The Indian Left at a Time of Crisis

Prasenjit Bose

Prasenjit Bose is an economist and a Left activist. This paper was presented at International Conference organised by IDSK in Kolkata on Democracies in South Asia and the Role of the Left from November 20-22, 2013.

What is required for the revival of the Left today, at a time of crisis, is a principled alliance between the radical revolutionaries, who want to replace capitalism with socialism and reformists, who want to fight for democratic reforms within the system, against the neo-liberal order. Such an alliance can actualize only when the Left initiates vibrant mass movements and becomes ideologically open to new ideas. Radicalism in practice and openness in theory should be the new direction for the Indian Left. 

I

At a time when a crisis is gradually embroiling the Indian economy and polity, the mainstream Left in India appears to be in a state of decline. The crisis symptoms in India are quite similar to the ones afflicting neo-liberal regimes across the world: currency depreciation triggered by outflows of speculative finance capital, debt distress faced by the private corporates and the sovereign, deceleration in economic activities and persistently high inflation. As is always the case under capitalism, the burden of crisis is being shifted on to the working people by the ruling classes and the state. The worsening economic plight of the people has combined with mega-corruption scandals and obtuse governance to produce not only a credibility crisis for the Congress-led government of the day, but a crisis of legitimacy for the entire array of liberal democratic institutions in India.

Crises faced by neo-liberal regimes around the world in recent times have not necessarily led to the growth of the Left everywhere. But in Latin America, the recurrent crisis of the last decade of the 20th century did trigger a continental shift towards the Left in the past decade and a half. Radical Left governments were formed in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador and more moderate Left governments came into being in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Peru. In the backdrop of the sovereign debt crisis and austerity measures being implemented in Europe, the elections in Greece in 2012 also propelled a radical Left force from the margins to becoming the major national opposition. It is noteworthy that these recent success stories of the Left have all followed from big mass movements against neo-liberal regimes.

It is in its inability to build consequential mass movements against the neoliberal regime in India that the decline of the Indian Left needs to be primarily located. In the absence of an ascendant Left, the right-reactionary BJP, with an unapologetic fascist at its helm, is seeking to aggressively hegemonise the opposition space. The revival of the Left is an imperative to rein in and defeat the communal-fascist forces. Such revival, however, can happen only when the ideological-political reasons underlying the Left’s decline are identified and addressed. 

II

A major problem confronting the mainstream Left in India relates to its approach towards neo-liberal globalization and its impact on the economy and society. Since the initiation of neo-liberal economic reforms in India in the early 1990s, the Left has always adopted an oppositional approach towards it at the national level. The Left-affiliated trade unions have been at the forefront of working class strikes and protests against the government’s economic policies. However, the resistance put up by the Left against these policies has mostly been defensive struggles, against privatization of public sector enterprises and deregulation of various sectors. Despite facing occasional resistance, the overall process of liberalization and deregulation has proceeded apace in India as in the rest of the world over the past two decades. 

CPI(M) election mural for party candidate in Lok Sabha elections 2004, constituency Kolkata North-West, Sudhangshu Shil. Photo:Soman

CPI(M) election mural for party candidate in Lok Sabha elections 2004, constituency Kolkata North-West, Sudhangshu Shil. Photo:Soman

Big capital in India has been the main driver as well as the biggest beneficiary of the process of neo-liberal reforms. With their assets and wealth growing manifolds, the Indian corporates have emerged as one of the most powerful capitalist class within the developing countries. Given its global interests, the Indian corporates have also forged close links with international finance capital and have strategically allied with the big business class of the United States and its allies. The Indian state has also undergone a transformation from being a major player in the economy and regulator of economic activities to becoming a ‘facilitator’ for private capital, both domestic and foreign. This has resulted in fast paced capitalist development in India with primitive accumulation of capital occurring in a large scale, through corporate expropriation of natural resources, cronyism and corruption etc. Such developments have posed serious challenges for the Left. 

The programmatic understanding of the Left had evolved out of the freedom struggle and was shaped through the debates in the 1960s/1970s over the class character of the Indian state, the relationship between the Indian capitalist class and imperialism, the nature and extent of capitalist development in agriculture etc. Despite theoretical differences, there was broad agreement that capitalist development in India was constrained by the feudal/semi-feudal agrarian relations on the one hand and subservience of the capitalist classes to imperialism on the other. It was on the basis of this understanding that Leftist programmes accorded centrality to the agrarian revolution/land reforms and advocated state-led macroeconomic and industrial policies to pursue self-reliant economic development. The international context in which such a programmatic understanding was evolved was marked by the cold war between the US led imperialist bloc and the socialist bloc led by the USSR and China. 

Neoliberal globalization has altered this setting in many ways. The cold war ended with the collapse of the socialist regime in the USSR. The socialist regime in China underwent major transformations, introducing market-oriented reforms and integrating itself with the globalized world economy. The neoliberal reforms in India were initiated within such a global context, where socialism had ceased to exist as a major countervailing force to global capitalism, dominated by international finance capital and US imperialism. 

The capitalist development witnessed in India under the neo-liberal regime has also transformed the Indian socio-economic landscape. Because of the fragmentation of landholdings due to demographic change, landed property has ceased to be the principal source of economic and political power in the rural areas.[i] Feudal/semi-feudal landlordism has weakened and given way to the development of capitalist interests in myriad forms. Struggles against coercive land acquisition for industrial, infrastructure or commercial projects have acquired centre-stage in the place of struggles for land redistribution. Over half of the rural workforce continues to be engaged in agriculture, but peasant agriculture is itself in a crisis owing to the withdrawal of state support, exposure to the global market and gradual corporate penetration into agriculture. The major questions confronting the peasantry today relate to prices of output, availability of cheap inputs, credit and the very viability of small-peasant agriculture. 

This is not to argue that neo-liberal capitalism has ushered in a revolutionary transformation of social relations. Rather, since capitalist development is being superimposed on extant socio-economic relations without breaking them, the older forms of exploitation and oppression are getting juxtaposed with new ones. Caste and gender oppression continues to be rampant, including physical atrocities against dalits and women. In fact, such social oppression and struggles against it has assumed much greater importance in contemporary times compared to feudal/semi-feudal economic exploitation. 

Moreover, while neo-liberal capitalist development has created a crisis for peasant-agriculture rendering huge masses unemployed and under-employed, it has failed to absorb that surplus labour in gainful non-agricultural activities. This has created a ‘footloose’ workforce, which migrates across geographies and sectors in order to survive as informalized labour. This informal workforce, comprising over 90% of India’s 460 million strong workforce, has mostly remained outside the purview of traditional trade union or peasant organizations. The wages and working conditions of this workforce has emerged as a major socio-economic question. Over half of this workforce is also self-employed, signifying their engagement in petty production and trade. Expansion of non-agricultural employment has been restricted to a few sectors like construction and certain services. The proportion of casualised or contract labour has increased significantly across sectors. This section also remains mostly unorganized. 

The urbanization and industrialization occurring under the neo-liberal regime has also impacted the middle-class. The traditional urban middle-class mostly came from regular salaried employment in the organized sector, a major share of which was in the public sector. Declining public sector employment and the expansion of the private corporate sector in the post-liberalization period has contributed to the rise of a ‘new middle class’, which is not only employed or dependent on the private corporate sector but is also influenced by its worldview. 

Moreover, there is a greater stratification of the middle class, with the upper-middle class setting the benchmarks for the economic, social and cultural aspirations of the middle and lower middle classes. For the lower middle-class, access and quality of education, healthcare and other public services and basic infrastructure like electricity, water and sanitation have emerged as major issues alongside issues like corruption, environmental degradation and the cornering of public resources and enclavisation of spaces by the big corporates and the upper-class elite. 

The response of the Left parties and their mass organizations to these changes has so far been inadequate, both theoretically as well as in praxis. There have been two erroneous trends noticeable within the Indian Left. One tends to look at the changes ushered in by globalization as progressive or “inevitable” and seeks to align the Left with the neo-liberal project in the name of ushering in “modernity” and “development”. This line of thinking fails to recognize the class character of the neo-liberal project, the deeply inequalizing impact of the neo-liberal processes on society and the paradoxical nature of the modernization brought about by them. The other trend seeks to turn its back on the significant changes that have occurred and clings on to the orthodox tenets, vainly trying to fit the complex realities of the day to obsolete theoretical straightjackets. In praxis, the first trend has translated into brazen class-collaboration, degeneration and co-option of sections of the Left, while the second manifests itself in the stagnation of the Left movement combined with a supercilious closed-mindedness and dogmatism. 

III 

The trend towards aligning the Left with the neo-liberal project has been most visible in the states where the Left has been in power. Since the Left in West Bengal was uninterruptedly in power for over three decades, it is here that this trend has had its clearest manifestation. The longevity of the Left Front (LF) government which came into office in 1977 was secured through the pursuit of alternative policies like land and tenancy reforms, democratic decentralization and expansion of welfare measures for the rural and urban poor. Since 1991, however, the alternative policy trajectory of the LF government became difficult to pursue in the context of the neoliberal policies adopted by the Centre. What was attempted under Jyoti Basu’s stewardship since 1994 was a pragmatic compromise with the neo-liberal order, by welcoming private and foreign investments even while attempting to continue with the pro-people policies of the erstwhile regime to the extent possible. 

The mainstream Left understanding during this phase was that the compulsions arising out of running a state government within India’s constitutional framework, where centre-state relations were heavily skewed in favour of the centre, necessitated some compromises with the neoliberal order. But it was always emphasized that the rights of the basic classes, like the trade union rights of the workers or the land rights of the peasants would not be bartered away. This uneasy compromise, however, was not a sustainable arrangement. The Left had to make a choice, either to make a break with neo-liberalism or get increasingly co-opted within its structures. 

Since the advent of the Buddhadeb Bhattacharya regime, the understanding of a compulsion-driven compromise with neo-liberalism was discarded in favour of an increasingly enthusiastic embrace of neo-liberal policies, particularly after the LF victory in the 2006 assembly elections. The path adopted by the nominally socialist regimes of China and Vietnam were often cited to justify the rightward shift in the orientation of the LF government. No efforts were made to seriously study the serious contradictions that have emerged in China in the post-reforms era; the increasing socio-economic and regional inequalities, the conflicts over land acquisition and labour unrests, rising cronyism and corruption and the transformation of the Communist Party of China itself, which following the incorporation of the theory of “Three Represents” in its constitution in 2002 allowed big capitalists to enter and hold positions within the party. Nor were the differences between the Chinese and the Indian situation taken into account, where in contrast to the single party rule in China, India remains a multi-party democracy. 

The embrace of neo-liberal policies in the name of “industrialization” was an important reason behind the downfall of the LF government. On the one hand, big corporates like the Salim group and Tata were being wooed by offering various kinds of concessions in a non-transparent manner. The hypocrisy of opposing SEZs at the centre and promoting them in West Bengal contributed to the confusion within the Left and created suspicion in the minds of the people. On the other hand, forcible land acquisition in Nandigram and Singur faced resistance from small land owners and alienated significant sections of the peasantry across the state. 

Communist Party of India electoral propaganda for P.K. Vasudevan. 2004. Photo: Soman

Communist Party of India electoral propaganda for P.K. Vasudevan. 2004. Photo: Soman

This combined with the neglect of the social sectors, with the state lagging behind in various social indicators and implementation of welfare schemes. This was particularly true of the socially deprived sections like the Muslim minorities, adivasis, dalits and women, who had totally gone off the government’s radar. It was the backlash against the LF government’s policies combined with years of accumulated discontent against a three decades old regime that helped the Mamata Banerjee led TMC to defeat the LF on the populist plank of “maa, mati, manush” and capture power. 

How far neoliberalism has permeated the thinking of the Left in West Bengal can be seen from the fact that even after the landmark electoral defeat in 2011, the dominant party of the Left – the CPI(M) – has refused to accept its fundamental ideological error. There were the customary election reviews which noted the alienation of the workers, peasants and other poor sections from the Left. But such alienation was never analysed in terms of the rightward ideological shift that was effected. Rather, the dominant sections of the CPI(M) in West Bengal have always maintained that there are hardly any ideological reasons behind the loss of mass support for the Left. 

The counter-argument has been made in terms of standard anti-incumbency against a three decade old regime alongside unfavourable electoral arithmetic caused by the coming together of the TMC and the Congress following the Left’s withdrawal of support to the UPA-I government in 2008 for going ahead with the Indo-US nuclear deal. The anti-incumbency argument does have some merit, since the failings of the seventh LF government were on multiple fronts. However, the specific form that the anti-LF opposition took subsequent to the Singur-Nandigram episodes, the re-appearance of Leftwing extremism in Jangalmahal and the populist plank adopted by the TMC point towards the importance of the ideological factors. The argument of the TMC and Congress coming together being decisive in the defeat of the LF has always lacked credibility, because the vote share of the LF has itself come down consistently from close to 50% in 2006 to 43% in 2009 and 41% in 2011. Significant sections of supporters have deserted the LF and switched their loyalties to the TMC. Much of this comprises of the rural and the urban poor. 

Despite such evidence, however, the CPI(M) and the LF in West Bengal have remained in a denial mode. Rather than trying to rectify their ideological position and mobilizing the people on issues like price rise, farmers’ suicides, atrocities against women or the chit fund scam, they have continued to criticize the TMC government for failing to “industrialize” the state and refusing to accord SEZ status to IT companies, which was promised by the LF government. Alongside, there have been desperate attempts to create a “wedge” between the TMC and the Congress, by supporting the Congress candidate in the Presidential elections in an unprincipled manner and other such tactics. 

Ironically, the TMC has unilaterally distanced itself from the Congress owing to the growing unpopularity of the scam-tainted government at the centre. Following that, it is the TMC which has been able to enhance its political and electoral support base in West Bengal, both at the cost of the Congress and the LF, as was seen in the recently held panchayat and municipality elections in the state. It is indeed alarming that despite its misrule and autocratic tendencies, TMC’s electoral support has continued to grow in the state. 

While it started as an opposition force when the UPA-II government was formed in 2009, the LF has landed up in a situation on the eve of the Loksabha elections where it is being perceived as being soft on the discredited Congress-led government at the centre and ambivalent on supporting it again in future. It is the TMC which is raising the pitch against the Congress regime in order to channelize popular discontent. This shows how the Left can get repeatedly wrong footed on tactics once it loses its ideological moorings. 

IV 

The fact that the Left in West Bengal has been culpable of ideological deviations have been widely noted and commented upon.[ii] The reason why such ideological errors have gone uncorrected, however, is an issue which merits serious discussion. It is not the case that the rightward ideological shift had not met with internal dissent. But such dissent could never graduate into a viable alternative position, because it was rooted in orthodoxy and dogmatism. 

The inability to correct rightward deviations within a communist party lie in the problematic manner in which democracy has been historically conceived by the communist Left. This goes back to the ideological construct of “Marxism-Leninism” developed by the CPSU under Stalin. It needs to be noted here that Lenin developed the concept of “democratic centralism” for a revolutionary party which was fighting a brutal czarist dictatorship and seeking to capture state power through armed insurrection. The need for a disciplined and regimented party was widely felt by communist revolutionaries across the world after the success of the Bolshevik revolution, which was institutionalized in the Third International held in Moscow in 1919. The basic idea was to form communist parties in countries across the world on the lines of the Bolshevik party to carry out revolution in their respective countries, to achieve the goal of a world proletarian revolution. 

There have been major debates on the question of “Leninism” since its very inception. Rosa Luxemburg had underscored the importance of the spontaneous role of the masses in a revolutionary situation and had questioned the desirability of the overriding powers of the central authority within the labour movement. Later day critics, most famously Trotsky, alleged that the “Leninist” regime that was established under Stalin’s leadership in the USSR was a gross distortion of what Lenin had intended or envisioned; it was rather a “dictatorship of the apparatus over the party”. Antonio Gramsci developed the concepts of “hegemony” and “war of position” to delineate alternative strategies for communists to make proletarian revolutions in advanced capitalist societies. 

Moreover, the successful revolutionary movements of China and Cuba had never held the “Leninist” script as sacrosanct. While the CPC under Mao’s leadership developed its own revolutionary strategy of peasant guerilla warfare (against Comintern advice), the Cuban revolution triumphed against the Batista dictatorship in 1959 under the leadership of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara as the 26th of July movement. It was only in 1965 that the ruling party was organized as the Communist Party of Cuba. 

The short point is that the legacy of Lenin, as the first revolutionary leader of the 20th century who successfully led a revolution against the autocratic bourgeois regime in Russia and established a socialist state, needs to be distinguished from “Leninism” which was the official ideology of the USSR and emulated by socialist regimes and communist parties across the world. This proposed distinction is similar to that between “Mao Zedong Thought” and “Maoism”, where the former is considered to be the teachings and insights developed by the Chinese revolutionary leader Mao from which we can all learn and draw inspiration from in our own revolutionary endeavours, while the latter is considered to be a blind imitation of his strategies irrespective of the context. 

It needs to be recognized that while many of Lenin’s theoretical insights, pertaining to the bourgeois state, the predatory character of imperialism, the complexities of socialist construction and the dangers posed by revisionist/reformist and left-adventurist trends within the revolutionary movement continue to remain relevant, some of his theories have also become outdated. For instance, Lenin’s analysis of inter-imperialist rivalries leading to world wars has been rendered obsolete in the post-war period. The traditional imperialist powers today function as an unified bloc under the hegemony of international finance capital and US imperialism. 

More importantly, Lenin’s notion of a regimented, vanguard party seizing power through armed insurrection could never be replicated in functional bourgeois democracies anywhere in the world. The stalwarts of the Indian communist movement had always recognized this limitation of “Leninism” and had fashioned their praxis in tandem with India’s transition into a multi-party democracy in the post-independence period. That is why the more successful streams of the Indian communist movement based their strategy on a combination of “parliamentary and extra-parliamentary struggles” and an “Indian road to socialism”. The relevance of an indigenous “Indian road to socialism” has enhanced manifold for the Left, in the aftermath of the collapse of the 20th century socialist regimes. 

Although the collapse of these socialist regimes had complex reasons, two broad factors can be easily identified. First, over-centralized planning undertaken by these socialist regimes could not provide a sustainable and dynamic economic alternative to capitalism. Second, the bureaucratic state apparatus, the conflation of the state and the party under single party rule and the absence of political freedoms and civil liberties led to the ossification of the party and deep alienation of the working people from the socialist system. These factors have been officially acknowledged by the mainstream Left in India too. However, the official line has always been that while these mistakes had indeed taken place in the erstwhile socialist regimes, they were the results of “deviations” and “distortions” and not because there was anything wrong with “Marxism-Leninism” per se. 

Such manoeuvres may have helped in tiding over momentary crisis, like the one communist parties across the world faced after the collapse of the USSR, but in the process a peculiar duplicity got built into their ideological framework. For instance, the present constitution of the CPC states: 

The Communist Party of China takes Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory, the important thought of Three Represents and the Scientific Outlook on Development as its guide to action. 

Epithets like “Deng Xiaoping Theory”, “Three Represents”, “Scientific Outlook on Development” have been added on successively by the CPC alongside “Marxism-Leninism” over the past three decades. These have signified an increasing thrust on market-oriented reforms and integration with the capitalist world economy, which is the exact opposite of “Marxism-Leninism”, which espoused a “dictatorship of the proletariat”. 

The CPC no longer considers itself to be the “vanguard” of the Chinese working class alone but also “the Chinese people and the Chinese nation”, and which “represents the development trend of China’s advanced productive forces, the orientation of China’s advanced culture and the fundamental interests of the overwhelming majority of the Chinese people”. Even as the class character of the CPC has changed, the political form of dictatorship has been preserved zealously. And “Marxism-Leninism” has been retained as the official ideology in order to sustain the regime’s legitimacy. 

The revolutionary essence of Marxism needs to be rescued from such “Marxism-Leninism”, which has mutated into neoliberal state capitalism and that too, without democracy. Does the essence of Marxism lie in class struggle against capitalism or just in being a member of a communist party – even if that party abandons class struggle and the pursuit of revolutionary objectives in practise, but continues to nominally adhere to “Marxism-Leninism” in theory? 

Like in China, significant sections within the Left in West Bengal too have started believing in the latter version. Commitment to class struggle and revolutionary objectives has been replaced by nostalgia, blind loyalty towards the “leadership” and dogmatic adherence to a warped notion “democratic centralism”. As a result, while there have been occasional dissent from within the Left regarding specific policy errors, like that of forcible land acquisition, there has been no consistent and organized resistance against the rightward ideological shift from within the Left. 

The revival of the Left movement in West Bengal is a pre-requisite for the strengthening of the Left across the country and at the national level. In order to fulfill this objective, however, the Left has to: (a) make a complete break with neo-liberalism and isolate those sections which have got co-opted into the neo-liberal order (b) shun status-quoist dogmatism and creatively engage with radical alternatives outside orthodox “Marxism-Leninism”. The quest should begin with the realization that Indian society and economy have changed considerably since the 1960s/1970s and the slogan for an agrarian revolution against feudal landlords have lost much of its relevance. The principal challenge before the Left in India today is to intensify the struggle against the neo-liberal capitalist regime backed by Indian big business and open up possibilities for an alternative trajectory of economic development. 

Since 1991, the Left has often argued that it has a grand socialistic vision that can only be implemented when it comes to power at the centre; and meanwhile at the state level it can only pursue policies which are not much different from those implemented by non-Left parties. Such reasoning would not work any longer. People judge the Left by the policies implemented by the Left-led state governments, not by theoretical grandstanding. A crucial challenge for the Left is therefore to envision and implement alternative policies at the state level. Such policy alternatives should address the problems of unemployment, informalisation and casualisation of labour, crisis of peasant-based agriculture and ensure universal entitlements of food, education, healthcare, housing etc. The Left should resist the reckless exploitation of natural resources, privatization, land grab, large-scale displacement and environmental degradation caused through primitive accumulation under the neoliberal regime. In other words, the Left should first demonstrate at the state level, the contours of its policy alternative which it wants to pursue at the centre. 

The struggle for an alternative development trajectory also needs to be combined with a struggle for social justice and the democratic transformation of the Indian society and the state. In a society characterized by multiple forms of oppression and discrimination other than class exploitation, no emancipatory movement can make advance unless the struggle for social justice is combined with class struggle. With increasing participation of women in workplaces and the public sphere, gender based discrimination and violence against women are acquiring newer and more vicious forms. The struggle for gender equality is central to the struggle for social justice. Caste oppression continues to be a big obstacle to the democratization of Indian society. The dalits, adivasis and OBCs have grossly inadequate representation in formal sector employment, especially in the private sector. The Muslim minorities not only continue to suffer from neglect, discrimination and backwardness but are increasingly feeling insecure because of the way innocent persons from the community are often being victimized as “terror suspects”. The advancement of the rights of minorities, including reservations, acquires significance in this context. 

The Left has to make a distinction between the emancipatory politics of the socially oppressed sections and the narrow, exclusivist politics based on identities, which seek to perpetuate rather than annihilate social oppression. But to relegate identity questions to the background on the pretext of prioritizing class struggle is an anachronism. These struggles are in no way less significant than class struggle. In contrast to the identitarian mobilizations based on emotive issues, the Left should address the concerns and aspirations of the new generation among women, dalits, adivasis, Muslims and OBCs. This cannot be achieved unless the youth from these socially oppressed sections are provided adequate space and representation within the Left leadership. 

In the backdrop of humongous corruption and plunder of resources, the restructuring of India’s political system has become an imperative. Democracy in India is being subverted by money power and the strong nexus that has developed between policy-makers and vested interests. In order to dismantle this nexus, thorough electoral and political reforms are required. Accountability and transparency of the elected representatives and the state apparatus can only be ensured by institutionalising decentralised participatory democracy. The Left had a proud record of initiating democratic decentralization in West Bengal till the panchayats started being viewed less as rural self-governments and more as instruments to control the rural masses. This needs to be reversed to ensure meaningful participation of the people in decision-making. 

Veteran Communist Leader Jyoti Basu (1914-2010) Photo: Biswarup Ganguly

Veteran Communist Leader Jyoti Basu (1914-2010) Photo: Biswarup Ganguly

Before setting upon the task to democratize society, the Left should thoroughly democratize its inner structures, which have got bureaucratized. Homilies on “strengthening inner-party democracy” are no substitute to genuine introspection and opening up the organizational structures of the Left. The orthodox view holds that the only way to organize a revolutionary party is to have a top-down, regimented party structure. This militaristic and vanguardist notion of a revolution needs to be replaced with a revolutionary vision, which accords centrality to enormous mass participation. 

A mass revolutionary party should be structured in a way where the party remains embedded within the masses. Since masses are bound to have different opinions on ideological and policy matters, such diversity of opinion should be freely allowed to exist and contend within the party organization. Platforms or tendencies based on ideological-political positions should be formally allowed, with provisions for free debate and voting in the decision-making fora, like conferences. In fact, such tendencies already exist as factions or lobbies within the Left parties, but they function in a hypocritical and distorted manner because of the formal adherence to a stringent notion of “democratic centralism”. 

The approach of the Left towards alliances with non-Left forces also needs a major rethink. The present approach has been marked by a tendency to forge alliances from above, primarily geared towards short-term electoral gains. Not only have those gains remained elusive, but the Left has lost much of its fighting character, mass base and credibility owing to these opportunistic tactics. The alliance which the Left should focus on building is one between the ‘political Left’ and the ‘social Left’, whose efficacy has been brought into the fore through the Latin American experience. The peoples’ movements today have emerged as a significant force fighting against the adverse impact of neo-liberal policies. There is some merit in the critique that these movements are too localized and lack a universalist perspective. However, it is also a fact that with all its universalism, the Left has been absent on the ground on many issues that impacts the lives of the people. The other critique of the peoples’ movements, in terms of their being “reformist” also sounds hypocritical, since in spite of the theoretical or rhetorical revolutionism, that is what much of the Left has become in practise. 

The approach of the Left towards imperialism needs fresh thinking. [iii] The days of the “progressive” or the “national” bourgeoisie are over. The interests of big businesses across the world are intricately tied up in a globalised world and they all favour US imperialism to provide stability to the world order. The crucial arena of struggle against imperialism today is the struggle against neo-liberalism. Imperialism can be defeated only by defeating the domestic ruling classes of different countries. Despite being strongly backed by the Indian bourgeoisie and international finance, the neo-liberal regime in India is facing multiple contradictions. The ongoing crisis of global capitalism has exposed the fallacies of neoliberalism and India cannot remain unaffected much longer. However, the persistence of the ruling classes can also be seen in the continuance of neoliberal policies and austerity across the globe. Defeating this powerful bloc requires a very broad mobilization of all other classes and which can be attained only by building large social and political coalitions. 

What is required for the revival of the Left today, at a time of crisis, is a principled alliance between the radical revolutionaries, who want to replace capitalism with socialism and reformists, who want to fight for democratic reforms within the system, against the neo-liberal order. Such an alliance can actualize only when the Left initiates vibrant mass movements and becomes ideologically open to new ideas. Radicalism in practice and openness in theory should be the new direction for the Indian Left. 

Endnotes:

[i] See Deepankar Basu and Debarshi Das, “The Maoist Movement in India: Some Political Economy Considerations”; Journal of Agrarian Change, Vol. 13 Nos. 3, July 2013

[ii] The most consistent critique of the rightward deviation of the CPI(M) in West Bengal has been Ashok Mitra, who was the Finance Minister of the first two LF governments between 1977 and 1987. See AM, “The State of the CPI(M) in West Bengal”, EPW, Vol. XLIV Nos. 30, July 25, 2009

[iii] For an elaborate discussion on contemporary imperialism, see Prasenjit Bose (2013), “Imperialism or Empire?”, forthcoming in M Das, S Kar and N Nawn (eds.), Economic Challenges for the Contemporary World: Essays in Honour of Prabhat Patnaik, Sage, New Delhi

[Paper presented at International Conference organised by IDSK in Kolkata on Democracies in South Asia and the Role of the Left from November 20-22, 2013]
 First publish on Pragoti
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