More on Left Confederation

[Translated from Deshabrati, October 1989 Special Number and published in Liberation, January 1990.]

Our Party’s Fourth Congress identified the assertion of the left forces as an important aspect of the present-day Indian politics and put forward the task of rallying the left forces as an independent political force vis-a-vis the bourgeois opposition in the fight against the Congress. The left forces were called upon to take up the challenge of providing political leadership to the bourgeois opposition rather than tailing behind it. The call for building a left and democratic confederation, as issued by the Party Congress, was a bold initiative in this direction.

This call and consequent concrete political tasks, on the one hand, opened up the prospects of interactions and unity with the other two major left forces, the CPI and the CPI(M), and on the other, raised our historic struggle against them to a new level.

The left confederation is nothing other than a united front. Since the CPI, CPI(M) and the CPI(ML) have been envisaged as the principal partners in this united front, in the final analysis one cannot deny the possibilities of changes and transformations within all the three parties in the course of conflicting political events and trends, of their coming closer to each other, of revaluation of the historic splits of ’64 and ’67 and of eventual reestablishment of a single unified communist party of India. However, these are the possibilities of a distant future, and to ponder over them at present can only result in abstraction in theory and diversion in practice.

At the moment, the slogan of left confederation has only raised the contention between the three parties to a new plane. New, because it is for the first time that the struggle against social democracy has been elevated from the level of abstraction to that of a concrete tactical line, because the contention would now be directed towards wide interaction and a united front.

The slogan of left confederation demands clear-cut answers to the following questions:

1. What should be our specific relation with the CPI and the CPI(M) at the present stage?

2. What should be our attitude on the question of forming leftist governments in states and particularly, towards the Left Front governments led by the CPI(M)?

3. What should be our starting point with regard to the confederation and how are we to consider it?

Here, I would like to put forward my views on these questions.

At the very outset, we should keep in mind that we are in no position to say the last word on the political behaviour of social democracy. Are they mere agents of the bourgeoisie and other reactionary forces and enemies of mass movements, or are they natural allies of the communists and of mass movements? Perhaps it is not possible to answer this question in terms of a simple ‘yes’ or a straight ‘no’. In different historical stages they have played, and are likely to play, quite different roles. That depends on objective conditions, political developments, the balance of forces among different sections and strata of their leadership and on conscious endeavours by the communists from outside.

We may take the example of the CPI in this context. From 1964 to 1977, its development followed a process that gradually led to its becoming an appendage of the Congress, forming coalition governments with it and ultimately becoming the only supporter of the Emergency. For all practical purposes, it became difficult to distinguish it from the Indira Congress. To act as agents of the capitalists in trade union movement, to collude with the class enemies against communist revolutionaries in the countryside and the like became their hallmark. The events of 1977 saw the party in a crisis of existence and from then onwards, the party began moving away from its old position. For this, it had to undergo an intense inner-party struggle. Dange, Mohit Sen and Kalyansundaram were expelled. Adopting an anti-Congress position, they strove to return to the mainstream of leftism. Debates started inside the party regarding the basic programme too. At present, they are also trying to initiate some mass movements. They have launched movements against the Telugu Desam government in Andhra Pradesh despite opposition from the CPI(M), have decided to oppose, and, if necessary, even launch movements against certain policies of the Left Front government while remaining a partner in it, and have come forward to develop relations with us. In their theory and practice there are still some aspects, which can once more make them tilt towards the Congress. It may be that they want to utilise their relationship with us merely as a bargaining counter vis-a-vis the CPI(M) in the Left Front. Nevertheless, perhaps nobody can deny that there is a significant difference between its role in 1977 and that in 1989.

The developing interaction between the CPI and us demands institutionalisation of the relation between the two at various levels. On the other hand, they are already having a close institutionalised relationship with the CPI(M). Despite opposition from the CPI(M), they have decided to develop relations with us but, on the other hand, they are putting constant pressure on us to change our attitude towards the Left Front and to become a partner in it. It remains to be seen whether they succeed in their attempts to act as a mediator between the CPI(M) and us or find themselves in a deeper crisis under the pressure from two opposite sides. The improvement of our relation with them would be primarily determined by the next stage in the process of their evolution.

The CPI(M) is the largest left party and they are leading governments in two states. On the basis of this strength, they have in recent years, secured an important place in national politics as well. They consider themselves as the natural leader of the Indian Left and to them, the Left Fronts under their leadership are the only concrete form of left unity. The two state governments led by the Left Front occupy the central position in their tactical line and it is on this basis that they strive to achieve a polarisation in national politics. In their language, the concrete expression of this polarisation is a united front of the left, democratic and secular forces.

Barring West Bengal and Kerala, where the CPI(M)’s leadership is an established fact, on the national level their independent strength is limited and they can, at best, only form a strong pressure group. In national-level parliamentary politics, they will have to remain only an opposition force. They could have advanced significantly in unleashing a nationwide wave of mass movements on the basis of their strong position in parliamentary opposition. But they are not willing to take this revolutionary path. They prefer other ways of increasing the strength of their party.

They want to portray the increase in their parliamentary strength through political alliances with the Telugu Desam in Andhra, the DMK in Tamil Nadu and the Janata Dal in the Hindi belt as the strengthening of the left forces. The CPI(M) leadership knows well enough that every single seat in the assembly or the parliament won in this way is won at the cost of corrupting the political consciousness of the masses and weakening their potential for revolutionary movements. To facilitate the institutionalisation of this increasing political alliance with these giants of bourgeois opposition, who, in their own spheres, represent the same bourgeois-landlord combine, a theory of secular front has been put forward by joining the word ‘secular’ with ‘left and democratic’. This appears to be nothing but an inverted repetition of the CPI’s practice of alliance with the Congress.

It is evident that the CPI(M) won’t have a leading role in this secular alternative. Therefore, what should be its position in it, and if this alternative replaces the Congress to form a government at the centre, whether it should join it or support it from outside — such questions have become the subjects of debate within the party. Nevertheless, in their programme of extending the frontiers of bourgeois democracy at the present stage of the ‘people’s democratic revolution’ — a programme which, in concrete terms, is centred around restructuring of the centre-state relations — they have accepted the bourgeois opposition as their natural leaders and themselves have become the latter’s natural ally. Hence, at the present stage the CPI(M) does not consider the forces of revolutionary democracy — forces that do not find any potential for radical extension of bourgeois democracy in the bourgeois opposition and instead depend on the broad masses of poor and toiling peasants in the countryside – as left forces at all. Rather, they are considered as anarchist forces divisive to the ‘peasant unity’. This is only natural, as our struggles in the countryside inevitably strike at the social base of their secular allies.

Our slogan of left confederation reflects the objective contrast between the two tactical lines. In such a situation, struggle remains the principal aspect of our relation with them. This slogan will, of course, help us concretise and sharpen our polemics with them and, on that basis, increase our interactions with their cadres and the masses under their influence. At this stage, there is practically no immediate possibility of any large-scale joint activities or institutionalisation of relations with them. However, joint activities have taken place in Bihar even at state level and elsewhere at local levels. Some recent experiences have shown that in West Bengal too, it is possible to normalise relations and even launch some joint activities with their cadres at local levels. Everywhere they began with an all-out attempt to isolate us and oust us from their strongholds by force. But wherever we succeeded in politically defeating these attempts and survived, their attitudes have gradually changed and the relations have been somewhat normalised. This process can definitely be carried forward. However, for any radical change in their attitude we will have to wait for further political developments. The conditions for changed relations in the future can only be created by this groundwork done today at lower levels. To think that we can skip this hard, painstaking and long-drawn process of the groundwork and change the attitude of our traditional rival like the CPI(M) merely by means of certain slogans or tactical handling is utopia, pure and simple, particularly since it is still in a stage of political ascendancy and the leadership has succeeded in creating an illusion of success of their tactical line among their cadres.

As an answer to the second question, one can say that in the process of parliamentary struggles the question of forming a leftist government in certain states may arise and we may utilise such a scope. The Fourth Congress has made this important addition to our tactical line.

So far, this question had been a taboo in communist revolutionary circles. As soon as we raised the question, there was a hue and cry all around and we were damned. The last bastion of demarcation with social democracy was now gone! And inside the Party, from the same premise, but from the right extreme came up the question: now why don’t we join the Left Front as a partner?

The question of forming governments in some states as the highest form of parliamentary struggle has been present in the Indian communist movement since as early as 1957. Even in the inner-party struggle prior to Naxalbari, the revolutionary communists did not reject the tactics of forming governments. In fact the Party was united regarding utilisation of such governments for furthering mass movements. Conflicts arose only when the CPI(M) leadership used the United Front government to crush the Naxalbari movement. The period after that was for us a period of open revolutionary struggles when parliamentary struggles were discarded, and the CPI(M), too, did not get any chance of forming government in the face of fascist terror.

In this particular form of struggle, we must proceed with extreme caution and only step by step. That’s why the Fourth Congress has provided only some general guidelines on the question and has left more specific considerations for the future. At what stage of development of the revolutionary movement should we raise this question; for example, what are the different prospects in this regard in Bihar at present — the Party should start deliberations and debates on these questions. However, as the Fourth Congress has laid down, we will develop our practice on this question only on the basis of a dialectical negation of the Left Front governments led by the CPI(M).

It is of course true that the opposition-led state governments have a role to play in opposing the Congress regime at the Centre and in creating a breach, however small, in the Indian state machinery as a whole. But, such circumstances also create conditions for a widespread mass awakening, don’t they? One can understand the logic and the necessity behind a non-left government’s attempts to divert this mass awakening towards regionalism; but when a left government too follows the same method, we cannot but oppose it in spite of its ‘Left’ label.

For these reasons, to extend critical support to the Left Front governments in their anti-Centre movements and to play the role of revolutionary opposition in the internal affairs of the state — this has to be our basic stand on this question.

Now comes the third question. We have talked of the left confederation concretely in the context of the Rajiv Hatao movement. Despite the same slogan, the left forces have an approach qualitatively different from that of the bourgeois opposition; the leftists want to combine the Rajiv Hatao movement with the mass movements on the basic demands of the people; the alliance of the Left with the bourgeois opposition is only issue-based, temporary — it is precisely to assert this independence of the left forces vis-a-vis the bourgeois opposition that the left confederation becomes necessary.

In popular consciousness, the difference between the Left Front and the National Front is being perceived only in terms of their willingness or unwillingness for an alliance with the BJP. This is restricting the independent identity of the Left merely to the question of communalism.

Our propaganda should be on the following line: our alliance with the CPI(M) in this confederation is definitely possible, as we have already recognised a certain relevance of the Left Front government in the national perspective, we support the anti-Centre struggles led by these governments and we have no hesitation whatsoever in resisting any conspiracy by the Centre to dismiss these governments. Our opposition to the anti-people activities of this government inside West Bengal or the CPI(M)’s opposition to our peasant struggles in Bihar — these may remain issues of polemics within the confederation. Gradually these differences can be further narrowed down and the confederation can be further consolidated. We should start, and it is definitely possible to start, from the minimum common points that already exist between us.

We have seen in Bihar that while we have stuck to our attitude towards the Left Front governments and the CPI(M) to theirs regarding our peasant struggle, joint activities have been possible even at the state level. Even a proposal is being discussed among all the three parties that the left parties like the CPI, CPI(M) and IPF should, while engaging in joint activities with the bourgeois opposition, have a separate institutional arrangement among themselves. The seed that is being sown in Bihar today may very well grow into a left confederation in the coming days.

The initiative for this left confederation will obviously come from the Hindi belt in general and from Bihar in particular. The new political initiative that we took seven years ago through the IPF is ushering in a resurgence of the Left in the concrete conditions of the Hindi belt — we are already getting indications of this. In the most important part of the country, in the nerve-centre of the Indian politics, where the left movement has traditionally been weak, a new wind has started blowing today. This region alone can become the meeting ground of the three main currents of the left movement. The phenomenon of a large number of cadres and masses under the influence of the CPI and CPI(M) joining the IPF in UP and Bihar is a form of this confluence. The beginning of joint activities at first with the CPI and gradually with the CPI(M) is the second form of this confluence. This trend will undoubtedly develop further and it is here that the foundation of a left confederation at the national level — in which our independence and initiative will be guaranteed — will be laid.

Though it may sound paradoxical, the dialectical truth is that the revolutionary comrades of West Bengal can contribute in building this confederation only by going the opposite way, i.e., only by holding aloft the banner of revolutionary opposition against the anti-people policies and activities of the Left Front government.