Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

Left-wing unity with thugs and rapists

I recently posted about the shameful reaction of a number of Western left-wingers to events at Nandigram in West Bengal, in which villagers attempting to resist being evicted from their land to make way for a foreign-owned petrochemical plant were attacked, raped and murdered by the paramilitary thugs of the Communist government of West Bengal. The Western left-wingers, who include Noam Chomsky, Tariq Ali and Victoria Brittain, wrote an open letter to Indian critics of the Communist regime, warning them against trying to ‘split the Left’, imploring them to restore unity with the regime in the higher interest of opposing the US, and expressing their satisfaction with the Communist regime’s supposed readiness to curb its abuses: ‘This is not the time for division when the basis of division no longer appears to exist.’

The anger and disgust that this open letter provoked among Indian leftists has spurred Chomsky, Ali and some of its other signatories to respond with a second open letter, attempting to justify the first one. They write:

‘We are taken aback by a widespread reaction to a statement we made with the best of intentions, imploring a restoration of unity among the left forces in India –a reaction that seems to assume that such an appeal to overcome divisions among the left could only amount to supporting a very specific section of the CPM [Communist Party of India – Marxist] in West Bengal. Our statement did not lend support to the CPM’s actions in Nandigram or its recent economic policies in West Bengal, nor was that our intention. On the contrary, we asserted, in solidarity with its Left critics both inside and outside the party, that we found them tragically wrong. Our hope was that Left critics would view their task as one of putting pressure on the CPM in West Bengal to correct and improve its policies and its habits of governance, rather than dismiss it wholesale as an unredeemable party. ‘

Chomsky, Ali, Brittain and co. are, in other words, again asking Indian left-wing critics of the Communist regime in West Bengal for a ‘restoration of unity’ with a regime that has murdered and raped villagers attempting to resist its brutal policies. They do not view the murders and rapes in question as ‘criminal’ or as ‘brutal’, but merely as ‘tragically wrong’ – the sort of term one might use in reference to something that happens in a Shakespeare play, such as Juliet’s faking of her own death or Hamlet’s failure to kill Claudius when he first had the chance. They present the task of Indian leftists not as overthrowing the government responsible for the crimes or as bringing the murderers to justice, but merely as ‘putting pressure on the CPM in West Bengal to correct and improve its policies and its habits of governance.’

They go on:

‘We realize now that it is perhaps not possible to expect the Left critics of the CPM to overcome the deep disappointment, indeed hostility, they have come to feel towards it, unless the CPM itself takes some initiative against that sense of disappointment. We hope that the CPM in West Bengal will show the largeness of mind to take such an initiative by restoring the morale as well as the welfare of the dispossessed people of Nandigram through the humane governance of their region, so that the left forces can then unite and focus on the more fundamental issues that confront the Left as a whole, in particular focus on the task of providing with just and imaginative measures an alternative to neo-liberal capitalism that has caused so much suffering to the poor and working people in India.’

The goal, therefore, is for the CPM to remain in power in West Bengal and engage in the ‘humane governance of the region’ and for its critics ‘to overcome the deep disappointment, indeed hostility, they have come to feel towards it’. The goal is not, of course, to show solidarity to the ordinary people resisting the regime and its policies and fighting to defend their livelihoods; nor is it to encourage Indian leftists in their campaign against the regime’s abuses. Indeed, this campaign is dismissed as being less important than the ‘more fundamental issues that confront the Left as a whole’.

It seems to me ‘tragically wrong’ that, nearly two decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall, left-wingers of the Chomsky-Ali variety should be unable to envisage a left-wing agenda as involving anything other than keeping brutal Communist regimes in power. It also seems to me ‘tragically wrong’ that a more honourable left-winger such as Chris Bertram of Crooked Timber should feel the need to leap to Chomsky’s and Ali’s defence by claiming ‘that Chomsky, Ali et al have now, in response to reactions to their first intervention, issued a second statement which is much more clearly critical of the CPM’. The second open letter discussed above can only be described as ‘much more clearly critical of the CPM’ by someone wearing the most deeply rose-tinted of spectacles. I respect Chris, but I am disappointed he should still feel the need to flog the dead horse of a unifed, ‘progressive’ left that encompasses defenders of brutal regimes.

Hat tip: Chris Bertram, TheIrie.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007 - Posted by | India, Political correctness, The Left

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