Mainstream, VOL LII No 19; May 3, 2014
Crucial Questions for Left Forces
Monday 5 May 2014, by
The Left forces and activists need to engage constantly with what kind of alternatives they want to create in place of the existing system of capitalism based on exploitation, injustice and alienation and also with what kind of mobilisation they need for this. It is only by devoting their hearts and minds to exploring, studying, analysing, discussing these crucial issues that the Left forces can provide path-breaking guidance to society in difficult times. It is only with such continuing preparation that when given a chance of governance (whether at Central, State or local level), the Left forces will be able to make the most appropriate use of such opportunities available in a democracy.
For example, reducing inequality and moving towards equality is obviously a very important issue for the Left forces. The goal of equality can be taken far ahead, but the question is not how far we can go, but rather how we should proceed in such a way that our programme has the support and cooperation of a majority of people, because otherwise it may not be possible to implement it. This has to be discussed in depth in the rural context, where the land question is such a strong question. This discussion must have a powerful local dimension, because the conditions can differ so widely in villages. On the one hand, we’ve villages mainly of small farmers, and, on the other hand, we’ve villages dominated by a few big landlords. Then there’re strong regional differences, and the special issues relating to tribal areas. There are other issues relating to urban land and wealth, including the high concentration of wealth at the topmost level. Then there are questions of budget allocations and taxation, and how these policies can be used to reduce inequalities.
This task clearly has an academic component (particularly when even the extent of inequality is debated and is likely to have been underestimated in the past), but in addition such a learning process has an even stronger component of reporting of local grassroots realities and possibilities of changes as perceived by people, changes that would be accepted and liked by most people. One may call this barefoot academics!
This continuing process of learning will, on the one hand, enable the Left activists to enthuse people with a clear vision of what kind of changes they want to bring about to make society more equal, and how the poor can hope to benefit from these changes. On the other hand, this process of learning provides the Left forces with a clearly thought-out programme of action when they have a chance to implement it.
Such study of inequality/equality is just one of the innumerable significant issues that need to be studied on a continuing basis by the Left forces for the purpose of mobilisation just now and implementation when the opportunity arises. What may be of critical importance in the study of some crucial issues will be the possible role of vested interests in opposing the agenda of the Left forces, the difficulties created by this and how these difficulties can be overcome.
In this context clearly a very important issue relates to the response of the forces of imperialism to any efforts to implement the agenda of the Left forces. ‘Hot’ money can speedily exit from the country, overall foreign investment can decline suddenly, creating at least a temporary crisis and pressure on the currency value as well as balance of payments. This can worsen due to the overall less accommodating or even hostile tendencies on the part of the major economic powers as well as international finance and trade institutions. Any actions taken against powerful multinational companies, no matter how justified, will be resisted. The legal cover available to them now in the form of new trade and patent rules has been getting stronger. Once a country resisting the forces of imperialism has been pushed into a temporary crisis and has to turn to the IMF or other donors for reprieve, the scope for arms-twisting is even greater. To this should be added open or hidden opposition and hostility at other levels, such as increasing arms assistance to hostile neighbours or fomenting internal violence and protests.
In fact in these times of globalisation, once a country has been linked to a significant extent to the global forces led by a few developed countries and their MNCs, any effort to challenge their dominance is likely to result in hostile actions causing temporary shocks. This is even more true for a country which doesn’t have adequate oil or gas and depends on imports for a major share of its commercial energy requirements.
While we should recognise the reality of these adverse forces, we should not get overwhelmed by them. The challenge is precisely to overcome these difficult situations. Once the temporary crisis can be overcome, then many longer term alternatives are available to strengthen the self-reliance and resilience of the economy, including the energy sector. This path, free from all vested interests, will help to rapidly develop the stability of the economy as well as improve the economic condition of the overwhelming majority of people, particularly the weaker sections. So the initial problems can be quite difficult, but these can be overcome fairly rapidly especially with adequate South-South cooperation and solidarity of the Left and democratic groups located in the developed countries. So efforts to improve South-South cooperation and linkages with the Left and democratic groups in the developed countries should be continued all the time.
Studies and well-informed discussions of such transition phases and the policy options to be envisaged in such difficult phases can be very useful in preparing for such ‘make or break’ situations. These are not just issues for the leadership. Grassroots activists and supporters should be adequately informed about these but not in ways that can potentially create a scare, but instead in ways that increase the deter-mination of people and their support for facing potentially difficult times.
The agenda of the Left forces should never be secretive. Instead the outlines of relevant and credible changes that emerge from their study and discussions should be widely shared. There is a yearning for pro-people, eco-friendly alternatives all over the world so that there can be substantial support for any truly creative and innovative, mutually consistent alternatives emerging from the constant interaction of grassroots activists, people, academics and other experts. Hence adequate goodwill for the agenda of the Left can be built up in advance so that hostile action at the time of the implementation of this agenda can be minimised.
Some of the most crucial questions to which the Left forces should give adequate attention in their study and learning effort relate to (i) climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies; (ii) reform of international trade and possible alternatives to the WTO regime, including patent laws; (iii) role and regulation of multinational companies; (iv) disarmament and peace; (v) regulation and curbs on life-threatening technologies such as GMOs (geneti-cally modified organisms); (vi) alternative policies on health, education and women’s welfare/rights which can give substantial relief in the near future; and, above all, (vii) outlines of a socialist economy and society within a framework of democratic norms, human rights and high ethical values.
In all research, study and sharing, what is most important is to emphasise various interrelationships of issues and movements, and to speak and communicate with simplicity in the people’s own language.
It is also important to emphasise what to avoid. The tendency to remain stuck in various ‘ism’s added after the names of various respected scholars and leaders should be firmly avoided. We cannot think of the future agenda of our rapidly changing times in terms of Marxism or Leninism or Maoism or Gandhism or Lohiaism or for that matter any other such ‘ism’. The tendency to get stuck in endless debates of such ‘ism’s, or to justify any decision only in terms of conclusive quotations from such great leaders and scholars should be avoided as far as possible. Of course all the leaders and scholars mentioned above, or others like Nehru or Jayaprakash should be studied and inspiration drawn from their work and writings, but the tendency to use what they said as a decisive factor in planning the future course of action should be given up. Planning should be on the basis of the study and understanding of real problems and challenges ahead.
Similarly, the Left should neither claim to be the inheritor of what Stalin, Mao or other Communist leaders did, nor should it try to justify those actions which allegedly created mass distress in certain historical periods. All these allegations and their possible defence should not hold us back from the urgent task ahead.
This doesn’t mean that we ignore what happened in history. But history should be studied only on the basis of real evidence and hard facts, not on the basis of prejudices and what anyone wants to believe. And there are problems when some people just don’t want to face facts and get stuck in endless controversies about certain historical periods. This is why one feels for the time being that greater attention should be focused on the urgency of the tasks ahead rather than on endless debates on Stalin and Mao. Perhaps at a later stage when greater unity of the Left forces has been achieved, some historical debates can be settled in ways that are not so divisive. But what can be said even at present is that there are many phases in history when inequalities and injustices were resisted and all these phases taken together should be our source of inspiration. As leaders of such struggles women should get more importance. Spiritual leaders and spiritually-inclined leaders also deserve more importance particularly those who spoke against the narrow divisive or fundamentalist aspects of religion. The wider historical legacy of socialism should be reclaimed, instead of the current obsession with some not-so-gentle men.
Bharat Dogra is a free-lance journalist who has been involved with several social initiatives and movements.