special article

The Spectre of Naxalism Continues to Haunt the CPI(M)

Political Observer

At Thiruvananthapuram, the CPI(M) last year updated its 1964 programme. It is well known that permission for participation in a bourgeois government at the Centre and a related watering down of certain provisions concerning land reforms and nationalisation of monopoly capital were the basic aspects of this updating exercise. The debates at Thiruvananthapuram had revolved precisely around these controversial proposals. Yet, for reasons best known to them, CPI(M) ideologues would not like to have much discussion on the actual updating done. Instead they would like us to believe that the exercise really consisted in a reiteration of the party’s basic strategy. And what better means can there be of reiterating the basic strategy than engaging in yet another bout of shadow-boxing with the CPI(M)’s own perception of Naxalism?

Prakash Karat does precisely this in the July-December 2000 issue of the Marxist, the CPI(M)’s theoretical organ. He first accuses the CPI(ML) of mechanically transplanting the Chinese Communist Party’s characterisation of China’s pre-revolutionary society to the Indian situation and then goes on to argue that the Indian big bourgeoisie cannot be called comprador and that it is anachronistic to describe Indian society as semi-feudal and semi-colonial even after five decades of capitalist development.

Now this is really interesting. We gave up using the word comprador way back in the 1980s because we thought it tended to underestimate the growth of industrialisation and strength of the Indian bourgeoisie. Instead we chose the word dependent to describe the Indian bourgeoisie’s abject dependence on and collaboration with imperialism. It is another matter that of late the word comprador is being used quite widely by a whole range of commentators, Marxist as well as liberal, to depict the present role of the Indian bourgeoisie in the era of globalisation. A veritable deindustrialisation is going on right in front of our eyes and many industrialists find it lucrative to engage in trading and all sorts of dubious practices except manufacturing.

We of course would not blame Karat if he chooses not to use the word comprador. What really puzzles us is his obsession with the term. Is this because he does not want to answer the debate on the CPI(M)’s own characterisation of the Indian big bourgeoisie? Let us remember that the CPI(M) programme talks of the dual character of the Indian bourgeoisie. It however does not take the trouble of spelling out the real meaning of this duality. We are never told whether conflict or collaboration is the basic aspect of this duality. The ambivalence is deliberate and, reading between the lines, it becomes obvious that the CPI(M) perception is closer to the original CPI thesis of Indian bourgeoisie being essentially national or anti-imperialist. In one place Karat even tries to trivialise the question by arguing that “To discover that the Indian bourgeoisie is dependent in nature is stating the obvious and does not, in any way, conform to its earlier comprador characterization. … By this absurd use of the term all the major bourgeoisie of the third world, whether it be the Brazilian, South Korean or Indian capitalist class are all to be termed comprador and not national bourgeoisie.” By rejecting the term comprador, Karat actually would like to reserve the option of describing Indian bourgeoisie as national. If the dependent nature of the Indian bourgeoisie is so obvious, pray what prevents the CPI(M) from mentioning it in the programme?

Karat accuses us of confusing issues of strategy and tactics. He says that while the CPI(M) takes note of the various differences within the Indian bourgeoisie and between imperialism and the Indian bourgeoisie, it does not subscribe to the thesis of a “strategic alliance with any section of the big bourgeoisie on the basis if its conflicts or contradictions with imperialism”. In several places he however talks about attracting non-proletarian classes, a catch-all category which obviously includes the big bourgeoisie.

Consider for example the following references. “A revolutionary strategy requires an effective alliance to be forged of all those forces who can be rallied alongside (emphasis added, mark the word alongside as distinct from under the leadership of) the working class in India. The proletariat, both urban and rural, can build a powerful revolutionary movement only when it is able to attract the non-proletarian classes, primarily the peasantry, to the revolutionary movement.” Again, “In the present world situation, the democratic stage (of revolution) is all the more relevant for our country. With the global imperialist offensive and Indian coming under increased imperialist pressures, the anti-imperialist tasks will occupy increasing importance. The broadest anti-imperialist unity can be forged by drawing into the struggles all those non-proletarian strata whose interests are affected.” Karat is quite emphatic that with resistance developing worldwide to the imperialist-driven globalisation, especially with the intensification of the contradictions between imperialism and third world countries, the Indian bourgeoisie, including the big bourgeoisie will also come into conflict with imperialism.

It is not our case that the Indian bourgeoisie constitutes an undifferentiated homogeneous bloc. There are internal differences within them as there are tussles with imperialism and global capital. But we believe that these conflicts are contained and resolved within an overall framework of collaboration with imperialism and it is futile and even suicidal to talk of a general anti-imperialist revolution with the bourgeoisie fighting alongside the working class. And howsoever Karat may seek to extricate tactics from strategy, we also need to look at the interface of the two. The tactical line of the CPI(M) is informed heavily by its assessment of a strategic possibility of a serious conflict between imperialism and the Indian big bourgeoisie. Instead of assessing the actual role of the bourgeoisie, the CPI(M) programme takes its potential role as the point of departure. Instead of fleshing out the analysis of the Indian bourgeoisie on the basis of its actually existing conflicts of interest with imperialism, the former is portrayed in neutral, idealistic terms. And as Lenin shows vividly in his excellent treatise on the two tactics of social-democracy in democratic revolution, the expectation of bourgeois participation and leadership does seriously compromise and hamper the political independence and initiative of the proletariat.

Karat also comes down heavily on our description of Indian society as semi-feudal. He takes the expression semi-feudal to connote a total negation of the fact that capitalism remains the developing mode of production. Just as Karat is unable to understand the semi-colonial character (as opposed to colonial or neo-colonial) of Indian society as a peculiar expression of India’s formal political independence, he also fails to grasp semi-feudalism as a specific expression of India’s backward capitalism. In formal logic, semi-feudal, semi-colonial may seem equivalent to semi-capitalist, semi-independent; but understood dialectically the former label only helps define the specific nature of capitalism and independence in India with reference to the institutional constraints posed by feudal remnants and imperialist pressures.

In the same article Karat also responds to the criticism made by Marxists who describe the stage of revolution in India as socialist. He says that it is not correct to raise the call for socialist revolution directly and immediately simply because capitalism represents the dominant mode of production in the country. One has to look at the level and nature of capitalist development as also the fact that a whole lot of anti-feudal anti-imperialist tasks remain to be accomplished in the course of the revolution. This is why he prefers to describe the stage of revolution in India as democratic. Inasmuch as we too consider the stage of Indian revolution as democratic, we can have little difference with Karat on this score or for that matter on the centrality of agrarian revolution to the overall scheme and course of the democratic revolution. But interestingly, his case for a democratic revolution is based primarily on the argument that the vast majority of the people are moved by democratic slogans. He would dismiss the RSP’s call for a socialist revolution by simply saying “This approach is probably not concerned with the question of how to mobilize the different sections of the people and the classes to build a revolutionary movement.”

The question really is not just of a slogan that moves the masses or of an approach that is concerned with the mobilisation of the people and the building of a revolutionary movement. The masses and a revolutionary movement are essential for any revolution. The stage of a revolution is determined not by such basic ingredients of a revolution, but by the specific nature and content of the revolution’s main targets and tasks. It is true that any democratic revolution in the present era also has an anti-capitalist or socialist aspect to it that lays the basis for a democratic revolution’s uninterrupted growth or transition to the socialist revolution. Looked at from the point of socialist revolution, a democratic revolution is akin to what is described as backward integration in industrial parlance. Now the very fact that Karat argues in favour of a democratic revolution means that the anti-feudal anti-imperialist tasks are so crucial that they can only be accomplished in the course of a victorious revolution and nothing less than that. The problem is Karat is not prepared to relate these core tasks of the revolution to the nature of the Indian society. The semi-feudal semi-colonial description therefore appears such an anathema and anachronism to him. Such a description, he believes, is patented for the pre-revolutionary society that existed in China and any such description of the Indian society can only be the result of a mechanical transposition of the Chinese analysis to the Indian conditions. By the same token even the very category of democratic revolution may be dismissed as a case of a Chinese time warp.

The CPI(M), Karat argues, has squarely placed the big bourgeoisie as the centrepiece of the ruling combination which controls State power in India and while updating the programme, it has kept this focus and noted how the main antagonist of the revolutionary forces has grown and consolidated its position. This, he says, is the hallmark that demarcates the CPI(M) programme from revisionist or sectarian assessments. We too are against any underestimation of the strength of the main enemy, but while we see the Indian bourgeoisie’s strength in its collaboration with imperialism, the CPI(M) views it as a potential for serious anti-imperialist resistance. While we relate the fundamental tasks of the revolution to the nature of the Indian society, linking democratic revolution to the semi-feudal semi-colonial nature and level of the Indian variety of backward and dependent capitalism, the CPI(M) finds it anachronistic to describe the Indian society in such terms. This can only mean that while the feudal fetters are not as stubborn and formidable as to have their imprint on the entire society, the imperialist pressures are written into the contemporary world situation. This is why, in the CPI(M) analysis, the feudal and imperialist fetters do not enter into the basic or specific description of the Indian society. Harbouring illusive anti-imperialist expectations about the role and strength of the Indian big bourgeoisie, dismissing semi-feudalism as an anachronistic concept and calling for the broadest anti-imperialist alliance with a whole range of non-proletarian classes and strata standing alongside the proletariat – don’t we have here all the standard ingredients of a classical programmatic recipe to keep the proletariat in a permanent state of passivity and paralysis?

Karat is annoyed that “The ML theorists seek to educate us about the role of the bourgeoisie in a democratic revolution quoting extensively from the revolutionary history and the works of Lenin and Mao.” We do not have the audacity to teach you, dear comrade. However, we do always try to update our own education. And in this endeavour we read both Lenin and your profound documents. We read Lenin to know Where To Begin and What Is To Be Done. We read you to know where to stop and what is not to be done.