US Senator Barbara Boxer couldn't have been more off the mark when she proclaimed, "It's a new day. Communism is dead. It's even dead in Cuba", at the Senate Commerce Committee hearing in May 2002. Marxism is not dead. In South Asia, as in other parts of the world, it has a new address: the free market.
In the 1980s, communist governments ruled one third of the world's population in 25 nations. And even though this might not be the case today, pragmatic leaders, ruling communist states and parties have ensured the survival of their ideology by reinterpreting the gospel in a way that Marx and the free market have come to profitably coexist.
Out of the five established communist states, China, North Korea, Laos, Vietnam and Cuba, all except the last are in Asia and the Pacific. And in South Asia, revolution through the barrel of the gun is an existing reality. The Maoists in Nepal and Naxalites in India are seriously challenging the established state order and dispense justice to those who have been denied it by the state's instutions.
In Latin America, communist leaders or parties have come to power or to occupy influential positions after boldly pronouncing their love for the free market. According to the World Bank’s latest figures, Latin America and the Caribbean attracted $94.4 billion in private capital last year, up 59% from 2004. The Economist argues that even Cuba, out of necessity, has allowed capitalism into its socialist system.
In almost all of the post-Soviet states, commonly called Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a new brand of market friendly left is growing assertive. The Asian "communist states" of Vietnam and Laos, and to a limited extent North Korea, are slowly turning away from Soviet-style centralised planning, in favour of a market economy.
Call them 'revisionists' or 'reductionists' in old Communist jargon or simply social democrats, their new philosophy boils down to free market with a 'human face'. Demoralised after the collapse of the Soviet Union, they re-emerged with well thought out moderation. Ideologically, they lie somewhere between the outmoded communist radicals and the out of sync neo-conservatives. They support nationalism, tolerate religion, but abhor fundamentalism. China's "socialism with Chinese characteristics," is almost like their guiding principle.
India is a classic example, with the Left ruled states of West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura, boasting vast networks of party cadres. They fight elections like any 'bourgeois' party and use parliamentary politics to the hilt. They support national integration and secularism but roll out the red carpet for foreign as well as domestic investors to their states. Their stance has softened on issues concerning disinvestment, FDI, privatisation of PSUs etc.
Mainstream Indian leftists are pragmatists inspired by Deng Xiaoping's declaration, "poverty is not socialism, to get rich is glorious." Today the only doubters are the Maoists in India and Nepal. But even that might change if the Maoists, who almost control two-thirds of Nepal, decide to join the government and participate in elections. And if that happens, the Indian Naxalites would be among the only armed guerrillas, following the glorious path of armed revolution.