RAMACHANDRA GUHA is a well-known historian of modern India. What he writes is taken seriously. His essay on the past and future of Indian communism—‘After the Fall’, published in the June 2011 issue of The Caravan—demands more attention particularly as he claims to be “an anthropologist among Marxists” and a “student of Marxism by habit”.
After the defeat of the Left Front in West Bengal assembly elections in May, the first since 1977—“after a long span of 34 years”—much has been written about the fate of the communists, and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in particular. Much of it is journalistic hyperbole.
But Guha is different. He seeks to analyse the causes of the defeat to the hidebound dogmas of the CPI(M) and the party’s inability to change with the times. He proclaims that “the central paradox of Indian communism is that its practice is vastly superior to its theory.” According to him, its theory is derived from Lenin and Stalin and is unable to come to grips with Indian realities. It is this claim that needs to be taken up and countered.
Guha’s conclusion about the theory and ideology of India’s communists stems from his own philosophical outlook. He is a self-confirmed liberal. He ardently believes in liberal democracy and liberal values. His intellectual aversion to Marxism arises from the bourgeois liberal standpoint—any revolutionary project is doomed to end in totalitarianism and unfreedom.
For Guha, as long as the CPI(M) grounds itself in a Marxist ideological world view, it cannot wipe off the stain of Stalinism. The only way out is the renunciation of Marxism and the embrace of social democracy. But we will come to that a little later.