US-India Global Review

16 THE INDIAN AMERICAN JULY-SEPTEMBER 2017 31 US-INDIA GLOBAL REVIEW JANUARY-MARCH 2018 ward!" A row of hammer and sickle flags fluttered in the wind. People raised clenched fists in a "red salute" and chanted "Long live the revolution!" "We are trying to build our dream state in this fascist India!" Isaac began, and in so many ways it was still true. A century after Bolsheviks swarmed the Winter Palace in Petrograd, Russia (now St. Petersburg), the Indian state of Kerala, home to 35 million people, remains one of the few places on earth where a communist can still dream. The Bolsheviks, inspired by Karl Marx's "Communist Manifesto," had set out to build a new kind of society, a workers' paradise in which property and wealth would be owned in common. That revolu- tion began in the fall of 1917 and gave rise to the Soviet Union and a movement that would sweep across one-third of the world, inspiring new followers, erasing borders and filling gulags. Eventually, it would be undone by stagnant economies, pressure from the West and the alienation of its own people. What remains today are five nominally communist nations. In Cuba, the revolution survives mostly as a decrepit museum piece. The communist parties of China, Vietnam and Laos preside over largely autocratic forms of runaway capitalism. In North Korea, communism has become a nuclear-armed cult of personality and police state. But in Kerala - far from the high-stakes maneuvers of the Cold War and nearly 2,000 miles from the Indian capital of New Delhi - history has taken the most unexpected of detours. Instead of ossifying into an autocratic force, Kerala's commu- nists embraced electoral politics and since 1957 have been rou- tinely voted into power. Instead of being associated with repression or failure, the party of Marx is widely associated with huge investments in education that have produced a 95 percent litera- cy rate, the highest in India, and a health-care system where citizens earning only a few dollars a day still qualify for free heart surgery. This modern incarnation of communism also has produced one of the stranger paradoxes of the global economy: Millions of healthy, educated workers setting off to the supercharged, capitalist economies of the Persian Gulf dreaming of riches and increas- ingly finding them. And that has raised an existen- tial question for Isaac and Kerala's other 21st-century communists: Can they survive their own suc- cess? India’s integration The story of communism in Kerala did not begin with a revolu- tion, the storming of the capital, or even Marx. Instead, its beginnings in 1939 were far more idiosyncrat- ic, rooted in resistance to British rule, a commitment to land reform and opposition to India's caste system. It was also intimately tied to a traveling musical, "You Made Me a Communist," about peasants who banded together to fight an evil feudal landlord. The play pre- A street is reflected in a tailor shop window in Pinarayi Village with the sickle and hammer painted on an adjacent wall. (Vivek Singh/For TheWashington Post)

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