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The Rise And The Fall

Ajit Kumar Jha

By Vijay Prashad
Leftword, New Delhi, 2015, pp. 378, Rs. 995.00

VOLUME XXXIX NUMBER 9 September 2015

The recent right turn in Indian politics has left the Left parties in a lurch. The 2014 Lok Sabha election electorally devastated the entire Left, particularly the Communist Party of India-Marxist. Vijay Prashad’s No Free Left: The Futures of Indian Communism examines the existential crisis faced by the Left parties in India given the formidable challenge from the Right, especially from the dizzying electoral success of the Bharatiya Janata Party in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. A sympathetic, yet critical account of the Left, Prashad’s book delves into history to trace the rise and fall of Indian Communism. Prashad also includes comparative vignettes from Left movements worldwide to bolster his arguments. The strength of the book is Prashad’s access to top Communist leaders and intellectuals and good use of internal party documents. He combines academic depth with a racy writing style. Given the transition within the CPI-M, with Sitaram Yechury replacing Prakash Karat as the new general secretary, Prashad’s book is well timed. The weaknesses of Prashad’s book result from a typical orthodox Marxist fellow traveller writing within the narrow confines of a rigid, procrustean framework. An economic determinist, Prashad puts too much emphasis on bashing neo-liberalism and the United States of America (where incidentally Prashad teaches) as the main enemy of the Indian people and too little on understanding the complexities of a democratic intervention. Elections provide people, including labour movements, space to counter capital’s non-democratic tendencies. After all, the Left Front used such a space cleverly for almost four decades to rule West Bengal. Elections, in Prashad’s analysis, never go beyond simply number of seats; there is no use of vote percentages, or that of survey data or any aggregate data analysis. Other than invoking the bugbear of neo-liberalism, Prashad does not attempt any sociological analysis of either caste or class, or a serious political economic analysis linking electoral realignment to either hyper-inflation, or severe unemployment, or any macro-economic factor. Defending the strategic decisions taken by the Left leadership, Prashad fails to recognize the major political blunders committed by them. Tied rather closely to the orthodox and outdated Stalinist notions of violent class struggle, Prashad is unable to recognize that the Left in India needs to evolve into a progressive, democratic party with larger pan-Indian ambitions. For instance, Prashad never even once questions why the Left in India has not been able to ...

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