Political Challenges Confronting the Left

Presentation by Prakash Karat at a discussion on “Political Challenges Confronting the Left” at a seminar organised by the Council for Social Development at New Delhi on August 8, 2012
Imperialist globalization and two decades of neo-liberal policies have wrought significant changes in Indian society – on the class structure, on social and political relations.
For the Left, the major challenge is how to understand these changes under a neo-liberal regime, confront them and work out suitable strategy and tactics. 
How has it affected the basic classes?
A big section of the working class is not in the organised sector or in regular, permanent employment.  Even within the organised sector, a large number of workers are on contractual basis. The recent struggle in Maruti-Suzuki has highlighted this aspect. There is intense exploitation of the workers in the unorganized-informal sector.  We have to bring all these sections into the working class movement. 
While there is an overall agrarian crisis, there are changes in the agrarian relations.  Some sections are experiencing  intensified exploitation like tenant farmers apart  from the poor peasants and agricultural workers. 
How has it impacted the allied classes?
How have the changes strengthened the ruling classes?
The Left has to work out  its strategy by concrete analysis and studies.  The direction of the class struggle and the political and  social movements have to be  developed on this basis. 
A concomitant development of the globalised finance capital and the advent of neo-liberalism has been the growth of identity politics in India.  Identity politics  based on caste, religion, tribe, ethnicity and region is posing a major challenge for the Left in India.  The ruling classes and imperialist finance capital find such politics eminently suitable for their interests.  Fragmentation of the people on the basis of narrow identities and keeping them separate ensures that there is no threat to the Rule of Capital and the State.  The challenge before the Left is to tackle identity politics by building common  class based movements, while at the same time, taking up the issues of caste, social and gender oppression experienced by different sections of society.
For the dalit or women worker, class unity and class-based movements will make sense for the dalit workers only if the working class movement takes up the issue of his or her specific exploitation. For instance, dalit workers are paid a lesser wage for doing the  same job in many places.  Similarly, a women worker will relate to the class-based movement only if the question of her getting one-third or half of the wages earned by a male worker is taken up.  There is the issue of the Muslim workers, lack of access to jobs and discrimination. So building the class-based unity and movement requires the taking up of the specific issues of social oppression suffered by these sections of the working people.
The question is often posed as to why the Left is not making any advance in the Hindi region.  There is also an erosion of support.  One answer to that  is the failure of the Left to  successfully counter identity politics; caste-based mobilization by the bourgeois parties is the norm.  Taking up the class issues and integrating them with the struggle against social oppression and caste discrimination is the way forward.  But entrenched caste politics has made this a difficult proposition.
Till the Left and the Communist party in particular can organise the rural poor – poor peasants and agricultural workers, overcoming the caste barriers, there can be no worthwhile advance.
The neo-liberal outlook is not confined to the economy alone.   It has a profound effect on politics and the political system.  The nexus between big business/capital and politics has become more pronounced. More and more businessmen and capitalists at various levels are the politicians in the bourgeois political parties.  The unprecedented use of money power in elections is a direct outcome of this nexus.
The Left parties are the most badly affected by this flood of illegal money in the electoral system.   In a recent by-election to the Lok Sabha in Andhra Pradesh, it was reported that Rs. 2,000 per  voter was distributed by the winning party and a similar amount was also given by the other major party.  We have advocated decentralization and the panchayati raj system. Here too, we  find the growing trend of money being used in a big way even in the village panchayat election for becoming the sarpanch.  It is only in states like  West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura, where the Left has a strong mass base, where there is higher political consciousness and where the Left has the wherewithal, that we are able to withstand this onslaught of money power. 
Parliamentary democracy itself is getting corroded by the insidious use of money power.  Democratic politics and the Left parties are squeezed out in this process.  The democratic set-up is getting denuded by this intertwining of big capital and politics.  The Left’s stand on democracy and the present parliamentary democratic  system has to have a clarity based on a clear class conception of the type of democracy that we have.  Democracy in a bourgeois State which pursues neo-liberal policies cannot be idealized  as “democracy” per se.  The struggle to utilize all democratic rights and opportunities available within the present system for  the people has to be combined with a powerful extra parliamentary movement which alone can determine whether the people will get more democratic rights and  will have a greater say in  a democratic set-up. 
At present, from the parliament to panchayats, electoral politics is a major part of the people’s political activity.  The Left has to play an active role in this political process while constantly striving to enlarge the political sphere and activities outside the electoral  parliamentary system which is the main arena of struggle. 
The Left has continue to develop the working class and peasant movements all over the country.  They are the mainstay of the Left.  In the recent period, a good development has been the unity established by all the Central Trade Unions – the INTUC, AITUC, CITU, HMS, BMS and others – came  together for the February general strike.  They are now planning another phase of the joint struggle.  This has brought wider sections of the working class together.  Notable is the participation of the women workers - anganwadi, ASHA, mid-day meal workers and so on. 
Equally important is the struggle on social issues, protecting the democratic rights of the people and bringing the issues of the dalits, women, tribals and other socially-oppressed sections on to the centre stage. 
We need a broad unity of the Left.  This means that  the Left-minded persons and groups outside the Left parties are brought together on a joint platform on agreed issues, to begin with.  This has been set out in the Political Resolution of our Party Congress held recently.

The Left’s interventions in the cultural sphere have lagged behind  compared to what it was 30 to 40 years ago. There has to be a rejuvenation of cultural activities and productions and the effective use of new media and communication technology.