The Left Reality

What is Left of Leftism?

Barun Das Gupta

The Indian Left is in a dilemma. It does not know what to do. It realized long ago that it was incapable of carrying out an armed revolution and snatching State power from the well-entrenched bourgeoisie which has a powerful military machine. More than that, the un-declassed petty bourgeoisie which constitute the leadership of the Left parties and groups had neither the imagination nor the fortitude nor even the willingness to build up a revolutionary movement. They ran their parties like business establishments, seeking power for its own sake.

But they lacked the intellectual honesty either to admit that armed revolution is no longer possible, social change has to be brought about through the parliamentary process. It would be a long process but it was unavoidable. They continued their inane and barren 'ideological debate' on the immediate task facing them: whether it was the completion of the unfinished tasks of the ‘bourgeois-democratic’ revolution, or embarking on 'national democratic revolution' or 'people's democratic revolution' or 'new democratic' revolution. People took no interest in such theoretical hair-splitting. Gradually the activists also lost interest in them. Such theoretical debates have now practically stopped.

Whether formally admitting it or not, the Indian Left abandoned the path of armed revolution and took the path of parliamentary democracy long ago. But to bring about progressive social change even through the parliamentary path, the Left needed the support of the people—the overwhelming majority of them. They needed to build up their organizational network throughout the length and breadth of the country, penetrate into new areas and bring newer and newer sections of the masses under their ideological and organizational influence. Also, the parliamentary struggle had to be supplemented by extra-parliamentary struggles.

They failed in that task, too. The Left could not break out of its two traditional bastions—West Bengal and Kerala. (Tripura, sending just two members to the Lok Sabha, does not count in the all-India reckoning.) The Left failed to create bases in other parts of the country. In the vast Hindi belt today its presence is almost nil, while it became progressively enfeebled in some of their former strongholds like Bihar, Andhra and Assam. In the latter State, it was the Left, the RCPI and the CPI that brought the tribal people—hill tribals as well as plains tribals—into the political movement in the forties and fifties of the last century and put up a solid resistance movement that was ultimately crushed by the Government by deploying the Army. Some of the leaders of that period like Khagen Barboruah became legends in their lifetime.

So the situation today is that the Left is doing neither revolutionary politics nor is it able to forcefully pursue the parliamentary path which requires constant widening of its support base across the country so as to bring substantial electoral gains that can make it a force to be reckoned with and a factor to be counted in national politics. The main obstacle to the growth of the Left movement is the dominating and domineering attitude of the CPI-M and its extreme Left-sectarianism. This attitude alienates potential Left allies and prevents the coming closer of those vast number of people whom the Left calls 'democratic' elements.

The net result has been that the political space vacated by the Congress, which abandoned the Nehruvian path and took to neo-liberal economic policies, promoted crony capitalism and indulged in mega corruptions on an unprecedented scale, could not be filled by the Left. Instead, it is the rabid, Right-wing communal forces that grew fast and today seem poised to take over power at the Centre, while the Congress seems to be counting its days for the most ignominious defeat and inglorious exit from power.

The Left's stand has been self-contradictory and unconvincing on a number of issues. Take the Indo-US civil nuclear deal, for example. The Left opposed the deal tooth and nail and ultimately withdrew its support to the UPA-I Government on this issue (though, as another instance of its hypocrisy, only after making sure that its withdrawal of support would not bring about the fall of the Government which would stay affloat with Mulayam and Mayawati's support).

But, intriguingly enough, the CPI-M Central Committee endorsed the Government's stand that nuclear power is a 'must' for India. The then Chief Minister of West Bengal and a Politburo member of the party, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, made a strong case for setting up a nuclear power plant at Haripur in East Medinipur district. To set nuclear power plants India had first to break out of the nuclear ostracism imposed by the US and the West as a punitive action following the Pokhran II nuclear tests. And to remove the ostracism the primary condition was to placate the United States, accept all its humiliating terms so that the Nuclear Supplier Group countries would agree to sell nuclear fuel, reactors and other equipment to India.

This is exactly what Manmohan Singh did by signing the Indo-US Civil Nuclear Cooperation deal. From his point of view what he did was the right thing. But how could the CPI-M oppose the Nuclear Deal and in the same breath support switching over to nuclear power generation on a massive scale and insist that a nuclear power plant be set up in West Bengal ? The CPI-M's posturing on this issue was paradoxical, self-contradictory and betrayed a total lack of understanding of the issue.

Nuclear power generation has three aspects: political, economic and environmental. The CPI-M rightly opposed the nuclear deal on political ground that it would severely compromise India's sovereignty, especially its independent foreign policy but did not explain its stand on the two other aspects. It may be said en passant that the safe disposal of the highly radioactive nuclear waste coming out of the reactors is a major problem and most countries have now decided to turn away from nuclear power generation, one major reason being nuclear waste disposal.

The CPI-M leadership is not only wooden-headed and myopic but thoroughly opportunistic. The dream of capturing power at the Centre by the formation of a rainbow Third Front which includes Mulayam to Mayawati to Jayalalithaa to Naveen Patnaik is not only unreal but downright dishonest because many of these leaders are not known for their record of probity in public life. Some of them have corruption cases pending against them. In 2009 also the CPI-M tried to knock together such disparate forces into a Third Front but failed miserably. This the Front disintegrated even before it could take shape.

The CPI-M is losing its organizational strength and political influence. But it is still not willing to give up its Left-sectarian mindset. When a take-over by Narendra Modi-led BJP seems imminent, the need of the hour is to broaden and strengthen the unity of the toiling masses, bring newer sections of the people in the struggle against anti-democratic, communal and authoritarian forces and to resist further onslaughts on the democratic rights of the people. Above all, the Left has to give up its sectarian and hegemonistic attitude.

But what did the CPI-M do in Kerala only the other day ? It refused to give the Kollam parliamentary seat to the RSP, a constituent of the Left Democratic Front. The result was that an affronted RSP left the LDF and joined the ruling United Democratic Front led by the Congress. The CPI-M may accuse the RSP of desertion, of betrayal, of political opportunism, but that does not exonerate it from the stupendous folly of driving out a long-standing ally straight into the arms of its arch rival precisely at a time when the LDF needed not only to be kept intact but more like-minded parties and forces inducted into it.

The basic thing that the Left in India, especially its strongest contingent, the CPI-M, has to understand is that the Stalinist model of party organization and the Stalinist style of running the party has to be given the go-by, once for all. As the noted Latin American Left intellectual Marta Harnecker has said: "We must overcome the organic forms of the past, which were the result of an acritical copying of the Bolshevik model of the party". According to her, "the Marxist-Leninist Left has underrated democracy. When it has legitimately denounced the limits of representative or formal democracy, it has ended up by denying the importance of democracy itself. Little wonder, therefore, that such parties developed a hegemonist attitude. She explains: The Left must give up all vestiges of a hegemonistic attitude if it is to be capable of coordinating the forces opposed to neo-liberalism."

The Left will have to state clearly that armed revolution is no longer on the agenda (perhaps it will never be). The task today is to forge the widest possible unity of all sections of the toiling people, build up democratic movements on the burning problems of the people. This will lead to greater accretion of the Left's strength in the State and Central legislatures. The democratic struggles outside the legislative fora will go hand in hand with untiring efforts to make the legislatures reflective of people’s aspirations and demands and as instruments of positive social change.

Vol. 46, No. 41, Apr 20 - 26, 2014