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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 1 New Delhi December 26, 2015

90th Anniversary of the CPI - Communist Party in a Colonial Country: Constructive Role of CPI

Saturday 26 December 2015, by Anil Rajimwale

The Communist Party of India was born in the conditions of colonial rule of British imperialism. This imparted certain distinctive features to the party, in addition to its usual nature of a Communist Party.

The very first constitution of the CPI, adopted in its foundation conference in 1925, included the provisions for election of three general secretaries and two treasurers. Besides, the chairman of the conference was to be chairman of the party till the next conference. There was provision for annual conference. In the course of time, these provisions were amended.

These and some other provisions were reflections of those times and conditions, when the country was fighting for freedom. The CPI in its first political statement combined the tasks of national liberation and class struggle.

This reflected the fact that the Communist Party was born in distinct conditions of struggle against colonial rule.

Lenin versus Roy: Participation in Freedom Movement

We are living in an imperialist era. The Communist International discussed the tasks of the Communists in the freedom movement and also the role and place of workers and peasants. It is in this context that the controversy between Lenin and M.N. Roy took place in 1920 at the Second Congress of the Comintern.

M.N. Roy, adopting a sectarian attitude, opposed any cooperation with the bourgeoisie in the freedom movement. Lenin totally rejected his theses as sectarian and harmful. Lenin clearly advocated the active participation of the working masses and the Communists in the struggle for independence alongside all other forces including the national bourgeoisie, while maintaining their ideological-political independence.

Lenin considered the freedom movement as a crucial stage towards freedom from imperialism and then from capitalism. He characterised it as the bourgeois democratic revolution, which was then reformulated as the national democratic revolution. Communists in China, Vietnam, India and other Asian and colonial countries adopted the strategy of full and active struggle for freedom of their countries. Communists of India were in the forefront of the struggle of their country.

CPI General Secretary P.C. Joshi advocated formation of a national front for the struggle for freedom of India. It was a highly successful strategy. The CPI emerged as an influential national force.

This Leninist strategy was most suitable for the imperialist era. It coincided fully with the aspirations of the people for their freedom.

CPI as a Constructive Party

A Communist Party is usually seen as a party only of ‘revolution’, a revolution that is very remote, replacing capitalism with socialism in some distant future. This is a prolonged transition period. The Party is supposed to destroy the existing order some time or the other. The Communist Party, anywhere in the world, is looked upon as a party of destruction.

But the colonial conditions in India (and elsewhere too) presented certain concrete and peculiar situations. People cannot wait for socialism in the remote future for the solution of their problems. The country has to be reconstructed immediately to overcome its urgent problems. Therefore, the Communist Party has certain constructive responsibilities towards the country, the nation and the people.

A Communist Party in the colonial country has the dual role of fighting both for immediate solution of development, construction and overcoming the colonial vestiges, and at the same time of raising the consciousness of the people in favour of socialism.

Struggle for Reconstruction and Development

Nowadays, development is a fashionable word. But it is the Communist Party which raised certain basic questions about the construction of an independent economy and of overcoming the colonial past.

Along with other progressive forces, the CPI suggested and struggled for certain solutions to its problems. It cooperated with other progressive forces on the question.

The communist movement called for the nationalisation of foreign monopolies, of restricting and nationalising Indian monopoly houses, all-out basic land reforms and distribution of land, for zamindari abolition, for abolition of the princely states and abolition of privy purses, etc.

It was the CPI which struggled and sacrificed for the creation and strengthening of the public sector as the main pillar and core of the Indian economy, around which other sectors of the economy were to be built. The public or the state sector was to attain the commanding heights of the nation’s economic system. Other sectors were not to be ignored.

India is dotted with public sector establish-ments like Bokaro, Bhilai, Bhakhra-Nangal, BHEL, HMT, Indian railways, NTC, SAIL, Coal India, Mathura Refinery, Vishakhapatnam Steel Plant (VSP), and so on. They constitute the very core and basis of the Indian economy. The CPI has never been in power at the Centre, except when two of its leaders were Central Ministers for a brief period in the United Front Government. Yet, the party has a great role in creating, strengthening and defending the public sector. These struggles were the result of two socio-economic and political trends, which converged at least on this point. One was what is well-known as the Nehruvian Framework, which put India onto the path of independent industrial and agricultural development in an anti-colonial and anti-imperialist direction. Any act of creating even a single factory or industrial establishment is an anti-imperialist act.

At the time of achieving freedom, India was a backward colonial country. The Nehruvian Frame-work provided a framework for large-scale industrialisation and transformation of the economy into a relatively independent advanced economy, which was largely, though not absolutely, self-reliant, and heavy machine-based economy centred around the public sector. It also provided for anti-feudal agrarian and land reforms. It followed a direction of creating a mixed economy, and through it the creation of a multi-layered economy.

The economy was based on planning with emphasis on heavy machine production. Thus it could lead other sectors of small, medium and large sector economic production. It is this that has provided India its economic and political strength and clout. The strategy of production of the means of production created a strong India. India is a strong and powerful country today, a complete turnaround from what it was at the time of freedom.

There emerged many points of common-ness between this strategy and the strategy of the communist movement, both national and intervational. It should be remembered that the then socialist camp, headed by the Soviet Union, had a common strategy with the forces of national liberation against world imperialism and colonialism. The economic policy and was part and parcel of this struggle. Self-reliance, planning, economic development with emphasis on heavy industries and machine building etc. were main pillars of this direction, combined with the ideology of peaceful coexistence.

The CPI established certain common-ness and strategic meeting-points with the ideology of national liberation within India, in which the Nehruvian approach played a key part.

The CPI led memorable struggles for land reforms, against zamindari, that is, the Indian variety of feudalism, for nationalisation of key industries owned and controlled by the monopoly sections of capitalism, for the nationalisation of the 14 biggest monopoly banks in 1969, for abolition of privy purses and so on.

The main contradiction of the post-indepen-dence India was between the forces of progress and Right reaction, in which class struggle played a key role. The reactionary forces opposed all the basic progressive policies of independent India. The CPI played a crucial, even decisive, role in the formulation of the progressive and anti-colonial policies. Therefore, the CPI was in the forefront of the struggle for the policies.

Thus the communist movement, particularly the CPI, played an important constructive role in colonial India and in its post-independence reconstruction. The CPI is a party of cons-truction, not destruction. It is around these issues that the CPI had to fight, not only against the Rightwing reactionary forces but also against extreme Leftwing sectarian tendencies within the communist movement itself. The sectarian trends in the CPI failed to appreciate the historical importance of the basic economic policies centred around the public sector and other points such as related with the democratic system. They considered it to be just another ‘bourgeios’ policy of no value. They saw hardly any positive constructive role for the communist movement in a colonial country. Consequently, they failed to take up concrete issues against Right reaction, which in its turn took advantage of this weakness.

The differences within the Indian communist movement were, along with international issues, built around these basic strategic and tactical issues, leading ultimately to divisions and formation of separate organisations. It is good that some of these issues are clarified and the various trends are coming together.

By playing this role and by struggling for these policies, the CPI carried forward the struggle for democratic revolution and transformation. Democratic and socialist revolutions are not something abstract. They are concrete struggles. Without democratic economic changes, the country cannot advance to socialism. The Communists contributed considerably to this advance.

Struggle for Democratic Institutions

The Communist Party is also a party of democracy and political rights and freedoms. The CPI played precisely this role in independent India. Democracy was very fragile and weak at the time of independence. It faced many challenges. Had democracy not taken roots in the country, India would not have been what it is today.

Therefore, it is wrong to dismiss democracy just as a ‘bourgeois’ gimmick. It is in this parliamentary democratic system that the first Communist Ministry was formed in the general elections of 1957. Subsequently, several Left, and Left and democratic, governments were formed as also broad democratic regimes. They thwarted the designs of Right reaction. Communists emerged as a major Opposition force.

The Communists fought hard to establish the democratic parliamentary system in India and to strengthen it. Consequently, the Parliament in India has generally been Left and democratic in its political composition.

The success of the Communists and other progressives in elections disproved the traditional sectarian view that Communists cannot win in parliamentary system, they can only ‘use it’ to propagate some views.

The Communists in India proved that the parliamentary democratic system can be used to win government power for the people and to bring about certain democratic changes for them.

The author is a Marxist ideologue.