Notes on Party Programme - I

[ April 22, 2006 would mark the 37th foundation anniversary of the CPI(ML). On this occasion let us devote ourselves to a fresh reading of our Party Programme, the most basic of our Party documents. Recent years have witnessed major changes in terms of economic policies and political forces all around us. The communist movement too in our country is passing through a phase of realignments and in many of our major areas of struggle and influence, comrades with different political backgrounds are joining our Party. The better we grasp our Party Programme, the better will we be able to deal with this new juncture. The purpose of the present write-up is to encourage a serious study of our Party Programme throughout the Party. This is the first part of a two-part series and we will welcome comments and questions from our readers on the subject. Editor]

The emergence of the CPI(ML) in 1969 marked the first radical rupture between the opportunist and revolutionary currents within the Indian communist movement. To be sure, the Communist Party of India had already undergone a split five years ago, and the newly formed CPI(M) had programmatically dissociated itself from the CPI. But inner-party debate over the party's programme and tactics had been far from resolved and the CPI(M) continued to experience a powerful internal struggle challenging its centrist positions. The peasant rebellion of Naxalbari and its political aftermath were organically linked with this ideological-political debate and the process reached its logical conclusion with the formation of the CPI(ML) in April 1969 and adoption of its new programme in the First Congress held in May 1970.

With the arrival of the CPI(ML), the contention between the opportunist and revolutionary streams of the communist movement assumed a new intensity and sharpness. But the CPI(ML) soon suffered an enormous setback, and it was only later in the 1980s that the full dimensions of the programmatic differences between the CPI(M) and CPI(ML) began to reveal themselves. In the initial phase of the CPI(ML), the contrast between the CPI(M) and the CPI(ML) was understood more in terms of form of struggle - boycott versus participation in elections, illegal versus legal forms of struggle, etc. But from the 1980s on began a new period of the Party's revival marked by a steady and comprehensive expansion of mass practice on different fronts including successful interventions in the electoral arena. Belying the pedantic predictions of the CPI(ML) becoming another CPI(M), a resurgent CPI(ML) has gone on to enrich its strategy and tactics in clear demarcation from the CPI(M)'s increasingly reformist trajectory.

Evolution of CPI(M) and CPI(ML) Programmes

Over the years both the CPI(ML) and CPI(M) programmes have been updated or amended in certain ways. The rectification movement of the late 1970s provided the first major impetus to make certain changes in the original CPI(ML) programme. Based on a deeper dialectical understanding of the society, state and the revolutionary movement, the development of the Party's own comprehensive practice and multifarious forms and fronts of struggle, and major shifts in the international and national situation, the CPI(ML) effected a series of changes in its general programme between the Third Congress (December 1982) and Fifth Congress (December 1992). The new programme has retained the revolutionary thrust of the 1970 programme and most of its basic formulations regarding the class analysis of the Indian society and state while adopting flexibility in terms of forms of struggle to facilitate a greater expansion of the Party's mass practice and intervention in the electoral arena.

The CPI(M) programme too has undergone an 'updating' a few years ago. While the CPI(M) argued that the updating had become necessary particularly in view of questions posed by the collapse of the Soviet Union, it turned out that the updating was essentially meant to enable the CPI(M) to take part in a bourgeois government at the Centre while allowing CPI(M)-led state governments to implement neo-liberal policies in the name of engaging with the reality of globalisation. These are precisely areas where the old CPI(M) programme had been posing certain hurdles and the new programme has now removed those 'anomalies' to enable the CPI(M) to make more opportunist adjustments with bourgeois coalition politics and neo-liberal economics.

CPI(M)'s Journey from Centrism to Right Reformism

The changes effected in the original programmes of the two parties have naturally also given rise to a tendency to restore or resurrect the original versions. A section of the ML movement which dogmatically shies away from mass practice and political initiatives has now renamed itself as the CPI(Maoist). This is actually an attempt to ossify or freeze the 1970 programme. Our transition from the 1970 programme to its present version has essentially entailed a separation of questions pertaining to tactics from those of strategy. To block this transition, our Maoist friends have effectively eliminated the domain of tactics and elevated everything to the realm of strategy. It is with this understanding that they have divorced Mao from the Marxist-Leninist tradition and have launched a special 'ism' after his name. But they too probably agree that by sticking to a metaphysical understanding of the Chinese model and blurring the distinction between strategy and tactics, they have moved away from the essence of the CPI(ML) and so they have shed their claim to being an inheritor of the CPI(ML) trend and launched a new party with the new name called CPI(Maoist).

An attempt is also being made by some Marxist friends who were formerly with the CPI(M), and have grown disillusioned with some of the recent policies and tactics of the CPI(M), particularly the direction in which the party programme was updated in 2000, to resurrect the 1964 programme and revive the 'true CPI(M)'. True, the 1964 programme was the product of a major inner-party struggle against revisionism and by advocating a people's democratic revolution against the present state led by the big bourgeoisie it did distinguish the new party from the CPI's path of national democratic revolution in collaboration with the supposedly progressive and anti-imperialist national bourgeoisie. But the 1964 programme made a half-way compromise on many key questions and a centrist ambivalence was thus written into it from the beginning. In a period of growing rightward shift in the overall economic and political environment, it is no wonder that this centrist compromise is falling apart and is being increasingly interpreted and pushed in a blatantly right-reformist direction.

In fact, following the Naxalbari peasant rebellion and the emergence of the CPI(ML), ideological struggle for the CPI(M) leadership has become essentially a one-sided and often misplaced and exaggerated struggle against Left sectarianism and adventurism. While a veritable ceasefire has since come into effect in the CPI(M)'s ideological struggle with the CPI, people raising ideological-political debates within the CPI(M) have almost invariably been identified and treated as potential Naxalites. Post-Emergency, once the CPI criticized its own 'Emergency excesses' in terms of its relationship with the Congress, the CPI(M) and CPI began rapidly moving closer and when the rise of the BJP ended the political monopoly or exclusive preeminence of the Congress, the differences between the two parties over the question of attitude to or relation with the Congress have virtually been resolved. The 1964 programme which once demarcated the CPI(M) from the CPI, has now in its 'updated' version become a basis for closer strategic and tactical convergence between the two parties while demarcating the CPI(M) from communist revolutionaries.

Why CPI(ML) Accepts Mao Zedong Thought as a Guiding Principle

Let us now look at some of the key points of difference in the programmes of the CPI(M) and CPI(ML) that underpin the two different tactical lines being pursued by the two parties. To begin with the question of ideology, the CPI(ML) programme has always recognized Mao Zedong Thought along with Marxism-Leninism as the party's guiding principle, something the CPI(M) treats as a proof of the CPI(ML)'s continuing obsession with the Chinese path. Why do we make this special and separate mention of Mao Zedong Thought in our Party programme? Were it merely a case of according due recognition to the contributions of Mao and the experience of victorious Chinese revolution, we need not have gone to the extent of taking Mao's thought as a guiding principle in conjunction with Marxism-Leninism. Clearly, the mention of Mao's thought as an ideological guideline in our Party programme has less to do with China and the Chinese Communist Party and more to do with India and the tasks and challenges of our revolution.

At the time of the emergence of the CPI(ML) and the drafting of our first programme, Mao and his thought were important on three major counts.

For one, there was the obvious relevance of the experience of the victorious Chinese revolution for any serious revolutionary attempt in India , which had strangely been denied all through by the CPI and CPI(M) leadership. This denial reflected an accumulated neglect of rural work and refusal to nurture and unleash the revolutionary potential of peasant movement in the Indian context. In fact, even when the potential had asserted itself in the course of the great Telengana movement, the CPI leadership could think of no other way than surrender of arms and withdrawal of the movement. Mao made a very modest and mild reference to this crippling lapse of the communist leadership in the course of his talk with some representatives of Latin American Communist Parties when he said, "I think that in countries where feudalism is strong the political party of the proletariat should go to the countryside and seek out the peasants. The peasants are the chief ally of the proletariat. In the beginning our Party too did not realize the importance of work among the peasants and put urban work first and rural work second. It seems to me that the Parties in some Asian countries, such as India and Indonesia , have not done so well in rural work." The recognition of Mao Zedong Thought as a guiding principle for the CPI(ML) followed from a deep urge to correct this historical imbalance, lay a new emphasis on rural work, and develop revolutionary bases in the countryside on the basis of a militant mobilization of the rural poor.

The Great International Communist Debate against Revisionism

No less crucial at that time was the Great Debate and the struggle against revisionism in the international communist movement, especially in third world countries with close ties with the Soviet Union. Khruschev's thesis that third world countries ruled by a progressive national bourgeoisie could make a peaceful transition to socialism by pursuing a non-capitalist path of development with Soviet aid and collaboration had found many takers within the CPI leadership. The task for communist parties in such countries had accordingly been reframed as collaboration with the progressive bourgeoisie against imperialism and the forces of domestic reaction so as to expedite and consolidate the process of transition along a non-capitalist path. The CPI(M) did reject the Khruschev thesis in words, but it refused to take sides in the Great Debate between the revisionist and revolutionary lines. It also continued to characterize the contention between US imperialism and the Soviet-led socialist camp as the principal contradiction in international situation, thereby downplaying the central role of third world revolutionary movements in combating US imperialism even as the US was being challenged and pushed back by the great revolutionary advance of the people of Vietnam .

There was also a third aspect linked to the cultural revolution then underway in China . In the course of the Great Debate, the CPC had also developed a critique of the Soviet Union 's experience of socialist construction. Pointing to the serious bureaucratic distortions creeping into the Soviet economy and state system, the CPC had emphasized the key role of class struggle even in a post-revolutionary context of socialist construction and advocated a cultural revolution to thwart the possibility of capitalist restoration. While the CPC's critique of the Soviet experience had many valid points vindicated eventually by the collapse and disintegration of the Soviet Union , the Cultural Revolution too was subsequently discarded by the CPC because of its excesses and anarchic consequences. The 1970 programme of the CPI(ML) had not only upheld the CPC-led Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution but gone on to declare the people's democratic revolution of India as a part of the GPCR. This approach of linking the revolution in India to a post-revolutionary phase of China was clearly a metaphysical and ahistorical one, and the CPI(ML) subsequently withdrew this sweeping generalization.

Studying Chinese Experiences as Reference Material to Grasp India 's Concrete Conditions

The key challenge of our revolution is certainly one of integrating the universal truth of Marxism-Leninism with the concrete conditions of India . It was precisely the integration of the universal truth of Marxism-Leninism with the concrete conditions of China that gave rise to Mao Zedong Thought and accorded it a special relevance beyond the confines of China , especially for fellow developing and Asian countries placed in similar situations. The relevance should be particularly obvious for a neighbouring country like India with comparable features like a predominantly agricultural economy and population, persistence of strong feudal remnants and continuing imperialist plunder and domination. Mao himself was however quite cautious and modest in recommending the relevance of the Chinese experiences for other countries. As he observed in the course of his aforementioned talk with some representatives of Latin American Communist Parties: "The experience of the Chinese revolution, that is, building rural base areas, encircling the cities from the countryside and finally seizing the cities, may not be wholly applicable to many of your countries, though it can serve for your reference. I beg to advise you not to transplant Chinese experience mechanically. The experience of any foreign country can serve only for reference and must not be regarded as dogma. The universal truth of Marxism-Leninism and the concrete conditions of your own countries - the two must be integrated."

It is in this critical spirit that we include Mao Zedong Thought as a guiding principle for our Party and revolution. While we are aware of the many structural similarities between China and India , we are also keenly aware of the many dissimilarities and especially superstructural specificities of the Indian situation where we have uneven regional and sectoral development within an integrated national economy, and coexistence of many nationalities, religions, languages and castes within a constitutional parliamentary set-up. Instead of trying to copy the exact military course of the Chinese revolution, we therefore lay stress on the ideological and political lessons of building a powerful communist party and movement in the countryside and developing proletarian leadership over an anti-feudal anti-imperialist united front. Ironically, the Indian ruling classes who had denounced the CPI(ML) as Chinese agents have now themselves grown very fond of the economic reforms being currently pursued in China and they never miss an opportunity of preaching the Chinese path to the Indian communists. Even the CPI(M) seeks to invoke China to justify the rightwing pro-capital policies being zealously implemented by CPI(M)-led state governments.

At the other end of the spectrum, our Maoist friends are doing precisely what Mao had asked not to do. They have reduced the Chinese experiences to mere military technique and made a dogma of it. The result is there for all to see - while they have somewhat developed their military abilities, they have failed miserably in developing any militant mass movement and capacity for political intervention, and in the name of punishing the class enemy their squads are indulging increasingly in completely indefensible mass killings of working people, dalits, adivasis and minorities in particular.

Interestingly, while our Indian Maoists are dogmatically trying to transplant the Chinese experiences in utter disregard of the concrete social and political conditions of India, their counterparts in Nepal are grappling increasingly with the specifics of the superstructure in Nepal, with finding ways of isolating and confronting the monarchy and advancing the agenda of formation of a new constituent assembly and transition to a democratic republic.

On the Anti-Feudal Task of India 's Democratic Revolution

The CPI(ML) programme continues to characterize the Indian society as semi-feudal and semi-colonial. There are many in the Left who found such a characterization unacceptable in 1970 and who find it all the more incongruous today in the era of globalisation and all-round penetration of capital and market through all possible pores of Indian economy and society. In fact, many of these friends find the whole concept of the democratic stage of our revolution absurd and superfluous. For them India is just another capitalist country awaiting a socialist revolution. One can understand this argument when it is raised by our socialist friends who have never been able to reconcile themselves with the challenge of a people's democratic revolution, with the task of exercising communist leadership over anti-feudal anti-imperialist struggles without which the conditions of a socialist revolution can never mature and all talks of establishing proletarian political hegemony or supremacy are bound to remain an empty rhetoric. But what objection can the CPI(M), which remains a loyal advocate of the concept of a people's democratic revolution, possibly have to the characterisation of Indian society as semi-feudal?

The CPI(M) ideologues seem to have two basic problems with the recognition of India as a semi-feudal society. They believe that feudal remnants have long been on their way out and are now just too narrowly confined to a few small pockets to exert any general influence on the overall nature of the society and its development. Secondly, they tend to counterpose semi-feudalism to capitalism and a semi-feudal society therefore becomes all the more untenable in their eyes in the present era of globalisation.

Nobody is arguing that capitalism is not developing in India or that the country is experiencing some kind of feudal restoration. The development of capitalism in India or the Indian bourgeoisie pursuing a capitalist path of development can only be news to those who may have once been infected with the illusion of non-capitalist or state-capitalist transition to socialism. For Marxists, the real question is and can only be that of determining the degree and nature of capitalist development in India and it is in this context that the question of feudal remnants assumes crucial importance.

We Do Need A Revolution to Overthrow Feudal Remnants

The Marxist-Leninist literature talks of two basic patterns or ways of capitalist development in agriculture, the landlord path and the peasant path. The latter deals a decisive blow to feudal remnants and paves the way for the most rapid and free development of productive forces and capitalist relations while the former gives a long lease of life to feudal remnants and leads to a very slow, distorted and painful development of capitalism.

We do not have the scope here to get into an elaborate discussion about the nature of capitalist development in Indian agriculture, but let us note that Marxist observers of the Indian scene are more or less united that India has experienced a variant of the landlord path in which the bourgeoisie has forged a strategic alliance with feudal remnants. Does not the fact that the Government of India has to identify every third Indian district as backward according to most parameters point to the large-scale prevalence of feudal remnants? Even in a state like Punjab , universally acknowledged as one of India 's most capitalistically developed states, do not we see feudal features like usury and semi-bondage taking a heavy toll in the midst of the ongoing agrarian crisis?

Central to the very notion of a people's democratic revolution is its anti-feudal task. In terms of its declared objective, the CPI(M) programme continues to adhere to the people's democratic revolution, yet it has never recognized the real extent and gravity of feudal remnants in Indian society. No wonder, the CPI(M) remains a political stranger to the real world of feudal oppression, landlord-kulak violence and anti-feudal awakening of the rural poor in large parts of the country. By contrast, the CPI(ML)'s vigorous and determined opposition to feudal remnants and its sincere commitment to the anti-feudal task of India 's democratic revolution has enabled it to break new grounds and strike deep roots in many parts of the country's backward regions.

(Go to Part - II)