Dynamic of National Political Situation and The Tactics of the Left

[This article, translated from Bengali, first appeared in the October 1996 special issue of Deshbrati.]

At the time of writing this article, a significant change has taken place in the Congress Party. Sitaram Kesri has replaced Narasimha Rao as the Congress president. It is not yet clear what implications this change will have on the reunification of the Congress. From Arjun Singh to VP Singh, all are talking of returning to the fold of the party. To what extent the existence of the Deve Gowda government is dependent on the changes in the internal politics of Congress can be understood from the fact that as soon as he heard the news of Narasimha Rao’s resignation, the Prime Minister rushed to his house and talked to him without aides for 45 minutes. According to newspapers, it was the 24th time that Deve Gowda met Rao in his house during the span of three and a half months of his tenure.

All eyes are set on the outcome of UP elections. Although Mulayam has been successful in getting a governor of his choice appointed to the state with a view to extract advantage in the event of a hung assembly, his defeat may usher in a crisis for the UF government as well. To put it differently, its dependence on the Congress would increase, and even the question of direct participation of Congress in the government may well arise. In all likelihood, the resignation of Rao has paved the way for that possibility. Given the situation, what will be the tactics of the Left? Maybe we shall soon face this question. However, for the time being we would limit ourselves to dealing with the attitudes of different leftist streams towards the present UF government.

Why this debate within the Left?

In the last Lok Sabha elections, none of the three main forces could attain majority. Besides, several regional parties and small political parties taken together, bagged a considerable number of seats in Parliament. In a hung Parliament, after the 13-day wonder of the BJP government had faded out, another novel phenomenon appeared on the scene. The United Front of 13 parties formed a government with the support of the Congress and, most unexpectedly, Deve Gowda became the new prime minister. On the question of participation in this government, difference of opinion was witnessed among the left parties, and moreover, debates also started within the parties as well. This debate assumed most intense proportions within the CPI(M), and then in the entire left movement, centring on the decision made by the CPI(M).

Here one must keep it in mind that the basic factor giving rise to the debate is the participation of CPI and CPI(M) in the United Front. In 1989 they were not part of the National Front, and the Left Front had a separate existence. It was the NF which had formed the government and the LF and BJP had supported it from outside, in the same way as, one can say, today Congress is supporting the United Front government. Although the CPI(M) theoreticians often portray their support at par with that of the Congress from outside, it is nothing but a half-truth. The independent existence and integral entity of the Left Front has been sacrificed at the altar of the United Front by joining it. The attempt to erect a Chinese Wall between the United Front and its Government is just a clever exercise in playing with words. You are an integral part of the government; the difference may only lie in direct or indirect participation. You are an important constituent of the United Front, yet you talk of supporting its government from outside! This is evidently self-contradictory. Just because the self-contradiction is so manifest, the CPI(M)’s decision not to join the government seemed quite unnatural and irrational to the people, and even the party’s central leadership stood divided on this question.

The CPI, without any delay, arrived at a decision to join the government. Some sort of opposition was of course there, but that was insignificant. After 1967, the CPI did join several non-Congress governments, and in the latter period even formed a coalition government with the Congress in Kerala. They have extended support to various Congress governments at the Centre, the height of which was their support to the Indira Government at the Centre during Emergency. Their supporting Emergency was the climax of the CPI’s line of transition to national democracy and socialism under the leadership of the ‘progressive section’ of the bourgeoisie. After making self-criticism in its Bhatinda Congress, however, the CPI washed off this stigma and adopted the line of maintaining a distance from the Congress. It is from then onwards that the relations between CPI and CPI(M) started improving. Between 1977 to 1996, the political cycle has completed a full circle and the CPI has again joined a non-Congress government — and that too at the Centre — a government which sustains precisely on the support of the Congress. However, this time the CPI(M) is not able to launch any forceful protest; on the contrary, it is itself divided on this question. The CPI theoreticians regard this as a victory of their line of national democracy. In a show of rare enthusiasm, Chaturanan babu asked the CPI(M) to re-evaluate their assessment of the Congress.

In the past, the CPI(M) has supported several policies of the Congress, a number of times it has also supported the Congress candidates for presidentship, and saved the previous Congress government at crucial junctures; nevertheless it never went into any formal relationship with the Congress. It supported the Janata government in 1977 in the context of anti-Congressism, although the then Bharatiya Jan Sangh was an integral part of it. Of course, its dubious role in toppling the Morarji government triggered a debate inside the party popularly known as the ‘July Crisis’. It also supported the National Front government in 1989 side by side with the the BJP to keep the Congress away from power. However, this is the first time that the CPI(M) is caught on the horns of a dilemma, because it has to support a non-Congress government which is itself critically dependent on Congress support for its survival.

The CPI(M) had hoped that Congress(T) or other rebel factions of Congress would bag a considerable number of seats and therefore the support of Rao Congress would not be required. However, in reality this did not happen. Even after the declaration of election results, Comrade Surjeet hoped that a major split would take place within the Congress and in that case branding these rebels as progressive sections of the Congress, a majority could be attained with the help of their support. But that too was not to happen. Ultimately, Deve Gowda had to plead in Rao’s court. Now the whole propaganda machinery of CPI(M) is busy brainwashing the rank and file, putting it in their heads that the Congress had no alternative but to support this government, that they have supported it unconditionally, and of course, on their own, that the Common Minimum Programme (CMP) has rejected the economic policies of Rao’s Congress government, etc. etc. In order to prove their political chastity their magazines are nowadays full of such subjective analyses.

However, truth was revealed by none other than Mr.VP Singh, the most far-sighted bourgeois visionary in present-day Indian politics, when he claimed that a new phase of cooperation between the United Front and Congress has begun. He also said in very clear terms that irrespective of whatever one says, an unwritten national consensus has developed around the new economic policy. Deve Gowda’s statements supporting the new economic policy have been known to all for quite some time, and by no way was it an accident that Chidambaram, who had been personally involved in formulating the economic policy of Rao government, was made the new finance minister of India. We will return to this matter a little later.

Why did CPI(M) Not Join the Government?

Immediately after joining the United Front, as its natural corollary, pressure began mounting on CPI(M) to join the government and this reached to an extreme when Jyoti babu became the consensus candidate for the post of prime minister. The Party’s rank and file, its intellectual sympathisers and so many left-oriented people could not find any rationale behind losing this golden opportunity. The logic behind staying out of the government could not be digested by them because, firstly, the CPI(M) was already a constituent of United Front; secondly, they were getting the post of prime minister, so they could play a major role in policy formulation, and thirdly, every constituent in the 13-party United Front was in a minority, rather the left bloc of 55 MPs was the largest among them. Therefore, the traditional logic that they would not participate in the government if they were in a minority, and consequently not in the principal role in policy formulation, was irrelevant in this context.

This situation quite naturally intensified the division in the leadership and later it was known that the decision to stay out of the government was carried only by a margin of few votes. The logic behind not joining the government is understandable if the question were about the extreme dependence of this government on Rao Congress and consequently the compulsion of carrying on with the new economic policy, but in that case there is a question mark on the relevance of the United Front government itself. However, when the CPI(M) leadership is incessantly claiming that support by the Congress is unconditional, that they are forced because they have no alternative, and that the CMP has rejected the new economic policy of the erstwhile government, then the logic behind the CPI(M) staying out of the government is really beyond one’s comprehension. The points of debate in the party central committee have still not come out in the open, probably they will in the next party congress. We will, however, deal here with an opinion that disapproves participation in the government.

Explaining the rationale behind not joining the government, a well-known intellectual has written that had Jyoti Basu become the prime minister the fascist forces in their rage would have started a country-wide counter-revolution, the whole capitalist class would have gone on nation-wide strikes, and given the nature of the state power, it would have only sided with them. As because the necessary strength — including armed people’s militia — to face such an onslaught is not there with the CPI(M), there is no point in stirring the fascists’ nest. Well, such explanations only suit arm-chair academicians. Jyoti babu has been there as chief minister of West Bengal for 20 long years, never did we see any counter-revolution taking place there, on the contrary, the native and foreign capitalists have been proffering Jyoti Basu the character certificate of a ‘gentleman communist’. To put it squarely, the consensus on Jyoti Basu’s name was there not because of his revolutionary image, rather it was precisely because of his liberal image which is reasonably acceptable to the establishment. The same intellectual wizard has also asked as to what Jyoti Basu could possibly do by becoming the prime minister if he had to offer ministerial posts to so many thieves and thugs of the United Front, rather it would have only tarnished the image of CPI(M). But has not the CPI(M) for quite long time been sharing the same shed with these very persons and even hailing them as great democrats and even revolutionaries; and does not Basu have to face many such problems in the West Bengal government too with such ministers? How could CPI(M) get away from this infamy while remaining in the United Front?

The Centrist Position of Namboodiripad

It is learnt that ultimately the intervention by veteran leader EMS Namboodiripad became decisive in arriving at the Central Committee decision. From his recent articles in People’s Democracy and elsewhere, we can understand CPI(M)’s attitude on different questions and also the debate that is going on inside the party.

He has propped up his arguments on the basis of the twin premises of the united front policy of the Communist International and the line of the 1951 party congress to unseat the Congress government from power.

He holds that the present United Front is specific Indian experiment of the Communist International policy of united front of the working class with the forward-looking bourgeoisie. In his opinion, the United Front has been built up by two components: one, sections of secular and democratic parties who are, in class terms, representatives of progressive bourgeoisie; and two, the leftist and left-leaning parties who represent workers-peasants-toiling people. He does talk of a delicate balance between the two components; he has also mentioned a tug-of-war, and then expressed some doubts regarding the stability of the Front. However, in the euphoria over the United Front, this aspect has not been allotted much importance in his thesis. EMS informs us that on the question of new economic policy of the Rao government there was some vacillation within the Front but it was seriously thrashed out and only after rejecting that economic policy was the CMP formulated on the basis of consensus. Well, one will be tempted to conclude that now onwards the struggle will centre on ensuring that no deviation takes place from the CMP. But here is a catch. In the following line EMS informs us that the CMP still contains ‘within itself’ the remnants of anti-people and anti-national policies of the erstwhile Rao government. How strange! How come there was a consensus in that case? Did you make a compromise on the matter of principle? Or else, are those anti-people and anti-national policies part of your own programme too? In case you hold that in the concrete situation prevailing today this limitation of a democratic programme is unavoidable, then why don’t you have the political courage to say that clearly, and to defend the programme in its entirety? On the one hand, you are owning the programme as common, and on the other, you are terming some part of it as anti-people and anti-national; is it not a clear case of self-contradiction? It is in this self-contradiction that the content of CPI(M)’s political opportunism is hidden. Right from VP Singh to Deve Gowda to Narasimha Rao, all are talking of a consensus on the NEP and it is known to all that the basic orientation of CMP favours this policy, whatever little changes or reforms that have been made there are precisely in order to provide a human mask to the same policy. In no case do the representatives of the bourgeoisie in the United Front government represent the non-monopoly bourgeoisie against big monopoly bourgeoisie, nor has there been a split within the bourgeoisie along progressive and reactionary lines.

Whatever you may call them, forward-looking or progressive, the leadership of the United Front rests in the hands of the bourgeoisie, the motive force of which is the new economic policy of the big bourgeoisie. The fact that the left partners are capable of doing there nothing save raising a hue and cry on some trivial questions has by this time become evident on a number of occasions. EMS had better also mention there that the Communist International had repudiated joining such fronts or governments terming the same as class collaboration.

Moreover, EMS has described the United Front as a necessary phase for the evolution of people’s democratic unity. How would this transition be realised? In his own words, "Broad unity and fraternal struggle among the two contingents of the United Front and the Government will continually promote and strengthen the independent position of workers and peasants. This will in turn gradually develop proletarian hegemony. This is the process through which the present unity of left, secular and democratic forces will transform into people’s democratic unity."

Describing such a United Front — which is a product of sheer political exigency, which has come into existence not through any democratic movement (better not to forget that in the course of movement against new economic policy we leftists never received any help whatsoever from any of these forces), and which is of a very transitory nature and it is not sure where its various constituents will take shelter in the face of a bourgeois offensive — and its government as the precursor to and indispensable stage for people’s democratic front, is nothing but a shameless distortion of the revolutionary theory of Marxism. More importantly, EMS is viewing this transition as something like a straight line, a smooth process of broad unity and fraternal struggle, where there are no ruptures in the backdrop of intensifying class struggles, no sharp conflicts with the proletariat on the question of leadership. It all seems very much like an echo of the Khruschevite thesis of peaceful transition, of course presented in Gramscian language of accumulation of proletarian hegemony etc. Such liberal and meaningless phrases become the norm in a party where revolution becomes a proscribed word.

Mentioning the 1951 party line, EMS says that there it was decided to unseat the Congress from power through elections (here he describes as supplementary the mention of non-parliamentary struggle in 1951 line), therefore the principled position of CPI(M) has been: "while it is eager to replace Congress by another bourgeois government, it cannot participate in a government in which it is a microscopic minority."

According to EMS, CPI’s policy is class-collaborationist because "they are for joining the government even if they are in a microscopic minority."

Therefore, the difference here is not on the question of participation in a bourgeois government, not even on whether you are in a majority or a minority, but on whether the minority is microscopic or substantial. In the Marxist-Leninist principle mentioned by EMS himself, there is a provision for supporting a bourgeois government, but not for joining it. However, by introducing the category of microscopic minority he has brought down the difference between CPI and CPI(M) to a question of mere degree. When the government belongs to the bourgeoisie, it is but natural that communists there can only be in minority. Nonetheless if this minority is not just microscopic but a substantial one, EMS has no objection to join a bourgeois government.

From the above one can get an idea of EMS’s traditional centrist position between the two conflicting sides within the Central Committee, and moreover, it can also be understood how this position has for the time being succeeded in effecting a unity in the CC.

Thus, by introducing the concept of absence of substantial minority between the two opposite views -- not joining the bourgeois government supported by Congress versus joining the government and getting the post of prime minister on the basis of left being the largest bloc — EMS has on the one hand rejected the thesis of not joining the government, and on the other, also rejected the practicability of joining it. As the matter is just of difference in degree of minority, this time there is no such sharpness in the debate between the CPI and the CPI(M). Even the gentleman’s agreement between the two sides is worth noticing. Also worth noticing are a few statements by EMS:

"For the first time in the country’s history a united front of former Congressmen and communists has formed the government which is working on the basis of CMP."

"While all the 13 constituents of the UF are committed to defend this government against all attacks from wherever they come, and while one of the four left parties (CPI) has even joined the government, the three other left parties including the CPI(M) have opted out to support the government from outside."

Here it would be worth mentioning that EMS has repeatedly described UF as a united front of communists and erstwhile Congressmen. In his article which appeared in The Times of India, he has termed ex-Congressmen right from Acharya Kripalani, as true disciples of Gandhi and from there he has traced the legacy of cooperation between communists and the ex-Congressmen or true Gandhians. According to his analysis, today the true disciple of Gandhi bearing that legacy is Deve Gowda, and the United Front government symbolises the best of leftist and Gandhian legacy. While using these superlatives it seems to have slipped out of his mind that the political guru of Deve Gowda is none but the noted syndicate leader Mr.Nijalingappa. Overtaken by his zeal he just forgot that this front of communists (or ex-communists?) and ex-Congressmen is dependent on the present Congress for its existence and survival.

The Attitude of CPI(ML) Towards These Governments

A few words regarding the stand of CPI(ML) towards this government are also required here, because there is no dearth of confusion on this score both within and outside the Party. And it would be better to be clear that in the parliamentary arena our basic position is to play the role of revolutionary opposition. Be it the reactionary government of the BJP or the Congress, or the centrist government of Laloo or Mulayam, or the leftist government of CPI-CPI(M), there arises no question of change in this basic position.

But if we merely learn this basic policy by rote and apply it mechanically, we would fall prey to dogmatism and people will consider us fools. In order to apply this basic policy in the practical field we also require tactical flexibility. We will have to learn to differentiate between various situations, various governments and various issues. Often our parliamentary representatives may have to vote for left or centrist forces against the BJP or the Congress; if there occurs a polarisation between two opposite sides our representatives cannot just remain neutral, because that neutrality may help the main enemy and this may tarnish the image of our Party. In a transitory phase, starting from offering critical support to a centrist or left government we may step by step transform our role to that of an opposition, so that our position looks rational and comprehensible to the people.

These tactical steps taken in the arena of parliamentary politics often create confusion among comrades. A good many of them start taking tactical flexibility as opposed to the basic position of the Party, and on the other hand, there are many others who demand elevation of the specific tactics adopted at a particular juncture to the status of basic policy. Viewing our practice in the last few years, we can understand that although our representatives have voted in favour of centrist governments against the no-confidence motions brought on the floor by the BJP or the Congress, and though we have even offered critical support to a centrist government for a short period, in the overall analysis we have only played the role of revolutionary opposition, and in this respect the tactics of building an independent left bloc is an important element of our policy. As regards the Deve Gowda government, the first thing is that our representative did not join the United Front; he has criticised the government on all matters concerning alliance with Congress and spoken against each and every anti-people measure taken by the government. And, then, during the confidence motion when the whole house stood divided along secular and communal lines, in his speech our representative put forward his criticism expressing the apprehension that the new economic policy would continue, and voted for the government. This is to mean that he clarified that the support was critical. The point of our emphasis was that the Left should come out of the United Front and take up an independent position, building an independent left bloc. In the Bihar Legislative Assembly we have adopted the same position. In Assam too, the ASDC has refused to join the government, and starting from proclamation of their support to it from outside, they are, step by step enhancing their level of opposition by building an independent democratic bloc. We hold that in the specific situation of Assam it is better to advance in this way.

We shall always launch movements on all democratic issues as well as in the interests of the labouring people outside Parliament and legislative assemblies against these governments.

Limitations and The Question of Marginalisation

Nowadays some people are extremely worried that our Party continues to remain a marginal force and is not able to enter the mainstream. One gentleman, who once looked after the IPF Central Office but later retreated and got himself well-settled, and who is nowadays bringing out a magazine in which Mulayam Singh is eulogised and failures of Marxism are highlighted, has in an article, appearing in another magazine, written that CPI(ML) stands on the margin and will remain in the margin. His allegation against us is that in an age when the world has advanced greatly, we are still confined within the same old Marxism. Of course we do discuss many new problems, but we search for their answers in the same old formulations of ‘by now outdated’ Marxism. His further allegation is that, when others were involved in politics centring Mandal and reservation issues, we held a rally under the slogan of ‘daam baandho kam do’; or when others have abandoned the slogan of social justice it is we who are holding it aloft. In his opinion we are not marching with time, so we are doomed to remain a marginal force. Some comrades within the Party have praised the article, they also think we must somehow enter the mainstream, this isolation is no longer desirable.

In fact, in comparison to any other ML stream, our Party has, over the span of the past decade or more, made an all-round attempt to intervene in the mainstream of politics. Through establishing contacts with various streams of democratic forces throughout the country, joint activities with various streams of the Left at different levels, through attempts to utilise every debate or division among our political contenders in our favour, through organising nationwide campaigns and holding national rallies, through active intervention in the election process, etc., the Party is incessantly trying to expand its initiative. In the midst of ups and downs we have also gained some successes in this endeavour. Here one must remain clear about our point of departure while intervening in the mainstream of politics. Should one get co-opted into the ongoing stream of left-democratic politics? Or should one try to transform it? If we get co-opted into that stream, will it not become our fate to remain a marginal force forever? On the other hand, the task of transforming this stream is no doubt protracted and painstaking, but within this lies the great possibility of future when, breaking the present isolation, we can become the determining force of the mainstream.

We must keep it in mind that we represent the urban and rural proletariat, and although this class is overwhelmingly large it remains a marginal force in the present socio-political system. The question is that of bringing that class into the mainstream of politics through political mobilisation. In this endeavour, superficial political manoeuvres are not going to pay. The question is not at all of bringing the CPI(ML) or some ambitious personalities into the political mainstream in an abstract way.

When I talk about this class it does not mean that we shall remain confined only to them. In the phase of democratic revolution, the communist party should become the representative of all the sections of the people. When, after the Bathani Tola incident, Laloo Yadav, while highly praising our Party on the floor of Bihar Legislative Assembly, said it is the CPI(ML) which truly represents poor people, some of our comrades got very pleased. They did not understand the bourgeois conspiracy lying hidden behind this liberal praise; they are advising us to confine ourselves only to the rural poor and not attempt to represent other sections of the society. The ruling class first tries to finish us by means of repression, but when they do not succeed in that, they try to get us confined within our limited sphere, and for that, they often sing our praises too. We must break this limitation and reach out to all strata and sections of society, and represent their interests as well. Here lies the utility of various political tactics and joint activities with the object of forging a united front. All this should be done while keeping unflinching faith on revolutionary Marxism, upholding the revolutionary position of the Party and remaining consistent in the revolutionary movement. Only then there would be any significance of the legacy of CPI(ML), of the blood shed by thousands upon thousands of martyrs. If we rely on shortcut methods or superficial manoeuvres, the unity of the Party will get hampered and not only will we remain in the margin, there will be great disaster too.

Centring around the close relationship between United Front and Congress, the debate is bound to sharpen in the days to come and it is in the course of this debate that there lies the possibility of a new polarisation among left forces. Towards this objective we must build our own mass base through painstaking work, spread our propaganda far and wide by making it more rational and make an active intervention in the ongoing debate on the role of Left in the national politics. Today’s phase of preparation will, in a favourable turn of political events, usher us in the main position of the left-democratic stream.