Monday, May 19, 2014


MUCH is written these days about how “the youth” is “tired” of the “rigid ideological positions” of the Left, how Marxism itself, notwithstanding its immense appeal in the past, has ceased to be attractive to today’s “youth”, indeed how “grand narratives” of all kinds, of which Marxism of course is the leading example, have become passé.

Such views are expressed not just by anti-Marxists, for whom Marxism has always been passé (Eugen von Bohm-Bawerk the renowned Austrian bourgeois economist had written as early as in 1896 that the “Marxian system has no abiding future”); they are expressed even by many who are sympathetic to the Left, or even count themselves as Left. The rise of the Aam Aadmi Party for instance became an occasion for even well-wishers of the Left to argue that the AAP was taking up the space that really belonged to the Left, because of the latter’s “rigidity”. In other words the non-ideology of the AAP was seen by many well-wishers of the Left as a virtue to be emulated if the Left was to “re-invent” itself.

By “youth” here is obviously meant the urban educated youth. Now, whether among the urban educated youth there has actually been a decline in interest in Marxism, and consequently in the Communist movement; whether, if there has indeed been such a decline, it is of a more durable nature or only a passing phase that would disappear when the contradictions in the position of the non-ideological votaries of “clean politics” become apparent; whether the difficulties facing the Left, if indeed there are any unusual difficulties facing it, are because of this factor or something else, are all issues open to debate. I shall not however enter into all these issues here, but confine myself to a few simple points.

Suppose it is true that the urban educated youth in India has indeed lost interest in Marxism and hence in the Communist movement; how should the Communist movement react to this fact? Should it try to “reinvent” itself by suitably altering its ideological position, so that it becomes more attractive to the urban educated youth than it is now?

The answer to this question cannot possibly be in the affirmative. The Communist movement is founded upon the presumption that Marxism represents a scientific approach to the study of society in its historical setting; or as Althusser put it, that Marx opened up a new continent for scientific exploration, the continent of history. Amending the Marxist position at any time therefore requires a scientific demonstration of what is wrong with the existing position; it cannot be done on the basis of whether the urban educated youth at that time likes it or not.

Just as the validity of a scientific proposition is not determined by whether it is popular or not, the validity of the Marxist understanding cannot be determined by whether it appeals to some particular social group or not. The Marxist understanding, as it exists at a particular point of time, may of course need modification, but whether it does so or not, and in what direction it needs to be modified, have to be determined by scientific analysis, not by the tastes, preferences and prevailing fashions among the urban educated youth, or any other group for that matter.

In fact what Marxism has to do is the very opposite of what is suggested. Instead of changing itself to suit the preferences of the urban educated youth, it has to analyze scientifically why the preferences of the urban educated youth are what they are, and on the basis of that analysis work out possible praxis. Not doing so, and altering itself to become acceptable and popular to the urban educated youth, or to the urban middle class, or to any particular class for that matter, including even the working class, is to commoditize itself, to convert itself from being an approach to a scientific understanding of society that shows mankind the path to emancipation, to being a commodity that is acceptable to a set of “consumers”. It would be not only a self-immolation of Marxism, but also an abandonment of the quest for human freedom.

To say all this is not to suggest that those who want the Left to reinvent itself by becoming more acceptable to the urban educated youth are ill-motivated. On the contrary many of them have the noblest of intentions and the interests of the Left genuinely in their hearts. The problem actually lies elsewhere.


Globalisation has until now benefited, apart of course from the corporate-financial elite, a section of the urban middle class as well for whom inter alia the outsourcing of service sector activities from the metropolitan countries, has opened up new opportunities. Not that the urban middle class as a whole or even the educated segment of it in its totality has been a beneficiary. But the noticeable improvement in the condition of the upper echelon of the urban educated middle class creates the illusion among others of this class that they too have a good chance of improving their lot. This class therefore throws its weight behind globalisation.

But globalisation at the same time entails a process of pauperisation of peasants and petty producers to a point where even simple reproduction becomes difficult for them (which is the cause of peasant suicides), leading to a swelling of the army of urban job-seekers in the unskilled or at best semi-skilled category. Ironically, even skilled artisans, finding simple reproduction difficult in their original occupations, become job-seekers for unskilled work. Since the number of jobs in this category is not expanding much, this leads to an increase in the ranks of the unemployed, underemployed, casually employed, intermittently-employed workers who themselves earn a pittance for wages, and also keep down the bargaining power of the organised workers to tie them down to a subsistence wage. The upshot is a process of impoverishment of peasants, petty producers, and workers, both organised and unorganised. The process of globalisation therefore produces divergent effects upon the different classes, even leaving aside the bonanza it confers upon the corporate-financial elite.

In addition, since there are no internationally co-ordinated struggles of workers, let alone of peasants, their resistance to globalisation, which is essential for the defence of their living standards, must take the form of delinking from it. Such delinking however is precisely what the urban educated elite, a beneficiary from globalisation until now, is not in favour of. Not surprisingly therefore there is, as things stand till now, a difference between the perspective of the workers and peasants, which the Left articulates, and that of the urban educated elite.

It is this which explains the lack of appeal of the Left to the urban educated elite, which feels almost instinctively that the Left, by turning its back upon globalisation, would “take the country backwards”. What it attributes to the ideological “rigidity’ of the Left is in fact the Left’s fidelity to the interests of the basic classes, the workers and peasants, for whom it stands. When well-wishers of the Left, worried about the fact that the urban educated youth may be drifting away from the Left advise it to reinvent itself in a manner that appeals to such youth, they are unwittingly asking the Left to re-orient its basic class position. Political formations like the AAP can be “all things to all persons”, but the Left which is the only political force attempting to “play fair” with the people, taking them into confidence by speaking the truth to them, cannot abandon its fundamental commitment to the “basic classes”, even if that should mean a period of estrangement from urban middle classes (until the latter themselves begin to get disillusioned with globalisation under the impact of the crisis it engenders).


The extent of this contradiction between the urban educated classes and the basic classes is open to debate. But the fact that there is such a contradiction between the basic classes and certain segments at least of the urban educated classes, is evident at this very moment from the developments in Venezuela, Ukraine and Thailand. In Venezuela, a section of the affluent urban youth has been engaged in open hostility to the Maduro government that has continued the pro-people measures ushered in by Hugo Chavez. In Thailand, the immediate provocation for youth demonstrations in the streets of Bangkok against the elected government was its pro-peasant measures. And in Ukraine, it was the Yanukovich government’s signing an economic agreement with Russia as opposed to the European Union that brought forth the demonstrations: it may seem ironical that Right-wing Ukrainian nationalists are keen on closer ties with the EU, but the simple reason is that in non-metropolitan (and non-Islamicist) societies, for reasons already discussed, the opposition to globalisation comes from the Left while the Right supports it. (In many European countries on the other hand the opposite is true).

Hence what appears as “tiredness with Marxism”, to the extent that there is such “tiredness”, has its roots in class interests and class positions. For the Left to be swayed by such supposed “tiredness”, and to “reinvent” itself by attempting to be attractive to the urban educated youth through a compromise on its commitments to the “basic classes” would be tantamount to self-nullification as Left.

This does not mean that it should not bridge whatever gulf exists between itself and sections of the urban educated youth. But it has to do so without compromising on its basic class positions, no matter how much “tiredness” these basic positions induce among others. There are a number of issues of concern to the urban educated youth which in any case must come high on the Left’s own agenda, such as the struggle against patriarchy and for gender equality, the struggle for civil liberties and democratic rights, the struggle against environmental degradation, the struggle for transparency in government, and the struggle against “corruption”.

Since “corruption”, and lack of transparency become particularly serious in the epoch of the hegemony of international finance capital, struggles against them can be taken forward to a struggle against this hegemony itself. But for that to happen, the Left, even while taking up these same issues, must differentiate itself from urban middle class positions, instead of trying to “reinvent” itself in deference to those positions.

Prabhat Patnaik People's Democracy

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