The Debacle of the Left Front in West Bengal and Challenges before the Indian Left
Statement issued by the All India Left Coordination after its meeting in Delhi
DATE– 28-29 May 2011
The severe defeat of the CPI(M)-led Left Front in the recent Assembly elections of West Bengal holds major lessons for the Left movement in India. It not only raises several important questions, but more importantly it brings to the fore new challenges and urgent tasks for all sincere forces of the Left.
While the TMC now hogs the limelight in West Bengal, the Congress and the BJP, the two key all-India parties of the Indian ruling classes, as well as the whole spectrum of bourgeois ideologues and media analysts are gloating at this electoral debacle and political crisis of the CPI(M). Many of them are proclaiming this debacle as the end of the Left in India. Communist views are being increasingly attacked as an outdated dogma, as an irrelevant relic of the past and everybody is being asked to accept and celebrate the domination of capitalism and the current reign of neo-liberal and pro-US policies that have already pushed the country deep into an all-round crisis.
The All India Left Coordination, which was formed through a National Convention in Delhi on August 11, 2010, sponsored jointly by the CPI(ML)(liberation), CPM Punjab, Lal Nishan Party (Leninist) of Maharashtra and Left Coordination Committee, Kerala, rejects these shrill cries of bourgeois triumphalism and appeals to the people to see through this political and ideological game plan of the ruling classes, that have already launched a war on the people, on their resources and rights, livelihood and liberty.
While rejecting the politically motivated bourgeois claims that the Left has become outdated and can only revive itself on an expressly social-democratic plank, all genuine activists and well-wishers of the Left must also deeply analyse the factors that have triggered the downfall of the CPI(M)-led Left Front and draw appropriate lessons for a revival of the Left movement on a countrywide scale. A rejuvenated Left movement can be the most befitting rebuff to the renewed anti-Left ideological-political offensive of the Indian ruling classes.
Contrary to the claims being made by the CPI(M) leadership, the defeat of the Left Front in West Bengal cannot be bracketed with the type of defeats the CPI(M)-led LDF experiences in every alternate election in Kerala. The contrast becomes all too obvious when one compares the West Bengal outcome to the Kerala one – in Kerala the Congress-led UDF has just barely scraped through with a margin of just four seats, in West Bengal the CPI(M)’s tally has fallen short of even its 1967 strength and the difference in votes between the two coalitions is more than three millions.
To be sure, the CPI(M) tried its best to galvanise its entire network in a do-or-die battle and did manage to increase its votes by a million compared to the 2009 Lok Sabha polls. But the fact that it still suffered such a humiliating defeat clearly signifies an overwhelming mass outburst, a veritable electoral revolt against the CPI(M) rule in West Bengal. The inability and refusal of the CPI(M) to read the writing on the wall and respect the voice of the people in the wake of Singur, Nandigram, Lalgarh and countless other expressions of popular protest only made it further isolated from the people and discredited in their eyes. Far from making any genuine attempt at seeking apology and rectification, the CPI(M) leadership resorted to arrogant browbeating and expressions of contempt for the people and even sexist slanders which only showed their growing disconnect with the glorious legacy of the Left movement in the country.
It seems even after this massive debacle the CPI(M) central and state leadership do not have the political inclination or courage to identify the deep-rooted real causes, busy as they are with various conspiracy theories and vague talks about organisational lapses and shortcomings on the governmental plane. Voices of dissent indicating the real malady and its symptoms are being censured in the name of inner-party discipline.
The AILC is of the considered opinion that the debacle of the CPI(M) in West Bengal by no means amounts to a mass rejection of Left politics and ideology; the CPI(M)-led government in West Bengal had abandoned that years ago and begun to implement the same neo-liberal agenda it claimed to be opposing elsewhere, an agenda marked by a whole gamut of pro-corporate policies and priorities, at the cost of people’s basic rights and minimum benefits. Ironically, it is the growing rightward shift of the ruling Left in West Bengal which has brought the Right back in power in a populist garb. We must not lose sight of the fact that the phenomenal rise of the TMC in West Bengal over the last five years was propelled by the people’s anger against the CPI(M) on the basic issues of land, livelihood and democracy.
In 1977, the Left Front had begun with the promise that the government would serve as a weapon of people’s struggle and embarked on the agenda of Operation Barga, land redistribution, and democracy at the grassroots through panchayati raj, while calling for a restructuring of federal ties giving more powers to the states. But after this initial impetus petered out, the government failed to come up with the next level of pro-people reforms and by the mid 1990s the government virtually embraced the neo-liberal trajectory of ‘development’ through the free market agenda of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation. The CPI(M) in fact discovered one big merit in these policies in that the state government was no longer encumbered with the burden of getting clearance from the centre and was free to woo private investment in the state! In 1994, the West Bengal government adopted its new industrial policy on the lines of the centre’s new economic and industrial policies launched in 1991 and, by 2003, it was already toying with the idea of having its own SEZ Act and relaxing and reversing land ceiling legislation to facilitate large-scale diversion and acquisition of agricultural land.
These were by no means stray administrative changes in West Bengal, the CPI(M) also followed the same direction in Kerala. More importantly, the CPI(M) also changed its party programme in this direction and embraced the new discourse of ‘development as class struggle’. By 2006 when Singur happened, we saw not only the Left Front government forcibly acquire land for the Tatas but also the CPI(M) central leadership accuse supporters of Singur agitation of pursuing a Narodnik (a petty-bourgeois socialist trend in Russia that romanticised petty production and did not appreciate the need for large-scale production as a basis for socialism) or Luddite (early worker fighters who viewed machines as the enemy and revolted against machines by breaking them up) course! When Nandigram happened and the entire democratic opinion in West Bengal and elsewhere condemned the series of massacres, the CPI(M) central leadership treated it as an anti-Left conspiracy hatched jointly by the far-right and the ultra-left. And when the adivasi masses revolted in Lalgarh against police atrocities, the CPI(M) actively collaborated with the Centre to suppress the tribal agitation, unleashing a joint paramilitary campaign and working in tandem with Chidambaram to promote the theory and practice of Operation Greenhunt.
Here we see the biggest and the most basic deviation from the key task of communists while in power. While acknowledging the possibility of communists acquiring local power through elections, Marxist-Leninist teachings call upon communists to integrate such communist-led local governments with the overall communist perspective and practice of revolutionary opposition to the central authority. The CPI(M)-led West Bengal experiment in its later phase turned out to be a classic case of overturning this basic directive that had emerged from the revolutionary experience of the international communist movement in the early decades of the 20th century. Far from being a weapon of class struggle, it degenerated into a class collaborationist dispensation and an instrument for crushing people’s resistance to pro-corporate policies. While it became increasingly indifferent to its initial promise of providing the masses with urgent relief, in the era of imperialist globalisation it went overboard in granting competitive favours to corporate investors in the name of attracting more investment to the state. The experience of the Left Front government in West Bengal will serve as a warning to all future Left-led governments in the country about the danger of this crucial and fatal deviation.
For the CPI(M), the impact of the West Bengal model has been all-pervasive. Even as this ‘transitional’ government lasted for three decades and the CPI(M) ran out of initiative and vision regarding the future course of the government, the ‘stability’ of the government was projected as the highest achievement of class struggle and Left-ruled West Bengal as the advance post of Indian revolution. With governmental stability becoming the biggest decisive influence on party policies, the CPI(M)’s whole political world started revolving around its longest-lasting government and the possibility of coming to power in other states and at the Centre through collaboration with various non-Congress non-BJP bourgeois parties. The period 2004-2008 also saw the CPI(M) indirectly share power with the Congress at the Centre in the name of keeping the BJP out of power. The CPI(M)’s model of ‘Left unity’ and ‘united front’ functioned on this narrow basis of opportunistic electoral calculations and all Left and democratic forces and people’s struggles that did not fit into this scheme were even sought to be branded as being ‘anti-Left’.
The collapse of the Left Front government must also signal an end to this CPI(M)-dictated government-centric model of Left unity. The All India Left Coordination appeals to all sincere forces of the Left, organisations as well as individuals, to come closer at this juncture through common and sustained struggles and shared ideological-political views. India is passing through a deep and all-round crisis marked by runaway inflation, acute poverty and unemployment, rampant corruption and concerted assault on democracy, and to be sure there is no dearth of protest struggles and alternative ideas in the country for mobilising the people and building steadfast mass resistance.
The ‘Left Front’ model of the CPI(M) collapsed because it abandoned the basic path of class struggle, adopted class collaborationist and capitulationist line in practice and got increasingly delinked from the people and the struggles reflecting their democratic concerns and aspirations. Let all fighting Left forces regroup and bring about a resurgence of the Left movement and Left politics on the basis of people’s struggles. As the most consistent and committed defender of secular democracy and self-reliant development, the genuine Left must surge ahead in close cooperation with all democratic, anti-imperialist and secular forces and struggles of the Indian people.
Dipankar Bhattacharya, General Secretary, CPI(ML)(Liberation),
Mangat Ram Pasla, Secretary, CPM Punjab,
Bhimrao Bansode, General Secretary, LNP(L), Maharashtra,
TP Chandrashekhar, Secretary, LCC, Kerala