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Mainstream, VOL L, No 17, April 14, 2012

CPI-M’s Twentieth Congress

Saturday 14 April 2012, by Barun Das Gupta

The CPI-M held its Twentieth Congress at Kozhikode in Kerala from April 4 to 9. The words ‘Twentieth Congress’ bring back to one’s mind the memories of another Twentieth Congress—that of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), held almost six decades ago in 1956. That Congess provided a watershed in the history of the international communist movement by initia-ting de-Stalinisation. That this process could not be carried to its logical conclusion, was halted and failed to transform the basic Stalinist state structure without introducing democratic reforms is a fact. Whether in that failure lay the seeds of the dissolution of the Soviet Union some four decades later will be a matter of debate for a long time to come.

The CPI-M held its Twentieth Congress in a different context. It was held at a time when the neo-liberal policy of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation are having a full play, when the state sector is being systematically destroyed, when the ‘integration’ of the Indian economy with the global economy has made India totally vul-nerable to the global capitalist crisis, when stra-tegic partnership with the US is drawing India closer and closer to the USA’s global strategic aims and when India’s independent foreign policy is being mortaged so as to dovetail into US foreign policy in the latter’s interest.

The seven hundred-odd delegates met at a time when the Left forces were on the retreat and people were left to the tender mercies of a government that can neither control nor wants to control the unabated price rise. It met at a time when the Planning Commission, built brick by brick by Jawaharlal Nehru and Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis, had made itself a cruel joke by defining the poor as one who spends less than Rs 32 per day in towns and less than Rs 26 in villages.

The party (CPI-M) had lost power in its two citadels, West Bengal and Kerala, had totally failed to make inroads in the vast Hindi belt, the bulk of its membership coming from the middle classes and thereby bringing about a change in the class responses and reflexes of the party. What the party needed to do, first and foremost, was to put its own house in order and then to build up broadbased struggles in alliance with other democratic forces to resist the neo-liberal policies of the UPA Government and its attacks on the people and protect whatever rights had been gained through decades of struggle.

The party needed to make a sober, objective and honest analysis of the reasons of its electoral debacles. In West Bengal, unlike in Kerala, the party not only lost power but also lost the support of a vast segment of traditionally Left-supporting masses including the urban intellecltuals and intelligentsia. The party Congress provided an opportunity to go into the causes, ruthlessly expose the weaknesses and find ways of stemming the rot and breaking new ground. This was not the time to dream of or talk about forming a Left and democratic government at the Centre as as an alternative to the Congresss-led UPA and the BJP-led NDA by forging an opportunistic alliance of ideologically disparate parties. This experiment was tried by the party in 2009 and it came a cropper.

In short, the CPI-M was expected to undertake a serious exercise in criticism and self-criticism, make an honest attempt to find out the cause of the Right deviationist trends that practically landed the party in the lap of big corporate houses, its increasing dependence on the police and administration, resort to terror tactics against its political opponents and critics, especially in West Bengal, and the consequent isolation of the party from the masses. It was expected to formulate its programme for building up people’s resistance to the neo-liberal policies pursued by the Manmohan Singh Government, for forging the widest unity of all progressive parties, mass organisations and individuals in a broad front and give greater emphasis on inner-party democracy.

IN the event, the Party Congress failed to do anything of this sort. For the debacle in West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee was made the sole target of attack. The party did not stop at that either. It blamed its poor Left Front allies also for criticising the party during the Singur and Nandigram movements. The obvious question that the party skilfully avoided were: how could Mamata win over the support of such a large section of the masses and why did the party fail to take corrective steps even after a series of defeats —in the panchayat polls, in the civic polls, in the Lok Sabha polls of 2009? This failure made the party’s ignominious defeat and loss of power in 2011 a foregone conclusion.

The party Congress repeated, parrot-like, its goal of People’s Democracy which very few party comrades at the lower level understand or have a clear idea about. The Congress also saw mutual recriminations: the West Bengal lobby blaming the electoral defeat on the wrong decision of Prakash Karat to withdraw support from theUPA Government on the Indo-US civil nuclear coope-ration deal and the Karat lobby maintaining that the wrong policies of the Bengal party on the land acquisition at Singur and Nandigram were responsible for the defeat.

The West Bengal comrades argued that if support to the UPA was not withdrawn, there would be no electoral alliance between the Trina-mul Congress and Congress and the Left Front would have again romped home to victory. Again, the party cleverly stopped short of admitting that it had been winning in West Bengal again and again because of division of the Opposition votes, not on the strength of its innate mass support.

The party Congress once again declared its aim of providing a ‘Left and Democratic Alternative’ to the Congress-led UPA and the BJP-led NDA at the Centre when the objective conditions negate the possibility of such an alternative in the foreseeable future. Obviously, the initiative for building up such an alternative to the BJP and Congress will have to be taken by the Left and its biggest contingent, the CPI-M.

But how can the CPI-M do it when the Left has practically no presence in the vast Hindi belt, when the partys organisational base in Bengal is getting eroded, as admitted in the organisational report and when the new generation is not getting attracted to the Left ideology and movement?

Prakash Karat tried to form a Third Front during the last Lok Sabha elections with such ideologically disparate elements as Mayawati, Jayalalitha, Deve Gowda, Chandrashekar Rao, Chandrababu Naidu et al. There was no common programme and some of the luminaries of this so-called Front were not exactly known to be paragons of probity in public life. Naturally, the Third Front came a cropper but Prakash Karat does not seem to have learnt his lesson.

For the CPI-M to be the leaven of a nationwide unity of Left and democratic forces, it will first of all have to purge itself of Left sectarianism—a hallmark of Stalinism. It has to give up its domineering attitude towards other parties in an alliance. And last but not the least, it has to give up the old Stalinist concept of a monolithic party, practise democracy within the organisation, giving more and more emphasis on democracy and less on centralism because in practice democratic centralism more often than not degenerates into bureaucratic centralism.

In a vast country and plural polity like India the leadership for the widest unity of Left and democratic forces can be provided only by a party which can combine firmness with flexibility, can accommodate and synthesise different points of view, has a clear idea not only of its goal but also of the correlationship of class forces necessary to advance toward it. The Twentieth Congress of the CPI-M has failed to break any new ground and provide any clear direction of advance. It has
failed to come out of the old habit of finding fault with everyone except itself and has made no honest attempt to go into the basic causes of its decline.

Long years ago on March 2, 1923 Vladimir Ilyich Lenin wrote his last article, Better Fewer, But Better. From the deliberations of the CPI-M’s Twentieth Congress it was apparent that the party had learnt nothing from Lenin to undertake ruthless self-criticism when the situation demanded such an exercise. What a far cry from the CPSU’s Twentieth Congress of 1956 that had literally unveiled Marxism’s new horizon through the weapon of de-Statlinisation! The CPI-M’s Twentieth Congress in 2012, in contrast, has only reinforced the ghost of Stalin within the precincts of the AKG Bhawan in New Delhi and Muzaffar Bhawan in Kolkata to enable Prakash Karat and Biman Bose survive the gale of change sweeping the communist establishments everywhere and thus retain their vice-like grip over the party apparatus.

The author was a correspondent of The Hindu in Assam. He also worked in Patriot, Compass (Bengali), Mainstream. A veteran journalist, he comes from a Gandhian family and was intimately associated with the RCPI leader, Pannalal Dasgupta.

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