Regularise the System of Party Education

— Arindam Sen

The CPI (ML) was born in the process of a creative integration of revolutionary theory and practice, and the setback in the early 1970s affected both. Then right from the rectification movement of 1977-78, we have been taking up programmes of party education at various levels in response to the changes in objective situation, new questions of policy and tactics emerging from our practice, and subjective conditions within the Party organisation. During the 1980s schools were held at all-India level on many topics including classics like Capital and burning questions of strategy and tactics. Then three central party schools were organised between 1994 and 2001, with subjects ranging from challenges to Marxism and globalisation to communal fascism and new social movements and so on. But gradually it dawned on us that if we are to correctly analyse and collectively confront the complicated problems of the day, we must considerably raise the Party’s overall level of Marxist understanding. And such a programme of education or re-education, we felt, should be base on the slogan ‘back to the basics, back to the classics’ and it should cover not only the newcomers but also comrades with long experience. Accordingly, when we planned our next all-India initiative for schooling in 2004, we decided to take up a refresher course in Leninism.

Some Representative Views

v “In the past I tried to read a few books by Lenin. But the materials appeared a bit too difficult, so I could not complete either of the books. Now the camp has clarified many things for me and I feel confident to resume and complete the studies.”

v “I read What is To Be Done? more than once, and every time I learned something new. What I learned today, however, is equivalent to a hundred readings. From now on, I must follow the approach and method I picked up here.”

  • “I must confess I did not expect much that will be new for me. But now I see why collective study is important, why learning under party’s centralised guidance is necessary. Earlier I had understood the books superficially, now I feel I have grasped the essence.”

In the meanwhile, in November 2002, we had our Seventh Party Congress. The Political and Organisational Report observed that in addition to Party schools and education camps, we should also organise training camps for teachers who would take up classes at state and lower levels. “To put an end to the prevailing ad hocism in party education”, it was declared, “we must try and follow a broad time-schedule for schooling at different levels.” In the light of these directives, the Central Committee is now seriously trying to regularise an annual central camp/ school at Nagbhushan Bhaban (Bhubaneswar) in December every year. It believes – and wants the whole party to grasp this – that party education is not something to be taken up at ‘leisure hours’ or when there is less ‘workload’, but must be viewed as an absolutely indispensable and integral part of our regular work. So when assembly elections were declared in Bihar and Jharkhand late last year, we decided not to postpone the 2004 camp but to split it into two: one for the poll-bound states, to be held later and one for the rest of India to be held at the scheduled time. Thus camps were organised in December 2004 at Bhubaneswar and in June 2005 at Dhanbad.

Central Camps 2004-05: Some Realisations

For a refresher course in Leninism, we chose six books (What Is To Be Done?, One Step Forward Two Steps Back, Two Tactics, Imperialism, State and Revolution, Left Wing Communism) and one other topic ( Leninist Approach To Parliamentary Struggles, based on various articles by Lenin). To give the students an overall historical perspective, a concise calendar of the major milestones of Russian revolution up to October /November 1917 was distributed. (see box) Students were asked to use the calendar for ready reference during the camp, and also for subsequent studies.

In terms of number and active role, young comrades predominated; at the same time, a fair number of veterans including some CC members also participated with great enthusiasm. While these encouraging signs constituted the main aspect, a few negative trends were also reported. Some comrades here and there felt it would be a mere waste of time to read books they had already read and understood. A few others simply did not seem to recognise the importance of theoretical studies, so they evinced no interest in attending the camps even when the offer came their way, or indirectly discouraged others in the districts / regions under their responsibilities. Though the number of such comrades is negligible, the central camps reiterated the need to fight out such harmful tendencies which militate against the developing inner-party environment of Marxist studies.

Russian Revolution: Major Milestones


1861: Abolition of Serfdom.

1870s: Rapid industrialisation, growing movements. A couple of TU federations come up – one in the North, the other in South Russia.

1880s: Upsurge in working class movement.

1883: “Emancipation of Labour Group” formed abroad by Plekhanov to propagate Marxism against Narodism. Study circles come up throughout Russia.

1895: “St. Petersburg League of Struggle”, formed by Lenin, unites 20 such circles, launches a fight against the then fashionable “legal Marxism” as well as Narodism, and connects Marxist propaganda with mass working class agitation.

1898: 1 st congress of RSDLP – welcome but unsuccessful attempt to build an All-Russia party – no programme, no party rules, CC arrested soon after.

End 1900: Iskra marks the transition to a new period of real party formation.

1902: What Is To Be Done? – ideological foundation and organisational plan for party building.

1903: 2 nd congress adopts party programme proposed by Iskra. Bolshevik (the majority; henceforth B) and Menshevik (the minority; henceforth M) factions emerge. Soon after, Ms capture Iskra (which came to be known as New Iskra) and Bs launch Vperyod.

1904: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back – organisational foundation. Ms become majority in CC; Bs launch campaign for 3 rd congress.

Early 05: Revolution flares up in the backdrop of Russo-Japan war started in 1904. 3 rd congress boycotted by Ms who hold their separate conference. Two Tactics upholds revolutionary strategy and tactics vis-à-vis opportunist ones.

End 05: Tsar patches up with Japan and crashes Moscow Uprising.

1906: 4 th (Unity) congress – only formal unity. New CC with 3 Bs and 6 Ms.

1907: 5 th congress – victory of B line. 2 nd Duma dissolved, SD deputies

arrested, Stolypin reactions starts.

1908: Materialism and Empirio-Criticism defends and enriches Marxist philosophy against pseudo-scientific attacks. 5 th All-Russia conference condemns liquidationism.

09-11: Bitter inner party struggle against liquidationism, otzovism ¨

1912: 6 th (Prague) All-Russia conference expels Ms and consolidates Bolshevism. Period of industrial stagnation and decline in working class movement (1908-11) yields place to a new period of expansion and upsurge.

1914: WW I starts in July. Germany attacks Russia. Majority of socialist parties throughout the world turn social-chauvinist and support their own governments. B slogan: “convert the imperialist war into a civil war” and “defeat one’s own government in the imperialist war”. B deputies and leaders arrested.

1916: Imperialism – economic essence of imperialism and the possibility of building socialism in a single country. Economic disruption in war-ravaged Russia, tsardom isolated, bourgeoisie plan palace coup.

1917: February revolution ousts the tsar; bourgeois Provisional Government formed. Soviets grow strong: dual power (PG and Soviets). April Theses calls for transition from democratic to socialist revolution. Ms and SRs join the counter revolutionary PG. 6 th Congress (July-August) begins preparations for armed uprising. Soviet power established on October 25 (November 7 according to new calendar). The State and Revolution – Marxist theory of state, revolution and proletarian dictatorship.­­­

(Lenin’s main works are mentioned here in italics. Another book that falls outside this timeline but forms part of our current syllabus is Left Wing Communism. It appeared in 1920 to coincide with the second congress of the Communist or Third International. It gives us a profound exposition of Bolshevik strategy and tactics in the light of the whole experience of Russian revolution.)

¨ Otzovists: ultra-left Bs who demanded recall ( otzyv ) of Bolshevik deputies and discontinuation of work in all legally existing organisations.

A number of valuable realisations have emerged in the process of organising the education camps – realisations that may help make our party education campaign more meaningful.

1. The very first rule of a scientific method of study is that we must read every work in the proper historical perspective. Otherwise we will be misled into empty abstractions, left phrases and muddled thinking. When we have a dialectical materialist understanding of the evolution of Marxism- Leninism, we shall be able to better grasp the evolution of our party line too and thus contribute to its further development.

2. While taking notes, some comrades pay more attention to names of personalities and places, statistical figures, quotable quotes etc. This is not the correct approach. The main emphasis should be on grasping the spirit of Marxism – the stand, viewpoint and method of revolutionary Marxism. For this it is necessary, as comrade Charu Mazumdar used to say, to study the principal classics thoroughly and repeatedly, even if that means you read only a few books. It is not important how many things we know and how many quotes we can cite; the real thing is how deep is our understanding of the basics and to what extent we can develop our own practical work in the light of lessons we derive from the classics. As Mao remarked, “If you can apply the Marxist-Leninist viewpoint in elucidating one or two practical problems, you should be commended and credited with some achievement. The more problems you elucidate and the more comprehensively and profoundly you do so, the greater will be your achievement.” (Rectify the Party’s Style of Work) Such should be a communist activist’s approach of purposeful studies, as distinct from an intellectual’s amassment of (often non-productive or counter-productive) information.

3. However, this should not be so construed as to mean a denial of the importance of scientific abstraction, which is as necessary in Marxism as in every other science. The laws of motion of class society, which constitute a major component of the universal truth of Marxism, must be understood in general terms – in the abstract, that is – before they are tested, applied and further developed in our concrete conditions. To take one example, Marx delineated the laws of development of capitalism in general and also in specific fields like agriculture. Lenin took these as his point of departure and undertook a very elaborate examination of the Russian (particularly agrarian) scene in this light, in the process further clarifying and enriching the basic tenets, which in their developed forms now serve as our general guide to specific (pertaining to our country/state/district/village) research and investigation. Marxism develops in the course of this interaction or integration of the general (the abstract) and the particular (the concrete) and every genuine communist party contributes to this process. Our overall system of party education and research (comprising party schools, camps and classes) play an important role in this. Every participant in these classes should therefore try and familiarise herself/himself with scientific categories like class, class analysis and class struggle; commodity, production process and surplus value; and so on. A Marxist who does not know how to use these conceptual tools of Marxism, will be like a fitter who does not know how to use a screwdriver.

4. We are used to saying that Two Tactics is devoted to tactical questions, One Step, Two Steps to organisational principles, and so on. But such description is valid only in a very limited sense, and permissible just for the convenience of roughly identifying the main content. Actually in a great Marxist work philosophy, politics and organisation often combine to form a guide to thought and action that is complete in itself, though forming only a link in the long and and in a sense infinite chain of Marxist theory. Thus in Two Tactics the firm strategic bedrock is quite conspicuous, while in One Step, Two Steps one finds a fine discussion on the dialectical method in a section titled “Something about Dialectics”. As for Marx, his best book on philosophy is Capital. There he describes in concrete detail the evolution of economic formation of (capitalist) society, demonstrates the way the corresponding superstructure arises on that economic base, and explains the dialectical negation of that social formation in the process of expropriators being expropriated. In Capital we thus learn the materialist interpretation of history and Marxian dialectics as well as Marxian economics. So we must not take a narrow, fragmented, pragmatic approach in studying the classics. We must not try to pick up some economics here, something on peasant question there, something on parliamentary practice in another place. Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought is an integral world outlook, and we must try to grasp it as such in course of continuous study and practical work.

5. As Mao pointed out in essays like Reform Our Studies and Oppose Book Worship, we must also learn to study practical problems from all sides and in detail, so as to “seek truth from facts” and “develop perceptual or empirical knowledge into rational Knowledge”. This means the study of classics must be supplemented by other kinds of studies, the most important ones being (a) study of current affairs, relevant facts and figures, political trends and polemics etc., (b) socio- economic investigation, (c) analysis of practical problems and burning political questions. The foremost forums of such studies are party congresses, conferences, magazines and publications; followed by other books and periodicals, direct field research, materials gathered from libraries and the internet, workshops and schools organised by the Party, and so on. Just as a healthy physique needs a balanced diet, so we need a proper combination of various strands of purposeful studies if we are to achieve real breakthroughs in work.

7. While discussing the classics, we always like to show how the present- day Mensheviks or opportunists are committing the same kinds of mistakes. It is all right, but this should not be our main concern. Our principal purpose must be to identify and eradicate the mistakes and lacunae in our own thought and action. Then alone will theory serve practice in a concrete way.

Let us illustrate. In terms of laying out the ideological, political and organisational foundations of a revolutionary communist party, Charu Mazumdar’s “ eight historic documents” is largely comparable to Lenin’s What Is To Be Done?. Both leaders underscored the importance of communist consciousness as opposed to spontaneity, of revolutionary politics as opposed to economism. They said we must carry communist consciousness from without the narrow confines of workers’/peasants’ struggles on partial demands at factory/ village levels and stressed this as the essential starting point of communist party building. But can we say for certain we are actually working in this fashion everywhere? Do we not often fall prey to economism and spontaneity? And may be this is the reason why we often fail to break through the cycle of maintenance work and stagnation?

Such critical introspection on our present practice in the light of the classics can provide us with lots of valuable raw materials to be processed into finished products at our party congresses/ conferences. And helping this integration of theory and practice at a higher level constitutes the ultimate contribution of education camps and party schools.

The Forthcoming Central School

While the study of classics must continue, we also need to have a deeper and – as far as possible uniform – understanding on basic theoretical questions concerning the Indian revolution. From this perspective we are going to have a central party school this December on a syllabus combining both aspects. There will be three topics.

The first is Mao Zedong Thought and the Indian revolution. We are all aware of the raging debate on ‘Maoists’ and on recent developments in China. What is usually lost in the heat and dust of these charged debates is Mao’s extensive and highly original contributions to the theory and practice of revolution in China and in backward countries generally. Mao is thus turned on his head; in the party school we wish to set this right. We shall therefore pool our brains together to rediscover the wealth of Mao Zedong Thought which inspired us, which lighted up our path in the 1960s as we embarked on an all-out war against modern revisionism, and which has since become a permanent part of CPI (ML)’s arsenal. Likely to come up in the discussion are such aspects as Mao’s philosophical insights, his method of creative integration of the universal truth of Marxism Leninism with the concrete conditions obtaining in a particular country, the theory of new democratic or people’s democratic revolution, rural class analysis and class line in peasant movement, and so on.

The second topic would be Party Programme revisited. In view of major changes in the international situation since the late eighties and – largely under its impact – also in the Indian economy and polity, we came up with a set of Ideological Resolutions along with an amended general programme in the Fifth Congress (1992). Different streams of left movement have also felt the need to redraft or amend their programmes. The CPI (M) produced an updated party programme after years of debate; it adopted this year another policy document of strategic or programmatic dimensions: Part II of Pol-Org. Report. The CPI (M) Pasla group has been debating whether the original (1964) programme of its mother party, with some amendments, could be taken as the basis for uniting similar splinter groups into an all India party. In the radical camp, the CPI(Maoist) has in its recent party congress presented its own version of a revolutionary programme. All these are, essentially, different versions of petty bourgeois opportunist responses to (a) profound changes in objective situation and (b) experience gathered in recent years. To take stock of these tendencies and, in the process, to update our own understanding of the general programme and agrarian programme would be a timely and rewarding exercise on our part.

The third paper will be on the history of communist movement in India. A companion paper to the second, this will concentrate on questions of policy and tactics. Since even a near- comprehensive treatment of the eighty years of our movement is obviously impossible in one paper, we shall focus the spotlight on critical junctures like the Quit India Movement, the withdrawal of Telangana struggle followed by the drift along the parliamentary path, the Namboodiripad government in Kerala, the UF government in West Bengal vis-à-vis the revolutionary movements spreading from Naxalbari and the like. We see ourselves as the inheritors and defenders of the revolutionary tradition of communist movement in our country, and to do justice to this claim we must be good at learning from both the mistakes and achievements of our predecessors.

This is only an approximate outline of the forthcoming school. But we must look beyond a particular session. To build an integrated system of schools, camps and short classes at different levels of the Party is a crucial task we can continue to neglect only at our own peril. Perhaps it will not be wrong to say that we are just experiencing some primary success in this regard at the central level. Although downward linkages are yet to be firmly put in place, this is an achievement. But old habits die hard. There is every chance of our relapsing into the non-system of ad hoc studies. We must be on our guards to see that this does not happen; much depends on whether party committee secretaries really take the lead in systematising party education at their respective levels.