The Left might not have sensible answers to issues of resources and seem to be content with fire-fighting solutions. But when there is fire, someone has to find ways of containing it.

Looking for the Phoenix Moment of the Indian Left Why the hope remainsImage: PTI
Voices Politics Thursday, October 27, 2016 - 13:32

Read Part 1 here, and Part 2 here

“In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life's prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly—only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!”

This was the passage quoted by veteran socialist Ashoka Mehta that instantly converted me to Marxism decades ago. The vision is so grand, so noble, I still remain under its spell, as do thousands of others. You don’t need to understand one word of Das Kapital or make much of the arcane world of dialectical materialism, but can still be a Marxist if only you feel the injustice all around you in your bones and long for equity. From the Vasudheiva Kutumbakam of Hinduism, most religions do speak of equality in the abstract and promise you rewards up above. Most materialist philosophies fault man himself for evils in the world, but in general. It was Marx and Engels who found serious problems in the economic relations and told us first that those who held the levers of production in their hands could determine our fates as well.

Their prescription of proletariat dictatorship proved a remedy worse than the disease, yes, but the diagnosis holds good. The greed and callousness of the propertied classes and of their stooges have made this world a horrid place.

The great depression of the previous century did not make people turn towards Marxism, but the continuing stagnation, depression, low levels of employment and all the attendant uncertainties are forcing many to have a relook.

Thomas Piketty’s path-breaking work on the inequalities down the decades seem to confirm some of Marx’s predictions.

Well, that could be a bit gratifying alright, but the point is communist regimes have failed their people almost everywhere, with some exception here and there. So why would anyone care to back communist parties? Arthur Koestler observes in his memoirs that whenever one was repelled by some excess or other of Stalin, they would see a far ghastlier evil deed in the non-communist world, forcing them to go back to the party.

To this day, the Left remains the voice of the marginalized and the oppressed, and only the communist parties seek to rise above sectarianism, whatever their failings. Their hypocrisy and arrogance apart, you can even add cruelty in some contexts, it is they who seek to act like the conscience of humanity at various points of time.

As Praful Bidwai astutely points out, “…the Left’s contribution to transformative social change in India has been substantial, indeed salutary, and in many ways, irreplaceable. But the value of the contribution lies more in the Left’s role in generating forums and platforms of radical ideas, and in organizing and leading popular mobilizations around them, than in its use of instruments of state power to institute various reform measures, significant as these might have been in promoting the interests of workers, peasants and underprivileged groups.”

Look at it this way. The economic reforms since the eighties have come in for all round praise, for lifting lakhs out of poverty. The middle classes have indeed grown by leaps and bounds, and they are hankering for more. But concentration of wealth also continues apace as also the impoverishment of the bottom layers. Worse unlike during the days of the much reviled Nehruvian socialism, it is not considered unseemly to flaunt. Actually, the ostentation of the big haves is supposed to inspire the not-so-big haves as also the have-nots.

One can imagine the magnitude of the problems confronting us when the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Gurantee Act (MNREGA) is hailed as a watershed as it has made a world of difference to the wretchedly poor, when all that the programme does is to ensure employment for a measly 100 days in a year. Still it is widely felt as a godsend. If that level of income provides a rare lifeline, something is seriously wrong with our ‘shining’ India, the result of dramatic development of the last two and a half decades.

Now the neoliberals frown on such schemes arguing the money spent on them could be more productively deployed elsewhere – but pray my dear economists, how much have your prescriptions worked for the vast majority?

The Left might not have sensible answers to issues of resources and seem to be content with fire-fighting solutions. But when there is fire, someone has to find ways of containing it. The Left is doing only that, it shouldn’t be forgotten.

Praful Bidwai devotes a whole chapter on what all could be done by the Left to recover from the recent debacles, but very unlikely any of his suggestions would be taken seriously by the hidebound communist leaders. Still it is they who speak up for those left behind and also fight back the bigots vigorously.

“We are born into an unjust society and we are determined not to leave it as we have found it,” says the motto of the All India Catholic University Federation (AICUF). It is only those of Marxist orientation who can inculcate in the young such zeal, lighting the path through the Darwinian jungle we find ourselves in.

Note: The views expressed here are the personal opinions of the author.

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