Left politics: neo-liberalism isn’t the only ghost
The Left, as they say, has too important a role in society to be left to the Leftists alone.
I consider the Left side of politics to be a necessary moral force. Without it, politics can be soulless and economics heartless.
You may or may not support communism but you can’t do without some normative Left perspectives and ideas in politics, society and economics. Can social justice, for example, ever cease to be relevant or important?
The Indian Left however has crumbled under its own weight.
Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Prakash Karat last week said an election system awash in industry-financed money had considerably weakened the Left, virtually “squeezing” it out — rare comments that reveal how the once-powerful Marxists view their slide.
“It is virtually squeezing us out now,” Karat said, referring to “neo-liberalism”, a term commonly used, sometimes pejoratively, to describe India’s market-driven economic model.
Karat sought not to just highlight a less-talked-about aspect of political corruption, untouched by the protests by the now-disbanded Team Anna, but also singled it out as a key challenge for Left politics.
Critics often cite the Left’s inability to change dated policies, marked by hostility to industry, deteriorating investor relations and a generally coercive high-handedness in the states, as reasons for its decline.
Administrative and political failures are one thing, but what could be so outdated about distribution of wealth?
Downright hostility to industry isn’t a Left thing. Angles had acknowledged industrialisation was bound to happen, but expropriation is not what it should result in.
Therefore, the need for reasonable encumbrances for what will naturally be a super-profiteering industry. What is regulation, speaking of free markets, if not reasonable encumbrances?
“Neo-liberalism is not just about economics. It has corroded our political system. With business being so intertwined with politics, it takes huge sums of money to even become a sarpanch (an elected village-level politician),” Karat said at a brainstorm held by the Council for Social Development.
Indeed, as Professor Emeritus Amit Bhaduri tended to argue, when industry finances politics in return for incentives, then citizens run the risk of being “priced out” of democracy.
Speaking to over a dozen influential economists and historians, Karat identified the impact of globalised finance capital, caste-based mobilisation of “bourgeoisie parties” and failure to connect with people through popular culture as key challenges.
In India, Left artistes, musicians and playrights are often credited with strengthening Marxism.
“We are getting marginsalised and except in states like Tripura, Bengal and Kerala, we are not in a position to intervene because of neoliberal politics,” Karat said.
The Left has seen its Parliament tally fall by more than half — from 61 during the previous term to 24 now.
In Kerala, the Left had been in power for 28 of the past 54 years, alternating with other parties, while it had been running Bengal since 1977 without losing an election until their widely predicted 2011 defeat. In Tripura, they still are in power.
Karat also counted a newly forged unity among various central trade unions and rising participation of women as encouraging trends.
However, as Leftist critics, such as Sumanta Banerjee, pointed out, the Marxists had a far more basic job at hand — that of restoring their moral fibre.
Yet, while in many European nations, Communism has been reduced to “signboards”, as Karat put it, the Left in India still has mass following. In three states, the Communists are fully capable of powerful social interventions.
Marx had said that Marxism had to be to applied according to a country’s own unique situation. The Left has done little to bring creative Marxism of Europe into play.
What should be the response, for example, to labour justice in an economy shifting increasingly to contractual employment?
How to take up the fight against communalism or religion-based majoritariansim beyond mere media statements? Why has the Left abandoned its famous “mohalla (neighborhood) committees” as a response to sectarian riots?
Nehru’s abhorrence of western capitalism and abiding faith in socialist objectives led him to place the public-sector at the controls. Nehru’s decision to let the public sector “occupy the vantage points” of the Indian economy, as argued by Reba Som (Gandhi, Bose, Nehru 2004), was also because of his belief that a certain protection from mercenary-like external competition was needed in the initial years, post-Independence.
But how to deal with inefficient, competition-less, lazy and lethargic state enterprises that the Nehruvian model gave rise to?
There are many ghosts to be exorcised. The Left’s responses to such issues have to cut ice with a middle-class by now firmly entrenched in global finance capital that Karat talked of.
It is possible for the Left to re-invigorate itself. It has to revisit the ways in which it connects with the people and industry to begin with. It is not enough to criticise neoliberalism. It is what the Left can bring to the table as alternatives, those that people will find suitable, credible and convincing, that matters.