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Saturday, April 14, 2007

The landscape of the left

For many, especially India’s middle class, the left means Marxism and something bad characterized by worker strikes, worker sloth, and West Bengal. However, it is probably the case that no other landscape of socio-political-economic thought is as varied as that of the left. And it can often get so confusing that even Marx himself said that all he knew was that he was not a Marxist.

In the 19th century itself, several main leftist groups were in place in Europe, e.g. Anarchists, Communists and Narodniks (Russia only). The anarchists opposed the Communist idea of the “dictatorship of the proletariat” while the Narodniks preferred to return to an ancient village based communal agrarian system. During Marx’s time, communism emerged as the predominant socialist thought but several other versions of socialism remained active whose heirs have become a dominant political force in most of western European today. After the Russian revolution of 1905, the Russian communists split into Bolsheviks and Mensheviks with the latter espousing participation in elections in a bourgeois democracy. After Lenin’s death, Bolsheviks themselves split into Stalinists and Trotskyites (espousing a state of permanent revolution). In India, the Communist parties split into CPI and CPI(M) in 1964 because of differences over the Sino-Indian War. During Mao’s regime, a quite distinct flavor of Marxism-Leninism, what is known as Mao Tse-Tung Thought emerged to influence several developing countries: China, India, Nepal, Peru, Philippines, etc. The Naxalites in India are the followers of this thought stress on the importance of villages as the core of the revolution to be used to circle off cities before taking complete control. Many Naxalite leaders have rejected another breed of militant revolution centered in rural areas called Che Guevarism (emerged in Latin America) over their lack of focus to form mass organizations and trade unions. The Naxalites themselves fell pray to this tendency of the left to split which eventually led to their marginalization. In 1971, the CPI (ML) split into factions led by Charu Mazumdar, Nagi Reddy and Satyanarain Singh, and after Mazumdar’s death, his factions also split into pro and anti Lien Biao factions.

The anarchists have also been present in different flavors: Anarcho-syndicalism, anarcho-capitalism, anarcho-communism, Mutualism, Collectivist anarchism, Christian anarchism, etc. with anarcho-syndicalists emerging as the only group to have achieved some success during the Spanish Civil War while the zapatistas (EZLN) in Mexico have received international attention since mid-90s. In present days, the greens have emerged as another variant of the left in several countries.

As one can see, over the last 250 years or so since when leftist movements have been in place, it has seen countless divisions. It was inevitable given the international character of these movements which found that Marx’s espousal of inevitability of a common human history irrespective of local conditions was ill-founded. However, while many of these divisions were given an ideological flavor, very often they have been caused because of personality clashes. Though the idea of bringing together the communist groups in several groups through the Comintern failed, we can see today some signs of consolidation. In India, the CPI and CPI(M) take similar stance on most issues. And since 2000, the various Naxalite groups have consolidated and emerged as a formidable power in central India.


Anonymous said...

this post was awesome.. any books\references for more in-depth study on this subject or do i have to wikipedia each flavour ?

Arun said...

You missed Robert Owen?

And Gramsci?

Yeah, perhaps Gramsci didnt give rise to any strong political movements,but some say the Zapatista are Gramscian.

Blog Barfer said...


Shivaji said...

@ anonymous;
particularly good books are Prakash Singh's "The naxalite movement in india", Oxford's "very short introduction to Marx" for a balanced perspective, Marx and engels' "Communist manifesto" which is more accessible of their works. Not aware of any book which covers the flavors of anarchism.
@sahodaran, agree with you on Robert owen, not sure of Gramsci Zapatista link, also Cesar Chavez in US brought a unique perspective