[BB Pandey makes an assessment of the split in the Punjab unit of CPI(M) after talking to some of the leaders of the CPM (Pasla), which broke away from the CPI(M), and summarises the 'aborted' debate raised within the People’s War Group by some former leaders of the PWG's West Bengal unit.]

The Split in the CPI(M) in Punjab

A SPLIT that has been brewing within the CPI(M) in Punjab for at least the past four years, came to a head in the latter half of 2001. The breakaway faction led by Comrade Mangat Ram Pasla, a member of the Central Committee and erstwhile secretary of the Punjab State Committee of the CPI(M), held its state conference at Jalandhar on 13-14 December, 2001. It may be noted that the 6th Congress of CPI(M) had elected two CC members from Punjab, Mangat Ram Pasla and Balwant Singh, the present state secretary. As reported in the press, the rally held at the time of the state conference of the CPM (Pasla) faction at Jalandhar was much bigger than the one held by the official CPI(M) of Punjab at its state conference held in Sangrur around the same time. According to the leaders of the CPM (Pasla) group, they command around 70% of the CPI(M) cadres and mass base.

The reason for the split

What was the reason behind this split? As some leading comrades of the CPM(Pasla) pointed out, and as also mentioned in the Political and Organisational Report adopted at their state conference, “For more than ten years the Party has been continuously underlining one thing, that is, our revolutionary party has contracted the deadly disease of parliamentarism, which is diverting the Party from the revolutionary path of class struggle and taking it to the reformist path of social democracy… this disease of parliamentarism not only promotes all kinds of opportunism to grab parliamentary benefits by all means, it also pushes party members into an unseemly contention for posts within the Party… parliamentarism apart, continuous erosion of communist values has also caused the stagnation of the Party, and the influx of selfish elements within the Party has been on the increase.” However, “it is sad to note that in place of conducting an uncompromising struggle against both these maladies, the main leader of the Party, Comrade Harkishan Singh Surjeet has become their open proponent. In place of exploring the possibilities of building popular struggles, he remains busy manipulating electoral equations, … acting as consultant to the leaders of the political parties of the plundering classes, enjoying close personal relations with class enemies, collecting funds from monopoly capitalists and anti-social elements and adopting arrogant vindictive approach towards people and party cadres opposing his acts. … In this way, he has come to symbolise the parliamentarist counter-revolutionary ideology and erosion of communist morality”.

If the fight thus appears concentrated against the General Secretary, the CPM(P) leaders attribute it also to the direct role that Comrade Surjeet plays in the affairs of the party in Punjab. As we shall see further, despite the break, the CPMP declares its adherence to “the revolutionary goals of the CPI(M)” for which “the vast majority of the party ranks is still prepared to sacrifice their lives”. According to the CPM(P) document, the split became necessary because “the official state leadership directly sponsored by Comrade Surjeet has discarded the revolutionary politics of the Party and has become servile to the capitalist landlord classes by treading the path of class collaboration.” Moreover, they have “victimised all those who raise a finger against them and purged them out of the Party”.

In spite of the split, the CPM(P), however, continues to stick to the 1964 programme of the CPI(M). As the document says, “We have to move forward in accordance with the 1964 programme and build the Party of Comrade Sundarayya’s dream in Punjab.”

Opportunist ambivalence towards the Congress

However, underlying the split there are also several points of ideological-political disagreement. One point on which the CPM (Pasla) comrades are most critical of the official leadership in Punjab is that they have “repeatedly and openly violated the political tactical line of the Party”, which proves the “revisionist bankruptcy and lack of political principles”. While asserting that the tactical line adopted by the 16th Congress of the CPI(M) stresses building a “third alternative of left, democratic and secular forces” to overthrow the fascist BJP’s communal alliance from power, the Pasla faction accuses the official leadership for “trailing behind the Congress party”. For example, “begging support from the Congress for the Sangrur seat in the 1999 Lok Sabha elections under an electoral alliance with the Congress and offering support to the Congress in 11 other seats was also condemned by the central leadership of the Party”. The document of the Pasla faction finds support from the CPI(M) CC’s review which noted that “the established line of the Party was violated in Punjab and Tamil Nadu”. (In both cases, these comrades point out, HKS Surjeet was responsible for the violation, appearing in common election meetings with the Congress leaders). Further, during the by-election in Sunam, “…the leadership gave proof of still more shameful political opportunism and unprincipled approach. Despite our strong opposition in the State Committee, support was extended to the pro-Khalistani candidate, Prem Singh Chandumajra of Gurucharan Singh Tohra’s party, although another left party, the CPI, had its candidate there. But the matter did not end here; just two days before the polling, Comrade Surjeet directed that votes be cast in favour of the Congress candidate.”

The debate over the Party Programme

The second point on which the Pasla group comrades are most critical, is the issue of “updating of the Party Programme”. Once again they accuse Comrade Surjeet of “changing the basic concepts”, such as “changing the basic class character of the Indian state and government and replacing class struggle with class collaboration”. The document notes that in this way, “the intensity of battle against the three enemy classes, viz., feudal lords, imperialists and monopolists is mitigated”, because the target of people’s democratic revolution, i.e., finishing off landlordism without compensation, has been moderated by deleting the phrase “without compensation”. In place of “confiscating the imperialist capital”, they note that a provision has been made for “investment of imperialist capital in selected sectors”. Also, in place of “nationalisation of the property of monopolists”, “control over their activities” has been suggested. “In this way, attempts have been made to blunt the people’s consciousness and resistance against the handful of plunderers who are obstacles in the way of development of productive forces within our country”, they say.

But the most objectionable change in the Party Programme, according to the CPM(Pasla) comrades, is the new interpretation of Paragraph 112 of the 1964 Party Programme. “Even after the massive defeat in the 16th Party Congress, the path to collaboration with capitalist and landlord classes within the central government has been opened in a very shrewd way by reinterpreting the Paragraph No. 112 of the Programme”, they say. They hold that, “With this revision, Marxist-Leninist principle regarding state has been totally abandoned and the Party has been put on the revisionist road of class collaboration.”

As some senior comrades from the Pasla faction pointed out, participation in the central government constitutes a strategic question. “Can we share power with the enemy classes, the bourgeoisie and landlord classes, in the central government?” they ask. They say that “CPI decided to do it since 1957, when they thought that with Soviet help from outside and sharing power within the country, peaceful path of non-capitalist transformation may be successfully implemented. But the CPI(M) was formed precisely defeating this line, and we separated. When the question of participation came up again in 1967, we decided to participate only in West Bengal and Kerala, where we could influence the government. Those days, while the CPI participated in the government led by Gurnam Singh in Punjab, and Satpal Dang became a minister, we did not participate. However, Comrade Surjeet, then an MLA, accepted the post of convener of the steering committee. Then the Polit Bureau intervened and asked HKS to resign.”

Paragraph 112 of the 1964 programme is not valid at the central level, according to the comrades of the Pasla faction. “In 1977, there was a friendly government in the centre. Why was the present logic (that Para 112 is applicable to centre and state alike) not applied then? Comrade Basavpunniah explained that the Para is applicable to states only. If it is applied to centre, it will be tantamount to the path of peaceful transition”, they say. Moreover, in 1997, when Surjeet and Jyoti Basu raised this question once again, they were defeated in the CC and the following Party Congress.

Unfortunately, the CPM(P) leaders point out, the issue was never seriously discussed in the Party and the Central Committee as a class question. It was never explained as to what changes in the correlation of forces had taken place between the Calcutta Congress and the Trivandram Special Conference to necessitate this U-turn. Why such crucial questions are not debated threadbare in the CC? The leading comrades reply that it is “because the CC members having opposing views think that it is useless. The leadership will have the last say and implement its thinking anyhow. Moreover, the CC is becoming increasingly larger and the time allotted for CC meetings is being shortened. So most of the members don’t get enough time to speak out.”

Thus, with the change in the Programme, the CPI(M) is adopting the same CPI line which was rejected in 1964, they point out. “Following Independence in 1947, the CPI continued with the line of united front with big bourgeoisie, with the same class alliance, under the programme of national democratic revolution, although they said that the second phase of democratic revolution had begun. Repudiating this, the CPI(M) adopted the programme of people’s democratic revolution and in the united front there was no scope for big bourgeoisie. Now this demarcation is being overlooked”.

Further, with the Trivandram prgramme, the 1951 Policy Statement has been made null and void. It was on the basis of this document that in 1967 the CC said that although they had separated from the CPI, a revolutionary party was yet to be built up. And Comrade Sundarayya always stressed this point. However, the leading comrades of the CPM (Pasla) assert, “Gradually it became apparent that the Party was not worried about any rightwing opportunism. They only talked about leftwing opportunism. There was no hatred within the CPI(M) against right deviation, they detest left deviation only. It is for the first time that we (Pasla faction) have emphasised that right opportunism should be hated most”.

The recent assembly elections and after

Shortly after this conference, the CPM (Pasla) participated in the assembly elections held in Punjab in mid-February. The policy orientation in the elections was the following: ouster of the Akali-BJP communal alliance from power; exposure of anti-people policies of the Congress party and preventing it from coming to power, no direct or indirect support to the Congress in the name of defeating the Akali-BJP alliance; opposing all kinds of communal organisations or alliances; and forging unity among true left, democratic and secular forces, sending representatives within the assembly on the basis of drawing support from the people.

In a document released after the meeting of the Punjab State Committee held on 6-7 March, 2002, the CPM (Pasla) criticised the CPI for its “utter opportunist politics” of allying with the Congress, and also the official CPI(M) for its ambivalence: “At first Comrade Surjeet… wanted to have an electoral understanding with the Congress in the hope of getting two-three seats in the state. However, when the Congress, in view of the fact that the faction had lost its mass base, refused to offer any seats, Comrade Surjeet sometimes openly opposed Congress, sometimes appealed to make all secular candidates including those of the Congress victorious, and sometimes blamed the CPI for not taking the CPI(M) into confidence and allying with the Congress all alone.”

It is also mentioned there that, “We forged electoral alliance with the CPI(ML) Liberation and Forward Bloc and also conducted a joint campaign. Our campaign derived strength from the participation of a minister of Left Front Government of West Bengal and All India General Secretary of Forward Block and other leaders. Similarly, the participation by the CPI(ML) Liberation General Secretary Comrade Dipankar Bhattacharya in this campaign also had a good influence.” Other leaders from both the organisations addressed several other election meetings in this joint campaign.

Contesting from 11 seats, the CPM (Pasla) secured 26,247 votes (0.25%), whereas the official CPI(M), contesting from 13 seats, bagged 36,700 votes (0.36%). However, the CPM (Pasla) is optimistic that “the efforts made in uniting with the left and secular forces during the elections will help us in organising popular struggles on essential demands of the people in alliance with left, democratic and secular forces”.

Where does the CPM(P) go from here? The group has outlined its priorities in the following terms: “while pledging to safeguard the revolutionary thinking of 1964 Programme, it is our important responsibility to make resolute efforts to build a real revolutionary party along Leninist lines in the state, identify our weaknesses and make planned efforts to overcome them and expand our organisation, giving primacy to raising the quality of party membership …” To this end a three-day school has been convened to educate Party cadres on Programme, Party’s political line and organisational understanding. On the organisational front, barring the trade union (CITU), all other class/mass organisations are being set up independently.

Although they are still operating under the old name, Punjab State Committee of the CPI(M), the leadership admits that in future they may have to adopt some different name.