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The Year of Living Dangerously: The eclipse of the Old Left

February 06, 2003 14:29 IST

The last year turned out to be a landmark in India's political landscape; for it signalled the beginning of the end of the Old Left, those who have clung on to ideologies emphatically repudiated everywhere in the world. After all these years of thunder, this is their day of drums, we hear their threnody.

These people, who call themselves 'secular progressives' and whom I refer to as 'Nehruvian Stalinists,' have had a stranglehold on India's institutions, having secured for themselves comfortable sinecures in universities and think tanks. They are responsible for the Nehruvian Rate of Growth of 2 to 3% a year that has successfully prevented 800 million Indians from clawing their way out of poverty.

Much like their Old Left colleagues everywhere around the world, for instance in Europe in the guise of 'socialists', they were on the ascendant during the salad years of Stalinist and Maoist regimes. Their most salient self-image was as missionaries for the new religion propagated by Karl Marx.

In a year-end essay, The Economist magazine damned Marxism with faint praise. It suggested that, paradoxically, while Marx's ideas remain popular as part of mainstream thought, the package of what he put together as Marxism itself had failed completely. That the mouthpiece of capitalism could afford to be so generous to their fallen foe shows the extent to which Marxism has ceased to matter.

The Economist said, somewhat diffidently (19, December 2002, Marx After Communism):

Anti-globalism has been aptly described as a secular religion. So is Marxism: a creed complete with prophet, sacred texts and the promise of a heaven shrouded in mystery. Marx was not a scientist, as he claimed. He founded a faith. The economic and political systems he inspired are dead or dying. But his religion is a broad church, and lives on.

I was gratified to see the formidable Economist come to the conclusion that Marxism was in fact a religion, pretty much along the lines of Christianity. I was pleased as I had the same epiphany some time ago, and I said in And what exactly is wrong with idol worship?

If a new religion comes along now, for example, its adherents may try to differentiate themselves from both Christianity and Islam by adopting some new dogma and some new method of anointing themselves as the Chosen Ones.

This is precisely what Marxists did: they rejected God, which of course differentiates them rather dramatically. They didn't proscribe images, and they also copied everything else that Christianity has. Their church, their schism, their protestants, their pope, their holy book, their prophets, their martyrs, their satan, their missionaries -- namely, the Soviet Communist Party, the Soviet-Chinese split, the Chinese Communist Party, Mao, Das Capital, Marx and Engels, Che Guevara, America, the CPI (M). The comparisons are striking.

A cornerstone of Marxist ideology has been the negation of nationalism, and the promotion of a supra-national Marxist ummah or brotherhood, to which all the faithful swore allegiance. The masses were expected to believe in the dogma of the mysterious Dialectical Materialism, whose ways were not transparent to any but the initiated. In other words, a marketing variant of God and a priestly caste, old wine in a new bottle.

Anything that smacked of national pride had to be opposed tooth and nail. Any history that predated the establishment of the Church of Dialectical Materialism had to be ruthlessly eradicated, for history began in the year 1848 when The Communist Manifesto came out. Of course, the most direct exponents of this theory were the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, who restarted their calendar from the time of their bloody revolution. Year One, the beginning of history.

Well, the year 2002 of the Common Era, or the year 5104 of the Hindu calendar, has seen a marked decline in the fortunes of these Old Leftists. I make a distinction between the Old Left and the New Left. The former are traditional Marxists of the old school, totalitarians bent on conquering the world for their land-grabbing ideology.

The New Left are liberals whose ideas are becoming increasingly more popular in the West (even making itself heard above the general rightward drift in the US today). The New Left has very interesting concerns:

  • the cause of native cultures and traditions (for instance, Tibetans, tribals, Native Americans, Aborigines, Maoris)
  • "small-is-beautiful" economics (opposition to the WTO, MNCs, 'terminator' seeds, globalisation)
  • ecology and nature (the Gaia hypothesis, vegetarianism, sustainable extraction of resources, eco-forestry, eco-tourism)
  • non-traditional science and alternative medicine (ayurveda, acupuncture)
  • the rights of the oppressed, such as women and ethnic minorities.

In other words, something along the lines of the Green Party, or Greenpeace. Leaders of the New Left in the US are often portrayed as the ultimate in political-correctness, the most liberal, the most compassionate thought-leader types. They are truly secular humanists and progressives. There is significant tension between them and the American Right, often seen as fundamentalist, war-mongering troglodytes. But I believe the New Left is on the ascendant, despite minor course-corrections in the wake of events like 9/11.

Rather surprisingly, the New Left's agenda significantly overlaps that of the so-called Hindu Right in India. The Hindu Right is more or less the New Left! This startling theme is further developed by David Frawley in Hinduism and the Clash of Civilizations (Voice of India, New Delhi, 2001, pp 246, Rs. 180).

What may be of more immediate concern to us is the anti-national stance of the Old Left in India. For this, we need a taxonomy. If you consider them dispassionately as sociological specimens, they fall into several categories:

  • The terminal ideologues. The true believers, the Torquemadas or Ayatollahs. Some are clearly in the pay of anti-Indian entities; many are openly seditious; some support the 'human rights' of terrorists and traitors, but are dismissive about the rights of average citizens, especially if they are Hindus.
  • The chameleons. The opportunists. They have gone with the Old Left flow, since there has been money and perks to be had; as things change, they will 'convert', and become born-again Rightists. They are already putting out feelers to land on their feet in a post-Marxist dispensation. Rats and sinking ships come to mind.
  • The fools. The brainwashed ones. They have been led to believe that there is only one truth and that they have seen it, but they are too low in the totem pole to be getting more than peanuts for their pains. They have been fed a line by their handlers, and this they do not have the wits to see.
  • The naïve ones. The salvageable ones. A lot of idealistic young people have been led down the garden path because the Old Left has dominated the media. Once they realise that yes, Virginia, there is an alternative, and that they do not have to buy the party line hook, line and sinker, they may begin to think for themselves.

You know who these people are: you read their vituperations daily in the English-language Indian media. Let me present an amusing excerpt verbatim from an email I received from one of these media people; where this person fits into the taxonomy I leave as an exercise to the reader.

...I came across a book stall in H'bad,which had on display a volume edited by Koenraad Elst. Trained by prolonged
indoctrination to suspect something unacceptably sharp and analytical at the sight of the name, I promptly picked it up. There I saw a piece written by your honourable self, characteristically full of sunshine, warmth and fellow-feeling towards all humanity. I enquired of the chap running the stall, pointing out to him a passage from your essay, how he could possibly
vitiate the atmosphere of the gathering by putting on display such literature, so contrary to the blessed bigotry that we were revelling in. He froze in horror and promptly assured me that he would withdraw the book from display. Sorry about this, but we Stalinists have this ingrained in us...

I believe I'll soon be getting invitations to book-burning parties organised by this person. Shades of Fahrenheit 451, indeed.

This also gives me an opportunity to plug the book in question, Gujarat After Godhra: Real Violence, Selective Outrage, edited by Ramesh N Rao and Koenraad Elst, and published by Har-Anand Publications, New Delhi, 246 pp, Rs. 395, hardcover. It is a collection of articles on the real story behind Godhra and Gujarat, the story that the Old Left has been busy attempting to bury.

It is a much-needed antidote to the colourful fiction from the likes of Harsh Mander and Arundhati Roy, from Peter Popham and Rajiv Chandrasekharan and John Dayal. It does have a couple of essays by yours truly, the facts in which nobody has countered. Instead, like this person quoted above, they use classic Stalinist tactics -- intimidation, censorship, ad hominem abuse. Nehruvian Stalinists are hooked on intellectual terrorism; I hasten to clarify that I use the term 'intellectual' loosely.

There are some in the Indian media who are demonised and decried by the Old Left as 'fascists', 'communalists', etc. In point of fact this characterisation is completely wrong; the Old Left are conspicuous fascists (assuming the dictionary meaning of 'extreme right wing'). The Nehruvian Stalinists in India are indistinguishable from extreme Chinese right-wingers, mouthing jingoistic and ultra-nationalistic slogans about the greatness of China. Of course, they are also as totalitarian as they come.

Further, they are the most bigoted people in India. They hate Hindus and Hinduism and any sign of Indian nationalism so completely and so blindly that they are caricatures of themselves.

A number of those demonised by the Old Left would in fact be considered New Left in the US: hence my articulation of the 'neo-liberal' position. I wrote a long column, A case for pragmatism five years ago, wherein I laid out what I believed. I extend an invitation to the naïve ones I refer to above to consider joining forces with the centrist or right-leaning neo-liberal: for the neo-liberal does have a broad agenda, which is primarily about self-respect and concern for the nation and for the subaltern. I said:

The neo-liberal perspective is a forward-looking, patriotic, eclectic, inclusive, proactive, pragmatic ideology that is perhaps best exemplified by expatriates who have experienced the shock of looking at India from overseas; and also the shock of experiencing other cultures with all their warts, and all their advantages. Most of all, we can learn from the mistakes and experiences of other ideological trend-setters, for example the neo-conservatives of the US...

It is said that a neo-conservative is a liberal who has just been mugged! There is distressing truth to this flippant remark. I guess I would say a neo-liberal, in the Indian context, is one who has just been mugged, so to speak, by the so-called 'progressives'! This has been my personal experience. As a person with subaltern leanings, I naturally gravitated towards the apparently brave and loquacious Indian 'progressives', who are essentially Nehruvians, especially when I was a student in the US.

The self-proclaimed 'progressives', especially in their Internet incarnation, provide an inviting facade. Their general demeanor is of compassion for all the downtrodden groups of India. Which is wonderful. They demonstrate against the Indian State's ill-treatment of women and religious minorities and AIDS patients, and against TADA, and environmental degradation, and so on and so forth. They inveigh against communalism. Constructive criticism: who could argue with that?

However, on observing 'progressives' for more than a decade, I have found a curious and disturbing phenomenon: they are, wittingly or unwittingly, anti-national. In their commendable zeal to oppose, as they see it, extremist Hindus and the 'monstrous' Indian government, they enter into dangerous liaisons, for example, with front organizations for anarchists, separatists, Semitic fundamentalists, nihilist Maoist/Stalinists. I am appalled and saddened.

The recent campaign against the India Development and Relief Fund is an example of this 'secular progressive' wolf-in-sheep's clothing syndrome. It is a Marxist hatchet job.

All this is why the year 2002 has been such a watershed. Finally, pushed to the wall, the silent majority has found its voice, or so it appears. And so has the Supreme Court. The writing on the wall is clear: it is the end of the line for the Old Left. It is time for them to 'go gentle into that good night,' but it appears that they are following the poet Dylan Thomas's advice to 'rage, rage against the fading of the light.'

What happened in 2002?

  • Godhra and the reaction thereto, including the landslide victory for the BJP in Gujarat.
  • The two Supreme Court rulings: a that a nationalistic curriculum is not un-Constitutional and b equalising the playing field for majority and minority-run educational institutions. This is political dynamite, the equivalent of Brown v. Board of Education in the US, something that forever changed education and reduced discrimination. India's landmark decisions, like Brown and Roe v Wade, will have very substantial impact that nobody yet quite realises.
  • The recognition of infrastructure improvements, eg the Golden Quadrilateral scheme for roads and railroads, and the gleaming new Delhi Metro.
  • The Old Left's humbling in a major strike in Kerala, followed by the Global Investors' Meet of January 2003. Malayalis, who have a keen sense of opportunity, may turn on a dime and abandon Marxism for good in ten years.

All this has led to a stunning opinion poll run by India Today-ORG/MARG (BJP's Finest Hour, February 10, 2003). The average Indian voter seems to be demonstrating that he too has a dim view of the Congress and the Nehruvian Stalinists just as the educated urban electorate does. Here are some of the results of that poll:

  • Widespread perception that the quality of public services in railways, telephones, mobile telephony, LPG, school education, roads, drinking water, housing, garbage collection and local transport have all improved: this has been a catalyst in the lack of the usual anti-incumbency factor that would work against the BJP
  • 'There is a feeling even in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh that India has a future'
  • A strong plurality believes that Pakistan is an enemy, and not some 'separated brother' or other psycho-babble that the Old Left mouths frequently
  • 'The poll points to a decisive victory for the BJP-led alliance in the event of a snap poll.'
  • 'The BJP is well ahead of the Congress in the four heartland states where assembly elections are due. Hindutva has made the real difference'

At least according to this poll, there is a consensus emerging that India has a future, and that the BJP-led NDA is more in tune with that, not the Nehru dynasty retainers of the Congress nor the dinosaurs of the Old Left. I also agree with the last point, that it was Hindutva that made the difference. I have the satisfaction of having been prescient about it. I said in March 2002, in Godhra, ‘secular progressives' and politics:

I suspect the BJP and Hindu-oriented parties will now find that Hindu anger and anxiety will translate into greater support for them and their policies... It may, in fact, be a windfall for the BJP. As Oliver Goldsmith said in Elegy on the Death of a Mad Dog:

But soon a wonder came to light,

That showed the rogues they lied:

The man recovered from the bite,

The dog it was that died.

Indeed it was the dog that died. It couldn't have happened to a more deserving dog: the frothing-at-the-mouth Old Left in the Indian media. As the Monty Python troupe used to reassure us in their skits about General Franco, 'Marxism is still dead'! Its progress towards a decent burial in India was the greatest achievement of the year 2002.

Rajeev Srinivasan