India: Convention of the Left Parties – Which way forward for the working class?

On July the 1st at Mavalankar Hall, New Delhi, a historic convention was held. At this convention, leaders of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Communist Party of India, the All India Forward Bloc (AIFB) and the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) agreed on the text of a declaration, an alternative policy platform, with which they will approach “all democratic parties and mass organisations” in the lead up to next year’s Lok Sabha elections.

It has been stated that such a policy platform could lead to the formation of a third front after the elections. We publish the full text of this document below but beforehand we would like to make a few comments.

We must first state that whilst this event is a step forward in the life of the Indian working class, the text of this declaration leaves a great deal to be desired, and in reality shows not only the pressure that is building up amongst the rank and file of the Left Parties (forcing their leaders to come together with a joint statement) but also the fear and timidity of our leaders in the face of monumental historical tasks. This document shows their disbelief in the ability of the working class to succeed in carrying through a transformation in society and rather shows a “wait and see” attitude on their part.

But, the masses cannot afford to wait. To leave the fight for genuine unity of the working class until after the election is not only a refusal to provide a genuine fighting lead to the masses but also leaves room open for betrayals at a later stage as we are told “the country is not ready for socialism” and “we do not have enough support” leaving the road open for any amount of petty trading, coalitions and deals with the liberal bourgeois parties as well as other communal, regional forces.

We cannot shy away from the fight here and now to build the movement necessary not only to defend working people from the terrible conditions which they are facing on a day to day basis but also to fight for a fundamental shift in the balance of power in favour of the working class. We need a fighting programme around which we can fight for power within society as a whole.

Declaration of the Left parties

The document itself provides an excellent description of the terrible conditions which are being heaped upon the masses, from the rise in unemployment and generalised poverty, the difficulties for people to access basic medical and school facilities as well as the dire conditions of those in the countryside, but no explanation is provided for their cause other than the ineptitude and corruption of the present government.

Whilst we would agree wholeheartedly with the criticisms levelled at this government by the rich, of the rich, and for the rich, to look at the current crisis through the lens of national politics alone profoundly underestimates the level of contradictions building up on a world scale and loses sight of the only way of solving the problems of the masses.

In the early 1900s during the lead up to the First World War, Lenin pointed out that capitalism had ceased to play any progressive role within European society and that due to the constraints of the nation state and the contradiction between the socialisation of the productive process and the private ownership of the means of production itself, the living conditions of the masses were getting squeezed causing profound social crisis. It is this which had seen the rise of imperialism, as national capitalists began to have to expand their influence and trade on a seemingly ever tightening world market as a means of averting crisis. This created the conditions which laid the basis for the first inter-imperialist war, which itself led to profound revolutionary upheavals in one country after another.

If it was true in 1914 that capitalism was unable to solve the problems of society within the limits of the nation state, how much more so is this true in 2013 when capitalism has become a truly global system? After the fall of the USSR and the re-imposition of capitalism within China (both processes which the leading circles in the communist parties have been unable to explain), we have finally seen the conquest of capitalism as a world spanning system. But as capitalism has become a globalised system so too have we seen the globalisation of capitalist crisis which is finding its expression in all countries from Egypt to Brazil, China, Greece and Portugal, where working people are fighting back in defence of their interests and for a transformation of society.

With this in mind, to see the solution of the crisis within India as being something that can be resolved with protectionist measures such as the limiting of Foreign Direct Investment in certain industries and the nationalisation of some concerns is nothing short of utopianism. India is a part of the global system and it is through being a part of this system that society as a whole has been able to develop as far as it has. To try to cut India off from the rest of the world is not only an impossibility at this stage, but would run the risk of creating further deterioration within the economy and heightening the ability of reactionary elements to divert the movement of the people along communal lines as the struggle for survival becomes more intense.

Capitalism in India

Let us make it clear, we are against the exploitation of the working class by foreign capital but at the same time swapping this for exploitation by local Indian capitalists is not going to benefit the masses one iota. In fact it would make little to no difference whatsoever. We are also in favour of nationalisation, mentioned in the declaration, but unless this is seen as a part of a wider move towards the abolition of private property then in and of itself limited nationalisation will only increase the contradictions within India. Look at the revolutionary movement in Venezuela which has been developing now for over 10 years. Whilst many progressive measures have been enacted, with many workers and poor people being lifted out of poverty, we are beginning to see the limits to which this can have an effect within the capitalist system. We in India must learn the lessons of the struggles of our brothers and sisters around the world and they themselves must learn from us.

The declaration states, as part of its programme, that we need “firm measures to curb high level of corruption; enact Lokpal legislation with independent powers of investigation” as well as “electoral reforms” without going into the body of what these electoral reforms should look like. With regards the Lokpal bill we must ask, is corruption itself a purely Indian phenomenon? Also, who is to enforce such a piece of legislation when all of levers of power remain within the hands of the ruling class?

Even the advanced capitalist countries have been rocked by one scandal after another, both at a governmental level and within all layers in society. The scandals over the last few years which have engulfed the top of the British regime (http://www.socialist.net/britains-nest-of-scandal.htm) are well known, from corruption in the expenses of MPs, wheeling and dealing in the banking sector, to the way in which the media and the state have worked hand in glove going so far as to cover up the tapping of civilians’ phones so the press could get stories to sell their papers, violating the rights and dignity of ordinary people.

Whilst you could say corruption by the ruling class in India is particularly venal, due to the combined and uneven level of development across the country and the historic pressure of imperialism, it would be wrong to see the solution as being one which can be fixed simply either by increased legislation or by the changing of government. It is also risky to sew such illusions in the eyes of the working class, as it does not clearly state what is the cause of such corruption, and by doing so hides the only way to fundamentally solve this problem.

Corruption exists because capitalism exists to enrich a tiny minority within society. This tiny minority, with control over the media and big business, is able to enforce its rule through its control over political parties and the state. As individual capitalists vie with one another for a bigger slice of the pie, patronage within this system encourages politicians to do whatever deals they can to help out their friends and to enrich themselves in the process. A game of “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” ensues. Corruption exists because capitalism exists and until the working class takes control of society into its own hands, both politically and economically, then there will be no means of putting a check on this process not least of all the enacting of a Lokpal bill.

Federalism and the position of the minorities

Throughout the declaration the question of the position of the national minorities within India is raised as well as the level of exploitation that they face. “India accounts for one third of the world’s extreme poor. Dalits, adivasis, women and the minorities continue to be victims of social oppression. Their social, economic and democratic rights remain severely curtailed.” And later on, “Dalits continue to face atrocities, denial of basic rights and exclusion from productive economic activities. Adivasis face an existential threat due to displacement from their land and habitats. The socio-economic plight of the Muslim minorities was brought out in the Sachar Committee Report but nothing much has been done to redress the situation. Innocent Muslim youth are often targeted in the name of fighting terrorism.”

The only solution which is offered in the document is the creation of a “more federal system” reducing the “concentration of powers and resources in the hands of the Centre” but we fail to get an explanation as to how this will improve the situation of the masses. We ask the comrades again, on what basis will these measures be enacted?

It is the duty of every Marxist to fight for the right of nations to self-determination, up to and including the right of secession, but the fight for that right does not preclude our calling for the unity of the working class nor does it mean that we support federalism or secession in every and all circumstances. It is often the case that the national question and the position of minorities are used by the petty bourgeois to cloud the problems faced by society and the actual solution to them. In a country such India, with the brutal crimes of partition behind us, to see the further division of the country into smaller and smaller units as the panacea of oppression is nothing short of madness and plays straight into the hands of the communal forces.

The comrades are right to point out that if Narendra Modi and the BJP do come to power after the next election then this situation will become worse, as attacks on minorities are likely to increase, as the Hindu nationalists become emboldened, but they fail to offer a real way of combatting this prospect. The only way of defending the rights of the national, ethnic and religious minorities, of the Adivasis and dalits, is through uniting the most oppressed layers of society on a firm class basis. If pogroms are threatened then set up united defence squads based around the Trade Unions and workers’ organisations and jointly defend the minorities and those who are under threat in the communities. In this way you can show the correctness of the need to fight these struggles on a class basis and through this prepare the groundwork for drawing all of these forces under the leadership of the working class in the fight for socialism.

Capitalism or Socialism?

All of these questions lead us back to the same point. On what economic basis do we want society to be run? Whilst criticising the nature of “neo-liberal” capitalism, what is our economic alternative? On these questions the declaration does provide some answers, arguing for the “nationalisation of mining and oil resources” and an end to privatization as well as plugging “loopholes in taxation measures” to “ensure collection of legitimate taxes”, but we need to go much further than these simple reformist measures. We would also call for the nationalisation of the previously privatised industries as well all large scale industries without compensation to the robber capitalists. Such industries should be run under the direct, democratic control of the workers. Only in this way can we ensure the fair distribution of wealth throughout society.

By doing so we can ensure that waste and mismanagement is consigned to the dustbin of history and we can finally begin to unlock the potential of the wealth in India which has been created by the working class. Rather than the “regulation of speculative financial flows into the country”(mentioned in point 3) we would call for the outright nationalisation of all the banks and financial institutions to ensure there is no flight of capital out of the country if and when the capitalists begin to fight against these progressive measures.

The enacting of these policies would allow us to vastly increase the level of production in India, creating more wealth within society, allowing us to cut the working week without any loss of pay. We could then begin a programme of “stepping up public investment for infrastructure and setting up manufacturing and other industries” so that we could put an end to the scourge of unemployment once and for all.

This would lay the material basis for the raising of the standard of living for all people within India so that we could increase spending on education and health and on all of the services which people need as mentioned in point 6 of the declaration. It would also improve the position of women within society and the position of all minority groups and those who are oppressed.

By the working class taking the control of their factories, offices and the land upon which they work into their own hands we could plan the productive capacity in society to meet the genuine needs of the people rather than to line the pockets of a tiny minority of capitalists as is the case at the present time. This would be the first step on the road to socialist construction and the abolition of class society as a whole. This and this alone is the solution to the crisis that India faces in the next period.

Through this revolutionary transformation of society we would put the call out to the working class of all countries to overthrow their own governments. This would be our independent foreign policy (mentioned in point 10 of the declaration), one of spreading the revolution melting away the communal borders which were produced through partition and the crimes of imperialism and uniting the peoples of this great land in a voluntary socialist federation of the subcontinent and later Asia and the world.

The question of Power

Some would accuse us of being too critical at this stage, but far from it, we welcome this declaration of the Left parties and its progressive elements as a profound step forward for the movement. At the same time we would criticize the leaders for not going far enough. The working class within India will take this declaration in its hands and holding the leaders of the communist parties to account will fight for the implementation of a genuinely revolutionary Marxist programme. A programme which can unite the forces of Communism in India, and around it, the working class and all of the exploited layers within society to fight for a real transformation.

The answer to the solution of the crisis in India in the final analysis comes down to the question of power, not just which party holds the power after the elections but which class. The declaration of the Left parties makes the point that both the NDA and the UPA are fighting in the interests of a minority within India, of capitalists and their international backers, but we ask the comrades in the Left parties, in whose interests will you fight?

The Communist International was founded, in the wake of the Russian Revolution, in 1919 to rally the forces of Marxism in all countries and fight for the socialist revolution on a world scale and the Indian communist parties themselves come from this tradition. After decades of reformism and reconciliation with the representatives of the bourgeoisie it is time now more than ever, as the world working class is on the move, for the communist parties to return to the revolutionary traditions of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky and Bhagat Singh.

The solution to the crisis of capitalism must be found on an international scale or not at all. In this the supporters of the International Marxist Tendency in India will rally around this programme, fight within their party branches and the Trade Unions for the unity of all Communist forces on a principled, revolutionary Marxist platform. Then, putting the call out to all working class organisations, we will fight to mobilise the masses on the basis of the revolutionary transformation of society. In this way and in this way alone can we create a society where all are free and able to have a decent standard of living.

Comrades, the tasks ahead of us are great and the forces lined up against us are formidable but the working class, on a world scale, has never been stronger in its history. In the words of Marx and Engels, “workers of the world unite; we have nothing to lose but our chains.”

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Draft of the Declaration Placed at the National Convention of Left Parties At Mavalankar Hall, New Delhi, July 1, 2013

Sixty six years after independence, the aim of a developed and prosperous India with equal rights for all citizens seems a distant goal. The current plight of the country is due to the nature of capitalist development which favours the rich and harms the poor. The government’s policies are determined by the narrow interests of the big business, the rich and the powerful. As a result, vast masses of the people still live in poverty, victims of hunger and disease, with no education and health facilities and opportunities to earn a decent livelihood. India accounts for one third of the world’s extreme poor. Dalits, adivasis, women and the minorities continue to be victims of social oppression. Their social, economic and democratic rights remain severely curtailed.

The politics of the country is dominated by money power. Communal and divisive forces have a free run. More and more young people find no worthwhile employment and face a bleak future. An independent foreign policy and defence of national sovereignty is compromised.

Under the rule of the Congress led UPA government, people suffer from ever increasing price rise of essential commodities especially food items; farmers are unable to earn a decent livelihood and there are widespread suicides by farmers; land is being increasingly seized by real estate speculators, mining companies and corporates. According to the latest survey undertaken by the National Sample Survey Organisation, in the two years between January 2010 and January 2012, the rate of unemployment rose by a shocking 10.2 per cent; 45 per cent of the children under five years of age are malnourished; only 16 per cent of children who enrolled in class-I managed to reach class XII; and medicines and health facilities are going beyond the reach of common people.

While the people face these miserable conditions, the UPA government has allowed the loot of natural resources like land, minerals, gas and spectrum by the corporates and big business. The neo-liberal regime under the UPA government has spawned corruption on a large scale, with no sector being spared from corruption scandals. The UPA government has been generous in foregoing taxes of the corporates and the rich to the tune of Rs. 5 lakh crore in the last budget. The government has cut subsidies for petroleum products and fertilizers. For the rich there is a bonanza while for the poor there is austerity.

The priorities of the Congress led government are to appease foreign finance capital at the expense of the people. Foreign supermarket chains are being allowed in retail trade endangering the livelihood of a million shopkeepers and traders.

There is a regression in social values with the invasion of market relations and treating women as sex objects. Women are growingly subject to sexual attacks and violence and denying them an equal status in society. Dalits continue to face atrocities, denial of basic rights and exclusion from productive economic activities. Adivasis face an existential threat due to displacement from their land and habitats. The socio-economic plight of the Muslim minorities was brought out in the Sachar Committee Report but nothing much has been done to redress the situation. Innocent Muslim youth are often targeted in the name of fighting terrorism.

The Congress-led government has pursued a foreign policy which seeks to align India with the United States of America. The latest example being India’s acquiescence with the rising US NATO intervention in Syria and the steady reduction of oil supplies from Iran under US pressure.

The policies pursued by the UPA government are inherently anti-people and anti-democratic. The Congress and the UPA have to be opposed and defeated if alternative policies have to be put in place.

The BJP represents a more regressive variant of the present regime. The BJP stands for the communal Hindutva ideology which is married to unalloyed free market capitalism. Narendrea Modi, the leader projected by the BJP for the next Lok Sabha elections, symbolizes this reactionary mixture. The Gujarati model touted by Modi symbolizes this path – pogroms for Muslims and bonanza for the corporates. The praise for Modi sung by the big corporates cannot conceal the plight of the rural poor and the adivasis and the poor human development record in Gujarat.

The BJP which makes much of the corruption of the UPA government is itself tainted with the worst corruption scandals. Its government in Karnataka became an extension of the mining mafia which looted thousands of crores by illegal mining.

The RSS/BJP combine has also fanned tensions and communal violence in several towns in Uttar Pradesh in the last two years. It is waiting for the opportune moment to push the agenda of the Ram temple in Ayodhya and the scrapping of the Article 370 of the Constitution with regard to Jammy & Kashmir.

The BJP is no alternative to the Congress in terms of programme and policies. It has to be fought and isolated. It is the duty of all patriotic, secular and democratic forces to ensure that the BJP does not come back to power.

The politics of the country is being increasingly dominated by money power and business lobbies. Huge amounts of money are being pumped into elections polluting the political system and distorting democracy. The basic reform required is the introduction of a proportional representation with a partial list system. This will obviate the money and muscle power to a great extent.

The country requires a more federal system. The concentration of powers and resources in the hands of the Centre should be reduced. The rights and powers of the states have to be enhanced and backward states should be given a special status as far as devolution of resources are concerned. This requires the restructuring of Centre State relations.

Both the Congress-led UPA and the BJP-led NDA have been beset with contradictions and have shrunk in size. This has happened since both the major parties stand for policies and programmes which are not in the interests of the people but represent the interest of a narrow stratum. What is required today is the rejection of the policies and the political platform of the Congress and BJP.

The country requires an alternative. Such an alternative can emerge only on the basis of alternative policies. There has to be an alternative policy platform around which a political alternative can be built.

Alternative economic policies, defence of secularism and social justice, strengthening federalism and an independent foreign policy are all important features of the alternative policy platform.

The Left parties have set out such an alternative policy platform in the economic, political and social spheres. The main features of such an alternative platform are:

1)      Implementation of land reform measures, distribution of surplus land to the landless, ensuring house sites to each landless household. End to forcible land acquisition. Remunerative prices for farmers and cheap credit based on Swaminathan Commission Report.

2)      Stepping up public investment for infrastructure and setting up manufacturing and other industries for more employment. Nationalisation of mining and oil resources. Stop disinvestment of public sector shares.

3)      Plug loopholes in taxation measures and ensure collection of legitimate taxes; regulation of speculative financial flows into the country; stop the opening up of financial sector. No FDI in retail trade.

4)      Introduction of universal public distribution system with 35kgs of food grains at a maximum price of Rs. 2 a kg per month for all families. Food security law should be passed to ensure this.

5)      Separation of religion and State as the basic principle of secularism to be embedded in the constitution; firm action to curb communal forces.

6)      Increasing the allocations for education and health. Stop privatization of education and health services. Guarantee implementation of Right to Education Act.

7)      Firm measures to curb high level of corruption; enact Lokpal legislation with independent powers of investigation. Electoral reforms.

8)      Equal rights for women in all spheres. One third reservation for women in Parliament and legislatures; protection of rights of dalits and extention of reservation for SC/STs in the private sector. Implementation of Ranganath Mishra Commission on reservation for minorities. Protection of the Fifth and Sixth Schedule rights for adivasis.

9)      Rights of the working classes – enforcement of fair minimum wage and social security measures. End contractualisation and casualisation of labour.

10)  Adopt an independent foreign policy.

The Left parties appeal to all democratic parties and mass organisations to support this alternative political platform. The Left parties will conduct a political campaign to mobilize support for this platform. Let us go forward towards building a powerful political alternative.

CPI(M), CPI, AIFB, RSP