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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 20, New Delhi, May 1, 2021

Sincere Self-Introspection and Reforms will Strengthen Left Forces | Bharat Dogra

Saturday 1 May 2021, by Bharat Dogra

Left forces have generally been a source of hope and justice, but at certain junctures of history and in certain places these have also been a source of despair and injustice. Human beings are at a critical stage of their history, and we need the cooperation and help of all forces who can contribute to creating a better and safer world. To help them in contributing to this with more certainty and capability and also to increase their own strength and resilience, left forces in various countries need to undertake significant internal reforms based on a process of sincere self-introspection. This will also help left forces to attract many new members and supporters.

Some left groups continue to offer generous praise to certain powerful individuals of history whose deeds are associated with the unfortunate death or killing of millions of persons. In some cases, names of such persons are even pre-fixed to the commonly used names of certain left groups and parties. How can this be justified? This will repel many young persons who have read their history well. The response that the atrocities of these powerful persons are greatly exaggerated in books written by capitalist scholars is not an adequate response as such allegations have also been made by independent and unbiased scholars on the basis of careful study. If for the sake of argument it is agreed that the number of those who died in such atrocities is only half or even just one-fifth of what is mentioned in many scholarly works, even then expressing support for persons responsible for them, even to the extent of tagging their name to the name of their group, cannot be justified. So this is clearly one aspect on which introspection and reform is needed.

Secondly, environmental issues are increasingly becoming more important but the response of the left to incorporating these issues and adjusting well with the main agenda of justice and equality needs much more consideration. Of course, one is aware of the great contribution made by some left scholars to the study of environmental issues in recent times, but in terms of the adequate incorporation of these issues in left-led struggles, or in government programs when the left governments are formed, there is much that remains to be done.

Thirdly, and related to this, there does not seem to be adequate comprehension of limiting economic growth beyond a point and emphasizing the virtues of frugality and simplicity among supporters and in programs. Of course, several left leaders set a great example of austerity in their personal life due to their commitment to their parties, but this is different from incorporating simplicity based on environmental ethics in their ideology and programs.

Fourthly, (again a related concern), spirituality-related issues, including looking at spirituality as a source of strength, have been generally ignored by the left. This makes it difficult to take in properly the learning from some of the greatest leaders of humanity. In the specific Indian context, I will like to mention great spiritual leaders like Sant Kabir and Guru Nanak who have powerful and important messages for any agenda based on justice and equality.

Next, the question of farmers, rural communities and their sustainable livelihoods do not appear to be very satisfactorily addressed by left forces. Judging from some discussions I had with some left friends at the time of conducting field-work in villages, the impression that I have is that left forces are good for resisting injustices suffered by farmers ( for example in marketing ) but in terms of protecting sustainable livelihoods, their strong commitment is less visible. They seem to almost agree with the capitalist approach that farmers and rural communities have to be inevitably a reducing force with the passage of time. The other day I heard of a slogan used by a young left candidate in elections—agriculture is our present, industry is our future or something to this effect. Why cannot sustainable and justice-based agriculture be our future also? Also, the stand of the left on the issue of the rural landless population should become clearer as lately the land for the landless issue has not received adequate attention even from several left forces in important countries like India.

This leads to the larger question that in terms of the overall development and environment agenda, while some of the priorities of the left based on justice are of course very correct, it has to reset and reconsider several other aspects of its priorities. It tends to sometimes take a favorable view of even disruptive technologies pushed by powerful interests. While some of the critiques of the existing development path coming from the left have been very strong and effective, similar clarity needed while articulating an alternative path of development is less visible.

Seventhly, the ability to handle dissenting views internally and in fact even learn from them to bring improvements and maintain unity has to be improved. This is needed to prevent fragmentation, retain talent and improve unity-based strength.

Related to this, in a wider context also there should be more internal democratization as well as a more sincere commitment to democracy both in internal and external matters.
There is a need for violent left groups to reconsider their approach and introspect how in changing conditions peaceful paths of change have become more relevant and important.

Last but not the least, the tenth consideration is to be more responsive and considerate to friendly advice from outsider sources and well-wishers.

Sincere introspection along these lines and initiating reforms based on this will help the left forces to be stronger and more united and to make a more definite contribution to creating a better and safer world in these exceptionally difficult times.


(The writer is a journalist and author. His recent books include Planet in Peril and Protecting Earth for Children.)

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