Behind the Left decline
Behind the Left decline.The 21st congress of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) is taking place in Visakhapatnam.
The failure of the Left is giving an opportunity to parties like Aam Aadmi party. The dexterity with which such parties can change their political and ideological goal posts seems more attractive than the slogans of the Left identified with adamancy and rigidity. There has been a wide variance in the slogans of the Left and popular discourse
The 21st congress of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) is taking place in Visakhapatnam. Despite marginal electoral strength which saw further erosion in the recent past, the Left, especially the CPI (M), has a significant role in the Indian democratic polity. The Left represents a qualitatively different political and ideological spectrum. One can agree or disagree with it. But none can ignore it.
No credible non-BJP, non-Congress platform can be formed without the active presence of the Left. The non-Congress, non-BJP political spectrum accounts for half of the voting in India and a major force in Parliament. The CPI (M) congress is debating political and tactical lines it should pursue in future. The amorphous character of so-called Third Front largely owes to the failure of the Left in expanding its independent strength.
The Visakhapatnam congress is the first such meet after the CPI (M) suffered the most serious defeat since its inception in 1964. The 2014 General Elections not only saw the advance of BJP which the Left desperately tried to thwart but also the Left tally in Parliament declined to the lowest level in the recent past. This defeat is much more taxing for the Left movement, especially when compared with its historic performance in 2004 polls.
It is an opportune moment to analyse the factors that led to steep erosion in the strength of the Left in India. Since 1990s, India has witnessed the most aggressive phase of neo-liberal capitalism. The Left has been an ardent critic of such an economic order as it firmly believed that it has ruined the lives of working millions. Though there is strength in the Left critique of the new economic dispensation, the problem is that the Left failed to respond accordingly to the multi-faceted changes the new economic policies brought about in the Indian society and economy.
The political tactical line draft review report placed before the ongoing congress of the CPI (M) acknowledges the lapse of the party in this regard, when it said, “There has been a complete shift in the paradigm of capitalist development after liberalisation in 1991 and the onset of neo-liberal policies. Information technology has had a profound effect on production processes and society. There was a lag in arriving at a comprehensive understanding of this phase of neo-liberal capitalism. Without analysing the deep changes and the impact on various classes, it is not possible to formulate correct slogans and tactics.”
The changes in the agrarian economy, the dynamic penetration of market forces into the rural economy, and massive state spending in the wake of high economic growth created new classes and new relationships in the country side. There is a rural rich nexus in the countryside, consisting of landlords, rich farmers, contractors, big traders and so on. This is the class with which the contradictions of the poor peasants and agricultural workers have grown. The CPI (M) was unable to take up the issues of the poor peasants and agricultural workers and orient the movement in that direction.
One of the reasons for failing to do so was because the CPI (M) was viewing the regional parties representing this rural rich nexus as its potential electoral allies. The CPI (M) also failed to demarcate effectively between the need for all inclusive action that gives the party a mainstream image and class specific political action that leads to its independent growth. A large section of the Indian middle class was a direct beneficiary of liberalisation and globalisation. But unable to accept this reality, the Left continued with its dogmatic opposition to anything and everything that free market offers and steadfastly remained with its crude anti-imperialist rhetoric. As a result, the middle classes, especially the youth, got alienated from the Left.
Market economics offers competition, choice and quality. The emergence of consumerist society saw in this a great opportunity as they were the victims of a pre-reform economic order that stifled their transactional freedom. The Left identified the private sector with only exploitation. But, they miserably failed in understanding that vast sections of private sector offered productivity, efficiency and an economic opportunity to the people. While the Left’s vehement critic on crony capitalism as an offshoot of neo-liberalism is arguably the best of its kind, its failure to acknowledge the fruits of capitalism made them unrealistic, if not anachronistic.
The Left conventional means of trade union-led peoples’ mobilisation was hard hit by the change in patterns of employment brought about by the policies of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation. These economic policies attained legitimacy from the massive inefficiency and abominably low levels of productivity imposed by pre-liberalisation economic policies. The free market model led to massive casualisation, contractualisation and informalisation of work force.
Such a change in employment patterns has not only disarmed the working class, but it also robbed them of its organised character. Though the Left has been at the forefront of struggles of such casual labour, its striking power is largely constrained by its very character. The new economic order introduced swift changes in the social order, too, wherein collective consciousness gave way to brazen individualism and consumerism. Thus, even the organized working class that forms the ranks of Left trade unions in their fight against the impact of liberalisation often rallies behind the political parties that actually author such policies when it comes to elections.
The Left seriously lagged behind in linking their day-to-day struggles with their larger programmatic understanding, thus deeply eroding its striking power. On the rural front, traditional farmers’ movement has rearticulated itself along the lines of caste politics that is reflected in the rise of the politics of the other backward classes (OBCs) that aspire not for better returns in agriculture but what they perceive to be upward mobility with an opportunity to shift to the urban centres with secured employment.
This phenomenon of being mobilised along caste lines is occurring alongside de-mobilisation along the traditional class-lines in spite of the growing agrarian crisis in many states, resulting in a spate of farmer suicides. (Left Parties - Pragmatic or Dogmatic?, Ajay Gudavarthy, Economic and Political Weekly April 26, 2014). This impediment in the class mobilisation of peasantry led to the weakening of Left-led agrarian movements that characterised the rural political mobilisation in many States. Despite recent assertion of the Left for integrating social and economic struggles, the caste–class cleavage in Indian society makes this integration less attractive before purely caste-led mobilisation.
As Ajay Gudavarthy points out, in representative democracies, especially of the size and diversity of India, symbols and popular perception are of immense significance. This is more so at a time when apolitical educated middle class is swelling in its numbers and social media discourse is fast replacing real social discourse. But, the Left is still obsessed with substance giving scant regard to symbolism, popular perception and image management.
Thus the Left failed to intervene in situation where sections averse to popular protest and mobilizations are taking to the streets.This failure of the Left is giving an opportunity to parties like Aam Aadmi party. The dexterity with which such parties can change their political and ideological goal posts seems more attractive than the slogans of the Left identified with adamancy and rigidity. There has been a wide variance in the slogans of the Left and popular discourse.
For instance, Left has a patent over land reforms. Land acquisition has now become a potent threat. But, the policy of the Left Front government in West Bengal in its overzealous bid for industrialization haunts the Left when it leads the struggles against land acquisition. Thus the delegates at Visakhapatnam conclave have a hectic agenda before them when they attempt to reinvent and reorient the party to make it relevant in changing social and economic order.