Wednesday, 20 July 2016

On the Decline of the Left -- the Debate Continues

In the recent past, I have posted on this blog-site three short texts of mine, actually critical comments, on the above subject1.2.3. I think the debate needs to be continued. Because unless capitalism is overcome and a sustainable and egalitarian world society takes its place, the situation in future would be far more dire than what we are observing today, all over the world as well as in India. Overcoming capitalism and creating an egalitarian society has always been the task of the Left. Having that in mind, I have again published two critical comments on articles written by two well-known Indian scholar-journalists and published in the online daily news magazine The Wire. I am reproducing these texts of mine below. The links will lead to the original articles on which I have commented. I would like to request my readers to read these articles first and then my critical comments.


It is great that Kamal Mitra Chenoy (KMC for short) calls upon the Indian Left to read more. Indeed, generally speaking, Indian leftists (even those who occupy leading positions in their respective parties) read too little, which is however understandable given the lack of time and energy. However, even those who read a lot do not read the texts that need to be read urgently. But what KMC recommends them to read are not the most important ones.
    The flaw lies in his starting position. He writes: "
I speak only as a Marxist." But why should he speak only as a Marxist? Why should he not speak generally, as a socialist? Marx and Engels were philosophers of the second half of the 19th century. They tried to analyse the world as it was in those days. Is it not necessary, 132 years after Marx's death, to take cognizance of the developments that have taken place in this period?
    Good that KMC writes: "
Environment is a very important issue. ... environmental problems ... must be dealt with as a huge crisis waiting to happen. Environmental issues have to be given priority by the Left and democratic forces." Marx and Engels were very much aware of the environmental degradations that had already taken place (and were taking place) in their days. Yet, for their analysis, they did not draw any consequence from this awareness, nor did all their disciples up until now.
    Should leftists give priority to this issue, then they, including KMC, should realize that a
paradigm shift is long overdue: a shift from the growth-and-development paradigm, within which all leftists have been thinking till now, to what I call the limits-to-growth paradigm. If they carry out this shift in their thinking, then and only then would they understand why Marxism's relevance has waned and is waning further.
    Then the most important texts that they should urgently read is the Limits to Growth (1972) by Meadows et al. and some basic writings of Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen. For those who are willing to read a little more because they not only want to analyze the world but also to change it, I recommend my own books and writings: (1) Eco-Socialism or Eco-Capitalism? (1999; Zed Books, London), (2) The Crises of CapitalismA Different Study of Political Economy (2012; Counterpoint, Berkeley).


I have now read two very well written articles on the decline of "the Left" in India – this one by Kuldeep Kumar (KK for short) and that of Kamal Mitra Chenoy (KMC for short) entitled
The Indian Left Has to Move Beyond Lenin’s Rigid Formulations on the Role of the Party, also published in this website. Both are comrades, (has been or still are) associated with this or that incarnation of the original Communist Party of India, both are very well versed in Marxist communist literature and history, past and present. Yet, I must say they have both missed the main point.
    If continued adherence to Leninist
undemocratic centralism in post-independence India were the main cause of the decline of the Indian Left (especially that of the CPIM), as KK maintains, then a reform introducing democratic centralism should suffice to revive the appeal of the various Leninist CPIs. Or if the main cause were the fact that the Indian Left leaders have not read enough, particularly Gramsci's works , as KMC thinks, then it would be very easy to repair the damage. Unfortunately, the matter is not that easy.
    I am sure many members and leaders of the
Euro-Communist parties of Europe had read Gramsci, the parties themselves had become democratic communist parties in and since the mid 1970s. The result? Berlinguer's Communist Party of Italy does not exist any more. The communists rapidly became Social-Democrats, changed the name of the Party accordingly, and are today, as the ruling party, managing Capitalism in Italy. The Communist Party of France, as far as I know, still exists as a small fringe party, but hardly anybody outside France hears anything about them. And does anybody know what the Communist Party of Spain, if it still exists, is doing? PODEMOS is all the rage today.
    KK and KMC have heavily criticised the outdated Leninist decision-making process of the CPI(M) (maybe also of the other CPIs) and the way it disciplines "deviationists". But maybe the main cause of their decline lies in the outdatedness of their programme, which the two erudite writers do not even mention. In the recent decades, the ruling Left'soffer to the voters of West Bengal had been: "if you vote for us, we shall see to it that you get something: more income, jobs, some much needed infrastructures". In Bengali it was called "paiye debar rajnity." To be more kind to them, the offer was development and prosperity through industrialization. But if that was all that India needed, and since that was all that the chiefly election-oriented left parties promised, certainly the congress governments of Narsimha Rao and Manmohan Singh did more to fulfil these needs.
     In the days of Gramsci, the programme of all communist parties of the world was to make a revolution in order to build a socialist society. It is for this programme that they, Gramsci advised them, ought to try to attain cultural hegemony. That programme has been given up by all left parties.
    But what is revolution today? Walter Benjamin, a contemporary of Gramsci, presciently wrote the following:"Marx says revolutions are the locomotive of world history. But perhaps it is entirely different. Revolutions are perhaps the attempt of humanity travelling in a train to pull the emergency brake." In my interpretation it would read today: A de-growth movement and a contracting economy must urgently bring to a stop the train of unending economic growth/development. That means, socialism of the 21st century is eco-socialism.


What It Means to Be Leftist

2. A Communist Party in Power in a Capitalist State – Misdirected Critique