Over the past few weeks Indian politics has been rife with talk of a new electoral front being built to challenge the political hegemony of the currently ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA), led by the Congress Party, and its rival National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP). But, what does this discussion actually represent?
We have to ask ourselves what are the interests of the working class and what (if anything) can we hope to gain from it. As Marxists we cannot shy away from such debates but should tackle these questions from a class point of view and to begin with it would be worth looking at what has actually prompted such a debate to come about at the present time.
As all parties, both federal and regional, are gearing up for a general election year in 2014 they’re entering a period of internal discussion during which they have to start formulating a programme to mobilise their support bases and begin to feel out the electorate to see what sort of potential they have in winning the elections. But in so doing they will be approaching an electorate which is very different from the one which took to the polls in 2009 and 2004 before that.
World crisis impacts on India
Since the world crisis of capitalism struck in 2008, India, China and a few other countries have been seemingly able to escape the worst effects of the crash for a while. As we’ve argued in the past, however, this escape would necessarily be short lived as the growth within India, China and the other developing countries was partially built in the last period on investment from the advanced countries in the production of commodities which themselves were being sold on the world market back to western economies. Now with the continued stagnation of the world market, we’re beginning to see the effects of the world crisis showing their face within India itself. Even “all-conquering” China is showing signs of a slowdown in its rate of growth (The reality of Asia's "emerging" economies). This in turn is finding it’s reflection in the political turmoil we can now see ripping through Brazil and Turkey, and on an ever bigger scale in Egypt.
In India we’ve seen a slowdown in foreign direct investment as well as the drying up of internal investment leading to a slow-burning crisis within production, a massive increase in unemployment and the lowering of the terms, conditions and wages of those workers lucky enough to still have a job. Added to this, the continuous rise in inflation is squeezing the living standards of the masses to an unbearable degree, impoverishing the most exploited layers within society even further.
To add insult to the injuries endured by the masses we’ve seen the response of the Congress Party and its UPA government which has ran the country since 2004. A government which not only has failed to do anything to avert the impending crisis in Indian society (in reality how could it since Congress and its UPA allies exist to protect the interests of the very capitalists and their system which is causing these problems?) but also a government which has presided over a regime which has been rocked time and time again with scandal and corruption.
These attacks and impositions have not passed by unnoticed and without a response from the working masses, however. As we have explained before, “in the past 2 to 3 years we have seen the re-emergence of the class struggle, from small scale militant strikes in a number of factories in different states to defend pay and conditions and to increase wages, to local protests against corruption and struggles against a whole number of issues. We have begun to see the rebirth of the class struggle which has cut across the religious and ethnic communal divide to unite workers in action against their common exploiters.” (Support the two day Indian general strike!).
To this you can add a large-scale movement of the middle classes around Anna Hazare, against corruption, the increased activities of the Maoists as workers and peasants in the agricultural districts are driven to despair and the massive protests of students and young people against the brutal gang-rape of a young woman in Delhi (The agony of India's growth). Over the last two years we’ve also seen two of the biggest strike actions in the history of the world take place on Indian soil, with over 100,000,000 workers taking part in a general strike on February 28th 2012 and a 2-day general strike on the 20th and 21st of February of this year.
These movements point to the profound impasse which exists in Indian society and the period of crisis and upheaval into which we’ve entered.
The pressure mounts
All of this heat and combustible material, whilst yet to find a spark, is being felt by the representatives of the ruling class like never before as the pressure begins to mount. You can see them flail back and forth, arguing amongst themselves, desperately trying to seek a way out and a means to avoid the revolutionary movements which are to come.
As the Congress led UPA government continues to be rocked by one crisis after another, parties at both a regional and federal level have begun to enter into negotiations, discussing the lay of the land before next year’s general election. The UPA and the Congress Party have become completely discredited in the eyes of the masses and the ruling class has begun to turn towards the BJP-led NDA as their only alternative. The BJP itself is the second team of Indian capitalism which is being sent to bat for the capitalist class in the hopes that its “methods” are able to crush any movement of the masses before it fully begins.
The programmes of both the BJP and Congress in reality represent the interests of the same ruling class, and as such the victory of one or the other holds no hope for the masses in preventing further attacks. But you can see within the sometimes fractious debates between these parties a split in the bourgeoisie and how various sections want to handle the situation. On the one hand you have Congress and those living in the vain hope that India will be able to tick along for a while longer, or at least for long enough for the world market to recover and on the other you’ve got the most hawkish representatives of Indian capital who want nothing more than to put a stop to any movement of the workers and force through all of the attacks that they can.
We must hold no illusions in what this turn by the ruling class towards the BJP represents. It is no more nor less than a tacit recognition that the masses are gearing up for a struggle and the ruling class itself is beginning to mobilise whatever forces it can to derail this movement along sectarian lines.
This turn towards the right Hindu nationalists of the BJP by the ruling class has also found its expression in an accompanying shift in the balance of forces within the party itself. As Narendra Modi, Chief Minister of Gujarat, has been selected to lead the election campaign for the BJP, a move which many feel prepares the ground for him becoming the Prime Ministerial candidate for the NDA in next year’s election. Narendra Modi himself is a man who has long since represented those at the far right of the party.
The controversial figure of Narendra Modi, who has been directly implicated in the sectarian violence within Gujarat in 2002 which saw over 1000 people murdered and many more injured in communal violence, has caused controversy, not only within the BJP itself but also within the National Democratic Alliance leading to the walk out of the Janata Dal (United). This event whilst weakening the NDA has also sent shockwaves throughout the country as it opens the way once again for the debate over the creation of the third, non-Congress led, non-BJP led federal front to contest the upcoming elections.
Since the JD(U) have left the NDA, the Chief Ministers of two states have come out in favour of such a front. Mamata Banerjee, Chief Minister of West Bengal and leader of the right-wing Trinamool Congress (TMC), has stated that “the time has come for all regional parties to come together and form a federal front in the coming Lok Sabha (the lower house of the Indian Parliament) election. I appeal to all the non-Congress, non-BJP regional parties to launch a united fight to free the country from misrule and anti-people decisions.”
Also Naveen Patnaik, Chief Minister of Orissa, has stated his support saying, “The prevailing political situation and the projected arithmetic through various opinion polls clearly indicate the emergence of the Third Front as a viable alternative to UPA and NDA before the general elections in 2014.”
Workers will not need reminding that Mamata Banerjee is anything but a friend of the working class (India: workers under attack in West Bengal) but whilst she is using this opportunity to demagogically stoke up hopes of a change and to attempt to re-assert the position of the TMC as “king-makers”, nonetheless the potential for a break in the political consensus which has reigned at a federal level over the last period is something that has stirred up working people.
Working people are desperate for a way out of the current impasse and have been demanding a political response from their leaders for a long time. But so far none has been given.
The response of the CPI/CPM leaders
What have the leaders of the Communist Parties had to say to this demand of a third front?
In a press release on the 17th of June, the CPI congratulated the JD(U) on breaking from the NDA federal alliance (CPI welcome JD(U) move) whilst at the same time sending some mixed signals out to the working class.
A.B. Bardhan, former General Secretary of the Communist Party of India(CPI) in a statement which seems to pour cold water on the prospects of a third front has stated:
“The idea of a “Federal Front” floated by one or two chief ministers which is supposed to bring together the chief ministers of states who have grievances against the step-motherly treatment meted out by the Congress-ruled centre, is neither feasible nor likely to inspire confidence among voters.
“The people want a government whose policies are opposed to the anti-people policies that are being pursued today. These policies have also the support of opposition BJP which is now set on a strident communal course with the elevation of Narendra Modi.
“Only a non-Congress non-BJP coalition which pursues credible alternative policies on people’s issues, which steers the country on a left and democratic course is the need of the hour. Such a programme based coalition government can emerge through struggles and may be after the polls. Only such a front can provide a viable alternative to the present dispensation. The Left parties are working towards that end.” (Bardhan opposes federal front idea)
And what of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)? Sitaram Yechury, member of the politburo, whilst speaking to reporters in Kolkata has stated that there can be no alternative front without the left and that, “Fronts do not emerge merely on announcements. We are not giving any relevance to it.”
“Confidence in people can only be generated on the basis of alternative policy that will provoke relief to the people. The Left, and particularly the CPM, has a key role to play in it. That is the role which others are expecting from us.”
We would agree with both Comrades Bardhan and Yechury that the creation of a third electoral front would by its very nature need to be centred on the left parties, but we would go further than this. Truth be told, there is not a shred of difference in the theoretical positions of the mainstream Communist Parties in India and the divisions which continue to exist do nothing less than hold back the potential of the working class. We would call on the unity of all Communist forces around a genuine Marxist programme which would lay the basis for a united front of all workers’ organisations. Such a step cannot wait until after the elections either but is of immediate importance for the development of the struggle.
Yechury left the door open for such a united front when he ended his press conference by saying, “The Left parties are meeting in Delhi on July 1 and in that convention, we are going to declare the policy alternative, which we think is required for the country and the people” adding that the aim of the CPM in doing this is to try to galvanise the non-Congress, non-BJP parties who are willing to fight on a common platform.
What position should we take?
In a statement released on June the 4th, the National Executive of the CPI stated that the “time has come when we take up the battle of 2014 with more seriousness and start preparing for the electoral battle from now onwards.” (National Executive Meeting of CPI New Delhi).
We agree wholeheartedly with this statement comrades but we must state emphatically that this is not simply a case of preparing for an electoral battle but rather what is at stake is the very future of India. Working people have proven time and time again their willingness to fight for a change within society and their bravery in the face of repression all that is needed is a fighting lead to be shown and the masses will struggle.
The battles over the next few years will not simply be fought through the ballot box but will be taking place in the factories, in the offices, in the fields and in the streets. No amount of horse trading by the Communist Parties in unprincipled political blocs with communal and bourgeois parties will inspire working people nor will it provide a lead which will be able to improve the lives of the masses.
With an open break from the reformism and class collaborationism which has plagued the history of the communist movement in India and a return to the class struggle revolutionary traditions of Marxism a fighting lead can be given to the magnificent movement of the workers which we saw in full force on February the 20th and 21st of this year. Once a year demonstrations are not enough but rather what is needed is a mobilisation of the whole working class around a genuine programme for the transformation of society. Armed with such a programme there would be nothing which could stop the working class.
This in turn will impact on those genuine Communist youth and workers in the countryside and in agricultural districts who in rejecting the reformism of the mainstream Communist Parties get drawn towards the seeming militancy of the armed struggle of the Maoists.
Such an All India Communist Party, united on a genuine Marxist programme of revolutionary socialism, will be able to put the call out to all workers’ organisations, from the socialist parties to the mass trade unions, for a Workers’ Front to defend the living conditions of the working masses and to fight for a socialist revolution.
Under a fighting Marxist leadership, the working class in India will be able to forge the weapons necessary to destroy this exploitative system once and for all and build a society in which all can participate equally to benefit the living standards of all people. Putting a call out to the workers of Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal, the basis could be laid for a voluntary socialist federation of the entire subcontinent, South Asia and then the world.
- For the unification of all communist forces in India!
- No to unprincipled blocs with bourgeois and communal parties!
- For a Workers’ Front against the NDA and UPA and the capitalist interests that they represent!
- For a socialist revolution in India leading to a voluntary socialist federation of the entire subcontinent!