Party Secretaries and Leading Cadres Meet at Bardhaman to Streamline and Strengthen the Party Organisation

The entire township of Bardhaman wore a festive look – festooned all over with red banners, flags, posters bearing revolutionary slogans. On their way from the station, delegates saw massive gates welcoming them. The Town Hall of Bardhaman bore the name of Comrade Vinod Mishra Hall, and its entrance gates were dedicated to two of Bardhaman's revolutionary martyrs – Comrade Tushar Chandra and Comrade Asit Baran Chatterjee. Nearly 500 delegates from all over the country saw, right outside the Conference Hall, a large poster, telling them about the many comrades from Bardhaman who have been martyred in the movement. One was struck by the names of young students from colleges, most of whom were killed in the repression against the Naxalbari movement. Delegates entered the hall, sobered with a sense of history, of the sacrifices which made the survival and spread of our movement possible for the last 40 years. Comrade Ram Naresh Ram Hoisting the Party Flag at Bardhaman

The Convention began at 10 AM on 12 September with the hoisting of the Party flag by veteran CPI(ML) leader from Bhojpur, Politburo member Comrade Ramnaresh Ram. The Party general Secretary followed by leaders of various states and departments paid floral tributes to the martyrs, a cultural team from Bengal sang revolutionary songs, and a two minutes silence was held in the memory of the martyrs.

The Convention was attended by 485 participants, including 63 women, from 19 states as well as from central organs, various central departments, headquarters, and from among students and youth. The proceedings were conducted by a presidium comprising of Comrades Swadesh Bhattacharya, DP Buxi, Kartik Pal, N Murthy, S Balasundaram , Amar, Jayant Rongpi, Krishna Adhikary with Comrade Dipankar Bhattacharya as its Chairperson.

The proceedings started with the inaugural speech by Comrade Dipankar and the presentation of an approach paper for discussion by Comrade Swadesh Bhattacharya. Comrade DP Buxi presented the summary of the answers to the questionnaire sent by the 98 committees/departments. This was followed by lively discussions by the participants in which they shared experiences on various aspects of party building in their respective areas/ sectors. The discussion was conducted under three heads, viz. (i) Party membership and Party structures; (ii) Party literature and Party education; and (iii) Party's role in panchayats and other local level institutions of self-governance. In all, 66 comrades spoke at the Convention, sharing their experiences and ideas on these topics.

Party Membership and Party Branches

The approach paper outlines the agenda and the chalenge: “the biggest handicap during the Naxalbari days was the absence of a powerful, systematised Party organization. Once again when the countryside is seething with anger and a major rural unrest is brewing in large parts of the country, we must remain prepared with a powerful organization...” In the first session on Party membership and structures, delegates pointed out that there existed a growing political space and opportunities for expansion, but this scope is not being matched by the slow and ill-equipped development of our organisation. In our traditional strongholds in the Bihar and UP, and Karbi Anglong, as well as in Andhra, Orissa, some parts of Assam , and Punjab , there are reports of a rapid expansion in our mass base and mass activities; but this is not breaking the stagnation in our Party membership, and the gross under-representation of women, students and workers.

Many delegates returned to the question of our inability to organise our membership in active Branches. Delegates asked themselves: We complain that branches are inactive, but why? After all, are the masses inactive? If so, how are we having all these local struggles and demonstrations? How do we organize these big rallies? How did we win 150 mukhiyas in the recent panchayat elections in Bihar ? How do we get tens of thousands of votes in elections? How did we recruit more than one million agricultural labourers, not once but twice within the last four years? Surely it is possible and necessary to organise this active mass in Branches?

Women, Working Class, Youth Comrade Swadesh Bhattacharya presenting the note for discussion

One of the key points for discussion was the gender imbalance in the Party. Women participate in our struggles, rallies and demonstrations in such large numbers. Yet the number of party members from amongst them is very low; of cadres and leaders even lower. Presenting a detailed note on the subject, Comrade Meena Tiwary stressed that the recruitment of women members must be taken up as a drive, a concerted political campaign. Women activists suggested that the membership drive among women be taken up as a collective exercise – that is, meetings of women be held, where general political questions as well as the Party's programme can be discussed. In such an atmosphere, women encourage each other to speak up, overcome hurdles like domestic disapproval.

Comrade Meena's note also confronted the fact that within the Party itself, family structures continue to be restrictive. Young women are not encouraged to become active, due to conservative notions. But during panchayat polls, where women's reservation demanded women's political participation, women's own political urge broke through family strictures pretty rapidly. In our own party to, there are instances of domestic violence and abusive marriages – and to turn a blind eye or condone it in any way is to mock at our revolutionary principles.

Along with enhanced membership and leadership among women, delegates stressed the need to equip the entire Party with greater ideological clarity regarding the struggle for women's liberation from patriarchal domination and prejudices and generate enhanced sensitivity regarding the conditions, needs and rights of women in the Party and the movement.

Delegates spoke of the new challenges posed by the heightened offensive of big capital and the policies of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation before the trade union movement. They observed that difficulties and defeats in the trade union arena have served as an ideological-political dampener for many working class comrades. It was felt that the Party must help working class comrades to face the new situation in a revolutionary spirit, identify and grasp the emerging possibilities and reaffirm their communist role not only within the trade union arena but also in the overall practice of the Party.

Speaking about party building among students and youth, comrades felt that contrary to the misplaced impression, young people are neither disinterested in Marxism, nor do they lack social concern; rather they are positively inclined towards revolutionary ideology, movements and politics. To increase student-youth members it was felt that we must lay greater stress on direct dissemination of Marxist ideas among students and encourage students to go to villages and sites of repression and struggle. It was felt that the need for political integration between the young intelligentsia and the lives and struggles of the rural poor has only increased in the present context of agrarian crisis and the attack of imperialist globalisation.

Party's Role in Panchayat Institutions

Many panchayat representatives and local leaders shared their relatively new experience in panchayat institutions. Many pointed out that panchayat representatives are the most common elected people's representatives that the Party has got and objectively they occupy an important position as Party ambassadors in the eyes and experience of the people they represent in the panchayati raj institutions.

How to play the role of ‘revolutionary opposition' within panchayat institutions? In Parliament and Assemblies our presence at the present stage is anyway quite limited and we are naturally identified as members of opposition. But a panchayat pradhan or mukhia is the government at the panchayat level, so to say. What will be the relation of this most primary local government vis-a-vis the state and central government, vis-a-vis state power? The Approach Paper noted: “By killing our panchayat representatives and often harassing, humiliating, arresting and torturing them our enemies and the state make it pretty clear how they look at us. But are we conscious of the fact that even as a mukhia or block pramukh we constitute the revolutionary opposition to the state and must behave accordingly, must develop appropriate ways to reflect and sharpen this opposition? If we do not consciously use the local power against the power and policies of the central authority, the logic of decentralisation of power will reduce us to an appendage of the corrupt and anti-people central power.”

Some pointed out that on the other hand, unlike Parliament and State Assemblies, the advantage with panchayats and blocks are that they are situated right in the midst of the rural heartland and we can bring the entire pressure of the masses to bear upon it. Many felt that the way to minimise deviations and corruption among our panchayat representatives, is not so much to mechanically ‘police' them on behalf of the Party. Rather, the real safeguard is to ensure our political role as an oppositional force, by involving and politicising the masses and making them realise that it is only on the basis of their active assertion and vigilance that things can work. Noting that the the state consciously promotes non-party non-class illusions around the panchayati raj institutions, many warned that Panchayat representatives must not fall for them. Our experience shows that our representatives must be encouraged to get involved in Party campaigns and assert their role primarily as the representative of the ongoing class struggle in the countryside. With some conscious plans and efforts, major issues and debates that are usually considered outside of the purview of the panchayats can be introduced. A case in point is the demand for reinstatement of the abandoned Amir Das Commission that was pushed through successfully in some panchayat samitis in Bihar .

It was pointed out that for every individual or family that benefits from a panchayat scheme, many more remain excluded and deprived. Rather than seeing our role only as a vehicle or agency for benefiting a few and thereby excluding and depriving many more, our role should be to the militant initiatives of the rural poor. We must organise them to fight for the widest possible implementation of schemes like NREG, PDS, BPL, and against every instance of blackmarketeering, corruption and exclusion that occur under cover of such schemes.

On the topic of party education and party organs, various experiences were discussed. It was noted there is a greater public thirst for information and knowledge, but the greater penetration of the bourgeois media is contrasted with the weak reach of our Party organs. The urgent need to take steps to expand our own reach and readership was felt. Comrades were enthusiastic about expanding Liberation's readership to its fullest potential in the towns and cities, including in the Hindi heartland. The positive experience of Patna , Banaras, and the experience of the Liberation Readers' Forum at Bhubaneswar showed how Liberation proved to be a useful tool in Party building.

It was felt that Lok Yudh has much greater scope to function not only as an ideological-political organ but also as a mouthpiece of our ongoing struggles. It can directly champion the cause of many struggles on a regular basis - for instance the employment guarantee movement and the issue of Right to Information. Lok Yudh, it was felt, could champion this whole agenda, sponsoring a series of workshops in coordination with AIALA and publishing a series of blockwise detailed reports as an entry point to chronicle the living and working conditions of rural labourers. In so doing, it could develop a whole new group of correspondents, and a new style of revolutionary grassroots journalism.

The Convention heard reports on the range of publications in various languages (albeit somewhat irregularly in some cases): ML Update, the English weekly news bulletin, Deshabrati (West Bengal), Bikalpa (Assam), Theepori (Tamil Nadu), Kannada Liberation (Karnataka), Telugu Liberation (Andhra Pradesh), Lok Morcha (Punjab), and Nabasphulinga (Tripura) are some of these publications.

The process of sharing the problems of organisation-building, and fixing new targets, the debates and the arguments – at the end of its all, comrades faced the challenges with a fresh sense of purpose and determination. The Convention ended with a rousing rendering of Internationale .