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HVK Archives: The state of the Left

The state of the Left - The Hindu

Surendra Mohan ()
June 3, 1998

Title: The state of the Left
Author: Surendra Mohan
Publication: The Hindu
Date: June 3, 1998

One of the major failure of the Left in India might be in
analysing the changing social and class structures rather than in
the political strategies adopted by it from time to time.

The delayed response of the Left forces to the nuclear blasts has
underlined, their weaknesses even on ideological issues. No
doubt, that after a lapse of precious time, the two communist
parties have come out unequivocally against the blasts. But the
days when the peace movement was quite vibrant in India owing to
the total involvement of these parties, or when they were
consolidated into one party, appear long past. The socialists
have not even reacted. The Samajwadi Party led by the former
Defence Minister, Mr. Mulayam Singh Yadav, has not opposed the
blasts and he has only affirmed that the proposal was before him
too. The Janata Dal, a member of the Socialist International, has
also been equivocal, with the former Prime Minister, Mr. I. K.
Gujral, hailing the tests and Mr. Madhu Dandavate opposing them.
It is true, though, a number Of intellectuals of the Socialist
persuasion have come out strongly against the tests. As for that
doyen of anti-nuclearism, Mr. George Fernandes, who had waged
many a battle on international platforms on the issue, the less
said the better, for he is the Defence Minister in the BJP-led

The other issue, which in the Sixties would have rocked the
entire Left, is the state of affairs in agriculture. Thousands of
cultivators have committed suicides in State after State,
particularly in the cash crop growing areas, and scores have been
killed in police firings in Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra
and Andhra Pradesh. Not only have the media downplayed these
occurrences, parties on the Left or Centre-left have also not
engaged in massive protests.

Another failure of the entire spectrum of the Left and Centre-
Left politics has been in mobilising the people for a long-term
struggle against the continuing surrender of successive
Governments to the dictates of the G-8, manipulated by the latter
through the GATT negotiations and the establishment of the World
Trade Organisation. The structural adjustment policies were also
opposed by this spectrum but, the United Front Government was
allowed to continue these policies with vocal protests and silent
support by the parties and individuals in this band. However, in
1991 and 1992, the Left trade unions including the CITU, the
AITUC, the two UTUC'S, the HMS, the IIFTU and the HMKP had
organised massive rallies and resorted to one-day strikes against
the economic reform policies of the Narasimha Rao Government,
dictated by, the World Bank. That fervour was no longer in
evidence as various Left groups compromised their positions on
being part of the U.F. Of course, maintaining the country's unity
and safeguarding its secular fabric were the need of the hour and
a coalition experiment had become necessary. Even after that
experiment was ended by the Congress(I) last December and
elections were held, this desideratum compelled the CPI(M) and
the SP to offer unconditional support to the Congress(I) in
forming: a government.

Thus, if the role of the Left and their allies in the Centre-Left
parties is to be contrasted with their traditional part, one
would find several compromises. The dilution of the policies,
particularly by the communists, started almost from the beginning
owing to the influence of the erstwhile Soviet Union. In fact,
their break with the socialists occurred because of this factor,
in the late Thirties. Then, within the CPI itself, two opposing
lines of following the insurrectionary path, later characterised
as the Left deviation, and support to the Congress Government led
by Jawaharlal Nehru, called the right reformist line, ultimately
resulted in the division of the party in 1964.

Thereafter, the schism between the two centres of international
communism, the Soviet Union and China, and later China's
denunciation of those communists who had decided to follow the
parliamentary path even while keeping the insurrectionary line
open further fragmented the communists.

When the organised socialist parties merged into the Janata Party
in 1977, the socialist movement as a separate political entity
ceased to play any role. However, parties and groups with the
socialist nomenclature continue to exist as the Samajwadi Party,
the Samajwadi Janata Party and the Samajwadi Jan Parishad.

Earlier in 1967, the two communist parties and the two socialist
parties agreed to support the non-Congress Samyukta Vidhayak Dal
Governments in several States. But when the Congress vertically
split in 1969, these four parties adopted contrary positions, the
CPI and the Praja Socialist Party, the latter for a short time
supporting the Congress led by Indira Gandhi and the CPI(M) and
the Samyukta Socialist Party opposing it. While the SSP, in
pursuance of the strategy of anti-Congressism, joined hands with
such rightist forces as the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, the CPI(M)
preferred to be on its own. The confusion was worse confounded.
The general election for the West Bengal Assembly in 1972 was
rigged by the Congress, which was in power at the Centre, but
during those days and till much later, the CPI was a coalition
partner of the Congress in Kerala. The various factions of the
CPI(ML) were then conducting armed struggles.

Co-option by one or the other non-Left party or alliance of
parties became a standard pattern for the Left. The CPI supported
the Emergency in 1975. The CPI(M) denounced that anti-people
measure as counter revolutionary, and in the 1977 general
elections it aligned with the Janata Party, an amalgam of all non-
Congress and non-communist parties and groups. Later, however,
the CPI broke away from the alliance with the Congress and, since
then, the two communist parties have taken almost identical
positions against the Congress. By this time, the latter had come
to be known as the Congress(I). The formation of the National
Front with the Janata Dal as its centre-piece, which also was an
amalgam of parties, again found the two communist parties
supporting it and its Government. The same phenomenon was
witnessed in 1996, when the U.F. Government was formed.

It can be logically argued, that in a multi-party system, which
has several non-communist parties competing against one another
for power, preference has to be made on the basis of their
policies and programmes. When the democratic freedoms are
suppressed or the secular framework of the polity is threatened,
definite choices will become necessary. Value judgments have to
be made and a strategy of unity and struggle, a phrase developed
in the 1950s in relation to the Congress, has to be followed.
This line certainly leads to compromises with those which are
considered more progressive or less harmful but, after all,
compromises are compromises.

No less important, however, was the weak programmatic content of
the Left. With the advent of freedom, introduction of a
parliamentary democratic system based on adult suffrage and the
adoption of planned economic development, the latter witnessing
several stop-go occurrences, the social system was bound to
undergo changes. These changes were reflected in class
structures. Land reforms, however timid and incomplete, gave
rise to a substantial class of peasant proprietors, big, medium
and small. Industrialisation, too, created a class of comprador
bourgeoisie as also what the communists liked to characterise as
national bourgeoisie. On the other hand, the Government's drive
for speedy industrial growth was based on the formation of
capital from agriculture, which gradually altered the balance
between the two sectors as also between the urban and rural
areas. As agriculture continued to contribute less and less to
the Gross Domestic Product, even though the shift of population
engaged in it was insubstantial, poverty stalked the countryside.
The Left, however kept focussing only on one segment of the rural
population - the agricultural labourer and the marginal farmer.
The communists kept Clogging the small class of very rich farmers
whom they described as kulaks, while the entire agricultural
sector was getting impoverished.

Nor did the Left parties look closer at the languishing
traditional industry, probably because it also favoured large-
scale industrialisation. In this, they and the captains of
industry were of the same mind, though the differences on
ownership were fundamental. That, in any case, was the classical
model as it was emerging in Europe when Kari Marx predicted that
the small artisan would just vanish. Monopoly capital has
appeared in India no doubt, but it has set up ancillary units and
farmed out various processes. In villages and small towns, the
old small and tiny sectors continue to survive, in spite of the
onslaught by large industry and the neglect by governments. Then,
there is a huge sector of middle class traders and professionals.
The communist theory was not sufficiently amended to take care of
this phenomenon which defies the logic of division of society
among the haves and the havenots. This middle class, along with
the medium cultivator in the villages, has been greatly attracted
to the BJP and various regional parties. One of the major
failures of the Left might lie in analysing the changing social
and class structures rather than in the political strategies
adopted by it from time to time.

(The writer is a senior Janata Dal leader.)

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