While using online platforms increasingly to connect with one’s workforce and friends is commonplace in the new normal of a world under lockdown to check the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID), irony has hit the comrades in the Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI(M) or CPM]. Known to be the staunchest opponents of the introduction of computers to India during Rajiv Gandhi’s rule in the 1980s and Indira Gandhi’s during the 1970s, the CPM has held its first politburo assembly via video since its inception in 1964.
On microblogging website Twitter, CPM General Secretary Sitaram Yechury posted a picture of himself linked to members of the party via his laptop.
“Our Polit Bureau meeting was held yesterday, in very different circumstances than usual!” Yechury posted on Thursday. Although CPM is not the one organisation switching to the digital world for communication, the switch by this particular party is historic as it had opposed the introduction of computer systems in places of work in the previous century.
In the 1970s and 80s, the CPM had led and supported trade unions in protesting against the introduction of computer systems and upgraded expertise in banks and other workplaces. The party argued that the machines would usurp human jobs and affect employment.
Years later, in an interview to Far Eastern Economic Review in 2004, then Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee admitted that the anti-computer protests that the communists had led had been “certainly foolish”.
“That was in the 1970s… that was foolish, foolish. It started when they were going to introduce computers in banks and (insurance companies). Their employees protested and we supported it. But how can you stop modern technology? Nowadays, they have understood…We have entered a century where industries will be talent-based,” Bhattacharjee had told the journal.
This was when the CPM had been attempting to revamp the image of West Bengal as an enterprising, IT-friendly state. The party grudgingly approved of — Bhattacharjee was hardly a popular figure in his party — computers as drivers of growth rather than an instrument of capitalism. Anyway, owing to years of resisting expertise and international funding, the revision in the West Bengal government’s policy did not quite lead to the state’s financial and infrastructural progress.
The CPM, which ruled West Bengal for 34 years until Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress snatched power from them in 2011, has been practically decimated in the state since the loss in that election nine years ago.
Even as Kerala continues to be a powerful bastion of communism in India under the leadership of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, analysts have typically claimed that the CPM’s refusal to change with the time and adapt to new methods and organisational management has led to the stagnation of the ideological organisation — which has failed worldwide in any case — in the eastern state.
Yechury addressing his comrades across the nation via a Facebook session on 3 June can be seen as a case of irony, that of emulation of Bhattacharjee or of an attempt to gloss over the past that the many in the present generation may be unaware of.