The Communists in Kerala swear by their working class ideology and dialectics, but in practice they deftly spin it to survive and gain from a neoliberal world order. On paper, they are Communists, but in reality, they can only aspire to be, at best, social democrats.
Marxists would certainly detest being called social democrats because ideology is what they wax eloquent about and what gives them cover. Everything they do, whether it’s an alleged political murder or taking advertisements from homegrown crony-capitalists, are ideologically sanitised by their formal and informal network of supporters and proxies. Everything, according to them, is part of their long-term plan of a revolutionary project.
Being a mutualist with the neoliberal marketplace is therefore their unavoidable strategy for the triumph of the working class. But, Marxism is certainly not social democracy.
Marxists would certainly detest being called social democrats because ideology is what they wax eloquent about and what gives them cover.
One of the early trends that the media picked up since the CPM came to power in Kerala is the spate of announcements welcoming big businesses to invest in Kerala, encouraging public-private partnerships, and even kickstarting infrastructure projects that have long been shelved for environmental and feasibility reasons. “Left goes right” said a Times of India headline while the Indian Express said “Pinarayi Vijayan’s new Kerala: Silicon Valley-type hubs. A Malayalam newspaper headline quoted the industries minister saying all monopolies are welcome to the state.
(CPI (M) leaders, including new Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan (L), take part in the Polit Bureau Meeting at CPI (M) office at Gole Market, on May 29, 2016 in New Delhi, India. Photo by Sushil Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
Vijayan has made it clear that the Government would acquire land for highways and rail-lines, offer “all support” to industries, and create “Silicon Valley hubs”. He also said there would be new high-speed trains - all with private investment. In terms of power generation, he said a highly controversial hydro-electric project that had been shelved because of potential ecological damage would be implemented. He dismissed trade unionism as a myth. His junior in the cabinet and Industries Minister, EP Jayarajan made the most telling statement: “the government would not put any curbs on multinational monopolies if they are beneficial to the state”.
So Marxists have no problem with “multinationals”, “IT giants”, and “monopolies” if they benefit the state. So, are they turncoats like their counterparts in the rest of the world? Have they gone “Right” as the popular media have begun to call them?
Probably not, because in the same breath of strengthening private investment, they also talk about the public sector and welfare. Therefore, it’s better to look at them as social democrats because social democracy allows for growth and welfare to match each other. The CPM certainly will not like the terminology and will like to spin its ideology to suit its behaviour.
So Marxists have no problem with “multinationals”, “IT giants”, and “monopolies” if they benefit the state. So, are they turncoats like their counterparts in the rest of the world?
Although social democracy preceded Marxism and brilliantly survived more than a century of socio-political and economic changes better than the latter, ideological dogma prevents Marxists from acknowledging its merit and sustainability. What Pinarayi and his party are attempting in Kerala is what social democracy does - striving for a balance between capitalism and socialism, a system where the state is large and welfare of the people is as important as economic growth. The only justification the CPM can use to encourage multinationals and private capital is people’s welfare. Welfare through capitalist growth is not Marxism or Communism.
(Street scene of a cycle rickshaw in a street near Kalighat, Kolkata, West Bengal, India. Symbol on the wall : the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (abbreviated CPI (M) or CPM) is a left-wing Marxist political party in India. Photo by Marji Lang/LightRocket via Getty Images)
It's not surprising that all the "happy" countries in the world are social democracies where wealth generation and the welfare state go hand in hand. The World Happiness Report published by the United Nations strongly associates happiness with equality, which means that people feel most equal with one another in these countries.
The “happiest” country in the world is not United States, China or Cuba, but Denmark. Even capitalist Canada and New Zealand are up there in happiness index because of their welfare states. One of the greatest welfare state examples of our times, the National Health Service (NHS) in England, draws its resources from capitalist growth. The Scandinavian social democracies - which are the best in the world for women, differently abled, sick and for people who are both hardworking and easy-going - haven’t achieved their human development goals through a Marxist socio-economic model.
Communism hasn’t delivered what it promised. Kerala’s transformational success story is not an exclusively a Communist story as the party and its proxies try to misrepresent. It’s the early reformist movements that put the state on the right track and C Achutha Menon and K Karunakaran, who headed “Right” governments are as important as EMS, the first Communist Chief Minister.
What Pinarayi and his party are attempting in Kerala is what social democracy does - striving for a balance between capitalism and socialism, a system where the state is large and welfare of the people is as important as economic growth.
If at all it delivered in a tiny Cuba, it was not without the cost of human rights (lobotomies in mental hospitals, incarceration of HIV-positive people, abuse of dissidents etc). Even when endowed with a rich national resource such as oil, Venezuela is fast becoming a failed state.
In East Asia, Communist rulers have ravaged their countries and post-communist distress capitalism is driving people apart under party leadership. A century of world history teaches us that it’s a fallacy that you need a Communist state for equality. In fact, it's a ruinous fantasy. The danger, as we have seen everywhere, is that what comes after communism is distress capitalism, which is essentially a free for all. Most often, even that doesn’t help. Look at Venezuela.
Therefore, it’s really encouraging to see Pinarayi pursuing a transitional or rather forward-looking policy for growth and welfare. It makes sense to change the lens we use to look at the CPM in Kerala.
Don’t call them Communists, call them social democrats so that they may not go the whole hog towards the Right as their contemporaries in the rest of the world did.