Marxist, XXXVII, 3–4, July-December 2021
On Para 112 of Our Party Programme
In recent inner-party discussions analysing the reasons for some reverses in the Lok-Sabha elections in West Bengal and Kerala some comrades were trying to find out whether para 112 of our Party programme, its contents and the manner of its implementation has some role to play in such reverses. There is nothing extraordinary or unusual in such retrospection. In fact, it is useful to revert to such subjects in order deepen our understanding of the under discussion.
The para 112 under discussion deals with a tactical issue, though Marxist party programme does not normally deal with tactical questions and deals, in the main, with the nature, stage and class strategy of the revolution. But para 112 of the programme deals with a specific tactical question, the question of the Party’s participation not only in the bourgeois elections but also participation in state governments wherever such opportunities arise.
To enable our Party’s rank to understand the Leninist stand point regarding the differentiation between the tactical and programmatic issues we cite below some pertinent observations of Lenin on the subject.
The programme must formulate our basic views; precisely establish or immediate political tasks; point out the immediate demands that most show the area of agitational activity; give unity to the agitational work, expand and deepen it, thus arising it from fragmentary partial agitation for petty, isolated demands to the status of agitation for the sum total of Social Democratic demands.
Further it is observed:
The programme should leave the question of means open, allowing the choice of means to the militant organisations and Party Congress that determine the tactics of the Party. Questions of tactics, however, can hardly be introduced into the programme with the exception of the most important questions, questions of principle, such as our attitude to other fighters against the autocracy. Question of tactics will be discussed by the Party newspapers as they arise and eventually at Party Congress. (Lenin, Collected Works, Vol 4, pp. 30-38)
In his famous Problems of Leninism, Stalin presents the same concept in the following words:
Strategy deals with the main forces of the revolution and their reserves. It changes with passing of the revolution from one stage to another, but remains essentially unchanged throughout a given stage.
The flow and ebb of the movement and tactics. Tactics are the determination of the line of conduct of the proletariat in the comparatively short period of flow or ebb of the movement, of the rise or decline of the revolution, the fight to carry out this by means of replacing old forms of struggle and organisation by new ones, old slogans by new combining these forms etc.
The exigency of incorporating the tactic of our participation in the state governments arose because there was a debate going on in the then world communist circles on the issue of the new possibilities of peaceful path of achieving proletarian revolution. In other words, it was a discussion not only centering round the issue of peaceful and non-peaceful path of revolution but it also comprised the issue of utilising the bourgeois parliament as an instrument for effecting socialist transformation. Hence arose the necessity of concretising our Party’s approach to the issue under discussion.
The question under discussion did not or does not pertain to the question of CPI(M) participation in the bourgeois parliamentary elections and legislative forums. On that score there was never any confusion in the Indian communist movement till 1967-68. It was in the second half of the year 1967 when a chunk of the CPI(M) broke away to form the so-called Naxalite movement that rejected participation in bourgeois elections. The CPI had participated in such elections in the year 1936-37, in the year 1946, 1952, 1957, 1962 and also in March 1967.
ATTITUDE TO PARLIAMENTARY FORMS OF STRUGGLE
To convincingly confirm the above assertion of ours on the attitude of our Party towards the parliamentary forms of struggle we shall also cite below a passage from our old document of April 1951, entitled Perspective Tactical Line. It was adopted at a time when the CPI was still engaged in conducting peasant partisan armed struggle in Telangana, which was withdrawn only in October 1951. What did we state in the Perspective Tactical Line of April 1951?
The Party has to give the slogan that the present government must go and be replaced by a popular government, representing the unity of the democratic forces, a government that will break with the British empire and carry out the programme of agrarian reform and democracy. It has to utilise the coming general elections (elections of March 1951) for the most extensive popularisation of its programme, for mobilising and unifying the democratic forces, for exposing the policies and methods of the present government. It has to lead the masses in their day-to-day struggle and take them forward step by step so that the people, through their own experience, come to realise the necessity and inevitability of proletarian revolution.
In the Statement of Policy document adopted at the All India Conference in the closing months of the year 1951, we stated that ‘we must fight the parliamentary elections and elections in every sphere where the broad strata of the people can be mobilised and their interests defended. We must be wherever the masses are and would like us to be.’
The Indian communist movement in general, and the CPI(M) in particular, is always guided by the Marxist-Leninist outlook on the subject. To explain our basic outlook, especially for our new Party cadre, it may be quite useful to cite a few passages from Lenin’s Left-Wing Communism-An Infantile Disorder.
… that participation in parliamentary elections and the struggle on the parliamentary rostrum is obligatory on the part of revolutionary proletariat specifically for the purpose of educating the backward strata of its own class and for the purpose awakening and enlightening the undeveloped, down-trodden and ignorant rural masses. While you lack the strength to do away with the bourgeois parliaments and every other type of reactionary institutions, you must work within them because it is there, that you will still find workers who are duped by the priests and stultified by the conditions of rural life; otherwise, you risk turning into nothing but windbags.
Lenin asserts that ‘parliament is a scene of the class struggle.’ Dilating on the same topic. Lenin stipulates:
The Party of the revolutionary proletariat must take part in bourgeois parliaments in order to enlighten the masses; this can be done during elections and in the struggle between parties in parliament. But limiting the class struggle to the parliamentary struggle, or regarding the latter as the highest and decisive form, to which all other forms of struggle are subordinate, is actually desertion on the side of the bourgeoisie against the proletariat.
Having stated the accepted Marxist-Leninist postulates on the attitude of any revolutionary proletarian Party regarding the participation in bourgeois elections and parliaments, we shall return to a detailed examination of the contents of para 112 of the programme of the CPI(M).
Para 112 of the Party programme does not merely deal either with the desirability of participating in bourgeois elections or with reiterating the stand that ‘the Party will utilise all the opportunities that present themselves for bringing into existence governments pledged to carry out a modest programme of giving immediate relief to the people.’ It further adds ‘that the formation of such governments will give great fillip to the revolutionary movement of the working people and thus help the process of building the democratic front.’
A careful and analytical reading of para 112 would make it clear that the possibility of ‘forming such governments of transitional character which give immediate relief to the people and thus strengthen the mass movement’, is visualised. At the same time it also, by implication, rules out the permissibility of bringing into existence such a government of transitional character at the Union Centre, considering such a possibility very remote on the one hand, while recognising on the other hand, that such a postulate is likely to open the floodgates of right revisionist thinking of a peaceful parliamentary path leading to the people’s democratic revolution, a path that was under serious debate in several international communist circles.
Does it amount to saying that the CPI(M)’s Party programme has given up the concept of peaceful transition, in principle or dodged the issue? No. The Party programme in its para 113 makes it abundantly clear stating that: ‘the Communist Party of India strives to achieve the establishment of people’s democracy and socialist transformation through peaceful means.’ It, at the same, warns that ‘it needs always to be borne in mind that the ruling classes never relinquish their power voluntarily. They seek to defy the will of the people and seek to reverse it by lawlessness and violence. It is therefore necessary for the revolutionary forces to be vigilant and so orientate their work that they face up to all contingencies, to any twist and turn in the political life of the country.’
ON THE NATURE OF TRANSITIONAL STATE GOVERNMENTS
Our Party programme, thus, had to deal with this tactical question of participation in the formation and functioning of such a state government or governments in several states in the then obtaining concrete conditions, political, ideological and social, without leaving any room for confusion or conflicting interpretations.
It did not stop at that. Our Party, generalising and concretising the experience of its running a state government in Kerala during the years of 1957-60 had further elaborated the question in its well-known Central Committee Report of April 1967, New Situation and Tasks. It was an occasion when the ruling Congress party lost its hold on as many as ten states in the Indian Union, losing them to different political alliances, including the Marxist-led left orientated fronts in Kerala and West Bengal.
The said political report further enriched the concept of such ‘transitional state governments’, and laid down definite lines of thinking on several aspects concerning such state governments which were formed by the opposition parties and the left parties.
We, first of all, welcomed this development since it was for the first time in post-independence India that one party rule, the rule of the Indian National Congress was broken. It was, in a way, a big electoral victory for the democratic forces.
The CC Report, further, classified these governments broadly into four categories on the basis of their class and political complexion. The first category, according to us, comprised the Kerala and West Bengal United Front governments where left and democratic forces were present in a predominant position. In the second category came the DMK government of Tamil Nadu which could not be characterised as either right or left orientated, representing the state’s bourgeois-landlord classes in the main, it nonetheless made a fervent appeal for states’ autonomy and for a federal Indian Union. The third category was, where the left and democratic forces could not form a state government, without allying with some parties of a right complexion. To the fourth category belonged states where the rightist parties and group were dominant, even though they had to lean on the support of the left and democratic parties and groups for the formation and functioning of such governments
The CC of the CPI(M) had decided to participate only in the two state governments of Kerala and West Bengal since the composition of these two state governments comprised pronouncedly left and democratic forces. It adopted a different attitude to the other three categories of non-Congress state government, depending on their class and political complexion. But it refused to join in any government except the two in Kerala and West Bengal where the left and democratic component was pronouncedly strong.
This was a principled political and class position in direct contrast to the CPI which joined all the non-Congress state governments wherever they were offered some ministerial berths, even where the Janasangh and other right parties and groups dominated the united fronts and the respective front governments. The CPI(M) refused to participate in non-Congress governments of fronts in which the right forces were less pronounced if the strength of the CPI(M) was inadequate to decisively influence the course of such governments. There was the danger of CPI(M) tailing the other parties of the front if its strength was minimal and inadequate, and thus discrediting itself in the eyes of the people.
INTENSIFIED CLASS STRUGGLE
The working of the two left-orientated governments of Kerala and West Bengal proved exemplary in contrast to the rest of the non-Congress governments in the country. Consequently, they invited the special wrath of the ruling Congress at the centre. The central government committed numerous political crimes to unseat these left orientated state governments of West Bengal and Kerala. It also toppled the rest of the non-Congress governments except in Tamil Nadu. The ruling Congress toppled the Kerala Marxist-led government by luring the CPI into forming an anti-CPI(M) united front and government at the end of 1969. In West Bengal, the left orientated governments were toppled thrice between 1967 and 1971, and semi-fascist rule of terror was established for six years during 1971-77, when as many as 1,200 activists of the CPI(M) were murdered. In Kerala too, as many as 300 comrades were killed under the regime of the anti-CPI(M) united front government led by the CPI chief minister Achuta Menon.
To conclude the point, this specific form of participating in the parliamentary struggle by the CPI(M) was not as ‘peaceful’ as some uninformed people think. It cost hundreds of lives, intense political struggle and a series of extra-parliamentary agitations to resist the attacks of the ruling Congress party. Even with the Left Front government in West Bengal since 1977, 500 activists have been murdered by our class enemies.
Some leaders of the CPI while participating in the left orientated state governments raised dubious slogans that ‘agitations and administration’ were incompatible, and that these state governments should give up all mass activities outside the legislatures, and concentrate, in the main on running the governments.
The CPI(M) has stood up against all these anti-Marxist and disruptionist activities of several parties and groups, including at times the left parties and groups. It persisted in its tactic of breaking the monopoly rule of the Congress party both at the centre and in the states, and boldly fought against the emergency rule imposed by the Congress government from June 1975 to January 1977.
Once again, with the rout of the Congress party in the general elections to the Lok Sabha in the early months of 1977, the opportunities opened anew for the formation of left oriented state governments in some states like West Bengal, Tripura and Kerala. In Kerala, after the ruling Congress party allied with all the casteist, communal and fissiparous parties and groups to dislodge the left-democratic government led by the CPI(M). But in West Bengal and Tripura, the Left Front state governments have been functioning for the last eight years and more, serving the people of these states to the best of their capacities despite the handicap of limited powers and resources.
STATE GOVERNMENTS AS INSTRUMENTS OF STRUGGLE
The existence of these two Left-Front governments in particular and other non-Congress governments in general such as the NTR government in Andhra, the Janata government in Karnataka and the National Conference government led by Farooq Abdullah in Jammu and Kashmir became the eyesore of the ruling Congress party, which looked upon them as a formidable challenge to the continuance of one-party rule. The late Mrs Indira Gandhi and subsequently Mr Rajiv Gandhi exhibited extreme hostility to the existence of non-Congress state governments although they exercise virtually no real state power in the politically accepted sense of the term and are also denied a truly federal character under the present constitution.
How does the CC Report of April 1967 characterise these non-Congress governments? To quote:
It is to be noted that the entire state apparatus, bureaucracy, judiciary and police even at the state’s level as now constituted, is definitely class orientated with a definite bias to the well-to-do and propertied classes. Several well-intentioned pieces of legislation and administrative orders of the new non-Congress governments which are definitely intended to give relief to the poor toiling sections, have no guarantee of effective and timely implementation. The state governments, working under the present constitution, are not free to overhaul and reorganise the state apparatus in such a way that it becomes the effective instrument of implementing their new popular policies. Transfer of officers from one department to another, punishment of utterly recalcitrant ones and relying on the good-natured and dutiful officers etc., might mitigate the evil but can never eradicate it. This limitation imposed on the democratic, non-Congress governments of the states will have to be realised, and the people be made aware of it.
It is regrettable that this reality is not fully realised even by many of the opposition parties, let alone the lack of awareness of the masses of our people on this crucial question.
Basing itself on this class assessment of the possibilities open to non-Congress state governments, the April 1967 Central Committee Report directed:
Our ministries, without either entertaining undue illusions about giving relief in a big way, or courting despair that nothing can be done under the present set-up, should always bear in mind that they, as the Party’s representative, should strive to tender our bonafides to the people. Any failure on this score compromises the Party’s political line in the eyes of the people, adversely affects the independent mobilisation of the people; and their activities, and all this in turn, will not help us to resist and overcome the vacillations wobbling and sometimes even possible back sliding of some democratic parties in the UFs and their respective governments. In a word, the UF governments that we have now, are to be treated and understood as instruments of struggle in the hands of our people, more than as governments that actually possess adequate power that can materially and substantially give relief to the people. In clear class terms, our Party’s participation in such governments is one specific form of struggle to win more and more people, and more and more allies for the proletariat and its allies in the struggle for the cause of people’s democracy and at a latter stage for socialism.
The questions that need he posed and answered are firstly, whether the CPI(M) has been successful in utilising such state governments ‘as instruments of struggle in the hands of our people’ for mobilising increasing numbers of people behind its programme for people’s democratic revolution; secondly, whether people are being increasingly made aware of the fact that these state governments do no possess real political power in the proper sense of the term ‘power’, and that the actual and effective state power resides in the Union government and the centre? Thirdly, whether we, by our performance, are doing what is realistically possible to render help to the common people; and fourthly, whether our Party has strictly adhered to the tactical line laid down by the Central Committee, in working and administering such state governments or has reconciled itself to being a part and parcel of the Indian bourgeois-landlord State?
In short, the question reduces itself to whether our continued work in these state governments is corroding our revolutionary consciousness, allowing the bourgeois democratic and parliamentary illusions to grow and thrive, or sharpening the edge of our revolutionary outlook?
Our experience in Kerala, West Bengal and Tripura provides ample material if we correctly and comprehensively assess these different experiences. In Kerala our Party has participated in left orientated state governments for nearly six years, 1957-59, 1967-1969 and 1980-82. In West Bengal our Party has been a participant in such governments since the year 1967, with a break from 1971 to 1977, and it continues to head the Left Front government from June-July 1977. In Tripura too, we, have eight years’ experience of participating in and heading Left Front government.
While our state committees’, the Central Committee and the Polit Bureau discuss issues concerning our functioning in these governments, taking necessary decisions from time to time, it is true that neither the Polit Bureau nor the Central Committee has so far undertaken a comprehensive review of our Party’s work in these state governments. We have not yet systematically summed up the experience of these different state governments headed by our Party. Hence, it becomes somewhat difficult for a single party leader to undertake the task as there are bound to be limitations in scope and depth. Our readers should bear this aspect in mind.
At the outset let there be no misunderstanding on one crucial issue. The ruling bourgeois-landlord classes in India have always seen the emergence and existence of any non-Congress state government, and particularly the left-orientated governments, as a challenge to single party rule, which they perceive as the political form best serving their interests. This accounts for the partisan and perverse outlook that prevailed on the Nehru government in March 1952 when minority Congress party rule was imposed on the then composite Madras state, blatantly rejecting the majority United Front’s claim that its leader should be invited to form the ministry.
The same outlook prevailed in bringing down the communist-led state government in Kerala in 1959: in the attacks on non-Congress state governments in seven to eight states during 1967-69 and in imposing President’s Rule instead of holding fresh elections wherever it suited the ruling Congress party. When the Congress party was returned to power at the centre in 1980, after a brief interval of Janata and Lok Dal rule, the game of sniping at non-Congress state governments began once again.
ENLARGED SCOPE FOR THE STATE GOVERNMENT
Thus, the scope of this specific form of class struggle has steadily got enlarged, embracing the wider and vital issues of centre-state relations in the Indian Union, of defence of the federal structure of the Indian Constitution against the assault of the authoritarian forces which are bent upon destroying it and imposing a unitary constitutional structure. The concept of the left-oriented state government as a transitional instrument for providing some immediate relief to the people and thus expanding the mass base of our party has acquired additional political significance as a means of keeping our multi-lingual and multinational Indian Union united and integrated. This is in sharp contrast to the disintegrating and disruptive policies of several casteist, communalist and chauvinist forces, representing different sections of the bourgeois-landlord classes and petty-bourgeois sections.
The emergence of non-Congress governments of different political complexions, in different states and union territories is systematically misrepresented by the ruling Congress party as the rise of regionalism or parochialism. The utter failure of the ruling party to realise that this phenomenon of the rise of state-based parties is an expression of linguistic aspirations compatible with the framework of a federal India, is causing immense damage to the unity and integrity of the country and its future. Painfully slow advance and unequal development of capitalism in the country is also providing fertile ground for the rise and growth of state based political parties.
Centre-state conflict is not only being exploited by certain separatist and secessionist forces in the country, but is also being exploited by the imperialist forces. US imperialists in particular encourage every divisive and disruptive movement so that this country is dismembered and balkanised. The persistent struggle of the CPI(M) in defence of the non-Congress state governments is an integral part of the struggle against the imperialist plot of disintegrating the Indian Union.
This form of struggle, by nature directly political, encompasses the struggle in defence of democracy and against authoritarianism and one-party rule of any bourgeois-landlord party in the country. It has a radicalising and politicalising effect on the mass of the common people. The leadership of this struggle by the left and democratic parties, the CPI(M) in particular, does enhance the political prestige of the left among the masses and other democratic parties and groups. It thus defeats the designs of the bourgeois-landlord rulers and their class-State and government of isolating and smashing the CPI(M).
The struggle for redefining centre-state relations, carried out over the past few decades and chiefly headed by the left movement, has yielded one palpable result. The enlightened and educated public has come to accept necessity and inevitability of a multi-party system of democracy in the country, of different political parties, either singly or in the form of alliance and fronts, forming different state governments. They have rejected the pernicious thesis that the political party that comes to rule at Union centre should also grab the administration in the states. This is no mean achievement for the left and democratic forces in the country.
Our experience, during the past decades of the post-independence era shows that several measures or reform and relief can be initiated and implemented by such state governments provided they are manned and headed by political parties and groups which are politically and ideologically committed to serve the cause of the common people, in general, and the working class and peasantry in particular. Several such measures and reforms have been implemented in Kerala, West Bengal and Tripura where the left was a leading force and even by other opposition governments in certain states.
To take one striking example, the left orientated, CPI(M)-led state governments in West Bengal, Tripura and Kerala have adopted and strictly implemented the policy of never using police and military to suppress popular mass struggles of workers, peasants, youth, students and other democratic sections. On the contrary, these state governments have used their good offices either to settle industrial disputes amicably or to assist the struggling workers and peasants against the high-handed behaviour of the capitalists and landlords. Every possible effort was made to enact and implement land reforms permitted under the framework of the bourgeois-landlord state and government at the Union centre. Most Congress-ruled states, run by pro-landlord elements, nullified what was conceded in the law and later on the statute regarding agrarian reforms.
Significantly in these left-led states, communal and casteist riots were either totally prevented or effectively controlled and checked. This is in contrast to several Congress-run states where communal and casteist riots have taken a heavy toll of lives during the last three decades.
The CPI(M)’s line of thinking, as propounded in para 112 of its Party programme, has borne fruit, leaving a strong imprint on Indian politics. It has increased the Party’s mass following in whichever state it has had the opportunity of playing a leading role in government along with the other left forces, the role played by our party in these left-led governments, despite numerous limitations imposed by the Congress ruled centre and constitutional prerogatives, has helped the CPI(M) to emerge as the leading left party in the country.
Events show that the performance and results of the Left Front state governments of West Bengal and Tripura are yielding proper dividends to the CPI(M) and other left forces in the front, despite temporary reverses on this or that front. Their existence and advance is a source of inspiration for the people in general and the other non-Congress state governments in particular. To say so is by no means to imply that there are no shortcomings or errors in the running of the West Bengal and Tripura states governments. These need correction and rectification.
But in the case of Kerala we are, now, facing a somewhat different situation. The left forces and the CPI(M) in particular made a big advance between the years of 1965-70. But the ruling Congress party’s conspiracy and the betrayal of the CPI in 1969 brought about a change in the correlation of political forces in the state. The ruling Congress, with the help of the CPI, succeeded in forging an anti-CPI(M) united front, comprising all the communal and casteist parties and groups. A CPI-led united front government controlled by the Congress and other communal parties was set up and functioned for 10 years from 1970 to 1980. This process immensely strengthened communal and casteist forces, rallying respective communities and castes, cutting them off from the mainstream left and democratic movement. This development in its turn undermined the position of the left forces in the state, and gave a blow to the predominant position acquired by the CPI(M) in the political arena of the state.
It was only in 1980 that the CPI-led United Front government fell, and a Left Democratic Front came into existence. The following passages from the Political Organisational Report of the eleventh Congress of the CPI(M) would throw necessary light on the entire question.
In Kerala the left unity that was disrupted by the CPI during 1969-70 could not be reforged till 1979. But in West Bengal left unity was restored after a short gap of two years. Further, the front that could be formed in Kerala in 1979, after the break-up of the Congress-led anti-CPI(M) front was given the name of Left Democratic Front by a consensus of the allied parties, and not because of its acceptance of the left and democratic programme, as formulated in our political resolution; nor were all the partners of the Left Democratic Front in agreement with the concept of the left and democratic front as visualised by the CPI(M).
The forming and functioning of the Left Democratic Front and its government in Kerala for 21 months between January 1980 and October 1981, has its own beneficial impact on the struggle for left and democratic unity. The desertion of a section of the Congress(S) and Kerala Congress(M), with a view to bringing down the government, cannot undo all the gains for the CPI(M) and its allies. Drawing correct lessons from the 21 months’ experience, our Party unit in Kerala will have to plunge into the struggle to unify the left and democratic forces, no matter whether we succeed in forming a stable government or not in the state in the immediate future.
Two things stand out from this Kerala experience. One is that in the formation and functioning of this non-Congress state government during 1980-81, the left component and the CPI(M) in particular, were in a weaker position numerically in the legislative assembly; secondly, though formally led by the CPI(M) the state government had to depend heavily on the support of the Congress(S) and Kerala Congress(M) besides the All India Muslim League. It becomes evident that from such a weak position the CPI(M) and the left could not derive the expected dividends from running the state government
Thus, the task we urgently face in the state is not to, somehow or the other, bring into existence a non-Congress government, but essentially to bring about a change in the correlation of political forces, smashing the anti-left communal and casteist consolidation engineered by the ruling Congress party. It demands of us patient and sustained political-ideological work among the people of different communities and castes.
Before concluding the article under discussion, the CPI(M) has no hesitation in admitting that it has not succeeded in politicalising the mass influence it has secured during the last 20 years since its break from the united CPI. Even the working class and the peasantry, whose day-to-day vital interests have been jealously defended and safe-guarded by left-led state governments are, by and large, still not free from the political ideological influence of the bourgeois-landlord classes.
The CPI(M), together with other left and democratic forces, will have to constantly engage in political struggle against the ruling Congress party. However, the CPI(M) is bound to carry on the political ideological struggle with partners of the left democratic fronts since most of these parties have their own distinct political-ideological outlook, distinct from the class perspective of the CPI(M). This is necessary for a further consolidation of the fronts by raising and strengthening their political unity.
Another key aspect to be considered is whether state governments have been successfully utilised as an instrument of struggle by our party to win more people for the cause of revolution or whether our Party has tended to become an appendage of the state government, propping it up at all costs? A correct political line concerning relations between our Party, its allies in the front and the front government and its functioning has to be worked out and strictly implemented. This aspect demands constant review and check-up. Drift in this regard would cost the left movement dearly.
Care also should be taken that bourgeois parliamentary habits and accompanying bureaucratic methods of functioning do not corrode the consciousness of our party members who are entrusted with this delicate job of running a state government.