I was never a Thatcher fan. But the thought of celebrating someone’s death – dancing in the streets, champagne – felt somehow not quite the thing to do. Rather bad taste really, in my book. However, I never lived in Thatcher’s Britain. Or suffered, like the coalminers, steelworkers and millions who became unemployed because of her policies. So I’m not sure that I’m allowed an opinion on this.
But since Thatcher’s death has dominated the news all week, it made me think about politics, both in general and particular, in India and Britain, the Left and the Right, new Labour, communism and so on. Having grown up in Marxist West Bengal, I listened to Marxist intellectuals from an early age. I’m forever grateful to them for forcing us, as students, to think, to argue and to be critical about everything. Because of that training, though, I disagreed with Left dogma. I was also disillusioned with the practice of Marxism in my home state. While I agreed with much leftist ideology, I’ve seen that all governance can cease, and the state can be paralysed when workers shut down the entire economy with endless, often senseless strikes, as has happened in West Bengal and Kerala. I spent time in the Soviet Union before glasnost and perestroika, and no-one would opt to live without freedom, even if they wanted the revolution. Even though the decimation of feudalism and tyranny was necessary, replacing that with the dictatorship of the supposed proletariat was not the answer.
Likewise, I remember the palpable anger of ordinary folks in Britain, in the seventies, when the coalminers threatened to strike mid-winter, in freezing temperatures, just before Christmas, holding everyone to ransom. I support unions and workers’ rights. But I’ve seen union bosses politicking for their own ends rather than for the good of the workers, and I’ve seen the work culture in Bengal and Kerala totally eroded by unjustifiable, irrational strikes which left the economy of both states in a shambles.
What is the answer, then? I’m not an economist, but like the emperor’s new clothes, sometimes even a child can provide better answers than all the king’s courtiers. Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, communism and even socialism have become the butt of countless jokes. In India, the Left parties still have some clout. But everyone is heartily sick of the same old nonsensical, predictable jargon the politicians spew. And final neither the Left nor the Right deliver.
Several years ago, I reviewed James Bruges’ The Little Earth Book for New Internationalist. The section on banks intrigued me. The criticism and early warning against banks as evil capitalist institutions which would destroy democracy, economies and governance came not from some predictable commie philosopher, but from two US presidents, no less: from the highly revered Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln. Coming full circle, just over two centuries later, I received an article, ‘The Question of Socialism (and Beyond!) Is About to Open Up in These United States’, from US magazine Truthout, questioning why, after two decades of the collapse of the Soviet Union, socialism was still such a feared word in the States. It suggested that Americans are looking for alternatives to their current structures. In India, there are attempts to start new parties, different from our standard more-of-the same discredited old political caucuses. And I heard today that the Italian media is excited about a promising new, clean politician, Fabrizio Barca, who says, ‘Italy needs not only a new government, but a new form of government.’ And in all these countries, people are desperate for change. Everyone wants clean, people-oriented, decent governance.
So, simplistic or not, I think we need to throw out the jargon, the tired clichés of Left and Right and produce new politics, new faces, different from the corrupt and venal breed that appears to be in power almost everywhere we look. We need leaders who want a better world.
We’ve hit rock bottom, so presumably there’s hope. We surely can’t sink any lower. So things can only get better. And phoenix-like, something, I hope, will rise from the ashes.