A Logical Defeat

4 06 2009

[Can the Left learn the proper lessons from its electoral rout?]

This is the draft I wrote, a finalised version of which was published as the editorial of the Economic and Political Weekly in the Vol XLIV No 21 issue dated May 29, 2009.

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There is a certain irony in the defeat of the left, in particular the Communist Party of India (Marxist), in the recent general elections. It was among the handful of communist parties in the world which survived the fall of existing socialism in the 1989-91 period and actually grew in size in the following years. Today when capitalism is in crisis the world over, the CPI(M) led left in India faces its worst defeat ever.

Predictably, the left front (LF) and CPI(M) will bring forth contingent and immediate exigencies to explain its electoral rout. One view blames State level mistakes like Singur and Nandigram in West Bengal and factionalism and predictable voter swing in Kerala for the debacle. Other factors like the neglect of education, public health and transport and the step-motherly treatment of minorities in Bengal, where fewer Muslims are in government service than in Gujarat, are also being held responsible for the loss. After more than three decades in power it is no longer possible to pass the buck to the lack of funds from the Centre. Moreover, the double-speak between CPI(M) positions in Delhi and Kolkata, specially on economic policies, also turned voters away. Lastly, there are clear indications of complacency and arrogance, not to mention violence, in the behaviour of the left in Bengal. The other view considers the rigid stand on the nuclear deal and the tactics of the “Third Front” to be primarily responsible for the electoral rebuff. It castigates the rigid opposition to the UPA for bringing the Congress and Trinamul together in Bengal and the alliance with “unsavoury” regional parties for driving voters towards the Congress alliances in other States.

The CPI(M) saw a fall in vote share in 15 out of the 22 states in which it contested and even in those states where its vote share has gone up, it is largely because they contested more seats. Overall, despite contesting 13 more seats (total of 82 nationally), the CPI(M)’s vote share fell and the LF’s tally fell from 61 in the 14th Lok Sabha to just 24 in the present Parliament. In fact, five seats in Bengal could even be seen as a gift from the Bharatiya Janata Party, whose candidates divided the anti-left votes in these and helped the LF candidate win. Despite these reverses, it is undeniable that the core of the LF’s support still remains loyal in Bengal and Kerala.

There is a large element of truth to be found in each of these explanations and still they remain, even in their sum total, empirical and empiricist apologies for the loss suffered by the left. Such a defeat cannot be explained only in terms of momentary exigencies. Regrettably, the first steps at self-assessment and review of the results indicates that rather than confront these stark realities and encourage a thorough self-criticism from the rank and file, the left parties are either trying to find short term, localised, answers to the defeat or are indulging in an internal blame-game being aired publically and with much rancour.

It was in the 15th Congress of the CPI(M) in Chandigarh in the mid-1990s that a startling fact came to light. More than half the members of the party came from non-working class and non-peasant backgrounds, or what is loosely called, the middle class. This was primarily due to the inability of the CPI(M) to mobilise working people in mass movements while retaining its attraction towards young educated radical sections of society. This membership skew, unaddressed as it has remained since then, has led to a situation where today the students, youth and women’s fronts of the party supply almost all the top leaders of the politbureau and parliament and there is perhaps not a single young leader who has emerged from trade union, peasant or other mass struggles. Harkishan Singh Surjeet and Jyoti Basu had emerged from peasant and working class movements, while Prakash Karat and Buddhadev Bhattacharya emerged from the classrooms of elite universities. This dominance of members from the educated propertied classes has resulted in, what can only be called, “a politics of logical principles”.

The scholars and wordsmiths who lead the CPI(M) today, draft its documents and lay down the line are no doubt masters at drawing logical conclusions from first principles. Textual criticism and deconstruction of reality seem to have replaced actual mass mobilisation and movements. Even on the nuclear deal issue, hundreds of thousands of words were produced while only one hurried bus ride along India’s eastern coast filled in for mass mobilisation on this issue. Today the left, led by its largest member the CPI(M), has made erudite critiques of government acts, policy lobbying and administration into its prime political work. It seems at a loss when confronted by mass action. The left remains on the sidelines of most popular mass movements being waged by peasants, tribals and workers in India today and, worryingly, sometimes it is ranged against them. The few mass movements which it initiated, as in Rajasthan or Andhra Pradesh, remained localised, not only in the geographical sense which they had to, but crucially in terms of political import because the party did not know what to do with them. The left theoreticians have been found wanting even in the theoretical task of building a new praxis of radical mass movements. Lurching from one issue to another, on agendas set by others, the CPI(M) leadership often appears to be, what Ashok Mitra termed recently, “philosophers of the short term”.

Beyond the fortunes of this particular election, the world today is passing through one of the greatest crisis of capitalism. Neo-liberal dogmas, which till recently seemed unshakable, are facing unprecedented opposition from people at large while the gigantic corporations are vulnerable to collapse. It is at moments like these that ideas and solutions which lead to radical egalitarian transformation of society can become popular and can be rooted into social institutions and state structures. In India democracy has struck deep roots and is empowering millions to demand a better life and greater dignity for themselves.  By denying the CPI(M) and the LF any parliamentary stake, the people of India have, inadvertently, thrown them out of parliamentary politics too. The question, unfortunately, remains whether anything is left in the left to take advantage of this opportunity. There is no logical answer to this question, only the possibility of returning to its natural politics.

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9 responses

4 06 2009
yayaver

Left has hooked and crooked everyone for power, not fthinking or governance or mis governance feedback from people. I don’t know about economic policies revolving around its leaders.No clue as they will follow china or just simplify apply counter american policies for the sake of hate. Now left is left and extreme right is out of sight. The nation walks on middle path.

4 06 2009
A Logical Defeat « Left ~ Write | India today

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5 06 2009
Vinayak

loha garam hai maar do hathoda

But the leaders from classrooms of elite universities don’t know how to work the hathoda.

6 06 2009
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7 06 2009
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8 06 2009
कांग्रेस की जीत…अफलातून और सुरेश चिपलूनकर… कुछ विशेष टिप्पणियों का सामान्य जवाब- « सर्वहारा व

[…] ~ Write (Ruthless criticism of all that exists! ) A Logical Defeat June 4, 2009[Can the Left learn the proper lessons from its electoral rout?] This is the draft I […]

8 06 2009
गिरिजेश राव

“Textual criticism and deconstruction of reality seem to have replaced actual mass mobilisation and movements. ”

नब्ज़ पकड़ ली आप ने । पूर्वी उत्तरप्रदेश के डिग्री कॉलेजों और विश्वविद्यालयों की “दीवारों पर हो रही क्रांति” तो आप भूल ही गए। सुन्दर अक्षरों में नारे लिखने और जन से जुड़ कर काम करने में बहुत अंतर है।

8 06 2009
Shaheed Bhagat Singh Vichar Manch, Santnagar

Your blog is linked in rss links of http://samajvad.wordpress.com. You may have copy right of the contents at your blog as you are associated with a well known newspaper. if so, please write to drhundal@yahoo.co.in The link will be done away. We are very sorry for not asking your prior permission for doing so.

If you do not have any objection, it will enjyoy its prestigious position at our blog.

thanks !

20 07 2009
Ravishanker C N

“More than half the members of the party came from non-working class and non-peasant backgrounds, or what is loosely called, the middle class. This was primarily due to the inability of the CPI(M) to mobilise working people in mass movements while retaining its attraction towards young educated radical sections of society. This membership skew, unaddressed as it has remained since then, has led to a situation where today the students, youth and women’s fronts of the party supply almost all the top leaders of the politbureau and parliament and there is perhaps not a single young leader who has emerged from trade union, peasant or other mass struggles. Harkishan Singh Surjeet and Jyoti Basu had emerged from peasant and working class movements, while Prakash Karat and Buddhadev Bhattacharya emerged from the classrooms of elite universities. This dominance of members from the educated propertied classes has resulted in, what can only be called, “a politics of logical principles”.

I found some factual problems in this quote. 19th congress political org report suggests, at the all-India level, the percentage of Party members belonging to the working class is 32.36, agricultural labour is 23.76, poor peasant is 18.93, middle peasant is 10.25, rich peasant is 0.59, middle class is 11.46, landlord is 0.08 and the bourgeois is 0.05. At the all-India level, 75.06 per cent of the Party members are from working class, agricultural labourers and poor peasant. It shows great improvement in the class composition.
it is quite wrong to tell comrades emerge from student union, or youth union or women’s union are away from mass struggles. out of 15 PB members atleast 10 are having peasantry, agricultural and Workers union back ground.

obviously left need to relook and work on lot of short comings to emerge as greater force and negotiate for people’s alternatives…. (lot of them were mentioned in pol-org report also). rather than simply criticizing, it is each leftistis’ duty to bridge the gap and short comings. Isn’t it? Let us use our energy for strengthening the left forces…. for that more mass struggles have to organize, more and more people have to bring in to the struggle mode.

Regards,
Ravi

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