CPI(M)’s Tactics of Government Formation in States

[From the Political-Organisational Report adopted at the Fourth Party Congress, Jan.1988.]

Here we shall deal with the CPI(M)’s tactics of government-formation in states and its concrete application, with particular reference to the classical case of the Left Front government in West Bengal.

The CPI(M)’s programme on the formation of such governments is that (1) in conditions arising from mass movements, governments may be formed in different states under the Party leadership. This tactic is a transitional form of struggle; (2) such governments will undertake certain reform measures intended to improve the people’s living conditions. This tactic will help people rise in struggle for a better future; and (3) through the experiences of running such governments people will get educated about the limitations of the bourgeois-landlord system.

When this programme was formulated, the Party was not quite sure about the prospects of stability of such governments, hence the programme only referred to some welfare measures through which people were to be roused in struggles for a better future. The question of formation of such a government at the Centre was ruled out and that marked a big difference with the CPI, for which the road to revolution was exclusively a parliamentary one centering, in concrete terms, around the formation of a government at the Centre in tandem with progressive sections from within the Congress.

After 1977, however, the CPI(M) found itself in a paradoxical situation. Not only did it succeed in forming state governments in the three states of Kerala, West Bengal and Tripura, this time, as against the 1967-1969 period, the government in West Bengal went on to stay in power for a full decade, winning a handsome victory in elections for the third time in a row. And if nothing extraordinary happens, the Tripura government, too, is all set to record its third successive victory. And after a lapse of five years, the Left-Democratic government is also back again in Kerala. From 1977 onwards, there have been no such extra-constitutional steps on the part of the Central government, or by the ruling classes, to overthrow these governments and the rules of the parliamentary game are being observed, more or less.

This uninterrupted rule in West Bengal for over a decade has put additional burdens on the ‘transitional government’. Undertaking certain welfare measures and educating the people about limitations of the bourgeois-landlord system did not prove sufficient and the Party concentrated on the demand for more money and power from the Centre and for restructuring the centre-state relations. For the last ten years, this had been the central slogan of the Party, the core strategy for working out a united front of all state governments irrespective of their political colour (Mr.Jyoti Basu often unites with many Congress Chief Ministers too). The justification given has been that the Centre discriminates particularly against West Bengal and that, with more money and power, the state government can indeed do much more for the people. This propaganda often borders on the nationalist propaganda that Bengal and Bengalis are deprived of their due share, and cooperation is sought even from the Congress(I) MPs and MLAs from West Bengal to fight unitedly against the Centre for Bengal’s interest, the recent alliance with Ashok Sen being a case in point.

Again, the responsibility for the ‘industrialisation’ of Bengal has also fallen on the shoulders of the state government. For this, the government had to seek collaborations with domestic monopoly houses and foreign multinationals, while discouraging strikes and militant workers’ movements. And this ‘responsibility’ has become still heavier as West Bengal has been suffering from a serious crisis on the industrial front. The phenomenon of industrial sickness is fast spreading in the state.

Unfortunately, however, there is no way the working class can take up the job of industrialisation on its shoulder in the present conditions. Only monopolies and multinationals can undertake the job now and hence the whole message boils down to a call for maintaining industrial peace, and it goes without saying that this has radically transformed the character of the CITU in West Bengal. The workers’ defiance of this CITU diktat has often been met with a heavy hand by the state government. And the cumulative result of this policy has been the party’s growing isolation from the working class as manifested in the successive election results. The party, however, preferred to explain away the defeats of almost all its trade union stalwarts in the 1984 parliamentary elections by pointing to the abnormal wave that followed Indira’s assassination. And the defeats in several working class constituencies in the 1987 assembly elections were attributed to the so-called caste, communal and Hindi chauvinistic sentiments prevailing among the non-Bengali workers. Forced by the objective conditions of its existence, the Left Front government is behaving increasingly like the managers of a capitalist economy; worse still, it has taken upon itself the job of crisis management.

The responsibility of presiding over the administration and state machinery, and of tackling the agitations of various dissatisfied sections of society like the junior doctors, engineers, national minorities, apart from sections of workers and peasants, has fallen on the shoulders of the government. This job has forced the government into the unpleasant course of strengthening the police administration and defending police officers and their high-handed approach. It has the same conventional approach in dealing with mass agitations, asking for more and more CRPF from the Centre to quell the Gorkha agitation and then invoking the same anti-terrorist act which it had vowed not to invoke in West Bengal.

In the countryside, the CPI(M), however, still enjoys overwhelming mass support and has even succeeded in expanding its social base. It brought about certain agrarian reforms through Operation Barga, panchayats and various relief measures and experimented in agricultural development through government support to the small holdings. All these measures could and did have only one effect, given the prevailing economic structure, namely, an impetus to the development of capitalist agriculture.

A CPI(M) theoretician had this to say about the rural scene in the state in the Sharadiya Deshhitaishi, 1987:

(1) Economic disparity and income gaps could not be reduced in the countryside.

(2) In every area, one finds cases where Bargadars have voluntarily given up their land to the landowner, and poor peasants who receive pattas lease out land to middle or rich peasants on yearly contracts.

(3) The process of peasants losing their land and joining the ranks of the landless could not be stopped, rather it has assumed complex forms.

(4) The tendency of hiring labour has increased. There has been a sharp increase in the number of agrarian labourers and their regular gatherings at railway stations and village market sites, offering their labour-power for sale, have become a familiar scene.

These are all symptoms of the growth of a capitalist economy, of the growth in income and consolidation of position of modern jotedars, rich peasants and capitalist farmers. Our own studies confirm that while the old type of landlordism and semi-bondage conditions of labourers have been seriously affected, capitalist economy has got a boost. The lion’s share of loans from cooperative societies as well as other credit and input facilities are being grabbed by capitalist farmers. The concrete agrarian programme of the CPI(M) has become a balancing exercise: facilitating the growth of rich peasant economy and periodically allowing some increase in the wages of agrarian labourers. The middle peasant economy is facing stagnation. On the whole, the CPI(M), at the all-India level, is nowadays putting greater emphasis on unity of all peasants including rich peasants, and on the demand for remunerative prices.

The important question, however, is: What makes these governments remain in power all these years, with the ruling classes observing the rule of the game and allowing these governments "to raise the consciousness and organisation of people, to make them aware of the limitations of the bourgeois-landlord system"? The CPI(M) leaders have the readymade answer that it is the fighting consciousness of the people of Bengal. They never discuss the other part of the story: the new and improved tactics of the ruling classes of allowing such governments to function.

Undoubtedly, the Left Front in West Bengal enjoys mass support and the Congress(I) is still a discredited and disorganised force (although it should be kept in mind that the Congress still single-handedly polls nearly 40% of votes in elections and a shift of only 5% will tilt the balance in its favour), and this is an important reason for the ruling classes to allow it to go on. The Left Front, for the very reason of its mass support, is a better bet for ensuring industrial peace. As regards its posing dangers to the hegemony of the ruling classes, suffice it to say that the moderate programme of some welfare measures to improve the people’s living conditions is actually the programme of almost every government in India. Only rates of implementation may differ here and there. The only different thing that the CPI(M) preaches, is educating the people about the limitations of the bourgeois-landlord system. The ruling classes do not mind this education on limitations. In real life, however, the long-term continuation of such governments educates the people more about the unlimited possibilities of parliamentary democracy. Education on limitations of the state system has gradually been transformed into, first, education on the limited power of state governments and then on limited funds!

The strategy of the ruling classes in the present phase is not to hatch conspiracies to topple these governments — something the CPI(M) leaders want the masses to go on believing — rather the strategy is to bring constant pressure to bear upon them so that they become a responsible government. And this precisely has been the central theme of all bourgeois propaganda on this question. They have learnt from experience that this pressure will work on the CPI(M). The bourgeois-landlord system does have that great flexibility and this is precisely what is happening with the Left Front government. This is the essential question which the CPI(M) never raises.

From running responsible state governments, the CPI(M) has had no other option but to take the next logical step in its programme: government formation at the Centre where all power lies. With three state governments in hand and the crisis of the Rajiv Gandhi government intensifying, conditions were mature for the party to indulge in the next round of theoretical acrobatics. In the words of Jyoti Basu, the chief idol of the West Bengal experiment and the main architect of the new line, "The CC has not only demanded resignation of the Rajiv government and the holding of fresh elections, it has also talked about the formation of an alternative government. In the resolution adopted by the CC, there are clearcut indications about the nature of such a government."

He then goes on to quote the CC resolution: "The CC is of the opinion that the people of our country want a government having a secular outlook; a government dedicated to combat communalism, determined to fight authoritarianism, protect democracy and eradicate all corruption; a government which stands for proper centre-state relations, for non-alignment and for defending world peace; a government which will defend national unity, oppose imperialist forces seeking destabilisation; a government which will provide remunerative prices and immediate relief to the unemployed and those getting inadequate wages."

And then Jyoti Basu declares, "Our Party will provide all help for the formation of such a government".

This unity of secular forces, this government of a "secular front", according to Jyoti Basu, is "neither a people’s democratic front" nor a "left and democratic front". He then goes on to assure party members that "we have not deviated from our basic aim (of formation of a people’s democratic front), nor shall we ever deviate from it."

However, there can be no escaping the fact that this "secular front" is a new addition to the CPI(M)’ s tactics. And the way they are trying to forge special ties with VP Singh and making constant appeals to Congress MPs and to the "silent majority" within the Congress to rise up for secular ideals and break away from the Congress, betrays the whole essence of this "secular government". It represents the CPI(M)’s moving very close to the CPI’s position of forming a coalition government at the Centre with ‘progressive’ (read secular) sections of the Congress via the parliamentary road. And the circle is thus complete.