Raise your eyes from the line of photos and glance north, and there, a few yards to the north is a stretch of the Berlin Wall, which ran a bit further west past Martin Gropius-Bau, a museum, then swung north along Ebert-Strasse, across Unter den Linden, leaving the Brandenberg Gate in East Berlin and the Reichstag in the West. Here, at the end of the 1980s, the 40th anniversary of the founding of the GDR, the East German government threw in the towel. Soon, most of the wall was rubble, along with -- so it seemed -- the movement that grew from the writings of Marx and Engels, who both studied at Humboldt University, a few hundred yards eastward along Unter den Linden from the Brandenberg Gate.
Movements and political parties wither away when they lose touch with the onward march of history and barricade themselves behind dead ideas and policemen. Look now at a braver prospect that continues to unfold -- as it did through the twilight and collapse of Communist Parties in the GDR and the Soviet Union -- thousands of miles east of the old Prinz Albrecht-Strasse. In India, as in Latin America, the disastrous neoliberal years elicited retribution and victories for the Left. Whether these victories can launch a long-term counterattack is the great world story of our time.
Early this month, a Left front led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPIM) swept West Bengal with a three-fourths majority, 233 seats out of 293 declared. It was the coalition's biggest win since the heyday of the CPIM's -- hereinafter -- land reforms in 1987, the Left's seventh straight win in polling for West Bengal's state legislature and the 15th straight victory (if you take elections to the central parliament from West Bengal into account) since the Left was voted into power in Bengal in 1977, and rammed through the most ambitious land reforms program India has seen, the reward for the Left in West Bengal being victory after victory in every election since. They have also smashed the Congress in every one of eight polls to the central parliament since 1977.
There's no precedent for such a triumph for the Left, in India or indeed anywhere for a state with a population of close to 100 million. Around 40 million people, close to 80 percent of the electorate, voted in West Bengal to give the CPIM-led Left front this kind of win.
The Left has also swept the southwestern state of Kerala, population of 32 million, with a three-fourths majority, the biggest Left victory ever in Kerala's history. The Left Democratic Front won two-thirds of the seats, with the CPIM itself prevailing in 61 of the 98 seats secured by the alliance.
Among the biggest losers in Kerala was the reactionary Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), with countless thousands of Muslims, especially young people and women, going against them this time. The League lost seats it's held for decades. The Muslim minority knew a few things about the Left: In no state ruled by the Left, when the Left was in power, has there ever been a communal riot and attendant sectarian violence. They could compare that with the record of the Hindu-fundamentalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress. In Kerala last year, on platforms with my friend, the journalist P. Sainath and also member of India's national parliament Veerendra Kumar, I vividly remember addressing a big left meeting on the war in Iraq, organized by the radical bank clerks' union in Kozhikode, where there was a conspicuous presence of prominent local Muslims in the front row.
Besides, poor Muslims in Kerala have also been crushed by the agrarian crisis that also hurt thousands of small traders, many amongst them Muslims. All this reduced their normal suspicion of the "Godless Communists."
India's anti-Left press (e.g. 95 percent of India's press) snaps peevishly that the Left is "anti-reform," therefore antediluvian, out of touch with the 21st century. In fact, the Left, in West Bengal and elsewhere, has always been pro-reforms, in a decent use of the word: land reform and labor reform. They believe these are a prerequisite to other kinds of reforms. Their position on foreign investment is not a regression to autarky. They favor it if it leads to more employment, adds to India's technological base, does not undermine public interest and employment, and if it's in productive sectors and not merely an injection of hot money that will disappear at the drop of a hat. The Left opposes privatization that simply means theft of public resources of the sort that Evo Morales has just reversed in the natural gas sector in Bolivia.
The Left has led major agitations against privatization. On Sept. 29, 2005, a Left-led strike swept through industrial units, banks, airports and enterprises employing nearly 40 million workers. This was an explicit warning to the Indian governing coalition against rampant privatization.
If an electorate as politically conscious as Bengal's elects a communist party 30 years in a row, the CPIM must have got some things right, which it has -- especially in the countryside. In West Bengal, Hidai Sheikh, a 50-year-old farmer, told a reporter from the bi-weekly Frontline, "the CPIM is the only viable alternative we have. After all, in times of need, they are always there beside us." The red flags I saw last year in villages in Wyanad are not antique emblems, like the bric-a-brac now on sale at Checkpoint Charlie, the crossing point in the old days between the Soviet and U.S. sectors of Berlin. In political terms they are alive and vibrant.
© Creators Syndicate
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May 24, 2006 (http://www.albionmonitor.com)
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