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Introspection time

Print edition : May 04, 2012 T+T-

The CPI(M) and the CPI reiterate the Left's relevance in the neoliberal age and outline their plans to build an alternative.

in Kozhikode

WHEN the leading functionaries of the two mainstream Left parties of India the Communist Party of India and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) recently gathered for their triennial conclaves in Patna and Kozhikode, the central themes of their deliberations were introspection and rallying forces.

The reasons were obvious. Over the past three years, the two Left parties have been going through a trying period, especially in terms of their role in national politics. They had suffered repeated electoral reverses, first in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections and later in the Assembly elections in their strongholds of West Bengal and Kerala. The reverses had come after an all-time high representation in the 14th Lok Sabha (2004-09), when the Left had a significant influence over the decision-making process of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.

CPI leader Gurudas Dasgupta summed up the situation when he said the Left was fighting with its back to the wall.

In the run-up to a triennial congress, the two parties had prepared months in advance detailed assessments of the contemporary political, ideological and organisational challenges faced by them and circulated it among their units across the country a practice that is unique to the Left parties. Many of the units suggested amendments to the circulated drafts.

In terms of detail, the CPI congress held in the last week of March took up for discussion three documents a political resolution, a political report, and a report on the party organisation. At a more fundamental level, the CPI initiated steps to update the party programme it had adopted in 1992 in Hyderabad. As part of this initiative, a committee has been set up under the leadership of veteran leader A.B. Bardhan. The committee will collect opinions from different State units and segments of the party and prepare a draft programme, which will be discussed at a special congress later. The CPI(M) had undertaken a similar exercise in 2000.

The documents under consideration at the Kozhikode congress of the CPI(M) in the first week of April were a political resolution, a resolution on some ideological issues and an organisational report. The political and organisational resolutions and reports pertain to the political perceptions of the party as well as the state of affairs in the organisation. The document on ideological issues circulated at the congress dealt essentially with the issue of the advancement of neoliberal policies across the world and how countries with socialist, and Left and democratic perspectives particularly a number of countries in Latin America have addressed it. It also sought to draw lessons from these experiences and evolve a functional strategy for the Indian Left.

Both congresses took into account points raised in the unit-level discussions across the country and incorporated amendments suggested by the units before finalising the political, ideological and organisational directions. Many observers surmised that the CPI(M) document on ideological issues was triggered by some initiatives of the party-led State governments, particularly the Left Front government in West Bengal, on the lines of economic liberalisation and their negative fallouts that had adversely affected the party. However, CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Sitaram Yechury told Frontline that there was no such connection.

Both congresses asserted that despite the electoral and other reverses suffered by the parties, the relevance of the Left and the role it had to play in upholding the interests of the people, particularly the working class and other marginalised sections of society, had only increased in the current national and international scenario. At the international level, the congresses pointed out, the capitalist world was facing its biggest crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s, resulting in rising inequities and growing unemployment.

The parties also pointed out that the crisis was a direct outcome of the neoliberal capitalist trajectory taken by international finance capital and that the prolonged crisis pointed to the unsustainability of finance capital-driven globalisation. The congresses noted that there were growing protests worldwide against the neoliberal order and that more and more people were coming out against the threats to their livelihood and social welfare benefits.

At the national level, the general line of the two parties was that in the past two decades, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the two big mainstream parties, had implemented neoliberal policies in the garb of reforms' during their rule. The parties pointed out that this policy direction had plunged the country into an ever-deepening crisis. They also stated that the economic crisis heaped unbearable miseries on the people in the form of price rise, unemployment and economic disparities. This is further aggravated by corruption of unprecedented proportions. The congresses noted that these deviations in the system were threatening the economic sovereignty and independent foreign policy of the country.

Both parties called for the creation of a Left and democratic alternative with a clear emphasis on alternative policies to the neoliberal route taken by the Congress. CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat categorically stated that an alternative could not be built up merely on the basis of electoral alliances of non-Congress, non-BJP parties but on the basis of sustained mass struggles on a variety of issues. He told Frontline that the political resolution of the CPI(M) envisaged an electoral strategy that sought to isolate the communal BJP and defeat the neoliberal Congress, but the alliances formed for this would not automatically lead to a Left and democratic alternative.

S. Sudhakar Reddy, the newly elected general secretary of the CPI, pointed out that a committee was set up six months ago under the leadership of Telugu Desam Party chief N. Chandrababu Naidu to take up the cause of kisans (farmers). Besides the CPI, the CPI(M), the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP), and the Forward Bloc, the TDP, the Janata Dal (Secular) and Ajit Singh's Rashtriya Lok Dal were part of it. But Ajit Singh has since joined the government. We need more concrete commitment to agitational causes that is the emphasis of the Patna Congress, Sudhakar Reddy told Frontline.

At the CPI(M) congress, it was admitted that the party had failed to emphasise the difference between a Left and democratic alternative and a third front of non-Congress, non-BJP parties that had come up during the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. This Left and democratic alternative would come up only through sustained mass struggles, asserted Bardhan. Karat said an alternative would be created only by building a stronger CPI(M) and a stronger Left.

Issues identified

The issues broadly identified by the parties for widespread mass agitation include illegal and unfair acquisition of land for the benefit of corporate houses, loot of land and minerals by corporate houses and private parties in cahoots with several State governments and the Union government, privatisation of water resources and the undermining of the public distribution system (PDS).

The parties also decided to campaign more actively for fair land distribution among the landless and for the strengthening of universal health care and education. Protection of public sector units and championing the cause of a strong Lokpal are the other key areas of struggle they have identified.

At the CPI congress, it was repeatedly asserted that sporadic struggles on one or the other of these issues would not be sufficient to draw more and more democratic forces in the struggle for a programme-based alternative. Leaders like Gurudas Dasgupta called for sustained and militant campaigns away from the considerations of parliamentary politics, which, they said, would help alter the existing equations substantially and lead to a realignment of social forces.

These calls are significant in the context of several self-critical observations at the two conclaves. Addressing the media during the congress, Yechury pointed out that objective conditions to build up the Communist party and a stronger Left existed in India, but the movement needed to work harder to create the subjective conditions for this through purposeful agitations and mass actions. The political resolutions of the CPI and the CPI(M) reiterated this line.

The CPI(M) political resolution said: The specific issues of the Dalits, minorities, tribal people and women have to be taken up as part of the general democratic platform. Despite the emphasis given to develop sustained struggle on local issues in the last two party congresses, this has not been adequately done. This weakness should be rectified. The various issues of the people concerning their livelihood, land, job security, fair wages, access to health care, education and basic services, all of which are affected by the neoliberal polices, should be taken up for conducting sustained struggles locally and also to launch State-wide movements. Movements against the neoliberal policies should be launched at the all-India level and in the States.

The CPI document said: Major tasks remain to streamline our own organisation from bottom to top by activating all units at all levels by rejuvenating it through the principle of change with continuity and induction of younger cadres in the leadership from all sections, particularly the downtrodden, Dalits, Adivasis, backward classes and minorities. Party must be made a party of all working people espousing the cause of socialism through the application of Marxism-Leninism in the concrete Indian condition.

Organisational changes

At the organisational level, both parties have taken recourse to some measures to advance short-, medium- and long-term objectives formulated at the triennial conclaves. In the words of Karat, the party's current organisational principle is continuity with change. In line with this, the CPI(M) amended its constitution, stipulating that party secretaries at various levels, including the general secretary, could have a maximum of three terms, where each term consists of three years or the period between two party conferences. A fourth term would be possible only if the outgoing secretary got the support of three-fourth members of the existing committee. Karat himself was elected for the third term.

The Polit Bureau, the party's highest day-to-day decision-making body, witnessed the induction of three relatively younger members Suryakant Mishra from West Bengal, A.K. Padmanabhan from Tamil Nadu and M.A. Baby from Kerala.

The CPI witnessed a generational change when Bardhan stepped down as general secretary and paved the way for Sudhakar Reddy.

Speaking at the CPI(M) congress as a fraternal delegate, Bardhan called for a national-level coordination committee to strengthen and concretise the association between the two parties further. He was of the view that this would improve coordination between the parties and contribute to a stronger Left in the country. While such mechanisms and a policy of not confining political and organisational initiatives to electoral politics may help the two parties, but, as pointed out by Yechury, the Left forces in the country could be strengthened only by creating the subjective conditions for a revolutionary change. And for that, the Left would have to live up to its promise to launch mass struggles in a sustained manner over a long period of time.