Jeremy Corbyn’s ascendance as the Leader of the Opposition in the UK is the indicator of the leftward shift of the people in the capitalist economies. Little doubt his triumph provides some useful lessons for the Left in India too, particularly the CPI (M) which held its Kolkata Plenum barely a couple of days back.
The most talked about man in Britain now is Jeremy Corbyn. When the Labour Party allowed him to join the race for leadership, the dominant section of the leadership of the party did not imagine that Jeremy would come out winner. A general perception ruled the psyche of these leaders that his “hard left” image as well as politics would work against him and he would be denied the opportunity to represent the dissenting voice in the UK.
But defying the wisdom that he was unelectable an overwhelming number of Labour supporters voted for him. Even the Tony Blair lobby and supporters inside the party could not prevent him from getting elected. His victory and its impact on the political scenario of Britain could be gauged from the reaction of the British Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party, David Cameron: “The Labour Party is now a threat to our national security, our economic security and your family’s security.”
After his election more than half a dozen of the Labour MPs resigned from the shadow cabinet, making it clear they were reluctant to serve under Corbyn. In the Indian context, Corbyn’s victory needs to be viewed in a broader perspective. His ascendance underlines that even in capitalist economies the people are feeling alienated. They are striving for some fundamental change. By voting for Corbyn they registered their protest against the capitalist mode of governance and production relation.
They are for nationalization of the railways and also a government intervention for streamlining the education system. The Britons are scared of the quality of the education. Indian people have been also desperate for change. But ironically, the Left parties and their leadership are more interested in electoral politics and polemics.
A closer look makes it clear that a leftward shift of the masses is happening across the world, especially in Europe. The powerful showing of the Scottish National Party (SNP) in the recent UK elections, the rise of Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain, and the surging popularity of Bernie Sanders in the US are all part of this wider trend. The immediate trigger for this shift in Europe is, of course, the austerity imposed in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.
Corbyn’s success is directly linked to the peoples’ frustration over the lack of real political alternatives in the mainstream. It is the space vacated by erstwhile social democrats that is being filled by the Corbyn, Syriza, and Podemos. The hatred against is so acute that the corporate-owned media has been projecting them as Marxists and Hard Leftists.
What is significant is like an Indian Left leader, Corbyn has not been talking of dictatorship of the proletariat. Corbyn’s triumph has some useful lessons for the parliamentary Left in India. It is most unfortunate that Indian Left leaders instead of taking on the fundamentalist forces head on have been beating around the bush. There has not been clarity in their stand, strategy and action, which is why the people are reluctant to take them seriously. There is a general perception that the Indian communists are basically social democrats and change their stand and approach frequently. Arvind Kejriwal at least could fit in the frame of Corbyn’s personification. Kejriwal, with his opportunistic leftwing populism, has shown how it can be done.
It was really intriguing to listen to Prakash Karat suggesting that the left parties should learn from Kejriwal. How could Karat say so? The Left, in fact, handed over the historic opportunity to surge ahead on platter to the regional parties and forces without any political ideology. This is the major difference between Corbyn and the Indian Left leaders. Yet another significant divergence has been the fact that while Jeremy repeatedly stressed the importance of turning the Labour party into a movement, the Indian leaders have been simply focused on electoral gains and trying to position the Left parties in the same perspective.
Addressing the valedictory session of CPI(M)’s Kolkata plenum, party general secretary Sitaram Yechury reiterated the Left could offer India a “policy alternative, a better political culture which fights corruption, moral degradation and degeneration which is rampant in Indian politics today”. He, however, refrained from enumerating what India and its people desperately need from the Indian Marxists. In fact, the compulsion for the CPI(M) is to recapture political turf in Bengal and Kerala. One thing is absolutely clear that the tactics of issuing statements of condemnation, organising protest marches, and calling for bandhs are redundant in the existing scenario. The leaders have to connect with the people.
At a time when the future of Marxism and Marxist politics is at stake in India, the Kolkata Plenum of the CPI(M) simply focussed on evolving a strategy to win the 2016 election to the West Bengal assembly. This approach of the leadership simply reinforced the perception that by winning the assembly election, they would succeed in projecting Bengal as the leftist model for electoral gains. Else there was no reason to give so much of importance to the issue of entering into coalition with likeminded parties in Bengal for the assembly elections.
No left party has organised a sustained agitation against the adverse impact of the reforms and liberalization. The Left, like the centrist and rightist parties, has been primarily dependent on urban as well rural middle class for its political survival. The Left leaders must realise that people, particularly the middle class, throughout the world have turned ‘aspirational’ and therefore are least concerned of the politics of equality, basically what socialism is. Seldom do they bother that the politics of equality can trump the politics of aspiration. Corbyn’s message is: what the Left needs to do now is to get its act together as the current political perspective and prevailing situation provide immense opportunity.
The most important lesson that the Corbyn phenomenon has to offer: India’s parliamentary Left needs to rediscover mass politics. But unfortunately none of the Left parties has been focussed on it. The resolution adopted at the Kolkata Plenum is explicit. What are the lessons for the social democratic left in India from the emergence of Jeremy Corbyn as Leader of the British Labor Party? The prime lesson is the need to think innovative and evolve new strategic and tactical line of action in tune with the needs of the poor rural and urban masses. The challenge in India today is to build a leftist and democratic anti-neoliberal platform to protect the interest of rural people and prevent and check the Hindutva project. IPA