Sectarianism is an important pathology in the left movement. What is more worrying is the fact that it is a dominant tendency despite the continued inefficacy of the Left in taking the advantage of the crisis in capitalism. Given the continued heavy influence of sectarianism amongst all the tendencies in the Left, some deeper analysis of this pathology is in order.

Sectarianism in the Left is an attitude and practice which refrains from developing solidarity with ‘other’ people’s organizations, belittles or even decries the role of ‘other’ people’s organizations, individuals; indulges in unfair criticism of ‘others’ and effectively tends to serve only to the sectional interests of a section of the toiling people.

It seems that apart from individual, organizational egoism (which also needs some in-depth analysis) monolithic epistemological understanding is the other main cause of sectarianism and non-dialogue amongst the various people’s organizations, activists and hence it requires some introspection.

Monolithic epistemology Many organizations, activists tend to consciously or unconsciously harbour a monolithic epistemology. Monolithic epistemology believes that since truth / reality can only be one, its scientific knowledge and the agency, which is the bearer of this scientific knowledge, can only be one organization, (if not an individual!) i.e. my revolutionary party. This understanding fails to take into account the specificity of social reality that it is not as if that the correct path of social revolution is given, predetermined and its only a question of discovering it. It needs to be reckoned that concrete content and from and social transformation, (revolutionary or otherwise) is in the process of evolution, i.e. the reality is emerging, and this process of transformation is open, albeit to a limited extent. Thus when we say that ‘socialism would supersede capitalism’ is a broad historical truth, its concrete content, form, timeframe etc. is an open question and partly depends upon the leadership and its social base. The programmes, strategies, tactics of different organizations in the people’s movements are to be better looked upon as different hypotheses. For example, to what extent would the Indian bourgeoisie collaborate with/bargain with/ oppose imperialist domination as the contradictions of imperialism develop, is an importment bone of contention amongst the Indian Left. Various stands taken by different Left tendencies about a series of issues depends upon this differing understanding. These different views and stands need to be looked upon as differing hypotheses and the correctness or otherwise of these hypotheses would be established only after the revolution! The Bolshevik/Menshevik views on the nature of revolution in Russia, were hypotheses; or the proponents and opponents of Lenin’s ‘April thesis’ were proponents of differing hypotheses. The October revolution vindicated Lenin’s hypothesis, especially the April thesis. However, it was not the case that the October Revolution was given, and that Lenin/Bolsheviks merely discovered this reality accurately. The social reality is always in the process of evolution and is being shaped and gauged simultaneously by different social forces. Hence an insistence that one’s own organization having the ‘correct’ understanding would be out of tune with this reality of the subject-object dialectic of the ‘reality being simultaneously made and gauged’ by different actors.

When a Left front is formed, it would not be correct to take a view that only one of the say five organizations has the ‘correct’ understanding and the ‘other’ organizations would either realize it and hence ‘join’ the ‘correct’ organization or ‘other’ organizations would be thrown into the dustbin of history. A better view would be to recognise that ‘other’ organizations may also be at least partially correct and through experience and further debates, a newer consensus, understanding may emerge amongst the Left front, which has incorporated some of the points which were not part of the initial shared understanding. Such changes in the perception of the reality occur within one organization also. Thus after the ‘ April Thesis’, Lenin and Trotsky shared a new understanding about the telescoping of the democratic and socialist stages of the revolution in Russia and Trotsky joined the Bolshevik Party. Secondly the Bolsheviks took over the agrarian programme of the Left Socialist Revolutionaries. The ‘dialectic of the reality and its perception’ is also revealed by the fact that though the Bolsheviks were vindicated by the October revolution, the problems of post revolutionary transformation were far more arduous, complex than Bolsheviks ever imagined when they launched the socialist revolution. The social reality is thus an emerging entity and hence only a nuanced epistemology can do justice to it.

Complex, multi-layered, multifaceted reality Monolithic epistemology glosses over a second problem - Experience has shown that one single organization cannot grasp all the dimensions of the complex, multi-layered, multifaceted reality- or grasp the new issues that arise with the development of capitalism (e.g. environmental issues). Thus even the best of the Marxist-Leninist? tendencies were initially more or less blind to many of the issues brought forward by the feminist or by the anti casteist movements. In India the urban leadership has not adequately emphasized even the specific problems of the rural toilers. The issues brought forward by the oppressed minorities also belong to the same category. The reality brought to light by various new social movements was initially oblivious to even the best of the Marxist-Leninist? tendencies, despite their claim for ‘rigorous scientificity’.

The reality brought to light by the new social movements too is not a self-evident entity. For example, the reality of patriarchy as understood by social democratic feminists, Marxist-Feminists?, Phule-Ambedkarist? feminists and the political strategies arising out of these analyses differ. While it’s natural for each tendency to believe that its understanding is closest to reality, we need to reckon that the ‘veracity’ or otherwise of these differing hypotheses would be settled (though not completely!) only “after the event”, i.e. after the revolution.

It is necessary to give up the notion of any one organization being the bearer of the ‘revolutionary truth.’ Hence while each organization has to continue to plan strategies and debate, push forward these, a dismissive attitude about ‘others’ is symptomatic of sectarianism and we need to keep away from it. In the conventional framework too, there is the notion of ‘unity and struggle’ with ‘other’ political tendencies organizations. But somewhere deep in the mind is the notion that it’s only a question of ‘others’ realizing their folly or being discarded by the masses. A better view would be that the revolutionary broad front would lead the revolution and that there will be a lot of give and take within its various constituents, along with the process of unscientific analyses, tendencies getting thrown into the dustbin of history!

What I have argued above is distinct from the post- modernist view. Post modernism believes that the subjectivity of the human subject precludes the possibility of science discovering objective truth. Secondly, post modernism believes that since objectivity is an illusion, science subverts oppressed groups, females, ethnics, third-world peoples. I do not believe in this kind of relativism. I do believe that truth is singular, objective and amenable to scientific enquiry. However it’s not only the question of discovering the world, but to change it. Revolutionary praxis would arrive at and shape this singular truth. Secondly I would argue that discovering/shaping this revolutionary truth cannot be done by any one organization but will be through a coalition of people’s organizations. The analyses put forth by these various organizations are to be taken as hypotheses. There may be varied degree of shared understanding amongst these organizations forming the coalition and even this shared understanding may change, evolve. Whether this shared understanding or that of any one of the coalition members is the ‘correct’ one or not, would be known only through practice, ‘after the event’, the revolution.

Different tendencies in the left arising from Marxist, social democratic, feminists, Phule-Ambedkarist?, environmentalist traditions need to have much more dialogue, give and take with the perspective outlined above. While differences may persist, dialogue and coalition building needs to be continued with a more open mindset. This more open mindset is certainly not sufficient, but is necessary to discover and shape reality in a revolutionary manner.

Permission to upload this granted on October 15 2005


Disclaimer

  • The views of the authors in various articles are not necessarily the views of this webspace.
  • The display of articles on this webspace does not necessarily imply that the authors agree with the views of this webspace.