CPI (ML) builds stronger party in India
By John Percy
The Eighth Congress of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) [CPI (ML)], held in December 2007 in Kolkata (Calcutta), West Bengal, was its biggest yet, registering the party’s growing support among India’s workers and peasants. Attended by 1100 delegates, the congress culminated in a mass rally for “People’s Resistance, Left Resurgence” at Shahid Minar in Kolkata on December 18, on the 10th anniversary of the death of the party’s former general secretary, Vinod Mishra. The rally was attended by approximately 100,000 people, coming from all parts of India.
The congress and mass rally registered the growth of the party and affiliated mass organisations, and reaffirmed the political perspectives of a party that sticks to its communist principles, that studies Lenin and the Bolsheviks’ experiences, and applies them to Indian conditions. The congress followed the events in West Bengal in Nandigram, where the reformist Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI (M)]-led state government attempted to evict peasants from their land to make way for transinational companies, prompting fierce resistance by the peasants and bloody repression by the government and its goons. Such repression is to be expected from right-wing governments, bowing to the interests of capital and imperialism but not from a government that calls itself “communist”. Similar issues led to the uprising in Naxalbari in West Bengal four decades ago that led to the split in the CPI (M) that gave rise to the CPI (ML). The events in Nandigram thoroughly exposed the pro-capitalist practices of the CPI (M) that has led the government of West Bengal for more than three decades. The CPI (ML) congress hammered these lessons home.
Following the congress, the party’s magazine Liberation noted: “Such a situation definitely calls for a powerful Left and democratic movement in defence of land and livelihood, liberty and dignity – individual as well as national. But the growing derailment and degeneration of the CPI (M)-led government in West Bengal, especially the arrogance and audacity with which the CPI (M) leadership have sought to justify their policies and conduct regarding Singur and Nandigram have tarnished the image of the Left and may push the democratic forces away unless there is a resurgence of the real Left. The successful conclusion of the Kolkata Congress and the massive turnout at the December 18 rally has sent out that message of Left resurgence at a most appropriate juncture. The Congress did not merely symbolise ideological, political and organisational consolidation of the CPI (ML), it held out the promise of a resurgent Left forging closer ties with broader democratic forces to save India from becoming a neoliberal laboratory and a strategic pawn of Washington.”
But the congress also registered the existence of a small current in the CPI (ML) wanting to retreat from the party’s principled stand, wanting the party to step back from functioning as a communist party and instead set up a broad democratic front, to try to improve its acceptance among “democratic forces”. The party leadership characterised this perspective as “liquidationist”. This minority perspective was supported by some of the party leaders in Uttar Pradesh, and voted for by 16 of the congress delegates.
Since the congress this difference in the party has come to a head. Although re-elected to the Central Committee, former UP state secretary Akhilendra Pratap Singh didn’t attend CC meetings in March and June, and instead of working to implement the party line, insisted that he be allowed to launch his “national people’s party”. He has been expelled from the Central Committee.
A thorough article on the issues and background to the dispute by CPI (ML) general secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya appears in the September issue of Liberation. (It’s available on the web at www.cpiml.org/liberation/year_2008/sept/liquidationism.html and is very instructive for other revolutionary socialist parties trying to implement a Leninist perspective, even in countries where the political conditions are very different to India.)
Growth of CPI (ML)
The CPI (ML) has grown steadily in the last few decades, at a time when communist and socialist parties in other countries have mostly been declining following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Exceptions have been in Latin America, where the Venezuelan revolution is leading a resurgence of the socialist movement, and in Nepal, where the Maoist insurgency has culminated in electoral success and the ousting of the monarchy. By the time of the congress, the CPI (ML) had 114,000 members (although that might still be seen as small compared to India’s population and the needs of the struggle). Its strongest base is in the state of Bihar, but it is also strong in Jharkand, Orissa, West Bengal and Punjab, and now also the southern states of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry. At the previous congress in 2002 membership was 75,000, and 10 years before 22,000.
The party also organises more than 2 million people in various mass organisations, including the All-India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU) and the All-India Agricultural Labourers Association (AIALA), The AICCTU held its Seventh Congress in August, attended by 400 delegates. (There are reports from the AICCTU congress also in the September issue of Liberation). The AIALA, which organises rural workers held its second conference in 2006. Peasants are organised in the All-India Peasants’ Coordination Committee.
Young people are organised in the Revolutionary Youth Association (RYA), and university students in the All-India Students Association (AISA). At Delhi’s most prestigious university, Jawaharlal Nehru University, the AISA has frequently won the leading student union positions. Last November it won all four leading positions. The party also leads an active women’s organisation, the All-India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA). In Assam, the party leads the Autonomous State Demand Committee (ASDC), which was able to elect Dr Jayanta Rongpi to the lower house of India’s parliament in 1991, 1996 and in 1999 on the party platform.
The party has recruited newly radicalising workers, peasants and students, but its growth has also come from winning significant groups of supporters away from the CPI (M) and the Communist Party of India (CPI), increasing numbers of whose members are disappointed with the class-collaborationist policies of these so-called communist parties (which the CPI (ML) characterises as “social democratic” parties). Nevertheless, the minority current in the CPI (ML) was uncomfortable with the critical approach taken towards the CPI (M) and CPI. The minority argued against criticising the CPI (M) for its Nandigram role outside of West Bengal. Instead, it proposed to build a “broad front” with the CPI (M). The minority also criticised the decision to hold the congress in Kolkata, seeing it as too confrontational with the CPI (M).
What are the origins and base of the liquidationist trend? Perhaps frustration at difficulties in winning parliamentary representation, and overweighting the importance of parliament for building a revolutionary party. The CPI (ML) is a party that tries to combine all forms of struggle, combining the parliamentary with the extra-parliamentary, while keeping the former subordinated to the latter. This frustration can lead to a search for short cuts, and seeking to water down the presentation of the party’s politics as a substitute for building support on the ground.
Such a political retreat has been a common trend in many countries over the last decade, and follows actual defeats of the working class. The social-democrats rushed to the right, embracing neoliberalism. Too many frustrated socialists and communists think that now is the chance for them to grab the social democratic “space”, and all too often become social democrats themselves.
The political-organisational report adopted at the CPI (ML) congress pointed out: “Today, once again we can see certain signs of a liquidationist tendency within the Party, and the Party must wage a serious struggle against this suicidal thought process. This time round, the advocacy is not for an outright dissolution of the Party, but for relegating the Party to the background while handing over the immediate political role of the Party to a national political platform to be sponsored by the Party. The proponents of such a platform are predictably vague about the prospective concrete forces who are expected to join such a platform; but we are reminded that there has been a decisive shift in political discourse since the 1970s. The focus in the ’70s was on radical social transformation whereas the contemporary focus is on competitive participation within the system! The hint is quite clear — we should accordingly shift our emphasis and adjust our orientation and slogans. The idea of the platform is premised on the assumption that the Party’s acceptability is very limited so much so that the Party has become politically irrelevant. The only way the Party can gain greater legitimacy is by operating through a platform in collaboration with a whole range of liberal-democratic social forces. Ironically, the advocates of this approach also talk about the platform being led by the Party. How the Party can exercise leadership on forces that are not prepared to accept it is anybody’s guess.
“These comrades measure the Party’s relevance or irrelevance in terms of the Party’s electoral success or the lack of it. Once we accept the number of MLAs and MPs as the yardstick to measure the relevance of a revolutionary communist party, we will have to arrive at the conclusion that since its inception the CPI (ML) has never really been relevant! The CPI (M) on the other hand will then appear to be hugely relevant with its considerable strength in Parliament and seventh successive return to power in West Bengal. But real life shows that today the CPI (M) is passing through a phase of acute isolation and disrepute while there is increasing acceptability for our political positions. Our supposed lack of acceptability is also attributed historically to the legacy of Naxalbari and the flawed understanding that the Maoists have appropriated this legacy. In other words, these comrades believe in the thesis of polarization between the CPI (M) and the Maoists and see little space for the Party’s independent identity and assertion. Apologetic about the Party’s own past and identity and having no hope or faith in the future of the Party, how on earth can one exercise the leadership of the Party on any democratic platform?”
Referring to Lenin at a similar stage of ebb in the struggle in Russia, the report observed: “Lenin also tells us how communists must learn to respond to different situations – in a revolutionary situation or a favourable situation of rapid advance, communists must know how ‘to introduce into the movement the greatest number of rousing slogans, to raise the energy of the direct struggle of the masses and extend its scope [while in a period of stagnation, reaction and disintegration, communists] must learn to work slowly (there is nothing else for it, until things revive), systematically, steadily, advancing step by step, winning inch by inch’. Lenin then categorically declares that ‘Whoever finds this work tedious, whoever does not understand the need for preserving and developing the revolutionary principles of Social-Democratic [revolutionary communist in present-day terms] tactics in this phase too, on this bend of the road, is taking the name of Marxism in vain’.”
In an article in Liberation, CPI (ML) general secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya argues: “If the Party is not yet strong enough to win parliamentary representation, the Party obviously has to be strengthened. If democratic forces are not yet ready to accept the Party and its leadership, the answer to that too lies in accumulation of greater strength. The Party never underestimated the importance of either winning electoral victories or expanding its relations with democratic forces. But the point is that these objectives can only be achieved on the basis of, or in recognition of, the Party’s independent revolutionary role, and no shortcuts are available … An utter loss of communist moorings — this is the real meaning of the word liquidationism. A revolutionary communist party can only emerge stronger by shedding any liquidationist flab it is liable to acquire especially in the course of working in a parliamentary democratic context. It is in this revolutionary spirit that the entire Party must wage an unrelenting battle against liquidationism and root it out both in theory and practice.”
Subscriptions to the CPI ML’s monthly English language magazine Liberation can be obtained from: Liberation, U-90, Shakarpur, Delhi, 110 092. The cost is US$20.00 per year.
[John Percy is national secretary of the Revolutionary Socialist Party. He was a fraternal delegate to the CPI (ML)’s 1997 congress, when he was national secretary of the Democratic Socialist Party, and has visited the CPI (ML) several times since then.]