Apprehensive of the imminent polemical showdown by rebels belonging to the CPM’s West Bengal unit, which may eventually culminate in a formal split in the party, the leadership has made a tactical retreat and abandoned its plan to hold the 21st party congress in Kolkata. Instead, the central committee, which met in the first week of August in New Delhi, has decided to hold the congress in Visakhapatnam next April. The party would also observe its golden jubilee by organising month-long cultural programmes and campaigns in November.
But it is unlikely that shifting the venue would dampen the rebellious spirit of the dissidents. For them, this is an extraordinary situation and it needs extraordinary action. They nurse the view that if at all they have to assert, they will have to do it now. It cannot be left to the future. A mail going around the party circles reads, “The party’s worst-ever electoral debacle manifests that leaders have lost credibility among the people because of their political-tactical errors and arrogance. Even after such a comprehensive defeat, they are refusing to take responsibility.” More than the electoral loss, the rebels are worried about the ideological erosion of the party.
The journey of the CPM from the 19th party congress held in Coimbatore (2008) to the 20th in Kozhikode (2012) has been disastrous. In Coimbatore, the party had laid emphasis on a rectification drive. The purpose was to correct wrong trends such as parliamentarism, individualism and careerism. But by the time the 20th congress met, the resolution had been dumped. Only some selective action was taken. The leaders who had consistently opposed neoliberal deviations were the target of the drive.
Retreating to retaliate is a basic Marxist tactic. But the CPM leadership has forgotten this tenet. They have been simply retreating. This has turned the party irrelevant. Ever since the 2009 General Election, the party has been systematically losing all electoral battles, whether it is the panchayat, municipality, Assembly or Lok Sabha polls. At no stage did it show the willingness to retaliate and strike back. Besides losing the electoral ground, the Marxists have also lost the argument and initiative.
In fact, the Marxists have been suffering from the malaise of lack of conviction. There was no reason why they failed to adhere to the principles of democratic centralism and allow a polemical debate. Instead, following in the footsteps of the bourgeois parties, they expelled senior leaders who dared to question the party leadership.
Polemics is key to the communists’ survival. It is polemics that often decides the future political course and even forces the leadership to change the party’s ideological contour and approach. It is also a fact that polemics has been at the base of split and dissension in the party, even though it is perceived as the essential component of the party’s democratic functioning.
Unfortunately, this has been missing in the CPM, the big brother of the Indian communists. The leadership is averse to the idea of patronising and promoting this culture. It views this as a mechanism that impedes the party’s development and progress and creates unnecessary problems and leadership issues.
It is a certainty that Prakash Karat will relinquish the office of general secretary when he completes his term next year. But his move to install his protégé S Ramachandran Pillai as the next general secretary would have to be foiled; this is the ultimate goal of the rebels, and to achieve this, they are willing to go to any extent.
The CPM’s 50th anniversary may witness a horizontal split in the party with the polemical war over sticking to the correct ideological line intensifying and the rebels holding Karat responsible for encouraging revisionist tendencies and actions, which eventually alienated the party from the common man. The rebels have already been questioning his leadership qualities. They openly charge him with destroying the party’s communist character.
The spurt in the ranks of rebels has unnerved the leadership. The refusal of the rebels to subscribe to the offer that the party would work to broaden its base across the country as well as work for strengthening Left unity and the emergence of a broad political platform to fight against neoliberal policies, communalism and imperialism has only complicated the situation. To calm the rebels, the leadership pledged to make a major shift in policy from the Soviet Russian model of communist struggle to the Latin American model of alternative path of development. But such a move is unlikely to help.
Behind the façade of pursuing Marxist-Leninist doctrine, the leadership has actually been following the line of Social Democrats. Karat acquired prominence in the party by attacking Mikhail Gorbachev’s line of reforms at the party congress in Siliguri. But his actions as the party chief lacked wisdom and vision. It was under his stewardship that the party shrunk to its historical low as an electoral force. There is a joke doing the rounds that Karat has succeeded in achieving what the bourgeoisie has been trying to do for decades: to purge the communist party from the country’s mainstream politics.
The main problem with Karat has been his refusal to acknowledge his mistakes. This primarily owes to his lack of correct political perception. It is a well-known fact that Marxism has to be interpreted and implemented according to the prevailing subjective and objective conditions of the country as was done by Vladimir Lenin and Mao Zedong. But the CPM did not adhere to this line. The way he handled the non-BJP and non-Congress political forces makes it explicit that Karat has little grasp and understanding of the application of the Marxist philosophy in a country like India. Karat claimed to have been critical of the UPA government’s neoliberal policies, but in reality, he followed the same line in West Bengal. While he forced the Left Front regime to adopt liberal policies, he also created political hindrances for the party’s state unit. Karat threw out former Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee, while the state unit was for retaining him. His inflated ego prevented him from being objective.
It would be naïve to believe that the CPM would spearhead a revolution, least to speak of peasant struggle. Obviously, in this backdrop, winning elections and creating space in the parliamentary democratic set-up are of paramount importance. The late Harkishan Singh Surjit created this space for the party. Though he was often accused of deviating from Marxist principles, the fact remains that the parliamentary prominence that the Marxists achieved was thanks to his efforts. He knew that the Marxists have to trace their survival in electoral politics. However, Karat did not pursue his line. He did not even present an alternative mechanism to the electoral battle.
An insight into the CPM’s functioning would reveal that the leaders born out of the peasant struggle launched in pre- Independence India at least maintained the façade of adhering to the Marxist-Leninist line. But under the new leadership, the party opted for liberal values and politics, and has a bourgeois approach. Karat, who will step down as general secretary in 2015, prepares to rule by proxy by anointing Ramachandran Pillai, 76, instead of a “younger” Sitaram Yechury, 61, as his successor.
Behind a façade of “revolutionary” ritual — red flags, hammers and sickles, portraits of Marx and Lenin — the CPM primarily functions as a wing of the bourgeois political establishment. While the communist parties in Latin America have been fighting against reforms and globalisation, the CPM has been maintaining a passive silence. Earlier, it used to organise an annual bandh against liberalisation and reforms, but now it has stopped such efforts. It has reconciled to the bourgeoisie’s drive to make India a safe destination for foreign investment and a cheaplabour producer for world capitalism.
Karat could not implement his own resolution to check the BJP’s rise. It is a measure of the depth of the social crisis and the deformed character of the Indian bourgeois. Ironically, the Left parties did not provide a definite direction to the anti-imperialist struggle, which was primarily responsible for the emergence of the ‘communal’ forces. This could have been countered through independent political mobilisation of the working class. But the Stalinists lacked any interest.
A feeling has gripped the psyche of the rank and file that the CPM is being run by a self-serving clique, which is only interested in protecting its own positions of importance and privilege. Comrades who raise critical questions out of their dedication have no place in the party and are being purged. The situation has aggravated more with the expulsion of leaders such as Somnath Chatterjee, Abdur Razzak Molla and Lakshman Seth.
The expulsions are seen as the result of the upper-caste domination of the party. As a result, Molla has floated the Association for Dalits and Minorities. The party’s aim is to become the voice of Muslims, Dalits, SCs and STs, who constitute 54 percent of West Bengal’s population, and fight in the 2016 Assembly polls. Meanwhile, some CPM rebels have formed the Bahujan Mukti Party, meant to look after the welfare of lower castes such as Namasudras, Poundras and Rajbanshis.
Karat’s advice to the Left to learn from the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) on how to use social media to communicate with the youth has further eroded his Leftist image. It simply manifests the leader’s ideological and political bankruptcy. Karat’s observation that “AAP’s performance has shown there is a space for alternate politics” created flutter among the comrades. It was strange to witness that the CPM general secretary had found virtues in AAP and its leader Arvind Kejriwal.
Enamoured by the emergence of AAP, Karat termed the fledgling party’s success against the Congress and the BJP as a “positive development”. He went on to add that AAP was the inheritor of the legacy of Left politics.
In a signed article in the party organ People’s Democracy, Karat claimed that Kejriwal and his colleagues are emulating the communist style of functioning by adhering to a simple lifestyle. Rebels have a question: Why did Karat allow AAP to hijack the space that belonged to the Marxists? Why did Karat not strive to attract the youth and new-generation voters? The comrades are shocked at his observation that the “party’s performance in the General Election is indicative of the decline of its political influence”.
They argue that Karat was entrusted with the task of strengthening the CPM’s base and increase the party’s influence. They believe that he owes an explanation as to why he failed to carry out the directive of the party.