More on People’s Front

[From Liberation, January 1984.]

By now it has become well-known that our Party’s idea of building a people’s front at the national level has come under equally sharp attacks from both liquidationist and anarchist points of view. The liquidationist point of view opposes it on the ground that the front, in its bid to challenge authoritarianism/fascism practiced by Indira Gandhi, excludes sections of comprador bourgeoisie and the parliamentary opposition from its ambit; while the anarchist viewpoint is opposed to building any political front as such in the name of upholding the ‘basic line’ of smashing the old state machinery. This is an instance of both these ‘extreme’ viewpoints converging in their opposition to the idea of building the front. Here we shall deal with the criticism of our Party line made by a Party faction, Central Organising Committee (Party Unity), in its journal Party Unity (August 1983 issue). Their criticism, we believe, originates from the anarchist point of view and, in the process of critically reviewing the same, we hope to further elaborate the theoretical propositions that guide the building of the people’s front.

Why a National Political Front?

The COC(PU) claims to have risen above narrow localism and agrees that to organise and lead the masses in democratic mass movements of partial nature on a national scale different national forums of transitory nature can and should be formed. (emphasis added)

What happens to these national forums ‘after the intensification of class struggle to a certain degree and with the attainment of necessary conditions for People’s Democratic Front’ (PDF)? This question remains unanswered.

To proceed. The PDF ‘emerges in course of time with a revolutionary programme of action and armed struggle as the main form of struggle’, and further, it ‘may act as the forum for leading partial struggles on a national scale too’.

On the question of building PDF, COC(PU) claims to have rectified the Party’s line in the ’70s on two counts. Firstly, they have rejected the rigid condition of ‘red political power in at least a few areas of the country’ and replaced it by ‘extensive areas of armed struggle in the countryside, though the areas may not be liberated zones’. Heaven only knows the difference between these two conditions. If we possess ‘extensive areas of armed struggle’, is it not but natural that a few of them will turn into red ones, or to put it the other way, without developing a few red areas, is it at all possible to spread armed struggle to extensive areas?

Secondly, they advocate a ‘comprehensive policy’ of united front as opposed to the ‘narrow policy’ envisaged in the Party line of the ’70s. This comprehensiveness is defined thus: "to unite with various political parties and forces, including those belonging to the parliamentary opposition camp, to fight ESMA, NSA, Press Bill, price hike, capitulation to the ignominious conditions imposed by the imperialist power bloc etc."

To sum up, either you have national forums including the parliamentary opposition, to organise and lead democratic mass movements of partial nature on a national scale or a PDF with extensive areas of armed struggle as the basis.

As far as the PDF is concerned, by their own admission, conditions have not matured yet and one can safely presume that they are not likely to mature at least in the near future. Now, our Party has simply refused to worship spontaneity under the excuse of ‘conditions have not matured’; it has also refused to remain content with a national forum to lead democratic mass movements of partial nature. The fact of the matter is that although we lack extensive areas of armed struggle, we do possess quite a few areas of peasants’ resistance struggle in different parts of the country. We do exert great ideological and political influence over many sections of the Indian people. If we, the revolutionary and democratic forces of India, decide to join hands and formulate an urgent programme of political action, we can indeed become an important force. We can make effective moves to isolate the parliamentary opposition including the revisionists from the mainstream of democratic struggles, we can leave a revolutionary democratic imprint on the general democratic movement, and we can forcefully project our alternative views on burning questions of national politics. And in this way we can move one step towards building PDF. Mind you, one step towards PDF and not PDF itself. This one step should concern itself not just with mass movement of partial nature on a national scale, rather it should stress the independent political mobilisation of the masses and nationwide political struggles.

Learning from the past and living in the present, our Party has decided to march one step towards the future, and this one step has caused all the controversy. And, all phrase-mongering about PDF not withstanding, in the real life of the present, one can well discern the convergence of liquidationist and anarchist viewpoints in sacrificing the political initiative against autocracy to the bourgeois opposition and in remaining content with national-level forums together with the parliamentary opposition to organise and lead democratic mass movements of partial nature on a national scale.

The people’s front we envisage shall draw its forces exclusively from the social support of New Democracy. This is a question of principle. The banner of patriotism and national unity will only help it win over masses from the fold of the big bourgeoisie and big landlords and also to gain support from enlightened landlords and some bourgeois intellectuals. However, issue-based joint activities with parties and mass organisations of the bourgeois and revisionist opposition are never ruled out. What forms these will take, how are the contradictions among them to be utilised, what rifts can be created among them, what changes will take place in smaller parties and particular individual leaders with the passage of time — these are all things to be decided by the tactics pursued by the front regarding them. We have very little experience in this regard and it is obvious that there will be certain mistakes. We shall learn from them and go on perfecting our policies.

The Front and Base Area

Reviewing the history of peasant struggles since Naxalbari, we find that the armed peasant struggles — whether in Naxalbari, Srikakulam or Birbhum — did not last for more than a year or two. And by 1976, except perhaps Bhojpur of Bihar, all other areas of peasant struggle had suffered setbacks. It was only after 1977 that these efforts were revived afresh to develop such areas and, thanks to adjustments in the Party line, the areas of peasant struggle are now lasting for much longer periods. In the Patna-Gaya-Bhojpur belt of Bihar, peasants’ resistance struggles have been maintained with advances here and retreats there. The peasant upsurge in the Patna-Nalanda-Gaya region in particular has assumed unprecedented proportions in recent years. Such efforts are being made in many other places of India by us as well as by other factions of the Party and there are important successes too.

Still, even in the most advanced areas of peasant struggle in Bihar, we cannot venture to turn them into base areas in near future. On the questions of unity with middle peasants and overcoming caste prejudices to win over large sections of the middle and upper middle strata of the dominating castes of landlords, we are yet to achieve any significant breakthrough. We also have a long way to go in mobilising the masses politically and turning the class and social balance in our favour before we take up the task of raising armed struggle to a higher phase and building base areas. It is heartening to note that comrades of the COC(PU) faction in Jehanabad have decided to shed some of their initial absurd notions and have come to certain practical conclusions. One of their sum-ups published in the ctober 1982 issue of Party Unity says: "The nature and level of armed activities must correspond with the existing level of mass movements and help to advance mass movements further," and, "at present the movement in general is being waged on partial issues. It is therefore imperative at this stage to mobilise the broad masses of people by taking advantage of the legal opportunities as well as by skilfully utilising the different contradictions in the enemy camp." Therefore, as regards extending armed struggle to wider areas, or in other words, taking decisive steps towards building red areas, the demand, at present and also for a long time to come, is to preserve our forces, develop them step by step, and attain a major breakthrough in turning the balance of class forces in the areas of struggle, in our favour. This is a point on which all serious revolutionaries of India, who refuse to go the Nisith-Azizul way despite all provocations, share a common opinion.

However, this realisation itself is not sufficient. Building base areas or extending armed struggle to wider areas requires a favourable national situation too. In China, as Chairman Mao put it, the continuous conflicts and war among different sections of the ruling classes was a vital condition for the existence and development of red areas. Conditions are different in India.

Inheriting a central colonial state apparatus, the Indian ruling classes, through a parliament, have by and large been able to contain their contradictions within limits. Universal suffrage and formal institutions of bourgeois democracy have also had a soothing effect on the people’s rebellions and provided a fertile ground for the growth of social democracy. From time to time the existing political system has gone through sharp stresses and strains and the revolutionary and democratic forces have stepped in to utilise this situation. In the present period conflicts are developing among sections of the ruling classes, new social forces are demanding a new balance in the power structure, the air is charged with cries against separatism and for national integration, regional parties are asserting themselves vis-a-vis the national parties, and communal and religious tensions are developing. The conflicts are increasingly becoming unmanageable within the framework of existing institutions and debates on centre-state relations, unitary versus federal character of the state, transition to presidential form of government, etc., are various manifestations of the political crisis which is shaping up in the form of a constitutional crisis.

Instead of remaining a passive onlooker in this period of growing political crisis, the Third Party Congress firmly decided to actively intervene in the national political scene so as to turn the balance of social forces in favour of revolution and endorsed the idea of building a people’s front.

Comrades of COC(PU) agree that the two trends as discussed in the Party Congress report (resistance struggles of the peasantry and democratic movements of various sections of Indian people -Ed.) are running parallel in contemporary India. But they disagree with the Congress declaration that the two trends must be combined. Now, what does this combination mean? Building base areas in the countryside is the central task of our Party and never for a moment will the Party slacken its efforts on that score. And a people’s front shall precisely revolve around this task. Building a political front at the national level is not a deviation from building base areas; on the contrary, taking the circuitous route through a people’s front is perhaps the only way to advance the same in the concrete conditions prevailing in India.

The people’s front, in its ultimate programme, definitely incorporates the programme of New Democracy (if only you have enough patience to look at it and make it a principle to indulge in criticisms only after authentic reading). It has declared extra-parliamentary struggles as the main form of struggle and that surely includes armed struggle. However, as it has to begin its journey in the conditions prevailing around it — conditions which are not matured, by your own admission — at present, it has to emphasise on political mobilisation for immediate political and economic reforms, concentrate on exposing the hypocrisy of government concessions and the outwardly democratic forms of awarding them, and declare that, on its part, it will prefer peaceful methods of struggle, but what course the people’s movements ultimately take will depend on the government’s attitude towards them. Whatever shift it will be able to effect in the correlation of class forces on a national scale will provide a new impetus to the struggle for building base areas, and the changed conditions, in their turn, will demand that it puts more and more emphasis on its maximum programme and adopts militant measures — to the extent of leading insurrections and armed struggles and smashing the old state machinery — to achieve that. In this process, the people’s front will transform itself into a full-fledged People’s Democratic Front. This must be the basic orientation of the front according to our Party Congress.

This is the crux of the matter which certain people, victims as they are of their past, just refuse to understand.

The Front and Election

The incorporation of the term ‘parliamentary struggle’ in our Party programme has been attacked most virulently by the COC(PU) critique and it has predicted our Party’s definite ‘submerging into the mire of parliamentarism’. Well, the history of the Indian communist movement is replete with such instances of degeneration and the people cannot be blamed for having apprehensions about our Party in this regard. In a certain sense we too have such apprehensions. But then, how does one do away with such a danger? By reverting to widespread guerrilla actions and forming revolutionary governments overnight? Mahadeb Mukherjee went in for all-out guerrilla actions and the Nisith group formed a revolutionary government — still all this only accelerated their submerging into the mire of the worst kind of opportunism. We do not want to dig into the past, yet it is quite well known that your sympathies lay with these persons against us.

Wherein does the remedy lie then?

In the ’7Os we had raised the great banner of ‘boycott of elections’ and consequently plunged into developing armed struggle and building red areas. That great upsurge had violently challenged, for the first time in the post-47 India, each and every existing institution of our so-called bourgeois democracy, and had striven to develop alternative centres of people’s power. Herein lies the great significance of that great upsurge and it could have never been possible without the slogan of ‘boycott of elections’. This part of our history represents a glorious tradition of our Party and the martyrs and we have all along upheld this tradition much to the chagrin of the renegades who malign the great heritage of our Party in the name of rectifying past mistakes.

However, our revolution was defeated and all of us had to make adjustments with institutions of the society in which we live. Now, some amongst us rushed to make adjustments with the first signs of setback; they degraded the revolutionary traditions and disgraced the revolutionary martyrs and even threw the great red banner of CPI(ML) overboard. They are renegades who shamelessly crawled to surrender to the enemy. We rightly hate them despite their claims of being ‘the first in rectifying the mistakes and rectifying them completely and thoroughly’. There are others, the revolutionaries, who fought till the last, who never surrendered to the enemy and fell to the ground while fighting. They now find themselves in different conditions and are forced to make adjustments with the existing institutions of the society, they are now regrouping their lost forces and biding their time for the final onslaught. They do it hesitatingly, and step by step, and for this they have to face no less ridicule from different quarters including yours. Their present tactics represent the continuation and logical development of their old tactics.

It is a futile theoretical exercise to decide our tactics regarding the parliament on the basis of its character, i.e., whether the parliament is a semi-colonial one or similar to the one in an independent bourgeois country. Your task of exposing and smashing the parliament does not become any less important because the parliament is semi-colonial, particularly when it provides a favourable subjective condition for the growth of revisionism. Our tactics towards the parliament can only be decided on the basis of the presence or absence of conditions of upsurge.

The question of Marxist approach to parliament is basically a tactical one. It is supposed to assume strategic dimensions in a semi-colonial country where it is presumed that immediate revolutionary situation always exists enabling the communists to go in for building base areas. However, it should be borne in mind that after the Chinese revolution, not only revolutionaries but world imperialism too has taken its lessons. It has made India its showcase-cum-laboratory for experiments. Combined with the particularities of the Indian conditions, the conspiracy of world imperialism and lots of other factors, including the degeneration of socialist Russia into social-imperialism, have led to the maintenance of the parliament and other such institutions for a much longer period than in other countries of the Third World. While the basic path remains basically the same, in many of its particular tactics, however, the Indian revolution cannot be a copy of the Chinese revolution, if only for the simple reason that we are making revolution in India of the ’80s and not in China of the ’40s. Considering all these factors and the situation in particular, which all serious revolutionaries agree is not that of immediately going all-out for building red areas, it is necessary that we reconsider our tactics regarding elections. At least on principle this should be regarded as a tactical question. While readjusting our general tactics in conformity with the actual situation we must, however, decide about the particular tactics regarding elections by giving due weight to the specific character of the Indian parliament in contradistinction to those of the West. Recognising the election issue as a tactical question does not mean rushing for elections immediately and everywhere indulging in all sorts of unprincipled compromises. By its negative examples in this regard, the PCC acts as a good teacher. Adjustment in policy does not mean renunciation of revolutionary struggles and pursuing, as in the West, a policy of work inside the parliament and preparing for nationwide insurrection for a very long period of time.

For the time being when you do not have the alternative model of people’s power nor can you go in for the same immediately, if you are to raise the political consciousness of the people to the point of grasping the politics of seizure of power, you can ignore the negative way of doing that only at your own peril. Your representatives go to the enemy parliament and, through their speeches inside and other propaganda outside, you expose the parliament, i.e., you explain to the masses which particular combination of the ruling classes rules through the parliament and how. This task can well be carried out from outside. However, if properly organised, communist representatives working inside can particularly sharpen the exposure campaign.

You may well give a call for boycott of elections, but that immediately demands from you to go all-out for armed struggle, for building base areas. In theory you can live in your own utopia, but in practical politics there is no midway. If on the one hand you call upon the people to boycott elections and on the other hand describe the stage of the movement as that of partial struggles (on whatever scale), you are deceiving yourself, indulging in mere sophistry and in this case your boycott call will be just a passive one and for all practical purposes, it will make the people follow this or that bourgeois party.

An underground party concentrating its energy on developing areas of peasants’ resistance struggle, a people’s front emphasising extra-parliamentary struggle as the main form of struggle, utilisation of election campaigns for the sole purpose of exposing the real intentions behind the government measures like concessions and reforms, and subordination of all participation in election to the goal of unleashing mass initiative and developing mass movements — these are the conditions that can check a party’s degeneration into the mire of parliamentarism. There is no short cut and left phrasemongering will only hasten this degeneration.

Mere repetition of the ‘basic path’ will not take you anywhere near the goal. It is time for new experiments. And healthy polemics among the communist revolutionaries will pave the way for real advance and the genuine Party Unity worth the name.

Dear leaders of COC(PU), when tracks are submerged in flood waters, sometimes to go north, you are forced to board a southbound train and travel upto a point. We do not know if there are any serious differences between left phrasemongering and left pretensions (the COC critique has charged us with left pretensions but absolves us from left phrasemongering). If there are any, you are guilty of both.