Left Unity - Some Unanswered Questions

[From Liberation, January 1996.]

Our Party as well as SUCI and PWP, besides CPI(M), RSP and Forward Bloc, were invited to attend the opening session of the CPI’s recently held Sixteenth Congress at Delhi and also to address its delegate session. The convergence of all these parties which together constitute the overwhelming majority of the left forces in India on a single platform gave rise to media speculation over their coming closer and some newspapers even reported a certain understanding that has supposedly evolved already among these parties. Responding to the queries of several correspondents and many comrades, I had to dispel this illusion and characterise the event just as a routine affair. I felt sorry for having to pour cold water on their enthusiasm but when the highly serious and complex matter of left unity is involved one perhaps cannot afford the luxury of playing with words.

Let us see how the whole question of left unity was addressed in the CPI’s congress. Readers are perhaps aware of the bitter polemics between CPI and CPI(M) on unity that often spills over into the bourgeois media. The CPI insists that the 1964 split was nothing fundamental and therefore was quite avoidable. On this premise, it calls for the merger of the two parties. CPI(M), on the other hand, reiterates fundamental differences of the 1964 split essentially on the characterisation of the Indian state and the Indian revolution which it claims remain valid even today. Hence, it demands a thorough revision of the CPI’s programme, and in the meantime, based on its superior strength and organisation, plans to split the CPI and win over its mass following. The CPI and CPI(M) also have certain differences on choosing their respective bourgeois allies in this or that state apart from different positions on regional autonomy movements in Jharkhand, Uttarakhand and the Northeast etc. Keeping in mind the CPI(M)’s allergy, the congress has decided to shelve the proposal of merger of the two parties for the present. "In the meantime", says the Organisational Report of CPI, "our Party ranks should not be allowed to be confused on this question as the CPI(M) has got its own intention." The report further stresses on the "Party’s independent identity and activity" and on highlighting the Party’s "principled stand on programmatic and organisational positions" vis-a-vis CPI(M)’s. Sheer instinct for survival has ultimately prevailed over the pious wishes of unity in a single party.

Moving on to the question of left unity, the congress placed the whole agenda in the immediate pragmatic context of the coming parliamentary elections, and as a consequence, the party congress which began with highsounding phrases of left unity ended with the electorally more viable resolve of unity with Mulayam Singh Yadav.

In a nutshell, the congress was nothing but an exercise at galvanising the Party for the coming parliamentary elections. Setting the tone in his inaugural speech, Comrade Indrajit Gupta said, "All those who are convinced that a left-democratic and secular government, based on a coalition of several parties with a minimum common programme, is not only desirable but realisable at the centre, should pool their resources and strive in a fraternal spirit for their electoral unity, which alone can bring about a change of power. Such a correlation of forces would be representative to the aspirations of the people, particularly to the poorer sections, and to the interests of the nation". Unfortunately for Comrade Gupta, no other left party except his own is convinced about this grand scheme.

However, this has hardly deterred the CPI congress from going through the laborious exercise of actually formulating the said programme which is said to be the minimum common one for all hues of the left, democratic and secular parties.

The range of democratic, and especially, secular parties is indeed the broadest. It extends upto Tiwari-Arjun Congress which is credited with "offering a principle challenge to the Prime Minister’s policies and style of functioning", as put by Comrade Gupta. The congress report self-critically laments having missed the bus in Uttar Pradesh by failing to align with the winning combination of SP-BSP in the last elections. It takes the state committees of Orissa and Manipur to task for federalism in ignoring the national council’s advice and backing the wrong horse. In contrast. Bihar and Andhra experiments are eulogised as the models of correct election tactics. Bihar committee is, however, criticised for insisting on contesting the Patna Lok Sabha by-election.

The party centre may still be concerned about the federalism of Tamil Nadu unit which continues to align with DMK. The stronger force in TN, however, is AIADMK and the political report hints that the Party is awaiting a favourable electoral strategy from it.

Now several of these so-called secular parties are running state governments and are actively pursuing the new economic policies. Naturally, they show little interest in any mass actions against the centre’s policies. Then again many of them have earned quite a notoriety in corruption scandals, in nurturing mafia-politician nexus, hobnobbing with casteist-communal and fundamentalist forces, and in perpetuating police atrocities on rural poor and dalit masses. The CPI congress report itself makes several critical references to these parties and their governments on similar counts.

How then does the CPI expect to unite them around a common minimum programme that stresses, among other things, withdrawal of all the repressive laws and ordinances, reform and overhauling of the police forces, all-out resistance to communal and fundamentalist forces, firm defence of the rights of SCs and STs, defence of the public sector, vigorous implementation of land ceiling laws, right to education and right to work, refusing tickets to persons with known criminal records, and unearthing black money etc.?

It goes without saying that if the CPI is true to the spirit of this minimum common programme, the broad range of the front will drastically narrow down as far as the number of parties, particularly strong parties capable of helping CPI to win a substantial number of seats, is concerned. It will, of course, expand the Party’s reach to the broadest range of people which, however, may not immediately deliver electoral fruits. The Party congress leaves no doubt so far as CPI’s priorities are concerned and therefore one is left with no other option but to conclude that the whole exercise of a minimum common programme is just an eyewash meant for public consumption. Fronts and alliances will continue to be made on the basis of seeking strong bourgeois allies who can deliver electoral bounties. That the Party in its quest for power may put its own minimum common programme into cold storage is evident from the concluding statement which says, "the minimum programme, when amplified, finalised and concretised, should correspond to the objective conditions and possibilities of the time." In other words, the minimum can still be minimised ad infinitum.

To proceed. One wonders where do we fit in into this grand scheme. The Report says, "A united Left within the NF-LF framework could have a galvanising effect on the election campaign and act as the cement and mortar of the ‘coalition’.

"It is therefore necessary that all efforts are made to persuade parties like SUCI, CPI(ML), Marxist Coordination Committee etc. to join hands with the CPI, CPI(M), FB and RSP in order to reinforce the position of the Left in the coming contest which will be crucial for the country’s future. They should be persuaded to give up their hostility to the Left Front government."

The whole exercise of left unity therefore boils down to the one-way traffic of ‘persuading’ us to operate within the NF-LF framework, obviously the framework as defined by CPI, and to give up ‘hostility’ to the LF government.

To say the least, this whole approach smacks of a big brotherly attitude which they have faithfully learnt from their past Soviet masters. There is absolutely no appreciation of our positions and no seeking of common points while recognising the differences, the only proper Marxist approach toward unity. The difference with the CPI(M)’s approach is merely the difference between ‘coercion’ and ‘persuasion’; we reject both the approaches with the scorn that they deserve.

What is this nonsensical talk about the ‘hostility’ towards the Left Front government? It may not be to their liking but we have a principled and historically evolved position of a revolutionary left opposition to the Left Front government. Differences on this score can only be resolved through principled polemics and in the course of political developments. No amount of persuasion by a benign big brother can resolve such matters. ‘Hostility’ does not define our relation with the CPI(M) and LF govt. as we have never hesitated to cooperate with the CPI(M) wherever and whenever possible. Even with regard to the LF govt., we have never hesitated to support it against Congress(I)-BJP machinations. Hostility bordering on hysteria is characteristic of CPI(M)’s approach towards us and CPI will serve the cause of left unity better if it applies its persuasive skills to CPI(M).

Comrade Nagbhushan Patnaik, while addressing the CPI’s congress, made it clear that left unity and parliamentary cretinism cannot go together.

We are of the firm opinion that, in the first place, the united Left should not bind itself to the NF-LF framework that is geared towards a coalition government at the centre. It should steer clear of any such government and at best offer a critical support to an anti-Congress anti-BJP formation. This implies putting pressure on such a government to implement a common programme of the Left to the maximum extent possible. The critical aspect must however be an active one and not a repeat performance of the Left’s role in 1989.

The form of unity of the Left at the present stage can only be in the nature of a confederation where individual parties are free to practice their own tactical lines in different states. The CPI is of course not wide off the mark when it insists that the 1964 split of CPI(M) leaders was avoidable. The way the two parties have been closely working together for 18 long years now, since 1977 — setting up coordination committees at all levels and following more or less similar tactical lines with occasional differences on choosing this or that partner in one state or the other or disputes over seats — much of the ‘fundamental’ is knocked out of the fundamental differences. Then with the CPI(M) usurping the CPI’s tradition of uncritically backing the formidable bourgeois allies like Mulayam Singh, Laloo Yadav or Chandrababu, both voicing in a similar pitch the chauvinistic rhetoric, both showing similar antipathy to the militant struggles of the rural poor and assiduously cultivating relations with the kulaks and striking right caste equations to snatch electoral victories — the merger between them is quite a logical proposition.

CPI(M) has already moved halfway ahead from its 1964 position of people’s democratic revolution under the leadership of the working class and is working for reforms jointly with the powerful segments of the bourgeoisie. CPI, on the other hand, has moved halfway back from its position of ushering in national democracy and socialism under the leadership of non-monopoly bourgeoisie as in the era of Soviet collapse and the new world order. Nehru and his brand of socialism have become irrelevant and hence, there are no takers for this theory.

CPI and CPI(M) may or may not move towards a merger but the historical relevance of the 1964 split would never be lost because one should not forget that revolutionary communists too were a powerful segment of the 1964 split which reached its true culmination in 1967.

The million dollar question, however, is how united is the CPI itself? Just prior to the congress, Comrade Chaturanan Mishra, a senior CPI theoretician, in one of his controversial articles wrote that India needs foreign help to become a strong economic power whereas USA and other developed countries want the Indian market. Hence, "this is the meeting ground and not the surrender of India to world imperialism." He went on, "Indian state still fighting foreign pressure as reflected in non-aligned nations’ meet in Delhi against social clause to be linked with foreign trade… In Marrakesh, India played an oppositional role at the time of the golden jubilee of the WB and IMF. India resists US pressure on the question of NPT and missiles… An impression is gaining ground that under the present government India too is succumbing to foreign pressure. In fact, there are many areas where India finds it difficult to resist foreign pressure."

The CPI congress has rejected this unabashed defence of the Narasimha Rao government and that is the positive side of the Congress preventing Party’s slide-back to the Congress(I) fold. But at what cost only the future will tell.

Sometime in 1993, a top CPI leader in a satirical tone asked me for the reasons behind the defection of some of our MLAs in Bihar. I replied that personal gains plus the social polarisation of backwards towards JD might have motivated the ideologically weak elements to make the switchover. I emphasised that our Party’s leading body in Bihar remains intact and none of these MLAs were Party functionaries of any consequence. He remained dissatisfied and told me "How can personal gains deviate communists, look at our MLAs". He asked me to probe deeper. I preferred to keep silent. Ironically, the very next day newspapers reported that CPI’s Uttar Pradesh State Secretary, who was also an MLA, crossed over to Mulayam Singh Yadav’s fold. Soon another MLA followed suit. I was, therefore, eagerly awaiting a deeper probe into the phenomenon in CPI’s congress report. The report informs us that they defected due to reasons of personal gain. Then the report goes on to generalise that such defections are nothing exclusive to CPI, they took place in many other political parties. Some secular parties are also splitting up. "This phenomenon can be understood in the background of the political flux that is taking place in the political parties as a whole." Fine indeed, but why in a communist party like yours? Is there no social rationale behind the political flux? The congress report has indeed talked about combating the influence of caste ideology etc. within the party but with a blunt refusal to make the distinction between the creamy layer and the rest among backwards hasn’t the Party capitulated to the very caste ideology of the Lohiaites? My enquiry remained unanswered. And how is the Party planning to avert such defections? Well, the most important lesson it has taken in UP has been its failure to align with Mulayam Singh. The moral one draws is this: to prevent the defection of a few, let the whole Party defect! Didn’t the recipe work quite well in Bihar?