Mainstream, VOL LIII No 31 New Delhi July 25, 2015
Is It “Now Or Never” For India’s Left Forces?: Innovate To Survive
Sunday 26 July 2015, by
The Left is usually associated with revolution. This is not surprising since “Left” has come to mean the socialist and communist political parties and organisations which adopt ideology according to Marx, Engels, Lenin, Mao, etc., albeit interpreted variously. In the Indian context, “Left” has usually meant the Communist Parties which, starting with the Communist Party of India (CPI), have fragmented into a large number (75, by one estimate [Note 1]) of mutually antagonistic parties/groups/factions.
The Communist Party of India (CPI), founded in 1925, split in 1964, with a major chunk breaking away and forming the CPI-M. Over the years, the CPI-M, in turn, lost portions of its leaders and cadres who were disillusioned with its policies or disagreed with its leadership. The clash of personal egos, linked with disagreement on matters of ideology and political principle, were the causes of the fragmentation. But without doubt, revolution is central to every one of them, though they may differ on the details, claiming with near-religious fervour that their “version” of revolution is the only valid one. There has been no attempt to address the real reasons for fragmentation.
There are principally two ideological streams: one leaning towards erstwhile Soviet Russia (USSR), and another leaning towards China. However, the Indian Left has failed to bring up an independent definition of revolution and ideology based upon Indian demography, its social-economic-political ethos and, important in present times, environmental/ecological factors.
Notwithstanding, some Left parties combined to form a Left Front which governed in some States. In West Bengal, they governed for over three decades, but lost power catastrophically in 2011. The severely fragmented Indian Left in general has not recovered from this shock. However, in the more recent past, some of the Left parties, realising that they are losing relevance and credibility in the political life of our country, especially after the 2014 general elections, are engaging in discussion to come together on a programmatic basis.
Fission and Enmity
Some breakaway groups formed political parties and enunciated their own ideology, principles and rules of operation, and developed their own dogma. This resulted in severe antipathy between groups and led them to create their own constituencies and areas of influence, with consequent violence among them. This resulted in further polarisation among Left parties and an atmosphere of distrust and active enmity, which caused violent confrontation at mere contact between them.
Members of especially the smaller parties or groups could not make contact with members of another party or group without it being interpreted as disloyalty. Internal dissension often resulted in disciplinary action and even expulsion. Since expulsion was extremely risky for individual dissenters, groups and factions broke away. This made for a complete stand-off between them, with erstwhile comrades becoming sworn enemies.
Revolution and Dogma
All Left parties believe in revolution. However, while some agree that revolution need not mean a bloody or violent overthrow of the existing system, others believe that at the present stage political strength needs to be gained to enable militant revolution later. Yet others believe only in armed struggle to gain political control. Thus, it would be appropriate to briefly discuss revolution.
A political revolution is not necessarily a violent overthrow of an earlier system. Also, it is not merely an event like the French, American, Russian or Chinese revolution (all of which were based upon violent overthrow) or India’s political independence on August 15, 1947, although it may begin with such an event. Revolution is a movement which, to endure, needs to adapt with changing socio-political circumstances, but always maintaining the aim for which the revolution happened or was started. A revolution always has roots in the past of the society in which it occurs.
Hence the socio-political history, unique to each nation, should determine the advance of a revolution. A revolution can be inspired by revolution in another nation, but it cannot be guided by it for any length of time, because it is an experience peculiar to the nation in which it occurs. Nations cannot borrow experience from other nations, but the lessons learnt from the experience of revolution in another nation can and must be understood and applied to the revolution.
A revolution would be started on the basis of a set of political, economic, moral, ethical, etc., principles and rules. As the revolution proceeds, these principles become a dogma, to which the leaders of the revolution may demand unquestioning adherence. However, the dogma would be applicable or relevant to the socio-political situation of that time. But change in the socio-political situation due to the revolution itself or other causes, can affect the validity of the original dogma, without affecting the first principles of the revolution.
Thus, when the situation changes appreciably, as may happen over a span of several years, the dogma, and the socio-political institutions created to support that dogma, need to be updated or replaced by new ones relevant to the new, changed situation. Failure to do this inevitably results in disenchantment of the rank-and-file revolutionaries, or indiscipline among them. This can and does result in the revolution “losing steam” or groups of revolutionaries breaking away to pursue their own idea of revolution with their own leadership.
The Left was a house divided even as far back as the heyday of the Left, even if the CPI-M ruled in West Bengal and was politically influential in the 14th Parliament with a record 43 seats. But after the collapse of the Left in West Bengal in 2011 and its weakness in Kerala, the Left ceased to be even politically relevant. In the run-up to the 2014 general elections, psepho-logists did not even discuss the possibility of the Left influencing the electoral calculus, and they were proven right by the results. The Left as a whole stood in self-created isolation, while the internecine struggle between the various Left parties/groups/factions only intensified the isolation and weakened them further. There was little, if any, move to understand the reasons for the failure of the Left as a whole.
Some members of the smaller Left parties are standing-off because they see themselves as revolutionary Left forces, holding that the major Left parties (CPI and CPI-M) are parliamentary forces which have ditched “revolution”, and are looking for alliance or adjustment with secular (non-communal) parties, so that they may win election seats. They hold that while being secular is necessary, the parameter for sufficiency is being openly socialist and anti-neoliberal in economic policy and practice. There is justification for the “sufficiency” factor, because the Left Front in West Bengal lost the people’s confidence primarily because of their pro-corporate stance taken to boost industrialisation.
The CPI and CPI-M held their respective party Congresses in early 2015. With a new leadership in the CPI-M, there was mention of merger of the CPI and CPI-M, though no time-frame for it was set. It is not clear whether these two parties have a policy concerning the smaller Left parties.
Recent moves at getting the various parties to come together to participate in meaningful discussions in an atmosphere of non-antagonism and non-confrontation, has resulted in some of the small Left parties insisting that unless the CPI and CPI-M admit their mistakes, little useful purpose is served by coming together. In general, the small parties have taken positions which may be placed in the following three broad categories: One, “wait-and-watch” (opportu-nist); Two, “what’s-the-use-of-discussion” because the big parties will do whatever they please anyway (pessimist); Three, “we-are-so-small” so who will listen to us (diffident). Thus it is increasingly clear that initiatives for Left convergence leading to Left resurgence and unity have to come mainly from the CPI and CPI-M, and perhaps only after their merger.
For their part, the CPI and CPI-M have formed a “national level” coordination committee consisting of parties having political presence in two or more States. Small parties which have presence in only one State are not included, and their experience and voice goes unheard.
What all the various Left parties are perhaps finding it difficult to understand, is that there is no party which is so small that it does not matter, and no party which is so big that it can do without the smaller parties. The value of “Left synergy”, by which the coming-together of all Left parties/groups/factions will acquire political influence far in excess of a mere numerical aggregation, appears to evade them.
The Luxury of Time
After the catastrophic collapse of the Left, the route to revival or resurgence has to begin with an institutional understanding of what went wrong and why. Clearly, there is need for introspection in the areas of ideology, policy and organisation, and their intersections. Even though the Indian Left has appreciably more effective internal democracy than other Indian political parties, discussion on what went wrong and why, leading to reformulation of policy and organisation is sure to be a painful, long-drawn-out process. The serious question is whether the divided Left has the luxury of time to carry out the entire process before it is completely overwhelmed by an increasingly aggressive BJP which is playing the card of corporate neo-liberalism and communalism, and impinging on democracy.
A Five-Point Survival Kit
Most of the 70 crores or more Indians who suffer in abject poverty are also socially backward and discriminated against. [Note 2] Their health, education and housing conditions are absymal. The State and Central governments, which have been following neo-liberal industrialisation-at-any-cost for economic growth, have not addressed and cannot relieve the wretched condition of this vast majority. It is patently obvious that the catchy slogan of “acche din aanewale hain” only applies to the corporate sector.
The aggressive neo-liberal economic policies of the BJP-NDA Union Government are the intensification of the predecessor UPA Govern-ment’s shift towards undemocratic, crony capitalism, never mind that the Preamble to the Constitution of India describes India as a socialist democracy. Therefore, the Left has a heavy responsibility.
The need of the hour for Left politics is not inflexible dogma rooted in foreign models of revolution, but people-oriented, ideology-free politics of engagement with the dozens of on-going people’s movements in the various States in India, based upon a common minimum programme. Needless to emphasise, this applies to those Left parties which accept the Constitution of India as a necessary part of the Indian state.
In view of the foregoing, all big and small Left parties would do well to:
1. Sense and accept the existential threat to the Left as a whole,
2. Haul themselves by their own bootstraps out of inapplicable dogma and organisational rigidity,
3. View revolution as ideology-free engagement with PEOPLE and People’s Movements on the ground,
4. Arrange to jointly manage their inter se affairs in a non-confrontational, non-antagonistic atmosphere, so as to jointly move towards convergence and unification, and
5. Chart a course for the 2019 general elections including panchayat, ULB and State elections along the way.
In the present ambience of rapidly growing corporate clout in a neo-liberal political economy, failure of the combined Left forces to aggressively innovate to suit the changed and changing political situations without compromising on basic social-economic-political principles, could well result in long-term political irrelevance or even annihilation.
Note 1. Wikipedia <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_...> , accessed on 15.07.2015, provided a list of 75 different communist parties, divided into the following five groupings:
(a) Pro-Left Front Communist Parties (11),
(b) Pro-Congress/UPA Communist Parties (17),
(c) Pro-China Naxal/Maoist Moderate Communist Parties (20),
(d) Pro-China Naxal/Maoist Communist Parties using violent means (18),
(e) Other Communist Parties (9).
The authenticity of the party names or the groupings is obviously unconfirmed, but the list is indicative of the extent of Left fragmentation.
Note 2. According to the Social, Economic and Caste Census 2011, 67 crore rural Indians live on less than Rs. 33 per day. This does not include the urban poor.
Major General S.G. Vombatkere, VSM, retired in 1996 as Additional DG Discipline & Vigilance in Army HQ AG’s Branch. With over 400 published papers in national and international journals and seminars, his area of interest is strategic and development-related issues.