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Mainstream, VOL LIII, No 15, April 4, 2015

Split In The Communist Movement — A Historic Necessity Or A Blunder?

Sunday 5 April 2015

by Tika Ram Sharma

The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) celebrated the 50th anniversary of its foundation last year. While for the CPM the split was a matter of ‘celebration’, for others in the Left it was a disaster. There have been statements from the CPM leaders about the achievements and failures of their movement of these fifty years. According to the CPI-M, the split in the movement in India was a ‘historic necessity’. As per the ideological document of the 2012 Congress of the CPM and also the special issue of their paper People’s Democracy (P.D), the split saved the communist movement from revisionism. However, most Left leaders differ from it and are of the opinion that the split was unwarranted and uncalled for and perhaps the biggest blunder in the history of the communist movement. The split in Communist Parties at the behest of Maoist China was a worldwide phenomenon as the Communist Party of China gave a call to the ‘true and revolutionary Communists’ to split from the so-called ‘revisionists’ and set up ‘genuine’ Communist Parties. The united and strong CPI also became a victim of this Maoist split. The split in the Communist Party of India in 1964 was an ideological assault of Maoism on the Indian progressive forces. Some people try to blame S.A Dange for the split, but even the PD and CPM documents do not mention him. Though the split took place in October-November 1964, efforts were on for it since early 1961 as the process of forming a parallel organisation had already been started by the splitters. Ajoy Ghosh, the then General Secretary of the party, was somehow able to avert the split but his untimely death complicated things. So 32 members walked out of the 101-member strong CPI National Council on April 11, 1964.

According to the split-away group, the main way to bring revolution in India was through armed struggle, and peaceful methods like the parliamentary democratic system were condemned as hoax, while they tried to present a ‘revolutionary’ line of total opposition to the bourgeoisie. They criticised the main line of the CPI and of the documents of the CPSU’s 20th Congress as well as of the world communist movement (WCM). Later they held their conferences in Tenali (AP) and subsequently at Kolkata in October 1964.

But suddenly the newly formed ‘Communist Party of India’ decided to take part in the parliamentary elections of 1967. This swing could not be understood by many in their party. The militant group within the party then broke away from it to establish what has come to be known as the Naxalite formation. Indeed right or wrong, this group started armed struggle in many parts of the country including Naxalbari, West Bengal, wherefrom it got its identity as Naxalites. When Sundarayya, one of the topmost leaders of the CPI-M, was trying to explain to T. Nagi Reddy, a prominent Communist leader from Andhra Pradesh who joined the CPI-ML four years after the CPI-M had been formed, as to why the promised armed struggle had not commenced, the latter caustically responded that Sundarayya was telling him in poor English what Dange had already said in good English four years ago! He had left the CPI because Dange had not convinced him and he was now leaving CPI-M because Sundarayya was neither honest nor convincing.

Despite being anti-Congress, the CPI-M supported the minority Government of Indira Gandhi when there was a split in the Indian National Congress on the issue of support to the independent presidential candidate, V.V. Giri, as against the Congress’ official candidate, Neelam Sanjiva Reddy. It supported bank nationalisation halfheartedly and was a bitter critic of the public sector. The CPM has not explained this vacillation.

Indira Gandhi came to power with a thumping majority in the parliamentary elections of 1971. The Indo-Pak war took place during this period and ended with the formation of a new country, Bangladesh. It was indeed a defeat of American imperialists who were backing Pakistan in the war. As a result they started to destabilise our country by encouraging and supporting the JP-led movement, the so-called total revolution. The Bharatiya Jana Sangh, Swatantra Party and Socialist Party were totally involved in it. Unfortunately, the CPI-M, the party claiming itself to be revolutionary, supported that movement and participated in all the meetings and rallies linked to it with their cadres and flags. According to one eyewitness, when JP was holding a rally in Patna, participants belonging to the RSS, Socialist Party and CPI-M were holding their flags. JP shouted “Ye Bhagwa, Lal Jhanda Niche (Put down saffron and red flags)”. Immediately all the flags were taken down.

In order to tackle the so-called total revolution, Indira Gandhi imposed the Emergency on June 26, 1975. The CPI-M, on its part, neither supported nor opposed the Emergency, according to Jagjit Singh Lyallpuri, one of the important founder members of the CPI-M and later a rebel from it, has written in his book My Life, My Time: ‘It is obvious that the CPI-M leadership adopted a very pessimistic stand during the onslaught of Emergency rule, adopted a defeatist position and sought to avoid confrontation with the Congress rulers led by Indira Gandhi by distancing themselves from the JP movement. The resolution released soon after the declaration of Emergency was in a way conveying its stand of keeping away from the JP movement to Indira Gandhi.’ (page 183)

He further says: ‘And conspicuously while Congress rule did not spare militant party workers, the PB (Polit-Bureau) leaders enjoyed freedom during the entire period of Emergency.’ (page 184)

The party won a good number of parlia-mentary seats and formed its own government in West Bengal in alliance with other Left parties like the Revolutionary Socialist Party, Forward Bloc etc. which together formed the Left Front Government with Jyoti Basu as its Chief Minister. The party had its dominant position in the Left Front and ruled the State continuously for 34 years. The achievements of the government in the period are meagre. According to the census of 2001, the West Bengal’s literacy level was 18th in the country, on the nine-year school education it lagged behind the national average. In the matter of land reform successive Left Front governments after the initial land reforms effectively preserved the remaining survival of feudalism in the State. The government’s actions in Singur and Nandigram are well known to the public and proved the Waterloo for the CPI-M in the last Assembly elections.

In 1989, in order to defeat the Congress party in the parliamentary elections, the party had indirect alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which had only two MPs in the then Lok Sabha. V.P. Singh became the Prime Minister with the support of the BJP and Left. The BJP utilised this opportunity to increase its mass base and on the issue of the Ram temple in Ayodhya, L.K. Advani started rath yatra from Gujarat and covered most areas of the Hindi heartland. The government could not complete its full term and mid-term elections were held in 1991. The BJP succeeded in increasing its tally from 2 to 86 in the Lok Sabha. This step of the Left, dominated by the CPI-M, provided oppor-tunity to the BJP to expand its mass base countrywide.

Political opportunism and blunders of the CPI-M became clear on several major issues. For example, some believe that not allowing Jyoti Basu to become the Prime Minister of India was a Himalayan blunder of the CPI-M while others believe the withdrawal of support from the United Progressive Alliance (UPA-1), and that too on an issue difficult to explain to the public, was a historic blunder and the discussion is still going on.

The need of the hour is that there should be unification of the communist movement. The CPI and other groups of the Left Front are in its favour. The CPI has passed resolutions to this effect repeatedly. But the CPI-M has adopted an indifferent attitude and there is no resolution of any kind from the CPI-M as far as merger or unification is concerned. In spite of being a well-organised party, the CPI-M is losing its strength and mass base day by day. In West Bengal, where the party was in power for 34 years, its graph is falling drastically. Its cadre is shifting towards the Trinamul Congress and BJP. It is reported that ex-Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjea is not attending Central Comm-ittee meetings as a protest. In Kerala, the situation is no better. Hundreds of its cadres have joined the BJP. Veteran Achuthanandan and party secretary Pinari Vijayan are not on good terms. Due to this, some political experts believe, the Left Front has lost the last Assembly elections. In the recent Central Committee meeting, according to the newspaper reports, an alternate draft submitted by Sitaram Yechury, as against the General Secretary’s, got overwhelming support from CC members. Today there are three CPI-Ms in Punjab.

Does this state of affairs help Left unity?

The Party Congress of the CPI-M is scheduled shortly. How the party will come out of its infighting and what will be its future political tactical line will be clear soon.

The author is a trade union activist working among medical lab technicians of Delhi and is presently one of the secretaries of the Delhi AITUC.