November 28, 2007

About discrediting

Why is there such a lot of comment out there, suggesting that Nandigram embodies some monstrous "failure" of "the left"?

Put it another way: why should the atrocities of Nandigram tar an entire half of the political spectrum? (The left). After all, did the atrocities of Gujarat in 2002 tar an entire half of the political spectrum? (The right).

Put it another way still: which of the following statements do you agree with?
  • Stalin's record of mass killings permanently discredits the left, because he was a communist.

  • Hitler's record of holocausts permanently discredits the right, because he was a fascist.

  • The killing in Gujarat in 2002 permanently discredits the right, because the state government was (and is) a right-wing one.

  • Mao's record of killing and misery permanently discredits the left, because Mao was communist.

  • Indira Gandhi's Emergency permanently discredits the left, because Indira professed socialism.

  • Pinochet's record of murders and "disappeareds" permanently discredits the right, because he was a rightist.

  • Sensible, responsible thinkers on the left are appalled by the crimes of Nandigram, exactly as sensible, responsible thinkers on the right were appalled by the crimes of Gujarat 2002. Therefore it is absurd to blame the "left" for Nandigram, just as it is absurd to blame the "right" for Gujarat.

  • Head far left on the ideological spectrum and you eventually reach the same place, meet the same folks, as if you head far right: thugs and criminals, nothing else. No ideology, no principles, no values, no left, no right: only crime.
Me? I'll take two of those.


Michael Deibert said...

"Head far left on the ideological spectrum and you eventually reach the same place, meet the same folks, as if you head far right: thugs and criminals, nothing else. No ideology, no principles, no values, no left, no right: only crime."

Quite so, as I have seen time and again throughout the world.

Best from Paris,


Anonymous said...

"But, finally, the real difference lies in the principles of the Left and Right, between a state ruled for many years by the Left as in Bengal and one ruled by the BJP as in Gujarat. Whereas the citizens of Gujarat let no hint of remorse taint their restful nights, even after having witnessed the murder and maiming of their fellow citizens, the people of Bengal are an anguished lot, anguished at the betrayal of the principles they voted for. Decades of CPI (M) rule may not have done much for Bengal’s human development indicators but it has expanded the constituency of those who believe in democracy and equality; it has entrenched a conscience in its supporters. The strongest critics of the CPI (M) come from within. Decades of BJP rule, on the other hand, may have created Gujarat Shining, but has destroyed the very possibility of humanity."

Some differences there, says Nandini Sundar.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

Dilip - to your last point: yes. And communists are "far left". Lots of people from the "moderate left" have spoken out against the Nandigram violence, but as far as I have seen, among the communists only Ashok Mitra has spoken against what happened.

anonymous - could it be that Nandini Sundar is mixing up cause and effect? A government can't change a centuries-old culture. Perhaps the people of Bengal voted for the left because they already found themselves in sympathy with leftist ideals?

Anonymous said...

"Therefore it is absurd to blame the "left" for Nandigram, just as it is absurd to blame the "right" for Gujarat."

Oh no! It seems it became "absurd" to blame the right only recently. Let me guess, that was when it became important to make the case that it was absurd to blame the left for Nandigram.

Anonymous said...

Rahul - Nandini Sundar did not mix it up. Neither did she claim that the CPI(M) rule "changed" the Bengali culture. It has "expanded the constituency" of those in sympathy with leftist ideals. She contrasts this with the BJP rule in Gujarat which "has destroyed the very possibility of humanity".

Anonymous said...

> It seems it became "absurd" to blame the right only recently. [for Gujarat]

I would like to be informed where and when the entire right has been blamed for the Gujarat carnage. Please do the needful. I am waiting.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Anon456 says that Nandini Sundar says this about CPI(M) rule in WB: "It has 'expanded the constituency' of those in sympathy with leftist ideals."

Actually what she said, which Anon456 itself quoted at 456, was "it has expanded the constituency of those who believe in democracy and equality."

Therefore I can only assume that Anon456 is advising us that "democracy and equality" are "leftist ideals". Is that what you intended, anon456? Quite an admission, if so. Thanks for spelling it out.

Thanks Michael and Rahul.

I can't say anything about the "people of Bengal" post-Nandigram, since I haven't been there in some years. But I can say how dismayed I am at the number of ordinary folks I've met in Gujarat -- a taxi driver we hired comes to mind, as does a young man taking over his family factory -- who spoke approvingly of the killings of 2002.

Anonymous said...

Rajdeep Sardesai has opined that the Hindu-Muslim schism is deeper and leads to stronger hostility. This was pre-Nandigram and he was comparing to Delhi '84 which he called a temporary eruption, but I think the same holds good for this issue.

Hence maybe the 'justification' you found in Gujrat. If there were out & out communal conflagrations in WB, one would likely soon find the same stances. If CPM pronouncements (Biman Bose et al) and party worker approvals /demonstrations are anything to go by, one doesnt find WB too much off-track.

I found this from Rahul's post insightful: (approx, from memory)

"The distinction between leftist liberals and communists is often lost even on leftist liberals. There is little that is liberal about the communists."


Anonymous said...

I did a few brief web searches on:

Nandigram, failure, left,
Nandigram, discredit, left

and only came up with a handful of relevant sites:

1. TOI and a couple of business sites/ publications

2. in almost equal proportion:, naxalrevolution, radicalblogger

3. rest were irrelevant ("he left the room" etc.)

so "tarring the entire left", esp from anybody presumably non-left, didnt quite seem to be happening.


The only relevant example from my blog reading has been:

- that the left ideology doesnt distinguish btwn party and state and state bodies are more easily infiltrated, or dominated by party cadre; this could explain why the use of CPM cadre as more effective than police force is considered acceptable, and payback statements issued so coolly.


I could point out that there is similar strategy in Gujarat, but lefties have to be able to take this above, pretty reasonable criticism indeed.


Anonymous said...

Dilip, I would have to disagree with you - the actions of the CPI(M) discredit the (Indian) left.

Let me explain - The CPM once was the party of EMS Namboodripad, a party whose ideology once stood against the neo-liberal project. To see the craven depths to which it has sunk does discredit those of the Left that continue to condone its actions. That is why, like anonymous 4:56pm above, while I (and many others on the "far left") rant and rave about the Hindutva project, am no less critical of CPI(M).

That is also why we are deeply disappointed to read wishy-washy endorsements of the CPI(M) from academics of the stature of Noam Comsky, Howard Zinn, Tariq Ali et al..

It's not just about the specific events of Nandigram - which are but an indicator that the CPI(M) pursues the same neo-liberal agenda that the Congress does. We feel betrayed that a party that seeks to represent the "left" is so far from the left in its ideology - as opposed to being "far left".

Also "democracy" is IMO a much-bandied about word that means different things to different people. It has become common parlance to use it in the western liberal sense of representative parliamentary democracy where democracy begins and ends at the ballot box. Why is never any mention of democracy at the workplace for example? Such democracy is very much a "leftist ideal".

But of course this disagreement is but another manisfestation of age-old moderate vs radical divide..

Dilip D'Souza said...

lod, I'm not sure what you mean. One thing I meant by this post that it is absurd to discredit the whole left because of the horrors committed by the CPI(M) in WB. That party has sunk to craven depths. Yes, those who condone its actions are discredited. But plenty of other left-leaning people are appalled by the CPI(M)'s doings, for precisely the reasons you seem to get at -- because they are so antithetical to what those left-leaning people hold as values and ideals.

I fully agree with you that democracy, in its fullest sense, is a "leftist ideal"!

But for someone apparently critical of the left (correct me if I'm wrong, 456) to say that was, I thought, amusing enough to comment on.

Anonymous said...

I think the use of "left", "right", "far left", "far from the left", etc has created some confusion. It may be better to talk about the principal players by their real names; CPI(M), BJP, and the Congress.

I tend to agree with Nandini Sundar: decades of CPI(M) rule in WB helped in furthering the cause of democracy and equality. Contrast this with the BJP rule in Gujarat. Now if you agree with Nandini on this, as I do, you can't possibly argue that they are both thugs and criminals. "No ideology, no principles, no values, no left, no right: only crime", as Dilip puts it.

If you don't agree with Nandini on that, that's another point to debate.

Yazad Jal said...

The political spectrum is a bit more complex than being "left or right" This is a false dichotomy, somewhat similar to Bush's "either with us or against us"

My political views are neither "leftist" nor "rightist" -- does that mean that I'm not in the "spectrum"?

Dilip D'Souza said...

Now if you agree with Nandini on this, as I do, you can't possibly argue that they are both thugs and criminals.

Actually, Anon456, why not? It seems plausible to me that one party's long rule has "furthered the cause of democracy and equality", but even so, that party's cadres have got used to, and drunk on, power. To the extent that they have turned into thugs and criminals.

The spectrum is complex all right. But pointing that out doesn't change things much. For example, take this article and note its tag. I'm yet to find an article whose tag reads, for example, "The economically-Left-socially-anarcho-libertarians have always been brutal", or some such. Sometimes there's a value to simplicity too.

In other words, it makes perfect sense to me that many leftists/liberals are appalled by the CPI(M)'s doings in Nandigram: because such things as senseless violence and injustice and the breakdown of governance tend to leave them appalled. And that doesn't need complexity to understand.

Anonymous said...

Dilip - When you say that the far left and the far right of the ideological spectrum are full of thugs and criminals, one gets the impression that there is something intrinsic in these far left and far right ideologies that leads to the "no ideology, no principles, no values, no left, no right: only crime" state. Did you mean that or is it just my reading? To my mind, drunkenness of power leading to thuggery and criminality is one thing; something deep and intrinsic in an organization's ideology leading to that is quite another.

It makes perfect sense to me too that many leftists/liberals are appalled by the CPI(M)'s doings in Nandigram. They condemn it, and rightly so. That does not need complexity to understand, I agree. What does not make sense to me is the equating of Nandigram 07 with Gujarat 02 by many of these leftists/liberals. And I'm not talking about the sheer difference in the scale of violence.

The frequent flaring up of anger and outburst over an economic issue is understandable in today's liberalized and globalized India. The tendency of the state is to crush these protests. Many lives have been lost in various parts of the country, including Nandigram. Perhaps Nandigram is the only success story of the anti-SEZ movement, till date. Needless to say, the issue is quite complex. Movements over economic issues, the shape they take and the various methods that the state employs to negotiate such movements, these are the real points to be discussed.

The context of Gujarat 02 is unconstitutional; that the religious minorities will not have citizen rights. A Hindutva laboratory experiment, unique in many ways, which questions the very idea of India.

The proclivity of many of these leftists/liberals to draw comparisons between Nandigram and Gujarat is indeed worrisome. It exhibits "a warped notion of balance", to quote Nandini Sundar once again. Merely pointing out that "senseless violence and injustice and the breakdown of governance" happened here in Nandigram and "senseless violence and injustice and the breakdown of governance" happened there in Gujarat "doesn't change things much", I'm afraid.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

anon 456 -- why don't you want to associate your name with what you wrote?

Anyway, I'll take a shot at it: Nandigram had everything to do with Communist ideology. In communism, the state is supreme, and anything is allowed in the interest of a hypothetical greater good of the many (usually the greater good of those in power). So if Nandigram was standing in the way of "progress", it had to be recaptured by any means necessary. The CPI(M) is not the first communist party to do this.

Communism has nothing to do with democratic ideals and the democratically elected CPI(M) governments in India are very much the exceptions in the world. (I wonder whether names like "German Democratic Republic" indicated that some of them had a sense of humour.)

The left of course can be democratic. But generally speaking, what distinguishes the left from the right is that the left believes that the government must intervene to provide essential services (healthcare, education, social security...). But as you go further to the left, you want more and more government control over everything, until you slide into authoritarianism. Meanwhile, the right is generally associated with social and religious conservatism; if you move too far in that direction, also, you slide into authoritarianism. Once you have a few people in absolute power, they inevitably get corrupted.

Anonymous said...

@ Dilip:

Sorry If I misunderstood what you were saying. As I see it, Nandigram in many ways was the culmination of the rot within the CPI(M. It is the failure of many of us (i include myself here) on the "left" to not call them out earlier, but better late than never.

>Nandigram had everything to do with Communist ideology...

On the contrary I think it is an utter betrayal of communist ideology. Yes, there have been a number of "communist" governments that have become totalitarian but that has gone with an abandonment of communist ideology, not because if it.

I agree with you one should never give the state too much power, which is why I've become more anarchist of late - just think that if you really want to understand communist ideology it comes by reading communist thinkers - Gramsci, Marx, CLR James et al..

Re: democracy and communism, do read my last comment..

Destination Infinity said...

Wanted to share an interesting context, outside India this time. In his book, "Sixty Million Frenchmen cant be Wrong, the author gives an extreme situation where the French Right nationalizes the industries which were privatized by the Left earlier. Not exactly in the context of this blog, but still it is in the same spirit as your closing statement. People always find ways of getting around the system to achieve their ends. Some do it directly in the name of dictatorship, others do it in the name of the govt. For some reason, this quote came to my mind- "This new invention of democracy is very closely connected with a peculiar phenominon which has recently spread to a pernicious extent, namely the cowardice of a large section of our so called political leaders. Whenever important decisions have to be made, they always find themselves fortunate in being able to hide behind the backs of what they call the majority"- This from noneother than Adolf Hitler himself in Mein Kampf.

Destination Infinity said...
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