The Call of December 18:
Firmly Grasp the Party’s Revolutionary Line and Unleash Bold Mass Initiatives on Every Front
Ever since Comrade VM breathed his last in the midst of a CC meeting in Lucknow on December 18, 1998, we have been observing December 18 as Sankalp Diwas or Pledge Day. Comrade VM will always be remembered for his historic role in spearheading the post-setback revival of the CPI(ML) into a major Communist current in the country, freeing it from the vestiges of dogmatic thinking and one-sided practice and opening the doors for objective analysis and multi-dimensional expansion while deepening the Party’s roots in revolutionary Marxist theory and practice. Fighting simultaneously against right opportunism and petty-bourgeois revolutionism, he had led the Party in developing its revolutionary line and ensuring its vigorous implementation on all fronts of Party practice. Today as the entire Party wages a determined battle to overcome its weaknesses, we must learn from Comrade VM to grasp the Party’s revolutionary line and unleash bold mass initiatives on all fronts of struggle.
The tactical line of a communist party translates its programme into everyday practice. The programme, as we all know, contains goals and objectives that are fairly long-term and it is the tactical line which through a suitable combination of diverse forms of struggle leads the party towards attaining these goals. In Lenin’s precise words, “Marxist tactics consist in combining the different forms of struggle, in the skilful transition from one form to another, in steadily enhancing the consciousness of the masses and extending the area of their collective action, each of which, taken separately, may be aggressive or defensive, and all of which, taken together, lead to a more intense and decisive conflict.”
Now, while studying a society and a state from the Marxist point of view, we know that the two reflect, reinforce and condition each other even as struggles among contending classes propel the society forward. Likewise, the programme and tactical line of a communist party are also locked in a dialectical unity – while the programme guides and governs the tactical line, the latter in turn enriches the former through a process of systematic social and political exploration.
We can see this in the context of the development of our own Party line. We had started off in 1970 with a Party Programme which had sharply demarcated our positions from the reformist programme of the CPI and the centrist positions of the CPI(M). The CPI and CPI(M) programmes thoroughly underestimated the degree and impact of feudal survivals while overestimating the friction between imperialism and the Indian big bourgeoisie. This led them to a wrong characterization regarding the ruling classes and the state and consequently on a whole gamut of domestic and foreign policies, they advocated class collaboration rather than class struggle.
In sharp contrast to this reformist perspective, the CPI(ML) programme duly recognized the stubbornness of feudal survivals and the dependent nature of the Indian big bourgeoisie vis-à-vis imperialism. Agrarian revolution was identified as the axis of the new democratic revolution with the rural proletariat playing the leading role in advancing the class struggle in the countryside.
Over the last four decades both CPI(M) and CPI(ML) have had occasions to revisit and update their respective programmes. The CPI(M) programme has moved further right making room for power-sharing at the Cenre whereas our programme has clearly stipulated the Party’s role as a revolutionary opposition. The first programme of the CPI(ML) had been adopted in the backdrop of a revolutionary situation when the Party was engaged in a direct revolutionary battle and some tactical questions got mistakenly elevated to the level of strategy. In the subsequent years, we separated tactical questions from the realm of strategy, making sure that every tactic is informed and illuminated by the strategic perspective. Thus when we decided to participate in elections or to explore the possibility of formation of local governments and even state governments in certain conditions, the point of departure was our role as revolutionary opposition.
The ‘Maoists’, on the other hand, ignore the superstructural specificities of India and have obliterated the very distinction between strategy and tactics, ruling out the need for any non-military engagement with the bourgeois state. In their scheme of things, terms like strategy and tactics only have military connotation as they believe they are operating in a permanently revolutionary situation where they can pass from what they call strategic defensive to strategic offensive without any recourse to the political process or without mobilizing the masses on their basic demands or on the burning questions of the day.
Thus while the CPI(M) in power finds itself burdened with the responsibility of advancing the agenda of the ruling classes, inviting for itself increasing isolation from and anger of large sections of the very people who once supported it, the ‘Maoists’ find themselves completely ‘free’ in the political arena, doomed to be utilized by dominant political parties in their contention for power. The convergence of the ‘Marxists’ and the ‘Maoists’ is perhaps best demonstrated in West Bengal today, where the CPI(M) has pushed the people into discovering an alternative in Mamata Banerjee while the ‘Maoists’ openly express their preference for Mamata as the next Chief Minister! Meanwhile, the ‘chief minister designate’ roots for armed intervention by the centre while the CPI(M) hopes to drive a wedge into the Congress-TMC alliance by getting the ‘responsible’ Congress on board against the ‘unpredictable’ TMC in tackling the ‘Maoist threat’!
The CPI(M) which was once considered electorally invincible in West Bengal is fast losing its ground. The ‘undisputed success’ of its tactical line that allowed it to remain the ruling dispensation in West Bengal for seven successive terms and put it at the head of a sixty-plus contingent in the 2004 Parliament, has now begun to exact its cost. The ‘Maoists’ too, are finding it difficult to retain their old bases. While the state talks of significant ‘Maoist’ presence in 220 districts, ground reports indicate that there is now little Maoist organization left in its most important erstwhile stronghold Andhra Pradesh. Maoists have also suffered a major disintegration in Jharkhand where the organization now stands splintered into at least half a dozen armed groups while a dozen ex-Maoist commanders and leaders are contesting the current Assembly elections under the banner of different parties.
The Maoists can of course claim to have found a new model in Lalgarh. But if Lalgarh has become a household name in West Bengal or even elsewhere in India, it is not because of typical Maoist actions like landmine blast, raids on police stations or killings of opponents. Lalgarh has attracted the attention of democratic forces across the country because of the sustained mass involvement and initiative of the local adivasis – be it the mobilization of thousands of women against police atrocities or mass demonstration of students to reclaim their schools which have been turned into police camps. It remains to be seen how the Maoists handle this mass dimension in the coming days. If Lalgarh cannot raise its own independent and distinct political voice – and there is no scope for it within the existing Maoist framework – it is destined to be subsumed eventually by the ruling class agenda, whether in the name of ‘restoration of law and order’ or ‘delivering development and good governance’.
In sharp contrast to the CPI(M)’s programme and practice of social-democracy and the Maoist trajectory of anarcho-militarism, the revolutionary mass line of the CPI(ML) has succeeded in unleashing powerful struggles of the oppressed rural poor in several parts of the country and sustaining a bold political assertion of the masses in the face of fierce feudal violence and state repression. The challenge now facing us is that of expanding the contours of the struggles and raising the level of assertion of the people to newer and more decisive heights. In many of our old areas of struggle we are also faced with the problem of consolidating the gains of the movement and using them for making further advances in our onward march. And most crucially, we have this problem of turning the panchayats into platforms of mass struggle and mass assertion. If we cannot do this we run the risk of reducing ourselves into cogs of the ruling classes’ wheel of rural reforms.
The ruling classes have designed the panchayats to develop a larger base for the system, promote a grassroots level network for capital and power, extend some relief to the ‘surplus’ rural poor who are not being absorbed either in agriculture or industry and to provide immediate outlets for the ventilation of mass grievances so that rural unrest does not destabilize the system. We must have a comprehensive approach to counter this design of the rulers. Our job is to utilize the panchayat platform to expose and challenge the ruling class agenda of token measures and to mobilize the masses to go beyond these token measures into the realm of more basic changes.
The panchayat is the lowest level of the state and so we must have no illusion regarding its class character. Even if we win a few seats here and there or stake our claim over an entire block or district, the class character of the panchayat does not change in favour of the rural poor. This is why we insist that the panchayats must be turned into a platform of mass struggle and mass assertion.
Financial corruption is not the main problem we face in regard to our role in panchayats; we are in a position to combat it effectively by promoting mass supervision. The real issue is the corruption of revolutionary consciousness – the danger of getting uprooted from the soil of the very movement that makes us victorious in elections and succumbing to the ruling class framework of corruption and deception, the tendency to treat the panchayats as supra-class institutions and the failure to grasp and use the panchayats from the revolutionary point of view. We have also seen the tendency to enter into uncritical alliances at panchayat samiti (block) and zila parishad (district) levels to win the posts of the president/chairperson or deputy chairperson. The only litmus test for our panchayats is how far we succeed in preventing the dominant nexus in the countryside from misappropriating the funds and benefits meant for the rural poor and in mobilizing the masses to secure their due benefits.
Of course, we can implement the Party line in panchayats not just by improving our work within panchayats but primarily by subordinating our panchayat work to extra-panchayat struggles. In many of our major areas of work – and that is where we have most of our panchayat victories – the independent role of Party committees as the leading centre of people’s struggles had suffered considerably and committees had been reduced to managing agencies for panchayats or constituency development work of MLAs or implementing agencies for campaigns and calls coming from above. Local investigation, initiative, mobilization and struggles that used to be and must always be the mainstay and defining feature of the Party had suffered considerably in the process.
The July 28 call of the CC alerted the Party against this dangerous imbalance and we can already see its early result in the form of a whole new wave of rural struggles on a host of issues ranging from land, wages and dignity to relief, ration and livelihood. We are seeing once again how under mass pressure dealers are being forced to distribute subsidized foodgrains and kerosene oil that they would have otherwise loved to hoard and sell at higher prices in the market, how unpaid NREGA wages are being disbursed among workers and how panchayats are even intervening in the ongoing debate over land reforms to secure credit and subsidies for tenants/share-croppers. We must keep up this momentum and continuously expand the scope and space for such movement-based, movement-oriented intervention.
These days, we have to face elections at regular intervals. Almost every year we have to join the electoral battle at some level or another. For most of our Party committees this becomes a major exercise, and once we join the fray, ‘success’ becomes a major concern. We must define what we mean by success in the electoral battle. We must measure our success by our ability to integrate our election campaign with the basic movement of the people and raise the level of popular mobilization and assertion. If we sum up our experience of electoral battles over the last two decades, we will clearly see that we have always fared better in the backdrop of powerful local struggles and initiatives. The ruling classes are constantly trying to reduce elections to a resource-intensive battle – a match among millionaires and billionaires where the common people can only be spectators or victims, not fighters or winners. To fight elections from the revolutionary point of view we will have to subvert and defeat this logic and bring our assets – the masses, their struggles, their experience and their consciousness – into full play.
A rigorous style of work rooted in the culture of ‘from the masses, to the masses’ is a must if we want to implement our revolutionary line to its fullest potential. The battle for implementation of the Party line on every front can therefore only be fought and won on the basis of an all-out rejection of a superficial and managerial style of work. This December 18, let us all resolve to rise to the occasion and do everything to fulfill the dreams of Comrade VM and all our great martyrs and departed leaders.