Marxism will have to be defended through its enrichment

[Inaugural address at the Central Party School, June 1994.]

Dear comrades,

I welcome you all to the Central Party School. As you are aware, our Party, over the years, has cultivated the habit of a comprehensive and creative study of Marxism-Leninism and all throughout ’80s, although working in underground conditions, we organised Party schools from central down to the grassroots levels. In these schools the study of both Marxist classics as well as the socio-economic conditions of India were undertaken. This has been an important weapon in the hands of the Party to integrate the universal truth of Marxism-Leninism with the concrete conditions of India and thus enrich the Party line and unite the whole Party around it. This aspect of vigorous ideological-theoretical work undertaken by our Party is little known outside and that is why outside observers are often baffled by the smooth transition our Party has made from one stage to another. Many people don’t know that while conducting political activities through IPF, the Party structure was kept intact from top to bottom, not simply as a scheme of work division but more importantly as the ideological-theoretical guide to the whole course of the movement. Those who maintained that the Party has been sacrificed at the altar of IPF are at a loss to explain the present situation when Party has taken over the entire political command without a hitch.

A month or so back, I met a comrade from an ML faction. He had a lot of criticism against our Party but he praised us for what he called the expertise in Party building. Actually it is neither a question of organisational skill, nor of the charisma of individual leaders, but of taking the ideological-theoretical work as the key link of Party building that has enabled us to advance the cause of Party building amidst the all-round political confusion and organisational chaos in the ML movement. This is something unique to our Party, a fine tradition which we must cherish and preserve.

As you know, the study of Marxism has long been abandoned in the CPI. Soviet propaganda material was the only literature in currency there, and after the Soviet collapse the whole propaganda network of CPI has simply collapsed. In the CPI(M), it had always been a regimented study with heavy doses of metaphysics. There is just no scope for any independent and creative study of Marxism or for any ideological-theoretical debates within the party. Ultra-left groups have nothing to do with Marxism-Leninism. As regards their adherence to Mao’s thought, they first detach it from its Marxist-Leninist roots and then pick up certain quotations of Mao in isolation from the whole body of Mao’s thought and interpret them conveniently to suit their own idealist-anarchist thinking.

In contrast, our track record is far better, but I don’t think all is well in our Party too. Particularly in the last year or two there has been a certain decline on the ideological plane, and the theoretical level of the Party has generally gone down. I think if a survey is made here of comrades present in this school, in all likelihood it will reveal that a good majority of comrades have hardly touched the classics in recent times and perhaps the majority among them will blame the pressure of day-to-day work for this predicament.

If I correctly remember, one of our major aims while opening up the Party had been to take on the renewed bourgeois challenge to Marxism. We shall perhaps all agree that whatever has been done in this regard is precious little compared to the challenge ahead. Now, when the Party is poised for a rapid expansion and we have called upon all communists to join CPI(ML), the ideological-theoretical consolidation of the Party has assumed a new urgency. Moreover, in an environment where the different branches of Party practice are assuming more and more independent status with their increasing volume of work and full-fledged separate structures, any neglect of ideological-theoretical work is bound to give rise to one-sided and metaphysical way of thinking. Ideological-theoretical work is like the life-blood of the Party without which the Party shall be reduced to a lifeless body. It is like the engine of the Party ship without which the Party ship will aimlessly float in the vast ocean without ever expecting to reach the shore. This Central School is expected to make a fresh beginning in this regard, and in the coming months, the school system must be expanded to the grassroots.

Our Party has completed 25 years of its life. Since 1993, when it started functioning openly, the Party’s influence has spread far and wide and by all accounts, we have entered a new phase; rather a decisive phase of Party’s advance. I say a decisive phase because precisely at this moment both the right-opportunist tactics epitomised by the CPI(M)-led Left Front government and the left-opportunist tactics of immediate seizure of power practised by People’s War group have been caught in a blind alley and are showing definite signs of decay and degeneration.

The LF government experiment in West Bengal, even after 17 years of its existence at a stretch, has not only failed in generating any impact on worker-peasant masses of the country, it has also failed to achieve its other declared objective of effecting a restructuring of centre-state relations. It has failed to provide any alternative economic policies and, despite tall claims of providing left and democratic or secular alternative, has failed in arresting the consolidation of Congress(l) rule at the centre. On the negative side, the Left Front rule has virtually turned into a mechanism to consolidate the bourgeois-landlord rule in West Bengal and opened the floodgates for all sorts of opportunistic socio-political alliances by the party at the national level. CPI(M)’s obsession with power in West Bengal has led it recently to vociferously champion the Poll Reforms Bill in league with Congress(l).

On behalf of the revolutionary left camp, it is only our Party which has evolved a comprehensive critique of the theory and practice of the Left Front government. While we criticise and oppose its anti-people and anti-democratic acts on all fronts, we lay particular emphasis on effecting a split in its rural social base on distinctly class lines. Karanda1 confirms that its Achilles’ heel lies there. Moreover, in a dialectical negation of the social-democratic practice of government formation we have raised the question of a left government as the genuine instrument of class struggle. It must be understood that like all the lines of demarcation in nature and society, the one between Marxist and revisionist tactics too keeps on shifting and is determined by concrete conditions. In the concrete conditions of today, upgrading our tactics on government formation is the best way to deal a severe blow to social democrats and win over their mass base and rank and file. The rest is all phrase-mongering, which won’t touch even the fringes of social-democratic influence. It’s not a mere coincidence that despite its limited strength in West Bengal, it is only our Party among all other ML groups that has carved a niche for itself in the mainstream politics of West Bengal. Defying all pressures we have consistently upheld our principled position of left opposition to the government in West Bengal and opposed CPI(M)’s opportunist theoretical and political positions on almost all fronts.

Within the left movement in India we are regarded as the other pole in contrast to CPI(M). We have earned this distinction without for a moment sacrificing the cause of the left unity. Our tactic vis-a-vis CPI(M) represents the continuation of the historic struggle against social democracy, albeit on a higher plane. With each passing day more and more revolutionary communists are able to grasp our tactics as the only viable, effective and broad-based challenge to the social democratic experiment which has reached a dead end while our Party is in a position to take new and bold initiatives. This is one aspect I have in mind when I say that our Party has reached a new phase, a decisive phase of its advance.

Since our unity efforts in general and with the Andhra group led by Sitaramayya in particular failed in early ’80s, Party reorganisation proceeded along two different lines. The Andhra group, which was highly critical of Charu Mazumdar and the annihilation line, put emphasis on legal and mass activities. In collaboration with certain factions operating in Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra it went on to organise a central body of federal nature which popularly came to be known as the CPI(ML) People’s War Group. It did make a promising start by developing powerful mass organisations of rural poor and of students but it soon relapsed into full-fledged dalam activities. Its theoretical-political positions were never very clear and were popularly perceived as armed militant actions for redressal of grievances, particularly of tribal people. But at the political-tactical plane they can only be comprehended as attempts to set up base areas of red political power. We need not repeat here the whole story of its metamorphosis into an anarchist group. Suffice it to say that this group at present is suffering from serious ideological dissensions and organisational splits and reports suggest that the leadership is contemplating major tactical changes to wriggle itself out of the impasse.

By late ’70s, however, our Party, on the other hand, had realised that the first phase of direct revolutionary onslaught is over, and any immediate call for building red army and base areas by raising armed struggle to new heights will be nothing but left adventurism. While continuing to put primary emphasis on developing the mass peasant movement including armed resistance wherever necessary, we decided to make full use of legal and even parliamentary opportunities to expand our influence among broad masses, to take up united front activities to seek new allies from various strata of Indian people as well as to utilise the contradiction within the enemy camp.

While developing the whole range of tactics suited to the concrete Indian conditions as well as to the specific stage of the revolutionary movement we had to struggle against liquidationist tendencies within our Party — which advocated the renunciation of Marxist-Leninist ideology and the communist party in favour of a vaguely defined left ideology and a left formation, which opposed the basic class approach in peasant movement and which favoured turning our Party into an appendage of Left Front or Janata Dal variety of government – and the Party had also to consistently struggle against all manifestations of parliamentary cretinism. Our policies were vehemently opposed by the whole crowd of petty-bourgeois revolutionaries who accused us of betraying the cause of revolution, and sometimes branded us as the agent of Deng Xiaoping and at other times as official naxalites. Our Party firmly and unitedly rebuffed this ultra-left onslaught and exposed the real worth of left opportunists who subsequently degenerated into full-blown anarchists, practised the worst kind of political opportunism and some even indulged in brutal killings of common people and communist cadres.

To recall the historical experience let me quote Engels from the preface to The Class Struggles in France: "(after the defeat of 1849) vulgar democracy expected a renewed outbreak any day. We declared as early as autumn 1850 that at least the first chapter of the revolutionary period was closed and that there is nothing like crisis. For which reason we were excommunicated, as traitors to the revolution, by the very people who later almost without exception, made their peace with Bismarck — so far as Bismarck found them worth the trouble".

Writing on the new form of struggle in the new phase Engels said, "And if universal suffrage had offered no other advantage than that it allowed us to count our numbers every three years; that by the regularly established, unexpectedly rapid rise in the number of our votes it increased in equal measure the workers’ certainty of victory and the dismay of their opponents and so became our best means of propaganda; that it accurately informed us concerning our own strength and that of all hostile parties, and thereby provided us with a measure of proportion for our actions second to none, safeguarding from untimely timidity as much as from untimely foolhardiness — if this had been the only advantage we gained from the suffrage it would still have been much more than enough. But it did more than this by far. In election it provided us with a means, second to none, of getting in touch with mass of the people where they still stand aloof from us; of forcing all parties to defend their views and actions against our attacks before all the people; and further it provided our representatives in Reichstag with a platform from which they could speak to their opponents in parliament and to the masses without, with quite other authority and freedom than in the press or at meetings....

"With this successful utilisation of universal suffrage, however, an entirely new method of proletarian struggle came into operation, and this method quickly developed further. It was found that the state institutions in which the rule of the bourgeoisie is organised, offer the working class still further opportunities to fight these very state institutions."

It happened in Russia too where after the failure of 1905 revolution Lenin reorganised the party for legal and open activities and for participation in the Duma. In the Russian party too, left opportunist trends emerged at this juncture which accused Lenin of betrayal and equated Bolshevism with boycottism. Lenin firmly repudiated these trends, branding them as infantile disorder and stressed the need for cautious adjustment with state institutions.

Left adventurist mistakes in China led to loss of almost all the base areas and a considerable section of Red Army and forced the CPC to undertake the Long March. Left opportunists blamed Mao for betrayal when he developed the line of united front with Chiang Kai-shek against Japanese imperialism.

I refer to all these historical instances only to reiterate the fact that the revolutionary struggles in every country pass through different phases of advance and retreat, and therefore, the policies and tactics of the parties should be readjusted accordingly. This is the whole essence of Marxist thinking on tactics as well as the art of leadership. Dogmatically following the tactics suited to a different condition and calling for a direct struggle even when the situation demands reorganisation of the Party and of accumulating strength, means walking straight into the enemy trap.

It was quite right for us to start with the Chinese model because that was the only available blueprint for revolutions in semi-feudal and semi-colonial countries. But in the course of our own experiences of last 25years and also with the better understanding of specific aspects of Indian society, it is only natural to make necessary adjustments and modifications in the Chinese model to evolve in course of time the Indian path of Indian revolution. Dogmatic adherence to Chinese path negated the very essence of Mao’s thought. Mao had to carry on a firm struggle against Chinese dogmatists who despite severe losses were bent upon blindly copying the Russian model in Chinese conditions. The famous formulation of Mao on the integration of the universal truth of Marxism-Leninism with the concrete conditions of China arose only in the course of this struggle.

Many people are unaware that our Party line has grown in course of serious struggles against these left opportunist trends and while their activities have increasingly reduced to squad activities, we have increasingly expanded the scope and sweep of mass revolutionary movement of peasantry and the activities of our armed resistance groups have become an integral part of the same. Now with the anarchist course followed by the PWG running out of steam, our Party stands on a firm ground to unite revolutionary communist forces around the correct line. This is the other aspect of what I refer to as a decisive phase of Party advance.

As I see it, social democracy represented by the CPI(M) remains our chief ideological adversary within the left movement in general and anarchism represented by PWG, our chief ideological adversary within the ML or Naxalite movement, in particular. A proper combination of ideological-political struggles against both these trends is imperative for building a revolutionary communist party in India.

Here I must say a few words about our tactics in parliamentary struggles. There is no denying the fact that this has brought into our own organisation serious unhealthy bourgeois tendencies. It was shocking to find people squabbling for tickets, entering into all sorts of opportunist alliances to manipulate victory, and then many of the elected representatives clamouring for money, fame and bourgeois privileges and eventually several of them betraying the Party to join ruling parties to serve their personal ends. Communist conduct, Party principles and Party discipline were all thrown to the winds in a most shameless manner and all this brought a lot of disgrace to the Party. This shows that the significance of the Party’s election tactics has not gone deep into the body of the Party organisation and, moreover, the Party organisation has proved quite weak in enforcing Party discipline over the parliamentary group. The Party has to go much farther in utilising elections and parliamentary institutions in concrete Indian conditions but if the present situation continues, any further experimentation is fraught with dire consequences. I have already quoted Engels on utilisation of election platform and here I refer to Marx’s address to the CC of the Communist League:

" ... That everywhere workers’ candidates are put up alongside of the bourgeois-democratic candidates, that they should consist as far as possible of members of the League, and that their election is promoted by all means. Even where there is no prospect whatsoever of their being elected, the workers must put up their own candidates in order to preserve their independence, to count their forces and to bring before the public the revolutionary attitude and Party’s standpoint. In this connection, they must not allow themselves to be seduced by such arguments of the democrats as, for example, that by doing so they are splitting the democratic party and making it possible for the reactionaries to win. The ultimate intention of all such phrases is to dupe the proletariat. The advance which the proletarian party is bound to make by such independent action is infinitely more important than the disadvantage that might be incurred by the presence of a few reactionaries in the representative body." Comrade Lenin too has repeatedly stressed this communist tactics vis-a-vis bourgeois-democratic parties in election and defined the role of communists as that of revolutionary opposition in the parliamentary arena. This must undoubtedly be our starting point.

The question of seat adjustments or electoral alliances and even participation in governments at the state level shall all come up while pursuing parliamentary struggles in our conditions. Such and other questions must always be decided on the basis of upholding the Party’s absolute independence and broadening the scope and sweep of revolutionary mass movement. Although India too is semi-feudal and semi-colonial like pre-revolutionary China, the power structure of the Indian ruling classes is vastly different from that of China and this very difference is reflected through the Indian parliamentary system. The growing phenomenon of caste, religious and regional mobilisation and the growing diversity of political forces sharing power at different levels, point more and more to the representative nature of the parliamentary institutions in the sense of power-sharing arrangements among diverse sections and strata of the ruling classes, as well as the growing strains within the system itself. The situation also provides scope for revolutionary democratic forces to effect a breach within the system to this or that extent and this opportunity must be fully utilised to bring about a mass upsurge for revolutionary democracy. There is simply no alternative to this tactics in the present phase of our movement.

It must be understood that the Party’s election tactics is part and parcel of its overall tactics of developing revolutionary mass movements and is no way a means for career building of individuals. Hence the Party can and must rely on tested comrades in pursuing this tactics to a successful end.

Building the broadest possible democratic front is a strategic task before our Party. Our relations with sections of bourgeois and petty-bourgeois democrats have developed in recent times. This is perhaps the era of synthesis! We are trying to develop a theoretical framework of unity between revolutionary communist and radical socialist forces, drawing from the past history of cooperation during freedom struggle and emphasising the new round of cooperation after Soviet collapse and consequently the renewed offensive of imperialism. Ironically, our call for a left confederation has turned into a struggle against the CPI(M)’s hegemony over the left movement. The CPI(M)’s premise of united activities with us, as formulated in their Congress documents, was essentially based on our ‘rectification of mistakes’; in other words, our moving closer to the CPI(M)’s positions and hegemonic fold. As subsequent developments belied their expectations they went back to their old line of trying to isolate us by all possible means. I think it is always better if people shed their illusions and encounter the realities as it is. We need not worry much about the CPI(M)’s vehement opposition to us. This too has its positive contribution to our growth. The CPI(M)’s earlier attempts to dismiss and isolate us have come to nought and the fresh attempts are also doomed to fail. And in future, with the turn of events, our relations will be resumed on the basis of equality and recognition of differences. Only that will be a healthy and principled unity. We have to patiently work towards bringing about such a change.

A few words about the international communist movement. The collapse of Soviet bloc and the far-reaching changes in China have drastically changed the scenario of the international communist movement. The old division between pro-Soviet and pro-Chinese parties, a legacy of the Great Debate of the ’60s, has become irrelevant. The Soviet collapse, however, has brought about a reorganisation of communist parties and communist platforms in Russia as well as in several East European countries. These parties are reassessing their past, particularly the harmful effects of revisionism. On the other hand, several ML parties the world over which emerged during the stormy days of 1968-70 and sustained themselves have also been analysing the ultra-left deviations they had suffered from. This has created a favourable situation for the parties belonging to both the streams coming closer. This typical phenomenon was reflected in the recent international seminar held under the auspices of the Workers’ Party of Belgium where more than 50 parties and groups belonging to both the erstwhile streams as well as ‘independent’ streams participated. Our Party too was represented there and extended its cooperation to such coming together.

We think that reducing the concept of the unity of the International communist movement to simply the unity of ML parties who uphold Mao’s Thought, and that too a particular interpretation of it, is too sectarian an approach and unsuited to the present conditions.

I think it is necessary to reiterate our attitude to China as it remains a great source of confusion and polemics. In our opinion, building of socialism should not be viewed in abstraction devoid of concrete conditions of the country concerned and the concrete times. Building socialism in a backward country like China and in conditions where socialism does not exist anywhere except in a few small socialist countries and there are no prospects for any proletarian revolution for a fairly long time to come in any advanced capitalist country, is a specific problem. So it is not the question of building socialism in general that ought to be discussed; rather building socialism in China in the present-day conditions that must be the point of departure for any meaningful discussion. These considerations only lead us to appreciate the general orientation of Chinese reforms. There is no question of supporting each and every measure of CPC and Chinese government. The support to the general orientation at the same time implies our serious concerns over the risks involved and, of course, criticisms of the policies which we consider harmful to the general interests of socialism and the international communist movement.

We are neither in favour of a China- or CPC-centred international communist bloc nor are we eager to join any international formation that makes condemnation of China its central concern. This I think sums up our attitude to China as well as to the international communist movement.

We are living in times when almost all the basic tenets of Marxism are being challenged and declarations are being made about the end of history. This reminds me of Marx who in his Poverty of Philosophy wrote some 150 years back, "When they say that the present-day relations — the relations of bourgeois production — are natural, the economists imply that these are the relations in which wealth is created and productive forces developed in conformity with the laws of nature. Thus, these relations are themselves natural laws independent of the influence of time. They are eternal laws which must always govern society. Thus there has been history, but there is no longer any."

So bourgeois philosophers and economists had declared the end of history much earlier. But still history progressed and Marxism played a guiding role in its advance. Marx had challenged the eternity of bourgeois relations of production and through a rare scientific insight shown that these relations too, like earlier relations, are but transitory in nature. The eternity of change lies at the core of Marxist philosophy and all future attempts to change the world shall only draw sustenance from Marxism. Marx in his grand treatise Das Kapital had exposed the exploitative basis of bourgeois relations of production. He wrote in his Wage Labour and Capital, "Even the most favourable situation for the working class, the most rapid possible growth of capital, however much it may improve the material existence of the worker, does not remove the antagonism between his interests and the interests of the bourgeoisie, the interests of the capitalists. Profits and wages remain as before in inverse proportion.

"If capital is growing rapidly wages may rise, the profit of capital rises incomparably more rapidly. The material position of the worker has improved, but at the cost of his social position. The social gulf that divides him from the capitalist has widened."

Despite all the changes in the structure and organisation of production, the exploitative basis of the bourgeois relations of production, the extraction of surplus value remains intact and if anything, the social gulf between imperialism and dependent countries on the international scale and between the proletariat and bourgeoisie within the developed capitalist world has only widened. And hence the antagonism, the motive force that continues to propel the history forward.

And yet the proletarian struggle has suffered setbacks, socialism built over a large part of the globe has suffered reversal. Hence, mere reiteration of faith in Marxism, in the victory of proletariat, is not enough. Marxism can be defended only through its enrichment.

By the time Marx’s study of British capitalism, the most ideally developed country of capitalism, the base material for his Das Kapital was complete, free competition had started giving way to the monopolies. The stage of finance capital, of monopoly capitalism, replaced competition within the country by competition among capitalist countries for the world market. And thus arose the phenomena of world wars and of proletarian revolution breaking the imperialist chain where it is weakest. And then again the rise of a single economic, military and political bloc of imperialism led by USA and the defeat and subsequent collapse of socialism in the prolonged cold war.

This interrelation, in the background of structural changes in capitalist production owing to scientific and technological revolution and virtual stagnation in the socialist economy, opens up new fields of study and investigation for Marxist theoreticians the world over. Communists have before them over seventy five years of experience of building socialism. One learns only through one’s mistakes and hence the study I mentioned shall essentially bea study of the political economy of socialism, comparable only to the dimensions of Das Kapital.

Note -

1. The village in Burdwan district of West Bengal, where six of Party comrades – all agrarian labourers who had come over from the CPI(M) fold – were brutally killed by CPI(M) goons on 31 May 1993. At least thirty others were seriously injured and the entire garib para (poor people’s hamlet) was raged to the ground.