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Mainstream, Vol XLVI, No 21

A Few Unanswered Questions and Inherent Problems of Communist Movement

Wednesday 14 May 2008, by D P Sen



CPI leader and former Union Agriculture Minister Chaturanan Mishra, in his article “Need to Redefine Socialism after the Collapse of the Soviet Union” (Mainstream, Annual 2007), called for a discussion on the subject. D.G. Bokare’s “Defining Socialism” (Mainstream, March 22, 2008) was the first contribution to the debate. The following are two more contributions. -—Editor)]

The proposal by the editor, Mainstream, to have a discussion on the matter of the article entitled “Need to Redefine Socialism after the Collapse of the Soviet Union” (Mainstream, December 22, 2007) by Chaturanan Mishra, a veteran CPI leader, is highly relevant against the background of the waning communist ideology and movement. A few inherent problems and unanswered questions of past the and present communist movement are presented here as a part of the discussion.

According to Marxism, in a socialist state, private property which is the cause of exploitation of man by man should be abolished. However, Marx did not give a detailed structure of a socialist state. The USSR was based on the above most essential point of Marxism but other structures of the society were developed by the leadership of the CPSU(B) according to their best judgement.

After the successful November Revolution (1917), a socialist state (USSR) based on Marxism with a new philosophy and economy came into existence and this inspired the working class, peasants and the poor—all over the world. But the above state collapsed like a house of cards within 75 years of its existence. Capitalism under the leadership of the USA is now ruling almost the whole world with new vigour. Communist China has apparently taken a capitalist path for its development. For the time being socialism has given way to capitalism.

Working Class of Past and Present

DURING the 18th century capitalism made its appearance and rose in Europe. Marx observed with his own eyes extreme poverty and exploitation of the working class by raw capitalism and consequently, the abject quality of life.

But during the last three hundred years or so, thanks to the trade union and communist move-ment, rise of the Soviet Union and also due to advancements of the productive forces, organised and skilled working class today has a better quality of life and service conditions compared to those of the earlier days. So is the case with the peasantry as a whole. However, in the developing countries unorganised and unskilled working people with abject poverty are numerically gaining strength. The population of a developing country has been restratified. For social change to have a society with a better deal for all, the middle class of today seems to have become apathetic and apolitical compared to that of the earlier years.

Motive Force for the Generation of New Productive Power

RAPID industrialisation of the former USSR by its communist leadership was obviously based on technologies of the industrial revolution fathered by the capitalist entrepreneurs and did not imply any contribution of the Soviet Union to the generation of any new productive power. It only means successful copying.

Science and technology by itself automatically does not get converted and utilised as a productive power. For this transformation, it requires a motive force. In capitalism, market and profit-making work as the motive force provide incentive to entrepreneurs (that is, corporate bodies, private companies and individuals) to assess a technology and act. And this was the force for the industrial revolution which ushered in capitalism in Europe.

In the socialist system of the former USSR, all the means of production were in the state sector and with a planned and command economy, all decision-making in the economic field was highly centralised. Individual initiative and freedom, and the field of technical research were restricted with no scope of utilisation of any new venture. With a captive market and the absence of any competition (market economy), scant attention was paid to introduce new products and processes to diversify, develop services and tread into new fields. The leadership of the CPSU (B) failed to realise or comprehend the necessity and possibility of generating new productive forces.

After the Second World War, new and additional frontiers of science and technology started unfolding one after the other. The consequential technological advancements and changes in industry, agriculture, service and other sectors brought about further qualitative changes in the quality of human life. The findings of science and technology were available to all, both socialist and capitalist worlds. But the capitalist world utilised the same and the Soviet Union failed to do so.

Only in the defence field, the motive of defending the Soviet Union against aggression by the capitalist world made the leadership of the CSPU(B) alert and agile enough to generate and improve defence capabilities including nuclear arms and rocket technologies.

Middle Class Leadership for Working Class Movement: a Contradiction

COMMUNIST PARTIES and the communist movement are considered to be of the working class and for the poor. During the heydays of the communist movement dictatorship of the proletariat was the guiding star of a Communist Party and the Communist Party of a country was considered to be a party of the vanguard section of the working class. But in actual practice, persons belonging to the middle class or upper middle class formed the leadership, organised the movement and formulated its policy. In earlier years of the movement, middle class members were self-sacrificing with revolutionary lifestyle and zeal, and imbued with the high ideology of Marxism: to establish a classless society without exploitation. All the middle class Communists considered themselves declassed and had a corresponding lifestyle.

A middle class leadership for a working class movement is a contradictory arrangement and cannot continue forever. The above two classes have different class interests, more so in a developing country. When a Communist Party comes to power with middle class leadership, in due course its class interest comes to the surface. The Soviet Union collapsed to go back to capitalism. In China, the middle class leadership has allowed capitalism in the name of development. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, the Chief Minister of West Bengal and also a Polit-Burean member of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (which has been ruling West Bengal for the last thirty years), proclaims every alternate day, so to say, that they are practising capitalism. If so, why the name: Communist Party of India-Marxist? Just to hoodwink the working people and the poor? Words such as “Communist”, “Socialist” and “Marxist” have great attraction for the poor, thanks to the November Revolution of Russia or the Chinese Revolution or the Vietnamese victory over three imperialist powers. Communist Parties of all shades must have these words in their parties’ name.

The class character of the middle class leadership of the Communist Parties of our country becomes evident when one finds that different sections of the middle class have improved their quality of life through the movements organised by these parties. At the same time these parties are reluctant to organise the unorganised and unskilled sections of working people (for example, domestic workers, daily labourers etc.) as such activity hits their class interest.

Enigma of Capitalist Economy under Communist Political System

AT present Communist China and Vietnam are practising or allowing capitalist development. This is an enigma. In due course either the Communist Party of the country would be transformed into a capitalist party (without change of name) or the party would be overthrown to be replaced by a multiparty democracy based on capitalism. In the first alternative, capitalism with the dictatorial political support of only one party (Communist) allowed by the Constitution is nothing but fascism. In the second alternative, the Communist Party of the country will have an inner party struggle overthrowing those preferring a capitalist path and ushering in another revolution to establish a socialist state of Marx with the necessary modifications. The opposite can also happen.

Freedom and Democracy in a Communist Party and Communist State

TO reach the same end in more ways than one is possible. Also, there may be more ways than one for development. In science and technology and also in other fields of humanities, it helps to have different views, approaches and free discussion. Under normal economic condition, the capitalist system allows democracy and freedom for its people in its own interest, so long as that does not affect the system itself.

Till now we have seen that a Communist Party when it is in power, does not allow any other party in the country on the pretext of class struggle and dictatorship of the proletariat (read middle class leadership). No viewpoint other than the one of the official Communist Party is allowed in the print and electronic media. This has nothing to with Marxism. But this was the tradition in the USSR and is the practice of Communist China. Such regimentation is suicidal for the development of the communist system itself. No new productive force is generated in such a rigid “brahmanical” society. Science and technology become fossilised. Art and literature become sterile. Such a rigid state system gave rise to a charlatan scientist like Lysenko of the USSR who duped through his bogus science and experiments the then political leadership of the country. Lysenko crushed laboratories and institutes which were carrying out excellent work on genetics in the USSR. The demand for freedom of expression was the reason for which an eminent scientist like Sakharov of the Soviet Union, who was the father of the hydrogen bomb of the USSR, was imprisoned. The “Cultural Revolution” of China or the slogans of the “mini-steel” plant at the backyard of a house in China are other examples.

In inner-party management also Communist Parties are highly rigid and do not allow any difference of opinion. In the name of democratic centralism, a Communist Party practises only centralism of the leadership. The leadership of the party always works out the policy which members are to follow. In a capitalist system also the leadership of a bourgeois party decides its policy and the members are to follow; but here the practice is a bit flexible and not so rigid.

Past Experience

CAPITALISM and the capitalist world have the experience of about two hundred and fifty years. In addition, both capitalism and feudalism (the immediate predecessor to capitalism) have one thing in common: exploitation of man by man. With the change in productive forces and increased production, the capitalist world continuously changed its organisation of production, marketing system, financing arrangement and all other superstructures. The world of capitalism learnt by experience the way to demolish other social systems including the socialist one.

On the other hand, the Soviet system which had abolished private property had no prior experience to run a completely different social system. One may forget the reign of the Paris Commune which had only survived for a few days. The leadership of the USSR often made Right or Left deviations with disastrous effect. Attempts by world capitalism to crush it were continuously in operation. Additionally, the class character of the expanding middle class in the USSR played a dominant role for its liquidation.

The rise and fall of the USSR is a treasure of experience, though a sad one for progressives, for the future communist movement.

No Shortcut to Socialism

ONLY a developed capitalist country can be changed to a socialist or a communist one either by revolution or by peaceful means. Marx visualised communism in Europe where the capitalist system was established in different countries from the mid- eighteenth century onwards. The Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels (1848) was written in the background of capitalist Europe and not for the then colonial and underdeveloped countries of Asia, Africa or South America. Revolutions by Communists were successful in the USSR, China, Vietnam and Cuba and a few other countries. Communist Parties are still in power in China, Vietnam and Cuba. At present both China and Vietnam have allowed capitalism to develop.

In India, “revolutionary Communists” of the CPI got themselves separated from the mother party, that is, the Communist Party of India and formed a separate party (Communist Party of India-Marxist) with the addition of the suffix Marxist to signify its unadulterated character. The same party is now practising capitalism in West Bengal. Perhaps this is a correct step and social science does not allow a shortcut to reach the destination of socialism. Only, one should remember that both the CPI-M and CPC did not provide any justification on the basis of Marxism to practise capitalism at the present stage of social development. Here lies the danger of ushering in reaction in the country.


DESPITE raising a few unpalatable and unanswered questions on the communist movement, one must recognise the glorious contributions and sacrifices for the poor made by Communists all over the world including those of the CPSU(B) of the USSR and India.

The whole world has undergone two major changes in the recent past. One after the Second World War, giving birth to the second industrial revolution and the other one after the collapse of the USSR leading to the emergence of capitalism as the main effective force of the world. At present, the capitalist world under the leadership of the USA is united and has the whole world as its market for finance, raw materials, manpower, resources, comodities and finished products. This “colonisa-tion” is called liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation to cover the bitter taste with a sugar-coating.
The middle class of our country has changed its character. Gone are its social outlook, ideology of self-sacrifice and philosophy of service to the people. This has been replaced by its own class interests and consumerism. The organised working class with its improved quality of life has got tarnished. But those at the lower depths continue to suffer at present.

However strong the capitalist system appears to be at present, it has inherent weakness-contradiction between market and production. This contradiction, like a cancer cell, will grow and burst one day, giving rise to socialism. At present world capitalism appears to be too powerful and anyone struggling for socialism shall have to practise capitalism but not on an ad-hoc basis but on the basis of scientific analysis of the prevailing social system. We may announce this boldly and not play duplicity with the poor people.

If there is no socialism after the present phase of world capitalism, it will be chaos comparable to the last days of Yadu dynasty of the great Indian epic, the Mahabharata. The task ahead for Communists is onerous. Communist academicians may salvage the remains of the communist movement and modify the same in the light of advancement of the productive forces in post–industrial revolution period and consequent changes in the social system and classes. Their strategy and tactics may be formulated accordingly.

The author, a retired scientist, worked for several years at the Central Food Technology Research Institute (CFTRI), Mysore.

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