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Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Prabhat Patnaik held that the words and the deeds of the left did not match

Revolutionary Democracy Editorial Board
Tahir Asghar, Malem Ningthouja, Ashim Roy, Vijay Singh, C.N. Subramaniam
Editorial Address K-67 Jangpura Extension New Delhi-110014
Revolutionary Democracy is a half-yearly theoretical and political journal published in April and September from India. It contains materials on the problems facing the communist movement, particularly relating to Russia, China and India, the origins of modern revisionism, the restoration of capitalism in the USSR and developments in the international communist movement.
Vol. XV, No. 1-2, April-September, 2009 A Requiem for the Left? Nirmalangshu Mukherji

Saner elements from within the left, such as Prabhat Patnaik, offered more plausible explanations. Patnaik held that the words and the deeds of the left did not match. While the left correctly opposed the nuclear deal, it did not take the issue to the people in terms of mass campaigns; rather the left chose to pursue the issue in terms of opportunistic electoral alliances, losing thus the main political thrust of its opposition to the Congress. Although the criticism does bring out a significant organisational failure of the left, the issues of alliance with the Congress and the nuclear deal had little to do with election results in 2009, as we saw. To mention again, the resounding victory of Nitish Kumar is a case in point.

More significantly, Patnaik argued, the left’s own adoption of neo-liberal policies in Kerala and West Bengal (while opposing it in the rest of the country) alienated the left from its principal electoral support – namely, the urban and rural poor. No doubt the events at Singur and Nandigram did finally expose the said duplicity of the left’s policies, argued against forcefully and repeatedly by Prabhat Patnaik – and, to be fair, by Amartya Sen – in recent years. It is questionable, however, how far this single element explains the massive character of the left’s electoral defeat. For example, there is no clear evidence of the correlation between adoption of neo-liberal policies and electoral rejection by the people in the rest of the country.

Measured in absolute terms, neo-liberal policies are far more entrenched in the states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Tamilnadu, Orissa, and Bihar, and in each case the existing ruling formations fared reasonably well. In fact, apart from Nitish Kumar, the main success-story of 2009 elections is the resounding victory of the virulent – often murderous – neo-liberal regimes in Orissa and Andhra Pradesh. Contrasted to these states, the implementation of neo-liberal policies in West Bengal are in their infancy. In fact, Singur and Nandigram could be viewed as the first major attempts by the government to pave the way for big corporations to encroach on people’s habitats, and in each case the government was defeated by people’s resistance. So the real question is, where this new popular militancy against the left is coming from; adoption of neo-liberal policies does not seem to provide an adequate answer.

People’s apparent indifference to the growing encroachment of neo-liberal policies in their lives, as suggested above, is a deeply distressing issue. The corporate media champions this phenomenon as people’s support for neo-liberal policies, not surprisingly. But, as the widely publicised uprisings in Nandigram and Singur in West Bengal – and the scattered and not so publicised resistance movements across the country – testify, neo-liberal policies are deeply unpopular. They have to be. Prabhat and Utsa Patnaik, among others, have done much empirical work in recent years to bring out the large-scale devastation caused by the aggressive adoption of neo-liberal policies in India: sharp increase in hunger and unemployment; loss of habitat; fall in rural productivity and income; increasing impoverishment; alarming fall in nutrition levels; destruction of environment; and increasing repression by the state and the state-sponsored mafia. Yet, apparently, election results do not seem to reflect this catastrophe.

Propagandistic appeals to Gandhian and Lohiaite doctrines notwithstanding, it is clear by now that, except arguably for the left, every mainstream political party in India is fully committed to neo-liberal policies of governance. It follows that any meaningful opposition to neo-liberalism can only be launched by the left, if at all. Notwithstanding the left’s complaints against neo-liberalism ensuing from party headquarters, journals, seminars, and speeches in the parliament, the left has failed to generate any people’s movement on this issue in the last two decades. [...]

The beginning of the left-rule in the late 1970s was preceded by perhaps the darkest period in the recent history of West Bengal. The Congress chief minister Siddharth Shankar Ray unleashed a reign of terror in which armed lumpen youth, in close collaboration with the security forces, virtually took over the functioning of the state. The rest of India may not be fully aware of the bloodbath, but the people of West Bengal were simply unwilling to relive the nightmare. Since the only opposition to the left – namely, the Congress, and its tributary, the Trinamool Congress – consisted mainly of the rogue elements of the Ray-regime, the left enjoyed considerable electoral immunity for nearly two decades despite its growing unpopularity.

The combination of withdrawal of pro-people policies, increasing control of the mafia and repression of the state, the misuse of the panchayat system, the appeasement of urban elites, adoption of neo-liberal policies, and almost absolute failure in terms even of ‘good governance’, finally convinced the people that there really is no basic difference between the previous Congress-rule and the current left-rule. This allowed the previously unwanted elements to crawl back into the mainstream of politics as a viable alternative to the left. It is of some interest that although Mamata Bannerjee is very much a product of the Congress, she appeared on the scene much after the horrors of Congress rule. Hence, her personal image is largely untarnished by the terror of the 1970s.

The dam of unvoiced resistance finally burst when the system of repression invaded people’s habitats in Singur and Nandigram under the direction of big business. The electoral verdict of 2009 is essentially a verdict against the very character of left-governance; the people of West Bengal have finally been able to see through sustained propaganda to conclude that there is not much left of the left anymore. Click here to return to the April-September 2009 index.


Open Letter to Noam Chomsky: Nirmalangshu Mukherjee Department of Philosopy University of Delhi
For the effect of neo-liberal policies and the disasterous consequences for the poor, we don’t need ‘maoist’ sermons. In fact they have been a little too late in joining the resistance. For a non-’maoist’ account, I find the rigorous economic account by the noted economist Utsa Patnaik’s work helpful; for example, The Republic of Hunger, 2001. The general struggle against SEZs and neo-liberal policies began in the mid-’90’s when the ‘maoists’ were still fighting their own war of area-control in Andhra and Bihar.
By: Nirmalangshu on October 26, 2009 at 5:51 PM web - Nov 03, 2009 Opinion Web Oct 27, 2009 The Politics Of Petitions
Very distinguished persons like Noam Chomsky are routinely asked to sign hundreds of petitions. In most cases, they are compelled to react in terms of prima facie plausibility based on quality of content, personal acquaintance, previous knowledge, and the like... Nirmalangshu Mukherji

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Whose WAR? Hard News - In response, Delhi University professor, Nirmalangshu Mukherji, wrote in an open letter to Chomsky, "The organisation (CPI-Maoist) has no presence ...


Nirmalangshu Mukherji I started out aiming to become a philosopher of science, drifted into epistemology, moved on to classical philosophy of language, became drawn to cognitive science, and somehow ended up looking at biolinguistics, nature of musical organization, and the general properties of the human mind. Currently working on a book tentatively titled Routes to Reference. The work generally falls under what is now known as internalist approaches on human language; among other things, I hope to examine how the human linguistic system interacts with non-linguistic systems to ‘give’ the world to us so that we can talk about it on favourable occasions.

I am also professionally interested on general questions of life, including the character of philosophical practice. There is no conscious attempt, but sometimes these two apparently disjoint interests seem to merge. There is also a third, more recent interest: to do something about peace, justice, human rights. There is little academic philosophy in it, but I don’t think I could have written them without lifelong engagement with philosophy. Last updated December 2008 Nirmalangshu Mukherji :: TEACHING Professor Department of Philosophy University of Delhi Delhi-110007, INDIA

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