A Marxist perspective

Published : Mar 30, 2002 00:00 IST

The political resolution adopted by the 17th congress gives an insight into the CPI(M)'s views on the national and international situations.

UNLIKE many other mainstream political parties, the communist parties hold meetings periodically, not only to review their policies and decide action programmes, but also to elect their leaderships at all levels. In fact, in this specific sense they are the most consistently democratic parties, quite unlike many a mainstream party where the national leader may appoint the entire State executive. The first level of organisation in a communist party is the so-called branch or unit in which a person who joins the party is placed. This unit holds a "conference", usually once in three years, to review its political work and to elect its secretary and also its delegates to the conference at the next level, usually an area or a block. The process is repeated at higher territorial levels, such as the block, taluk, district and State. The delegates for the conferences at each of these levels are persons who have been elected at the conference at the immediately lower level. Finally, the conferences in various States elect the delegates to the highest decision-making body of the party, namely, the all-India conference, which by convention is also called the party congress. The CPI(M), which was born in 1964 following the split in the Indian communist movement, held its 17th congress in Hyderabad at the end of precisely such a process. Given its position as the largest contingent of the political Left in the country, the leader of ruling coalitions in two States, and the leader of the main Opposition in another State, the deliberations at the CPI(M)'s congress and the decisions arrived at it merit attention.

The congress was held at a time of great turmoil in the country - against the background of the communal carnage in Gujarat and attempts to whip up communal hysteria over Ayodhya which saw a sovereign, elected government being held hostage by a fanatical organisation like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. Also important, although relegated to the back burner because of Gujarat and Ayodhya, was the economic crisis, which even the carefully sanitised Economic Survey of the Government of India could not entirely conceal. The congress discussed and adopted two important documents - the political resolution and the Political-Organisational Report - which between them provide a detailed statement of the party's understanding of the political situation and its own organisational experience, strengths, weaknesses and tasks ahead.

Again, unlike in the case of other mainstream non-communist parties, a draft of the political resolution ultimately adopted by the congress after discussion had been prepared by the Central Committee of the party more than three months prior to the Hyderabad meet, translated into all major Indian languages, and sent to reach all party members two months before the congress. Over 5,000 amendments to the draft were received from members, apart from hundreds of suggestions. The delegates at the congress debated the draft further before final adoption. The Political-Organisational Report, on the other hand, was discussed only by the delegates to the congress and then adopted. It has not yet been made public. Since the political resolution adopted by the congress is said to be substantially the same as the draft already made public, one can get an insight into the CPI(M)'s views based on it.

In the CPI(M)'s view, the most important features of the international situation are the growing offensive of the G-7 countries led by the United States seeking to "strengthen its economic and political hegemony over the world", and the growing resistance to this offensive, as witnessed in various struggles and protest actions in both advanced and Third World countries. Post-September 11, 2001, the U.S. "links all aspects of globalisation with the fight against terrorism". The CPI(M) is of the view that "both the U.S.' 'war against terrorism' and the threats posed by terrorism based on all varieties of fundamentalism will have to be challenged".

Turning to the national situation, the CPI(M) takes a dim view of the four years of Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance rule at the Centre. Noting that NDA rule has involved both a "continuous assault on the secular principles of the state...", and an "accelerated pursuit of the economic policies of liberalisation, which has increased the exploitation of people and social inequalities", the political resolution documents at length the ruinous implications for national unity and people's well-being as well as the country's economic and political sovereignty of these policies. It does not spare minority fundamentalism either, which it points out is harmful to democracy and progress, and demands that it be countered. The party also takes an unequivocal view on terrorism, noting that "state terrorism and individual acts of terrorism... only feed each other" and also that "terrorist violence, whatever be the motivation, has to be firmly combated as it disrupts the unity of working people and helps reactionary forces to divert attention from the real problems facing the people".

An aspect of the BJP's policies of particular concern is its stand on federalism. The BJP dispensation at the Centre has been eroding the already limited powers of the States by reducing Central assistance and tying such assistance to States falling in line with the Centre on economic reforms. More ominously, it has discarded the principle of State formation on the basis of linguistic nationality, and has been breaking up States to suit its own political interests. The CPI(M) notes: "The BJP wishes to create small States so that the Centre can dominate them. Small states with limited resources would mean weaker States incapable of resisting Central encroachment." Expressing its opposition to the break-up of linguistic States "which were formed after a powerful mass movement for democratising the state structure", the CPI(M) states: "The problems of national unity in a multi-lingual and multi-national country like India can be addressed and resolved only within the framework of a federal and secular polity which recognises and respects the diversities of our society and harnesses these forces for strengthening unity."

The CPI(M) notes that the Congress(I) and the BJP are wedded to the same liberalisation/privatisation/globalisation policies and rules out the possibility of any alliance or united front with the Congress(I). Although the Congress(I) is not a communal party like the BJP, it "displays vacillations" on the question of secularism. On the regional parties, the CPI(M)'s view is that while they vary in character "with some representing the regional bourgeoisie and landlords and articulating the linguistic/nationality aspirations of their State while others are caste-based", there has been a change in the outlook of regional parties. The political resolution notes: "They have changed their attitude to foreign capital and are favourable to the liberalisation policies..." Based on this assessment, the CPI(M) will take a "differentiated attitude" towards regional parties, cooperating with those which oppose communal forces and opposing those who join with the BJP.

Where does this leave the CPI(M) in terms of political tactics and allies? The party says that it is "committed to strengthening and deepening Left unity" and that its key present task is to build a third alternative, a combination of non-Congress(I), non-BJP secular forces. The People's Front, consisting of the Left parties, the Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal at the moment, is seen as "a partial expression of the immediate need for a third force".

In terms of its future direction, the CPI(M)'s main concern is how to strengthen its independent role and influence, in which respect it self-critically admits that it has not made much advance over a considerable period. While the third alternative represents an immediate need, the CPI(M) argues, basic policy and structural changes are needed to solve the problems facing the people and the country. It puts forward what it calls a Left and Democratic Alternative and calls for a radical land reforms programme; an economic policy framework based on self-reliance; more direct taxation of the well-to-do; promotion of small and medium non-monopoly industry; support for agricultural labour and the peasantry, especially the poor and middle peasants; regulation of capital flows and an end to the indiscriminate import liberalisation; selective use of foreign capital in line with chosen national priorities; commitment to secularism and federalism; democratisation of state structure and repeal of repressive laws; electoral reforms and proportional representation; protection of the rights of the working people; and sustainable development with caste and gender equality.

Given the current state of the Indian polity, it is refreshing to see a political party engage its own activists in a serious and self-critical discussion of its policies and programmes. However, the fact remains that the CPI(M) and the Left remain confined in terms of mass political strength to a few States, though in terms of population these States will surpass that of several sovereign nations put together. While the Left's and the CPI(M)'s political influence in the debates on the nation's agenda and priorities far exceed its numbers and geographical spread, it must surely be a matter of concern for the CPI(M) that its membership and that of the mass organisations led by it have grown rather slowly over the last decade. Admittedly, this was the decade that saw major setbacks to socialism in the collapse of the Soviet Union and the restoration of capitalism in Eastern Europe, and the rise of capitalist triumphalism. It is also true, as the CPI(M) says, that capitalism's record over the long haul shows that it is incapable of solving humanity's basic problems. However, the CPI(M) and other Left formations will need to engage in much deeper reflection to cope with the series of new challenges that have emerged, globally and in India, if the vision of a more progressive and humane social order is to be realised. In the interest of the Indian people and of working people all over the world, one can only wish that they succeed.

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