Published on Monday, 11 July 2016 14:32
This bulletin was published in Bangla in early April 2016, explaining our political stance. However, given the issues, it was felt necessary to also provide an English translation. We are grateful to Professor Chandak Sengoopta for translating it into English. The RS post-election analysis has also been published in Bangla, in the June 2016 issue of Radical, our journal. It will be translated into English and circulated through the website later. -- Administrator.
Fascism on the Rise
The Congress-Left Front Alliance
West Bengal Assembly Elections 2016:
Political Background and Questions of Strategy and Tactics
Does bourgeois democracy offer us any advantages within an overall bourgeois system? And if it does, then does that have a bearing on our electoral preference? We need to answer these questions before discussing how the working classes ought to vote in the forthcoming elections for the legislative assembly and the ideological issues that may be involved.
One major feature of bourgeois democracy is the requirement for political parties to find support from the people at elections held at fixed intervals, which means that public opinion has some importance. It is true that this “public opinion” is largely artificial, since the consciousness of the people can be easily misdirected. It is not, however, correct to conclude that elections are entirely a farce and do not reflect the people’s “real” desires and opinions at all. In fact, the parties of the ruling classes are compelled, up to a point, to take the people’s wishes into account and fulfil their demands. During elections, the importance of the people naturally rises in the eyes of the parties and that creates the opportunity for different classes to obtain some advantages for themselves.
Those who are concerned solely with the interests of exploited workers and other oppressed communities cannot ignore elections; indeed, they have to take a considered position in them, because the electoral struggle can be of some assistance in obtaining some advantages, deflecting at least some ruling class oppression and in raising general social consciousness.
There can be no unchanging formula for evaluating an electoral situation or for specifying what position one must adopt. The situation is constantly liable to change and we must avoid being entrapped by some “political puritanism.” The economic and political realities of the nation and the state, the current balance of political and social forces, and the political goals desired by the working classes are what should determine our electoral strategy. How we participate in this struggle will depend on the organizational strengths of our political and social forces, and of those sharing our objectives.
There are many leftist groups outside the Left Front, which are often categorized as the“revolutionary contingent” or “revolutionary communists.” These groups are far from identical and we shall discuss them in greater detail later. In 2011, some of these groups advocated voting for the Left Front with reservations; some put up their own candidates; some were in favour of NOTA; and some, directly or indirectly, urged voters to support the Trinamul Congress. Even those who put up their own candidates previously cooperated, to varying extents, with Trinamul; their abrupt turn to an “independent” position was either strategic or due to Trinamul’s failure to fulfil their expectations. The situation is different in 2016.
The Radical Socialist position in 2011 was based on our analysis of the state of the class struggle, and not on a calculation of immediate benefits and risks. We began by arguing thatthe conviction that “they are all the same” issimplistic and characteristic of petit-bourgeois anarchists. We clearly stated that the CPI or the CPI(M) were definitely not communist parties. “The Communist Party of India was influenced by Stalinism from the 1930s.” (Radical, April 2011, p.1) “The parties constituting the Left Front, such as the CPI(M), are not themselves bourgeois parties but rather, parties that emerged from the workers’ struggle that are unable to work outside the bourgeois framework” (ibid.)
In 2011, we stated that “if we start with the interests of the working class, then we need to take a different approach to the matter.” We do not support a vote-boycott. A vote-boycott is appropriate in two circumstances. When fascism has established itself openly, then participating in an election would be to confer legitimacy on fascism. Conversely, when the working class mass movement has reached an intensity that could generate a different, better kind of democracy, a system that would allow working people to determine their own future, then the limitations of bourgeois democracy might impede the emergence of that superior democracy and better society. A boycott would then be the correct strategy.
“In all other cases, voting could be based on principle or strategy. The principled approach is not to vote for bourgeois parties and candidates under any circumstances. The strategic approach would consider how the unity and confidence of the working class could be best enhanced. If, in a constituency, there are only two (or more) bourgeois candidates, then the more working-class people abstain from voting, the more they damage the bourgeoisie and the more they reinforce their own unity. But what if a bourgeois candidate is confronted by a revisionist/Stalinist candidate? Here too, we shall need to find a strategic response” (ibid., p.2) Then, comparing the CPI(M) of 1977 with the CPI(M) of 2011, we said that “if, after this, we ask the working class to vote for the Left Front simply in order to stop Trinamul, then we would be asking it to accept that its crisis could be resolved by the return of the decadent, corrupt Left Front to power.” Based on this analysis, we urged: “instead of voting for any bourgeois party or placing any reliance on the Left Front, please support independent candidates from the working class, from oppressed groups, and from minority communities, and help build independent workers’ organizations to conduct the class struggle” (ibid., p.2)
The West Bengal Elections in the Present Context of Indian Politics
We must not approach the West Bengal election as a purely provincial matter. If that were the case, then, despite considering the CPI(M) to be a revisionist party, we could have adopted the same position as we did in 2011. But the situation has changed: a party that intends to establish fascism has come to power at the centre.
We have analyzed fascism at length in the past. Where we differ from other left groups is our stress on examining all the characteristics of the fascist BJP-RSS and determine the nature of their relationship with the big bourgeosie.
What is fascism? Why do we regard the Sangh Parivar as the only fascists in India? In a nutshell:
(1) The essential precondition for the rise of fascism is a pervasive structural crisis in bourgeois society. The crisis of international capitalism in generating surplus value and transforming it into profit and fresh capital led to a crisis of Indian capital and attracted the Indian big bourgeoisie to Modi and the BJP. Since traditional approaches could no longer generate enough capital, they wanted to exercise extreme methods to maximize surplus value.
(2) For this reason, they were ready to abandon their usual preference for bourgeois democracy. Bourgeois democracy has certain advantages in a country like India, characterized over many years by the diverse struggles of workers, peasants, dalits and minorities. First, people have the opportunity every few years of removing a party from power and bringing in a new one. This is held up as the victory of the people. Second, some economic and social concessions can be granted when needed, and these reforms can temporarily channel the class struggle into a less radical course. For example, the Manmohan Singh government started NREGA whilst simultaneously facilitating globalization at the behest of the World Bank, IMF and the big bourgeosie. The first 100 days’ work helped poorer people, albeit to a small extent. Third, bourgeois democracy disseminates political power widely within the bourgeois class. The majority of that class participates in running the state and government through political parties, the mass media, universities, chambers of commerce, bureaucracy and so forth. But the longevity of bourgeois democracy depends on the balance of economic and social forces. When this balance is lacking, the big bourgeoisie seeks to protect its historical interests by enhancing the power of the state and it is prepared to accept the political hegemony of a constricted minority. Fascism stems from the growth of monopoly capital but ultimately deprives monopoly capital of any direct political power.
(3) In contemporary societies, where the bourgeoisie is far smaller in extent than the working class, it is impossible to transform production exclusively through some form of state power, including the police or the army. The working people in bourgeois democracies have obtained some rights by fighting for them, e.g., a minimum wage, fixed working hours, or reservations for dalits and adivasis in education and work. Trade union rights and the right to strike were also wrested through struggle. To deprive them of these hard-won rights requires a different kind of mass-mobilization driven by a different ideology. The conscious sections of the working class are sought to be subdued by terror and violence perpetrated by a reactionary “mass movement.”
(4) This kind of reactionary movement is sustained by the petit-bourgeoisie. If they are strongly united, they can pull in the less progressive sections of the working class. Specifically in India, fascism has been created by combining religious/communal, upper-caste and ultra-national forces. Initially, this ideology had no place in the arsenal of the big bourgeoisie, which, over the last three decades, sought to capture power through gradual infiltration into civil society. The RSS, from its inception, was ultra-Hindu, ultra-Brahminical and supportive of fascism. In the 1940s, RSS supporter Anthony Elenjimittam wrote: “From the very beginning of its movement, the RSS used the saffronflag, dharma chakra and the slogan of satyameva jayate as its symbols and these patriotic ideals have governed the Sangh’s evolution. Had the environment been more positive, then RSS youth could have been for India what the Hitler Youth was for Germany or the Fascist Youth for Italy. If discipline, centralized organization and organic collectivism signify fascism, then the RSS is not embarrassed to call itself fascist. We need to get rid of the stupid idea that fascism and totalitarianism are evil and the parliamentary system or British-Indian style democracy sacred” (The Philosophy and Action of the RSS for the Hind Swaraj, p.197).
Leaders of the RSS, such as Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, stated clearly that nationalism is not a geographical doctrine. In other words, they are not just ultra-nationalists but consider nation-building to be a religious process based on an extreme interpretation of Hinduism.In this view, the Brahman is supreme, and the “lower castes” inferior for all time. Whilst holding to a pseudo-egalitarian stance and calling for the end of reservations, they condemn all inter-community and inter-caste relationships. Their support for khap panchayats is as unsurprising as the fact that Arun Shourie, a theoretician of the Sangh Parivar, once penned a malicious tract against Babasaheb Ambedkar. Their interpretation of Hinduism is strongly anti-Muslim and anti-Christian. The Viswa Hindu Parisad was founded with the goal to make all of India Hindu or subservient to Hindutva. The very character of communal riots changed after the Parisad’s foundation – Muslims were warned that the “angry Hindu” has awakened and Muslims who did not follow the dictates of Hindus would pay for their disobedience.
In the last few years, the influence of the RSS has grown in West Bengal too, not only among unemployed and despairing sections of the petit-bourgeoisie or ideologically backward sections of the working class but also among their educated and well-established members.
(5) There is a significant difference between historical fascism (Hitler, Mussolini) and contemporary fascism. Classical fascism emerged in nations where bourgeois democracy was weak. But in India, there was a growing demand for democracy from the 1920s and the political leaders of the Indian bourgeoisie had to accept those demands, despite making many compromises in the 1930s. Hence, unlike Hitler in Germany, the successors of Golwalkar and Savarkar could not ignore Indian democracy. In a nation where 60, 70 (or, even in some places, 80) per cent of people vote, there is obviously strong support for (bourgeois) democracy. The RSS, therefore, was compelled to tailor its methods accordingly and began to infilitrate civil society. In the 1980s, they already had thousands of sakhas across India and the number has risen since then. Since 2014, however, there has been a qualitative change. The BJP had previously entered government only as a member of a coalition. This time, however, they showed their true colours and put forward Modi as leader and promoted the likes of Amit Shah. And the big bourgeoisie accepted this. Clearly, their economic goals – the “reform” of labour laws, the intensified exploitation of temporary labour by reforming the laws related to them, the “reform” of factory laws and so forth – are to ensure that despite the economic weakness of their situation, they can compete with the more developed economies of China and the West in accumulating capital. Huge general strikes in 2010, 2012 and 2013 had shown that the UPA Government, although right wing in its orientation, was too weak to facilitate this.
Hence, the Sangh Parivar, now strongly entrenched in civil society, has been able to strike a deal with the ruling classes. Having come to power, they are now serving the economic interests of Indian capital with great energy. In order to do so and also because they have now been allowed to pursue their own ideology openly, they are ruthlessly seeking to stifle democracy. It should be noted that their chief ideological opponents are not the Congress, Trinamul, Janata Dal (United), or RJD. They have consistently attacked dalits, adivasis and leftists, and among leftists, they have not distinguished between revolutionaries and revisionists. Of the three arrested during the attack on Jawaharlal Nehru University, one (Kanhaiya Kumar) is a leader of AISF, the student wing of the CPI, and the other two, Umar Khaled and Anirban Bhattacharya, are more-or-less aligned with the extreme left.In Allahabad, the target was a worker of the AISA, affiliated with the CPIML (Liberation). Professor Nivedita Menon, feminist and (for the most part) subalternist, was attacked viciously. Professor Saibaba, reportedly a Maoist, is still in jail. Whilst it is undoubtedly important to determine the correct interpretation of Marxism, anybody talking about class or the class struggle is considered dangerous by fascists, and in need of being silenced. And those Untermenschen, the Dalits, have to be beaten into submission.
Why this hatred for the Left?
We have to look beyond elections and parliamentary strength to answer this question. The reason the bourgeosie supports fascism is because the other parties found it impossible to to enforce extreme right-wing principles by using the state’s mechanisms for repression.
The promise of fascism is this: they would create a reactionary mass movement among ordinary people. Their propaganda is obsessed with beef-eating or the nature of “true” nationalism, but their main ideological adversaries are the leftists.Why? Clearly, it has nothing to do with vote counts. Had it been a matter of electoral strength, then Congress, Janata Dal (United), or Trinamul would have been the targets.
The fact that even today in India, certain issues are raised – poverty, the removal of poverty, the role of the state in education, health or transport– is not due to Sonia or Rahul Gandhi, nor to Mulayam Singh, Nitish Kumar or Lalooprasad Yadav. Nor is it the strategy of Sitaram Yechury or D Raja. It is because class struggle in India is still conducted in leftist terms, even though leftists do not always gain politically from it. But the specific issues, the language in which they are discussed and the social interests in question, all reveal the influence of leftism and class struggle. In the 2014 elections, the greatest emphasis was on the BJP securing an absolute majority and the big bourgeoisie of India had bet on it. The BJP had promised to extirpate all the class interests of workers (from unions, salary scales and minimum wage to general strikes). But despite bringing nationalism and Rama into the fray, they could not extinguish those class-demands. It was seen that the trade union movement prevented the bourgeoisie from obtaining the kind of reform of labour laws that they had wanted. And it is the AITUC and CITU that, despite all their limitations, opportunism, bureaucracy and tendency to compromise with capitalists, have unified that trade union movement and played significant roles in the repeated success of national general strikes.
That the discourse of agitations for democracy is also largely leftist is demonstrated by the Sangh Parivar and their supporters responding to democratic demands with the questions: Did Russia have democracy? Did China? We are fully conscious of the absence of democracy stretching from Stalin’s Russia to Kim Jong-Un’s North Korea. We do not even consider those regimes to be socialist. But we know that from Marx and Engels through the Second International and up to the first period of the Communist International, the Marxist tradition was one of fighting for democracy. In this country too, it is the leftists who, despite their many shortcomings, have been instrumental in the fight for democracy, the right to strike, or the right to form unions.
Where leftist agitation – in particular, the communist mainstream – failed, the struggle was conducted by Babasaheb Ambedkar and his followers. That struggle was for the democratic rights of the “lower castes.” The dalit agitation remained weak for almost two decades after Dr Ambedkar’s death. But various streams of dalit agitation began to merge from the 1970s. Some of these were revolutionary, such as the Dalit Panthers of Maharashtra, but the larger movement also included the Backward and Minority Classes’ Employees Federation led by Kanshi Ram, from which emerged the Bahujan Samaj Party. The Dalit Panthers and the Dalit Sangharsh Samity of Karnataka were inspired by Marxism and Ambedkar’s thought. Kanshi Ram, on the other hand, first formed a trade union and then an electoral party. Even he, however, admitted to being influenced by Dr Ambedkar.
The Brahminical RSS found both these movements threatening. Any kind of dalit organization is bound to offend those who consider the very idea of dalit equality to be unacceptable. Ambedkar, consequently, was the bete noire of Hindutva ideologues. Savarkar’s statement that in ancient India the Buddhists were treasonous elements, has to be interpreted in the light of Ambedkar’s criticism of Hinduism and the mass conversions to Buddhism that he organized. More recently, Ambedkar was castigated by Arun Shourie.
But it is impossible to scorn all dalits when organizing a mass organization on the basis of Hindutva. Hence, the Hindutva brigade is seeking to assimilate dalits on the one hand, whilst fighting progressive dalits on the other. The reason for this is that leftist ideology is one kind of ideology. The existence of dalits is a social fact. Dalit ideological protests are attacked ruthlessly, whilst including dalits in “Hindu society” at times of anti-Muslim riots or to build majorities during elections. Therefore, Tathagata Ray, a leader of the same Sangh Parivar that was responsible for the death of Shankar Guha Neogy in Central India and for the imprisonment of Dr Binayak Sen and Saibal Jana on false charges, sheds tears for (largely lower-caste) refugees from Bengal in Central India. The institutional murder of Rohit Vemula and attacks on the Ambedkar Students Association are complemented by the infiltration of matuas in the quest to capture dalit votes.
But the dalits entering politics on their own? That is unforgivable. So, Apparao Podile is returned to the Univesity of Hyderabad. The university is transformed into a fascist camp, with no water, electricity or internet and no access to the press.
Another mainstay of fascist ideologies all over the world is gender discrimination, which, needless to say, takes different forms in different cultures. Among the proponents of Hindutva and Brahiminism, it comprises the strict regulation of the lives of high-caste Hindu women and attacks on Muslim and dalit women. The most extreme version of this was the mass rape and murder in the name of “resistance” in Gujarat in 2002. But attacks on high-caste and dalit marriages and support for khap panchayats are routine. The battle with Brahminism and Hindutva must, therefore, join forces with the struggle for gender equality.
Five Years of Trinamul and the Current Election
The five-year term of Trinamul must be assessed by two distinct criteria. One is their performance in the state. At the state-level, they have done all they could to break up mass movements, workers’ movements and strikes. In this state plagued by unemployment, workers are being hired freely on temporary contracts for permanent government posts and one must ask how they could live on the wages they are being offered. Simultaneously, democratic rights are under constant assault. Repression of trade unions and student unions is routine. The worst days of the Left Front pale into insignificance beside the election violence and fraud and the extent of police and bureaucratic cooperation with such practices. A new element is the suicide of farmers. The deaths of tea-garden labourers by starvation has broken all records. Oppression of women, sexual violence and rapes are multiplying at dizzying rates. Dismissing these incidents as “concocted” or “staged” is part of the new culture of this state. Along with these, countless reports of corruption crowd the headlines. Were Trinamul’s party expenses funded by the millions paid by customers of Mamata Banerjee’s paintings? From Sarada to Narada, tales of bribery and corruption are legion. And anybody raising these questions has been attacked as a Maoist or a CPI(M) supporter.
Trinamul supporters as well as “leftists” blinded by their hatred of the CPI(M) would ask, “did the Left Front not nurture thugs? Was there no corruption in the days of the Left Front? Did the Left Front not conduct campaigns of repression?”
We have two things to say. First, we do not admire the Left Front.After the defeat of the Left Front in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, two of our memberswrote in a nationally and internationally disseminated analysis: “Over 32 years of uninterrupted rule in West Bengal, they have brought about what one may call Stalinism in one state … as in Eastern Europe in the past, the Left Front first targeted those who might challenge its rule from the left. The APDR and other organizations have chronicled the long-term repression of Naxalites, and this has intensified remarkably over recent years. Massive repression has been justified by appeals to ‘Maoist danger’ and ‘secessionism’” (Kunal Chattopadhyay and Soma Marik, “The Elections of 2009 and the Prospects of Left Revival,” Indian Social Thought, 8, no 1 [April-June 2009], p. 43).
But the second of our assertions is that the Left Front and in particular the CPI(M) is a large revisionist party. Despite occasionally talking about social change, they really wish to stay within the bourgeois system. They dream of serving the bourgeoisie for ever, whilst at the same time assuring the working class of looking after their interests. That is why they get so annoyed when they hear of revolutionary and alternative trade unions. That is why they do not want to move a step beyond bourgeois democracy. They patronized thugs, indulged in some corruption – for example, by employing people from their membership lists to government and semi-government educational institutions. But this is where they differed from Trinamul. In the Trinamul regime, the party does not hire lumpens. The regime itself is run by lumpens. Trinamul rule aims to reinforce social and economic misfortunes and despair, and to produce lumpens from the ranks of the unemployed and semi-employed, a significant number of whom are from the religious minorities. They are subject to even greater difficulties than the rest and the Trinamul government is using them as the social basis of their rule. They are the ones who break up mass movements, attack trade unions, and determine election results. The CPI(M) used to impose its authority on trade unions; Trinamul seeks to destroy the trade union movement altogether. Their role in the general strikes of 2012, 2013 and 2015 shows that they are even more extreme than Congress. Congress was in power until the early part of 2014 but Trinamul was far more active in breaking strikes in 2012 and 2013. As for corruption, there was a syndicate even in the days of the Left Front. But there is no distinction between party and syndicate under Trinamul. In higher and school education, the contributions of Trinamul are sweeping privatizations on the one hand and reductions in permanent appointments for teachers on the other. The CPI(M) used to reject applicants more capable than their members. For example, Teachers and Scientists against Maldevelopment published a list of 50 incompetent bootlickers of the CPI(M). Trinamul supporters are so unqualified that they cannot even fulfil the minimal requirements. That is why the appointment of full-time teachers has decreased at every level over five years of Trinamul rule, and their jobs are being done by temporary teachers – qualified as well as unqualified – on low pay. In the end, therefore, there a big distinction between revisionist leftism and right-wing “populism.”
But it would be a mistake to confine our assessment of Trinamul to this level. In their quest for long-term powerin West Bengal, Trinamul has adopted the despicable tactic of collaborating with Muslim fundamentalists. They imagine that if they could capture the lion’s share of Muslim votes (26-27%), then they would need only some of the other votes to capture power.
And this is why the BJP has gained strength in West Bengal along with Trinamul’s rise to power. Trinamul retained much of its strength in the last Lok Sabha elections but the Left Front vote collapsed disastrously. The loss of the state power that the Left Front had used to shore up its strength and spread its influence over 34 years (1977-2011) was one reason for the latter. Another was the gradual loss of the ideological strength that had once allowed the Left Front to inspire the masses with calls for struggle. We had explained in 2014 that “since the election defeat of 2009, the CPI(M) had fallen to such a level that it was incapable of organizing any mass movement” (Radical, September 2014, p. 23).
Consequently, one portion of the CPI(M)’s mass following went over to the BJP. Communalisms gain their strength from one another and therefore, Muslim and Hindu communalism grew simultaneously and the first beneficiary of this was Trinamul, since the BJP was cutting into CPI(M) votes.
But the Hindutva lobby is relatively weak in West Bengal and a major ideological debate is involved here. Hence, the BJP regards the Left, not Trinamul, as its chief adversary. Sangh Parivar activists on the internet often put secularists, Marxists and Muslims in the same category. This is why they revel in attacking workers of the PDSF, ISA, USDF and Radical.
Conversely, BJP and Trinamul are serving each other’s interests in different ways. By adopting the role of a “responsible opposition,” Trinamul is shoring up the Modi government, especially in the Rajya Sabha. And that is why the BJP has protected Trinamul in the Sarada scandal and others.
In 2011, we wrote: “She [Mamata Banerjee] has learnt the lessons of the 2004 and 2006 elections. She realizes that it would be politically suicidal to have an alliance with the BJP in West Bengal, where many seats would be lost without Muslim votes.” An open alliance, therefore, is out of the question. But some of the CPI(M) votes would be allowed to go to the BJP, which would strengthen fascism. Why should Mamata Banerjee lose any sleep over it? Was she ever an anti-fascist?
The general state of the nation and the specific circumstances of West Bengal make it essential to remove Trinamul from power. A large section of West Bengal’s population wants an end to their regime.
The Radical Socialist position on the Left Front
After the victory of Trinamul in the 2011 election, we analyzed its significance, once again stressing the character of the CPI(M) and the Left Front. We showed why those, such as the “internal critics” of the party, who considered the CPI(M), in spite of its many errors, to be a communist party were wrong. But even then, we distinguished between the Left Front, the constituent parties of the Front, and the Left Front Government. We said: “The Left Front government is a reformist government in a bourgeois state. Using bureaucratic avenues, it provided some gains for the working class on salaries and allowances, through government subsidies and licenses, maintaining a kind of balance within the state-run economy. Those small gains for the workers were all that constituted leftism in that system” (Radical, July 2011, p.4) We discussed how the coming of globalization made it essential to evolve a new definition of leftism and new forms of class struggle, remarking: “But these goals are unattainable where politics is based on government handouts.”
It is easy to prove that the CPI(M) is not communist but problems emerge when revolutionary-minded critics conclude that because the CPI(M) is not communist, it is bourgeois. In an article written after the fall of the Left Front, Professor G N Saibaba called the CPI(M) a party of social fascists. Some do not use the actual phrase “social fascism” but proceeding from similar premises, declare that there is no real difference between the CPI(M), Trinamul Congress, and the BJP.
In truth, there is no reason to equate a working-class party with a revolutionary party. That is why we said in 2011 that the only question about the CPI(M) was whether it was progressing toward a social democracy that was fit for the twenty-first century or whether it was content to remain within a Stalinist framework, mouthing revolutionary slogans whilst actually serving bourgeois interests” (Radical, July 2011, p.6)
So how do we differ from other “revolutionary left” or “communist left” parties? Let us explain. We think that the CPI(M) is an unrevolutionary workers’ party. The Communist Party of India was under Stalinist influence since the 1930s and followed the path of class-collaboration. But that same Stalinism also pushed them at one time toward impulsive ultra-leftism. The principle of “socialism in one country” led communist parties of other countries to equate the interests of socialism with the interests of Soviet bureaucracy and to determine their tactics in line with the latter. It was only after the Sino-Soviet split that the communist parties of the world gained some independence on this issue. Meanwhile, though, decades of class-collaboration had reshaped the party’s DNA.
This politics of class collaboration, however, only works when a party’s social basis lies in the working class. Those who criticize this standpoint argue that every political party in India creates its own trade union and one cannot say anything specific about the character of the CPI or the CPI(M) on the basis of their relationship with the AITUC or CITU.
Such views are easily countered by a deeper look at the relationship of the party with trade unions and the trade union movement. Despite entering government, despite their countless compromises with the bourgeois system, the CPI as well as the CPI(M) need to maintain close links with workers’ movements and organizations simply in order to survive as parties and to win votes. This does not happen with bourgeois parties. The fascists want to smash workers’ movements out of existence. When other bourgeois parties such as Congress or Trinamul establish trade unions, their aims and the importance of the unions in the internal politics of the party are distinct from what one finds in reformist/opportunist parties. During the 2015 General Strike, the AITUC and CITU tried to forge unity amongst all the unions; the INTUC and others did not. Moreover, the significance of the AITUC and CITU to the CPI and CPI(M) is not matched by – or will ever match – the importance accorded to “their” unions by the Congress, Trinamul or BJP.
Therefore, we are unwilling to describe the CPI and the CPI(M) as “social fascists” or “bourgeois parties.” We shall, of course, be asked whether we are forgetting that the murder of Khidirpur Dock Workers, the vicious police attack on the electricity workers’ movement at Santaldih, or the barbaric attacks at Marichjhapi on lower-caste/dalit refugees seeking to return to West Bengal from Central India all occurred during the rule of the Left Front. Are we overlooking Binay Konar’s insolent threat – “they are just 13 villages; we could turn their lives into hell”? Have we forgotten Tapasi Malik and Radharani Arhi?
No, we have not forgotten any of these. But we do not think that resentment is the sole ingredient of class struggle. Did Lenin forget about the murder of Rosa Luxemburg or Karl Liebknecht? Did Lenin, Trotsky and the leaders of the Communist International forget about the betrayal of revolutions by the social democrats in 1918-20 in Germany, Austria, Hungary, Italy? They did not – but they were conscious that if the liberation of the working class was to be won by the working class itself, then the majority of the working class would need to unite under the revolutionary flag, and the route to that unity might need to follow various unpredictable paths. Hence, when the majority of workers, and even the majority of organized workers, support the reformists and revisionists, then, as a defensive manoeuvre, one might even need to form united fronts with those traitors.
Those who regard BJP-Trinamul-Congress and CPI-CPI(M) as two sides of the same coin on the basis of a few superficial similarities would do well to recall these words of Karl Marx: “…all science would be superfluous if the form of appearance of things directly coincided with their essence” (Karl Marx, Capital, vol 3, p. 956 [Penguin, 2011]).
Today, there is no question of forming a united front with the CPI(M), and the reasons have been explained in the essay “The Ganamancha and Us” in Radical. But Lenin, Trotsky or Clara Zetkin called for a united front of the working class, unlike Stalin or Dimitrov who sought an understanding between the bourgeoisie and the working class. So, they evidently regarded social democracy, in spite of all its misdeeds, as a party of the working class.
It may be objected that this is all ancient history. In that case, let us look at contemporary Britain. The Labour Party, led by Tony Blair, took some extreme decisions to serve imperialist interests. Blair was as responsible as Bush for the lies justifying the invasion of Iraq. And yet, the resurgence of the labour movement in that same country has led to the leftist Jeremy Corbyn being elected to lead that same Labour Party. Over the last few months, Labour is speaking with a different voice. But the party has not thereby been transformed into a revolutionary one. It remains social democratic.
So, how to vote?
The first question would be – should we vote for the left parties outside the Left Front? Or, at least, make them our first preference? We have stated at the very beginning that we want to use the election to assist in the class struggle. Hence, there can be no permanent or “pure” position.
We have two long-term suggestions. First, we want the Indian electoral system to be reformed and the introduction of proportional representation. Elections come and go, and the party that is only slightly ahead gets into power despite receiving less than 50% of votes. With proportional representation, different leftist combinations in various states could, if they were in the lead of the class struggle, provide some representation.
But there is no point in discussing something that does not exist. At this time, bearing in mind the intensity of the fascist assault, we advise voting for the Left Front. Many have been troubled by the alliance between Congress and the Left Front for this election. But we found this far from surprising. In the post-independence decades, the CPI/CPI(M) and Congress have cooperated on countless occasions, including elections. Those who are astonished by their joint campaigns and processions must be easily surprised. Things do not stay the same for ever. They have failed to understand the way history moves. Although not the only possible outcome of the history of the CPI and CPI(M), this is definitely a natural culmination. And our position is based on this interpretation. But we would still advise voting for Left Front candidates alone, and voting against candidates from Congress or other bourgeois parties in the alliance.
The smaller leftist parties or those outside the Left Front often distinguish between the unprincipled pseudo-leftism of the Left Front and their own genuine leftism. We reject this view and would refer our readers once again to the 2014 essay, “The Public Arena and Us.” In 2014, we said that “in India, attempts to form a centralized workers’ party have all failed. At this point in time, any attempt to unify organizations scattered across the country would generate only some theoretical discussion and a very limited joint programme of action. Past experience proves that such unity is transientand the splits that follow produce more bitterness and disunity than had previously existed” (Radical, September 2014, p. 20).
Regarding these organizations, we wrote: “There is a word in English – ‘sectarian’ – that is usually translated into Bengali as sankirnatabadi (closed-minded/dogmatic) but this translation does not convey the full meaning of the English expression. A sect is a political organization that imagines itself to be creating theory and expects the working class to dutifully follow that theory once it has been disseminated by the sect’s propaganda … Every sect wants to examine only that portion of the overall course of the class struggle that fits their own pre-determined theory. Hence, they are uninterested in other forms of struggle and even dismiss them as bourgeois or petit-bourgeois” (ibid.)
The various left parties and combinations outside the Left Front are displaying this same tendency at this election. They are either reluctant to describe the politics of the Sangh Parivar as fascist or even if they do so, they are unable to reach a correct analysis of the rise of fascism. Some have seen the signs of a conspiracy to establish religious fascism in the incidents at JNU. Astonishingly, they are evading the responsibility to clarify the connection between a genuine fascism and the bourgeoisie. Alternatively, some are describing India as an undeveloped, agrarian country in the same breath as acknowledging the rise of fascism.
They are unable to comprehend that the rise of fascism indicates a change in the character of Indian capital. Today, China and India are new centres for the accumulation of capital in the world market. India, needless to say, is far behind China. But the fact that many farmers in India are still desperately poor does not contradict assertions about the growing power of Indian capital. It shows that since Indian capital never had any access to large colonies, it has grown by the ruthless exploitation of indigenous farmers, workers and tribal communities. Over the years of globalization (1991-2015), wealth has been rigorously extracted from them and transmitted upward on the social scale.
This process, however, has faced resistance. The pace of “development” has been slowed. The bourgeoisie, consequently, is now eager to reject all social democratic models. This is why Indian big capital favours fascism. And this is why fascism can be opposed only by a more intense class struggle and to complement it, by sending in as many leftist representatives as possible to Parliament and the state assemblies. We have all failed to create alternative parties and forums. We are conscious, however, that at the present juncture, there is no point in offering alternative candidates merely as a flag-waving gesture. If there is indeed an area where an alternative leftist force is of significance, then it would certainly be worth putting up alternative candidates there. It is essential to include them in the fight against fascism.
But those who call the Sangh Parivar fascist are obliged to ponder how, in this complex situation, elections can be used to fight fascism.
For the CPI(M) and reformist parties who follow the notions of Stalin and Dimitrov, the problem is a simple one. The Dimitrov-led “united fronts” were combinations of the working class with the so-called democratic bourgeoisie. This path was followed in India from the time of the Dutt-Bradley thesis of 1936. The internal debates in the CPI(M) were concerned with identifying which bourgeois parties to combine with. The Prakash Karats wanted to create another “third force” by collaborating with the SP and the RJD, whilst the Yechuris wanted to combine with Congress. The electoral contest in Kerala was between the Congress-led UDF and the CPI(M)-led LDF was defined as a regional tactic with no national applicability. It is clear, however, that in West Bengal, the Left Front-Congress combination, if it wins power, will do so only with the help of the bourgeois, right-wing Congress. So, the call to bring this combination to power is not a call to arms for the working class. Whoever forms the government, even if it is the Left-Congress combination (which seems unlikely), the working class will have to continue its struggle. Now that fascism is in the ascendant, we are not worried about the character of the government and simply want to raise the number of reformist left representatives in Parliament and the assemblies.
We would even say that if Suryakanta Misra were to be Chief Minister and somebody from Congress the Deputy Chief Minister, it would be simpler for the CPI(M) to attribute every neo-liberal initiative to “pressure” from Congress. Hence, the Congress-Left Front alliance is not to be supported for the kind of government it would bring, but because a rise in the number of leftist legislators would strengthen the trade unions, the student movements and the feminist movements to some extent. AAP, JDU, RJD, or Congress may not be remotely leftist, but when the BJP is trounced in Delhi or Bihar, the opponents of the BJP – including the revolutionary left – rejoice across the nation. The joy is not for those who won, but at the relative weakening of fascism. For these reasons, the Government has temporarily retreated from the Land Acquisitions Bill and other plans. Confrontations at JNU, FTII, IIT-M, HCU and other sites have set the scene for a real struggle.
We believe that leftism, no matter how weak at the national level or how crippled in ideological terms, poses the sole obstacle to the aims of the ruling classes. This does not apply solely to the revolutionary left but also to the CPI and CPI(M). If leftists are relatively prominent in Parliament or the state assemblies, then it can help to some extent in strengthening the masses they seek to be supported by at the ballot box. There won’t be a revolution in the legislative assembly if Congress and Trinamul get fewer seats and the left gets a few more than they did in 2011. There won’t be a revolution outside the assembly either, but it would be necessary to build up movements opposing the deprivation of trade union rights, the refusal to announce salary scales, or the employment of temporary workers.
Where the Left Front does not have a candidate, we support candidates from the ranks of “communist revolutionaries.” We would urge the latter not to put up more than one candidate at any one constituency. It is completely unethical for those who deny the importance of elections and representative bodies to put up multiple candidates for one seat.
Apart from these, we would support any independent worker, dalit, tribal or minority candidate participating in specific movements, as long as we support the movement and only if the candidate and his/her organization has no connection with the bourgeois parties.
Our friends among the revolutionary communists could raise other questions. The answer to one possible question emerges from what we have said above. If they really belong to one camp, then why could they not unite to make class struggle central to the election? In fact, electoral opportunism was involved in the breakdown of the Ganamancha. When formed, it was declared that the Ganamancha would build a mass movement highlighting immediate problems and demands. But in 2015, the Ganamancha suddenly wanted to put up candidates for the municipal elections. We said that this was not possible until we decided on how to utilize the elections in ideological terms. Subsequently, all the members (except us) of Ganamancha put up their candidates, sometimes running against one another. This is what sectarianism can lead to. Hence, voting for such organizations when they are leading a real mass movement carries a very different significance from voting for them on the basis of their theoretical assertions, especially in the situation we are in today.
It may be asked why we advocate voting for the Left Front – with the constituent parties of which we never conduct joint programmes – instead of supporting those with whom we do cooperate regularly. But is it not contradictory or even unethical for us to urge people to vote for those leftists from whom we are politically far removed in preference to those to whom we are closer in political terms?
We are not, in fact, proceeding from the belief that these parties would not get many votes and therefore, would not be able to strengthen the battle with BJP and fascism. Fascism can never be obstructed by electoral contests alone but only through a mass movement. Although of late, a kind of spontaneous, defensive resistance movement against fascist assaults has developed across the country (particularly in educational institutions), the smaller revolutionary leftist parties (of which we are one) have not yet succeeded in building up a genuine mass movement with a well-thought-out programme to defeat fascism. No organization could realistically accomplish such a goal on its own but we perceive no sincere determination to combine forces, rise above narrow self-interest and formulate a joint plan for the purpose. That does not, however, mean that we regard the parties of the Left Front have played or are playing an effective role in the battle against fascism – not at all. On the contrary, we hold that the decades-long reformism and bad faith of these parties, many of whom enjoy considerable support among the working class, are among the subjective reasons for the rise of fascism. Relying on them, therefore, cannot avert the threat of fascism. But at a time when fascism is breathing down our neck, whatever little such wavering, unreliable forces could do to weaken fascism, even in an electoral framework, is to be welcomed. This is merely an emergency procedure. The work of revolutionary leftists does not end, but commences with the relative strengthening of the inconstant forces of the reformist left. If this strategy can bring about a temporary and relative breathing space, then the duty of the revolutionary left is to use that opportunity to harness its forces. That could reverse the wavering leftists’ rightward drift – evident from their alliance with Congress – and ensure their participation in a united anti-fascist front with the revolutionary left.