Now that the Marxian prediction of a crisis of capitalism is unlikely in the foreseeable future, several comrades are trying to come to terms with the imperatives of the present. Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan’s choice of a Harvard university professor, Gita Gopinath, as his economic adviser, is a case in point. He is not the first Marxist to show a Rightist inclination. Before him, former West Bengal CM Buddhadev Bhattacharjee invited capitalists to invest in the state and “play golf” in their spare time.
His initiative aroused the ire of the orthodox upholders of the “faith.” But he was unfazed, the reason being the dire straits in which he found the West Bengal economy when he took over as CM from Jyoti Basu. Nor was Bhattacharjee unaware as to why the state, once known for its front-ranking industrial and mercantile enterprises, had lost its earlier prominence.
The explanation lay in the flight of capital which took place in the 1960s and ’70s when the militant Leftist trade unions ran amok while introducing the word, gherao, in the dictionary, as Bhattacharjee ruefully said. In his desire to reverse the process of exodus, he invited the Tatas to set up their small car factory in Singur. The rest is history.
To Achuthanandan and other hardliners in the CPI(M), like the former general secretary Prakash Karat, the CM’s proposal is little short of heresy since the Harvard scholar cannot but be a votary of pro-capitalist policies. To the believers, capitalism is anathema because, as Marx said, “capital comes into the world soiled with mire from top to toe, and oozing blood from every pore”. Given this gory belief, seeking advice from someone who lives and works in the very cradle of capitalism is sacrilegious. Although Vijayan has clarified that seeking advice does not mean accepting it, the keepers of the faith are unlikely to be mollified.To them, heretical influence can be insidious, especially in an environment where the centre and several other state governments have no reservations about pursuing pro-market policies. If these succeed in making a dent in the unemployment problem, then it will be difficult for Kerala to keep following the straight and narrow path of Marxian rectitude, especially when not all communists are nowadays against foreign investment if it brings in new technology – a giant leap from their earlier opposition to computers and tractors. However, Achuthanandan and Co may regard such an outlook as marking the thin end of the wedge.
At the same time, even Karat admitted recently that the Left is losing the support of the middle class and the youth (no mention of the working class!) which earlier used to constitute the main bases of support of the communist parties.
The reason why the two groups have drifted away from Leftist ideology is the change, according to Karat, in the country’s “socio-economic conditions after more than two decades of liberalisation and globalisation.” The result of this change is that the “upper stratum” of the middle class now enjoys a “lifestyle closer to the affluent sections of society.” In other words, since large sections of the middle class are no longer poor, they have no time for the charms of dialectical materialism.
It is to recover this lost base that Bhattacharjee and Vijayan have chosen to deviate from orthodox Marxism and look for solutions in the capitalist world. Their compulsions lie in winning elections which is not possible if poverty remains ever present while other states forge ahead by encouraging the private sector and multinationals. Pragmatism, to them, is preferable to an ideological straitjacket.
Vijayan may derive some solace from the fact that Jyoti Basu once said that “socialism is not achievable at this point of time”. As such, “private capital has to be used while social welfare programmes by the state government would continue”.Evidently, the veteran communist leader saw the writing on the wall when he said that “capitalism will continue to be the compulsion for the future” since, according to him, “socialism is a far cry.” He made this prescient observation soon after handing over the reins to Bhattacharjee.
Basu may not have been as forthright as Deng Xiaoping who said that “to get rich is glorious”. But his two decades as CM in West Bengal (1977-2000) had apparently convinced him about the need to shed a hidebound dogmatic outlook. Vijayan is seemingly guided by the same realisation.