Leftism Unfinished

The Official left is politically bankrupt. But the far left has no better idea to offer to the downtrodden. They have been wandering in ideological wilderness since the demise of Soviet Russia in the 1990s and Chinese reversal in the eighties, only to show their political irrelevance at every critical juncture. No Moscow line, No Chinese line! All of them are ideological orphans, searching for an independent Indian line without success.

The Left has no slogan, rather lasting slogan, to motivate masses in their millions while the far left has no faith in the popular maoist dictum of ‘from the masses to the masses’ though ‘maoism’ continues to be their ideological shelter. As for various naxalite groups who seem to have made a break with their own past, they are increasingly being identified with the official left in general political orientation and practice. These days how do they differ from the official left is a puzzling question. Yet they derive comfort from being called communist revolutionaries, albeit revolution is a misnomer in this country. Here counter-revolution matters, not revolution.

Everybody talks of farm suicide but no left party takes trouble to seriously analyse and reformulate the peasant question in its entirety against the backdrop of drastic changes in agrarian economy. They have developed a habit of seeking government intervention as the only solution in every crisis situation knowing full well how government won’t intervene with all seriousness to address the problem. The left’s strategy of inaction and passive resistance has literally created a docile peasant community, dependent on market forces and vagaries of market as well. It is not the policy of government to empower peasants, they want to keep them on doles perpetually. It’s also not the policy of the left to make the peasants assertive and demand justice, not doles.

India has some pockets dominated by rich peasant economy while much of the rural scenario presents a small peasant economy, rather a subsistence economy. So the peasant question in the changed context deserves a two-level approach. But for the official left the peasant issue revolves around subsidy, relief, loan-waiver, remunerative prices and all that. As for the far left, it is tragic that they continue to interpret Indian agrarian question much in the light of Chinese experience. Strangely enough, two states—Kerala and West Bengal—that witnessed some kind of half-hearted land reforms, thanks to prolonged left rule, have the highest incidence of landlessness. Also, these are the states that are net importers of food-grains. The very idea of land reforms developed by communists in yester years merits rethinking without which the peasant question cannot be addressed in its totality.

The problem of distress sales by peasants, particularly in cash crops growing regions, is not new. Not that their plight began with the advent of neo-liberal onslaught. Jute growers, cane growers and cotton growers have been crying themselves hoarse about market manipulations by mill-owners and their agents—the middlemen—for decades. And these days agri-business under the sway of global giants has virtually ruined them beyond recognition. Shedding tears for farmers’ suicides is no answer to the ground reality. What is urgently needed is how to reverse agrarian practice. But the Left is in no mood to re-address the peasant question in view of fast changing agrarian scenario. They just react to spontaneity while leaving the basic issue wide open only to be taken up here and there by some voluntary organisations. In other words the left has failed to project a blueprint for rural revolution. As for their labour organising it is too sectarian to create any impact on the unorganised. Finally all their political efforts boil down to making appeals to middle class people for change in governance. But this formation of government is basically an exercise of looting exchequer and arrest social unrest by way of distributing some sops from time to time.

Revival of Left is the burning issue that has been haunting almost every segment of broad left movement for quite some time. But there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel. Revivalism is next to impossible by talking more of the same—government, failures of government or achievements of government. No doubt electioneering has created a kind of participatory consciousness among backward, semi-literate and illiterate people. But this is not enough to transfrom the masses into a powerful material force to be acted as a catalyst for a radical change of society.

One dominant aspect of Indian parliamentary culture is adherence to dynastic principles—MPs, MLAs etc. are in reality reincarnation of Rajas, Maharajas and zamindars. Instead of fiefdoms, constituencies are being delineated and demarcated by following hereditary and family traditions. Political vocabulary has changed, political jargon has changed but the essence remains the same—dynastic culture prevails from the centre to the panchayet level. And people have somehow reconciled themselves with this dynastic reality in the so-called largest democracy of the world. In most cases when they talk of left revival, they actually talk of parliamentary revival. To people, they are no better than another set of vote-seekers.

All the parliamentary communist parties in Europe, rather powerful parties, are today dead. Or they are too marginalised to be taken seriously by the ruling elites. As for East European parties, the less said the better. They are afraid to call themselves communist anymore—so they are being described as democratic parties or social-democratic parties. The Left’s revival in this country where caste prejudices and religious bigotism continue to stand as a stumbling block in propagating rational ideas, cannot be done by resorting to poll politics that is anything but opportunistic or indulging in numerous permutations and combinations, in the name of ‘alliance’, just on the eve every poll. Some of their slogans are so mechanical, vague and lifeless that even the targeted people remain passive to their appeal. They never tried to implement the concept of workers-peasant alliance into practice by way of offering concrete action programme. They just reiterate it in every marxist discourse as a ritual. Quite often their oft-repeated concrete analysis of concrete conditions, shows very little concreteness and formulation thereof.

As times change, more issues arise, and people may understand things in new ways. But these communists don’t change. They think they could change the world without debunking the myth that marxism of their kind, is not really an elitist movement for the privileged.

Autumn Number, Vol. 48, No. 14 - 17, Oct 11 - Nov 7, 2015