Reverse Reform in Buddha's Bengal

- Arindam Sen

"The need of a constantly expanding market for its products", wrote Marx and Engels nearly 160 years ago, "chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere." And cultivate their own people in the left parties everywhere – they would have added, were they to write the Communist Manifesto today. Like Lula in Brazil , Buddhadev Bhattacharya (BB) in Bengal is performing this role extremely well and that explains why national and international ideologues of imperialist globalisation – from team Manmohan to top officials of World Bank and other multilateral agencies to the present US ambassador to India – are so tireless in praising him. Thanks to his 'communist' image, BB is today big capital's best bait for legitimising the otherwise discredited neo-liberal reform programme in India . And with the CPI(M) Central Committee in its end-August session re-endorsing his controversial policies, he can now gallop more confidently forward in wooing foreign capital.

CPI(ML) Protests against LF Government's Salim Land Deal

The West Bengal organisation of the CPI(M-L) has started protest movement against government's decision to sell 5 thousand acres of arable land to the Salim group of Indonesia in the name of building an industrial zone and township as well as Government's attempt to abolish the ceiling limit of arable land in the interest of world capital. South 24 Paraganas district committee held a demonstration on 26 August before SDO Baruipur, where the land will be taken over by government for this purpose. Party and Peasant Association leaders took part in this demonstration and handed over a memorandum to the SDO. Again on 6 Sept. a 12 hour sit-in-demonostration was organised in Baruipur where some fraternal organisations participated. The West Bengal unit of AIALA held demonstrations in most of the district headquarters of the state on the same day on the issue. The West Bengal State Committee, in its recently held meeting in Jalpaiguri, has decided to launch a sustained movement on this issue. It has decided to publish a booklet countering the attempts by the CPI(M) leadership to distort Marxism in support of their heinous act of selling land to foreign capital. It has also decided to publish an appeal for the peasants in popular language. The West Bengal State Committee has taken a series of protest programmes: (1) Protest demonstrations to be organised in large numbers throughout the state on 21 Sept. (2) District-level peasant conventions on 25 & 26 Sept. (3) A state-level convention where smaller partners of LF as well as some intellectuals and naxalite leaders will be invited. (4) A protest demonstration by peasants, students and youth will be held in Kolkata. (5) A padayatra will be organised by the cultural & youth organisations in the villages of South 24 paraganas where land is being taken over by the Govt. evicting peasants. (6) A padyatra will be held in other districts in Nov. to garner support of the peasants against the Government's decision. (7) A road blockade programme will be held in Nov. end throughout the state. (8) 1st phase of programmes will culminate in a massive Mahakaran Gherao.

Most relevant in this context is his latest and most prized catch: a whopping Rs. 44,000 crore investment promised by Indonesia 's Salim group (provided the government hands over to it 5100 acres of suitable land). The group will develop entertainment parks, food plazas, tourist complexes and whatever else they might choose to, creating jobs for an estimated 30,000 people. This means one job for nearly 1.5 crore investment, and nobody knows how many men and women will lose their traditional livelihoods, their homes and hearths. Nobody knows what harm will be done to ecology and culture, and given the experience of modern tourist heavens elsewhere, to safety and dignity of women.

Not surprisingly, the whole project came up against lots of criticism and resistance from different quarters, including the Left Front's peasant base. CPI(M) State secretary Anil Biswas had a tough time convincing Rezzak Molla and other leaders of South 24 Parganas (a district adjacent to Kolkata that is set to see the biggest land conversion drive in the coming months) and ultimately managed to silence the critics by invoking the ultimate urgency of putting up a united fight in next year's Assembly elections. The same logic seems to have worked well with the RSP and the FB leaders too, who raised a lot of noise that is now gradually fading out.

How the CPI (M) leaders in West Bengal justify their policy of wholesale concessions to big capital – including liberal hire-and-fire policy with 'responsible' (read bourgeois) trade unionism – and now, free and unlimited access to choice lands? Well, not in terms of the party's official position (as enumerated in the Political Organizational Report Part II) of allowing FDI only when it augments the country's productive capacity, helps technology upgradation, and generates employment. For they know that if in general foreign capital hardly ever caters to these needs of developing countries, the particular type of investment BB is now inviting (high-end real estate development, call centres, etc.) is patently unsuitable for these purposes. Moreover, the scenario gets obviously worse when urban construction is to take place at the cost of large-scale eviction of peasants. The Bengal CM and his state secretary – both PB members of CPI(M) – have therefore developed a customised populist theory that combines neo-liberal prejudices with would-be-left pseudo-logic. Basically, the theory stands on four pillars.

Progress in human civilisation – they tell us, citing the examples of developed countries – naturally entails a shift of emphasis from agriculture to industry. Well, if there is an element of truth in this statement, it is that the full development of productive forces in agriculture (to the extent possible in the given mode of production), creates conditions for industry (and then services) to emerge as the leading sector(s) of the economy. At least this has been the usual course of capitalist development so far. Has West Bengal , with nearly 4500 villages languishing in destitution (as Bhattacharya himself had admitted some time ago, during a discussion on starvation deaths in Amlasol), achieved this development? A peasant becomes a doorkeeper, with hardly any job security, in an apartment that rises on the land he owned and cultivated till last year – do we call that progress?

West Bengal has already attained self-sufficiency in food production – so runs the second argument – hence all apprehensions of a threat to food security are baseless. But the latest Economic Review (2004-05) placed in the State Assembly proves this claim itself to be baseless. According to this report, between September 2003 and September 2004 the West Bengal government lifted from the central pool 25 lakh 42 thousand tons of rice which included 2 lakh 90 thousand tons of rice collected by the FCI from within the State. This means that the State made a net import of foodgrains to the tune of 22 lakh 52 thousand tons via the FCI alone, not counting non-government imports. In the situation, several thousand acres of land withdrawn from agriculture would further worsen availability of cheap foodgrains in the State.

Thirdly, we must get rid of dogmas and accept the reality of globalisation – Sri Bhattacharya retorts whenever he faces questions or issues raised from a Marxist or broadly pro-poor perspective, such as resistance to eviction, struggle against imperialist penetration or class struggle and class outlook generally. In a recent interview to a leading Bengali daily, he candidly remarked that even revolutionary poetry – including poems by Sukanta Bhattacharya, Bengal 's most popular Marxist poet of the late British period who also happened to be the uncle of BB – no longer inspire him. Marxism itself is now a disgusting dogma for this darling of the bourgeoisie, who has emerged as the most authentic mouthpiece and salesman, within the left movement, of neo-liberal dogmas like investment as a panacea, investment above everything else.

And yet, since they cannot afford to abandon the communist/Socialist signboard altogether, Bengali leaders of CPI(M) now routinely cite the current Chinese praxis in support of theirs. Leaving apart the pros and cons of the Chinese trajectory, one could hardly think of a more ahistoric comparison. While discussing the New Economic Policy (NEP) that entailed many concessions to foreign and indigenous capital, Lenin remarked in 1921 that a victorious revolution "creates such a 'reserve of strength' that it is possible to hold out even in a forced retreat, hold out both materially and morally... in such way as to stop the retreat in time and revert to the offensive." (The Importance of Gold Now and After the Complete Victory of Socialism). State power in the hands of communist party, continuing public ownership of major means of production, economic foundations built up by decades of self-reliant development – in China you have all these and more that enable comrades there to interact with imperialist capital from a position of strength unthinkable in our context.

In addition to these, there is no dearth of platitudinous promises: evicted persons will get adequate compensation, cultivatable land – especially double or multi-cropped land – will be spared "as far as possible" and so on. From their own experience people know the real worth of such assurances and would not easily buy them. They are worried and indignant. Our party is taking a series of initiatives – at the grassroots as well as from above – to organise the popular discontent into a strong and effective resistance (see report elsewhere) and Mamata Banerjee is also very much in the fray. She has called for a Tebhaga type movement, and is drawing large crowds once again. The CPI(M), which seems to have taken a calculated risk with an eye on the growing urban populace, is frantically defending its positions in the name of development. With only a few months to go before the Assembly elections, the land question has once again come to the fore as the key issue in Bengal politics.