Defending the Indefensible, Reconciling the Irreconcilable

[The triennial Congresses of both CPI and CPI(M) were held recently in Hyderabad and Coimbatore respectively. Still awaiting the final version of the Political-Organisational Report adopted at the CPI(M) Congress, Liberation takes a look at the deliberations based on reports appearing primarily in the CPI(M)’s weekly organ People’s Democracy.]

The Political-Organisational Report (POR) presented at the CPI(M)’s Coimbatore Congress marked a declared departure from the party’s usual pattern of Congress documents. For the first time, the POR included a part dealing with the role of Left-led governments. This may sound quite strange, considering that running state governments has been such a key area of the CPI(M)’s practice over the last three decades. But then, as the saying goes, truth is often stranger than fiction.

What prompted this sudden departure? Obviously, the most pressing reason must have been the post-Nandigram crisis facing the West Bengal government and the entire party and the debate generated by the CPI(M)’s much trumpeted theory and practice of building capitalism under the aegis of a bourgeois-landlord state. For once, the CPI(M) found it difficult not only to browbeat the toiling people and the progressive intelligentsia of West Bengal but also to mobilize its own ranks in the rest of the country.

Predictably enough, the CPI(M) leadership however did not go into any critical review of the role and performance of state governments led by the party. As the PD report on Karat’s presentation of the document clearly mentions, the exercise was undertaken “only for updating our understanding in the context of the present situation, which will help in dealing with various issues that crop up from time to time”. Indeed, the CPI(M) has been steadily ‘updating’ its understanding in this regard.

In the Thiruvananthapuram plenum held in 2000, the CPI(M) ‘updated’ its programme and the high point of this exercise pertained to Para 112, the paragraph in the CPI(M) programme dealing with the party’s stand and orientation regarding formation of state governments. The updated programme cleared the way for the party’s participation in bourgeois governments at the Centre and removed some of the centrist ambivalences of the 1964 formulation.

Five years later, the 18th Congress of the party held in Delhi in April 2005 adopted a special resolution on certain issues outlining the CPI(M)’s understanding of economic liberalization and globalization and how CPI(M)-led governments were to deal with such questions. But evidently, all this periodic updating has not succeeded in resolving the growing ‘confusion’ (the CPI(M) does not recognize debates) in the party and hence this latest exercise.

The CPI(M)’s initial understanding regarding state governments led by the party was that such governments would carry out a modest programme of giving immediate relief to the people while giving great fillip to the revolutionary movement of the working people. The party now says that such a formulation was suited to a different period when it was thought that “the Left movement will go forward nationally, and internationally socialism was a decisive force”.

Also, such governments were not expected to last very long. In real life, the CPI(M)-led governments have however been enjoying unusually long stints. The party now finds the 1964 understanding insufficient “as the kind of attacks envisaged from ruling classes did not materialize”. The ruling classes choosing not to attack the CPI(M)-led governments is of course only one part of the story. The other part is that the CPI(M) too has made it abundantly clear that it has no intention of using governments led by it as ‘instruments of struggle’! It always takes two hands to clap, comrades!

In the CPI(M)’s scheme of things the question of using local/provincial governments as instruments of struggle may be decided by its assessment of the international prospects of socialism, but as far as the toiling masses are concerned, struggle against the heightened offensive of big capital and imperialism is an absolute imperative. To be sure, there has been no slackening of anti-imperialist resistance in the wake of the Soviet collapse. On the contrary, in most parts of the developing world there is a definite upswing in people’s struggles against capital’s predatory plunder, and the CPI(M) leaders themselves never miss an opportunity of paying obeisance to the high tide of people’s resistance in Latin America.

Why then is this labored attempt to invoke the international socialist context to explain the ‘political retreat’ of the Left-led governments! If the CPI(M)-led governments are today not doing enough even in terms of the one issue of restructuring of centre-state relations, as admitted in the deliberations, it has nothing to do with the international prospects of socialism. It is simply because the priority has shifted away from opposition to partnership with the Centre, from struggle of any kind to governance by all means!

The moot question in West Bengal today is no more whether the Left Front government is serving as an instrument of struggle in the hands of the working people. The spotlight has shifted to how the government deals with the struggles of the people. In sharp contrast to the earlier claim of non-intervention of police in democratic struggles, the CPI(M) rule in West Bengal today has become notorious for the Nandigram model of ‘governance’. In the Coimbatore Congress, several delegates spoke about the adverse impact of Nandigram, but as mentioned in the PD report, it was ‘resolved’ that “Nandigram must be viewed as a symbol of conspiracy by the ultra Left to ultra Right with expelled members of our Party, so-called civil society activists and others jumping into the fray.”

While the CPI(M)-led governments were earlier supposed to carry out a modest programme of providing immediate relief to the masses, the keyword now, as reportedly stressed by Prakash Karat, was to meet the ‘aspirations’ of the people. The word ‘relief’ itself is found to be too meagre for a government in the era of liberalization and globalization and hence the switchover to the more profound ‘aspirations’. Karat need not tell us the difference in the social connotation of the two terms in this context. It is the poor or a people in crisis who look forward to some relief; aspirations are for people who are not overshadowed by such a crisis. In other words, the priority of the CPI(M)-led governments has clearly shifted from the poor and the toiling masses to the middle and upper-middle classes.

The signs of this shift are all too glaring and ubiquitous in West Bengal. One out of ten persons in West Bengal suffers from chronic hunger. More than 14% bargadaars (share-croppers) and 13% beneficiaries of land redistribution have already lost their rights. The public distribution system in rural Bengal is riddled with massive loot and corruption. Karat claims credit for his party for the enactment of NREGA. His claim would have made some sense had his party and government in West Bengal taken up this Act for vigorous implementation. It turns out that West Bengal figures among the lowest few states in terms of employment provided under the Act – less than 10 days in the first year and less than 20 days in the next year in place of the 100 days ‘guaranteed’ by the Act!

On the other hand, in the name of meeting the aspirations of the people, the CPI(M) in West Bengal is going all out on the path of corporate-driven spectacle of ‘industrialization’. The 18th Congress resolution on certain policy matters had described this model of corporate globalization as resulting in the phenomenon of ‘jobless growth’, which, the resolution added, had started degenerating into ‘job-loss growth’ in many developing countries. In West Bengal, the CPI(M) however wants to impose the same model in the name of creation of ‘employment opportunities’! And if Prakash Karat’s remarks on the unsustainability of the ‘Kerala model’ of development that lays particular emphasis on social sectors like health, education, housing and other welfare measures, are any indication, then Kerala too is all set for a heavy dose of the ‘Bengal model’ of corporate-led ‘industrialization’.

While replying to the discussion on the document, Karat of course talks about the need to take the people into confidence and to look for ‘Left’ alternative in spite of all limitations imposed by the bourgeois-landlord state in the era of liberalization. He also talks about the constant need to project alternative policies and campaign for non-monopoly industrial growth. To understand the real meaning of these pious proclamations one only has to look at what happened at Singur. The state government used the force of legal deception and police repression to acquire land for Tata Motors, and all criticism of the corporate model, aired by the likes of Ashok Mitra and Prabhat Patnaik, was dismissed as academic romanticism and utopian nonsense! It will need a real manhunt to find someone in the CPI(M) top echelons in West Bengal who does not wax eloquent about the great merits and bounties of monopoly capital!

The 19th Congress of the CPI(M) once again expressed concern about the party’s heavy dependence on the states ruled by the party and the party’s failure to make any breakthrough in other parts, termed variously as ‘weak states’, ‘priority states’ and the catch-all ‘Hindi belt’. The membership report placed at the Congress revealed that more than 90 per cent of the party’s membership growth over the last three years came from the four states of West Bengal, Kerala, Tripura and Andhra Pradesh. The CPI(M) may continue to claim that the remarkable growth of party membership in West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura over the last three decades is proof enough of these governments giving a great fillip to the all-India revolutionary movement, but it remains clear that the CPI(M)-led state governments have not added any momentum to the party’s growth in the rest of the country. And as for the quality of the spectacular organizational growth seen in the CPI(M)-ruled states, of course, the less said the better.

Interestingly, the only non-power state where the CPI(M) experienced some significant growth is Andhra Pradesh, and the reason lies in the momentum unleashed by the popular house-site movement. To crush the movement, the Congress government resorted to a massacre in Mudigonda of Khammam district and the CPI(M), which was also finding the movement too hot to handle, did very little by way of protest.

While presenting the document Karat said it would help the party to develop and defend the working of the state governments on the basis of the party programme. In real life, the party is continually ‘updating’ its programme in compliance with the ‘limitations’ of these governments. By dubbing Nandigram a conspiracy and treating the growing anger and resentment of the labouring people in West Bengal as a proof of the ruling class ire against the CPI(M) for its opposition to privatization and Indo-US nuclear deal, the CPI(M) leaders have also made it clear that the Nandigram model of governance was here to stay and party congresses would increasingly be devoted to the task of defending the indefensible and reconciling the irreconcilable!

Tailpiece: The SEZ debate figured quite prominently in both Hyderabad and Coimbatore. The CPI leaders who had of late started questioning SEZs as being not at all indispensable for industrialization placed a resolution opposing only ‘future SEZs’ while accepting existing or approved SEZs provided there was no exemption from labour laws and the economic concessions were within reasonable limits! When many delegates from outside West Bengal and Kerala protested, the resolution was passed by calling upon the party to ‘wake up to the reality’ that it shared power with the CPI(M) in West Bengal and Kerala and hence could not afford to oppose SEZs in any stronger terms! In Coimbatore, some Maharashtra delegates insisted on a total opposition to SEZs (Maharashtra is one of those rare states where the CPI(M) is also involved in the anti-SEZ campaign), but the PD tells us that “Karat said while the SEZs, in themselves, cannot be opposed, nothing prevents us from launching struggles against the giant SEZs and the displacement they cause.” 

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