The Left Government Trapped between Its Hegemonic Structure and
the Proletarian Reaction

Dr. Saburo Okita is a renowned bourgeois economist. He once expressed his apprehension on the racing liberalisation in India: "this all-out drive for liberalisation, simply for the sake of catching up with capitalism is not desirable. In the case of India, too much of premature liberalisation coupled with governmental indifference is destroying the industrial houses having the potentiality of competing in the international market....The suggestion of the American economist to carry forward liberalisation with a bang will cost dearly in social and political terms". This is quoted from the deliberations of the West Bengal Chief Minister in the 93rd annual general meeting of the Chamber of Commerce on Oct.8, 1994.

Perhaps Dr. Okita's apprehension, as referred to by Basu, was right. The developments in the political arena are largely indicative of that. The intriguing developments - the main mastermind of liberalisation is seen waiting at the doorsteps of Tihar jail and that too against a charge under Section 420 of IPC and also we are witness to a stunning ouster of Congress from power, scoring the lowest ever percentage of votes (27%) in the last election - prove beyond doubt the theory of high social and political cost. May be the left Chief Minister had in his mind that proverbial rhetoric, 'Man is the architect of his own fate'; may be it was also a warning for the cadres of his own party, about a similar disastrous future that might befall on them - it was only a few days back that he had to read out the Policy Statement on Industrialisation, on September 21, 1994, on the floor of West Bengal assembly. That way his apprehension is quite understandable. The same policy when implemented in whatever garb on the soil of West Bengal will not bear any different fruit and a shrewd person will also not expect that. The present article is aimed at assessing how dear is the social and political cost that is being paid. Such an evaluation necessitates the study of the way the proletariat thinks and the evolution of their feelings. And in this venture we shall first seek the help of the Italian Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci.

A Paradigm of Hegemony and Resistance -
A Conflict of Two Opposing Consciousnesses

According to Gramsci, bourgeois system maintains its rule over the subaltern classes by a two-pronged method of domination and hegemony. Hegemony plays the role of the priest, as a bourgeois intellectual motive force which mobilises consent of the subaltern in favour of bourgeois rule. On the contrary, the resistance and submission of the subaltern to the bourgeoisie go on defining this relation through a set of complex processes. We take this as a paradigm of hegemony and resistance for the benefit of our discussion.

The subject who just the other day was full of protest, is eventually a subjugated entity today. He reproaches and vilifies the upper classes of the society alright, but then he submits to its rule. He lays back waiting for the good days to come leaving everything to luck; he may effect a coup inside the factory but he expects the state system to extend support still. His hope of drawing some benefit from the state-level or the national elite is combined with the eternal wrath of his against the state representatives. This 'self contradictory' consciousness of subaltern working class subsumed under the ideological-moral hegemony of capital warrants deep attention. Contrary to popular belief, it must be said that this development of the working class consciousness is by no means a one dimensional process. The working class consciousness is not a rocklike rigid entity; it is a conglomeration of a whole set of feelings and reflections which are contradictory. The 'contradictory' reflection of the working class that it exhibits while under the overall hegemonic structure of capital is the dominant aspect of the class. Gramsci unveils this working class consciousness and says, "its theoretical concept stands in opposition to its activism. So any one can say that the class carries in it two consciousnesses (or in other words, a kind of self-contradictory consciousness) of which one is implicit in its real life activism; this is what unites him with his fellow worker and guides him to action to inflict change in reality while the other is much more explicit, articulate and is inherited by him and uncritically accepted too" (from Prison Notebooks henceforth PN, ed. Quintine Hore, 1971, p. 333). This contradictory consciousness under an overall hegemonic process is practically a cultural entity which operates outside the domain of philosophy in the form of 'commonsense percept'. This commonsense percept very often expresses itself in spontaneity, declares war against the ideological structure of the bourgeoisie but cannot exceed its limits by itself. Again and again it asserts itself as a class inside the hegemony-resistance paradigm. Sometimes it accepts the distant enemy as 'messiah' against the nearer enemy. Gramsci says, "this commonsense percept is drawn straight from the structure itself. In respect of time and space this percept makes sense for both, although it may carry a false consciousness about the totality. In a sense, it can be said with a fair degree of certainty that this immediacy consent is born out of its relation with the adjacent subject."(PN. p. 348) (emphasis added)

1. The working class possesses a consciousness of resistance which it gains through his/her daily experiences (inherent/implicit consciousness) under the overall ideological structural frame.

2. This intellectual consciousness cannot arrive at a comprehensive realisation about the essential vacuity of the bourgeois structure and takes the local representative of the state as the hegemonic power.

3. The contradictory consciousness of the working class needs conscious effort, through multidimensional methods for an upgradation (to socialist consciousness)

4. Spontaneous commonsense percept doesn't by itself rises to a conscious and systematised philosophical consciousness. The intellectual section built from within the class (organic intellectuals) and the external intellectuals through a joint effort organise the working class as a class. This is the way the process of building counter hegemony starts.

Based on the above-mentioned paradigm, we shall now pass on to the analysis of the results of the recent parliamentary and assembly elections in the industrial belts of West Bengal. In these elections, the LF government projected itself as an 'alternative' to the extremely oppressive structure of the autocratic state. 'Left Front government as the weapon of struggle' was their main slogan, which was raised to lend the concept of 'alternative' a popular look. This 'alternative' was conceived as a power of resistance in the realm of natural feelings of the working class, in political terminology, in popular conscience and so on, particularly in the context of the failure of the Naxalbari movement to reach the height of a 'counter alternative'. As long as the government could maintain the 'transitional' character, it was reflected in the workers' consciousness as a bulwark against the bourgeois hegemonic structure. But with the growing 'stability' of the government and also with increasing onslaught of national and foreign capital, this 'alternative' started a retrograde journey away from the workers' consciousness. It alienates itself from the inherent/implicit consciousness of the working class although the explicit consciousness maintained its subjugation to the Left Front. In the trade union (which is the workers' own organisation), they try to assuage the workers and thus halt the process of alienation by organising some partial struggles against the direct attacks of capital at the factory level. But as the rule goes on, the distinction of the Left Front's 'alternative' from bourgeois hegemonic power becomes more and more rarefied. The working class then bursts spontaneously against capitalist hegemony and onslaught and thus are born the localised 'alternatives' based on narrowed down consciousness. Numerous 'independent' and 'politically indifferent' trade unions come to the fore. Here we may take a look at the comparative picture of capitalist offensive and workers' resistance.

Table 1     Workdays Lost in
                  Strikesand Lock-outs




1980 24% 76%
1982 2% 98%
1984 73.8% 26%
1987 6.8% 93.2

It may be noticed in the year '84 the resistance increased enormously and also that in this year the Left Front had lost quite a few parliamentary seats in the state. Between '89 and '95 the number of strikes went on increasing involving progressively increasing number of workers.

Considering the last 15 years, the number of strikes reached its zenith in the year '95 and so also the number of workers participating in strikes and in other forms of resistance. And, curiously, in this particular period, the local government (Left Front) propagated slogans like 'strike is the last resort','responsible trade union movement' etc. which actually amounts to a version of ideological attack. Noteworthy here is the fact that the takers of this governmental prescription have by now been reduced to a insignificant minority amongst the workers indicating a distinct tendency of the already existing gap between the government and the workers taking a qualitative dimension.

Table 2 No. of Strikes and
             Workers' Participation




1989 16 14.18
1990 16 2.30
1991 21 3.05
1992 29 184.78
1993 23 27.69
1994 15 5.55
1995 33 234.30
(From Labour in West Bengal, 95)

The struggles from the early '90s onwards were becoming far more spontaneous and militant; many a time their starting point being the negation of the established TU leadership and in some cases directed primarily against them. In some places, under the banner of an independent TU and in other places without any banner at all they started combating the attack of capital; most of such strikes were witnessed in the jute mills. Characteristically, in most of the cases the movements would reach the peak within 2-3 days and then become silent in the face of further attacks or on their own. The workers in the Victoria Jute Mill attacked all the established TU leaders and what symbolised their official identity (office), and collided with the police frontally. While in that incident one policeman lost his life, Bikhari Paswan, an innocent worker, was killed by the police in retaliation. The movement failed to sustain in the face of continued police terror and in the end we had seen the consciousness of subjugation. During that phase itself the workers of Kanoria Jute Mill effected an outburst in the mill, but in absence of any clear political view it also failed to generate any alternative consciousness.

In the essentially antagonistic contradiction between capital and labour the Left Front had been more and more identified with the capital with each passing day. Security of capital, invitation to monopoly multinational capital and dependence on capital alone for development etc., are, of late, the main Left Front agenda and the Chief Minister is appreciated, and loves to be appreciated, as a capital-friendly man. This whole paradigm adds a new dimension in the state and precisely in this process the Left Front changes from being a 'transitional government' to a permanent and natural ruler in the workers 'percept', it shuns the project of building an 'alternative' to the hegemony of capital and becomes a part of it. This is what we call in political parlance, assimilation within the state system. The bourgeois institutions have long back lost all utility in the resolution of the capital-labour disputes. Yet in some places, the oppressive instruments of the state (police, administrative heads) came forward as mediators in labour disputes. A few disputes were 'solved' in police stations and as a rule they openly sided with the capital. Mattkal, Kanoria, Hastings, Victoria and many other jute mills are mute witnesses to such a bankruptcy of the LF government which has added yet newer dimension to the Left Front model of capitalist hegemony.

Elections Open a New Front of Resistance

As far as Gramsci is concerned, the hegemony-resistance paradigm is largely time and space dependent. The aspiration of resistance is confined to a very narrow periphery when faced with an extremely oppressive mood of capital and state system and the expressions of the same are more localised, more scattered, segregated and are comparatively limited to the intellectual sections. When hegemony takes the form of intellectual offensive (electoral campaign), when the oppressive machinations are temporarily pushed behind the curtain and lie in wait there, the frontiers of resistance then are extended, they take a more concrete character, are more closely knitted to one another and gain real mass character. The aspiration that was till the other day confined to the intelligentsia alone assumes the character of mass fervour. The duality of the subaltern class consciousness, that between implicit/inherent and the explicit/external ones becomes all the more manifest during these periods. Whoever appears before them with appeals for vote in the electoral fray is assured by them or, rather by their explicit/external consciousness. Apparently they do not refuse any of the parties in the fray and at the same time without giving the slightest hint about the dynamics of their implicit/inherent feelings and the way things are going to turn. Both the traditional means of exercising hegemony (intimidation, bribery etc.) and the more modern tactics of the same (development of road transport etc. and lots of promises of further reform) starts losing appeal. The workers organise their opinion as the subaltern class and in some cases this organised opinion manifests itself as 'swing' or 'vote for change' in elections. In the absence of a viable alternative, change takes place within the traditional structure of hegemony. Also, it is seen in many a case that the whole expression is directed against the local representative of the state/hegemonic institutions with whom they are engaged in daily conflict (concept of immediacy). Lack of awareness about the totality prevents them from determining the interrelation between local and the distant enemies. That their intention of teaching a good lesson to the local representative could spell further disaster and that in the final analysis such changes do not brighten their future, do not figure in their concerns. This endeavour to escape the suffocation of hegemony may well be called by the traditional intellectuals as 'negative vote' or 'a rightward journey' but such events are for sure, a reflection of the natural aspirations of resistance in the class consciousness, even if backward, of the working class. From this perspective we can proceed to analysing the results of last elections.

Poll Results in the Working Class Belts

In the present electoral arrangement none of the seats can be marked as exclusively 'working class seat', only the seats having vast areas of thickly populated residences of the industrial workers, which include also other sections of the labouring people as voters, are commonly termed as industrial seats. This state has seventy five such seats which include six in Jalpaiguri, four in Darjeeling, one in Dinajpur (North), three in Murshidabad, three in Nadia, six in Hooghly, three in Midnapur, two in Bankura, one in Birbhum, ten in Barddhaman, twelve in 24 Parganas (North), twelve in Calcutta, three in 24 Parganas (South) and eight in Howrah. In the '96 elections, Cong(I) has wrested 28 seats, the Left Front 45 seats and GNLF 2 seats. The Left Front had won 65 out of these 75 seats in '91 elections.

Table 3         Results of 75 Working Class
                      Dominated Seats
Pol. Parties 1991 1996 Seat Lost Seats Gained
CPI(M) 56 40 18 2+
RSP 5 4 1 --
Forward Blcok 3 1 2 --
Janata Dal 1 -- 1 --
Lf & Allies (Total) 65 45 22 --
Cong (I) 0 28 2 22=
GNLF 2 2 -- --

Although in terms of seat numbers the LF has acquired 60% of the total and the Cong.(I) 37.33%, yet there is a decline in total number of votes polled by LF. The difference in number of votes between the LF and the Cong(I) which was 7,94,468 in '91 has come down to 5,72,600 in '96. That way there has been a definite shift of almost 2,22,000 votes from the LF to the Cong camp. In terms of percentage, the LF in '91 got 47.94% of votes and the Cong(I) 38.19%, whereas the corresponding figures in '96 stand at 47.91% for the LF and its allies and 42.12 for the Cong(I). The net gain of Cong(I) between '92 and '96 is 3.89%. Yet this average does not exactly reflect the magnitude of decline in some districts like Hooghly, Barddhman, 24 Parganas (S), and industrial areas of Midnapur. Seen the other way round, Cong(I) has gained in 65 out of 73 seats (Cong didn't field candidates in two seats of Darjeeling), in terms of number of votes. Noteworthy among them are Farakka (14.02%), Jangipur (13.46%), Maheshtala (10.68%), Titagarh (10.14%), Kabitirtha (17.12%), Uluberia (N) (20.66%), Kulti (22.87%), Asansol (26.13%), and Muhammed Bazar (13.39%). On the other hand, in 36 assembly constituencies there has been a general trend of decline in number of votes polled by the LF candidates which has been a continuous process. Let's take a look at this instance (Table 4):

Table 4 Trend in Decline of Votes of
               LF Candidates
Assembly Constituencies Year Wear Winning Margin
1. Chanditala
  1977 CPM 27,723
  1982 CPM 15,329
  1987 CPM 15,096
  1991 CPM 9,380
  1996 Cong(I) 2,114
2. Champdani
  1977 CPM 25.988
  1982 CPM 10,758
  1987 CPM 5,501
  1991 Cong(I) 3,670
  1996 Cong(I) 9,002
3. Bansberia
  1977 CPM 20,259
  1982 CPM 11,981
  1987 CPM 8,596
  1991 CPM 834
  1996 Cong(I) 3,247
Table 5.  LF's Reducing Winning Margins
                 in Hoogly District
Assembly Constituencies Year Winner Winning Margin
1. Uttarpara 1977 CPIM 25,664
  1982 CPIM 22,019
  1987 CPIM 7,425
  1991 CPIM 4,737
  1996 CPIM 5,751
2. Chinsura 1977 FB 20,133
  1982 FB 3,092
  1987 FB 8,099
  1992 FB 2,181

In all the above-mentioned three seats, from '77 to '91 the successive candidates (of CPI(M) or other LF constituents) won at least three to four times each, but notably, every time the winning margin was reduced compared to the previous one. Dominated by workers, these constituencies have always remained the seat of continuous labour unrest where the LF had never come forward with any proper solution to end these unrests. As a result the local representatives of the state had fallen prey to mass discontent after it reached its peak. Similar things happened in two more seats of Hooghly district where the LF has come out victorious this time also, but with extremely minimised margins of win (See Table 5). To stem this colossal downslide, the LF had declared the Statement on New Economic Policy between '91 and '96 elections and projected with a lot of fanfare the illusory picture of supposedly high tide of industrialisation in the State. The picture of an impending industrialisation. However, this was not acceptable to the workers' consciousness. Their own experience of the past proved a better teacher for them instead .

The Results of  An Investigation Reinforces Our Perception

We conducted an investigation in search of an explanation of this LF decline. Instead of targeting any specific group we preferred an investigation at random. Two worker comrades and an organiser in the TU front conducted this sample survey. The survey proceeded groupwise in part and the rest on individual basis. They took care that no loaded question was posed to extract a 'favourable' answer. The questions were rather forthright like: 'Whom did he vote for in the last polls?', 'Whether the same party has been voted for in the municipal elections too?', 'What had been the factors for choosing the candidate and excluding the others?', 'The role of the State government in the betterment of the factory', 'What he expects of the new industrial policy?' and 'The role of the trade unions inside the factory' etc.

We produce here the results of the survey in two factories.

1. Angus Jute Mill

2. Hindustan Motors  (A Modern Engineering Industry)

From these two surveys it is amply clear that New Industrial and Economic Policy of the LF has failed to impart any optimism among the workers, rather they appeared to be averse to it. From '77 to '96, in a span of nearly twenty years, as the line of distinction between the two ruling parties gradually fades out, the workers also continue to effect changes in the industrial areas, within the purview of the hegemonic structure, somewhere decisively by defeating the previously winning candidate and somewhere waiting for the next opportunity. While conducting the survey comrades felt that neither any momentary surge of excitement had acted behind this result, nor were the workers repentant with the results. Such a mentality has been noticed quite uniformly for all workers irrespective of whether they are local or outer-provincial, permanent or temporary.

In Lieu of Conclusion

The primary realisation that we arrive at from these surveys needs further enrichment to reach completion and we have to conduct the same work in all the 75 industrial assembly constituencies, where opinions from more and more workers would help in clearer visualisation of the scenario and thus concretising our view. Yet, despite all limitations of our investigation it can be safely stated that the only way to ably take on the overall capitalist offensive is by executing and combining the three-pronged tasks of launching an ideologically clear-cut campaign in favour of an alternative against the attack of the capitalist ideology (hegemonic structure), building up a contingent of organic intellectuals from within the working class and aligning systematic philosophical thought with the spontaneous consciousness of the working class. And mobilising the broadest possible opinion of the workers (extension of democracy in trade union activity) is the key element. As Engels had said, this attempt at breaking with the capitalist structure is what is known as development of socialist consciousness. Thus can the revolutionary left assert itself as the representative of a real alternative in contrast to the social democrats.

(Translated by Anindya Sen from October Special Issue of Deshbrati, the Organ of the Party in West Bengal)