Winning back the people

Left is stuck with old issues. It must strike new conversations — with middle classes and youth.

Written by Prakash Karat | Published:January 7, 2016 12:04 am
kolkata, kolkata plenum, CPM, CPM plenum, CPM central committee, Prakash Karat, congress, kolkata latest news, india news General Secretary of the Communist Party of India Prakash Karat.

The organisational plenum held by the CPM in Kolkata focused on the organisational steps to be taken to build up the independent strength of the party and to expand its mass base. The plenum was a follow up to the 21st congress of the party held in April 2015. The congress, which is the party’s highest policymaking body, had set out a political line that emphasised the importance of expanding the strength of the party in order to forge a real political alternative — a left and democratic front.

The CPM, which is the largest left party in the country, had suffered electoral setbacks, particularly in West Bengal, and failed to register any worthwhile advance at the all-India level in terms of mass support. It was in order to rectify this failure that the party organisation was subjected to a critical examination at the plenum.

The political challenges before the CPM were spelt out in the party congress. There has been a rightward shift in the country’s polity. With the advent of the Modi government, a rightwing offensive has been unfolding through the aggressive pursuit of neoliberal economic policies and the onslaught of communal forces. Fighting this twin offensive, projecting a left and democratic alternative platform, and building popular movements and struggles were the tasks set out.

The plenum, therefore, had to devise ways to revamp the organisational set-up and streamline structures at all levels of the party. One of the key themes was how to improve the quality of the party membership in political, ideological and organisational terms. For the CPM, party members and cadres are the backbone of the organisation. They have to be politically conscious, dedicated and self-sacrificing. The plenum broke new ground in insisting that quality can be enhanced only if the social composition, apart from the class composition, of the membership improves. Thus, for the first time, a decision was taken to set a target for recruiting more women members. At present, 15.5 per cent of members are women. This is to be increased to 25 per cent in three years.

The other way of improving quality is to ensure that cadres from the working class, poor peasants and agricultural workers get promoted into the leading committees of the party. Along with this, a planned effort has to be made to promote cadres from Dalit, Adivasi and other socially oppressed sections. There is no dearth of Dalit members — 20.3 per cent of the total membership — but their numbers in the middle and higher committees are comparatively low. So promoting cadres from socially disadvantaged sections needs conscious planning.

The CPM and the Left in general have fallen behind somewhat due to changes that have occurred in socio-economic conditions after more than two decades of liberalisation and globalisation. Two constituencies where the Left had a traditional appeal — the middle classes and the youth — have been most affected by these changes. In the pre-liberalisation era, the Left had an appeal for both the middle classes and young people. There is a decline in that appeal. This is due to two reasons. First, there is a differentiation within the middle classes, with an upper stratum having high incomes and a lifestyle closer to that of the affluent sections of society. They see benefits in neoliberal capitalism and can no longer relate to the Left programme. Second, the problems and concerns of the other strata of the middle classes have undergone changes, which have not been properly addressed by the Left. The Left organisations are still stuck with the old issues and have not innovated in ways to reach out to them and take their concerns on board.

In the case of the youth, the Left has to reorient its policies and programmes, making the concerns and aspirations of the young a central focus. Where it has done so, it has succeeded but, by and large, this is an area of neglect. The plenum dealt with both these issues of work among the middle classes and the youth. Concrete measures have been suggested to step up work among the urban middle classes. The party’s youthful component — the number of members below 31 years of age — is hovering just below 20 per cent and guidelines were drawn up to recruit more young men and women and to promote younger cadres at all levels of the party.

A key slogan that emerged from the plenum is to adopt the mass line to establish live links with the people. Mass contact with the people has increasingly become confined to times of elections and when election campaigns are conducted. The old communist style of always being with the people, learning from the people and then going to the people with the prescriptions for dealing with their problems has to be restored.

The quality of the party can improve only when there is vibrant inner-party democracy in place. This is important not only for the CPM but for the party-based parliamentary democratic system itself. Neoliberal politics has further stifled democracy, which was already getting narrowed, within parties. Many parties have a leader-centric organisation or have become family enterprises. There is a widespread perception that the communist party is disciplined but not democratic as far as its internal organisation is concerned. Actually, the CPM, which practices democratic centralism, has a better record of inner-party democracy. The plenum pinpointed certain trends that adversely affect inner-party democracy and suggested steps to remove these defects.

There is a common misconception that combating communalism means defeating the BJP in elections. The electoral struggle alone cannot weaken and isolate communal forces. The RSS and its various front organisations are working constantly amongst various sections of society. Electoral defeats do not necessarily weaken the influence of communal ideology. It is important to wage the battle of ideas to counter Hindutva forces and other brands of communalism. As a consistent force against communalism, the CPM has to have an organisation capable of conducting ideological struggle among the people. The plenum, therefore, discussed ways to mobilise intellectual and cultural resources for a broad platform against communalism and to step up interventions in the social, cultural and educational spheres to inculcate and strengthen secular, democratic values.

The success the CPM has in implementing the organisational tasks set out in the plenum will determine the advance towards building a viable left and democratic alternative in the country.

The writer is former general secretary of the CPM.

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  1. I
    indian
    Jan 7, 2016 at 3:03 am
    A failed ideology pursued by failed politicians
    Reply
    1. F
      FunOnRun
      Jan 7, 2016 at 11:30 am
      WOW!!!! what an article. i will try to summarize what he is trying to say in few statements - He is explaining how it is better that people have to remain poor and marginalized. If their life improves they move away from Left thinking (para 6 of the article). So get more poor people in party. Ensure that they stay poor so that party gets good support.. Also since when communists have started valuing democracy as stated by the supreme authority of communists in India??
      Reply
      1. T
        Tc
        Jan 7, 2016 at 7:39 am
        If CPM want to exist, kick out this man and his wife from the party forums. He has done max damage to the party during his tenure. The poor Yechuri can't do much now
        Reply
        1. T
          TIHAEwale
          Jan 7, 2016 at 7:19 am
          After getting to know from media that under 34 years of uninterrupted rule of CPM in Bengal 1977-2011 only strikes gained momentum and industries were shut down how can Karat and CPM expect youth and middle cl support the Left.
          Reply
          1. K
            K SHESHU
            Jan 7, 2016 at 1:16 pm
            Any party will succeed if it works with people and fights for their better living. Mere powr politics cannot succeed in the long run.
            Reply
            1. K
              K SHESHU
              Jan 7, 2016 at 12:58 pm
              The left parties are concentrating on power rather than people. Before thinking of seats in parliament and emblies, they should partite in m movements involving day to day issues.
              Reply
              1. A
                Arun K.
                Jan 7, 2016 at 8:10 pm
                You can't attract the future or up and coming generations with theories of the past that bit the dust over 30 years ago with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Although to the smart and shrewd, it was evident from day one that communism was a pastime of the deadenders that went against the very nature of mankind. But since Mr Karat cannot change stripes in his old, mature years, he sees no other option against to keep on flogging the dead horse. Lots of luck to you, Mister Karat............ ArunK, Esq, USA
                Reply
                1. C
                  Chand
                  Jan 7, 2016 at 10:49 am
                  The left parties badly need an image makeover as there is a perceived notion among the present youth that left represents an outdated ideology. The left parties also do not have many tall leaders like in the past who exhibited statesmanship qualities. For the benefit of left parties, it has to be admitted that they more than any other national party has the interests of the weaker sections at heart.
                  Reply
                  1. A
                    Anil Maheshwari
                    Jan 7, 2016 at 4:28 am
                    Comrade Karat seems to be wise after his exit as the General Secretary. The 'para dadas' (local bullies) have migrated to the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal from the CPM. Therefore, there are remote chances of the revival of the CPM in West Bengal. What message the party has for the youth? Karat has failed to spell out. The party has lost its thunders by deviating from the core agenda.
                    Reply
                    1. A
                      Arvind
                      Jan 7, 2016 at 6:02 am
                      Even the poorest of Poor has no faith in Communism munist leaders used to en cash on the poverty of poor people/workers/labors in blackmailing managements of industries West Bengal there was no progress when CPM/Left Govt was ruling. People have lost faith and respect for them.Nothing can be done except repent for past mistakes.
                      Reply
                      1. A
                        atul mehta
                        Jan 7, 2016 at 6:37 am
                        Blinkers still on.
                        Reply
                        1. I
                          Indian
                          Jan 7, 2016 at 8:17 pm
                          A considerable percentage of people of every country of this globe is left leaning. Even in US 18% described themselves as strongly left. Unfortunately Indian left leadership betra the people. I think elitist, immature, petty, dogmatic, dictatorial leadership style is the main reason for it. 1)They have no guts to analyse the past history in present context and learn lessons from it. Still they believe in Stalinist ideology ( no matter what he had done to his all his comrades in arms). 2) So many years have ped and still they haven't decided whether they will make allies with the caste based parties or will sincerely try to build m movement with the tribals, oppressed people in the rural area. Unfortunately this vacuum has been replaced by either RSS or on the other hand by the Maoist. 3) CITU is either manited by the totally corrupt and misguided leadership or not evolved with the change of scenario ( Service sector leadership). 4) Not a single word about uniform civil law - they failed the Muslim women. Unfortunate for their misguide Indian people are suffering from the poverty, illiteracy.
                          Reply
                          1. M
                            Mathews
                            Jan 7, 2016 at 3:41 am
                            Communist Party, as it is, has no future in India. It should transform itself into a neo-socialist party under leaders like Dr. Thomas Issac to attract the m. Otherwise it will end up as a strain of political philosopy.
                            Reply
                            1. R
                              Rajesh
                              Jan 7, 2016 at 10:13 am
                              What will you talk to the middle cles and youth about, you fools? The middle cl are basically the employees of large corporations, the very same people you commies hate. If it was up to you we would be a single party commie dictatorship. No thanks. Take your foolish ideology to North Korea.
                              Reply
                              1. D
                                Damaru Prasad
                                Jan 7, 2016 at 3:34 am
                                What we call Maya and Communism are the same. Looking at things with a mayic veil.
                                Reply
                                1. D
                                  DDS_Delhi
                                  Jan 8, 2016 at 5:55 pm
                                  The heading of the story is about new idea for leftist parties...and as expected,Mr Karat and his party still do not have any new idea in any sense...the same old story of anti America: neo liberal - fancy and fav word of CPM - though very few of their cadres actually understand what that means. And now BJP being in power, same old rant of communalism (basically Hinduism for them - they have to be SECULAR after all). Come on...think about some practical issue at least..!!
                                  Reply
                                  1. V
                                    Vijay
                                    Jan 7, 2016 at 7:02 am
                                    The communist ideology is a foreign imported concept and they have no respect for even an evolved philosophy given by hindu scriptures like Bhagvad Geeta. For them all ancient is bad. Truth is that communist ideology is based on shallow philosophy designed by power hungry few. Indian youth isn't fool to be taken in by pseudo equality proopounded by the left. Equality of opportunity is more just than equality of outcomes. The left and The right can never trump the dharma (righteousness). Prakash Karat is a small man in comparison to the giants like Swami Vivekananda, Aurobindo etc. Youth of India needs depth of philosophy to emulate and they have no interest in the shallow and petty politics of the left.
                                    Reply
                                    1. V
                                      vishwanath bhat
                                      Jan 7, 2016 at 3:51 am
                                      Please retire from all forms of politics in this country with immediate effect.
                                      Reply
                                      1. S
                                        Sreenivasan
                                        Jan 7, 2016 at 10:11 am
                                        Their failure is because of their leaning towards middle-cl people whose opinions are normally flexible. Left can regain its striking power only if they concentrate on organizing workers. The demands of workers also has to change. Mere wage rise does not help the workers. The sooner the wage is increased, the consumer product market and service industries open their mouths wider and swallow more than the implemented wage rise. Hence the demand of workers has to be for better living conditions such as shelter near the work place, creches and schools for their children etc. A worker earning Rs.20000 a month in Mumbai has to spend Rs.15000 as rent for his chawl room. Like others he has also cell phones for himself, wife, two or three school going children. What balance he can have for their food, cloth and medicine after spending on electricity, gas, cable tv ? The British rulers thought it necessary to construct shelters for the workers in Mumbai and they found space for the facility. Today's rulers are conspiring with builders for snatching those old shelters also from workers. Is there a demand for additional shelters in Mumbai in view of the more than thousand times increased workers potion ? Why the LEFT is unable to touch the hearts of the working cl is evident in the answer to the question. New migrants and workers who are forced to search for new shelter due to parions or because of utter lack of space availability go distant suburbs of Mumbai and spend more than 4 hours a day on travelling. They spend more on electricity because the lights are on at their houses for most of the part of the night due to the long hours of every day travelling, they pay more for the transportation and they pay almost nil on medical expenses because they have to just ignore all their ailments until it strike them down. LEFT can work on these issues to bridge the gap between working cl and Leftist politics.
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                                        1. G
                                          Guest4321
                                          Jan 7, 2016 at 3:14 am
                                          Communists, please take away your poisonus ideology. Left failed because of violence, intolerance and repression that it perpetreated. Even now, when they should be trying to influence policies for common good they are talking in plaudes. Why can the left not take up universal healthcare for all in India, is healthcare a privilege for a few or should it be available through state funding to everybody?
                                          Reply
                                          1. T
                                            tyhj
                                            Jan 7, 2016 at 11:14 am
                                            Left is lost and is on its death bed. Shall we order for the Red color coffins. Make it fast.
                                            Reply
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