CPI(ML)’s 9th Congress: Change with Continuity, Development with Expansion

[Excerpts from the explanatory remarks by General Secretary Comrade Dipankar Bhattacharya, made in the course of the deliberations in the delegate session.]

The resolution on the international situation begins with the crisis of global capitalism and goes on to focus on the political implications of the crisis and the possibilities opening up in terms of what we call a rekindling of socialist imagination. The crisis has sharpened the economic rivalry among major economic powers, especially among the US and China. While the US is still the biggest economy it is thoroughly crisis-ridden, and while China is inching closer to the top spot, it has also been affected by the crisis and has slowed down considerably. But to China’s credit, it has adjusted better with the crisis and adjusted primarily in favour of the working people and not in favour of the corporations as the US has done. China has moved away from investing in infrastructure to improved social spending and wage increases so as to increase the purchasing power of the people and promote domestic consumption.

US-China Rivalry

The intensification of Sino-US economic rivalry is bound to have political and military implications. After all as Marxists we all know that at the end of the day politics is the concentrated expression of economics. We can already see a change in China’s external economic development. The China story has so far been different from the erstwhile Soviet Union in terms of how China manages its economy and the Sino-US rivalry. While the USSR had heavy involvement through aid and trade in Eastern Europe and many countries of the third world, China had primarily been following the export of goods route. Also while the USSR had got embroiled in a debilitating arms race with the US, China has developed a high degree of economic interdependence with the US.

But China’s growing economic involvement in Africa - and now BRICS has also made major commitments to aid economic development in Africa - indicates a different route. The US, and former colonial powers like France and Britain, have on the other hand their own greedy eyes trained on Africa. The continent is naturally emerging as the next theatre of not just economic rivalry but politico-military contention. If this continues, we are likely to see a change in China’s international role.

Indian Foreign Policy

Apart from the so-called ‘war on terror’, containment and encirclement of China is the other major strand of US foreign policy. On both scores we want Indian foreign policy to be free and delinked from the American policy. We want India to deal with China and all other neighbouring countries on an independent footing, and respect and address their concerns vis-a-vis India’s role and resolve all outstanding issues in a spirit of good-neighbourly relations and mutual cooperation.

Regarding Sri Lanka, we want the international community to exert pressure for a fair probe into the war crimes perpetrated on Sri Lankan Tamils. India should do all it can to expose the war crimes and mobilise the international opinion for justice for Sri Lankan Tamils.

But why do we not ask the Indian Government to impose sanctions on Sri Lanka? We know it very well that the Indian ruling classes harbour regional hegemonic ambitions and the people in almost all neighbouring countries have serious doubts or reservations about the role of the Indian ruling classes in South Asia. Communists should not give a handle to the ruling classes to pursue a course that will invite greater isolation and mistrust from our neighbours.

Indian foreign policy vis-a-vis Sri Lanka has been full of flip-flops – first India went to the extreme of promoting and facilitating LTTE and then went over to the other extreme of sending Indian Army to Sri Lanka in the name of ‘peace-keeping’ and finally kept mum while war crimes were being committed. We must also be careful that the cause of justice for Sri Lankan Tamils and the justified anger against Sinhala chauvinism should not lead to acts of xenophobic violence or prejudice against common people of Sri Lanka. The attacks on Sri Lankan Buddhist monks in Tamil Nadu or ban on Sri Lankan players playing in Tamil Nadu must therefore be condemned in no uncertain terms.

21st Century Socialism

20th Century had been witness to both the rise of the USSR – its emergence as a progressive alternative to capitalism and an alternative power centre against imperialist domination – and its collapse. We all now know that the Soviet model had ossified from within so much so that it collapsed without US imperialism having to fire a single bullet. China accomplished new democratic revolution and embarked on the road to socialist transition, it has emerged as a big power and a powerful nation along the road, but from the point of view of building and inspiring a socialist alternative to capitalism and bourgeois democracy, China can hardly be called a model. Indeed we cannot talk of any standard model of socialism today. Socialism of the 21st Century, the term popularised by Chavez struck a chord because it rekindled the socialist imagination and spirit while also acknowledging that despite some brilliant phases and many glorious achievements, 20th century socialism had been found deficient in some key respects and that socialism today must pulsate with the spirit of mass participation and reflect a comprehensive rupture with capitalism in every major respect – in terms of resource management, statecraft and welfare and assertion of the common people.

Venezuela under the leadership of Chavez has of course played a great historic role in terms of transforming itself, defending and helping Cuba, and bringing about a paradigm shift in Latin America with its vocal anti-imperialism, bold welfare measures and refreshing accent on participatory democracy. But it will be wrong to treat it as the latest model of socialism. We must realise that socialism has to develop on the concrete soil of a society and in the given setting of history. Just as it will be wrong to downplay the leftward shift in Latin America, or the rise of the Occupy movement or the anti-austerity struggles in Europe because we do not often see the standard form of communist parties and class struggle in these upheavals, it will also be wrong to fetishize the forms and patterns we see in these countries as the new universal forms for the international communist movement.

In some ways the scene in the international socialist or anti-capitalist movement today is comparable to the days of the First International where different tendencies within the international working class movement worked together and the communist movement had to define and develop its formative principles simultaneously in collaboration and contention with various non-communist trends and tendencies. If historically, mass-based communist parties have found it difficult to grow in several advanced capitalist countries and also parts of the third world, and if some communist parties have collapsed because of a host of subjective and objective factors, that does not certainly make communist parties historically redundant or anachronistic.

While recognizing the need and power of broad-based and seemingly spontaneous upsurges, we must realize that the concentrated social power called capital and the organised political power of the capitalist state can only be overcome by pooling together the energies of millions of working people, by unifying the power of resistance and creation of the working people and this has been the raison d’être of the communist movement and communist parties as the revolutionary political voice of the working people.

While learning from the rich and multifarious history of the international socialist movement and acknowledging and appreciating the ongoing awakening in its multiplicity of forms and plurality of patterns, we firmly realise that we can contribute to this process of socialist regeneration by strengthening the mass revolutionary character of the Indian communist movement and expanding and developing the CPI(ML) as its most consistent and credible banner.

The Danger of Corporate Fascism

This is not the first time people are talking of the fascist threat in India. The term first came up in the mid 1970s when the constitutional framework of parliamentary democracy was eclipsed by the Emergency, and many constitutional rights and provisions were suspended. The rise of the BJP at the head of an aggressive communal campaign through the 1990s brought the term communal fascism into coinage. It pointed to the fascist threat that aggressive majoritarianism or majority communalism posed in a country like India with a long history of orchestrated communal violence.

Now we think the danger of fascism in India should be prefixed by the epithet corporate and not just communal. Narendra Modi is the unmistakable mascot of this corporate fascist politics – Modi in 2002 was a symbol of aggressive communalism, today a decade later he has emerged as the biggest corporate darling. He personifies the unbridled pro-corporate thrust of India’s ruling economic policies and also symbolises the ‘strong state’ approach to governance where the state subjugates the people and allows the corporates a free run.

Communalism too has acquired a new context. Communalism is not about inter-community differences and disputes – India has a long history of coexistence of several religions and an equally long history of mutual respect and tolerance for, and even assimilation of, different beliefs and values. Communalism became an ‘ism’ when the British colonialists started using and promoting it as a key weapon in their ‘divide and rule’ strategy and the Congress, Hindu Mahasabha and Muslim League began to consciously mix religion with politics. The secularism adopted by the Indian state was never robust – it never really meant much more than not overtly allowing Hinduism to become the official religion of the Indian state. But since 1980s we have seen a weakening of even that limited secularism and a growing majoritarian bias of the Indian state reflected most glaringly in the November 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom, in the December 1992 demolition of Babri Masjid and the 2002 Gujarat genocide.

There is another recent change in the global political arena that has also had a major bearing on the issue of communalism and minority rights in India. Following the Soviet collapse the US began to identify Islam as its global enemy and launched a veritable global war in the wake of 9/11. And now that India has emerged as a key strategic partner of the US, the US-inspired Islamophobia has reinforced the majoritarian bias of the Indian state which is why we see such a high incidence of anti-Muslim witch-hunt. If communalism was ‘nationalised’ by the British colonialists after 1857, it has been ‘internationalised’ by the US imperialists after the collapse of the Soviet Union and especially following 9/11.

To effectively oppose communalism and fight for secularism, it is therefore not enough to oppose only RSS and BJP. We must pose this new litmus test of secularism – whether or not one is ready to take on the majoritarian bias of the Indian state, whether or not one is ready to fight US imperialism not just in the context of Iraq and Afghanistan but in the context of all the disastrous implications of Indo-US strategic partnership? We must effectively combine the anti-corporate, anti-imperialist and anti-communal dimensions of our movement to defeat the fascist danger. To be secular in India today one has to be democratic and also anti-imperialist.

The Question of Left unity

Left unity has been and can only be a protracted agenda of political struggle. The CPI(M) established one model of Left politics and one model of Left unity. We have a different model of Left politics and have initiated a different model of Left unity. The defeat of the CPI(M) in Bengal and the decline in its profile in the national political arena has marked a big blow for its opportunist line and it has strengthened debates in and around CPI(M) and sharpened the anti-opportunism struggle within the Left movement as a whole. At this juncture we have adopted a two-pronged approach to advance the battle for Left unity.

In the first place we have formed an All India Left Coordination with four other Left organisations on the basis of a common declaration and considerable political agreement in terms of tactical line and the present priorities of struggle. AILC had begun with four organisations, now it has five constituents. In the coming days, the AILC may well become a bigger platform with more organisations joining in. While the CPI(M)-led Left Front is identified predominantly with the now defeated CPI(M)-led government in West Bengal, the AILC is developing as a platform of united struggle. On 14 March 2011, AILC organised an impressive march to Parliament calling for resignation of the scam-tainted MMS government. On August 31 2012, the jail bharo campaign launched by AILC evoked encouraging response with more than 150,000 people courting arrest in 170-odd centres across the country. AILC also played an active role in the 20-21 February all-India strike.

But the AILC is not an end in itself, the purpose of AILC is to bring about a radical realignment of Left forces and radicalise the Left movement as a whole. From AILC as well as CPI(ML), we therefore continue to reach out to various constituents of the Left camp and explore possibilities of joint action. The September 30 convention in Delhi was a major effort in that direction which was attended by almost all Left parties, the CPI(M) being the only party choosing to stay away. In the inaugural session of this Congress we extended invitation to a broad spectrum of Left organisations and they all responded positively.

The fact that the CPI(M) and its LF allies have objectively been pushed into an oppositional role both in West Bengal as also in the national arena has improved the prospect of joint action among various Left forces. But there are very clear hindrances as well. The CPI(M) pins greater hope on its presumed ability to utilise the Congress than on the capacity and willingness of the people to resist the TMC in West Bengal. The CPI(M) and more particularly the CPI has a pronounced preference for regional parties at the cost of Left unity. They have electoral ties with the BJD in Odisha even as the BJD government is bent upon dispossessing the people in Niyamgiri, Jagatsinghpur and many other parts of the state. Similar overtures can be seen being made to the JD(U) in Bihar and JVM in Jharkhand. In spite of these hindrances, we must keep up our efforts for meaningful unity of the Left on issues that concern the common people.

The General Programme of the Party

We have made some changes in the General Programme of the Party. What exactly have we changed and why have we done it? We used to describe the Indian society as semi-feudal and semi-colonial even as we characterised the Indian state as a state led by the big bourgeoisie in alliance with landlords. Obviously the word semi-feudal did not preclude capitalist development – where else did the big bourgeoisie then come from? Capitalist development remained implicit in the description ‘semi-feudal’ and we in fact always made it clear in our explanation that the term ‘semi-feudal’ referred to the pattern or character of capitalist development in India. But still the term seemed to focus on feudal remnants even as the onslaught of big capital grew by leaps and bounds in recent years. We therefore decided to foreground the reality of capitalism without suggesting any weakening or decline of the feudal remnants. Likewise, the term ‘semi-colonial’ while capturing the persistence of colonial hangovers and the overall pro-imperialist character of the Indian big bourgeoisie, could not adequately reflect the growth of Indian capital and the big power ambitions of the Indian state. We have therefore decided to describe the Indian society as a predominantly agrarian backward capitalist society, clearly and categorically mentioning the feudal remnants, colonial hangover and the domination of imperialism in the same sentence.

There is no change in the programme in the characterisation of the Indian big bourgeoisie, but we have underlined the growing hold of the kulaks – the biggest beneficiaries of whatever degree of capitalist development has happened in Indian agriculture – on the Indian state. So the programme now states that the state is led by the big bourgeoisie in alliance with landlords and kulaks.

The other change we have made is in the formulation of the principal contradiction. In place of identifying the contradiction between feudal remnants and the broad Indian masses as the principal contradiction we now consider it as one of the major or basic contradictions. Feudal remnants are being reinforced and utilised by Indian big bourgeoisie as well as imperialism, in real life we often come across a nexus of feudal remnants, big capital and imperialism rather than just feudal remnants on their own. We have therefore taken the contradiction between this nexus and the Indian people as the principal contradiction.

The stage of the revolution remains the same – people’s democratic revolution with agrarian revolution as its axis. It has been asked why we need to prefix capitalism with the epithet backward. Well, there is capitalism and capitalism. Not everywhere does capitalism coexist with Khap Panchayats and Ranveer Sena, the high degree of caste and gender oppression that we experience in India may not be incompatible with capitalism but is not intrinsic to capitalism either. We thought the word backward could be the best catch-all term to take care of all the obnoxious specificities of Indian society that continue in spite of, and also because of, the specific mode of capitalist development in India.

We’ve also had some interesting discussion on the stage of our revolution. If Russia could have had socialist revolution in November 1917 what stops us, it has been asked, from declaring the stage of revolution in contemporary India socialist? Can’t the unfinished democratic tasks be taken care of as part of the agenda of a socialist revolution? Well, the fact remains that the democratic tasks still call for a revolution without which there cannot be any meaningful progress towards socialism. If anything, all successful 20th century revolutions have made us realise the protracted nature of the battle for socialism. Russia talked of socialism in 1917 but was forced to beat a retreat very soon, making room for private capital under NEP. In China, Mao said “the struggle to consolidate the socialist system, the struggle to decide whether socialism or capitalism will prevail, will still take a long historical period,” and his words have proved prophetic.

Victorious People’s Democratic Revolution will of course build the foundation and mark the first bold and decisive step towards socialist transition, but placing socialist revolution as the minimum goal of the Communist Party in contemporary India will trivialise socialism and also downplay the democratic tasks and content of our revolution.

Guiding Policies and Priorities on Various Fronts

This time we have made a departure from our standard practice of placing a single political-organisational report before the Congress. We have a political resolution covering the international and national situation, we have an organisational report and we have quite an ambitious series of eight resolutions dealing with the Party’s practice.

In preparing these resolutions we have tried to keep a few salient points in mind. Firstly, we are not making a performance audit of various mass organisations. We are looking at our work on different fronts from the overall point of view of the Party. Secondly, we have not limited the resolutions to our current level of practice on or engagement with various fronts or issues. We have taken note of the objective conditions on various fronts, and focused on the possibilities and challenges facing us and on what needs to be done, based on the experience of our own practice, and keeping in view the changing realities. Thirdly, we must remember that the Party is not a federation of various mass fronts; the Party is guided by a single revolutionary programme and a unifying vision. As communists we work on different fronts, and implement the Party’s programme and policies. Of course, there is sufficient autonomy for every mass organisation and the Party can surely be criticised if there is any violation of that autonomy. But Party members working in mass fronts have dual accountability – they are indeed accountable to their respective mass organisations but as Party members they are surely also accountable to the Party.

And last but not the least, what we have attempted here is not an eclectic combination of a few trendy topics, we have discussed about areas of practice that demand greater attention from the Party and on every front we have discussed various issues that may not have immediate practical implications but on which the Party should develop a collective position or approach. There are many single-issue campaigns or NGOs which are also taking up many of the issues discussed in these resolutions and many of them are no doubt doing a good job in terms of highlighting some specific issues. What we have tried to do is to get a holistic grasp of all these issues as integral parts of our democratic programme and expand the horizons of our practice.

Problems of Party-building

We have discussed problems of Party-building and various imbalances that we face in building the party organisation and developing the Party system. These are organisational questions, but we must also be able to appreciate the ideological or political aspect of these questions. Sometimes some lapses also carry great lessons. Take the case of the recent all-India strike. The entire Party and our trade unions prepared seriously for the strike and played a leading role in many sectors and in several areas and states. But there have been two major aberrations – we failed to implement the strike call in the transport sector in Delhi and the railways. Our union in DTC had served strike notice along with three other unions but withdrew it at the last moment along with the other unions. And this when we find the surface transport sector played a key role in the strike in several North Indian states. Regardless of the circumstances leading to the withdrawal of the strike notice, as revolutionary communists it has surely been a major lapse. Similarly, the All India Railway Party Committee had taken a decision to go for declared strike wherever we have our independent unions, but failed to implement it. We know we do not have the strength to make the strike a success in these sectors, but as revolutionary communists we should have taken the lead and we must lead by example. Had we stuck to the strike call, we could have carried the ideological-political battle in other TUs who all had endorsed the strike call centrally but did nothing to implement it in key sectors like the railways. The two examples show that we are not doing enough to build the communist party among organised workers where trade union culture relatively runs deep and Communist Party can only be built by waging a relentless struggle against economism. We must continue to develop functional unions, run them democratically and secure greater mass strength – but we must not ignore the crucial role of the communist party as the vanguard or as the guarantor of the revolutionary orientation of the trade union movement.

In recent years our student organisation has acquired a high profile and quite deservedly so. The profile has been earned on the basis of years of hard work and a culture of prompt initiatives on a range of subjects. It goes to the credit of our student organisation that they managed not only to defeat SFI in successive elections in JNU but make the SFI/CPI(M) politics unviable in a campus that used to be a traditional stronghold of SFI/CPI(M). There has also been notable expansion to some new states and centres, but we still find that on an all-India scale our student organisation does not yet have the kind of mass strength that it should have. Also, considering the influence that AISA has got in campuses like JNU and several other centres, the flow of student/youth comrades into the Party is surely still far short of the potential. There has surely been some improvement in last few years, but if we take an over-all view, this is definitely one of our weak points. Is it just a question of lack of coordination and planning? Or is there a deeper problem of Party-building that needs to be addressed and resolved?

This is why we have once again emphasised the basics of communist politics – it does not develop automatically from within trade union or student politics, however radical our politics may be. Communist politics truly begins and grows only in organic relation with the larger society, through integration with the people, and confidence in the revolutionary communist party and in the struggles of the people. When student leaders and intellectuals begin to exercise and assert that potential, they become threats to the system. It is at the point of linkage with the basic masses, with the workers and peasants that a Chandrashekhar or a Shankar Guha Niyogi or a Safdar Hashmi comes into being.

Towards a Stronger Party and More Vigorous Struggles

To conclude, let me return to the 8th Congress. At the 8th Congress we had to settle the liquidationist debate. The entire Congress and the Party had rallied unitedly to reject the liquidationist framework. It was a debate that had been imposed on the Party and we had no choice. If from within the leading body of a Communist Party there ever emerges an idea that negates the very necessity of its existence and growth, that seeks to restrict and dilute its role and derail it from its course, it becomes mandatory for the Party to resolve that debate first. Liquidationism is however an extreme, rather suicidal advocacy that develops if a party remains weak for a long time. The real answer to liquidationism is therefore a stronger and more vibrant Communist Party.

Over the last five years, which we have described as testing times in our report, the Party has had to face a tough situation. We faced major electoral reverses in 2009 and 2010. At a time when the situation demanded powerful communist response and intervention, the Party found itself in the most awkward situation of having drawn a blank in Bihar Assembly. Had ours been a party of parliamentary cretinism, the Party would have been devastated by this blow. The entire Party pooled its revolutionary resolve fought back with hard work and a whole series of political and agitational initiatives, united front efforts and powerful mass mobilisation. 2011 and 2012 have been a period of renewed assertion of the Party and the movement opening up new avenues of advance. This Congress is a reflection of this turnaround – it is a Congress of change with continuity, and development with expansion. The turnaround has only begun and we must now carry it forward with all our might asserting the full role of the CPI(ML) as the rallying centre of communist revolutionaries, as the party of the Indian revolution.

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