Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Right In, Left out

Even while the Left in Latin America flies on the wings of new radicalism, the official Left, especially the CPM, devoid of any coherent ideology, is rapidly sinking in a statist quagmire of crony capitalism

Rajat Roy Kolkata

In mid-June this year, the remnants of erstwhile East Germany's Communist Party (PDS) and the disillusioned section of the Social Democrat Party of former West Germany got together in Berlin to form a new party, 'Die Linke' (The Left). The declaration in the founding Congress stated that its new ideology will be based on the trinity of 'socialism, democracy and freedom'. More importantly, to distance themselves from the age-old Stalinist model of ideology, they stressed the exclusion of 'State Socialism' from their party framework. Expectedly, the delegates mentioned Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and Rosa Luxemburg, but, significantly, ignored Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin. Indeed, when entire Europe is moving towards the Right (witness the recent French presidential election), Germany's Leftists managed to achieve what eluded them even in the time of Adolf Hitler's rise to power. The new party boasts a membership of about 72,000, with 55 MPs in Bundestag (Germany's Parliament); obviously, it seems to be a sizeable leftist force in German politics and in Europe.

In recent times, while winds of change have started blowing in the 'radical world' in Europe, the Left in Latin America has turned it into a whirlwind. Fidel Castro's Cuba was always there as a great symbol of resistance in the backyard of the US, but it was only after Hugo Chavez's charismatic rise to power in Venezuela (and popularity across the world) that progressive currents started moving. Countries, one after another, are moving towards the Left. Often, it's not the party but the trade unions that are at the forefront of the movement. They have been successful in attracting broader sections of the society, the peasantry, tribals, marginalised ethnic communities, to form a wide political platform in the fight against US-led globalisation. Riding on the wave of this popular movement, the Leftists in Latin America are repeatedly winning the battle of the ballot. The recent victory of the Left in Bolivia is a case in point—a coalition of several small parties and mass organisations defeated the oligarchy.

Two dimensions of the Left movement in contemporary Latin America make them distinctly different from the past traditions of communists world-over (Cuba included). One, there is no single-party hegemony over the movement; second, they are not following the classic concept of armed struggle, nor the Che Guevara style of guerrilla warfare, though, Che, undoubtedly, remains a legendary revolutionary icon for progressives in South America and rest of the world. Crucially, changes are coming through parliamentary means and democratic movements. Orthodox Marxists are now becoming a rare species in Latin America.

While the Left in Latin America are trying to mobilise larger alliances to gain electoral majority, in India, the mainstream Left is hamstrung by orthodoxy. Established under the direct influence of Moscow, the undivided Communist Party of India (CPI) started toeing the 'Moscow line' from the beginning, resulting in a series of historical blunders. The 1960s saw a serious rift between Soviet Union and China, vertically dividing the international communist movement. As an immediate fall-out, the Indian Left got divided into pro-Moscow and pro-Peking (now Beijing) groups. This, later, led to the split in the CPI and the formation of Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) in 1964. In 1969, the CPI-M was divided after the Naxalbari movement into the CPI-ML (Marxist-Leninist), which further split into various new 'ML' and Maoist formations.

The long tradition of following either Moscow or Beijing left an indelible mark on the mindset of the mainline Left. The Left's intellectual shortcomings reflected in their inability to grasp the essence of the Indian social/political reality—the caste, religious and ethnicity factors. Instead, they obsessively applied their dogmatic 'class theory', leading to marginalisation. After the Congress, the communists are the second oldest organised political force in India. Yet, today, in a Parliament of 544 members, the combined Left has 60 seats, and this is their highest tally since Independence. Indeed, compare this with the rise of the Hindutva Right!

Though both the CPI and CPM have been seriously pursuing the parliamentary path since 1952, they still look terribly lost. The contradiction became transparent after the 1996 general election when Jyoti Basu, a CPM veteran, was offered the prime ministerial post of the coalition government. But his party rejected the proposal. Why? Because, unless the party has overwhelming strength to influence policy, it will not join the government! Basu later called it a 'historic blunder'. Ten years later, in 2004, yet another general election saw the CPM change its tactics. The CPM had no hesitation in backing the UPA regime led by its traditional political enemy, the Congress.

Not long ago, the CPM punished and eventually forced Saifuddin Choudhury (one of their popular parliamentarians) out of the party, for insisting on joining hands with the Congress to thwart the growing threat of communal forces led by the BJP. Now, despite the UPA stonewalling Left demands and brazenly following the neo-liberal, pro-India Shining line, the Left has unequivocally declared that to stave off the BJP threat they would continue to support the UPA. So how is it influencing policy in the current regime?

While their influence remains restricted to West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura, their attempts to broaden their electoral and organisational base have so far met with little or no success. In the last 15 years in UP and Bihar, two major states of the Hindi heartland, the communists have been hitching on the bandwagon of caste-based parties like the Samajwadi Party and RJD with no visible impact in grassroots politics.

In recent decades, the mainstream Left has made no attempt to mobilise the dalits, tribals and other ethnic minorities for a broader movement. Thus, when thousands of tribal people fight for almost two decades against their displacement for the construction of a big dam like the Sardar Sarovar Project on Narmada river, the Left is nowhere in sight. The 'official Left's' suspicion of any movement that has the potential of becoming popular, and yet outside their organisational control, kept them away from mass movements or mobilisation. Thus, most civil right and environmental issues have been deliberately ignored by this Stalinist, hegemonic attitude.

However, there is no doubt that the mainline Left has shed off much of its old ideological inhibitions. The CPI never had a big stake in power politics, though they made a conscious attempt to disentangle from Stalinist orthodoxy. It is their Big Brother, the CPM, which is now fast adapting to the capitalist path. In West Bengal, where they are in power for the last 30 years, the CPM is openly pursuing an overtly non-Left line, that of wooing 'Big Capital'—even openly working against the interests of farmers and poor sections.

Indeed, Chief Minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya never lets go of an opportunity to remind his party and the people that his government is pursuing the capitalist path. The CPM in Bengal is no more ashamed to be intimately associated with the 'Big Bourgeoisie'—once their declared 'class enemy'. In party documents, the CPM retains the old slogans, despite changing the party programme a few years back. But the new-found pragmatism is rapidly transforming the party. So much so, veterans are having difficulty in adjusting to the Rightist, neo-liberal currents. One senior member explained: "After the demise of the Soviet Union, a lot has been said about the need for more openness in our party. The stress was for adapting to reality. Now, at Singur, party cadres are seen guarding the Tata Motors land with red flags in their hands. We forgot that there is a difference between openness and nakedness."

The European communists, after prolonged debate, debunked their ideological baggage and embraced social democracy. In Latin America, the Left has developed a healthy respect for broad mass movements, leaving aside the attraction of guerrilla warfare. But in India, the CPM has embraced the path of capitalism without any real debate in the party. Charges of corruption and drastic lifestyle changes within the party apparatchik are becoming glaringly conspicuous. Devoid of any coherent ideology, the mainstream Left, especially the CPM, is rapidly sinking in a statist quagmire of crony capitalism. No wonder critics are calling it a classic case of ideological and political bankruptcy, led by the West Bengal chief minister himself.


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