How to break the status Quo
Time for a Movement-based
Alternative Democratic Left Front!
It is appropriate to start by
saying that when the CPI (ML)-Liberation decided to disband the Indian Peoples' Front (IPF) in 1994, they did a partial disservice to the struggles of the Indian people. It was a decision that sacrificed the Party's interests at the expense of the larger interests of building a broad-based united front to assist a social revolution in India. Or, perhaps it was a belated realization that the IPF was founded on incorrect premises?
Irrespective, at its formation the IPF was able to bring together a large number of pro-Naxalite and non-Naxalite mass organizations and in fact it was very soon hailed "as the fastest growing Left front in India." Very soon it went the unfortunate route of most Communist Party spawned organizations, who invariably refer to mass front organizations as "their mass organization" and treat such movements as if they have title rights to it. In that sense the concept of independent mass organizations, has never really matured in India.
The notion that it is the movement that is primary—that the affiliation or leadership is secondary—is still not very acceptable to many activists. The hegemony and control of the larger party has always been predominant and even alienating. In addition, the caste-ist tendency to commandeer and dominate, has left its mark on the Indian Left.
The CPI (ML) Liberation was also in a hurry to come overground and wanted to participate directly in Parliamentary elections. So in their rush to elect their own MPs, they found the IPF dispensable. Therefore, they came up with a surfeit of rationalizations, which continue to be put forth by its present leadership. Without a doubt, however, the CPI (ML)-Liberation remains one of the largest organized Naxalite groups in the country (in terms of members in mass organizations and participation), doing good work in many areas of the country, working hard and often effecting large turnouts in its public gatherings. It has also been remarkably successful in interfacing with the mainstream media. However, its purported goal of using the Parliament to place its alternative viewpoint on a national platform has failed. No spin will suffice. One bleating voice in Parliament, Dr Jayant Rongpi, the MP from Assam, is a despairing and symbolic downturn for them from the popularity the IPF had gained at one time.
For the CPI (ML) Liberation who once fought in the tunnels of Arrah and Siwan and marched in formations of over 50 peasant guerillas at a time, in many districts of Bihar (and this is not a sentimentalist remembrance), the temporary elation at election success has come plummeting down from winning with over 171,000 votes to losing with only 17,000 votes. (Rameshwar Prasad, its legendary leader from Bihar won and lost several times in Parliament and Assembly elections with those numbers.) To put it very simply, this "tactic" has not worked.
The reason why one brings up this IPF issue is because there is an acute need for a unified progressive all-India Front of Left and Democratic forces, whose perspective is NOT to win parliamentary seats but to deploy militant resistance to the Neo-Liberal Emergency that has been declared by Manmohan Singh and company. Otherwise, the overall atmosphere of fragmentation, which has afflicted everyone (including the ruling class) can become despairing and the lessons from the past should not be ignored. Small mass organizations all over the country are doing good work and they deserve to be supported, preserved and provided protection. It is the mass movement that matters and not which party has influence.
It is Time
On May 1, this year, in New Delhi, all the known Trade Unions from the CPI(M) and the CPI to the pro-Naxalite CPI(ML)-Liberation group, Forward Bloc and others were able to muster only about 3000 people for a march. And this in a country where neo-liberalism is on the rampage! May 1 is the only unorganized and undeclared platform for all left and progressive groups to come together, to rub shoulders, no matter what their political differences are, and this is all that the nation's capital could put together. All over the world, hundreds of thousands of people mobilized to observe May Day to fight against the cutbacks, against tuition hikes, against war, against the IMF dictated policies of "restraint". But in India there was hardly any large turnout. Is it because the leftists are satisfied with their effectiveness to spread the word about May 1?
The time has come therefore, for a National United Front (finding a name for it is not the most critical problem at present) —but this time it must go beyond the caricature of a front that is useful for one organization to hide behind, and instead to have a genuine platform where mass organizations from the largest possible independent and progressive groups can participate in a bottom-up genuine united front, whose presence encompasses the entire Indian progressive polity. It is not enough to exist as a Citizens Forum on the web and organize occasional seminars or petitions but to form a fighting organization for India's poor.
In such a Front, the specific political issues raised by each mass movement must be the driving force. With each major movement of national importance, the Front must become the centralizing popular propagandist and enabler. The Assam anti-dam movement, the current Nonadanga anti-eviction movement, the Kudankulam movement, the anti-Posco movement, the Bathani Tola reversal of the conviction of the Ranvir Sena, the killings of RTI activists, the attacks against members of the Kabir Kala Manch in Pune, against the blatant torture of teachers like Soni Sori in police custody and several other movements across the country all evince great potential where the issue itself must bring various groups together. Let us also not forget the people of Lalgarh, who at one time built up one of the most vibrant and militant mass participatory organizations of the poor. However, the sustenance required for such movements to continue to grow, all over India, is lacking. Activists are barely beginning to learn that it is the movement that must be upheld, despite all the difference in their political beliefs. That is the way to build momentum for a larger unified organization at a national level.
One movement, at a time, could be picked up and popularized by all members of the Front, as a mandate. Even on a relatively "comic" and yet disturbing issue, like that of the Jadavpur University professor who was hassled, beaten up and arrested for circulating cartoons on Facebook, the entire Front could take it up as a movement against the intolerance and proto-fascist leanings of the Trinamool Congress. If Soni Sori's appeals go unheard and she remains in a critical condition, then each of the constituents of the Front must front page the issue in their respective papers or sites, if declared as a major focus for the Front. The issue here is the barbaric torture inflicted by the police and the continuous attempts to dodge the rulings of the Supreme Court. The issue is NOT what affiliations she may have and who is most vocal in supporting her. It is an issue of highlighting the flagrant violations of due process. That is the basis for the entire Front to come together with all its constituents.
In the Philippines, nearly one thousand organizations have banded together under the single banner of BAYAN. From journalists, slum dwellers associations, lawyers and filmmakers to nurses, aboriginal groups, minority organizations, catholic priests, health workers, theatre performers, anti-eviction and anti-mining student activists have all come together on one platform. Each of Bayan's constituent organizations, struggle in their specific arenas and issue-based struggles, but as Bayan they come together to fight one common issue, when the central call is issued, for example on mining, on the activities of US troops around their bases, around the joint exercises of the US-Philippine military entente. There also the principal onslaught is from the Neoliberal program, with the presence of the US military as an obvious face of it. [See http://www.bayan.ph/site/about/] In the Philippines, however, unlike India, there are no twenty-five different Leftwing organizations competing with each other for "territory."
What to fight for?
From Adivasi rights, forest rights, minority rights, women's rights, gay rights, dalit rights, right to information, right to health, sanitation and education, against big dams, against mega-mining, against environmentally unsound power projects, against the continued erosion of civil rights, against police brutality, against staged encounters, against army brutality against minorities in the North East, Kashmir and elsewhere, against censorship and snooping, against evictions, against land acquisition to meet phantom MOUs, against the banning of mass organizations, against anachronistic sedition laws, against the frenzied framing of activists as terrorists and foreign-agents, for food sovereignty, against GMO foods and seeds, against the resultant farmer suicides, and against selling out the nation's agricultural backbone to foreign retailers whose only interest is in feeding the hyper-consumptive hysteria of the other India and not the 835 million who are confined to Montek Ahluwalia's definition of acceptable levels of misery (Rs 24–Rs 28 per day is what it takes to qualify).
Who must lock arms together?
Lawyers, journalists, engineers, actors, poets, trade union organizers, teachers, economists, students, architects, artists, dancers, singers, filmmakers, theatre activists, slum dwellers, professors, priests, sarvodayists, gandhians, old school socialists, new democrats, peasant front organizers, civil rights activists, supreme court lawyers, retired IAS and IPS , Army, air force, navy officers who have now realized that there is something fundamentally smelly with the way the rulers of India are planning to redirect its dependence on international capital and thereby creating a comprehensive militarised infrastructure to snoop, to control the media and public opinion, to secretly pass legislation whose intent is to transform India into another "homeland security" type construct like the United States or UK. This is a battle that requires the combined will and support of all those, whose names constantly appear in petitions, in statements, in press releases, in court affidavits, in letters to Chief Ministers and the President. They must now step outside their chalk circles and lend support to the building of a new Front.
What is the fightall about?
— It is not for this Front to decide if their constituent organizations participate in elections or not.
— It is not for this Front to decide whose political analysis of the Indian state is most correct or most incorrect.
— It is not for this Front to decide, the political program of the constituent organizations.
— It is for these organizations to independently decide what minimum basic political programs they are comfortable with to be constituents of such a Front.
— lt is for the Central and representative General Assembly of the Front to set up the minimum program and the minimum standards for inclusion and exclusion. A rules based program would decide on what basis organizations can seek membership. It could be a minimum membership protocol; it could be sectoral and regional and could also be solidarity or rights-organization based. It is also the task of the leadership of the Front to ensure that individual groups do not attempt to force issues. Direct democracy and the right to recall the leaders must be practiced from the start. Where there is no democratic unity, one has to wait for the consensus to emerge. Organizations whose basic leaning is towards general assemblies and general bodies must be the cornerstone of such a front and not organizations who wish to remain underground.
This is a battle that must evolve out of the understanding that the neo-liberal onslaught on the people of India has become the biggest struggle to mobilize forces against. All the popular struggles and the individual daily incidents of mind-numbing grotesqueness in India can be attributed to this juggernaut that is being attempted to be rolled over the poor of India. This is also a battle for genuine grass-roots democratic transformation, education and uplifting the general mass consciousness about fighting poverty, understanding equity, rights, free access, and personal liberties.
Yes, in the end, this front could support popular independent candidates for participating in elections as a tactic. But, its main task would be to propagate the truth through alternative media at various levels from tabloids and newspapers to magazines and electronic media, to engage towards building local and general mass movements as outlined, towards the possibilities of general strikes and perhaps more. But definitely not towards simply capturing more seats in parliament as a strategy. The Parliament of India, as one can see, is completely fragmented and paralyzed. Today, the CPI(M), as the self-proclaimed voice of the left in India, seeks alliances with the right wing BJP on what they call financial policy understanding. (Sitaram Yechury to Business Standard, May 3). It becomes a game in itself to fracture, fragment and jockey for high ground for those in a boat paddling against the tide with holes at the bottom of the boat. And yet, within the CPI(M) increasingly there are forces that see beyond its current leadership and are establishing linkages with other left wing organizations. The same is even truer of the CPI, whose cadre base remains more involved in direct mass movements, irrespective of the analysis provided by their leadership.
India needs Democracy First!
This is a campaign issue. As a nation India is NOT FREE. The notion of independence has been bandied around for 64 years and of course it strikes an emotional chord amongst patriotic Indians, given that thousands of Indians gave their lives to get rid of British colonial rule. But, while this is not the essence of this particular essay, let it be known that even the most conservative economists and political thinkers agree that the rulers of the Indian economy and the Indian political state are hamstrung and not independent enough to ward off the continued attempts of international capital to take over the Indian economy in their own interests and then convert it into an enclave steeped in structured domestic iniquity. When international capital is interested in India, they want profits to be siphoned off at any cost, liability to be limited, and threats to leave as belligerent as always. As it stands the essence of India's independence and "growth" lies in shreds, with the presentation of the latest 2012 budget.
l In one year, agricultural growth rate has slumped from 7% to 2.5%.
l The manufacturing sector has slumped from 9.7% growth to 3.9% in the same period.
l The fiscal deficit is rising continuously (3.8% of GDP) ( It is to be noted that in 1991 India had to sell off its gold and beg and borrow from the IMF which insisted on the structural adjustments, which in turn was passed off as the "freeing " of the Indian economy in 1991).
l The trade deficit has a yawning gap (10% of GDP).
l Inflation rate is one of the highest in the world.
The purposeful maintenance of a deficit economy to attract foreign investment to leap-frog "growth" in certain sectors has brought about continued disparity in the essential sectors of food, education and health. The solutions offered as an alternative is the reckless privatization of these sectors by erecting hospitals that burn and kill its patients, educational institutes that claim foreign degrees and no relevant jobs are available and the erection of obscene malls by unscrupulous sharks that lack a fundamental commitment to an equitable society.
Irrespective of the distorted consumptive, flamboyant, free-wheeling character conveyed by its 250 million or so rich and middle classes and their hyperbole-infatuated media, "born" after the neo-liberalization of the 1990s, India remains an undemocratic, backward and poor country, whose enormous riches (material and human) are being plundered or shipped out to enable the enrichment of the less than 1%.
Grass-roots democratic culture, fairness, equity, civil and human rights and a comprehensive understanding of food sovereignty, education rights, health and sanitation and right to housing, shelter and nutrition remains elusive. Fatalism, destinyism, religiosity, mythical beliefs dominate over rationalist, anti-superstitious discourse.. A look at the comments columns in various mainstream blogs (in response to any incident) is quite educational and yet shocking. It shows that the middle class is simply not intellectually mature enough to discuss issues with dignity, democracy, educated beliefs and consistency. Irrationality takes over in no time. 'Bharat mata ki jai" (glory to mother India) and easy resort to abuse, slander, name calling and feudal argumentation that ranges from questioning one's pedigree to one's nationality tends to dominate. The level of argumentation is so astoundingly backward and asinine, that one wonders how this nation can focus on a single contradiction as principal and how the whole nation must be mobilized accordingly. These are issues that will confront the United Front immediately-how to break the back of the jingoistic and deflectionary way of avoiding core issues and educating against it.
In India, there has not been the social and intellectual development that accompanies genuine industrial growth, but there has been access made easy for media sophistry, equipment, gadgetry, ease of imports for commodities and the effervescent Bollywoodian "culture" industry and web presence--dangerous equipment in the hands of a culturally underdeveloped class. Indians love borrowed buzzwords, slogans and the media pretends to be "free." In the recent visit of Hilary Clinton, not a single question was asked about Israel's nuclear arsenal, about the US's drone massacres, extra-judicial and extra-national forays. She was able to twist everything around to a discussion on "dangerous Iran" and the fawning by Barkha Dutt continued discussing "dangerous Pakistan."
India is not shining, India is not growing, its coffers are shrinking, its unemployed army is increasing, its inflation is at record levels, its poor have increased in numbers, it has the largest number of farmer suicides in the entire history of the world and as per the Planning Commission's own internal report, the assaults against its aboriginal people is "the biggest land grab since Columbus."
India is a fragmented country. The ruling class is fragmented. The Opposition is fragmented. The government of Manmohan Singh has to repeatedly backstep and withdraw its neo-liberalist policies because a nearly insane and frequently bizarre Mamata Banerjee uses her MP strength to pander to various populist, but essentially feudalist area-control exercises. It's a neighborhood (para in Bengali) control culture that she has grown up in and continues to operate in. A populist, mofussil goon-deployment routine comes to her more naturally than thoughtful, sensitive notions of leadership. She has now brought that to her coalition politics at the Federal level.
The Opposition NDA is fractured in a hundred different ways also, with intrinsic connections to corrupt-feudal warlords, warring mafia families and a variety of "development" mafia from Modi to Reddy to Nitish to Raman.
A simple class analysis will not do
If India could be simplistically analysed as a country facing a single developmental hurdle or a country facing a direct imperial occupation or a consolidated and powerful ruling class that is clearly identifiable, then matters could perhaps be more focused as far as a revolutionary opposition goes. But this is not to be. There is no imperial foreign army occupying India as in Afghanistan or elsewhere, there is no puppet, tin pot dictator or sheikh installed by a military coup d'etat (as in the old Latin America or Chiang Kai Shek's China or in certain Arab countries today), there is no army that rules like a shadow (as in Pakistan). But, there is a little bit of everything and this makes matters very grey!
In India the whole society is fragmented: It is not enough to divide the entire society into classes and then simplistically propose alliances and declare some as "friends" and others as "enemies."
In India, there are classes which are then subdivided by caste, sub-caste, outcaste, region, religion, language, ethnicity, race, minority, tribes and disappearing entities. These subdivisions then take shelter in various political consolidations. These consolidations then subdivide themselves by their professed beliefs in socialism, capitalism, Gandhian philosophy, rampant racist ideology, Utopian ruralism, Utopian copycat-ism, west-apeism, a mix of neo-liberalism and welfarism. And finally there are personalities and egos, which also enable the formation of political parties and fronts. These differentials are then reflected in India's 835 million poor (and as well the 250 million upper and middle classes) and as well as amongst the revolutionary left. Even the CPI(ML) is affected by it. Regional egos or minor political differentials spawn new groups. In India, Jadavs fight Jadavs, Dalits fight Dalits and Naxalites fight Naxalites. Meanwhile, Modi, Tata, Ambani, Hinduja and others are allegedly planning a coup.
What is to be Done
In an effort to wrestle with the injustice around us, we have all felt varying degrees of frustration as to how impactful our activities are in changing the world for the better. Some of us write, some fight, some organize, some proselytize, and some get incarcerated and injured; some die, some irritate us by continuous nettlesome argumentation, some create beauty in their works, some inspire and lead us. But, as individuals, we do not seem to have a global movement in these times that brings us together. No Chinese revolution, no Cuban revolution, no Vietnam, not even the spark that once was Mugabe (in the seventies he was something and is now reduced to a caricature of a plodding tin-pot dictator thriving on the past) or the African revolutionists from the post-independence era. No Nasser, No Nyerere, No Nkrumah, No Ho, No Machel, No Lumumba, no Malcolm, No Rodney, No Cabral, No Mandela, No Castro, No Che and No Commandante Marcos (this one keeps appearing and disappearing enigmatically) to tell us about a new post-colonial, post-anarchist, post libertarian Marxist or whatever other hyphenated feel-goodist philosophy we.can affiliate with and feel inspired about. So, we seem to be confined to our arenas of struggle; fragmented by our associations, our preferences, our specific issues and our specific affiliations with certain types of organizations. Some are anarchist or new-anarchist occupation-ists, some are firm believers in vanguardism, some are scary party apparatchik types living on the bloodrush of October 1917, some are Maoists who experiment till the experiment fails them and some are told-you-so Trotskyists who never join but cheer and jeer from the sidelines.
Over the years one has met and associated with individuals and representatives of large and small organizations-all working hard to effect change in their own way. Deep down inside though, many of us have felt that all these efforts, no matter how deeply felt and sincere, must become more effective in rocking the core of the establishment that governs the world, the hegemonistic idea-set that is spread around the world as gospel "truth", to de-stabilize the control mechanisms of the powers that rule the world through threats, through wars, through manipulating world opinion, through clandestine acts, through false flag incidents, through a complex arrangement between the industry and the military and now with a complex arrangement between the state and the security apparatus. For that we need a unifying body.
In the new world we live in, the neo-liberal world, where the axis of evil masquerades as "humanitarian interventionists for democracy" we are up against a wall of lies, blatant lies and horrendous doublespeak. We have to deal with trickle-down wealth theorists, de-regulationist vultures, debt swapping speculationists, fly-by-night pension fund ponzi-ists and triumphalist editors who have declared the death of Marxism, hundred times over. Then we have had to deal with the die-hard monetarists, who redefine poverty by lowering the scale of survivability-so that education, food, shelter rights can all be made meaningless, while the Davos-crowd builds obelisks to their obscene wealth (and they were all acquired invariably by lobbying, scamming, bribing and even sponsoring private armies like the Salwa Judum in India).
Our foes have a commitment to the "mechanisms of the free market"! So much for the fervour against nationalization! The scummiest collaborations between banks and bureaucrats of the Goldman-Sachs variety create bankruptcies unprecedented in the history of the world and then they insist on "bailouts!"
How to form the Front?
How do we as individuals, as members of organizations with limited agendas and goals combine our will and spirit to confront this "wall?"
We want change as individuals, we want to do it in our lives and sometimes be satisfied and sometimes we go beyond ourselves, to the neighbor-hood, to the community, to the district and then on to the state we live in. Some four decades ago as stated by a close friend repeatedly and which rings true evermore,-"we can fight for small changes and hope that it raises the conscience of the people towards larger goals, but ultimately we are better off thinking of fundamental change right now. We must become part of a larger united front for total change. We have fewer disagreements between us, we have more agreements."
l Existing mass organizations who have come together in mini fronts recently like Citizens coalitions or those who came together for Binayak Sen's release and individual civic society stalwarts must give the call for a meeting to propose the basis for a minimum program and minimum membership protocol. The National Association for Peoples' Movements (NAPM) coordinated by Medha Patkar is one such starting point for giving the call for the Front, although after making a promising beginning NAPM does not seem to have evolved further especially in the eastern segment of the country. On the other hand organizations like Sanhati have a very focused and organized ability to communicate and convey what is going on and they have been born in the context of the battle against neoliberalism, in the eastern segment of the country. Their members and organizers have shown hands-on direct action skills, as in the case of Dr Partha Sarathi Roy.
l The intent of the Front should be to form a federation from below of unique grassroots mass movements and unique trade and profession based collectives from every region. Not a consolidation of comfortably disposed politically similar groupings from the top. Not a consolidation of Left groups who have come together in certain regions or even on an all-India basis because of similar political analyses. It is the individual mass movements that must join from the bottom and build the coverage for the country.
l Some of the key issues that face the country today are the struggle against widespread rape of women and the brutality and ignorance of the police and village elders in this area, against the Land acquisition Act, against slum evictions without alternatives, against the horrendous treatment of Dalits, against the British era sedition Laws, against the banning of popular mass organizations because of their connections with Maoists, for water rights and against the conversion of land for cash crops by MNCs, for a sustained attack against communal and non-secular forces, actual reinforcement of tribal land rights, against rampant mining projects that are blatantly anti-environmental, the attempts at doctoring and controlling the media through sponsored news feeds by the state, against the unconstitutional undemocratic preventive detention laws and perhaps many other local struggles of youth, fishermen, workers, peasants that have their own unique characteristics. This is but only a very partial list.
l A popular United Front should not be hegemonized by the larger or even smaller parties. It is the specific demands of the movement that is paramount. Representatives of various parties, should enable, assist and strengthen the movement as facilitators and not inject party specific doctrine into the running of the mass movement.
This "truth" that is displayed in front of us today is in its essence a class "truth"; a "truth" based on values that are considered natural to India's existence. "Truths" like the endless pursuit of wealth, the accumulation of capital, rampant privatization, the maximization of profit at any cost, the sanctification of national, ethnic, tribal, language, religious differentials as inherent to India's mythology and legacy; followed by the destruction of the environment in order to create "jobs" and more profits, the concepts of trickling down of wealth by pursuing mega-development projects, mega-infrastructural edifices for leisure and outright decadence, the creation of racial and ethnic divides, from gated communities to gated nations; we are confronted by "truths" that are essentially well constructed lies. In every part of the country there are struggles against these neo-liberalist programs. People are organizing to confront these lies or these failed "truths".
Such a wall of lies requires a Front to protect, combine resources and overcome the obstacles- legal, financial, physical and political. The Front must have national stature leaders, a national media presence, and an organized presence in all sectors of the country. It is time for that Front.
Vol. 45, No. 14 - 17, Oct 14 - Nov 10 2012
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