Lately, there appears to be some rift within CPM between left intellectuals and active politicians over the developments in West Bengal. During an interview with a T.V. Channel, West Bengal Chief Minister said, “Left economists are academic and not in touch with reality ........... I have read what Prabhat Patnaik has written. I don’t agree with what Patnaik has said”. (Times of India, July 1, 2007).
Prabhat Patnaik, a professor of Economics from Jawaharlal Nehru University, has long been associate of CPM and regarded as an important ideologue of the party. He is also the Vice-Chairman of the Kerala State Planning Board since Left Democratic Front come into power there. He is also the editor of the left side academic journal ‘Social Scientists’. As a JNU Professor, he has taught many CPM stalwarts such as Sitraram Yechury.
Bhattacharya’s diatribe is not limited to Patnaik alone, but also targets his wife Utsa Patnaik and Jayati Ghosh. They are also Professors of Economics in JNU. Why is Buddhadev angry with them?
The left intellectuals associated with the Communist Parties are in dilemma today. They know that the Left Front government in West Bengal is moving in a wrong direction. But they do not want to criticize it openly. Except Sumit Sarkar, all of them remained silent, when the local people struggled against Tata project in Singur. When Nandigram came up, many left intellectuals issued a joint statement which termed the developments unanticipated, unjustified and unfortunate, but did not comment on the West Bengal government or its policy of industrialisation.
But things did not stop here. The violence, conflict and repression continued in Nandigram and Singur. The debate on industrialization, displacement, SEZ and globalidation was intensified and sharpened by these developments. An honest intellectual cannot remain silent in such times. Finally, Prabhat Patnaik broke the silence. He wrote an article “In the Aftermath of ‘Nandigram’ in a prestigious journal ‘Economic and Political Weekly’ (March 341- April 6, 2006). He did not criticize the West Bengal government directly, but for the first time he took a clear position on Nandigram and corporate industrialization. He should be congratulated for his courage. His write-up is also a clear departure from the rubbish that Prakash Karat, Brinda Karat and their likes have been writing in defence of the West Bengal government.
He wrote another article in Hindu (June 26, 2007) lauding one year of the LDF government in Kerala. He said that Kerala has shown that an alternative is possible to the neo-liberal policies being pushed by the centre. His praise for Kerala government may be disputed, but perhaps this was also a clear and an indirect way to criticize LF government of West Bengal. Perhaps such articles have angered the West Bengal CPM.
But the contradictions and confusions are also apparent in what Patnaik has written. His EPW article is analysed here.
Patnaik is perfectly correct in claiming that tragedies like Nandigram are inherent in the operation of a neoliberal policy regime. The type of corporate industrialization possible in such a regime is necessarily anti-people. Patnaik refutes very well the employment argument for ‘industrialisation’. The direct and indirect employment creating capacity of the grande industry sector is negligible. Such an industrialization, in the context of present day capitalism, cannot take surplus labour out of agriculture into grande industry, as is being argued by its votaries.
Patnaik also accepts that the problem is not confined to corporate industry alone; it afflicts the entire spectrum of grande industry, for even in China, recent phenomenal growth rate in industrial output has hardly increased industrial employment. He also notes adverse long term fall-outs on employment of shift from traditional to grande industry and technological progress. He also acknowledges destructive effects on surrounding population, including peasantry.
Having said so, and recognizing the problems associated with industrialization based on grande industry, he clarifies that this does not mean that “industrialization’ should not occur. His reason for this is that grande industry provides as a whole, range of use-values which are part and parcel of everyday life for everyone. It is rather a perplexing turn and a weak argument. He seems to become suddenly conscious lest he be branded as an anti-industrialisation, anti-modernisation person or a ‘Luddite’.
What is Patnaik’s alternative then? Industrialisation should be brought under the aegis of the public sector or through the co-operatives of peasants whose lands are acquired, so that costs to the people could be minimized or avoided. He also gives the example of Soviet Union, where the grande industry came up within the context of a planned economy, and not a market-driven economy. They controlled the rate of technological- cum- structural change, and hence could successfully shift workers out of agriculture into grande industry.
But, Prabhat Patnaik and all the leftist intellectuals cannot afford to ignore two other important fall-outs of modern industrialization based on large scale industries and modern technology. One, Such an industrialization requires capital investment on a huge scale. This capital necessarily created by exploitation and destruction of agriculture and traditional industries plus colonial and neo-colonial exploitation. Simple exploitation of workers in factories is not sufficient for accumulation of capital on such a large scale. In other words, creation and exploitation if internal colonies and external colonies (or neo-colonies) is inherent and is a necessary condition of such industrialization, whether brought in a capitalist system or a soviet type system. Two, It is also becoming more and more clear that the requirement of natural resources for this kind of industrialization is enormous, which is creating new crises. Dispossession of local communities from their land, forest, water, fish etc., displacement and destruction on a large scale are also inherent in it. This has become a rule, rather than an exception. Therefore it is hard to avoid or reduce much of the destructive impact of such an indutrialisation even in a planned economy like Soviet Union.
Prabhat Patnaik draws our attention to the situation of ‘primitive accumulation of capital’ occurring in today’s India. Corporate industry uses its monopoly positions to demand concessions from the state exchequer to impose ‘conditionalities’ on the state government to the detriment of people, and to engage in land speculation. He calls it ‘accumulation through encroachment’. Marx used the term ‘primitive accumulation of capital’ to describe the process of displacement and dispossessions of peasants in 17th century England for the sake of industrial interests. But, if we look at the history of non-European world of last three centuries, is it not clear that ‘primitive accumulation of capital’ has always been occurring in some part of the world throughout this period, though it may not be visible in Europe in later period? In that sense, it is not exactly ‘primitive’; it is a continuous, ongoing and fundamental mechanism of industrial capitalism. It is a process to extract and capture the natural resources by dispossessing the people at the world level. This mechanism is based on force, many times brute force and barbarism, and it is not a market mechanism. The development of industrial capitalism is necessarily based on it. This facts is many times obscured by too much concentration in Marxist circles on capital labour conflict within a factory or a single economy.
When Prabhat Patnaik presents Soviet industrialization as a model, he owes an explanation as to why it failed? Why did Soviet Union and the communist bloc disintegrate? What were their internal contradiction ? Is it not true that, in order to bring same kind of industrialization as it occurred in capitalist Europe, Soviet Union also developed internal colonies, exploited the agriculture, dispossessed the peasants, increased regional disparities and developed a semi- colonial relationship with east European countries and Asian territories? Again, the problem is the modern industrialization based on grande industry perse. In this sense, there is indeed a conflict between this kind of industrialization and the peasantry, between it and people, between it and real socialism. The corporate nature of industrialization does matter, but only marginally. We need to look for an alternative to this kind of industrailisation.
“Sometimes, there seems to be a deep- rooted belief in superiority and inevitability of the modern industrialization in Marxist circles, which is quite similar to liberal capital circle. Because of this, they cannot think beyond it. They cannot think of alternative to it, in spite of its destruction and undesirable fall-outs becoming to abandon the path of socialism and embrace full- fledged capitalist globalization. The source of this belief is perhaps their attachment to the modern life style. It is reflected when Prabhat Patnaik argues that we cannot sacrifice the use- values created by grande industry, and they have become part and parcel of our everyday life. In the context of present controversies, it will mean that cars to be manufactured at Singur are a must, whether produced by Tata or by public sector. But it is the increasing needs of modern luxurious life which is causing irreparable destruction of lives of people dependent on these resources. It is causing global warming and creating unforeseen and unprecedented global-environmental crises. These are well-known and well-accepted facts now, but it seems that Marxist intellectuals have not integrated them into their thinking and analysis.
It is this attachment to, and an obsession with, modern life style and blind faith in modern industrialization, which take us to a path leading to Singur and Nandigram. If the model of development is the same, and ‘industrialisation’ has to be done in any case, Tata and Salem group naturally turn into friends and allies. Then many more Singures and Nandigrams will take place. Like China, West Bengal may remain a left or a communist –ruled territory in name, but a naked play of forces of corporate capitalism will go on. If the ‘left’ has to avoid this fate, its intellectuals will have to come out of this confusion. They will have to rethink and reshape their ideas and policies in the light of the new experiences today. It may be too late tomorrow.
The author is the acting President of the Samajwadi Jana Parishad.