Always at a remove from reality, Indian Leftists finally seem to be getting somewhat closer to economic and political truths. In January, soon after a party meeting, Jyoti Basu told journalists about the “inevitability” of capitalism. The comrades were mortified.
There was more to come. In the 2 February issue of the Economic and Political Weekly, Left economist Prabhat Patnaik argued: “The conception of a communist party being always concerned exclusively and immediately with the ushering in of socialism is theoretically erroneous.”
Ferment is not limited to the realm of ideas. In West Bengal, there are serious differences among constituents of the Left Front on ideological grounds. The All India Forward Bloc, a part of the coalition, is on the warpath and feels the CPM has “deviated” from the true path. This is understandable. After all, such differences are most acute on an Animal Farm, the pretension of ideas notwithstanding.
The change in the Left is an interesting reflection on political dynamics in India. It reinforces what public choice economists have argued all along: the power of the few to block policies affecting the majority. The Left has a consistent record of opposing every liberalizing move since 1991 when the reforms began.
What is interesting in this story is why the Left changed its mind. Karl Marx had strong respect for empirical wisdom. Yet, that is not the source of the Left’s changing ideas (one only has to view Patnaik’s road map that places capitalism as a halt on the road from imperfect socialism to perfect socialism!). The source is the fear of being wiped out politically. Public expectations in the age of economic growth have exploded. If paying jobs are not forthcoming, ruling political parties will become irrelevant. The best strategy for that is to join the private sector and not oppose it. In this respect, it has a ready model. West European Communist parties remodelled themselves along social democratic lines after the Soviet demise. The Indian Left can emulate them.
The Left realizes that if this calls for raising the ideological anchor, then so be it. Finally it’s realizing the wisdom of the economist it loves to hate, Adam Smith, who spoke in favour of individual interest.
Will the Indian Left have any relevance in the future? Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org