Read Part-I

Read Part-II

Notes on Party Programme - III

(This is the third and concluding part of the article. The first two parts have been published in the April and May issues of Liberation. - Editor)

Parliamentary Path and Parliamentary Cretinism versus Revolutionary Utilisation of Bourgeois Democracy

Like the proletariat's relations with the enemies and allies of revolution, the mode of utilization of bourgeois democracy - on the basis of the existing constitution and through platforms and avenues provided under the existing state - also constitutes a key question of the programme of a communist party. Unlike anarchists, revolutionary communists cannot wish away the bourgeois state or hope to confront it merely by way of rejection or boycott. A revolutionary communist party must learn to tackle the state as an arena of class struggle and to this end it must be able to make a proper study of the state and its political apparatus and develop effective ways of dealing with this apparatus.

The Second Congress of the Third or Communist International had dealt at length with the question of utilization of bourgeois parliaments. The Comintern insisted on subordination of parliamentary activity to the aims and tasks of the mass struggle outside parliament. To quote from the theses adopted by the Second Congress,

"The mass struggle is a whole network of activities which is increasingly intensified and logically culminates in an insurrection against the capitalist state. As the mass struggle develops into civil war, the leading party of the proletariat must, as a general rule, secure each and every legal position, using them as auxiliary centres of its revolutionary work and subordinating them to its plan for the overall campaign of mass struggle.

"The platform of bourgeois parliaments is one such auxiliary centre. The fact that parliament is a bourgeois state institution is no argument at all against participation in parliamentary struggle. The communist party enters this institution, not to function within it as an integral part of the parliamentary system, but to take action inside parliament that helps to smash the bourgeois state machine and parliament itself.

"Parliamentary activity, which consisted mainly in disseminating revolutionary ideas, unmasking class enemies from the parliamentary platform, and furthering the ideological cohesion of the masses who, especially in the backward areas still respect parliament and harbour democratic illusions - this activity must be absolutely subordinate to the aims and tasks of the mass struggle outside parliament.

"Participation in election campaigns and utilization of parliament as a platform for revolutionary ideas is of particular significance for the conquest of those layers of the working class such as the rural working masses who until now have stood aside from political life and the revolutionary movement"

In the given system of parliamentary democracy in India , the question of utilization of elections has assumed much greater importance than either pre-revolutionary Russia , which had a fledgling parliamentary set-up dominated by the tsarist autocracy, or China , which simply had no parliamentary structure worth its name. In utilizing institutions of bourgeois democracy, communists can however forget the class character of these institutions only at their own peril.

The revolutionary programme rejects and combats the illusion that treats parliament as a supra-class institution and imagines a level-playing field for different class forces, the ruling and the ruled. The recognition of parliament as an important apparatus of the bourgeois state machine leads to the recognition of the fact that parliament, like the state in general, cannot be won over to the side of the proletariat and eventually needs to be destroyed and replaced by a system that can truly reflect and execute the political will of the working people who currently constitute the exploited and oppressed majority.

This recognition or realization is described in communist literature as the rejection of parliamentary path. Advocates of the parliamentary path obscure and ignore the key question of revolution, that of conquering of state power, of smashing the existing state and replacing it by a new post-revolutionary state. From Chile and Nicaragua to Indonesia and Nepal , the history of parliamentary experience in Latin America and Asia is replete with evidences of impossibility of the parliamentary path. Revolutionary communists reject the parliamentary path and never lose sight of the ultimate task of switching over to a new state and redesigning and rebuilding the entire system of people's representation and participation in the process of policy-making and governance.

While rejecting the bankrupt parliamentary path, and upholding the absolute necessity of ending the bourgeois-landlord rule by overcoming the present state and replacing it by a new state of people's democratic dictatorship, our programme also rejects any notion of boycottism that precludes all manners of participation in elections. It deals with the question of participation in elections from the active premise of mobilization and assertion of the masses as a fighting political force, systematic dissemination of progressive and revolutionary ideas and bringing about a shift in the social and political balance of forces in favour of revolutionary transformation.

Communist Approach to Local Governance within a Bourgeois State

While dealing with the question of utilization of bourgeois democracy and participation in elections, the Second Congress of the Comintern had also visualized the possibility of Communists winning a majority in local government institutions and accordingly it had also laid down the broad direction for communist policy in such institutions of local government. To quote from the theses "The Communist Party and Parliament" adopted by the Second Congress of the Comminterm,

"Should the Communists receive a majority in the local government institutions, it is their duty to take the following measures:

Form a revolutionary opposition to fight the bourgeois central authority;

Aid the poorer sections of the population in every possible way;

Expose at every opportunity the obstacles which the bourgeois state power places in the way of fundamental social change;

Launch a determined campaign to spread revolutionary propaganda, even if it leads to conflict with the state power;

Under certain circumstances, replace the local government bodies with Soviets of Workers' Deputies.

All Communist activity in the local government institutions must be seen as a part of the struggle to break up the capitalist system."

Our Party programme too recognizes the possibility of formation of communist-led provincial governments and emphasizes their role in serving as a revolutionary opposition to the central authority and in highlighting such governments' distinct identity and alternative character in terms of service to the people, respect for their rights and implementation of pro-people policies and plans. In this context, the experience of the CPI(M)-led state governments serves as a major negative teacher for us.

The more we participate in elections and parliamentary struggles, the more it is important to develop a programmatic critique of parliamentary cretinism. Our programme guides us in waging a relentless ideological-political struggle on this score. By insisting on the role of extreme revolutionary opposition in the parliamentary arena, by rejecting the practice of forging opportunist and uncritical alliances with bourgeois parties for the sake of securing a few seats in Assemblies and Parliament or a few berths in bourgeois governments, and by continuously subordinating our parliamentary activity to the aims and tasks of the mass struggle outside parliament/assemblies we have held high the banner of political independence of the proletariat and revolutionary vigilance against the danger of parliamentary cretinism.

The CPI(M)'s Theory and Practice of 'Responsible Governance'

In sharp contrast to the Comintern guideline regarding communist approach to local governance, the CPI(M) programme has effectively delinked the question of participation in governments under the existing order from the task of serving as revolutionary opposition to the central authority. The 1964 programme had resolved against the CPI(M)'s participation in governments in which the party did not have the strength to influence policies and carry out its own immediate programme. This had, by implication, precluded the possibility of the party's participation in a bourgeois government at the Centre (a bourgeois government not only in the sense of a government operating within a bourgeois order but more directly in the sense of one being led by bourgeois parties with the communist party's relative presence remaining limited to that of a junior partner). The updated programme of the CPI(M) has removed the embargo on such power-sharing by way of participation in bourgeois governments and opened the doors for participation in any government.

The only role prescribed by the updated CPI(M) programme for CPI(M)-led governments is one of providing relief to the people (which is indeed a common claim of all bourgeois governments) and 'projection of alternative policies within the existing limitations'. Projection of alternatives within the existing limitations has, of course, nothing in common with the task of carrying out pro-people reforms and mobilizing the people for a revolutionary alternative and preparing them for challenging and transcending the existing limitations . In fact, the track record of CPI(M)-led governments in West Bengal , Kerala and Tripura increasingly repudiates the CPI(M)'s claims even on these two limited counts. These governments do not provide any additional or better relief to the people than that provided by other state governments or through various centrally sponsored schemes. And far from projecting alternative policies, these governments are busy proving themselves as the most efficient champions and managers of the neo-liberal policies of liberalization, privatization and globalisation.

Apart from direct participation in governments, the CPI(M) has also developed a whole new way of indirect participation through shared common minimum programmes and coordination committees. And the two governments in which the CPI(M) has so far participated through such passive means - the United Front government (1996-98) and the UPA government now in power - have turned out to be rabidly pro-imperialist in terms of both economic and foreign policies.

Many well-meaning members or former members of the CPI(M) often deplore the growing lack of distinction of the CPI(M)-led governments in West Bengal and Kerala from other state governments in terms of economic policies as well as priorities and patterns of what passes for development and governance. They also criticize the CPI(M)'s policies of opportunist electoral alliances in other states. But they fail to relate their criticism to the CPI(M)'s programme and the theory and practice of parliamentary cretinism emanating from it. They see it all as aberration resulting from the CPI(M)'s 'excessive preoccupation' with parliamentary politics and see the answer in a sincere implementation of the 1964 programme.

But did not Naxalbari raise precisely the question of role of a communist-led government way back in 1967? How had the 1964 programme answered it then? If CPI(M)-led governments have evolved as epitomes of commitment and responsibility to the system and as most vocal champions of the policies of economic liberalization, privatization and globalization in the 21st century, the first indications had surfaced as early as 1967. It was then that the CPI(M)-led UF government had demonstrated its strategic choice of siding with the status quo rather than the people and serving as an instrument of suppression rather than struggle. It is the same strategic choice and perspective that is now articulated through CPI(M)-led government's enthusiastic embrace of the economics and politics of globalization in West Bengal and Kerala.

Instead of brushing aside the CPI(M)'s present policies regarding electoral alliances and governance as an aberration, critics of parliamentary opportunism should clearly focus on the programmatic source of this opportunism in the CPI(M)'s theory and practice.

The Question of National Unity and Integrity

The ruling classes always seek legitimacy for their class rule in the name of the nation. The question of communist attitude to national unity and nationalism, and analysis of the internal dynamics of the nation as well as its external relation with neighbouring countries and imperialism therefore occupies a key place in the programme of a communist party. Way back in1848, the Communist Manifesto set before the proletariat of every country the task of acquiring political supremacy first within the national borders. The proletariat "must rise to be the leading class of the nation, must constitute itself the nation," proclaimed the Manifesto.

This task assumes a special urgency in countries facing imperialist domination and national oppression or humiliation. While summing up the experience of the revolution in China, Mao Zedong emphasized the crucial importance of the national banner and programme of national unity for the party of the proletariat in the following words: "In countries under the oppression of imperialism and feudalism the political party of the proletariat should raise the national banner and must have a programme of national unity by which to unite with all the forces that can be united, excluding the running dogs of imperialism. Let the whole nation see how patriotic the Communist Party is, how peace-loving and how desirous of national unity. This will help isolate imperialism and its running dogs, and the big landlord class and the big bourgeoisie too."

It is in this revolutionary anti-imperialist sense that we communists uphold the national banner and cherish national unity. Our programme acknowledges the historical role and contribution of diverse nationalities and cultures in building India . This recognition of diversity or plurality rejects the communal majoritarian thesis of homogeneity or uniformity, the one religion-one culture-one nation thesis, popularly expressed as the Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan line. While acknowledging the aspect of diversity, our programme does not underestimate the real economic and historical basis of national integration either. Our programme stands for democratic reorganization of India 's national unity whereby all nationalities would enjoy the right to self-determination including secession.

Here we should note the crucial distinction of the revolutionary approach from the anarchist and right opportunist or reformist approaches. Anarchists extend the principle of recognition of the right to self-determination, including secession, to mean a blanket support for every demand for secession or even an advocacy of secession. The right opportunists on the other hand deny the right to secede and treat any demand or struggle for secession as an anti-national conspiracy deserving to be crushed by all means. Time and again, we have seen the two approaches at work in the North-East as well as in Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir . We on the contrary see the secessionist demands and movements primarily as a reflection of, and reaction against serious bureaucratic distortions in the process of nation-building and in the organization of national unity, often aggravated by the uneven nature of ongoing capitalist development. While opposing state repression on such movements, we decide our response to such slogans and movements according to the specific merit of every case.

It must be noted that the ruling classes often use the question of national unity and integrity to deny democracy to the people and resort to all kinds of extra-judicial repression. Large parts of the country have been experiencing conditions of a near-permanent Emergency. While trying to maintain national unity at gunpoint, the ruling classes are actually undermining the basis and process of national unity by exposing the entire country and the whole gamut of its economic and strategic interests to imperialist intervention and manipulation. We on the contrary cherish national unity precisely for the sake of democracy and national independence, for increasing our capacity to resist and defeat imperialist designs.

Anti-Imperialist Nationalism and Proletarian Internationalism

Our Party programme upholds the principle of proletarian internationalism. Marx and Engels had very succinctly articulated this principle in the clarion call issued at the end of the Communist Manifesto, "Working Men of All Countries, Unite!" Since then the slogan has been modified in the era of imperialist domination and national liberation to emphasise the unity of all oppressed nations as well. Today, proletarian internationalism calls for unity of workers and oppressed peoples across the world.

Talking about proletarian internationalism, it is often easy to denounce the bourgeoisie of a foreign country or condemn war in a distant part of the world. The real test of a communist party's commitment to proletarian internationalism however lies in applying this principle vis-à-vis its 'own bourgeoisie' and in its own country. The First World War saw most European social-democratic parties (the communist parties then were known as social-democratic or labour parties), the parties of the Second International, abandon the principle of proletarian internationalism in practice and even in theory and rally behind their respective ruling classes. This led to a sharp debate in the international socialist movement and parties committed to the principle of proletarian internationalism reconstituted and renamed themselves as communist parties and went on to form the Third or Communist International.

In India during the Second World War, the CPI committed a different kind of tactical mistake in applying the principle of proletarian internationalism when in the name of discharging the internationalist task of defending the Soviet Union , it called for extending concession to the British imperialists thereby temporarily downplaying the Indian proletariat's national anti-imperialist banner. In the post-1947 period, the question of demarcating the proletariat's national banner from the platform of bourgeois chauvinism or jingoism kept haunting the Indian communists as India kept getting periodically into wars with neighbours. In 1962 when India went to war with China , the CPI got badly divided on this question and this served as a major immediate cause behind the 1964 split between the CPI and the CPI(M). Subsequent wars however only led to a further weakening of the opportunists' will and ability to demarcate themselves from the ruling classes at war times. At the time of the Bangladesh War in 1971, both the CPI and CPI(M) identified themselves completely with the ruling classes.

We are aware that even when the ruling classes are not involved in the actual act of war, they lose no opportunity to whip up war frenzy. A constant rhetoric against Pakistan (ISI and cross-border terrorism) and now increasingly also against Bangladesh (illegal infiltrators from Bangladesh swamping India) has become a defining feature of bourgeois nationalism in India, and the BJP and the Congress, the two principal all-India parties of the ruling classes, always try to outplay each other in using this rhetoric as a veritable political tool. And frequent pronouncements by the Left Front Government in West Bengal against ‘Bangladeshi infiltration' indicate that the CPI(M) too is now joining this race and using the same potent rhetoric. Because of the sub-continent's complex history of partition, any deterioration in India 's ties with Pakistan and Bangladesh has its direct internal implication in terms of a rise in anti-Muslim communal tension within India . In the name of national unity and nationalism we have been witness in India to the worst kinds of pogrom against Sikhs in 1984 and in recent years repeatedly against Muslims, the Gujarat genocide being the most recent and infamous instance.

Bourgeois nationalism in India has thus developed a historical trajectory of lapsing periodically into jingoism and chauvinism against neighbouring countries as well as assuming communal fascist dimensions in the country's own internal life. Simultaneously, there has been a remarkable rise in the ruling classes' collaboration with imperialism, especially since the disappearance of the Soviet Union . The party of the proletariat must strengthen its banner of secular anti-imperialist nationalism to decisively expose and defeat the comprador-communal agenda and direction of the Indian big bourgeoisie.

The CPI(ML) programme thus equips and enables the Indian proletariat to combat the twin dangers of both parliamentary cretinism and bourgeois chauvinism, the two pitfalls that have historically proved the nemesis of many communist parties across the world. This is the basis on which the programme directs the CPI(ML) in its mission of organizing the Indian proletariat into an independent and cohesive class and raising the level of its independent assertion progressively higher. At the same time, it inspires and leads the proletariat in its quest for unity with the fighting peasantry and all other patriotic democratic forces so as to raise the level of anti-feudal anti-imperialist people's struggles to newer heights and carry the people's democratic revolution through to the end.