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Friday, January 14, 2005

Marxism – on a T-shirt next?

The Indian Express reports that Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, the chief minister of West Bengal, recently said to a CII gathering:
Go and tell the world that we are changing. We Marxists are not fools to cling to obsolete ideas. In West Bengal, the Left is right. And this is the right place to invest.

Now, I rather like the pragmatic manner in which Bhattacharjee has been encouraging private investment in his state, and for once, it is not the action but the rhetoric that jars with me.

“We Marxists are not fools to cling to obsolete ideas,” says Bhattacharjee. But Marxism itself is an obsolete idea, and that sentence is self-contradictory. The moment you define yourself as a Marxist, you signal an acceptance of an obsolete, and dangerous, idea.

On the other hand, perhaps what Bhattacharjee’s words signal is that Marxism has been redefined after the end of the cold war. It no longer stands for a set of ideas, an ideology, but functions independent of such meaning, as a brand. So if you want to think of yourself as someone who cares for the poor and believes in an equitable society – all part of Marxist rhetoric but not action – then you are naturally attracted towards that brand – especially if you’re from West Bengal or Kerela, where the brand flourishes, for peer pressure does influence the young in these matters.

So perhaps what Bhattacharjee is really saying is: “Marxism the belief system is dead. Long live Marxism the brand.”
amit varma, 4:45 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage

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