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Mainstream, VOL LII No 26, June 21, 2014

Ideological-political Renewal and Revamp needed for Left Revival

Saturday 21 June 2014

by Prasenjit Bose

Within a week of the announcement of the Lok Sabha election results in India last month, elections to the EU parliament were held (May 22-25) across 28 European countries. While gains made by the Eurosceptic Far Right parties grabbed the attention, the anti-capitalist Party of the European Left also made significant advances by winning 51 seats across EU, 16 more than in 2009. The Left has done especially well in countries like Greece and Spain where they have been actively involved in the mass movements against the neoliberal austerity measures. The SYRIZA in Greece has finished first with over 26 per cent of the votes, up from five per cent in 2009, while a four-month old party Podemos (We Can)—born out of the 2011-12 protests by the indignados—surprised everyone by winning eight per cent of the popular vote in Spain.

In contrast, the CPI-M-led Left Front’s vote share in India has come down from 7.4 per cent in 2009 to 4.5 per cent in 2014 with its seats tally declining from 24 to 12. The CPI-M is facing a serious crisis today in its erstwhile citadel of West Bengal, where it could barely win two out of the 42 seats.

Why has this happened? The complex reasons underlying the CPI-M-led LF’s electoral debacle can be categorised into three distinct aspects: ideological, political and organisational.

Ideologically, the CPI-M has failed to evolve as a transformative political force, which can take on the challenges of globalisation and posit a credible, popular alternative. The party programme is still premised on an archaic belief in the impossibility of capitalist development in a Third World context, where the prime task of Communists is supposed to be fighting feudalism and helping build capitalism.

That Indian capitalism does not require any further assistance from the Communists to develop and flourish is yet to dawn on the party orthodoxy.

When in power, it was the principal task of the CPI-M-led LF to provide a workable alternative to the dominant neoliberal model of development—the now fashionable ‘Gujarat model’. Not only did it fail in that, as could be seen in the mediocre state of human development alongside very high unemployment persisting in West Bengal even after three decades of Left rule, but it fell deep into the trap of imitating the neoliberal model à la ‘Brand Buddha’, even at the cost of alienating its mass base among workers, small peasants and sharecroppers.

Because of its conservative derision towards all forms of ‘identity politics’, the CPI-M has failed to seriously address the aspirations of the deprived and marginalised sections for social justice. As a result, adivasis, Dalits and Muslim minorities have gradually moved away from the Left, especially in West Bengal.

The CPI-M has also failed to build up an effective women’s movement in Bengal, where practices like witchhunting and child marriages to rapes and other atrocities against women continue to be rampant. Rather, the sickening gender-biased remarks by senior Left leaders have antagonised large sections of women.

Politically, the CPI-M-led LF has only paid lip-service to the task of building struggles and movements.

Many well-wishers of the Left have often wondered why the CPI-M could not hit the streets against the establishment, like the India against Corruption or its later avatar, the AAP, when public resentment was at its peak. No movement was initiated by the Left against the misrule of the West Bengal Government even on burning issues like the Saradha scam or farmers’ suicides.

The Left leadership also failed to protect and stand by those activists and supporters, who have borne the brunt of State-sponsored vi-olence. Sizeable sections of their supporters in West Bengal have therefore abandoned the Left for the BJP.

In the absence of a vibrant, independent and united Left movement, which can attract fresh blood and inspire people, the CPI-M’s political tactics have got reduced to tailing discredited mainstream parties like the Congress or the SP for short-term gains, which has further eroded its credibility.

Organisationally, the most worrisome aspect of the CPI-M today is the stifling of inner-party democracy. Neither is the party leadership willing to respect democratic mandates, which have been going against the LF in Bengal since 2009, and rectify its errors, nor listen to critical voices from within its own ranks. Dissent and demands for accountability from the leadership, which is natural in the backdrop of successive debacles, is being dealt with a heavy hand while sycophancy is being rewarded.

This is a road towards assured self-destruction.

What is required for the revival of the Left today is ideological-political renewal along with a thorough organisational revamp starting from the very top, especially in Bengal. Attempts to preserve the dysfunctional status quo will bring about a hasty demise of the CPI-M and compel Left-inclined masses to actively seek alternatives.

(Courtesy: The Times of India, Kolkata)

Prosenjit Bose is a Left-wing economist and political activist who was expelled from the CPI-M when he revolted aganst the party‘s policy of backing Pranab Mukherjee as the presidential candidate sometime ago.