‘Left and Right are joined at the hip of violence’

Martha C. Nussbaum, the distinguished professor of law and ethics at the University of Chicago, has a piece in Dissent magazine, in which she tears into the communist parties for what’s happened in West Bengal in recent months

“People connected to the Communist government of West Bengal have been guilty of some extremely vile actions, including rape and murder, toward dissident peasants, in a struggle over land acquisition, and the government has done nothing to prevent these terrible things. This struggle has split the Indian left, between those who think that people on the left must maintain solidarity in the face of right-wing threats and those who insist on calling murder murder no matter who does it….

“Is solidarity itself a major political value or is the basic value that of justice to each and every person, treating each and every one as an end?

“The latter vision is that of left-liberalism, which has always held that the purpose of a politics of human welfare is to improve the lives of individual human beings, and that each human being counts as equally worthy of respect.

“By contrast, “solidarity,” both on the communitarian right and on the antiliberal left, has suggested to many that the lives of individuals may and often must be sacrificed in the pursuit of class or group goals, and that worries about the justice of such sacrifices are irritatingly bourgeois.

“That’s really what the split in India is about, and it corresponds to a split between the Nehruvian/ Gandhian founding of the nation and its long-standing communist tradition. Nehru and Gandhi knew that people come first and that each and every person is precious. Gandhi had an extremely rare ability to feel and express compassion not for “the masses” or “the proletariat,” but for each person who suffered. (He said that his goal was to “wipe every tear from every eye,” thus reminding his audience that suffering and death are uncompromisingly personal. Classes may be useful analytical categories, but it is individual people who weep.) In consequence, Gandhi eschewed violence against persons as a political tool, and he showed vividly what it was to treat the human body as a mere means, and what it was to treat it as an end.

“This politics of personhood survives in West Bengal, in the stance of Gopal Gandhi; in the protests of many artists and writers; and, also, in the courageous work of many individual members of the CPI(M). It appears to have been forgotten (if it was ever accepted) by the government’s central leadership.”

Read the full article: Violence on the left

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