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Mainstream, VOL 62 No 16-17, April 20, April 27, 2024

The Disastrous Split and the Challenges Ahead | Ajayakumar Kodoth

Saturday 20 April 2024, by Ajayakumar Kodoth


April 2024 marks the 60th year of the CPI split in India

Sixty years have gone by since the Communist Party of India got split right down the middle. Following the Emergency, although the mainstream Communist parties – the CPI and the CPI (M) – have been working jointly as the Left Front at the national level since 1978, they have remained as separate entities. The prevailing notion is that the time for a merger has not yet come because of ideological differences! In the first general elections of 1952, the undivided Communist Party garnered more than nine percent votes at the national level. By 2019, the combined vote percentage notched up by the two parties was less than two!

The Naxalite movement, that was born out of the tremors of the 1964 split, has also become weak and moribund. It is against the contemporary reality of the rapidly eviscerating condition of the Indian Communist movements, that we should undertake an analysis of the party split and its repercussions.

The Split as a Revolutionary Act!

It was recently that N. Sankaraiah, a senior leader of the CPM in Tamil Nadu, passed away. One of the facts mentioned about him in newspaper reports was that he was a revolutionary who walked out of the CPI national council in 1964 along with AKG [AK Gopalan], and gave leadership to the creation of the CPM. Of the 32 individuals who walked out that day, the only living survivor now is V. S. Achuthanandan. How does precipitating a split in a live and vibrant movement become a revolutionary act? Have the revolutionary dreams of those who caused this severance come to fruition?

Why did the split take place? The first reason was a blind enmity towards the Congress that took birth out of ignorance within one segment of the Communist Party of India, from the very beginning itself, regarding the different dimensions of the nationalist movement on the one hand and the varied possibilities of Gandhism as an ideology on the other. In his Colonial Thesis submitted at the Second Communist International in 1920, what Lenin suggested was that the Communist Party align itself with Gandhi in the anti-colonial struggle in India.

But the opinion of M. N. Roy who took part in this conference had the upper hand. Accordingly, the party trained its guns on the ‘bourgeois’ national party of the Congress! The attitude of sectarianism that gripped the Communist movement in India from the moment of its inception, took root right there. One can see that even today, in its analysis of the Congress, the CPM has not shaken itself free of the shackles of sectarianism, at least in Kerala.

The second reason was that those within the Communist Party of India, who nurtured an uncompromising hatred towards the Congress, fell within the sphere of influence of the Chinese Communist Party that opposed the pact made by 81 Communist parties in Moscow in 1960. The Chinese Communist Party believed that giant swathes of lands in continents like Asia, Africa and Latin America constituted the place of origin of the revolutionary storm that swept worldwide, and also that the future of the global revolutionary movement would be decided by Immediate Revolution which the Communist parties of colonized nations, capable of inflicting a body blow on imperialism, should spearhead. The comrades, who were drawn to this line of reasoning, caused the split in the Communist Party in India in 1964. Dare the CPM leadership contest this argument?

The politics adopted by the CPM to split the undivided Communist Party in 1964 made the Indian soil fertile enough for the birth of Naxalism in 1968. When a few pure hearts among the votaries of Immediate Revolution realized that those who split the CPI in the name of Immediate Revolution did not have any revolutionary fervour beyond attempting to increase their seats in the Parliament as well as the state assemblies, they fought against the leadership and founded the Naxalbari movement. Dare the CPM deny this fact? Blind opposition towards the Congress and servility to China, presented as reasons to cause the split in the Communist Party in 1964, were openly adopted by the CPM comrades. Their obstinacy in remaining within the straitjacket of sectarianism was unbelievable in those days!

The Joshi Line that needed to be adopted

Despite Mahatma Gandhi’s direct invitation to the CPI to join the 1942 Quit India struggle, the CPI was unprepared to accept it. This distanced the party from the national mainstream. When the Soviet Union joined the Western nations to fight Germany, the Second World War transformed itself from an imperialist war to a people’s war, as far as the CPI was concerned. Immediately, the Communist Party made a call for suspending all struggles against the British in India. By that time, India, under the leadership of Gandhiji, was in the ferment of the last phase of struggle against the British. The further isolation of the Communist Party at this juncture was only natural.

The weakness inflicted by this isolation was alleviated to some extent for a brief span of time, between 1942 and 1948, when the party followed the creative policies and programmes chalked out by P. C. Joshi. Consequently, class organizations and people’s organizations gained strength, and the Communist Party surged ahead in the fields of art and literature. Institutions like the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) brough vibrancy to various sectors, including the film field in Bombay. Stalwarts like K. A. Abbas, Kaifi Azmi (Shabana Azmi’s father), Mulk Raj Anand and others became fellow-travellers.

Joshi maintained a positive attitude towards Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru and the nationalist movement they led. The core of the P. C. Joshi line lay in extending support to Nehru’s progressive policies in independent India and sharing partnership with his government in nation-building activities. Joshi argued that by gaining independence, India had become a nation-state.

Dogmatism in the Calcutta Thesis

The high expectations sparked off and the progress achieved by the P. C. Joshi line were torpedoed when B. T. Ranadive’s Calcutta Thesis, accepted by the 1948 Calcutta party congress, was implemented. The Calcutta party congress was the first meeting conducted by the party, after independence. The crux of the Calcutta Thesis was that the independence gained in 1947 was not an authentic one because power had only changed hands, and that Nehru was the agent of British imperialism. Besides, it called for an armed struggle to topple the Nehru government. Surely, there cannot be a more eloquent instance of dogmatism within the Communist Party of India than this!

As mentioned earlier, it is not difficult to trace the roots of the Calcutta Thesis in the arguments between M. N. Roy and Lenin regarding the tactics to be adopted by the colonized countries. The profound influence of this self-same sectarian attitude can be found in the 1964 party split and the subsequent policy approaches taken by the CPM. That was why, following the Emergency, EMS [EMS Namboodripad], the Marxist theoretician, was unable to perceive the threat posed by the extreme Right, and declared that the Congress had to be destroyed no matter what, even if it meant consorting with the devil.

The CPI should not repeat 1942 and 1948

What the Left Front generally, and the CPI especially, should ensure is that 1942 and 1948 do not get repeated in the 2024 general elections. These aforementioned years were occasions that presented themselves before the CPI to make a re-entry into the mainstream, especially if it had co-operated with the national government led by Nehru since 1947. Prof. Bipan Chandra, the famous Marxist historian-scholar, once told this writer that just as Mao Tse-tung had acknowledged Sun Yat-sen in China, if the Communist Party had acknowledged Gandhiji as the leader of the struggle against the colonial powers, that would have become a model not only for the revolutionary movement in India but for all liberation struggles in the world.

The Calcutta Thesis inflicted incalculable damage on the Communist movement in India. Instead of standing shoulder to shoulder with such an utterly modern Socialist as Nehru, the Communist Party of India not only shoved him into its enemy camp but also showed the foolishness of calling for an armed revolution in order to topple the central government. The armed revolution began in 1948, and by 1952 it dealt a heavy blow on the Communist movement. Despite that, the Communist Party could garner more than nine percent of votes in the general elections of 1952, and become the main opposition party.

If the Communist Party had seen independent India as a newly liberated nation-state, co-operated with the central government, and infused Leftist views in the nation-rebuilding process, Nehru would have received it with an open heart. The global circumstances too at that time were conducive to such a phenomenon. That was because Nehru’s foreign policy was not mere neutralism but positive neutralism, that leaned towards the Soviet bloc. The defiant attitude that the Communist Party of Indonesia adopted towards President Sukarno, who enjoyed the same status as Nehru, was similar to the policy adopted by the Communist Party of India after independence. That the Indonesian Communist Party eventually bit the dust is common knowledge today.

With the CPI accepting the national democratic line by the 1960s, it made amends, though late. The result of this change for the better was seen in the formation of the Achuta Menon ministry in the 1970s, an administrative system that has been the best in Kerala so far. This was the most authentic and exemplary anti-Fascist, popular alternative for the whole of India. However, the CPM continued to stay its thoroughly Stalinist, anti-Congress course all the while.

In 1978, following a temporary setback caused by the Emergency, when the CPI unthinkingly abandoned its links with the Congress, and joined forces with the CPM, it virtually destroyed its own future. All that this marriage of convenience achieved was to give a new lease of political life to the CPM. It may be recalled that without partnership with the CPI, the CPM has never been able to capture power in Kerala. The CPI should be vigilant enough to prevent a repeat of 1942 and 1948. The threat posed by communal Fascism can never be undermined. The Left should be alert and take steps towards forging a confederation against communal Fascism at the national level, by including the Congress. It is high time that the Left assessed the Congress and Gandhi comprehensively.

The Relevance of Congress-Left Unity

The most anti-democratic and regressive slogan that India has heard in the 21st century is “Congress-free India” propagated by the BJP and the RSS. This need not be seen as synonymous with EMS’s call in the 1970s and ’80s for eliminating the Congress, even if it required supping with the devil. But the Left should realize the fact that the distance from the one to the other is not great. The tactical line of the CPM – people’s democratic revolution – was a political move aimed fundamentally at neutralizing the Congress. Organizationally, they adopted a Stalinist structure completely. And it continues to be so, to this day.

In today’s circumstances, when the extreme Right line of communal Fascism has gained enough strength to swallow India hook, line and sinker, here is a question for the Left front. Has Indian politics gone beyond what P. C. Joshi in the 1940s and S. A. Dange after 1950 predicted? The most crucial part of the Joshi-Dange line was that the main enemy of and the greatest disaster threatening to engulf India as a nation-state is the RSS which represents extreme Right, along with associated regressive classes as well as imperialism. What can the CPI and the CPM say to counter this point?

(Author: Dr Ajayakumar Kodoth is the son of veteran Communist leader and freedom fighter of North Malabar late K. Madhavan)

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