Continuity and change

Published : Oct 28, 2000 00:00 IST

The special conference of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in Thiruvananthapuram adopts an updated party programme that breaks new ground in several areas while maintaining the strategic perspective of the 1964 document.

THE Programme is an exceptionally important document for a Communist party. Since, unlike most other political parties, a Communist party seeks to transform the status quo in a fundamental way in order to achieve its vision of a just social order, charting a path to achieve this objective becomes crucial. This is exactly what the programme document is supposed to do.

Yet, reaching a consensus on the programme of the party was a long and protracted struggle in the history of the Communist movement in India. Not that efforts to arrive at a programme were lacking. Even in the first two years after its formation in 1920, the party, then declared illegal, made some initial formulations, including for example the proclamation of complete independence for the country. This it did well ahead of the Congress party. However, it took more than a decade after its birth for the Communist party to develop a central core of activists who formed themselves into a provisional Central Committee in December 1933.

Although some guidelines towards a programmatic document were put forward in the first Congress of the Communist Party of India (CPI), it took more than three decades from its birth in 1920 for the party to evolve a programme document at a special confer ence in 1951. While this document was formally approved at the third Congress of the party, there were serious differences of views on its validity. Intense debates within the undivided CPI continued for more than a decade over the correct strategy or pr ogramme, culminating in a split and the emergence of the CPI and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) as two distinct parties in 1964.

At its Congress in November 1964, the CPI(M) adopted a programme, with a far greater degree of unanimity and cohesion. It is this programme, now 36 years old, that has been updated at the special conference of CPI(M) held in Thiruvananthapuram from Octob er 20 to 23.

The CPI(M) has specifically declared the objective of the exercise which culminated in the Thiruvananthapuram conference to be one of "updating" the 1964 programme and not of "revising" it. The reason for this is that there is a fundamental and essential continuity between the document adopted in Thiruvananthapuram and the programme adopted at the 1964 Congress of the party. The resolution of the 14th Congress of the CPI(M) in Chennai in 1992, which set the ball rolling for the updating exercise, stated that the 1964 programme "...continues to remain basically valid for the stage of the revolution, the strategy, class character of the Indian state and government and the class alliance to achieve the people's democratic revolution. However, there are se ctions in relation to the assessment of the international situation and the national developments which need to be updated."

The updated programme adopted in Thiruvananthapuram basically reflects this understanding. The document consists of eight sections. The first, introductory section briefly reviews the role of the Communist party in the struggle for freedom and, subsequen tly, in the progress made towards achieving the objectives the party had set for itself. It also deals with the ideological battles waged by the CPI(M) in defence of its understanding of Marxism and its practical application.

The second section undertakes an assessment of the global developments in the 20th century, paying particular attention to the setbacks to socialism in the closing decade of the century. It also focusses on the impact, for the developing world as well as the world economy as a whole, of the emergence of internationally mobile finance capital as the dominant force of world capitalism.

The third section summarises the developments in the Indian economy since Independence, focussing particularly on the consequences of a decade and a half of liberalisation that started in the mid-1980s and was speeded up considerably in the 1990s.

The fourth section deals with foreign policy and the fifth with democracy and the structure of the Indian state as it has evolved in the post-Independence period. The sixth section puts forward the CPI(M)'s vision of the transitional society on the road to socialism, characterised as people's democracy.

The seventh section deals with the process of mobilisation of working people - industrial workers, agricultural labourers, poor and middle peasants, and the rural and urban "middle class", including the rich peasants - under the leadership of the working class, in order to achieve the aim of people's democracy.

General secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet addressing the conference. On the dais are the other Polit Bureau members of the party.

The eighth and final section deals with the task of building the party, which is seen as having a crucial, leading role to play in the entire process.

THE CPI(M)'s views, as set out in the updated programme, can now be briefly summarised. The path of economic and social development pursued in India since Independence has mainly benefited the urban and the rural rich, especially the big monopoly houses and large landowners. On the other hand, industrial and agricultural workers, small and medium farmers and various sections of employees, have all been hurt in various ways by this path, leading to massive unemployment, erosion in incomes as a consequenc e of inflation, eviction and loss of land, and so on. At the same time, given the absence of basic land reforms (except, to some extent, in Kerala, West Bengal and Tripura under Left-led governments) the ownership and control of land and other productive assets in agriculture remain highly concentrated, severely limiting the expansion of the domestic market. The initial stimulus to growth in the post-Independence period provided by public investment and import substitution quickly ran out of steam. Give n the refusal of the state to raise resources through the taxation of the rich, the fiscal crisis followed. The crisis of the economy has been considerably worsened by the economic policies followed during the period since 1985, and especially since 1991 . The changed global situation - in the economic sphere, the dominance of finance capital demanding the abolition of all restrictions on its movements across the borders of sovereign states, and in the political sphere, the collapse of socialism in Easte rn Europe and the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), and the break-up of the latter leading to a unipolar dominance of the world by the United States - has also contributed to the abandonment of even a limited pursuit of self-reliance by captains of Indian industry and business. The rulers of India, according to the programme document, have embarked upon a path of mortgaging the sovereignty of the country and are carrying out the policies dictated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) , the World Bank, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the U.S.-led G-7 countries, whereby imports have been liberalised, huge concessions have been offered to foreign investors, public sector assets are sold at rock bottom prices, and transnational co rporations and foreign finance capital are assisted and encouraged to take over major and strategic sectors of the economy, including power and telecommunications.

On the other hand, all sections of the working people and even small and medium industries are badly affected by these policies, which have also been disastrous for Indian agriculture and food security. In sum, the CPI(M)'s view is that the developments since 1964 have confirmed the correctness of the 1964 programme's characterisation of the Indian state as serving the interests of the capitalists and landlords and as being led by big business which increasingly collaborates with foreign finance capital .

It also logically follows from this understanding that the problems of the Indian people can be addressed, and the country's sovereignty protected, only by uniting all working people against these policies and against foreign capital, Indian big business and landlords. In all these respects, and in placing the primary emphasis on the break-up of land monopoly and provision of land to the landless tillers through the process of such a break-up, the updated programme and the 1964 programme are essentially the same. In this sense, the CPI(M)'s strategic perspective remains the same as in 1964.

The updated programme breaks new ground in several areas. There is a revision in the party's assessment of developments in the 20th century. It is still held that capitalism is an exploitative socio-economic system that cannot solve the problems confront ing humanity and that only the establishment of socialism can free humanity from exploitation. However, it is also explicitly recognised that capitalism is resilient, and that the struggle to defeat it and move to socialism would be a protracted one. The updated programme also notes that "... in the course of the uncharted path of building socialism, the Soviet Union and other socialist countries in Eastern Europe committed serious mistakes." It recognises that the setbacks to socialism have resulted, a lbeit temporarily, in strengthening the global imperial order under the hegemony of the United States, which "... is using its economic, political and military power aggressively".

The document draws pointed attention to the enormous concentration and internationalisation of finance. It notes: "Globally mobile finance capital is assaulting the sovereignty of nations, seeking unimpeded access to their economies in pursuit of super p rofits." Noting the role of the IMF, the WTO and the World Bank in promoting the interests of a global financial oligarchy, the updated programme points out: "The new hegemony of speculative finance capital results in sluggish growth in the advanced capi talist countries. For the Third World it spells a vicious cycle of intensified exploitation and growing debt."

Drawing on the positive and negative lessons from the experience of various current and former socialist countries, the programme has modified some of the earlier formulations on the programme of people's democracy viewed as a stage in a transition to so cialism. It provides for a multi-structured economy, with several forms of property ownership - state, collective, cooperative, joint sector and private sector - coexisting in a people's democratic set-up. The document envisages a number of political par ties operating under such a system, and the vision of people's democracy set out in the document explicitly provides for the right to form political parties and associations. This is important in the context of the allegations that are sometimes made tha t Communists do not accept multi-party democracy.

The updated programme deals at some length with the question of caste and caste oppression. It recognises that the assertion by Dalits, which is sought to be brutally suppressed, has a democratic content, and that the fight for the abolition of the caste system is an important part of the movement for people's democracy. It rejects, at the same time, a casteist approach seeking to mobilise people of the oppressed castes purely on caste lines, and notes: "The fight against caste oppression is inter-linke d with the struggle against class exploitation."

The considerable political advance that the forces of communalism have made in the decades since the adoption of the 1964 programme, and the enhanced threat to the country's secular fabric, are clearly matters of grave concern for the CPI(M). The updated programme highlights the need to uphold secularism and notes specifically: "Defence of minority rights is a crucial aspect of the struggle to strengthen democracy and secularism."

While the 1964 programme had made only a brief reference to women's equality in its section on the programme of people's democracy, the updated programme deals with the issue at some length. It explicitly recognises that patriarchy remains strong, and as serts that the processes of liberalisation are leading to newer forms of gender exploitation and increased violence against women. It notes that the movement for women's equality is an integral part of the movement for social emancipation.

The updated programme makes references to the environment issue, and the threat of ecological destruction, identifying the "rapacious drive for profits by the multi-national corporations and the extravagant consumption of the rich countries" as factors " ...seriously threatening the world's environment". The vision of people's democracy set out also contains references to the need to protect the environment.

Summing up, one can see that the updated programme is a serious attempt to recognise and come to grips with the dramatic global and national developments which have taken place in the 36 years since the adoption of the 1964 programme. There is a self-cri tical review of its earlier understanding of the international situation, as well as a recognition of the seriousness of the developments in the spheres of the economy and the polity in India. But as is perhaps unavoidable while drawing up a brief and co ncise programmatic document, many important issues have only been touched upon. There is clearly a need for a much deeper analysis of the setbacks to socialism and its collapse in specific countries. There is also a need for a more critical analysis of t he rise of communalism and the weakening of secularism in India. The agrarian situation in India and the manner in which it has been transformed over the last three and a half decades also require a concrete study. While the inclusion of gender and envir onment concerns is noteworthy, more detailed policy statements on these two issues as well as the caste question in all its complexity are also needed to clarify the position of the leading Left party in the country on issues which have acquired critical importance.

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