Strategic Dilemma of the Indian left

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Arup Baisya

(This article has been written by the author in early March, 2014. Recently lot of new data and their theoretical interpretations by many experts in the field of economics and sociology are pouring in for further review on this issue) 

Reformism versus adventurism
            A leading section of the left circle mechanically delineates the path of establishing the working class hegemony as the war of maneuver in the East in contradistinction to the war of position in the west. Both the traditional parliamentary left and the extreme left strategically placed themselves in practice completely in a war of position and the war of maneuver respectively in the post seventies. Though this phase is heavily burdened with their past legacy, the post seventies period demands special attention in view of the neo-liberal phase of capitalism which differs in significant way from the post-war boom and welfarism. This phase is marked by many new dimensions in the scene of global capitalism due to the far-reaching consequence of the process of centralisation-cum-globalisation of finance capital, but it does not perforce indicate a radical break from Lenin’s prognostication on monopoly capital and imperialism. The mere counterposition of “war of position” to ”war of maneuver” in any Marxist strategy in the end becomes an opposition between reformism and adventurism. In the history of communist movement, once the united front had become equated with the war of position, against maneuverist strategies of adventurist period of all-out confrontation, it threatened to slide towards a gradualist reformism that was the mirror image of the ultra-leftist immediacy of the positions it proposed to replace.

Misconstrued notion
           The crisis of the traditional left is ingrained in a serious political error. The left’s implicit and explicit politics was that capitalism was standardising Indian society, that proletarianisation would reduce rural “idiocy,” that, like the freedom struggle, class struggle would reduce obscurantism, communalism and casteism, and, finally the community fabric of society would be more and more transformed into a class fabric. The parliamentary or mainstream Indian left like CPM and CPI has been visibly changing the strategy in practice from the seventies to war of position alone and started equating this with the united front activity and thus losing the zeal to build mass movement. Theoretically they accept the semi-feudal character of the Indian state, but with an understanding that the national bourgeoisie is at the helm of affairs moulding the capitalist formations.
           However, the development of capitalism in India has not resulted in submerging the communities in great socio-political development. Rather, dormant communities have now woken up, awakened communities have become restive, and a competitive polity based on a regime of subsidies and patronage has created communities out of sub-communities. The left offered neither non-violent resistance at Ayodhya, nor did it order a halt to Mr. Advani’s march at Purulia. More importantly, the slogans and methods to preach secularism were imprisoned by the rhetoric of the Nehruvite liberal age.
           On the other hand, the extreme left like the Indian Maoists are engrossed in a static mindset and fail to notice the internal dynamics of societal change under the influence of the global capitalism and Indian Democracy even in the hinterlands within the over-arching semi-feudal structure.
             Land reform was undertaken haltingly through the 1950s to the end of the 1970s. NSSO survey report, 2003-04 shows that the landless household is 31.12 per cent and the percentage of households having more than 3 hectares of land is only 5.19 per cent (of this, 3.06 per cent  has 3-5 hectares and 0.52 per cent has more than 10 hectares). Agricultural statistics, 2013 published by Directorate of Economics and Statistics, Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India, reveals that in 1951, agricultural cultivators was 71.9 per cent of total rural population and agricultural labourer was 28.1 per cent, but these figure changed to 45.1 per cent and 54.9 per cent respectively in the year 2011. The total amount of land operated by big farmers has decreased by roughly 38 per cent, accompanied by a very substantial jump in the area under small and very small operational holdings (Ministry of Agriculture 2013). The NSS data also show that the share of agricultural workers among all male rural workers declined steadily from 80.6 per cent in 1977-8 to 71.7 per cent 1989-90 and for rural females this share dropped from 88.1 per cent in 1977-8 to 81.4 per cent in 1989-90 (as noted in Jha 1997). These figures imply that non-agricultural sector absorbed about 70 per cent of the total increase in the rural workforce between 1977-8 and 1989-90 (Social Development report 2012, Council for social development). These changes in the rural landscape have substantially changed the balance of forces in the semi-feudal relations of production, and this itself demands special attention to formulate new programme for left movement.

Different phases of transition 
               The series of successful revolutionary upsurge that had been first witnessed in Russia and ended with the last revolutionary victory in Vietnam in May 1975 was based on the premise of the workers-peasant alliance built in the backdrop of rising peasant militancy. But widespread peasant militant movements like Tebhaga, Telangana could not be transformed into revolutionary social movement in India under the leadership of working class. The objective barriers existed in India, as Utsa Pattanaik pointed out, were : “for one, the strength and efficiency, honed over two centuries, of the repressive apparatus of the unitary British colonial state, as compared to moribund tsarism in Russia or the internal bickering of rival imperialist powers in seni-colonial China. For another, the relative strength of the English-educated Indian bourgeoisie which seized the leadership of the national movement particularly after Gandhiji’s returm from South Africa and his brilliant political innovation – the satyagraha, which perfectly suited the requirement of a movement which wished to stave off revolution while taking over the legacy of power.”  In addition to her diagnosis of objective difficulties, it would be pertinent to say that the Indian peasant movement of that period had seldom crossed the caste-community fault lines built into Indian semi-feudal hierarchical caste-structure and could not change the upper-caste moorings of the English-educated class who acted as the colonial intermediaries.
In the country like India with emerging market economy, there occurred many changes in the structure of workers and peasants over the period from colonial rule of de-industrialisation to the dirigiste industrial development to the present phase of imperialist globalisation. It can be claimed that the de-industrialisation was merely a decline from a development which had been specially stimulated by the activities of the European merchants themselves in buying Indian cloth for export to other countries. Hence the major part of the de-industrialisation must be attributed to the displacement of traditional manufacturers as suppliers of consumption goods to the internal Indian marker.
                Characterising the colonial de-industrialisation, Amiya Kumar Bagchi wrote : “Capitalist industrialization up to the phase of maturity is attended by at least three types of changes : (a) an increase in the proportion of the population engaged in secondary industry  (b) a sustained increase in per capita income and (c) a continual rise in the degree of mechanization in industry  -- and to lesser extent perhaps, in agriculture. The reversal of any of these conditions over a long period of time can be characterized as de-industrialisation. Indian experienced the reversal of the first two conditions from probably 1820 up to 1914.”
            During the post independence period up to the seventies, a new industrial policy of import substitution of manufactured consumer goods with a view to catching up the developed western world was followed. But that policy was heavily dependent on the import of heavy machineries and thus remained completely entangled with vicissitudes of the global market and the policy framework of global capitalists. The capitalist classes of the India cannot step up their rates of accumulation without running into inflationary, and balance of payments, difficulties, because they have to reckon with the formidable influence exerted on world economy by the advanced capitalist classes, and also due to the fear of the unrest of the Indian peasantry and the proletariat, the capitalist classes of India have to adjust to the demands of the property-owning strata in control of sector characterized by pre-capitalist relations. The neo-liberal policy framework that was initiated by the Indian Government in the backdrop of balance of payment crisis let loose an onslaught on the labour at the behest of Global capitalist class. The left in power in the Indian states especially in West Bengal also succumbed to this pressure with a policy paralysis.

Dilemma of the left
             The total abdication of its role by a supposedly pro-labour government in West Bengal further worsened the situation. In 1988, for example, of the total 228 work stoppage, lock-outs accounted for 85 per cent and strikes 15 per cent: 88 per cent of mandays were lost because of lock-outs and 12 per cent because of strikes. Of the 246,053 workers affected, a majority (60 per cent) suffered owing to lock-outs. The average duration of a strike was 33.4 days and a lock-out 169 days. Lay-offs increased from 510 in 1985 to 1,572 in 1988. (Samaddar, Ranabir : 2013). The unions and the state both remained mute witness to the onslaught on workers during the decade. In fact, the unions often became part of a structure that resulted in managerial hegemony – just as the policies of the so called pro-labour State government did.
          The left, in principle, must always strategically place themselves in favour of the strike by labour on the capital with tactical variations during the period of boom and of recession of global capitalism marked by underdevelopment, restricted home market, stagflation, a large unorganized sector and technological restructuring of industry as argued by Lenin long ago. But the left in power in Bengal became mere witness of the strike by capital in the ‘80s. Left could have sided with the labour by initiating a policy of social security, co-operative management of the existing industries, building social infrastructure that also generates employments, and the support to increase in demand for indigenous commodities through state purchases, and also pushing the achievement of operation Barga further ahead progressively through land reform and boosting agricultural commercialisation and cooperation. But they dared not pursue this pro-labour path with a fear to face the hostility of the global capitalist class and reluctance of global investors who are interested in profiteering and in ensuring super-profit through the existence of pre-capitalist social relations with a skewed development model. The extreme left, especially the Maoists, on the other hand, failing to realise the change in the urban and rural social classes and the balance of forces evolved during the long period of post-independence capitalist re-construction and the existing parliamentary democracy put much emphasis on the immanence of the seizure of state power and on the combat with the coercive apparatuses of the state following the argumentation of the mechanical division of strategy in the Eastern and the Western countries.
             The change of agrarian social classes has diverse ramifications in the diverse geo-political regions of Indian nation. The distress condition in the cash crop areas shows the sign of landlord capitalism and strengthening of pre-capitalist relations and the caste-communities cleavages under the influence rentier financial and merchant capitalism. But the region like Bengal where left had undertaken land reform to a certain extent has unleashed the forces to carry forward agrarian commercialisation through the path of peasant capitalism. The proletarianisation of rural peasantry would have opened up the new vistas for working class unity and consciousness in both rural and urban sector, had the left in power not given much emphasis on the path of development basing on global capitalist investors, and the extreme left not marginalised themselves with the combatant role relying much on the politics of the barrel of the gun. Both the mainstream left and the extreme left have missed the opportunity to build the sustained struggle for social security, weakening of caste based pre-capitalist structure to ensure working class unity and consciousness. But the traditional left forces like CPI and CPIM  have been pursuing the misplaced legacy of strategic and tactical path of second communist international and Stalinist determinism without taking into cognisance the here and now of the post-independence Indian reality.

Marxism and Binary categories
   In defense of the Marxist dialectics, E P Thompson wrote :
  “Marxist theory…… can become a false consciousness if, instead of being used for the methodical investigation of reality through theory and practice, it is misused as a defence against that very reality……. Those who wish to deprive Marxism of its critical, subversive power and turn it into a affirmative doctrine, generally dig in behind a series of stereotyped statements which, in their abstraction, are as irrefutable as devoid of result.” Citing the Indian Marxist, he further reiterated : “…..If one considers for a moment the possible consequences if the Communist Party of India (One of the most unreconstructed Stalinist parties in the world) were to reinforce its existing anti-libertarian tendencies and contempt for ‘petit-bourgeois’ masses – tendencies amply displayed in its partnership in the recent emergency – with a dose of Althusserian arrogance; and if its largely bourgeois and intellectual upper cadres were to become theoretical practitioners; and if the opportunity to practice, not only in theory, but upon the body of India, should return  -- then we could expect nothing less than the re-enactment of the full repertoire of high Stalinism within the raging inferno of Indian ‘scarcity’.”
This argument is also applicable to CPI(M) to a great extent. The left front role in West Bengal in post seventies was guided from the premise that the Party is able to decide the best interest of the working class on the basis of Marxist ‘Science’, and to serve this interest through ‘ideological state apparatuses’. In this understanding, Marxism becomes an inert tool only to be handled by the Party to judge working class morality and in this framework working class becomes a passive onlooker who is only to be led and guided. Thus Mraxist science degenerates into deterministic formulae to be used to predict the future. Following this approach, both the variants of Indian left, the CPI-CPIM and Maoist, have conceptualised the reality in binary framework of opposite categories of war of position versus war of maneuver. Another such category is the civil society versus the political society. The interconnectedness of these two categories and their dialectical relation with the state are missed while strategising the revolutionary movement. When the broad-based strategy to build united front of all forms of movements for the rights of civil societies and the movements to resist the onslaught of the ruling classes of political societies are not mooted, it becomes apparent that the content of diverse mass-movements in India in this neo-liberal phase of economy against both the consent and coercion of the existing state is undermined. The two aspects of ruling class hegemony and domination, the consent and coercion, have been segregated by the two variants of the lefts in their formulations of actual practice. A new approach needs to be developed for the new left to emerge with a view to resolve the conflict between the forces of production and the relations of production in this neo-liberal phase of capitalism in the country like India.

References :

  1. The Gramscian Moment, Peter D. Thomas.
  2. Introduction to Daniel Thorner Memorial Letures, Edited by Alice Thorner.
  3. Colonialism and Indian Economy, by Amiya Kumar Bagchi.
  4. Passive Revolution in West Bengal, 1977-2011, by Ranabir Samaddar.
  5. Studies in the Development of Capitalism, Maurice Dobb.
  6. Poverty of Philosophy, E P Thompson           


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