By Saswat Pattanayak
Elections are social, not political events. Whereas social functions entail an understanding of, and adherence to established norms, effective political actions require empowered state of conscientious being. Democratic elections – from ancient noble Greece to enslaved corporate America – take place independent of mass empowerment, most often, by keeping the participants oblivious.
People are kept sufficiently ignorant about the repercussions of their actions by not only the political parties, but by their media cohorts in general. What is instead propagated at an almost constant level comprises pure trivia: the equations of wins and defeats, the seats and the states, and the number games to legitimize a victor.
What results is a triumph of the end-product of elections, than an exposition of process complexities so as to challenge existing structures of power. Every mass-based hierarchical election that claims to have democratic character in turn produces a winner which revels in celebration of conquest as a finality of purpose, not identification of its purpose as worthy of celebration.
After all, identification of purpose in political sphere takes shape through solidification of an ideology. Since every ideology is backed by distinct political-economic theory, it inherently distances a section of people from embracing it. To evade this dialectic nature of political action, the so-called democratic election of the day, in its systematic pursuit of sustenance, necessarily has to shed the elements of ideology. At a social level, since the masses are kept ignorant of the systematic nature of the process that legitimizes one party or the other, the ideological components are dissolved in favor of encouraging consensus and its accommodating functions. The natural conflict that must ensue between an ideology that supports bourgeois electoral system and one that rejects it, is crushed down in favor of projecting the multiplicity of politics through democratic election that pits one comfortable party against another one.
Thus, political action plans for the people are orchestrated by the very entities that stand to benefit from them. Instead of letting people decide the system which can produce ground for equitable redistribution of worldly accesses, several political parties, often floated by a handful of seasoned ruling class elements carve out a system that produces visions for society as shaped by one winning party of a given time in an electoral drama that is designed to produce another victor the next time. In this game of changing hands between various rulers, the parties must blame each other once the they fall off the mark. The constant blame-game between the parties continue within the framework of existing political system which rely on an assumption of hailing the public decisions as the absolute one.
After keeping the masses ignorant in spheres of political education, the parties shower their gratitude to the people for keeping them in the contests. These electoral contests between various political parties ceremoniously take place every few years form the heart of this reactionary and retrogressive movement. This is retrogressive in its affinity with practices of royal, colonial, and feudal eras where representatives were chosen from among the exploiters. Mere transfer of power from colonial agents to capitalistic ones may not be sufficient sign of progress, but it should not appear so alluring that any sign of fundamental protest is obliterated.
And yet, in the recent elections in India, a continuance of political tradition has resulted. It does not matter who has won the polls insofar as some parties have emerged winners. In the victory of the electoral system as a sustained thread for unified Republic of India lies the defeat of the majority of people, destitute of dignified lives and yet heralded as architects of the country’s growing economy.
Such is the humongous irony in Indian elections that the poorest section of the society has chosen to be represented by the agents of the richest section. Even as ironical, this should not come as a surprise, since every country that lays its political foundation upon the so-called democratic elections has a ruling class exact opposite in its economic nature from its majority subjects. But unlike most such countries, India’s second largest organized political party is actually proclaimed as Communistic. The aspirations of this political base are naturally ambitious when they vocally champion the causes of the oppressed – the huge majority of Indians. In fact, so much is their sphere of influence that for the first three decades of India’s sovereign status, it was the Communist Party of India and its sympathizers within the ruling Congress regimes that led the country through a certain Nehruvian Socialistic/Internationalist way of life as opposed to a fundamentally different, yet more naturally inclined considering the cultural givens – nationalistic, religious, reactionary way of life as envisaged by the Hindutva forces after their successful attempt at ensuring a creation of a Muslim nation separated from India. During the period of so-called Cold War, India was guided mostly by leftist philosophical overtures thereby cooperating with the Soviet Union on most grounds so much so that it went to war with American interests in Pakistan, and East Pakistan while submitting to Chinese communistic dominance. In Indian academics, the leftists thoughts prevailed. In scientific progresses, collaborations were made with Soviet Union. In business, India maintained a huge public sector reserve. In other words, the communists significantly influenced Indian way of life, managed the largest trade unions and despite their comparatively minimal presence inside the Parliament, they steered several ruling class policies to overtly show sympathetic tones towards pro-people, not pro-profit legislations. Subsidies, rural employment schemes, agrarian incentives formed the major portion of Indian political interventions.
In a way, the Communists in India had a sway over both the elected leaders and the Indian population in an unmatched manner in the history.
And yet, 2009 elections mark the biggest blow to the organized communistic movement in Indian political space. What then has resulted in such a mandate?
What is left of the Indian Left?
The answer obviously is not obvious. But contrary to media beliefs, Communists have probably not been defeated in this election season. The parties have certainly lost considerably in their seat-gathering momentum. But in this defeat of theirs lies their eventual victory.
Since the dissolution of the USSR, like every other Communist Party in the world, the organized Indian left started to crumble in its orientation once more (the first major blow was over Sino-Soviet split). In a desperate attempt to survive, the Indian communist parties evolved strategies of fighting the system within the system. Extending “outside support” to the ruling parties formed part of an instinctual decision of the leadership which was a radical shift in the leftist position. A blurry line between outside support and coalition network dissolved in no time and the party in its ambitious best decided to actually take charge of the power if thus granted at the national level. There is nothing inherently wrong in aspiring to win the mandate if that is the goal of political activism, irrespective of ideologies. But what went missing was the self-evaluation of the philosophy of communism as an emancipatory tool for the working class from the vestiges of capitalistic utopia.
Instead of acknowledging the necessity to unite progressive forces for the sake of replacing a political system that was soon becoming subservient to imperialistic interests, the leading communist parties employing tactics of survivalism chose to seek and appease a public that was intoxicated through post-modern bliss of uncontested capitalism. These leaderships were readily embraced by the the media houses as representatives of the Indian left, to the exclusion of the extremists, Maoists, the Marxists-Leninists. Two major communist parties and few left leaning outfits which were legitimized by a ruling government to be able to participate in the popular system grew electoral wings and their media acceptance. In an almost desperate bid to exhibit their power position, they supported Manmohan Singh’s Congress-led coalition, even if upon their own terms. The class agitators became the class reconciliators.
Shedding every bit of Marxist conclusions, the official communists joined the market-driven Congress-led coalition to form a Common Minimum Programme (CMP). The CMP aimed to dissolve the differences between working class needs and bourgeois aspirations, with an enviable ability to eventually deny the fundamental nature of conflict between classes. The idea that the official communists agreed upon was that it was possible to reconcile the differences between classes by forging common alliance and following a market economic model with a ‘human face’. Joseph Stiglitz and his likes became difficult to ignore as their humanitarian pleas for the rich nations to help the poor ones were projected as the biggest dissent against World Bank philosophies. Communists, alongwith their role in attempting for reconciliation also declared their politically amicable positions when it came to support neoliberal market forces.
With “reforms” replacing “revolutions” in the literature of the communist parties, and with supports for selective privatization plans of Manmohan Singh – the chief architect of neoliberal economic policies in India – the legitimized leftist forces fell out of line with their ideological distinctiveness even as they fell into the power paradigms of the nation. India was soon evolving into a nation that proclaimed its own brand of wars on terror against its dissenting peoples. And communists, once accused of being the internationalists, now stood vulnerable as identifying with reactionary nationalist anthems. When Manmohan Singh on his several addresses to the nation including on Independence Day celebration of 2006, declared that the biggest threat to India was not the poverty or unemployment, but the Naxalites- the dissenters against a failed political system he was heading, the Communists were supporting him. Dr Singh’s words included, “We cannot rest in peace till we have eliminated this virus. We need to cripple Naxalite forces with all the means at our command…The Naxalite threat was the biggest internal security challenge ever faced by our country.”
Biggest internal security challenge ever faced by India? For such a learned man like Manmohan Singh (who of course credits with gratitude the Colonial Crown for all his knowledge in his infamous speech in Britain), even a cursory look at security threats in India would have suggested glaringly different realities. Atrocities committed by Indian defense forces against their occupied lands of the North-East are just a passing reminders about priorities India must set before claiming the moral high. The farmer suicides – the highest act of insecurity – owing to failure of loan repayments would perhaps stand in the line of top internal security threats in India, a country whose national reserves are way higher than the debts and yet which, thanks to the market fetishes of MacMohans have to keep borrowing from the international monetary organizations at rates that must corrupt the country and thereby impoverish it to the extent of subjugated living for at least decades without end. Not only has the economist in Dr Singh been blatantly wrong in his market assessment of India’s financial situation (employing this ignorance, his finance minister provisions more than 80% of the budget towards repayments to World Bank and the likes), the militarist in Dr Singh has been entirely wrong in assessing the security needs of his country (employing this arrogance, his regime provisions for more than 15% of the rest budget towards defence expenditure to fight the dissenting poor). In his militarist speech to curb the “virus” of India, Dr Singh was merely echoing sentiments of another militarist predecessor of his, A B Vajpayee’s.
Vajpayee wrote in India Today dated December 26, 2005, “The activities of Naxalite and other extremist forces sound a warning bell for India’s future. These forces, which have no faith in the power of the ballot, not only endanger India’s democracy, harm India’s socio-economic growth, condemning the poor and backward areas in which they mainly operate to continued poverty, and imperil India’s unity and integrity, but also their ideologies and actions pose a threat to everything we value in India’s cultural and spiritual heritage. Political parties and governments must sink their differences in evolving a united and comprehensive strategy to neutralize this peril.”
Sure, the communists were not alarmed at the profound similarity in opinions between Vajpayee and Singh. The extremists in both Singh and Vajpayee’s opinions were agitators from the left who organized the masses for violent protests against continued oppression. Whereas the Hindutva extremists managed to contest elections and rule over commercial capital of India for years, and whereas the Market extremists managed to contest elections and rule over the political capital of India for decades, the alarming virus was noticed only within the rank of the Left extremists who continued to be seen as the biggest threat to India’s internal security because they organized the poor for proactive measures for their welfare which the government failed to provide for. One gets reminded of how the FBI used to consider the Black Panther Party as the biggest internal security threat to the United States because they used to offer free mid-day lunch program for black children in poor school districts. But, no, the official communists did not get reminded of the history.
Communist party, whose elementary functionings depend on theorized goals and strategies to struggle for social justice, always commanded respect among a section of people, consisting of working class poor, idealistic students and patriotic seniors who were well informed about the party’s role in India’s struggle for independence against the colonialists, and in its internationalist alliance to fight the forces of imperialism. Struggles for social justice do not easily translate to power corridors. In fact, they are incompatible aspirations. Especially, if the power is not wrested by force or consent from the private monopolist consolidators and their agents, and instead be granted via a ballot system that thrives through ignorant masses and financially sponsored candidates.
What needs to be Done?
Even as the romancing with bourgeois parties have ended, the communists need to remind themselves that their role in human history is not of becoming agents for reconciliation, but rather to emerge as the torchbearers of revolutions. To that effect, they must officially extend supports to all progressive forces in India that are oppressed today by the corporate and political power structure sustained through electoral processes. Exercising vote may be a free idea, but it is not a step towards achieving freedom for the oppressed. A choice mechanism that revolves around one bourgeois party and another, between one corrupt politician and another, between one religiously divisive force and another, between one exploiting regime and another, between one coalition of opportunists and another, between one capitalist enterprise and another – no matter the differences between their religions, castes, or nationalities- is not a mechanism that can ever be used to create a socialist society.
When winning an election within a neoliberal setup is no more a goal, when appeasing a growing middle-class opportunistic urban youths is no more a mission, when becoming politically correct to address issues of caste, gender and religion is no more an option, the communists will find them by the sides of the oppressed in India – these people may be the unpaid housewives, unemployed engineers, agitating teachers, misdirected youths, displaced indigenous peoples, marginalized dalits, exploited domestic housekeepers, non-unionized software mechanics, faceless rape survivors, undertrial prisoners, street theater activists, legal sex workers, illegal child laborers….indeed, with the majority of people in India. Poor peasants, organized naxalites and factory workers are just a fraction of the solidarity network. Redistribution of property is the only necessity at this and at every historical stage in order to enforce social justice. This is an aim that require massive political education and emancipation of the working class. Only then will voting make any sense as a political act. Voting as a means to gain power is a feeble attempt at securing status quo. The communists are by nature inclined to destabilize the status quo.
This so-called defeat of communists in Indian elections is actually a victory for the organized communism. It is a call for carving out a unique niche once again with the historical opportunity it provides. To choose its side with the very people it has been despising each time the communist party has faltered into forming coalitions. To recognize that there indeed are class antagonisms, and not every interest needs to be catered to in quest of winning a democratic mandate. To strengthen the progressive forces everywhere in India, and in the world in a collective struggle against maintenance of imperialistic forces that spread their reach through global capital. This is the opportunity to stay away from power corridors and go back to the peoples in educating, organizing and agitating them against the system that perpetuates class society through poverty, unemployment, and divisions along lines of race, caste, sex, religion, and nationalities. To form a classless society requires, not an election, but organized revolution against the winners of elections that hold the national posts in order to facilitate international trades. The communists must not forget where they came from: from a fundamental difference with the existing world structures, with an intent to replace it, not aspire to becoming a collaborator. The communists must never forget what Karl Marx and Frederick Engels wrote in the Manifesto exactly 160 years ago:
“The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.”