The triumphs and lost years of Comrade E.M.S. Namboodiripad

Published : Apr 11, 1998 00:00 IST

PERHAPS, one wonders, the purer souls are meant for contemplation, and lend themselves to ridicule when they make their transit from pedagogy to praxis. So it was with Comrade E.M.S. Namboodiripad. At the grosser levels, his own admirers spoke of him as the Acharya. It was not meant to hurt, but it denoted the increasing distance between him and the party he once led. Age takes its toll anyway, and it was but natural that the body must give way to the soul. The soul indeed; Comrade EMS would have preferred another word, some lexical boon that could convey the same sense. But there isn’t any.

This terminological inadequacy was to frustrate the Master right down the line. Through a lifetime of austerity, he had acquired an aura around himself, but he was anxious to dispel it. He was concerned that there should be no new Marxian ‘caste system’; he lent his ears to the least of his little brethren.

This, in a sense, was the erosion of EMS. He ploughed through tracts of arid dogma. Out there was a treasure of fossils, and these he touched and felt, but dusted and put back into their ancient slots again. The result was alarming. Each fossil was an index of history clamouring for the surface lights. These indices, had they been taken as sprouts of history, might have been liberating. What stood in the way?

In Europe, in Latin America, in fact everywhere except the Soviet Union and its satellites, Marxism, unwillingly perhaps, was taking on a lot of lubricants. But the young bibliocracy which was now the Indian Marxist leadership had no different options to offer. The tragedy (it is yet to be recognised as such) begins here. To each according to his need and from each according to his ability; in Comrade EMS the young philosophers found the lexical register, the verbal answer to all problems of ideology.

Behind the Comrade’s withdrawal

If an outsider is permitted to comment on what is an internal problem of the Marxist movement, I should like to define this as Comrade EMS’ saddest phase. He had withdrawn into what his successors had built for him - a soft sanctuary. Whatever the apparatus decided was acceptable to him. He withdrew into a low profile.

It was distressing to see him devote his profound scholarship to trivia, a scholarship acquired as much by Vedic rote as by theory tested out in practice. His involvement in minor riddles of theory eventually became a horizontal area of arcane interest. Those who were not bound by the Marxist apparatus came to realise what was happening - it was the undoing of a fabulous intellect. Worse, the Patriarch to whom this was being done was doing everything to help the perpetrators of the sacrilege. EMS was letting himself down into the porous earth, becoming one with his little brethren who crawled over the slime. Call it what you will, it is hard to dissociate the Acharya from the intellectual aristocracy that is inherent in the destiny of civilisations. Instead of tinkering with inconsequential issues which his comrades drove him to, he should have celebrated his profound knowledge and wisdom, and he should have stayed on contemplative heights renewing the prophecy, and redeeming the dream. Perhaps trying to achieve the equivalent of a Fifth International.

The obscenity of Stalinism notwithstanding, the ethic of socialism continues to live in the higher minds of men. Pitted against it is capitalism’s cult of shallow greed. Bureaucratic socialism was never really opposed to it. In fact, it pandered to the same lust. The erstwhile bipolarity was a misunderstanding. The pimps and pushers of both the camps have made up. I think of the last lost years of Comrade EMS. He was capable of piloting the re-emergence of the ethic. A new sanyasa. The merging of the strength of Advaita with the vitality of dialectics.

Here, Comrade, for you, a clenched fist.
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