Comrades need new ways to achieve their quest
When a troll recently called me ‘Commi-dog’, it alerted me to something deeper. The ‘dog’ bit was easy to understand and overlook: BJP trolls were particularly jubilant and abusive that day, following the Tripura verdict. What set me thinking was his assumption that I must be a ‘commie’, a communist.
I could put it down to illiteracy of the trolls produced by WhatsApp University. My only qualifications for being called a communist are studying in JNU, sporting a beard and occasionally carrying a jhola! Otherwise, all my life I have been a critic of communist theory and practice. As a student, I joined Samata Yuvjan Sabha, which was pitted against the communist SFI within JNU. Later, I worked with Samata Sangathan and Samajwadi Janparishad of the Gandhian-socialist stream, far from the communist Left parties.
As an academic, I dissented from the dominant Marxist orthodoxy of the 1980s and 1990s. If anything, the CSDS, my academic home, was a favourite target of attack by Left intellectuals.Clearly, these trolls had no idea of all this. For them the world that I had inhabited did not exist.
Their worldview was quite simple:
Left=communist=socialist=Maoist=urban naxalite=Red=anyone who talks of the poor and revolution.
Despite their evident ignorance, the trolls were hinting at something deeper. The meaning of Left has changed in our times. Today, there are two distinct meanings of Left. In the older meaning, Left referred to the communists who swore by the Marxist theory, who supported the USSR style ‘state socialism’ and who identified with one of the many communist parties of India.
The new meaning of the Left covers all those who stand for the idea of equality. This range stretches from the remainder of the communist Left to the Gandhian-ecologists and includes the socialists, Ambedkarites and feminists. All of them don’t agree to this label; indeed, this is not a helpful description. But that is how the new world views them.The older Left is dead.
The dramatic collapse of the 25-year-old CPM regime in Tripura only serves to highlight a longer process of decline and fall of the Indian communist parties. Since their containment in the 1970s, the Left influence was limited to Kerala, West Bengal and Tripura, besides, of course, JNU. The defeat of the Left Front in West Bengal in 2011 appears to have begun a terminal decline of the communist parties. Although they currently rule in Kerala, the ongoing intense factional war within the CPM does not help any chances of reversal of its terminal decline. As for the tiny band of ‘non-parliamentary’ communists, the Maoists who continue to follow the fantasy of armed rebellion against the Indian state, it is on the verge of being finished by security forces. The death of the old Left was a foregone conclusion.
The political and economic system of the USSR style Soviet socialism was bound to fail. Politically, the ‘socialist democracy’ that it offered was for all practical purposes a dictatorship — a dictatorship in the name of the people but a dictatorship of the party, and mostly a dictatorship of the person who controlled the party. The collapse of the Soviet Union and Eastern European communist regimes was a decisive popular verdict against that form of government. Stalinist purges, the death of millions of farmers under him and the mass murders by Pol Pot are a standing reminder of authoritarian excesses in the name of communism.
If the communist political system failed to recognise human quest for liberty, the communist economic system failed to understand the logic of market and the need for economic incentives. State ownership of means of production did produce some kind of equality, but by reducing the economy to lower equilibrium, killing entrepreneurship and innovation.
The bureaucratic monstrosity created by state socialism is a standing reminder of why markets cannot be done away with. Besides, the record of these economies on environment and centralisation of decision making was dismal.Besides these global reasons, the communist Left in India was bound to fail for its simple inability to understand the Indian society. The Euro-centricity built into their theoretical prism ensured that they systematically misunderstood the society they were operating in. Their failure to understand the reality of caste as the core of inequality in our country is just one example.
Another outcome of the same problem was their failure to read the nature and significance of the Indian National Movement. At a deeper plane, the communists failed to appreciate the universe of religion and traditions that shaped the cultural sensitivity of an ordinary Indian.
While it would be wrong to call them anti-national and unfair to overlook the selfless sacrifice of thousands of communist activists, sadly their eventual failure was written into the very script that they brought to India.In its first meaning, the 20th century version of the communist Left is dead, and for good. But in its second, deeper, meaning, the Left continues to be relevant for the 21st century. In this deeper meaning, it stands for the idea of equality, for social justice, for democratic accountability, for ecological sustainability. It continues to be to the ‘left’ of the dominant capitalist system, with its exploitation and injustice, but it becomes a quest for discovering newer ways of achieving this objective. In this sense, Left is not alien to India. In fact, the ideology of our Constitution is Left.