Left and General Elections 2014: Crisis and Possibilities for Working Class Politics

Parliamentary Left seems to have lost steam – organizationally as well as electorally. CPI(M) was prudent enough to admit well in advance that it would not do well. The results only a testimony to where CPI as well as CPI(M) stand today. It is not only the decline in number of seats in provincial Assemblies and Parliament but also its strength across different sectors where it organized peasants, agricultural labourers, students and workers in industry. This becomes a matter of concern when the politics is based on cadres. The other kind of politics which is cadre based is that of RSS and it has scored victory for BJP in collaboration with/for corporate capital. It implies that the floor is gradually slipping from under the feet.

Ajoy Bhawan, the CPI headquarters, does not look the same today. Once bustling with cadres it wears a desolate look with a few leaders around carrying the burden of a party, which seems to be dying a slow death. The situation seems further grim when one looks at the near alarming absence of a second line of leadership. For instance, the student mass fronts in the past years have not contributed to party leadership. Both CPI and CPI(M) face this crisis. The new leadership, which would take reins of the Party once the current batch of leadership is gone is either lacking or has dismal training in Marxism leave aside their experience of mass politics. Also these parties have failed to grow beyond the geographical areas, which used to be their strongholds. Even in those places they are already on decline. CPI(M) in West Bengal or Kerala or CPI and CPI(ML) in Bihar are examples of this trend.

The death like silence at Ajoy Bhawan tells the story of where Communist Party of India stands today. On the other hand, last year CPI and CPI (ML) Liberation, organised rallies in the state of Bihar, which was marked by huge attendance. In fact, observers stated that the number far exceeded expectation of the leadership raising questions of disconnect that is happening between the situation on the ground and the leadership. There are many issues that have culminated into this decline – ranging from gradual dissipation of political distinctness that the Left earlier stood for to the way internal culture of the Left has resulted in disgruntlement within the parties. The politics of alliance hollowed its mass base across states while its failure to distinguish between Party and the Government in places like West Bengal generated all sorts of deviations.

It is no surprise that the spaces vacated by them have been usurped by political formations such as Aam Admi Party (AAP). An example of these trends are not only found in CPI(M) where a section of active members left the party on the issue of supporting Pranab Mukherjee’s presidential candidature but also in CPI where its students wing, AISF, which revived a near death in Bihar and went on to win Patna University students union elections, is witnessing demoralising effect due to the recent developments in the state party. The way recent revival of the AISF brought new exuberance among the students had been historic. However, their spirit watered down due to internal squabbles within Party over candidature issues as well as over the issue of alliance with the ruling JD (U). The parliamentary Left, for many reasons, cannot read the signs of popular disenchantment with the ruling class politics expressed through different political parties. The space which has been created in recent past by crisis of capitalism and the unabashed looting of public money by corporate houses with active direct and indirect support of political parties have not been used by this Left. For instance, in a situation of high food inflation, growing costs of health and education and what stopped Left from taking to people issues such as how state does not mind doling out lakhs of crores to corporate houses as bad loans or tax waivers but when it comes to providing basic facilities it talks of resource crunch. A development paradigm that is starkly distinct from those of the other political formations would have touched the cords even though the past history might have created some hurdles.

When the media under dictat of the corporate capital created what BJP calls the ‘Modi wave’ it also become amply clear that people looked for an alternative to the Congress regime, which pauperised the masses. Along with this the opportunist alliances of regional political parties is also loosing its credibility. They sustain on the national scene because of the decline of the two national parties and absence of an alternative to BJP and Congress. What India, in its electoral history, is yet to see is a national alliance of Left forces in this situation. There is an obvious situation of a two-party system with the regional formations ultimately making a choice to be party to either of the two ideological positions (UPA or NDA), which are not very different except in how they pitch the class politics of private capital. An credible alternative to this political situation can come only from an alliance of the Left front, which bases itself on a concrete political and economic discourse counterposed to that of UPA and NDA and is driven by the strength of the cadres vis-à-vis that of the corporate capital. Third front patched up through temporary conglomerate of ideologically diverse forces cannot be a viable alternative in long term. An electoral experiment as seen in the case of De Linke in Germany or Antarsya or Syriza in Greece do open up possibilities of left front with CPI, CPI(M) and CPI (ML) coming together. Setting aside the sectarian politics and keeping mind the common political goal they may think towards a common platform.

As a micro-level case – Bihar shows how the decline of the Left has been quite prominent and how, finally, only political forces with a cadre base are able to sustain their base. The General elections of 2014 showed how forces like RJD or JD (U) fight battles of electoral survival because their history has been of inconsistent politics and political allegiance. They get compelled to become part of bigger/national political formations – either BJP or Congress. BJP remains a potent force because it’s political rhetoric of being pro-corporate under garb of ‘development’ is effectively supported by the strong cadre base on the ground. As far as the regional forces like JD(U) or RJD are concerned they do have a concept of cadre based organisation but flourish on allegiances to a political satrap. In this battle for political survival social identities become an important tool to mobilise the voters diverting attention from the issues of everyday struggles. The role of the Left ought to be different in such a situation – to bring to fore the contradictions of this politico-economic order, which it has failed miserably to do at the cost of its waning influence. Third front is not the alternative as shown by the post-1989 politics in the country. This was the time when the right wing assertion driven by corporate capital could have been effectively countered by the working class politics of the left had they not faltered along way.

Vote for ‘Change’ is after all not a vote for change

This is historic not because BJP has won the General Elections 2014 but because it decimated Gandhis, Samajwadi Party, Mayawati, Nitish Kumar, Lalu Yadav and the Left. Jayalalitha, Mamta Banerjee and Navin Pattnaik have somehow held onto their grounds. The Facebook, at least whose posts were visible to me, went silent once it became evident that Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will win the General Elections. Maybe gradually they would reappear after introspecting into their arguments. The calculations and counter-calculations about how difficult it was for BJP to win also stopped. Maybe those who were claiming to having their ears to the ground need to concede that they did not have an inkling about the electoral battleground. This is a clean sweep with decimation of all political forces. The Left has been further marginalized and needs to do some serious introspection. As per the logic of representative democracy the nation wants Narendra Modi as Prime Minister and the ‘past’ did not really matter to people who voted. However, it may be argued that the candidate who wins an election, in fact, gets less votes than the combined will of others who do not want him/her to win. Hence, there is a substantial mass which did not want BJP to come to power. But that is all in the realm of speculation.

The vote is no doubt for change, as BJP says. However, what is tricky here is the idea of ‘change’ itself. The need for change appears in any situation when the existing conditions of existence are not satisfactory; when the status quo needs to be altered. Change in electoral democracy is conveyed in many ways – when drains are overflowing and political party in power does nothing people want a change; when farmers commit suicide due to agrarian crisis and the issue remains unaddressed people want change; when industry is not allowed freedom to do what they want to do they want change and so on and so forth. ‘Change’ as an idea, in other words, is used by different people located in different situations and it emerges out of where they locate themselves vis-a-vis the others as well. Hence, there is a movement for radical social change and there is momentary hullabaloo for change; there is a clamor to change the government which stifles the business and there are voices for change against those who take over people’s lands, mountains, forests and rivers. In the representative democracy when RSS or BJP say that it is a vote for change they are not mistaken. People did not vote for others for a reason – they thought BJP will bring about ‘change’ in their lives. Congress and its allies of different kind had led to devastation of people’s lives – their everyday affair was in shambles, from food inflation, to corruption, to unemployment to shamelessness of telling people that they can survive a day with Rs.32 or have food for Rs.12. But then why did BJP become the only alternative for people is something which needs serious rethinking.

Here, notably, what bourgeois politics and its version of democracy represented through electoral exercise does is that it modifies the idea of ‘change’ to not necessarily changing of status quo but to changing of the facade of the existing forms of governance. In other words, like the Parsonian framework they argue that the problems of hunger, poverty, corruption, violence against women, etc., can be resolved by tinkering with the different instruments/units of the system. The system is not wrong or responsible for all these problems but may be a new party or a new Prime Minister will resolve the problems. The effort is always to convince people that the problem is largely because of some mismanagement of the system, it is not because a few want to accumulate as much wealth as possible at the cost of others.

It is important to highlight that if an analysis of representative democracy continues to be done with reference to the cosmetic changes it would always yield erroneous analysis. What has to be understood is the fact that there is discontent with the existing order of things. And this discontent is due to the way the existing system through its aggressive and persistent focus ensures that a few keep getting rich at the cost of most. It is essentially because of how a farmer’s loan if unpaid is a crime but a corporate loan of over Rs.70,000 crore becomes an act of celebration. The discontent is because the system facilitates an easy life for the owners of capital at the cost of others. This discontent is not so much about secularism and communalism, which some political forces treat as if devoid of any politico-economic content. It is the fallacious understanding of ideas of secularism and social justice that has allowed under different garbs the basic questions to be scuttled by the electoral politics. It has failed to bring forth the idea that the oppressed communities need ultimately a politics that radically alters the nature of the existing system; that addresses the profound reasons for the discontent rather than its superficial textures.

It is amply clear that the misdeeds of a regime (Congress in this case) carried the potential of generating sufficient discontent. A situation had to be avoided by the corporate capital wherein an ‘unstable’ government is formed which may not accede to its demands and whimsical desires. Hence, the only option was to supplant Congress with BJP. It is this logic which saw money and resources being pumped into the election campaigns of the BJP and a little less into that of Congress. There is a fear of ‘instability’ because it would upset the existing arrangements whether it is about pricing of natural resources or taking away the benefit of tax waivers or subsidies to corporates. Though, this would also mean ‘change’ but that change has to be avoided in the interests of the corporate capital. Therefore, the vote for ‘change’ would continue to remain a farce. In fact, it is another means to ensure that the corporate capital has a way in dictating how the economy and politics of the nation should be. What this election has done is given a strong hand to the capitalist class to do what they would like to. This is the meaning of a ‘strong and stable’ government.