Mainstream, VOL LV No 1 New Delhi December 24, 2016 - ANNUAL 2016
Indian Communists and the International Left on Global Canvas
Monday 26 December 2016
by Arun Srivastava
While the fascist ultra-nationalist forces have been striving hard to occupy the centre- stage of the global polity and evolve their own variant ideology, it is heartening to note that the Communists and Left forces especially in the capitalist countries have also started asserting their existence and voice.
Probably the lone exception to this emerging trend has been the communist movement in India. The believers of Marxism and communism have refrained from asserting their distinctiveness. It is an irony that the Communists and the Left parties are yet to succeed in evolving a concrete strategy and political formulation to check the rampaging Rightist forces which have unleashed a reign of terror. They have merely been registering their protest and dissent by taking out one or two rallies, and nothing beyond that. What has been most paradoxical is that the communist leadership is yet to analyse the character of the ultra-nationalist forces, whether they are fascist or merely authoritarian.
It is an eye-opener that the Communists and social democrats even in America and Great Britain have been coming together to fight these fascist forces. In fact the American Left parties have announced the formation of a United Front. The Left-wing in the USA has been a fragmented lot and not presented a united front in decades. The Left has been in disarray and, what is worse is that it has been in a broken and divided state.
But the onslaught and spread of the ultra- Rightist and racist forces have forced them to join hands. It underlines the seriousness they have attached to the latent and doable threat from these forces in their own capitalist countries.
Nevertheless, it was a pleasant surprise to witness that the enormity of the menace has made the two far-Left parties, the American Party of Labour and the Party of Communists USA, deciding to work together. There is little doubt that the two US Left parties coming together and also the election of Kshama Sawant, a Left leader in Seattle, would usher in a new world order.
To broaden their space and reach out, the USA’s Left had backed Hillary Clinton in the presidential election. This was done to usher in socialism in the political mainstream. Hailing Barack Obama’s win as a victory for the “working class”, the Communist Party USA called on the President-elect to carry out his promises, including his noted commitment to “spread the wealth”. An editorial in the People’s Weekly World, the official newspaper of the party, said the victory was for “workers of all job titles, professions, shapes, colors, sizes, hair-styles and languages”. But unfortunately once in office Obama did not pay proper attention to the expectations of the US Communist Party.
An e-mail sent out by the Communist Party USA to the people, however, makes it explicit that in the changed situation it intends to expand horizontally: “The 2016 elections are in full swing. Many of our districts and clubs and members are actively participating in the campaign to strike a blow to the extreme Right and defeat Donald Trump and other down ballot GOP extremists. But no matter where you live you can be part of this exciting election. We can defeat Trump, oust Right-wing majorities in the Congress and statehouses while also building powerful labor-led people’s movements, advancing a progressive agenda and political independence at the grassroots.”
There is absolutely no confusion that Donald Trump was a choice of the capitalist establish-ment. The victory of Trump highlights the deep intensification of the contradictions within the bourgeois system of America. It would be naïve to describe the victory of Trump as an “anti-establishment” message of the American voters. This is Rightist, racist and ultranationalist. Interestingly those who celebrated the victory of Donald Trump are the political protagonists of fascism in Europe: From Marie Le Pen in France to the reactionary Prime Minister of Hungary, Viktor Orban, and from the far-Right Austrian Freedom Party to the Nazi-fascist Golden Dawn in Greece. In fact Le Pan supported Trump for adopting ultra-nationalism.
The presentation of Trump as an “anti-establishment” candidate was used as a tool in order to entrap a large number of open-minded voters. In a shrewd move, he was projected as the “alternative” to the political establishment.
Without having developed class conciousness and without the existence of a strong working class party, a very large part of low-income Americans—especially in the countryside—fell “victim” to Trump’s bombastic rhetoric. They saw Trump as the alternative solution to the crooked, corrupted political system.
In this context the rise of Jeremy Corbyn in the UK and his projection as the public face of communism is worth taking note. His powerful detractors owing allegiance to Tony Blair and other Right and Centrist leaders were deter-mined to oust him from the party but they could not succeed. From the beginning they treated Jeremy Corbyn as an untouchable and a pariah. It was forecast that a Labour Party under his leadership would be washed out and lose the support it enjoyed.
The rise of Corbyn has unnerved the status quoist Labour leaders to such an extent that they launched a vicious campaign against him of planning to bring about fundamental change in the ideological character of the party. The Centrist media of Britain also turned hostile to him. They saw in him a detractor inimical to the interest of Britain. Senior Labour leader Tom Watson, worried that the Labour Party was at risk of being taken over by the hard-Left “Trotsky entryists”, accused those Trotskyites of “twisting the arms” of young members. It was also alleged that the “Trots” were infiltrating into Labour.
Watson said many members of the grassroots Momentum Movement, set up to support Corbyn’s leadership, were “deeply interested in political change, in building a more equal society, and are just on a journey in politics that they’re new to”.
On his part Jeremy is also trying to strengthen the Leftist base of the party by inducting radical and Left-minded youths. With Jeremy winning the crucial September leadership election, the decks have been cleared for the entry of Peter Taaffe, the veteran leader of Militant, the hard-Left group pushed out of Labour in the 1980s and now renamed the Socialist Party. It is due to Jeremy’s Leftist orientation that the British media has been hostile to him. But they could not inflict any damage to Jeremy.
The Labour’s infighting intensified after Jeremy Corbyn spoke of his admiration for Karl Marx. His Left-wing rant provoked dismay among the moderate Labour figures, who warned that the party was heading for “oblivion”. The Centrist and moderates nursed the opinion that the Communists and other hard-Left extremists were signing up in droves to capture and control the party.
The Socialist Workers Party has welcomed Jeremy Corbyn’s re-election. This is from Amy Leather, its Joint Secretary. Jeremy Corbyn’s victory is a boost to everyone who hates austerity and racism. Corbyn’s rallies have seen large and enthusiastic audiences come to cheer a socialist message. “Those people must become a movement in the streets and workplaces that can block and then remove this Tory government.”
There is a perceptible change in the mood of the Britons. This is manifest in their willingness to subscribe to the ideology and political line of Jeremy Corbyn. This has in fact increased his majority and his grip on the party is getting stronger. The number of people voting was just over 80,000 higher than it was in 2015. Last year Corbyn had got 59.5 per cent of first-preference votes when he was up against three candidates, Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall. This year he got 61.8 per cent of the votes. That is in the real sense an increase.
Earlier a majority of the Labour members adopted a Centrist approach on matters of national importance. But now they advocate and support the Jeremy path. There is no doubt that within one year of his taking over as the leader of the Labur Party, he has transformed British politics. Jeremy Corbyn has attracted around 50,000 during his campaign — one of the biggest political grassroots mobilisations in Labour’s history. Left politics has been gradually stepping towards the centre-stage.
Jeremy Corbyn symbolised a break from the Labour’s past of equivocating about helping the most vulnerable in society. He also praised the new members who had been inspired to join the party. “These are not bad people, these are good people. We should be proud of them and I say welcome to the Labour Party,” he said.
In 2008 the world woke up to a banking crisis of epic proportions, a crisis borne of blind faith in market wisdom and an utter lack of public oversight. But surprisingly the parties who benefited from the bust were the Conservatives (the people who glibly told voters it was all the government’s fault) and the xenophobes (who blamed it all on terrorists and immigrants, who steal our jobs yet are too lazy to work).
More than a century after the formation of the Labour Party, the party continued to be rooted in the organised working class. The results of the general election confirm that the party enjoys support in the working class of Britain. But howsoever bizarre it may appear before many, the fact is before Jeremy taking over the command, the careerists, the bourgeois and attorneys of capitalism dominated it. It was an irony that these very people described the true representatives of the trade unions as Trostkyites.
Those who wanted to change society, especially the young people, were feeling frustrated and alienated by the Labour’s pro-capitalist policies, the support for imperialist wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the corruption scandals, the introduction of tuition fees, and the general feeling of disappointment. Towards the end of the 1960s, a number of Left groups abandoned work in the Labour Party in disgust at the counter-reforms of the then Labour Government. They wrote off the party and set about building their own independent revolu-tionary parties. The market forces dictated the course of the development. The more isolated they were, the more ultra-Left they became.
With Corbyn taking over the leadership, a fresh move has been initiated to consolidate and broadbase the Left forces. Nevertheless, Corbyn and his aides came under Rightist attack. A witch-hunt was launched by the capitalist media against the “Trotskyist infiltrators” in the Labour Party. Their aim was to use the witch-hunt against Militant to undermine the swing to the Left in the party.
The ruling elite strove to make the party a safe forum for espousing capitalism. The crisis of capitalism was reflected in the demands for austerity everywhere. The impression gained by and large was that the Labour Party was a thoroughly bourgeois party, because in the past it was led by the bourgeoisie..
The emergence of Jeremy sent the strong message that if the Communist leadership could have sincerely implemented the Marxist philo-sophy and ideology then the Communist forces in Britain could have made substantial inroads. Jeremy likes Marx and believes in Marxism but at the same time he is not a Communist card- holder. Nevertheless in his day-to-day practice he tries a great extent to emulate the Communist line. This he has been practising in a country which has been the greatest empire and represents the legacy of capitalism.
In the backdrop of these two developments, re-assertion of the Left in the USA and the emer-gence of Jeremy in the UK, obviously the question arises: why are the Communists and Marxists in India in the present political scenario averse to propagate the communist philosophy and struggle to the people whose aspirations it embodies? The worst has been their meekly surrendering to the fundamentalists. During the last two years the RSS and Modi Government have been ruthlessly wrecking and shattering the secular and liberal forces but they have refused to rebel against the fascist forces symbolising the fundamentalists. Their confusion owes its origion to their inability to identify with the proletariat and poor. Their election compulsion has made them to waver and decide whether to support the poor or champion the cause of the urban middle class. A closer look at the functioning of the Communists and Marxists would unravel the truth that they are hankering for winning over the middle class. No doubt in the late sixties and seventies the middle class was the main force, but now in the present scenario they no more neflect the petty bourgeois political culture; instead they treat themselves as the natural ally of the capitalist and market forces.
Believing in the Marxist ideology and imple-menting it are two different issues. An individual may be an ardent subscriber to the Marxist ideology but he would find tough to practise that ideology. Marxists in India do not strictly adhere to the basic tenets of Marxism while implementing it in the domestic scenario. The failure of the Indian Communists is generally viewed in the backdrop of the collapse of the Soviet Union and it is said that with this Marxism has lost its relevance and become redundant. This presumption is entirely untrue and misleading. Had it been so, there would not have been Communists in the capitalist countries.
None else but the Indian Marxists are to be blamed for the creation of this situation. The fallacy is that the Indian Marxists, instead of owning up their mistakes or accepting their failures, shift the blame taking recourse to wrong interpretation and analysis of the existing conditions.
Except Kerala, nowhere in India was the Marxist ideology implemented in its correct perspective. The installation of the Marxist Government in Kerala in 1957 was more relevant and important than a Marxist-Leninist Govern-ment taking control of China under Mao Zedong. Kerala’s Marxist Government came to power under a democratic structure without a protracted Marxist-Leninist uprising as had happened in China.
It is the electoral defeat of the Marxists in West Bengal that is being cited as the classical example of the waning of Marxism as an ideology in India. Some intellectuals and academics shed tears that the national footprint of the Left has shrunk. The Left parties, which had won sizeable number of seats in the Lok Sabha in 2004, failed to maintain the tally in the later elections. The Marxists owe an explanation why they failed to check the expansion of the Mamata syndrome or saffron brigade in the State. Unfortunately they too, like the bourgeois tendency, use the electoral gains or losses to judge the rise or decline of the Communists. In 1977 the CPI-M winning the West Bengal Assembly elections was portrayed as Bengal turning into a Red citadel. People voting against the Congress were show-cased as Bengalis becoming Marxists and the State turning into a liberated zone. This undoubtedly lacked wisdom and vision. How could a person believing in Marxism and dedicated to class struggle be swayed away by such frivolous gains?
Instead of consolidating the gains the Marxist leaders indulged in distorting the Marxist doctrine and its principles. Nothing could illustrate it better than the case of land acquisition in Singur. The Supreme Court in its order on August 30 observed: “In Singur the CPI-M Government exercised its ‘eminent domain power without following the statutory provisions’ to acquire the land from farmers. In acquiring the vast extent of land having immense agricultural potential, the government deprived the agricultural occupation of a large number of land owners/cultivators, thereby depriving them of their constitutional and fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution of India.”
The collapse of the Singur project, which led to the downfall of the 34-year-old Left Front rule in 2011, has been the case of classical failure of the CPI-M. The Marxist leadership had created an orthodox mess.
Indians have always been attracted towards Communist ideas. The primary reason for this has been the schism between the rich and poor, which has created hatred towards capitalism. No doubt during the freedom struggle the Congress leadership tried to get the support of the extremely poor and Scheduled Caste population, some leaders at the personal level succeeded too, but the Congress at the organisational level as such could not make a major stride.
A closer look at the rise of the Left in Bengal makes it explicit that this was primarily due to the leaders who were associated with the peasant movement at the grassroots. The CPI-M emerging as the dominant Communist Party after the 1964 split was also due to this factor. However, in independent India these leaders could not give shape to their movement. Yet another reason for the CPI-M’s inability to consolidate its peasant base was the projection of Jyoti Basu as the ultimate leader. He was projected as a Communist from a rich family. This was a manifestation of middle class Leftist romanticism.
Basu changed the class character of the Marxists. This was clearly visible in the matter of the land acquisition for industrialisation in Singur and Nandigram. It is a historical fact that Basu had ordered to shoot innocent peasants in Naxalbari in 1967. Had he been committed to the proletarian cause, he would certainly not have given that order.
The political and ideological struggles of the Left parties have hit a blind alley as correctly emphasised by the political resolutions of the 17th Party Congress of the CPI-M. The leadership miserably failed to identify the main enemy: whether it was the bourgeois forces represented by the Congress or the communal forces led by the BJP. It is an open secret that the communal fascism of the Sangh Parivar, with its ideology of Hindu Rashtra, now poses a grave and unprece-dented threat to the secular fabric of Indian democracy.
In recent years the younger people across the country tend to keep away from the Left political parties and political spectrum. This is in sharp contrast to what was seen in the seventies and even in the early nineties. The youth of today are more socially progressive and are looking for an activist government. Unlike the youth of yester years today’s youth support social spending and are in favour of higher taxes if it means better public services. They desire to have active participation in the power mechanism and dynamics.
In 1991 when Laloo Yadav took to fighting against the hegemony of the feudal and upper caste people, the youth of the backward castes rallied behind him. They responded to Laloo’s call on the lines of caste affinity and identification. Even during those years the Left parties utterly failed to entice and enroll this huge population of the youth. It is worth recalling that the hard-core Naxalites belonging to the Yadav caste, elected to the State Assembly on the ticket of the IPF, a frontal organisation of the CPI(ML), switched their political allegiance and loyalty to Laloo and joined his RJD since it represented the power dynamics of the Yadav caste.
Apparently this was indicative of the end of the Indian youth’s romance with communism. The youth have come to nurse the opinion that communism has lost relevance in the post-liberalisation era. Maoists at their recent Congress emphasised to reach out to the youth. The party lacks new blood and young faces. Maoists ought to do serious introspection as to why the youth are not willing to join them. It is historically correct that the youth were the main force of the Left in India. The roots of the communist movement in India go back to the 1920s when the Communist Party of India was founded as an alternative to the existing Congress-led anti-imperialist movement. The movement was driven by angst against the economic injustice of the rich and wealthy class.
The youth lapped up the new idea of change and power dynamics. What is the reason that the Maoists fail to attract them? In trying to bring about radical change they missed the opportunity of changing things at the margins. The disillusionment of the youth also owes to the failure of the Communists to bring about a revolution. Thousands of youth sacrificed their lives, they were either killed by the police or by the private goons. The Left leaders in fact betrayed these youths by not spearheading the movement on the correct political line.
Yet another factor that ought to be mentioned is that the youth of the bourgeoning middle class are not inclined to lose their economic gains and comfortable life by embracing the ultra- Left. They have learnt the futility of aligning with them. Eminent Left intellectual Prabhat Patnaik felt that the appeal of the communist movement among the youth and society at large had waned, and identified three factors that contributed to it: “One is the ploy of neo-liberalism supporters to direct the failings of the system towards a person or a political party instead of the basic idea itself. For instance, the huge corruption and misgovernance by the UPA is projected as the incompetence of either Prime Minister Manmohan Singh or that of the dynasty of the Congress.”
The author is a senior journalist and can be contacted at sriv52[at]gmail.com