Class Struggles in West Bengal

Slavoj Zizek mentions in one of his essays that the precise moment at which the Revolution in Iran against the Shah’s brutal regime began, can be traced back to one incident: The refusal of a lone pedestrian to obey the command of the policeman on a busy street. The moment at which this pedestrian refused to obey the command, the symbolic chain of impenetrability of the order was broken, and it suddenly became clear that commands could be disobeyed. More and more people joined in disobeying the command. Increasingly greater numbers joined in protests against the order. In another context, Louis Althusser would call such a situation ‘overdetermined’ – a situation where a whole range of different conflicts and discontents ‘merge’ or ‘fuse’ into an explosive situation. That is what determines, according to Althusser, a revolutionary or insurrectionary situation.

Something of this kind happened in West Bengal, sometime towards the end of 2006 when Singur erupted into a mass struggle. But the crucial turning point, of course, came with Nandigram. The ‘Nandigram effect’, which could not have been possible without Singur but which took the logic of Singur to an insurrectionary level, made one thing clear: The CPM-police-government-vested interest nexus could be broken; that it was not invincible. Almost within a few weeks of Nandigram, as Vaskar Nandy explained in a talk in Delhi University last April, the Nandigram effect had pervaded the tea gardens ruled by a powerful nexus of vested interests of the CITU, police and the industrialists. The virtually invisible local revolts against this cadre-raj drove away the self-appointed leaders breaking these nexuses irreparably.

It was also a sign of the unprecedented nature of the situation that for the fist time in the last thirty years of CPM rule, middle class students, intellectuals and cultural activists responded spontaneously to the call of Nandigram. It was a replay of what the state had once witnessed in the period of the rise of the Left as a radical force: spontaneous activity that found new channels of communication not available till then. Films on Nandigram made by students were circulated in CDs and screened in a molecular fashion through the universities and colleges of the state, with intense discussions following. As Moinak Biswas, a cultural theorist based in Jadavpur University put it, Nandigram changed the scenario to such an extent that even the body language of the top CPM leadership could no longer remain the same. The arrogance that they carried in every movement of theirs, stood shattered.

What is happening in West Bengal today – with food riots spreading from Birbhum and Bankura to Burdwan and Murshidabad – is an extended manifestation of the ‘Nandigram effect’. Not surprisingly, popular ire is no longer directed only against the police but has now turned against the CPM machinery itself. All the signs of a popular uprising are evident in the current happenings in the state, even though brain dead apparatchiks like Biman Basu and Benoy Konar and the cadre-beneficiaries of the regime will continue to label these ‘disturbances’ a conspiracy to ‘destabilize the government’ (so what’s wrong with that, one might ask?) It should be borne in mind, however, that there is another feature of an insurrectionary constellation present in this current situation – the machinery itself is breaking and party members are ‘voting with their feet’ (as Lenin said in a very different context.) One lot has and is openly deserting the party while another continues to remain within but is in constant touch with the movement, biding the time as it were. So when the CPM claimed, for instance, that many of those killed in the Nandigram violence were in fact its members (thus ‘proving’ that they were the targets rather than the perpetrators), they were not exactly lying. Just till the other day, they were CPM members and even though they deserted the party and joined the struggle against land acquisition, they alas! died while still on the rolls.

However, as we know too well, not every insurrectionary situation leads to a regime change and between these two lie a whole range of other possibilities which are dependent on a number of other conditions. At any rate, not every insurrection even aspires to a regime change. It nevertheless changes many things in less visible, unintended, unforeseen ways.

11 thoughts on “Class Struggles in West Bengal”

  1. The fact that the symbolic chain is just hanging by its last threads is also evident in the Rizwanur Rahman case. The whole city, people from every walk of life is doing their bit to protest against this impenetrability of order!
    The case where a Muslim boy was murdered for marrying the daughter of a local businessman only to be supported by the police commissioner with his speech justifying the action of the girl’s family. The young couple was also continuously harrassed, threatened and called to the local police HQ Lalbazar for questioning.
    These protests rather the mass movement in the city have made the state government order a judicial probe.
    Across all segments which includes the Cricket Association Bengal which the police commissioner headed.
    Even the sale of the brand belonging to the girl’s businessman father has suffered!
    But another key issue in Bengal is the lack of opposition so if not a regime change but as stated the insurrection might bring about changes in subtle and unforseen ways!
    This might be one the deepest crisis the Left Front has faced in the state where it has had the most successful power run ever!
    Hope it continues.

  2. The genesis of Iran revolution and also post-Nandigram scenario reminds me of similar anecdote read long before in John Read’s very famous book at one time-‘Ten Days which Shook the World’. Like Iranian pedestrian, he was a rustic, teenager, adolescent ‘red guard’, who was surrounded from all the sides by elites of Moscow, in a corner. They were all from upper noble class, ‘enlightened intellects’ of various genders and age groups. Everyone of them was preaching to the poor confused red guard about the complexities of Russian society…its class compositions, hegemony of certain groups and classes etc and they all were trying him to use his own mind before becoming a tool in the hands of Bolshevists..
    This was happening in 1917 October.
    Finally, the baffled young man with red cap couldn’t resist his own dilemma and asked -‘Oh! I don’t get a thing you say dudes. Juss answer me one thing… which side you guys are? Our’s or Tsar Nicholas’ side?’
    John Read wrote that I saw this happening and knew that now on no one can stop the change.
    So, a moment comes when there are no more answers and alternatives possible to a straight question….and that becomes a moment when history is born.

  3. What a load of bullshit!

    What happened at Singur was conducted by outsiders. The local people of Singur did not participate in the ” mass struggle” against the Tata factory. If they had done so, the factory could not be constructed. The construction is going on-and with full support of the local population.

    Nandigram was a public relations failure of the WB government. The “people protest” is actually the protest of the hooligans of the TMC. They wanted a portion of the construction contract.

    The Left Front will remain in power for the next 30 years.

  4. Is it so Arnab?
    Can you still explain a bit more? What we all are fed with is a generalized impression gathered from various information pools. Don’t you think that people, specially poor and deprived are being oppressed to sacrifice more for the sake of comforts of the rich ones?
    ‘Class’ is still a most relevant and operative word. Which are the classes going to be annihilated and which are the beneficiaries…?
    However, I still support WB government to continue simply because this is the best one we have in India…and all our hopes are still focussed on how does it solve paradox between development and human casualties…

  5. Perhaps Arnab is still leaving in the fool’s (CPI-M) paradise.
    My home is close to Singur and i belong to the same district.
    Dear brothers, I also accompanied with the journalists of Matrubhumi from Kerala as well as a global daily from America (I do not want to name the names for different reason) to Singur.

    Arnab may not have the impression that the whole Singur, once a den of Comrade Ajit Basu, a CPI peasant leader, is still against the Tata project. It is only some CPI(M) fellow, who are benefitted in many ways, as one can see how the arrested CPM leader Dutt made lakhs out of Tata project, are supporting it. This is evident also from the recent parents’ representative election to the Singur schools.

    I would have been happy if Arnab spelt the truth, particularly about the Tata project.
    a) it is a joint venture project with Fiat, whose owner was a leader of Musolini’s party and a MP. The CPM-led state government never announced it.
    b) the company had announced that the small car would be with Rs 100,000 price tag. Last week Mr. Rabi Kant, MD of Tata Motors, announced that the cars would be costing more. I can remember the official announcement that the cars will not comply with the pollution standard. To do so, the cost will be much higher.

    will Arnab check and response to these ‘wild allegations’???

  6. And we all do not know, Mr Bhattacharjee, (unlike more ‘informed’ people) that both Buddhadeb and the Tatas belong to Singur. They are not outsiders…

  7. Mr. Bhattacharjee- You are living in a fool’s paradise.

    This government is democratically elected. The process was not rigged (or was it?-what is your valued opinion?) The people of Singur had selected their mandate. The CPM leader was voted in AFTER the “issue”. Did you tell the readers that?

    Mussolini? What Mussolini? You are recounting events that ocurred in 1928. Italy have moved on. You should move too. Get a life.

    This is the era of globalization. If Mr. Tata co-operates with any company and creates thousands of jobs-who are we to oppose it?

    The car is designed by doctorate engineers. The car is criticized by people with fake academic degrees (Where is your Ph.D Miss Mamata Banerjee). I suggest-keep your own counsel.

    The local people want the factory. Do you know the price of land in Singur? or are you just a blind anti-left supporter?

  8. If this is an ‘era of globalization’ and Tata and Generalmotors etc ‘cooperate with other companies and create thousands of jobs’ and if ‘the car is designed by doctorate engineers’ …then – is there anyone non doctorate in this forum who can tell us how much Corbon-di-oxide and mono-oxide along with other polluting agents this whole ‘left-development’ is going to contribute in our already threatened ecosystem?

  9. While it is true that people of West Bengal may not be 100% CPI(M) supporters, yet a Government elected by the majority in the true democratic traditions should not be written off. People of the State want stability and progress, which at the moment can be provided by CPI(M) alone. An opposition is always necessary in a democracy for a balanced growth and for that the opposition needs to be constructive. The Mamata brand of opposition is an example of irresponsible and self serving opposition, which does great disservice to the State. She nither has any policy plank nor does she have any long term strategy for development of the State. She is intellectually incapable of giving constructive advice to either the Government or the people. Mamata has always run away from responsibilty in the past when she had some power to do something good for the State. Remember her record as Railway Minister ( and other Sundry Ministers)in the Centre? She is a liability of the State, which it can ill afford in today’s world. People do have the right to protest in a democracy – but not in the “Kolkata achal hobe” fashion. Progress of the State should be the most important thing in the mind of the politicians of the State. I agree, CPI(M) needs to pay more attention to the PR excercises. Probably, some professional touch will do them some good. No doubt party machinery is an asset of CPI(M)and it cannot be blamed for that. If Mamata has not been able to hold her stock together, it is entirely because of her personal whims. She is fast turning into a laughing stock for the masses and may well consider a retirement from politics of blind “anti- CPIMism”. CPI(M), in its turn, needs to introspect alittle more and avoid unnecessary controversies. Rizwanur case is , however, a different matter altogether. While no sane person can support killing (?) of any individual, the case got so much prominence only because he was a Muslim. Had the guy been a Hindu and the industrialist a Muslim, would the media paid so much attention to this case? So, one should not confuse, Singur-Nandigram and Rizwanur. The complaints of people at Singur-Nandigram could not be directed towards their constructive well being only because of irresponsible opposition of people like Mamata. While some semblance of normalcy has returned to Singur, Nandigram has become a free gunda -raj and killing field of ordinary folks due to her constant instigation. Her personal agenda was a poltical survival in the backdrop of her general irrelevance in the politics of the State. In the process she is doing a great damage to the State’s reputation. Nor is it helping her career. People of West Bengal are not fools and I’m sure they will see through her designs shortly. May God help the State of West Bengal!

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