Written By Com.Prakash Karat, General Secretary, CPI(M)
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) is observing the 50th anniversary of its formation. The Party that was born at the Seventh Congress held in Kolkata (from October 31 to November 7, 1964) has advanced facing many trials and tribulations. On this occasion, we remember and pay homage to the thousands of comrades who became martyrs for the cause of the Party and the movement.
The formation of the CPI(M) marked an important and crucial stage in the Communist movement in India. The Party was founded in October 1920 in Tashkent by a group of Indian Communist émigrés and was recognised as such by the Communist International. In subsequent years small Communist groups emerged in different parts of the country in the 1920s. The Communist Party of India began to work as an organised all India Party in 1934 after the Meerut case prisoners were released from jail.
The formation of the CPI(M) was the result of a prolonged inner Party struggle about the strategy to be pursued after independence for the Indian revolution. This struggle took place for a full decade within the united party and that is the reason why no programme could be adopted.
When the split took place in 1964, after 32 members of the National Council walked out of the meeting in April, it was widely perceived as a split on the lines of the Soviet-China division. The then Congress government also labeled the CPI(M) as “pro-Peking” rebels. The confusion arose partly from the fact that in the mid-1960s and in the later part of the sixties, a number of groups split away from the existing communist parties in many countries at the call of the Communist Party of China. Most of these parties remained splinters of the parent party and did not acquire any significant political influence or mass base.
But things were different in India. The division in the CPI coincided with the growing divide between the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the Communist Party of China. But this was not the cause for the split in the Indian party. The formation of the CPI(M) was the culmination of a prolonged struggle within the Party which centered on the programmatic strategy to be followed by the Party which pertained to basic questions such as the character of the Indian State, the nature of the ruling classes and so on.
Thus, the formation of the CPI(M) was marked by the adoption of a programme at the 7th Congress in October-November 1964.
The Party programme adopted at the 7th Congress set out for the first time the strategic task of the Indian revolution based on a Marxist-Leninist analysis of Indian society and the classes obtaining there. The programme spelt out the character of the Indian State in clear terms as the State run by a bourgeois-landlord alliance led by the big bourgeoisie, thereby dispelling the fog of confusion which had prevailed over this crucial feature so vital for working out a current strategy.
The stage of the revolution, the character of the State and the class alliance required for the People’s Democratic Revolution were set out in the programme which has stood the test of time and practice. This programme was updated in 2001 but the essential strategic features referred above remains valid. It is this programme which has guided the political, organisational and ideological activities of the Party in the past five decades.
It is based on this Programme that the CPI(M) has grown to be the leading Left party in the country. The Party has more than one million members and these members are working in mass organisations whose combined membership numbers 70 million (7 crore).
The CPI(M) had formulated its ideological positions soon after the formation of the Party. In the early 1960s there was a serious ideological debate and conflicts in the international communist movement. The questions about the content of the new epoch, the major social contradictions, the peaceful coexistence between the two social systems and the peaceful transition to socialism had all led to sharp differences and polemics with the CPSU and the CPC in opposing camps. Practically the entire CPI(M) leadership had been put in jail soon after the 7th Congress and therefore the Party’s stand on various ideological issues could not be formulated till 1968. This contributed to the wrong perception in some quarters that the CPI(M) was following the positions taken by the Chinese party. The delay in clarifying the ideological positions of the Party caused some damage when the Left sectarian trends emanated within the communist movement in the country.
The CPI(M) after a thorough inner Party discussion adopted its ideological stand at the Burdwan Plenum held in 1968. This plenum marked a historical break with both right revisionism and Left sectarianism within the Indian Communist movement and also in the international communist movement. The CPI(M) displayed a robust independence in being critical of many of the theoretical positions of the CPSU and the CPC.
This in fact brings out the distinctive character of the CPI(M). When the united CPI was a fledgling party it was dependent for its theory and practice on the CPSU (at times in the pre-independence period this was mediated by the Communist Party of Great Britain as instructed by the Communist International). This legacy persisted even after independence. Later, the Left sectarian trend found sustenance from the CPC in the last sixties. The CPI(M) broke with this “dependence”. The formulation of the programme, the tactical perspective which flowed from it and the ideological positions which were adopted marked a dialectical break from the past practice. The basis for this radical departure was the determined effort to apply Marxism-Leninism to the concrete Indian conditions. This meant not relying on borrowed wisdom and a mechanical copying of the models followed in other countries especially the ones which had made revolutions.
The collapse of the Soviet Union had a delete
rious effect on the communist parties and the socialist cause all over the world. Its impact was felt in India too upon the communist movement. However, the CPI(M) as a party was the least affected in political-ideological terms or as an organisation in contrast to some other communist parties around the world. This was because the Party had an independent understanding of Marxism. It had adopted a critical approach to the ideology and practice of the CPSU without ever taking an anti-Soviet position. Since the Party had no blind faith in the Soviet Union and the CPSU, it was better equipped to face the debacle of the Soviet Union. The CPI(M) suffered lesser damage as a result. Being deeply rooted among the Indian working people and the Marxist-Leninist ideology, the Party could draw sustenance from its own theory and practice to reappraise the experience of building socialism in the 20th century and to renew its confidence to work for a renovated socialism in the 21st century. In fact the decade consequent to 1991 saw a steady increase in the Party membership.
The CPI(M) programme states that the agrarian revolution is the crux of the democratic revolution. Hence the agrarian question and the land issue have been central to the practice of the Party.
The CPI(M) is a Party which has done the most to advance the struggle for land since its inception. It is these struggles against landlordism, for take over of benami land, for distribution of ceiling surplus land, pattas for house sites for agricultural workers and so on which resulted in the Left-led governments of West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura being the only states which have implemented land reforms in a meaningful manner. Reforms which have led to the distribution of surplus land, ending of rack rented tenancy or ensuring security of tenure for sharecroppers.
The 1960s and 1970s in particular witnessed a wave of struggles on these issues. Both the United Front governments in West Bengal and Kerala in 1967 to 1970 period in which the CPI(M) was the leading force, made determined advance on the land issue which was backed by powerful struggles.
As a Party of the working class, the CPI(M) has consistently sought to strengthen the working class movement and organise the workers as a political force capable of leading the democratic movement. The Party has been actively taking up the fight against privatization, against contractualisation of labour and in defence of trade union rights.
The CPI(M) views class exploitation and social oppression as twin pillars of the present bourgeois-landlord order. The Party has, therefore, been ceaselessly fighting all forms of social oppression – of women, dalits, adivasis and minorities.
The CPI(M) has the basic understanding that democracy and democratic rights and even the limited rights provided by the Constitution are not secure as the ruling classes of the country tend to encroach and attack democracy whenever its interests dictate so. The CPI(M) was the first Party to warn against the impending danger of one party authoritarianism in its ninth Congress in 1972. It said this on the basis of the experience of the semi-fascist terror instituted in West Bengal from 1971 onwards, which was backed by the Indira Gandhi government and the State machinery. The CPI(M) was active in the fight to protect democracy and democratic rights in the period leading up to the declaration of internal emergency in June 1975. The Party struggled against the emergency regime. Hundreds of its leaders and cadres were put in prison during this time but the Party joined with other democratic forces to oppose the onslaught on democracy. That is why with the lifting of the Emergency, the Party emerged with heightened prestige. It was in the background of the fight against semi-fascist terror and the Emergency at the all India level that the CPI(M) and the Left Front won the West Bengal assembly elections in 1977 for the first time with a two-third majority.
The attacks on democracy and democratic rights have often been concentrated against the CPI(M) and the Left. After the semi-fascist terror in West Bengal, there was a period of terror in Tripura between 1988 and 1993. West Bengal has again been facing widespread terror and trampling of democratic rights since 2011. Hundreds of comrades have laid down their lives defending democratic rights and the Red Flag.
The Communist movement in India has the rich experience in working in the parliamentary democratic system. The CPI(M) has made, on its part, the most significant contribution in this sphere. After its formation the Party formulated a creative approach on how to work in parliamentary forums and on participation in state governments. The tactical direction for this was given in the programme itself. It also drew on the experience of the first communist ministry in Kerala in 1957. The CPI(M) would join state governments only where the Left and democratic forces were a strong force in the legislature. It looked at participation in state governments as an aid to develop the mass struggles and the democratic movement while providing all relief possible to the people within the bourgeois-landlord system. The CPI(M) sought to put this into practice when the United Front governments were formed in 1967-70 in West Bengal and Kerala.
The formation and running of CPI(M)-led Left government in West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura from 1977 onwards were an important part of the task of developing the Left and democratic movement in the struggle to project alternative policies (within the limitation of the state government) against the bourgeois-landlord policies.
The achievements in the sphere of land reform, decentralisation of powers, strengthening the rights of the working people for collective action and the defence of secularism by these governments have contributed to the advancement of the Left and democratic agenda.
The concomitant political platform championed by the CPI(M) has been federalism. As per the Party’s understanding of the national question, India is a multinational country. The unity of the Indian Union can be strengthened only by a federal structure which allows the various linguistic nationalities to be able to have their due share in the economic and social development. There has to be a federal political structure.
The CPI(M) has been a consistent force for federalism and for the unity of the people by combating the forces of regional, linguistic and ethnic chauvinism. When the divisive forces were active in the 1980s in various parts of the country, the CPI(M) stood firm on the question of national unity and hundreds of comrades laid down their lives in Punjab, Assam, Tripura and Jammu & Kashmir fighting these forces. The Party has played a key role on the issue of restructuring of Centre-state relations and this has been articulated by the Left-led state governments. The Party played an important role in the formulation of a common stand on Centre-State relations as seen in the deliberations of the Srinagar conclave of 15 parties in 1983.
The CPI(M) has been the most consistent and resolute force against communalism. Historically, religious communalism as a weapon was used to divide the people during the days of the fight against British rule. The Communists have a glorious record of standing firm in the face of communal frenzy in the days of partition. Communists, however small in number, stood against the violence and rescued those targeted by the mobs. Later in independent India whenever communal riots broke out communists have sought to protect those facing violence. It is in that tradition that in Kerala a CPI(M) leader, U.K. Kunhiraman, died while protecting a mosque which came under attack in Thalassery during the communal violence of 1968. The CPI(M) adheres firmly to the principle of secularism which means separation of religion and the State and politics. Unlike the bourgeois parties which seek to appease the various forces of majority and minority communalism, the CPI(M) is completely opposed to any intervention in politics by the communal forces.
When the threat of majority communalism arose in the late 1980s, it was the CPI(M) which pointed out that the BJP-RSS combine represented this threat. The party has worked relentlessly to combat the Hindutva forces and to isolate them politically. The Party views the ascendance of the BJP and its coming to power as integral to the interests of the big bourgeoisie and the corporates who view the BJP as a party committed to advance the neo-liberal agenda. That is why the CPI(M) views the struggle against the neo-liberal policies and the fight against majority communalism as interconnected. In the entire political spectrum only the CPI(M) and the Left parties are the force who have never compromised with the BJP and the communal forces either for electoral or political gains.
The CPI(M) in the last five decades has been a significant force in political terms in projecting an alternative path of development for India – one which is socially and economically just and politically democratic. On all the major issues which have arisen in the Indian polity – secularism, democracy, federalism, equity and justice – the CPI(M) has made its own distinctive contribution.
The CPI(M) and the Left have suffered serious electoral reverses in the recent election. The rightwing offensive has resulted in a BJP government which represents the twin forces of corporate power and Hindutva. The fight for secular democracy, the rights of the working people and alternative policies requires a strong CPI(M) and Left. The Party is taking up this challenge in right earnest. In the run up to the 21st Congress of the Party to be held in April 2015, the Central Committee is formulating a fresh political-tactical line which can effectively deal with the new political situation. It is undertaking concrete studies of the changes that have occurred in Indian society and classes in the more than two decades of neo-liberal capitalism. The Party Congress will provide a new direction for the organisation and its work among the people.
India is witnessing a more predatory capitalist process unfold through the neo-liberal model adopted by our ruling classes. Economic and political inequalities have arisen sharply. Along with some of the world’s riches persons, India has the largest number of poor people. The fight for an alternative path leading to socialism is an ongoing and arduous struggle.
As the CPI(M) marks its 50th year of existence we rededicate ourselves to pursue the goal with confidence and determination.
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