An open letter to Prabhat Patnaik from members of Bodhi Marxist Studies Group
[Bodhi is publishing a letter written by a few members of the Bodhi Marxist Studies group to Prof. Prabhat Patnaik, in the context of media reports regarding a letter purportedly written by him. This letter does not represent the editorial opinion of Bodhi]
Dear Com: Prabhat Patnaik,
When a leading Marxist-Leninist intellectual and economist such as yourself, one whose wide-ranging and incisive interventions over the years have inspired generations, circulates a letter that refers to certain developments related to the CPI(M) in Kerala,1 we read it with great anticipation. We don't know if it has come to your attention, however, the mainstream media syndicate in Kerala, which routinely ignores your interventions in such insipid matters like imperialism, neo-liberalism and the socialist alternative, is working up quite a frenzy by extrapolating, misinterpreting and misrepresenting your words2. For anyone vaguely familiar with the contemporary landscape of Kerala politics, this is not surprising at all. The media syndicate's aim is clear - to encircle and defeat the CPI(M) and thereby neutralize the opposition to the feudal-big bourgeoisie alliance that is ruling Kerala.
First of all, we salute you for deciding to speak at the Chintha Ravi Memorial Seminar in Kozhikode and not to bow to the threats made by certain anti-CPI(M) intellectuals. Com: Ravi's interventions in waging an uncompromising struggle against the ruling class and its multifarious hegemonic apparatus in Kerala is a legacy that should be kept alive and strengthened. There are few people more qualified to speak on this than yourself. It's not at all surprising that there is an effort to stop you from participating because that is exactly the sort of informed political engagement that the opponents of CPI(M) wish to curtail in order to further their agenda.
However, your short letter poses several questions that we wish to bring to your attention. Unfortunately many of us are unable to listen to you in person in Kozhikode, thus we can only hope that you get access to this letter through the open veins and tubes of the Internet that have not yet succumbed to the twin pressures of vulgar commoditization and curtailment of democratic freedoms. We want to pose three questions.
First of all, we ask you to explain and perhaps define what you mean by "feudal-Stalinism". We find that construct, irrespective of whether it applies to CPI(M) or not, quite problematic to say the least. One may accuse Joseph Stalin of several shortcomings and crimes, indeed many have done so, however the conflation of Stalinism with feudalism appears to be quite illogical. Perhaps the short form of a private correspondence that has been thrust into public view does not accord enough room to delineate what you mean by such a term and we certainly understand that. However, now that it is in the public-realm, we urge you to provide clarity. It is even more important, because this is exactly the fault-line that the mainstream media and intellectual lackeys of the ruling classes seek to establish between CPI(M) who they picture as “an undemocratic and Stalinist organization”, a "killer-party" as one of them put it - and the "rest of the left", who are genuine, democratic in nature and yet marginalized.
Secondly, independent of the validity of the feudal-Stalinist construct you propose, can you clarify what are the feudal, Stalinist or feudal-Stalinist trends you have encountered in connection with CPI(M)? We ask this in all earnestness because while you have correctly theorized the problems of empiricization in the CPI(M) and the various ways in which it manifests, none of it hardly qualify as worthy of “falling prey to” feudalism or Stalinism. It is indeed a strong claim, an unfair one we would argue, that should only be made on the basis of a clear argument and supporting evidence. If you are privy to concrete evidence to support your claim, we urge you to bring it forward into the public realm so that not only do the people get an opportunity to examine it, but the CPI(M) also gets the opportunity to explain its position.
We believe you have done a great service yet again by exposing the ever-looming threat of bourgeois liberalism in corroding the ambitious and rather audacious project of building socialism. This is indeed very much in line with your writings on this topic that have for instance thoroughly exposed the advice to CPI(M) from liberal left quarters to reform itself3. However, we would like to ask you to weigh in on how much more of a danger bourgeois liberalism and its attendant set of reformist deviations pose to the communist movement in India, compared to a widely-discredited Stalinism? We don’t know if it has come to your attention, however, we have been quite dismayed to see Com: V.S. Achuthanandan capitulate to the reformist virus by insisting that the only recourse for CPI(M) members and supporters to protest police repression and victimization is through judicial appeals.4 The fact that his repeated public pronouncements is happening in the context of a media witch hunt that portrays CPI(M) as antithetic to the democratic fabric in India is not just unfortunate, because it is deeply sectarian and opportunist, but it is also alarmingly indicative of the parliamentary reformism that has to be isolated and defeated.
We look forward to your response to these questions.