The Left in West Bengal and NSW

At elections finalized this weekend the ruling Left Front was soundly defeated in elections for the Indian state of West Bengal. I previously discussed Indian Communism here. The Left Front had governed the state since 1977. If NSW Labor won one election too many the Left Front probably won more than one. This interview with a CPM spokesman sounds rather like someone in the NSW ALP even aspirational voters rate a mention.The Left Front is an electoral coalition of various parties that define themselves as ‘Marxist’. The dominant (probably over-dominant) one is the Communist Party of India(Marxist) (CPM), then the Communist Party of India (CPI) and varying numbers of smaller parties. The first post the post system in Indian politics has forced the parliamentary left to unite around single candidates. The CPM split from the CPI in 1964, the split had many causes but the major factor was the CPI’s advocacy of a coalition with the national bourgeoisie. In political terms this meant the Congress Party which won the approval of Moscow for its pro-Soviet foreign policy. Those who formed the CPM wanted to preserve the independence of Indian Communism from Congress. Although the split was related to the dispute between Moscow and Peking the CPM was never a Maoist party. It combined an indepence from the Communist superpowers with a Stalinised Marxism, it believed that the tasks of the Indian left were anti-monopoly and anti-imperialist rather than the immediate construction of socialism. However the CPM saw itself (and later many of the smaller non-Congress parties) as the vehicles of the this agenda. The Left Front in West Bengal won credit by a reasonably successful land reform program and then coasted through the 1980s and much of the 1990s, it offered reasonably competent government and to its credit eschewed the sectarian (ie. anti-Muslim) appeals of many other parties. However as the national Indian government pursued policies of economic liberalism the left Front faced a dilemma. West Bengal voters wanted more than the Left Front had offered. The result was that whilst the Communist parties at the national level were resistant to economic liberalism the Left Front and in particular the CPM (despite misgivings from some of its allies) championed economic development within West Bengal and sought foreign investment. In 2006 the Left Front won a landslide victory on the basis of its economic record. However its development push clashed with the interests of many of its traditional supporters, in particular peasants displaced by industrial development. The Left’s difficulties were aggravated by its increasingly authoritarian and bureaucratic model of governance, its long years in power rendered the Left increasingly arrogant. State violence against peasant protesters alienated its traditional supporters.  Can the Left recover? Probably yes but it would require more than just blaming a ‘time for a change’ sentiment as the CPM Politburo declared.

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