Friday, 11 March 2016

General Theory of Decline of the Old Left

(This discussion-contribution is written in the form of a letter to the author of the review-article Reinventing the Indian Left published in the online journal Alternatives – International Journal on Wednesday 2 March 2016 by Satya Sagar).


Dear Mr. Satya Sagar,

You may or may not know me from reading. If interested, you may go to Google and Amazon. There you will find enough info about me.

First, many thanks for your detailed review of Praful Bidwai's book. I do not think I shall come to reading the 600 page book. So your review of the same was very useful. But I already knew a lot about the history of the Left in India.
    Currently, my main interest in reading articles on the Indian Left is to find out whether they have come (or are slowly coming) to any new conclusion after their decline. You have now given me the motivation and a chance to add and discuss some crucial points about left politics made in the book as well as in your review.
    I had met Praful once, but that was long ago and without having enough time to really discuss anything seriously. About a year or two before his passing away, at the suggestion of Sumanta Bannerjee (whom you might know), I wrote to him with the request that he consider the points I have made in my writings. (I did not get any real response.) I am making the same request to you.

You write: Praful's book "is also impressively broad in scope, analyzing the Left from not just the usual parameters of redistribution of wealth, public welfare and workers’ rights but also ecology, gender and caste." In your review, however, I do not find anything that substantiates the claim that Praful had analyzed left politics (and its ultimate failure) in India also from the standpoint of one concerned about the ecology problematique. (It may also be an omission on your part.) Actually, at the latest after 1972, when the book Limits to Growth appeared, all political activists of the whole world should have changed their politics, indeed their whole thinking, radically. But they did not do that, because, I suppose, they were caught in inertia of the thought process. Herman Daly, I, and a few other writers, have accepted the required paradigm shift – the one that I call shift from the growth paradigm to the limits to growth paradigm. All my speeches and writings since about the mid 1970s have been informed by it.
    If one accepts this
compelling paradigm shift, one comes to very different conclusions in regard to analysis of the current world situation (including that in India) as well as in regard to the question of the future of human (and Indian) society. One then also comes to very different answers to the question: what is to be done at the present juncture? 1

The sorry plight of the Left is a global phenomenon. It began with the decline of the Soviet model of socialism and the subsequent implosion and break-up of the USSR. It was followed by the collapse of socialist societies in Eastern Europe. The communist parties of
China and Vietnam, of course, maintained their hold on power, but they had to transform their countries into capitalist ones.2 And the latest experiment, the "Bolivarian Revolution" of Venezuela, which Hugo Chavez called "socialism of the 21st century" is also rapidly unraveling. Against this general background, is it any surprise that the Indian Left also failed in West Bengal and Kerala and is rapidly declining? Any author who wants to write something analytical about the decline of the Indian Left or, for that matter, about any left movement anywhere in the world should keep this general background in mind.
That means, all failures of all left regimes, parties or movements must have had (and still has) a
general root cause (in addition to specific and local ones): It is the impossibility of fulfilling the continuously growing demands, aspirations and ambitions of a continuously growing world population, while our resource base is continuously dwindling and the ability of nature to absorb man-made pollution is continuously diminishing – in short, the lunatic idea that on a finite earth infinite growth of production, prosperity and population is possible.1
    It sounds like an
impossibility theorem that old leftists, socialists, communists, humanists, development-NGOs, and technology fans are loath to hear. Especially the last-mentioned ones seem never to have heard of the second law of thermodynamics, AKA the entropy law. But they must accept this impossibility as a fact, otherwise they would continue to sell only illusions, and never succeed in creating a better world, as opposed to a prosperous world. No amount of hard and sincere work, in power or out of power, no amount of mass mobilization for "redistribution of wealth, public welfare and workers’ rights" would help us realize the old vision of socialism.1

That means we must ditch
old socialism, especially cornucopian socialism and reinvent socialism which would be the scientific socialim of the 21st century. I, Bruno Kern, and many others call it eco-socialism. But what are the prospects for eco-socialism? I think it has good prospects, but only if ....3 At least it is worth working for.

Let me stop here. I would be very glad if you read this letter. I would be especially glad if I hear from you.

In solidarity and with best wishes

Saral Sarkar


1. I have elaborated all these points in my two theoretical books: Eco-Socialism or Eco-Capitalism? – A Critical Analysis of Humanity's Fundamental Choices (Zed Books, London, 1999) and The Crises of Capitalism – A Different Study of Political Economy (Counterpoint, Berkeley, 2012). See also my various shorter writings published in my two blogs:; and

2. See my article on the transformations in Vietnam and China: Victorious in War But Defeated in Peace – How Development-Socialism Ended in Capitalism;postID=6972656501647922776;onPublishedMenu=allposts;onClosedMenu=allposts;postNum=6;src=postname

3. See my article on this question: Prospects for Eco-Socialism

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