which is certainly not a Leninist party, can send Karat to parliament from wherever they are sure of a safe seat. The question is, why then the chauvinistic witch-hunt unleashed on Medha Patkar? What this shows is, behind the mask of regionalism and localism is the class position. And it forces everyone to start rethinking the nature of the CPI(M). How many miles must a party walk right, till it ceases to be a part of the left?
After 2nd December:
The struggle is difficult after 2nd December. The organisation of resistance has been crushed for the moment by stationing 20,000 police. Arrests have meant that energies have gone into court cases; money has to go for putting up bail bonds. But the struggle is not over. On 5th December, a few small parties, the SUCI, and two of the CPI(ML) groups called a bandh. Despite all bluster, TV channels could only prove that roads were empty, buses plied empty, and the Chamber of Commerce expressed unhappiness at the losses incurred (surely the losses were due to the success, not the failure of the bandh). On 8th December, a march to Singur, called by two CPI(ML) groups, was brutally beaten up by the police. Hundreds were injured. True to form, Ananda Bazar Patrika reported only the violence unleashed also on a few journalists.
Some other developments are worth noting. For decades, the Left Front has had the pretence of being a “cultured” political force, as opposed to the “uncouth”, “uncivilised” politics of the Congress and the Trinamool Congress (these choice epithets are often used by CPI(M) leaders). Long years in power has enabled the CPI(M) to use a patronage network and get plenty of intellectuals, not the most straight-backed of all beings, to line up with it and paint it in glowing terms. But the violence resulted in condemnations pouring in from many intellectuals and artistes of Bengal. Mahasweta Devi, internationally reputed author, issued a short, blunt statement: “This is a war. Ask yourself, on which side are you? Let war meet war.” Well known leftist poet Sankho Ghosh, a Tagore scholar of great repute, condemned the attacks on the peasants and committed himself to organised protest mvements. Artist Ramananda Bandyopadhyay condemned the arrest of Medha Patkar and questioned why, if India is a democracy, she did not have the right to go to Singur. Statements came from singers Pratul Mukhopadhyay and Srikanata Acharya, poets like Nirendranath Chakraborty and Mallika Sengupta, authors like Sanjib Chattopadhyay, film director Haranath Chakraborty, academics like Esha De of Calcutta University, Avee Dutta-Majumdar of Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics, around thirty teachers of Jadavpur university who took part in a silent demonstration in the University campus, and others. The students of Engineering Faculty in Jadavpur University boycotted the first day of their end-of-semester examination as a mark of protest. On 8th December, Medha Patkar spoke at both Presidency College, Calcutta, and Jadavpur University, at the invitation of students. A number of online petitions have also been launched, while two protest letters have been sent to the Governor of West Bengal, the Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission and the National Commission for Women, signed by human rights and womens’ organisation, NGOs, and networks as well as by leftwing groups. Well known academics who are also activists, like Achin Vanaik and Professor Vibhuti Patel, also signed them. Arundhati Roy, Mainstream Editor Sumit Chakravarty, were among those who protested in Delhi, in front of the CPI(M) office.
Yet an organised force like the CPI(M), backed by the bulk of the media, which is not even reporting protests in any even handed manner, will certainly try to turn all these into a three-day wonder, urging people to move on to other things. The leading newspaper in West Bengal, Ananda Bazar Patrika, and its English counterpart, The Telegraph, have taken the lead in this. Reporting the massive violence, The Telegraph sought to play it down, to trivialize it, by using tennis match rhetoric about post-police action, it was “advantage Mamata”. It pontificated editorially that in a democracy, street demonstrations were pursued by parties that do not have faith in the democratic system. And then it went on to cite as example Lal Krishna Advani’s notorious “ratha yatra” of 1989, which had stirred up communal riots in 43 towns. As though that had been a street demonstration, and as though that could be used to justify the illegal externment of Medha Patkar.
The Singur land has been taken over, but the story is just beginning. The West Bengal government proposes to give vaster stretches of land, for example to the Salim Group of Indonesia, again from peasants. It proposes to take over land to build a nuclear power plant. And even for Singur, there is at the least the need to fight for a proper rehabilitation for the great many who have got nothing or next to nothing, for a land-for-land resettlement. International and national solidarity is needed, particularly because Stalinists all over the world today still point to the Left Front as a shining example. CPI(M) MP Nilotpal Basu’s article on the Left Front was reprinted even in the US progressive paper Guardian earlier this year. Even Noam Chomsky, the libertarian, found reasons to praise the Left Front government when he came to Calcutta. The myth of the Left Front as alternative has to be disposed of, before a struggle for a real alternative can succeed. Let the tragedy of the peasants of Singur create at least the possibility of that. They deserve such revenge.

[1] The first lines of the song went: Hei Samaalo dhan ho kasteta dao shan ho
Jan kabul aar maan kabul
Aar debona aar debona rakte bona dhan moder jan ho
Oh keep a watch on the paddy, hone your scythe
With life and honour as stake
We will never again hand over the paddy sown with our life’s blood
[2] Cadre has come to sound like an obscene and utterly alienating word in West Bengal. Cadre today evokes the image of stick or other more murderous weapons wielding thugs, tragically carrying the red flag. Yet, notwithstanding the Stalinist nature of the major left parties, and despite their clear reformist turn from 1942, and again after 1951 (there was a short in-between period in 1948-51 when they had become ultra-left) communist party cadre had meant the most sincere, dedicated social movement activist.
[3] Though on paper in West Bengal none of the Maoist groups are banned, in practice, people suspected of Maoist affiliation are routinely arrested and variously heckled and tortured by the police, especially outside Calcutta.
[4] See Kunal Chattopadhyay, Tebhaga Andolaner Itihas, Kolkata, 1987, reprint, 1997. In English the most detailed study is Adrienne Cooper’s Sharecropping and Sharecroppers' Struggle in Bengal 1930-1950, Calcutta, 1988.

[5] Medha Patkar made this point repeatedly, including in a speech in Jadavpur University Campus on 8th December.
[6] The Socialist Unity Centre of India is a smaller Stalinist formation, opposed to the Left Front. Naxalite is a way of referring to the Maoists of all trends, in view of the origin of Maoism in India from the peasant struggles in Naxalbari, in North Bengal. The CPI(ML) Liberation is active in Singur.
[7] Dainik Statesman, 3 December 2006, page 1, news box ‘Policer Kaaj Police Korechhe: Buddha’ (‘The Police have Done Their Duty: Buddha’)
[8] The Telegraph has been among the most consistent spokespersons of the ruling class. Whereas even The Statesman, despite its historic connections with the Tata family, has reported relatively objectively, The Telegraph and its Bengali sister publication, Ananda Bazar Patrika, have been running a sustained campaign vilifying protestors and arguing that there is no alternative to industrialization at any cost. The Telegraph has indeed gone further. On 5th December, it ran an editorial virtually calling for the suspension of what little democracy remains in West Bengal. Entitled ‘No Velvet Glove’, the Editorial thundered: “The menace of Maoist violence is not new to West Bengal. When it had first surfaced in the late Sixties and early Seventies, it was eradicated through counter-violence. Mr Bhattacharjee must learn from that experience and nip the present movement in the bud before Maoist weeds strangle the hundred flowers of West Bengal.” Even after the passage of decades, people still remember much of what had been done at that time. The “eradication of Maoism” meant the Cossipore-Baranagore massacre, when an entire area had been sealed off and every known youth connected the leasdt bit to the Naxalites murdered. It included the massive application of the Maintenance of Internal Security Act, from which Bush could learn something about fighting terrorism. It included the killings of prisoners. It included “encounters” where prisoners were shot in the back and proclaimed dead in encounters.
[9] Interview taken by Soma Marik, 19th November 2006. Courtesy Soma Marik.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Street-fighting Historian:Goutam Chattopadhyay (1924-2006)

In tribute, Kunal Chattopadhyay* writes about his father’s life and times.

Goutam Chattopadhyay was born on December 9, 1924. His father, Kshitish Prosad Chattopadhyay, was an eminent anthropologist, a student of W.H.R.Rivers and the founder of the Department of Anthropology, University of Calcutta. Goutam’s mother was Manjushree. Though he never flaunted his pedigree, Goutam was proud of being descended from reformers and modernisers like Raja Manmohun Roy, Pandit Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar (on his father’s side) and Dwarkanath Tagore (on his mother’s side).

Goutam’s induction to politics, Indian nationalism, and leftism were partly through his father. Kshitish Prasad had been a friend of Subhas Chandra Bose, and when Bose decided not to be an ICS, his friend followed suit. Returning to India, Kshitish joined Calcutta University, but after the Swarajya Party won the Calcutta Corporation elections, became Education Officer at the request of his friend Subhas. His work included not only a massive expansion of the corporation primary school system, but also the giving of jobs to relatives of revolutionary nationalists. But when Kshitish proposed a scheme to enlarge the scope of corporation sponsored education to ensure the eradication of illiteracy from Calcutta, he found himself thwarted by several ‘bhadralok’ nationalist councilors. It was at this point that he gave up this job and returned to Calcutta University. But he never gave up his political views. He was to be severely beaten up by the police on January 26, 1931, when Bose, then Mayor, marched at the head of a procession with the Congress flag towards the Monument, flanked on two sides by Kshitish Prasad and Jyotirmayee Ganguly, daughter of Dwarkanath Ganguly and Kadambini Ganguly. When the police attacked, first Chattopadhyay and then Ganguly protected Bose with their bodies till the police struck them down. When the white khaddar-clad KPC was brought home, blood spattered all over the white, his six-year-old son asked how this had happened, to be told by his grandfather that the British had done this. He replied that in that case, when I grow up I too will beat up the British. This was young Goutam’s initiation into the realities of anti-imperialist struggles. But his direct participation came with the Holwell Monument agitation. He was then attracted to Marxism through his uncle Rajani Mukherjee, a follower of M. N. Roy and a trade unionist. He originally turned to the Bolshevik Party under the influence of his friend Pradyot Mukherjee, but soon turned to the Communist Party of India, when he decided the key task was to side with the Soviet Union in the anti-fascist peoples’ war. From 1943, he was a member of the CPI.

Joining the CPI in 1943 was a very categorical decision. It meant taking a hard political stand about the war and the role Indians should play. For Goutam, personally, it also meant taking up a political stand against a man he greatly respected and in private life referred to as ‘uncle’ till the end, for Subhas Chandra Bose had organized the INA with Japanese support.

Goutam studied in Ballygunge Government High School, and then in Vidyasagar College followed by Krishnanagar College, from where he graduated with English Honours. He was active in the All-India Students Federation, to become President of the Bengal Provincial SF, when Geeta Mukherjee was the General Secretary.

During the post-war upsurge, he was a student leader. Contemporaries remember him as a fiery orator. He was present during the night of November 21, 1945 when students held Dharmatolla after the death of Rameshwar Banerjee, and was also active during the three days of struggle during Rashid Ali Day. He participated in the Prisoners’ Release struggle and fought during the all-India general strike in solidarity with the long Post and Telegraph strike of 1946. His contemporary narration was in the pamphlet Rakter Sakshar (In Letters of Blood). In 1946 he went to Europe as the leader of the AISF delegation to the founding Congress of the International Union of Students, which met at Prague. But his fondest memory was of a trip from there to Yugoslavia, of which he wrote in a pamphlet, I Saw Yugoslavia. Throughout his life he would return to the crucial years 1945-47, when India was on the verge of a revolution that did not happen. The young man who spoke in meetings, recited the poems of Sukanto Bhattacharyya and Subhas Mukhopadhyay to impassioned audiences, and stood at barricades fighting the police and the army, would always prompt the mature scholar when he reflected on ‘The Almost Revolution’.

This would indeed be the most significant contribution Goutam would make as a historian, in a series of essays spanning the years 1976 – 2005. ‘The Almost Revolution’ appeared in B. De et al edited, Essays in Honour of Prof. S.C. Sarkar (1976). It argued that the post-war upsurge had broken out of the Congress mould and failed to turn into a revolution because there was no sufficiently strong alternative revolutionary leadership. This would be fleshed out by articles like those in Amit Gupta ed., Myth and Reality: The Struggle for Freedom in India, 1945-47, (1988), or ‘Bengal Students Movement’, in Nisith Ranjan Ray, Kalpana Joshi (Dutt) and others ed, Challenge: A Saga of India’s Struggle for Freedom (1984), in his histories of the students’ movement: Swadhinata Sangrame Banglar Chhatra Samaj (1973), Swadhinata Sangrame Bharater Chhatra Samaj (1990) and in his keynote address to the 2004 New Alipur College Session of the Paschim Banga Itihas Samsad, entitled ‘Dwitiyo Biswayuddhottar Ganabidroha-- Phire Dekha’ (published in Itihas Anusandhan-19, Calcutta 2005). In his life too, friendships made in this period were among those that were the firmest – with Santosh Bhattacharyya, but above all with Sunil Munshi, and his leaders Prabhat Dasgupta and Ramen Banerjee.

After independence he was among the local organizers of the South East Asian Youth Conference. When, soon after the Second CPI Congress and its left line, the Party was banned, this would figure in the list of charges against him. He was accused by the Indian state of having tried to foment rebellions across South East Asia. No doubt, Ho Chi Minh and Tan Malaka would have been puzzled to know that they were taking instructions from Goutam Chattopadhyay in Calcutta. But the Indian police took all this seriously enough, and he stayed underground for four years, including one stint in his own home, in a concealed room built by his father.

Many communist leaders inspired Goutam, and despite polemics (e.g., after the split) he retained his respect for them regardless of which party they were in. But three party leaders were probably the greatest inspirations for him. They were P. C. Joshi, Somnath Lahiri, and Biswanath Mukherjee. In later life he would often argue that whatever the ‘right deviation’ of the Joshi period, it was Joshi alone who had understood how communists should penetrate civil society. Lahiri epitomised for him the total commitment to proletarian leadership. And Biswanath Mukherjee, the legendary student leader, was also an eye opener for this life long urban communist, as to what it meant to do communist work among the peasantry. But despite later political differences he also remained extremely respectful of, in particular, B. T. Ranadive, S. A. Dange and E.M. S. Namnboodiripad.

In the period of the post-war upsurge he had given up his studies. He returned to them a decade later, changed subjects, did his MA in History from Calcutta University as a private candidate and stood first, scoring what were then record marks in some papers like the one on China. His communist stamp was very strong, and according to the story he narrated to his family members, when he applied for a job in a University, its Rector told him he would be taken in only if he dropped his political work. So he worked all his life as a lecturer in Surendranath College for Women. There too, his commitment to teachers’ rights and his work in defending that before a privately run college’s board led to his losing a part-time job he held in the Day College. He married Jayasree Ghosh, sister of Sada Prosonno Ghosh, a party comrade who had been his courier, in 1953. Their son Kunal was born in 1959.

In 1962 came the India-China war. Though he was critical of China, he did not give way to nationalist hysteria. With the party split came additional responsibilities. In 1967, during the elections, he was a prominent speaker and writer for the CPI. It was also a difficult period as his wife died. He was to go into a second, much briefer underground when the First United Front Government was overthrown.

In 1956, following the 20th CPSU Congress, there had occurred a great shake up in mainstream international communism. Goutam was to say later that having given up a belief in one infallible leader, he was never again willing to accept another such. So he remained a communist who tried to apply his understanding of Marxism in his own way. A member of the CPI, a loyal soldier, as he saw it, of the international revolution, he was internationalist to the core. For close to four decades, his writings in the weekly and the daily Kalantar, in Mainstream, in Saptaha, and a dozen other journals, and in a number of pamphlets, testify to this. His writings covered the Cuban revolution, the Vietnam War and the heroic struggle of the Vietnamese, the liberation of Angola, the Nicaraguan revolution, the Afghan revolution in its early phase, and so on. He was to retain his anti-imperialism all his life, and even in one of his last major speeches, delivered in memory of Christopher Hill, he finished with comments about the US war on Iraq. But his internationalism was always a critically thinking internationalism. In 1968, he thought that regardless of the specific economic proposals of Ota Sik (which he felt hardly differed from the Libermann proposals), the attempt at democratisation and pluralism by the Dubcek team was worthy of full-scale support. So he was deeply disappointed when Warsaw pact countries sent in their tanks in the ‘friendly’ occupation of Czechoslovakia. He also got into some trouble with the party leadership because in an article devoted to the triumph of fascism, he had criticised the ‘Third Period’ sectarian line of the Communist International and had commented that Trotsky had warned of the disastrous consequences this would bring for the German working class. Though he was never a Trotskyist or sympathizer, he had an unusually large collection of Trotsky’s writings for the late 1960s –early 1970s. He was also among the earliest to read and apply the ideas of Antonio Gramsci in his own political concepts, when they started coming out.

During the Bangladesh War, Goutam threw himself into solidarity work. His residence at 2 Palm Place was forever swarming with visitors from Bangladesh/East Pakistan, some scholars like Professor Salahuddin Ahmed, many more political activists from the CP Bangladesh, the National Awami Party (both factions) and even the occasional Awami League member. Aminul Islam (Badsha) was a favourite. Transfer of uniform, shoes, food, and canteens for carrying water, etc, to Mukti Yoddhas were organised and his house and those of his friendly neighbours became transit points. By this time he had married Manju Gupta, and she too worked with him as a party member and historian. Their son Dhiman was born in 1972.

This was also a trying time in India. The armed struggle line of Charu Mazumdar and his comrades, the clash between different sections of the left and the murder of each other’s cadres, and looming over it all the repressive machinery of the state was a permanent reality in West Bengal in those days. Chattopadhyay was in favour of Communist unity, and at the same time he was a staunch defender of civil liberties. After the Cossipore-Baranagore mass murder of naxalites, he wrote the article ‘Footfalls of Fascism in Bengal’, for the weekly New Wave, which editor O. P. Sangal refused to print in his name, printing it anonymously, saying Goutam might otherwise be in danger from the same thugs. Then, in 1975, at Curzon Park, police had brutally murdered the actor Probir Dutta. So terror stricken was Calcutta that hardly 75 intellectuals turned up at a protest meeting. Goutam was one of the few who did, and he spoke there. The commitment to civil liberties would remain intact all his life. He would march in the rally demanding prisoners’ release in 1977, after the fall of Indira Gandhi’s government, he would be articulate in his defence of Archana Guha’s right to a fair trial and as a result face a contempt of court case along with Debes Roy and Ashok Dasgupta (editor of Aajkaal), he would march and speak after the massacre of Sikhs in 1984, and sign protests condemning the arrest of Kaushik Ganguly and others as supposed PWG sympathizers.

From the late 1950s, however, Goutam was also involved as a scholar. His first interest was in the Bengal Renaissance, and he brought out two volumes of rare documents: Awakening in Bengal (1964), and Bengal: Early 19th Century (. These dealt with documents of the Derozians, and his interpretation of the Derozians would continue to be a part of the historical debates in later times.

But in subsequent years his major fields of attention would be the communist and working class movement and the freedom movement. Books and significant monographs would include Rus Biplab O Banglar Mukti Andolan (1967), Communism and Bengal’s Freedom Movement, vol. 1 (1970), Lenin O Samakalin Bangladesh (1970) (with Manju Chattopadhyay), Subhas Chandra Bose and the Indian Communist Movement: A Study of Cooperation and Conflict (1973), translated also into Hindi and Telugu, Bengal Electoral Politics and Freedom Struggle (1984), Strike, Strike (1991), Gandhiji, Subhas Chandra O Bharater Communist Andolan (1995), Subhas Chandra Bose and the Indian Leftists and Communists (1997), Subhas Chandra Bose: A Biography, (1997), Itihaser Pata Theke (2001), and a stream of essays and pamphlets on the history and conmtemporary problems of the communist movement, some of which are Peshwar Theke Meerut (1984), Biswa Sramik Andolaner Gorar Katha (1989), Samajtantrer Agni Pariksha o Bharater Communist Andolan (1992), edited volume Sanhati, Langal O Ganabani (1992), Sarbahara Biplaber Jayosankhya (Sushobhan Sarkar Memrial Lecture 1998), etc.

From the 1960s, he was associated with the CPI daily and weekly Kalantar, and wrote editorials, reviews of international affairs, and commentaries on Indian politics, and so on. Never one to write what he did not believe in, he took clear positions. A number of occasions where his work as a historian and as a communist activist came together included a sharp reply to Arun Shourie’s attacks on the CPI, entitled Bharatiya Moshijibir Communist Birodhi, Soviet Birodhi Kutsar Jabab (Bharat Chharo Andolan O CPI Prasango) (1984), and a similar response to attacks entitled Bharater Swadhinata Sangram O Communist Partyr Bhumika (1992).

Goutam Chattopadhyay was an inspirer of research and an organizer too. Countless students of different generations were to profit immensely from his assistance and guidance, as several recounted after his death. They included his direct students like Kanai Lal Chattopadhyay, Debarata Majumdar, etc, as well as others working in Calcutta University, Jadavpur University, JNU, etc, like Anuradha Roy.

He was associated for many decades with the Indian History Congress, was several times a member of its Executive Committee, and in the words of Irfan Habib, was “a mentor and guide”. He was elected Sectional President of the Modern India Section for the Srinagar Session of 1986 and delivered an address on the Role of the Working Class in India’s Freedom Struggle, in which he frankly combined his identities as communist activist and historian.

Goutam Chattopadhyay was always profoundly committed to secular history writing and teaching. He himself, both alone and with his wife Manju, wrote a number of text-books in Bengali. After the Janata era attack on History text books following Nanaji Deshmukh’s notorious note, Professor Sushovan Sarkar wrote an article, which was used as the rallying cry by Goutam Chattopadhyay and his teacher professor A. W. Mahmood to launch the Paschim Banga Itihas Samsad, dedicated to the promotion of secular and scientific history writing and research in the Bengali language. For many years he was Secretary, then President of the Samsad. The Samsad played a major role in fighting communalist attacks. He contributed to this to the end, presiding over a national seminar at Jadavpur University when two volumes of the Towards Freedom project were under attack by the NDA government. He and Salauddin Ahmed jointly led a cross-border meeting of Historians in 1991 defending secularism. It was fitting that his felicitation volume was brought out by the Itihas Samsad in 2005, with the entire Executive Committee (excluding him) as the Board of Editors.

Goutam Chattopadhyay died in the early hours of 2006, at 2 in the morning, of a sudden cardiac failure. On his work desk was the draft of a new book he was to edit for the National Book Trust, an anthology of writings of personalities of the Bengal Renaissance.

Originally written -- 9th January 2006

Monday, September 25, 2006

Trotsky, Lenin and the Stalinist General Line

Trotsky’s greatest sin, it seems, was that he often disagreed with the “general line” of the party. Or so the contemporary devotees of Joseph Stalin would still like us to believe. Perhaps this should be viewed, rather, as Trotsky’s continuing commitment to the pre-Stalinist Marxist tradition, for which commitment to working class democracy, viewed as more expansive than the best that bourgeois democracy could afford to offer, and hence as his greatest legacy for socialists in the twenty-first century if they do not want to bow movingly to market forces, yet want to be relevant. For the days when one could say in a commanding tone, “this is the party line”, and expect everyone to lie down and play dead like tame dogs, are gone forever.

When Karl Marx started his political career, he began as a democrat. Unlike many earlier and contemporary socialists and communists, he did not advocate aneducational dictatorship of the party (or a group of wise and enlightened elite, by whatever name) over the working people. And his call for a “revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat” was not a call for party dictatorship. One has to remember that in the Paris Commune, there were very few people holding close to Marx’s views, and that moreover it was an elected body with laws far more democratic than anything that then existed in any liberal state. Yet both Marx and Engels unhesitatingly called the Commune a dictatorship of the proletariat.

The Young Trotsky’s Critique of Lenin

Trotsky stood in this tradition, as despite occasional ferocious statements, did Lenin, till 1921. In 1904, in his polemical pamphlet against Lenin entitled Our Political Tasks, Trotsky wrote that “The problems of the new regime are so intricate that they can be solve only through the rivalry of the various methods of economic and political reconstruction, by long “debates”, by systematic struggle – not only between the socialist and the capitalist worlds, but also between the various tendencies within socialism, tendencies that must inevitably develop as soon as the dictatorship of the proletariat creates tens and hundreds of new unsolved problems …. And no ‘strong authoritative organisation’ will be able to put down these tendencies and disagreement for the purpose of accelerating and simplifying the process, for it is only too clear that the proletariat capable of a dictatorship over society will not tolerable a dictatorship over itself.” This is not to try and replace the myth of the infallible Lenin followed by the infallible Stalin, by another myth of the prophetic Trotsky. Considering that at stake was also a debate over whether a minority, defeated in a democratically organised Congress, should accept the decisions of the Congress or not, where Trotsky was supporting the creation of a special category of members who had the right to flout decisions because they were leaders, he made his share of errors. On this issue he was wrong, not just according to some special canons of Leninism, but by any commonsense definition of democracy. However, by the time Trotsky came to write this particular pamphlet, Lenin had tried to bolster his claims with further arguments. Trotsky argued, against Lenin, on three points, which together constituted, according to him, an alternative (and superior) theory of organisation. The first is the opposition that he set up between the self activity of the class and a “fantastic” sectarian error, whereby Lenin allegedly wanted a ready made set of tactics to enable the Central Committee to control the masses. The second point is the opposition between democracy and Lenin’s “pitiless centralism” (to borrow a term used by Rosa Luxemburg). The third point is the contrast between a formalist and a historical political viewpoint. One important charge he made against Lenin and his supporters was that they believed in automatic success due to their possession of Marxist doctrine. One can refer to statements like: “The Party is the organized detachment of the working class”, or the “General Staff”. Trotsky himself was a Marxist. And it was certainly not his intention to decry the merits of Marxism. But he did question its exclusive possession by any individual, group of individuals, or party; and even more strongly did he reject the notion that possession of Marxism was a guarantee against mistakes. Acknowledging the existence of different political trends in the Russian working class movement, he insisted that they have to be situated in the historical context, and argued that part of their mistakes stem from an ahistoricity. “Each period has its own routine and tends to impose its own tendencies on the movement as a whole.” The necessary and correct industrial work gave rise to the errors of “economism”. The centralising of Iskra gave rise to the errors of Bolshevism. So ran his argument. The problems arose because “Each new tendency casts the previous one into anathema. For the bearers of new ideas, each preceding period seems no more than a gross deviation from the correct path, an historical aberration, a sum of errors, the result of a fortuitous combination of theoretical mystifications.” Trotsky’s position is of more general value, because even if Lenin is taken to be free of every error that Trotsky mentions, the “Leninism” that has been propagated, by Stalinists, and sometimes by sectarians who believe that revolutionary discipline means utterly wooden rigidity entirely measures up to Trotsky’s critique.

On one hand, then, references to The Party of the proletariat in the singular. On the other hand, the inevitability of the struggle of tendencies, not only between capitalism and socialism, but also within socialism. The tension this created in Trotsky's thought was to be resolved only in the 1930s, when he finally accepted that a vanguard party can remain one only in a pluralistic political system. Alternatives to this range from denunciations of “party persons taking the capitalist road”, gun-point arrest and summary executions of feared rivals (e.g., the Beria or the Mehmet Shehu cases), or, alternatively, the abandonment of the concepts of vanguard party and class vanguard, either openly and fully, or de-facto, partially, in the name of pluralism.

Revolution and Reaction in Russia

However, even before the 1930s, Trotsky was to take his position for deepening of democracy. Trotsky’s writings themselves present a confusing picture, and one has to pick one’s way carefully. There is no doubt that he genuinely considered himself a Leninist after 1917, though he continued to cherish his independence of mind. In late 1924, in his unpublished pamphlet ‘Our Differences’ Trotsky stated that he had been fundamentally wrong, because he had expected events to force the two factions together. He admitted that his “conciliationism” had led him to err, chiefly in the direction of not realising the need to split with the Mensheviks. He acknowledged that Lenin’s criticisms of his line regarding party unity were correct. However, Trotsky no less than Lenin progressed in his thinking, and we find him taking a dialectical stand in 1905 on the question of building the party. At that time, he was editing a popular socialist paper, Nachalo. Though his famous biographer Isaac Deutscher gives the impression that he only preached permanent revolution and unity, we find him devoting space to programme and organisation as a whole. And what emerges clearly from those articles is that while he decried what he felt were Bolshevik rigid attitudes, he did not thereby lapse into any spontaneism or into condoning arm-chair socialists.

In the period of reaction, no less than during the revolution of 1905, the revolutionary camp was not simply equated with the Bolshevik faction, nor was Bolshevism identical to Leninism. At the Third Congress of the RSDLP, a purely Bolshevik affair, one of the points where Lenin was defeated was over whether the committees should have a majority of workers, or not. On the other hand, at the Fourth or Unity Congress at Stockholm, a Menshevik majority (62 to 44 for the Bolsheviks) approved of the principles of democratic centralism. In a report on the Stockholm Congress Lenin called the principles of democratic centralism the heart of the system, and called for a generalisation of the elective principle. The application of this principle, Lenin held, “implies universal and full freedom to criticise, so long as this does not disturb the unity of a definite action …”

As the mass party of 1905-6 collapsed responses varied. Among Bolsheviks, there developed a current, originally in a majority, especially among the underground committees, that favoured boycotting the elections to the Duma (Russia’s very limited power semi-parliament), and later, for recalling the Duma deputies and sticking only to the underground structures. Among Mensheviks, a considerable number of theorists and ╬╣migr╬╣ leaders became “liquidators”, people who wanted to drop the old structures and build a workers’ party within the constraints of existing legality. In between these two extremes stood a majority of activists. Re-examining the issues and the documents in debate, one finds that Lenin and Trotsky also stood in between. But until 1912, Lenin tended to consider all legal activists as liquidators. According to Marcel Liebman, a historian sympathetic to him, Down to 1914, he had a tendency to pass up opportunities on open work.

A large group of worker activists or ‘praktiki’, who had been party members in 1905-6, sought to fuse legal work with the underground. They were criticised from opposite ends by Lenin and the liquidators. Younger Mensheviks, notably the ‘praktiki’, by and large rejected the liquidators’ proposals. Between 1909 and 1911, this meant a definite rise in Trotsky’s influence. Left Mensheviks, as well as Bolshevik – conciliators (i.e., those who wanted to unite the revolutionary forces though they supported the Bolshevik programme) found in Trotsky a leading figure who advocated a line they found close to their outlook. A distortion of this history began in 1923, when Lenin lay dying and a Triumvirate, consisting of Grigory Zinoviev, Lev Kamenev and Joseph Stalin tried to organise a tight control over the party. Zinoviev wrote a History of the Bolshevik Party which began the distortions of history completed over a decade later in Stalin’s History of the CPSU(B) – Short Course. In these histories, bereft of documentary evidence, lenin’s views were proclaimed the sole correct revolutionary general line. Trotsky was cast as an arch-villain who opposed Lenin and was therefore a renegade. The problem was of course, that Lenin till 1912 considered himself a part of the common Social Democratic Party, so opposing Lenin did not mean, for example, opposing any general line. Secondly, whether Lenin was correct at different moments can only be tested by looking at the specific history, not by a teleology that claims the Bolshevik triumph of 1917 as proof of Lenin’s correctness all his life (in High Stalinist myth, of course, he abandoned terrorism for Marxism at age 11, on hearing of the death sentence on his elder brother Alexander). Moreover, during the revolution of 1905, Lenin had changed his own position about party democracy, and argued that it was wrong to demand that the Soviet should accept the programme of the RSDRP. On the question of the party press, Lenin stressed that here there could be no question of a mechanical “rule of the majority over the minority ...” In other words, the party press should publish different viewpoints. Indeed, during the period of reaction, when Lenin differed with Bogdanov, leader of the boycottists, he had Bogdanov expelled from the Bolshevik faction, arguing that while a party was broad and contained many shades, a faction had to be tightly knit. This was an acknowledgement of the validity of the criticism made earlier by people like Trotsky or Luxemburg, and also a blow to the Stalinist myth that a party had to be monolithic.

From October Revolution to the Collapse of Democracy

In 1917, when Trotsky joined the Bolsheviks, he did so with the conviction that a proletarian revolution was in the offing, and all revolutionaries should unite. When he did so, he did not abjure his earlier views, and in exhorting his supporters in the Inter-Borough Organisation (a revolutionary, non-Bolshevik organisation) to unite with the Bolsheviks, he argued that the Bolsheviks had in practice “de-Bolshevised” themselves. And contrary to Cold War propaganda, serious historiography has repeatedly shown that the Soviet insurrection of October 1917 was more democratic than any of the alternatives. Throughout Russia, from late August, new elections to soviets were being organised. The Bolsheviks made significant gains. Thus, at the Second Congress of the Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies of Urals, representing 505,780 workers and soldiers, which met on 17-21 August, the Bolsheviks had 77 deputies against 23 for the Mensheviks. On 31 August - 1st September, the Petrograd Soviet adopted a resolution on power, which led to the resignation of the old executive committee. On 5 September, the Moscow Soviet passed a resolution condemning the Provisional Government by 355 votes to 254. By September 21, the Saratov Soviet had 320 Bolsheviks against 103 SRs, 76 Mensheviks, and 34 non-party deputies. The First Congress of Soviets had stipulated that fresh Congresses were to be called every three month. But the Executive Committee elected by that Congress, controlled by Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries, now began to hesitate. So the Bolsheviks started putting pressure by organising regional congresses. These included the Moscow regional Congress, the All Siberian Congress, the Congress, the regional Congresses at Minsk (Byelo Russia), the Northern Caucasus, provincial Congresses in Vladimir and Tver, etc. But the most important was the Congress of Northern Soviets. Represented in it were Soviets from Petrograd, Moscow, Archangel, Reval, Helsingfors, Kronstadt, Vyborg, Narva, Gatchina, Tsarskoe Selo, the Baltic Fleet, the Petrograd Soviet of Peasant Deputies, the Petrograd District Soviets, and the soldiers organisations of the Northern, Western, South-Western and Rumanian fronts. Alexander Rabinowich’s classic work, The Bolsheviks Come to Power, lays out in detail the network of mass organisations through which the Bolsheviks established their hegemony. As Marc Ferro, a hostile historian, was compelled to write about the moment of insurrection, a state without a government (the nationwide network of council type institutions) was facing a government without a state (Kerensky’s government, based on absolutely no institutional support whatsoever). Between this and the Stalinist dictatorship lay a Civil War and a 14-country war of intervention, followed by a counter-revolution within the revolution as Stalin consolidated his rule between 1923 and 1928-29.

There did occur a phase, under the blows of the civil war, when every non-Bolshevik party sided with White Guard counter-revolution, that Lenin and Trotsky alike played a role in legitimising authoritarianism in the name of Marxism. What were wrong were not always the specific acts. In a Civil War, when your opponent is shooting at you, you cannot extend full democracy to them. Serious histories of the Civil War, like W. Bruce Lincoln’s Red Victory, or of the Red Terror, like Leggett’s The Cheka, show that the Reds were in fact less violent than the Whites, who often shot workers because they were workers, something that does not stir the souls of upper class writers as much as the shooting of Nicholas and Alexandra. But when Trotsky (or Lenin) started justifying these actions not as emergency measures to save the republic but as Marxist theory, they committed serious errors. The climax came in 1921, when, at the end of the Civil War, but following the Kronstadt uprising, all opposition parties were banned, as were opponent factions within the party. Yet, Trotsky, while still in full power, as Commissar for War and Politbureau member, came out opposing the continuation of these measures by 1923. In late 1923, a strike wave broke out. Feliks Dzherzhinskii, head of the OGPU, successor of the disbanded Cheka, wanted party members in factories to finger the strike leaders and report them to the secret police. It was this proposal that moved Trotsky to write two letters to the Central Committee, demanding restoration of democratic rights. These started the New Course debate, which Stalin and the Triumvirate won only after gagging open discussions and rigging the only open voting that took place, in Moscow. By 1926-7, the Platform of the United Opposition was calling for restoration of Soviet Democracy. And alone among all the Bolshevik leaders, it was Trotsky who wrote, in The Revolution Betrayed, in a self-critical tone that “The degeneration of the party became both cause and consequence of the bureaucratization of the state.” In analysing this degeneration, he came to the conclusion that “The prohibition of oppositional parties brought after it the prohibition of factions. The prohibition of factious ended in a prohibition to think otherwise than the infallible leaders.” On the basis of this analysis, when it came to drafting the programme of the Fourth International Trotsky wrote that “Democratization of the Soviets is impossible without legalization of soviet parties,” and he further said that “the workers and peasants themselves, by their own free votes will indicate what parties they recognize as Soviet parties.” This was absolutely a negation of any conception of the “general line of The Party”.

The Creation of the General Line

The idea that there is something called the general line of the party, and that opposing it is a secular sin not less heinous than heresy as detected and rooted out by Torquemada, was a concept that developed as Lenin lay dying. Stalin’s funeral speech on Lenin’s death is overlaid with religious overtones. The embalming of Lenin showed the turn in the party upper ranks towards cultism. Trotsky later claimed he and Krupskaya had opposed this. This naturally meant a consolidation of every anti-democratic practice. Indeed, as early as the 1923 Congress of the party, which Lenin could not attend due to his stroke, Stalin responded to demands for broadening inner party democracy by arguing that a party of 400,000 could not have full democracy as long as it was ruling a country surrounded by imperialism. This was and has been the logic for imposing and maintaining de jure or de facto one party rule with a top down commandist structure in every so-called communist country. By the mid 1920s, one of Stalin’s then supporters (later executed for siding with Bukharin), Uglanov, was defining party democracy in terms that made it look exactly like bureaucratic rule. Responding to him, Trotsky wrote: “Comrade Uglanov for the first time has made an open attempt to overcome the contradiction between the programmatic definition of democracy and the actual regime by bringing the program down, drastically, to the level of what has existed in practice. As the essence of democracy he proclaims the unlimited domination of the party apparatus, which presents[ the report -- KC], draws in [comments by masses -- KC], checks and rectifies [itself, without the ranks having the right to reject the leadership itself—K.C.]. ... Attempting to define the essence of democracy, Comrade Uglanov has defined the essence of bureaucracy.” By the mid-1930s, the situation was worse. The 1934 Congress of the Party was called the Victor’s Congress, because the spine of all opposition within the USSR except those of Trotskyists and their allies, the Democratic Centralist group, had been broken. Their leaders had been made to grovel. Yet the majority of the delegates to even this Stalinist Party Congress, and the majority of Central Committee members, would be executed over the years, many in secret trials, some in show trials where they would “confess”, like the hapless Bukharin to save his wife and child.

The central story would be, that these people had started out as opponents of the “general line” and as a result had become counter revolutionaries. So in place of Marx’s notion of a pluralist commune state, the idea of the general line came to mean that there could be no alternative thinking. Stalin explained this in an interview with a journalist, Roy Howard, where he said that a party is part of a class, so since there were no opposed classes in the USSR there could not be a multi-party system. Obviously, this was grammatically no less than politically utter nonsense. A class can have more than one part, else why use the term part. So each part should be free to create its own party. Even more pertinent is the question whether parties and classes are to remain welded till the end of time. Would differences disappear if classes were abolished? If not, then there would be formed parties – over environmental alternatives, over alternative models of social construction. The reason why Trotsky, alone among the opponents of Stalin, could articulate this idea was because of his past. Even Bukharin, a very talented theoretician, was helpless, because after all, in power, he had said that if there were two parties in the USSR the place for the second party would be in prison. That was why, when the ruthless murder machine crushed the old Bolshevik Party, including the majority of the Central Committee that had made the October Revolution, the majority of pre-1917 activists, and the majority of the Civil War era cadres, only those who had a clear understanding of the democratic promise of classical Marxism could avoid the options of surrendering to the murder machine like Koestler’s Rubashov, or defecting to the capitalist west. Today, in most of the world, Stalinism is utterly discredited. From the vantage point of what we know clearly today, Khruschev’s speech was a bid to save the Stalinist system by purging it of its most extreme excrescences. Khruschev, after all, defended the mass murders of workers and peasants, of non-Bolsheviks (the Mensheviks and SRs) as well as the dissidents within the party. It was only Stalin’s murder of dissident Stalinists that he rued. Yet what is known today ( and even what was written in Soviet years by dissidents like Evgeniia Ginsberg, a survivor of the Gulag, or documented through painstaking research under dictatorial rule by Roy Medvedev) suggests that Stalin and his henchmen, who of course included Khrushchev, killed more communists (not only Russian but global) than did most bourgeois states, and that socialism cannot survive unless it clearly disavows his crimes. In a country like India, where the vast majority do not have access to any Western language information system, it is by simply suppressing or not making available in Indian language editions the information available to much of the world including Spanish and Portuguese speaking South America (the continent where leftists are currently advancing, but by openly rejecting Stalinism), that the Indian Stalinist left hopes to buy time for a few more years. The fables they spread, to the effect that revelations about the Moscow Trials, the mass murders etc are all undocumented gossip, can be disproved with ease. Contemporaries like Anton Ciliga (Ten Years in the Country of the Big Lie) or Alexander Orlov (The Secret History of Stalin’s Crimes), as well as later historians like Robert Conquest (The Great Terror), Roy Medvedev, and others have shown how terrible were these purges. If socialism is to survive other than as a museum piece or as a part of Political Science curricula, it has to take the ideas of revolutionary democratic politics to heart. For that, Trotsky’s alternative to the brutal culmination of the politics of the general line remains an essential contribution.