Dilemmas of Parliamentary Communism
The Rise and Fall of the Left in West Bengal
Author: Subho Basu and Auritro Majumder
In 2011, after thirty-four years in power, the Communist Party of India-Marxist-led Left Front in West Bengal was voted out of power. The Left Front was the world's longest running communist government to be elected to office. The Left Front governed a population larger than most European, African, and Latin American democracies. This essay examines the rise and decline of the parliamentary communist movement in Bengal. The authors argue that the prominence of the communist movement can be traced to a social imaginaire and a notion of "social citizenship" that the (undivided) communists developed through their participation in grassroots-level workers, peasants, and refugee movements, and equally crucially, through hegemonic interventions in "culture" since the 1940s. This social imaginaire became the basis of a "commonsensical idiom" in Bengal through the political practice of the communists, parliamentary and otherwise. The decline of the parliamentary communist influence started when their core constituency of peasants and workers perceived them to be violating this basis of social citizenship in the wake of their adoption of neoliberal policies of development beginning in the 1990s. The regional noncommunist opposition in West Bengal in 2011 captured the imagination of the electorate by appropriating and translating this long developed notion of social citizenship against the Left government.