CPI(M) Confessions:
Eloquence of An Impasse

Dipankar Bhattacharya

Arecent CPI(M) document has been hailed by sections of the print media as a document with a difference, a document that is remarkably frank and self-critical by CPI(M) standards. The document in question, adopted in the CPI(M) CC meeting held on July 27-29, 1996, contains the final review report on 1996 general elections as well as a report on political developments since the May CC meeting (or meetings, to be precise!). As we shall see in this review, the report is indeed remarkable for both what it says and what it does not say or rather does not dare to say.

First let us see what the document says. Against the backdrop of an unmistakable stagnation in the party's share of the national vote (6.2%) and decline in its number of seats from 36 to 32, the review report seeks to evaluate the party's electoral performance in different regions, identify certain major weaknesses and define a set of immediate tasks to remedy the problems.

The loss of 4 seats in West Bengal (from 27 to 23) is attributed primarily to a decline in the BJP's vote and a consequent rise in the Congress share. However, on the lines of the West Bengal State Committee's review, the report also draws attention to problems like corruption, alienation of the urban middle class, discontent among the educated unemployed youth and some degree of erosion in the party's working class and Muslim support. All these problems however pertain essentially to the party's urban base. In other words, the report would seem to suggest that all is well on the rural front; but the fact is that much of the Congress gains have been in predominantly rural districts like Malda and Murshidabad. And coming to the urban base, the particular problem that surfaced so prominently in this election is a marked alienation of the party from its erstwhile working class base in large parts of industrial Bengal, especially in the districts of Howrah and Hooghly and the Kulti-Asansol-Raniganj belt of Burdwan district. This specific problem has been sought to be downplayed as just another problem by lumping it together with the question of alienation of the urban middle class.

In Kerala, where the party gained one seat (from 4 to 5) and the LDF as a whole gained six (from 4 to 10), the review calls for examining "whether the independent projection of the Party's political line and policies have been sufficiently undertaken". The review report also mentions that while the number of seats won by the party and especially by the LDF as a whole has gone up, the LDF vote share came down by 1.1 per cent (total votes polled in Kerala also fell by 2.4 per cent) and in terms of the size of this vote-share, the rise in LDF vote in Kerala was only to the extent of 34,172 votes. Organisational weaknesses, especially "the unhealthy inner-Party organisational situation marked by groupism ... (which) has weakened the organisation and its live links with the masses", are identified as a major factor underlying the party's failure to translate the favourable situation in the state into a broader mass base and electoral influence. The report also states that while in keeping with the party's tactical line "the Party had no truck with communal parties", "in a few places known INL (the Indian National League, the splinter group of IUML) persons were put up as independents whom we supported ... (and which) was not in conformity with the approach to the INL decided for the elections".

As for other states, the party wrested the two seats of Tripura from the Congress, won the Khammam seat in Andhra Pradesh while losing the existing seat of Myrialguda, and failed to win a single seat in all other states including the three sitting seats of Nawadah (Bihar), Bhubaneswar (Orissa) and Wardha (Maharashtra). The review also mentions the party's failure to contest the Bikaner seat of Rajasthan where its candidate (a former party MP) "decided to withdraw on the last date of withdrawal without consulting the Party". On the whole, the main feature in all these states is stagnation and even decline, but the report makes special mention of the Hindi-speaking region as being of "particular concern".

Three major problems are identified in this context: casteism, lack of independent political and ideological projection of the party and the trend of parliamentarism. Talking about casteism, the report criticises the Janata Dal and the Samjwadi Party for their politics of caste-based mobilisation and goes on to make the confession that "A closer look at the political and organisational problems within the CPI(M) would reveal the growth of caste consciousness within the Party ranks at different levels and erosion of the class bases of the Left". But then the answer is sought to be found through a wider propaganda of "the Party's independent political-ideological stand on the caste question" and a proper combination of "the struggle for land and wages for the oppressed sections" and the "fight against caste oppression". It does not recognise the fact that, firstly, the so-called social justice camp led by the JD and SP basically champions the interests of a few powerful backward castes, which has led to this camp's increasing alienation from broad sections of the dalits and more backward castes, and that secondly and more importantly, this camp represents an unmistakable consolidation of emerging rich peasant and kulak class interests in the countryside. Any serious struggle on basic class issues like land and wages is therefore bound to place a basic challenge and constraint before the CPI(M)'s very politics of alliance with the JD and SP. As long as the political identity of the Left remains subsumed under the JD/SP variety politics of social justice, no amount of political and ideological education of the party ranks and mass campaigns on reservation, caste oppression and social evils arising out of the caste system can effectively tackle the problem of erosion and casteist corruption of the Left's class base.

The review report also seeks to address the problem of the party's failure to go beyond its existing areas and increase its electoral strength despite all the struggles and campaigns waged by the party and its mass organisations on issues like the new economic policies, communalism and corruption. In this context, the report calls for a review of the party's experience of utilising various joint platforms and united fronts with secular bourgeois parties. The CC appears to be concerned that while "In successive Party Congresses we have stressed the importance of developing independent activities of the Party in the political-ideological and organisational spheres ... (and) increasing Left intervention and Left unity in the context of forging the wider alliance ... both in mass movements and in elections such joint platforms and fronts have not led to the commensurate growth of the independent strength of the Party and its mass organisations".

The root of this paradox is rightly traced in what the report calls an absence of or lag in the party's independent positions. Let us quote the relevant portions in detail from the document.

"In projecting the independent political line of the Party among the people, in taking ideological and class positions distinct from the bourgeois parties, the Party is lagging behind. When such wider alliances and joint fronts with other political parties are forged and this independent political ideological stand is absent or lagging, the Party's growth gets limited. It is difficult for the people to see the distinct identity of the Party.

"Secondly, the call for independent activities of the party is often ritualistically observed in a formal manner without sufficient initiative taken at the grassroots level to take up the class and mass issues and launch struggles and movements. The capacity to take up independently issues by the Party and to wage militant struggles has been giving way to general campaigns and reliance on electoral tactics not very dissimilar to bourgeois parties. In such a situation the methods utilised by the bourgeois allies such as caste mobilisation, populist slogans devoid of a class content and tendency to tail behind the slogans of the dominant bourgeois partners is becoming increasingly manifest.

"In such a situation, neither the Party's independent strength nor its electoral influence grows and the tendency to tail behind the bourgeois parties ends up in strengthening them and not the Party and the Left forces. How seriously the Party takes the task of projecting the independent political line of the Party, building up the all sided independent activities, political, ideological and organisational, and guarding against the tendency to tail behind the bourgeois parties must be seriously looked into. This will entail further self-critical examination of our political-tactical line since the 10th Congress, particularly our experience of allying with the bourgeois parties both electorally and in general political terms(emphasis ours)."

From the threat of tailism the report then moves on to the trend of parliamentarism and the attendant vices of opportunism and careerism. Various manifestations of these problems are mentioned in the report: factionalism, pressure tactics for securing tickets, anti-party activities by dissatisfied aspirants, non-involvement of large sections of party members in election campaigns and reluctance shown by leading cadres to go and work in the constituencies being directly contested by the party's own candidates with a view to nurturing their own local interests and local alliances. The report also notes the weakness that "in constituencies like Bhubaneshwar, Nawadah, Wardha or Varanasi, despite contesting elections a number of times and having won the seats also, the Party organisation has not developed ... (and) we are totally dependent on the bourgeois party allies to gather the votes for us. If they fail to do so, we are in a helpless plight".

Tailism, growing electoral dependence on bourgeois allies, subsumption of the Left's independent political identity, a pathetic lack of independent assertion. These are the cardinal questions that we have all along been raising against the CPI(M) and CPI, questions that constitute the crux of the long-standing polemics between the revolutionary and opportunist wings of the Left movement in our country. Our struggle has always been against the specific nature of the CPI(M)'s politics and practice of forging alliances and the CPI(M) has always sought to distort the point of debate as a case of isolationist or Left-sectarian refusal on our part to recognise the very relevance and permissibility of forging alliances with bourgeois parties.

The statement on political developments since the May CC meeting contains some interesting comments on the Common Minimum Programme and the United Front. It is conceded that "on certain basic questions of economic policy, ... in key areas of the economy, the thrust (of the CMP) is towards carrying forward the liberalisation policies of the Rao government and the IMF-World Bank framework" (emphasis ours). As for the United Front, the statement points out that "The present United Front is unlike the normal united fronts in which parties come together for joint struggles and movements bawd on a common set of demands or a programme. ... The bulk of the parties in the UF government are those who wish to continue with the economic policies of the Congress" (emphasis ours).

While the candour of many of these aforesaid formulations appears rather remarkable for the CPI(M) and suggests a revival of inner-party debates on crucial aspects of the party's tactical line or political practice, the tasks emphasised at the end of the election review report - building up independent movements and struggles of the Party based on the charter of the Left and Democratic Programme set out in the 15th Congress Political Resolution, strengthening and widening the anti-communal mobilisation, streamlining the party organisation, chalking out steps for a rectification campaign to remove the defects and weaknesses that have crept into the party organisation and initiating systematic schooling for the party membership - do not convey any new sense of urgency or fresh thinking.

Before rounding off this survey, here is a quick look at some of the interesting points of silence of the document, silence that is no less eloquent. The otherwise candid and self-critical report says nothing about the debate in the party PB and CC on the question of participation in the UF government. And in order not to rekindle the party's own internal debate, the report chooses to absolutely downplay the difference between the CPI and CPI(M) on this score. All that it says in this connection is: "The CPI has joined the government and has two ministers. While our Party has correctly decided to support the government from outside, it is essential that the coordination between th CPI(M) and the CPI and the Left parties is maintained and strengthened". The expression "support from outside" is of course a grand piece of deliberate deception. If being a key partner of the United Front and its Steering Committee and Common Minimum Programme, the CPI(M) still describes its role vis-a-vis the Gowda government as one of "support from outside", then we surely know this "outside" inside out!

Secondly, the report does deal with the danger of tailism, but it does so basically in the context of the party's peripheral pockets like Bhubaneshwar and Wardha. It says, "In those weaker states, where the Party has some presence and pockets of influence, our political tactical line enjoins us to forge alliances with secular bourgeois parties which are opposed to the Congress and the BJP". An attempt is thus made to hide the party's own overriding national alliance with the so-called secular bourgeois parties behind a set of specific state-level alliances and project the party's stronger state units as being free from the national alliance! The organisational tailism or dependence that is witnessed in Nawadah and Varanasi, the eclipse of the party's independent identity and erosion of its class base that is seen all over the Hindi belt - these problems are not practical aberrations. They are all logical corollaries of the party's tailist tactical line and the two are just not detachable. Of course, the report does also talk of undertaking a self-critical examination of the party's political-tactical line since the 10th Congress. It would be interesting to see if and how the party really does that.

And finally, if in key areas of the economy the thrust of the CMP is only to carry forward the new economic policies and the bulk of the UF is composed of parties committed to this policy framework, how come EMS (see box) goes on describing the UF as a coalition of genuinely democratic forces comprising representatives of the working people and progressive sections of the bourgeoisie? How come the CMP is defined as the product of a well thrashed-out political consensus between these two wings of the UF? And what about all these talks of steady and simultaneous strengthening of the Left's independent identity, accumulation of proletarian hegemony through a broad unity and fraternal struggle between the Left and non-Left but progressive bourgeois components of the UF?

These then are some of the glaring pieces of contradiction and silence that circumscribe and underlie the CPI(M)'s new-found self-critical candour. But still the fact remains that seldom after the stormy sixties and the July crisis of 1979 has the party passed through such a crucial phase of inner-party debates as it is facing today. So, keep watching!

Nothing Official About It!

While the CC report adopted in its July meeting says that "on certain basic questions of economic policy, the CMP does not represent the views of the Left. In key areas of the economy, the thrust is towards carrying forward the liberalisation policies of the Rao government and IMF-World Bank framework", around the same time EMS was busy dishing out a different interpretation of the CMP on the pages of People's Democracy. According to EMS, the CMP is "the product of a consensus between several parties and groups which represents a coming together of the proletarian and non-proletarian but progressive forces. This CMP is to a large extent a departure from the reactionary economic and political policies of the former Rao government. It, however, contains within itself some remnants of the anti-people and anti-national economic and political policies of the same Narsimha Rao government" (PD, July 7, 1996). A fortnight later he added "All the 13 constituents (of the UF) are basically opposed to the Congress(I) and the BJP. However, there are fundamental differences between the Left and the other constituents ... Non-Left constituents are not so sharp and clear in their opposition to Rao's economic policies. These differences were seriously thrashed out after which a common measure of agreement was arrived at known as the CMP" (PD, 21 July, 1996).

Regarding the United Front, the CC document says, "The present United Front is unlike the normal united fronts in which parties come together for joint struggles and movements based on a common set of demands or a programme. The present United Front combination has emerged out of the efforts of the Left and secular parties represented in parliament to keep the BJP out of office. The bulk of the parties in the UF government are those who wish to continue with the economic policies of the Congress".

EMS on the other hand writes, "It is the merit of the Deve Gowda government and the 13 party UF on which it is based that it is a coalition government of genuinely democratic forces. Coming together under its leadership are political forces of two types: one, the radical and secular democratic forces which represent essentially progressive sections of the bourgeois classes, and, then the Left and Left-of-the-Centre parties which, by and large, represent the worker-peasant toiling masses" (emphasis added; PD, 7 July 1996). Assuming that this difference between the EMS position and the CC's "official" perception was seriously thrashed out in the July 27-29 meeting of the CC, EMS continues to explain the present UF in terms of the "well-tested doctrine of UF (between the working class and the forward-looking sections of the bourgeoisie) initiated in the early days of the Communist International". "Broad unity and fraternal struggle between the two contingents of the United Front and its government", writes EMS, "would steadily improve and strengthen the independent position of the worker-peasant masses which will steadily lead to the development of proletarian hegemony. This is the process through which the present unity of Left and secular democratic forces will transform itself into people's democratic unity" (PD, 18 August, 1996). And may we also refer to that gem of an EMS article published in the Times of India on 17 August 1996 in which he describes the coming to power of the Gowda government as representing "the best that is in Gandhism and the best that is in the left movement"!