24 March 2014

The history of ideas on the law of negation took a definitive left turn with Marx adapting the third aspect of the Hegelian triad – ‘negation of the negation’ – to refer to the inevitable collapse of capitalist production. Later, Lenin’s spiral history of the world emphasised the continuity of human resistance to oppression. But as the spiral advances, a seminal question emerges: from which centre is its movement drawing power, and in which direction is it continuing? In the pluralistic Indian space, it is vital for the Left to resolve this puzzle through a new imaginary. In this week’s Inter-actions, Brinda Karat highlights the pre-poll efforts of the Left to form a secular democratic alternative to the communal and corrupt forces in politics. K Venu discusses the challenge faced by the Left to transcend the centrality of its spiral of negation, and cast a more dynamic political philosophy: the Left must launch a thorough introspection to connect their democratic inspiration with an organic political, intellectual and cultural practice.


Hold the cursor on the illustrations to display animations and descriptions.

The Left Agenda

Brinda Karat

What is Left of the Indian Left?

K Venu

Karat dtr-bw-150

Today, with the growing concern among secular forces about Narendra Modi and his politics becoming the key platform in the BJP’s bid for power, the relevant questions that do need to be posed are: Which force has consistently fought the communal right-wing direction represented by Modi’s brand of politics? Who has truly challenged the BJP? Which states have been riot-free? At a critical juncture such as this when an answer is urgently sought for these, one sees that it is the states where the Left has been strong that have always offered the toughest resistance to right-wing politics. The Congress has totally collapsed in the face of the BJP/communal offensive. This is precisely one of the main reasons to strengthen the Left in the coming elections.

With the breakup of the opportunistic and corrupt UPA, any political party seriously committed to a secular India must try and work for a valid alternative, capable of taking on the challenge posed by the BJP and its Hindutva brigade. One of the basic prerequisites for such a secular alternative is to ensure that there is no accretion of strength to the BJP camp. The BJP is doing everything it can to ‘capture’ other parties to compensate the setback it suffered when the BJD and the JD(U) walked out of the NDA. It knows that it can never cross the halfway mark in spite of all the money it is pumping into the poll scene, and that it needs the help of others.

It is to rule out the possibility of such a rightward shift that the Left and the CPI(M) have tried to bring together parties that have a strong presence in their own states, and which are prepared to commit to a secular alternative to the Congress and the BJP. The Left is clearly the only platform today that promotes basic political directions such as federalism, secularism and pro-people policies, and not personalities.

One of the reasons the 2004 UPA experiment failed was that the Congress cannot be trusted to commit itself to a bigger goal than being in power. After the BJP government had completely subverted the constitution of India with its narrow Hindutva agenda, the CPI(M), which had fought against the Congress and the BJP, assured the people that it would ensure that there was a secular Government at the centre. That is how on the basis of a Common Minimum Programme we supported the Congress. But what did the Congress do? It violated the CMP; it targeted the Left parties after they withdrew support. The UPA-2 was formed, and it proved to be the most corrupt, anti-people, directionless Government, stitched together only to stay in power. Without a programme, without a moral compass, it has paved the way for the BJP in 2014 to seek the use of the very public discontent it has generated.


The opinion polls are giving the Left less number of seats, but we are confident of doing much better than last time. The Left is the only political formation that is standing its ground on the basis of principles; we are the only people really challenging corporate-style politics. In today’s situation, the fundamental issues are those of the mass of people, the workers, peasants, the poor people who are being pushed to the margins.

With the advent of neo-liberal policies and the role played by the corporates in politics, democracy has been seriously undermined. It will be terrible if the Parliament is turned into a corporate club. In India, the role of black money in electoral politics is largely ignored by mainstream analysts. With the increasing number of crorepatis in the parliament, people and parties with less resources are finding it exceedingly difficult to break into that corporate club. We have the BJP, with the full backing of the corporates, challenging the present system and converting the parliamentary elections into a US-style presidential election, with all focus falling on an individual.

quote karat 1

Yes, ours is a defensive battle, not in the electoral sense, but in terms of the offensive of global neo-liberal policies, which have pushed working people onto the back foot. But we are fighting back. After all, the largest mobilisations, whether reported or not, have been from the Left. It is amazing to see the sacrifices made by our cadre, particularly the women cadre, who come to the party rallies. That people-connect is what sets the Left apart. That these struggles are not reflected in the media is also an extension of the prevalent money-based politics.

In this 24/7 satellite communication age, perceptions are to a great extent constructed and disseminated through motivated propaganda. We have seen how a certain perception of Muslims has been manufactured through the American machinery’s depiction of Islam — growing a beard or wearing a white cap being equated with terrorism — thus demonising a whole community. So, in different spheres and countries, powerful forces do try and influence the public mind through manufacturing of stereotypes.

A Malayalam banner announcing the acquittal
of Pinarayi Vijayan in the Lavalin Case

The power politics being played out in our country is similar. Look at what the communists have had to face through the course of history. In India, there were allegations made even against Comrade EMS, one of the greatest minds India has produced. Comrade Jyoti Basu, who provided the best pro-people governance in this country, was represented in dreadful terms by a powerful media. In Kerala, the court has exonerated our party secretary Comrade Pinarayi Vijayan in the Lavalin case, and we have not heard a single apology from anybody about making him suffer for 8 years on the basis of lies. In a shocking instance, the CPM is accused of being involved in the brutal murder of TP Chandrashekharan. While the party has condemned the horrendous incident in the strongest terms, and expelled the person involved, there is still the false propaganda that the entire leadership had conspired in this crime.

quote karat 2

The propaganda machine of money-based politics not only demonises the Left, but also submerges its struggles through huge branding exercises. What is this Gujarat model that the media is full of? The Left cannot do the kind of branding that Narendra Modi does using thousands of crores of rupees, falsely projecting Gujarat as a ‘model’. The truth is that a small state like Tripura is far ahead of Gujarat on so many issues related to people’s development. Kerala has much higher achievements on all social indicators. You don’t see these states being talked of as models, because there are no private companies to pump in the money and create a brand.

A CPI(M) march in Himachal Pradesh

The Left may put up around 200 candidates. Certainly our main focus must be to regain our position in our strong bases. In West Bengal, the extreme left and the extreme right came together on one platform under Mamata Banerjee, with the sole purpose of defeating the Left front Government. That setback coincided with the elections. But the resistance is growing. We have lost hundreds of comrades to the violence unleashed by the state government and TMC but indeed, the resistance is growing. Apart from our traditional bases, we have made some advances in states such as Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh through mass movements.

In this context I must mention that the new formation of the AAP is not a substitute for the Left. We are yet to see what exactly the policies of the AAP are, because they are speaking in different voices. On the one hand, they say nationalisation is a 1980s issue, and on the other, they put up candidates who support nationalisation. For example, does Medha Patkar share the same politics as Meera Sanyal? Yet they are standing from the same party, on the same platform, in the same city! Again, what is the AAP position on natural resources? Should natural resources be nationalised, or are they to be in the public sector, or should they be handed out to corporates to loot and plunder? Their slogan seems to be “we are okay with the policy of privatisation that allows loot, but you have to do it honestly!” With such policy-related uncertainty, there cannot be parallels or comparisons between the AAP and the Left.

Medha Patkar and Meera Sanyal

In the neo-liberal framework, where the issues of the deprived sections are on the margins of the dominant political agenda, our job is certainly cut out for us. The agency of the Left has stopped many regressive policies, and will continue to do so. But the immediate aim is to fight the elections and get as many seats as it takes to lead the Left agenda forward and ensure a secular alternative to the Congress and the BJP. Towards this, our slogan is “Congress hatao, BJP harao, Left ko lao…” for a secular, democratic alternative!

K Venu dtr--bw-150

Let me begin on a dissenting note. The common conceptual understanding of the Left is that it denotes the progressive political forces supporting the oppressed and the downtrodden demographic sections. The other side of this mistaken view is that the Right stands for reactionary political forces always facilitating the oppressive, wealthier sections of the people. Communists and Socialists are generally considered as belonging to the Left, while the democratic political forces supporting the market economy, to the Right. A related mistaken notion, that democracy means ‘bourgeois’ democracy in these times, has also given rise to the contemporary assumption that our democratic forces are verily rightist.

Democratic organisations among human groups came progressively, from primitive tribal societies onwards,
and not only through the later state structure

The origin of the above stream of thought is the Marxist interpretation that democracy is invariably a form of statehood. But in reality, democracy is a form of social organisation that emerged as a consequence of human beings beginning to live together as small collectives and using verbal language as their medium of communication. In other words, the history of human society is the history of the evolution of the democratic social organisational structure from the primitive tribal societies to the present-day parliamentary democracies, and going on to the setting up of international organizations like the UN, WTO, European Union, etc. The evolution of such democratic social formations will continue as far as the human society continues its onward march. Any political force can be considered progressive only if and when it supports and contributes to the advancement of this all-embracing democratic process.

quote venu 1

Against the above understanding of the transformative ideal of democracy, let us look at the state of affairs of the Indian Communists who constitute the mainstay of the Indian Left. Evidently, they have not learnt any lessons from the collapse of the Soviet bloc resulting from the social fascist concentration of power in the hands of a small oligarchic leadership at the helm of the ruling communist parties. Indian communists, especially the CPM, uphold their basic strategy of establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat as per their party programme. Obviously, this can be achieved only under the centralized leadership of a Leninist party. Herein, lies the irony of the Left presence and functioning in the country. It is not difficult for a keen observer to infer that the participation of the Left in the Indian parliamentary democracy, and its attempt to form different types of united fronts, without giving up the above-mentioned Leninist aspect of its programme, cannot organically go together. For the same reason, all their tactical moves might ultimately be read as stepping stones to achieve their ultimate goal. This really amounts to hoodwinking the people of India, and it thus becomes problematic to identify such a political force with any democratic and progressive ideal.

Let us now consider the above contradiction presented by the Left vis-a-vis the larger political discourse in the country. Today, we see three distinct political forces playing out their different roles in our democratic system. The first trend is formed by the secular democratic parties starting with the Indian National Congress, and the numerous national as well as state-level parties. The second trend is represented by the Hindu as well as Muslim fundamentalists, who strategically aim at establishing their respective theocratic fascist states, even as they claim to function democratically under the Indian constitution. The third trend is constituted by the communist fascists who, without giving up their essential ideological orientation to establish the single party rule, claim to participate in the Indian democratic system as a tactical step.

When we look at these facts on the ground, it is not at all difficult to identify the political forces which are posing a real threat to the Indian secular democratic system. As a vast majority of Muslims are vote banks supporting different secular democratic parties, Muslim fundamentalists, as a minority, are not posing an expansive threat to the Indian secular democratic polity, even though they can be instrumental in fanning major communal divides, at least in some pockets.

Hindu fundamentalism, more than anything, may also come to upset the very pluralistic functioning of democratic India

The political role played by the Hindu fundamentalists in India is quite different from the above. They are at a vantage point to lead the whole Hindu vote bank in India. With the emergence of Narendra Modi as the Prime Ministerial candidate of the BJP, the nature of the political challenge faced by the Indian system has totally changed. Narendra Modi is not just a Hindu fundamentalist, but an outright fascist aiming at concentrating the entire power structure in his own hands. Hindu communalism and fundamentalism are mere tools in his hands to achieve his ultimate target. He has proved in Gujarat how deeply the state machinery can be criminalised in order to protect thousands of criminals who unleashed an unimaginable wave of communal carnage. If such a person takes over the reins at the centre, nobody can predict what would be the fate of the Indian secular democratic system.

quote venu 2

The secular democratic forces in India who realise the gravity of the communal situation have no other option but to put up a united fight against this danger. But we have been witnessing a pathetic unfolding of events. Here it must be noted that it was the Left that initiated this pitiful turn of things by undertaking their historic ‘duty’ of formally dividing the secular democratic forces by attempting to organise the third front. By depicting both the UPA and the NDA as common enemies to be equally fought against, the Left front was repeating its historic blunder. Nobody can deny the historical fact that a rather strong secular democratic mass base in India was built up and protected mainly by the Indian National Congress. Even now, only this grand old party can mobilise the vast majority of polling booths at the time of elections. Without the participation and co-operation of this party, secularism and democracy cannot be defended in present-day India.

Jyoti Basu and Buddhadeb Bhattacharya

quote venu 3

At the same time, the criticism and exposing of the economic and other policies of the UPA government are reasonable and relevant. It is undeniable that the market fundamentalist economic policies fanatically implemented by the Man-mohan Singh – Chidambaram combine have truly made the common man’s life unbear-able. We should not forget that a few years back, both Jyoti Basu and Budhaddeb Bhattacharya had clearly spelt out that there was no viable economic alternative to market economy. Such differences on policy matters can never be a sound reason for splitting the secular democratic forces in the context of a possible fascist threat. This becomes extremely significant when one considers how the BJP has effectively overcome the initial isolation and is winning over more and more forces. The crux of the matter is that, beyond the mere verbal battles that they indulge in, the Left is not at all committed to protect the present secular democratic system in India. One might even suspect whether their hidden agenda is to subvert it and establish their own party rule.

The Left has totally failed in grasping the significance of the new politics presented by the newcomer AAP. They have not put forward any new ideology, yet they are showing us how a new type of transparent politics is possible. They also propose transparent governance under parliamentary democracy. Many evils of democracy like corruption, nepotism, lapses in governance, etc., can be controlled to a great extent by making the politics and governance transparent. But the communists often tend to think and act conspiratorially, and seem to be lacking the acumen to comprehend the dynamics of this new transparent politics of democracy.

The experiments of Communism across the globe
may form a resource for a profound effort
at introspection within the Left parties

In the present Indian situation, the Left has only one way in front of them towards an organic rediscovery. It has to transform itself into a genuine democratic force by accepting the ground realities. This requires active resistance of all pseudo practices, and a great deal of introspection. Again, a communist party can achieve this kind of timely transformation only by making substantial changes in its ideological positions. What is needed at this hour is a bold intellectual and cultural initiative from the part of the Left to reinvent itself, inspired by the firm belief that a genuine democratic party has a prominent role to play in a vibrant democratic society like that of India.

Brinda Karat is a politician from the Communist Party of India (Marxist), and currently member of the Rajya Sabha from West Bengal. She was the first woman to enter the party’s Politburo, in 2005. Brinda Karat also authored Survival and Emancipation: Notes from Indian Women’s Struggles (2005). She is one of today’s foremost voices on gender issues from the Left parties.
K Venu is a freelance socio-political writer in Malayalam. He was a Marxist-Leninist activist for two decades (1970-91), of which he spent 7.5 years in jail and 6 years in the underground. In 1991, he left the M-L party and became a democrat and social activist. K Venu is the author, among other works, of Universe and Man (1970), Philosophical problems of Revolution (1979) and Democratic Perspective of a Communist (1992).

Disclaimers: The opinions expressed by the writers are their own. They do not represent their institutions’ view.
LILA Inter-actions will not be responsible for the views presented.
The images and the videos used are only intended to provide multiple perspectives on the fields under discussion.

Images courtesy: Reuters | Business Line | India Vision | Himachal Live | India Today | Teara | Saurabh Dhas for The Caravan | Insta Blogs | Sami Siva for The New York Time

Share this debate…

… follow LILA…

… and join the discussion below!

Knowledge is power, and our intention is to bring the power to you. We have initiated a thought movement that aims to strengthen democracy by bringing to you direct voices of important trailblazers and pathmakers, and reclaim deep and patient reflection as an important seed for relevant and sustainable action! Help us take this movement forward. Support Inter-Actions today for as little as Rs. 100.
Donation to LILA is eligible for tax exemption u/s 80 G (5) (VI) of the Income Tax Act 1961 vide order no. NQ CIT (E) 6139 DEL-LE25902-16032015 dated 16/03/2015