Monday, November 23, 2009

Here’s to Communism!

A while ago we blogged about the bizarre usages of the term ‘socialism’ in North America. But in an attempt to be fair, we have to say they are not the only ones. Today’s blog comes from the Indian state of Kerala, where we find an equally fudged notion of, this time, ‘communism’, albeit in a slightly different way.

Kerala, back in 1957, was the first ever state in the world to freely and democratically elect, yes, a communist government. The communists have been in power there for most of the time ever since. On closer examination though, it is not really communist: Kerala, by and large, still is basically part of capitalist and free market system, most notably with private property of the means of production. So this is the slight misnomer then, it’s more a government strongly committed to social-democratic policies.

This said, however, it is fairly impressive to see the track record of those ‘communists’. Kerala is a success story, ‘the most socially advanced state in India’ according to Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen. Land reform, infrastructure investment, good health care and education systems have put Kerala at the top of most developing countries globally. Its literacy rate of 91% is the highest in the developing world and its life expectancy (73 years) is 10 years higher than the Indian average. Infant mortality rates are a fifth of the entire Indian subcontinent.

So the Kerala story – labels aside – is a success story. And it shows that it is possible to change social and economic conditions with policies which are geared towards the ‘greatest good of the greatest number’, see Chapter 2 in Crane&Matten. In this context it is also illuminating to see that Kerala boasts a vibrant, powerful and active civil society movement. Our readers will recollect that we have an Ethics in Action box on Coca Cola’s fate in Kerala some years ago in Chapter 11 of our book. It was here, where a global protest movement started. And as we are happy to point out, it was here, where some of the most innovative policies of a multinational company with regard to water management were triggered. In some ways, Coca Cola benefitted from the vibrant civil society and NGO scene in Kerala…


All said then, it is no surprise that the ‘communism’ label has deterred investment by corporations and Kerala suffers from it. The only major source of extra business opportunities then is tourism. Crane&Matten are more than happy to hasten to rescue here…

3 comments:

  1. Interesting post. The communists are also making a comeback in Germany (PDS--die Linke). They had a strong showing in the recent German elections.

    Building a society with more concern for the common good is certainly desireable. I just don't know how this idea can get a foothold the West. Maybe the Germans will lead the way?

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  2. Sandra van der LingenNovember 24, 2009 at 8:02 AM

    Hi, something you need to add to the Kerala story is that they are socially advanced state partly because of the hugh number of overseas workers from the state who send their pay checks every months to their families in Kerala. I don't know the exact amount of additional financial inflow but it's considerable. Other states in India don't have this advantage.

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  3. The socio-economic success of Kerala can be attributed to a great extent to teh early 'communists', who were essentially Indian National Congress people who embraced Marxist and Leninist ideologies. That is, they are not classical communists. At the same time, today's problems with Kerala, particularly in the economic development sphere is also the 'Communists". While rest of the states in India are moving ahead, Kerala either stands still or moves backwards.

    And, true, had there been no overseas workers to pump money into the state, it would have been in a sorry state today. 'KERALA COMMUNISM' CAN NOT BE ATTRIBUTED TO THE ECONOMIC STATUS OF KERALA.

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