- Ravi Sinha
Note: The text below was presented on 27th October, 2013, at the “Echoes of Ghadar” Convergence, Organized by South Asia Solidarity Initiative (SASI) in New York, USA.
Transformative Politics is a large subject and one always runs the risk of stating the obvious while dealing with such things. One can also go entirely wrong. But there is an even greater danger. One may end up offering banalities that are – to borrow a phrase from a famous physicist – not even wrong. In these brief comments, I will try to state what may be obvious but useful to keep in mind nevertheless. And I will also stick my neck out enough to be proven wrong if that serves a purpose.
Transformative politics, in my opinion, is necessarily the politics of the Left. In the era of capitalism, Left is necessarily Marxist, although the term is interpreted variously. In today’s world, Left, despite its historic achievements of the past and despite its global spread now, is not doing very well. Capitalism, on the other hand, despite its recurrent crises and despite our daily declarations about it being moribund, is doing quite well. This describes the basic challenge confronting the Left today.
Now, I am aware that such a description, or diagnosis if you prefer, may disappoint many and for very different reasons. Back home, in certain circles, I would expect to be heckled as someone who has given up the fight. Why else would I say that Left is not doing well and capitalism is? In other circles I would be dismissed as someone incapable of learning any lessons. After the spectacular collapse of the twentieth century socialism, should it not be obvious that time is up for the Marxist Left? In these times of various ‘posts’-, including that of post-Marxism, how can one ascribe transformative politics exclusively to the Marxist Left? Does it not smack of the same old economism, class-reductionism, vanguardism and totalitarianism? Is it not being blind to the fact that transformative politics is now powered by a rainbow of new social movements?
Instead of engaging with such questions right away, I will ask you to bear with me for a bit and take a call at the end.
Ideally, I should be dealing with both the questions – why is Left doing badly and why is capitalism doing well. The two might be correlated. But, given the time constraint and the nature of the occasion, I will take up only the first one – one about the Left. That, in any case, links more directly with the issue of transformative politics.
My view, however, may be limited by my location. If I know a thing or two about the issue, it is only in the Indian context. But one hopes to have some relevance beyond the boundaries of one’s experience.
Left in the third world was born in the era of colonialism and feudalism. Those were the days of its glory. One thing it knows – and knows quite well – is how to fight feudal lords, kings, and foreign rulers. The problem is that it has not yet figured out how to deal with capitalism – its current adversary. Not a single revolution has happened so far by directly fighting capitalism under the political conditions of bourgeois democracy. The latest illustrative example may be from Nepal where the Left deposed the king but does not seem to know how to proceed from there. In India it often takes another route. It declares that India is still ruled by feudalism in the countryside and by foreigners and their compradors in the metropolis. Now, India is such a large and complicated place that you can find almost anything you are looking for. But finding the enemy of your choice does not add up to transformative politics. Left must figure out how to fight regular capitalism. And it should be able to do so without being subsumed in the parliament or without being confined to the outskirts. That is the first big challenge.