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Mainstream, VOL L, No 43, October 13, 2012

Reading Mohit Sen’s Autobiography in the Ideological Twilight of Indian Communism

Tuesday 16 October 2012


The following is an article written specially on the occasion of Communist stalwart S.A. Dange’s 113th birth anniversary on October 10, 2012.


Ideologies are not simply political philosophies. They are, essentially, normative arguments to motivate people to concrete action. Generally speaking, proponents and adherents of any ideology do believe that their system of thought or the worldview is the most perfect one and capable of solving all problems in the society. As ideology has the capacity to explain reality and motivate people to action, it can be used, according to the Encyclopedia of Politics, both in positive and negative senses. (Carliste: 2005) In a positive sense, it is used to embrace idealistic conviction and question and oppose the statuesque by radical political activism. Used in a negative sense, ideology can imply a form of manipulation whereby people are forced to accept certain beliefs and action without questioning them. The history of Indian communism, as seen by Mohit Sen, reflects the use and implementation of ideology in both the senses, though more negative than positive.

In its positive connotation there were some high ideals of service to the masses, selflessness and solidarity with all who served the same cause. Liu Shao-qi’s How to Be a Good Communist has presented this issue with considerable brilliance. Sen’s family, particularly his elder brother and father, introduced him to the ideals of communism, insisting that he should read widely, listen to others and not close his mind. Sen narrates how during the great Bengal Famine of 1943 the Communist Party of India under P.C. Joshi’s dynamic leadership organised relief work in a broadbased manner and used all its strength with the vehicle of song, dance and drama to rouse India to save Bengal from death. Later on, backed by Dange’s creative mind, the CPI developed innovative forms of mass mobilisation like national mass signature campaigns and bandhs where workers were at the forefront as opposed to the middle class-led hartals. Rajeswara Rao also played a prominent role in training the CPI youth and students in the science and art of unarmed conflict and building up the Peoples Volunteer Corps all over the country. The Communists, after coming to power in States like Kerela and West Bengal, translated their commitment through a radical democratic programme with special emphasis on land reform to eliminate landlordism of any type and variety.
The negative use of ideology was best captured by Sen as he quotes Stalin’s panegyric to Lenin: “We Communists are men of special mould. We are made of a special stuff….It is not given to everyone to be the member of such a party.” And then himself remarks that “This dogmatism however did immense damage, above all to the Communists themselves. It led to sectarianism and arrogance towards the non-Communists and to unquestioning obedience to whoever happened to be the leader or represen-tative of the leadership……This phenomenon of personal loyalty and obedience was the product of the lack of ideological education and training of the party members…The leaders were the repository off all wisdom. The trouble arouse when leaders disagreed about what that wisdom was!” Sen himself was caught in the whirlwind of such party dictates that gets revealed by his comment: “Looking back, it remains a mystery as to how persons like myself who had wholeheartedly opposed the sectarian anti-Congressism of the leaders who had left the CPI to form CPI-M still accepted the anti-Congress orientation of the CPI itself in the 1964-67 period. The only explanation, perhaps, is that in those years our break ideologically and strategically from Stalinism was only partial, confined to the excesses that had been committed and not to the entire method and system of that pernicious doctrine.” (Mohit Sen 2003: 180, 248-249, 269)
For Sen, the correct approach to ideology would be what Kalidas Sarkar in the Central Party School of the CPI used to begin his lecture —quoting the favorite proverb of Marx—Omnia Dubitandum (doubt everything). He told the students to take nothing on faith, not even what he and others taught. Through doubt and questioning they should on their own understand Marxism-Leninism and the programme and policies of the Communist Parties. (Sen ibid: 298) That this approach of Sen is now being widely reflected in the contemporary analysis of Left politics in India is demonstrated by what an erudite scholar on Indian Communism has recently remarked—“In the Marxist vocabulary the notion of pluralism has never been given due weightage, as it has traditionally been considered a pejorative expression. It is high time that, as against monolithic party control at all levels, Rosa Luxembourg’s famous phrase ‘Freedom is the freedom to think differently’ needs to be projected in cultivating inner-party democracy as well as in working out the relations between the party and the masses.” (Duttagupta 2012: 109)


LEFT politics and Left positions have always been and will continue to be diverse, within and across national boundaries. Given the profusion and variation of the multiplicity of approaches, it could justifiably be argued that the attempt to fit all types of progressive thinking in very different parts of the world into a common box would be over-simplistic and even misleading. This perception is also a reflection of the accentuated fragmented of the ‘Left’ positions. For much of the 20th century, it was easier to talk of an overarching socialist framework, a ‘grand vision’ within which more specific debates were conducted. (Ghosh 2012: 33)
That several foreign Communist leaders were attentive and tried to sketch a course of movement for the Communist Party of India was highlighted by Sen when he talked about the Yugoslav Communist, Rado Petkovic, who mentioned that Nehru deserved support of the CPI because he was heading the construction of a progressive national society and state and opposing all types of attempts to establish superpower domination of the world. For Petkovic, this was of great progressive value presently and would immensely help the Communists to later build socialism in India. Sen mentions about Edward Kardelj’s book, Peace and Socialism, that put forth a new understanding of the basic dialectical framework. In the imperialist and anti-imperialist unity of opposites, imperialism could be displaced from the position of the principal aspect by the anti-imperialist forces but before being eliminated. In the continuing unity of opposites there could be a qualitative change before the total breakup of the unity itself. This could also apply to the struggle for socialism against capitalism. Sen reminds us of Rostislav Ulyanovosky, an old Bolshevik, who believed that national revolutions were a specific type of revolutions that were an ally of socialist revolutions. He did a lot in restoring Lenin’s understanding of India, breaking from the dogmatic and sectarian orientation of the Sixth Comintern that dominated the understanding of the CPI and from which it never really completely escaped. Sen cites Enrico Berlinguer, once the Italian Communist Party’s General Secretary, who evolved the strategy of ‘historic compromise’ where primary attention was devoted not to Communist-Socialist unity but to healing breach between the Left and Catholics in Italy. In the opinion of Italian delegates, the CPI was following a similar strategy in its alliance with the Congress that represented traditional, progressive nationalism. (Sen ibid: 190-91, 316-17, 457)

Being an ardent follower of P.C. Joshi and S.A. Dange’s dialectical approach of ‘unity and struggle’ with the Congress, Mohit Sen had never hesitated to have the Congress as an ally in a ‘united front’ for social emancipation of the masses. From such a perspective, Sen has recorded the ups and downs in this relationship in the history of Indian communism. For Sen, the first injunction of the historical method bequeathed by Marx—the concrete study of concrete reality—was all too often ignored by Communists at large in India. Sen states that the originality of Mao Zedong (On Practice and On Contradiction—his basic philosophical texts) lay in integrating the basic teachings of Marxism-Leninism with the concrete conditions of China and the concrete experience of Chinese evolution (‘seeking truth from concrete facts’). In China, the Communist Party was the instrument of national and social emancipation; indeed it was indispensable to such emancipation. A mature Sen later realised that the Gandhian ideology and programme also combined national and social emancipation. According to Sen, P.C. Joshi stated correctly that in the 20th century the anti-imperialist struggle was the chief form of class struggle. It was this correct orientation that was condemned as his ‘sin of revisionism’. Even Rajani Palme Dutt, who literally pumped anti-Congressism into the veins of the Commu-nists, wrote a thesis in 1936 calling upon the Communists in India to forge unity with the Congress and correct their Left sectarianism. He was to play a similar role in 1980 when theoretically anti-Congressism went together with empirical calls for unity with the Congress. For Sen, perhaps this was a contradiction in the great man’s make-up between faith (Stalinism) and reason (concrete analysis of a concrete situation). Sen states that Nehru’s aim was to carry on the strategy of national unity for national freedom in which social transformation was to be achieved by a combination of state action and mass movement. The Communists, except Dange and Joshi, saw this appeal as a cunning manoeuvre to deprive them of revolu-tionary zeal. Under the leadership of Ajoy Ghosh even Sen saw Nehru’s socialism as a hoax to fool the people. Later Sen laments: “The reason for this was dogmatic and one-sided understanding of Marxism and a refusal to start from existing reality”. (Sen ibid: 491, 47, 127)
Sen narrates that after the debacle in Andhra in 1952 the inner-party division was really between the Joshi line of Congress-Communist unity for national advance and people’s welfare and the Sundarayya-Ranadive line of people’s democratic, anti-Congress unity. The ‘Left’ wanted the CPI to be a party of outright oppo-sition to the Congress. Joshi and Dange wanted the CPI to be an independent party that would establish an alliance with the Congress while combating those of its policies and measures which it considered to be against the interests of the people. In addition to the Maoist theoretical justification of splitting the Communist Party, there were basic disagreements in the CPI on internal Indian problems on three basic issues—first, was India a truly independent country with a stable democratic system or was it still to climb out of the colonial system with a sham democracy that would crumble at any real challenge to it? The CPI believed in the former, those who formed the CPI-M in the latter. Second, was it possible to qualitatively transform the present state and society by using the relatively peaceful democratic path of parliamentary and extra-parliamentary mass movements or was it indispensable to embark sooner rather than later on the road of armed struggle in the cities and countryside? The CPI believed in the former, while those who formed the CPI-M in the latter. Third, was the Congress a broadly Centrist party towards which the strategy should be that of unity and struggle or was it the chief party of counter-revolution that should be destroyed as soon as possible? Again, the CPI believed in the former and the CPI-M in the latter. (Sen ibid: 149, 244)

As Sen’s reflects, Ravi Narayan Reddy viewed that the interest of the working class and working people could best be represented by the Communists provided they integrated these interests with national interest and did not oppose one to the other. Ajoy Ghosh evolved the concept of national democracy, replaced the concept of the dictatorship of proletariat by that of socialist statehood and proposed the line of unity and struggle with the Congress but his personal prejudices were also an impediment in his uniting with P.C. Joshi and S.A. Dange. Sen laments that “if these three leaders had come together the entire subsequent history of the CPI could have been changed for the better”. Mohan Kumarmangalam called for a fresh look at the history of the Congress which, he felt, would bring to light many points of convergence between the CPI and Congress. The CPI promoted the United Front strategy with success of which two outstanding examples were the organisation of Indo-Soviet friendship and peace and solidarity movement and the United Front Government in Kerala that lasted from 1969 to 1978. (Sen ibid: 118, 139, 255, 304)

Unfortunately, Sen says that using the denun-ciation of the Emergency to repudiate the strategy of collaboration with Congress and shift to a strategy of anti-Congressism and unity with other parties of the Left, in particular with the CPI-M, Rajeswara Rao beat the drum of ‘class independence’. In Rao’s view, in India the strongest party of the bourgeoisie was the Congress and no advance of a working class party was possible without the defeat of this party. The 1980 elections resulted in Indira Gandhi winning the elections. In the National Council, Dange was made the scapegoat for being a longstanding votary of Congress-Communist unity and he was replaced from the position of the party Chairman. Rajeswara Rao used democratic centralism not only to defeat Dange but also to stifle the inner dissent within the CPI. (Sen ibid: 387)

Dange used to stress on the indispensability of integrating the nation and the class in the work of the communist movement. Class consciousness was narrowly interpreted as being synonymous with support for the Communist Party. Dange’s concept was to raise the level of general knowledge and consciousness of the workers till they realised that they were a class and then decided to support any particular party. In India the Communists fought for India’s freedom but missed the national revolution. In the aftermath of the Total Revolution movement in India, Dange remarked—“We were always trying to become alternative to the Congress instead of cooperating with it and the Congress was confronting counter-revolution and we were confronting the party”. Dange’s cryptic statement to Sen was that ‘the CPI had no further historic role to play’. (Sen ibid: 431)

Sen in a meeting bitterly accused CR (Rajeswara Rao) of betraying the party and himself and beginning the destruction of the distinctive contribution that the CPI had made and could continue to make to India progressing towards socialism along the path of democracy and through consolidation of national unity. The way the CPI and CPI-M worked assiduously holding aloft the banner of anti-Congressism for the past three decades mainly in West Bengal and also at the national level the future was forecast by Sen in his caustic remarks: “The CPI would convert itself into a tail of and eventually a clone of the CPI-M. I added that while there could be more than one Communist Party in the country, there was no room for two CPI-Ms” and “The honest course would be to dissolve the CPI and for its members to individually apply for membership of the CPI-M—something that the CPI-M leadership itself was suggesting”. (Sen ibid: 370, 398).

Mohit Sen got disturbed by the lack of dialectical understanding of the Indian situation by the Indian Left but never went beyond the parameters of the Marxist approach to politics in the true Marxian spirit. Thus ‘what is wrong with Marxism?’ kind of question did not arise in Sen’s mind and he lists a number of factors for the same—“the accomplishments of the communist movement worldwide and the positive orien-tation that it provided for my thought and life; the futility and the worse of alternative modes of thought, philosophy including religion, liberalism and Gandhism as intellectual systems; the high level of intellect, learning and morality of those who were Marxists or sympathisers. Above all, it enabled and impelled me and my companions to fight what was evil and unjust and to live intense and creative lives.” (Sen ibid: 221)

According to Sen, “The inner-party struggle was not a struggle only for power over the Party. It was a struggle over ideas, perspectives and the nature of revolution in general and in India in particular.” (Sen ibid: 244) That such an inner-party struggle continues even today regarding the approach towards the Congress was amply demonstrated when the CPI-M Polit-Bureau expelled Prasenjit Bose in June 2012 from the membership of the CPI-M under Article VIII (2) of the Party Constitution as he refused to accept his resignation from both the post of Convener, Research Unit of the party’s Central Committee, and primary membership for his alleged act to “malign the political line of the Party” for simply drawing the attention of the leadership to some basic conclusions of the Political Resolution (PR) at the Party’s 20th Congress (April 4-9, 2012, Kozhikode) in paragraphs, 2.137 and 2.138 about the commit-ment to “politically fight the Congress and the BJP…..” and saying that “Only a Left and democratic platform can be the alternative to bourgeois-landlord rule…. rallying non-Congress, non-BJP forces which can play a role in defence of democracy, national sovereignty, secularism, federalism and in defence of the people’s livelihood and rights.” Therefore, Bose argued, that the Polit-Bureau’s decision to extend support to the Congress’ nominee for the 2012 presidential election was “a brazen violation of the political line within less
than three months of the Party Congress”. A commentator states: “The CPI-M Polit-Bureau’s refusal to accept the resignation… was expected from the Stalinist mandarins of the CPI-M’s national headquarters at A.K. Gopalan Bhavan …The word ‘malign’ has a different etymolo-gical root for a Stalinist party. To disclose the truth is to malign the party (read leadership coterie)… The tradition of annihi-lation of truth has been shamelessly upheld by the Karat-led Polit-Bureau. The erstwhile blue-eyed theologian was given a bad name and then hanged.” (Ray: 2012) Later in August 2012 his spouse Albeena Shakil was expelled from the primary membership of the CPI-M
for “indulging in anti-party activities”. The disciplinary action against Albeena has to be seen in the aftermath of the draconian and vindictive action against the “dissolution” of the entire SFI unit in the JNU for taking the dissenting political position vis-à-vis the CPI-M’s decision to support Pranab Mukherjee in the Presidential poll. The unit leaders of the SFI at the JNU proclaimed that the CPI-M leader-ship’s paranoia has reached such proportions that all norms of party organisation functioning are being thrown into the dustbin to target “suspects” and silence those who have a different opinion. (Website 1)
In the context of expulsion of dissidents as a continuing practice in the Indian communist movement, Mohit Sen’s arguments hold good ground as he mentions about a “dissident comrade who once told ‘democratic centralism allotted five minutes for democracy’ as the dissident view was given very little time for articulation”. Experiencing the personal slander campaign against P.C. Joshi, S.A. Dange and himself, Sen is at his polemical best when he writes: “It feels good to be a member of such a party so long as you do not disagree with the Party line and are either a member of the leadership or liked by the leaders. The pinch comes and somewhat more than just a pinch when you disagree, are pushed into dissidence and eventually to being thrown out. It was Trotsky who said that you can never be right against the Party…The titles of Deutscher’s great trilogy on Trotsky sums it all up—the prophet armed, the prophet disarmed, the prophet in exile.” (Sen ibid: 502, 403)


IN a recent insightful article, a contemporary commentator on Left politics in India opines: “Since almost all shades of the Indian Left move within the horizon of ‘market socialism’ keeping the instruments of the state and the commodity principle intact, ….And since the Indian Left (most notably the Communist Party of India-Marxist) has never articulated a post-commodity society, they can never imagine a post-capitalist society. In this sense one can chide them that it is not Marx’s Capital that served as a model, but Stalin’s Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR and Mao’s Critique of Society Economics that institutionalised state capitalism in the Left movement.…As the Left are armed with theories from Aristotle to Kant and from Stalin to Mao, there is a fundamental failure of the Left to grasp the radical character of what Benjamin called the “time of now”. The crisis also lies in the fact that we are perpetually bound by the epistemological and ideological horizons set by capitalism. The solution too has to be objective, an objectivity that has to transcend the fetishism of false objectivity: of reified (or false) objectivism. One has to transcend the horizons of bourgeois thinking.” (Jal 2012: 51)

Sen noticed the CPI engulfed within such “horizons of bourgeosie thinking” when in 1979 Rajeswara Rao even developed a theory to buttress his support to Charan Singh. This theory was that for the working class it was always better if the government they opposed was that of the ‘weak’ bourgeoisie rather than that of the strong bourgeoisie as the working class could far more easily overthrow a weak bourgeois government. That “theoretical burden” was impeding the Communist Parties to set their directions right made Sen to analyse at hindsight that the Marx that influenced the communist movement in India was the author of the Communist Manifesto and for a select few the author of bi-class polarised society as set out in Das Kapital, Volume 1. The Marx of the Eighteenth Brumaire, to say nothing of the Grundrisse, was unknown for all practical purposes. The biggest break from Marx was in the treatment of classes. Class consciousness was narrowly interpreted as class sympathy, synonymous with support for the Communist Party. It was a naked and even aggressive acceptance of the class approach. This was useful for ideological enthusiasm but not for understanding as complex society as ours containing many communities, combining many centuries and transitional in diverse ways. Lenin, as presented in the writings of Stalin (The History of CPSU(B), Short Course and the Foundations of Leninism), was more influential in shaping the Indian communist movement. Stalin’s implementation of democratic centralism as the basic principle of party organi-sation emphasised discipline and obedience to the extent that creativity and initiative were virtually illegalised within it. Theory becomes an unquestioned and unquestionable dogma. Received wisdom becomes a barrier to going beyond to newer realms of knowledge. Sen brings in Eric Hobsbawm, who believed that in the conditions of democracy and open ideological combat, it was essential that Marxism fought its battle with excellence and practical proof rather than reference to the texts of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin. (Sen ibid: 386, 495, 89)

A recent critical narrative on Left politics in Bengal mentions that in West Bengal when there seemed to exist a large, complex story of widespread disaffection among people with the party and government, the CPI-M leaders chose to whittle it down to a simple formula of ‘conspiracy’. Prakash Karat, on the occasion of the 43rd anniversary of Ganashakti, remarked: “What is happening in Lalgarh, Kolkata, Nandigram and north Bengal cannot be seen in isolation. It is a well-planned onslaught against the CPI-M and the Left Front Government where every kind of instrument is used to isolate and weaken the party and the government…..Our party has been built through a class struggle and we’ve to see to it so that this conspiracy against the Communists is defeated.” The celebrations on the 43rd anniversary of Ganashakti came at a time when the party, virtually hemmed in by restive forces stretching from Darjeeling to Lalgarh, was still reeling from the after-effects of Nandigram and Singur. The author of the narrative comments: “Conspiracies—fantasies of enemy forces out to destroy it—indeed constitute a substantive part of the CPI-M’s political psychology. The names and faces of plotters have changed over time—foreign agents to political radicals and electoral adversaries, but the essential text of the CPI-M’s political engagement still reads the same.” (Gupta 2010: 127, 130)

As a true disciple of Marxist vocabulary internalising the spirit of the communist movement, Sen seemed to have forecast such events would be a recurring feature in the history of the Left movement as he stated in his autobiography: “It was axiomatically assumed that in countries where the Communists were once in power there could be no internal movement that would challenge it. Any such challenge had to be externally inspired, led and supplied.” Sen comments that “In the view of persons with the background and mental make-up of Stalin dominated periods of the world communist movement, it was difficult to accept that history could be made by other parties and other ideologies when once the communist movement had come into existence. This was the case with all the CPI leaders except to an extent and to a growing extent with P.C. Joshi and S.A. Dange.” (Sen ibid: 264,164)
Mohit Sen remembers the comment of Dr Verghese Kurien, the pioneer of white revolution in India, who died recently—“…the Communists care little for the peasants. They forgot that their Red Flag carried as emblems both the sickle and the hammer and the sickle protected the hammer.” (Sen ibid: 395). It cannot be more validated than the experience of March 2007 in West Bengal when the seemingly inalienable bond between peasants and the CPI-M came apart at the seams in Singur and Nandigram. The ‘benefactors’ asked the ‘beneficiaries’ to execute their commands without raising any thorny question and there were hail of bullets putting to death resisting peasants at Nandigram.

Achin Vanaik argues that in course of the mainstream Indian Left’s [primarily the CPI and CPI-M’s] deep involvement in parliamentary politics over the years, its original promise of staying rooted in the masses has gradually faded away, resulting in its failure to carry out the strategy of mass mobilisation at the desired level. It is this space that has been taken over by the Maoists. Ironically Vanaik points out: “… when the mainstream parliamentary Left effectively endorses the Indian state’s policies towards the Maoists—or worse still, as in West Bengal, even orders armed actions against them—it is doing serious damage to its own cause.”(Vanaik 2011: 106)

In the same breath if one makes a textual reading of Sen’s autobiography, one gets a clearer picture of what is being hinted at. Sen argues that the central idea of the Naxalites was that one should not wait for the people to be ready for armed struggle but to prepare the people for armed struggle by the starting of such a struggle by dedicated revolutionaries. One should not wait for any party to be formed but form the party through the armed struggle. Influenced by the book of Regis Debray titled Revolution in a Revolution, this was of course nothing but the old anarchism of Blanqui and Bakunin dressed up in the new tunic of Lin Biao’s army. The Naxalite movement would not, however, have acquired the dimensions that it did were it not for the difficulties, delays and failures in the continuing national revolution and its state to implement its own programme and promises. In addition the CPI had not worked out the strategy of the democratic transition to the next stage of the revolution while the CPI-M denounced such a strategy as revisionist betrayal of their revolution. Naxalites had the idealism of the young participants in the movement and their total misreading of the Indian situation as well as some bizarre practices. Police and the special task force set up to seek out and destroy the Naxalites dealt mercilessly with them and state terrorism was more brutal than the Naxalites. The CPI-M leadership, for example, kept talking about armed struggle but did not go beyond talking. Later, a section within it broke away to establish what has come to be known as the Naxalite formation led by T. Naggi Reddy. The CPI-M barely took up any ideological struggle against them apart from branding them as CIA agents. (Sen ibid: 285, 287)

The mainstream Indian Left is plagued with what Achin Vanaik has categorised as “parlia-mentary Stalinism” which is taking all advantages of parliamentary democracy by being its beneficiary, while harbouring a solid silence in regard to the question of democracy. It is now being argued by Marxists themselves that in the name of democratic centralism, a principle that was accepted as a guiding spirit of party organisation in the prevailing condition of Tsarist Russia, democratisation of the Left movement has been obstructed, blocking both fresh air and new blood. This also brings into focus a larger question relating to the class composition of the party leadership. Professor Shobhanlal Duttagupta mentions that “in West Bengal, there has hardly been any representation of the so-called lower strata, the depressed classes, adivasis, women and the minority communities in the leadership of the Left parties. All of them are dominated by the Hindus of dominant castes. This again reminds one of Lenin’s fervent plea in the closing years of his life that in order to democratise the functioning of the party it was imperative to induct more and more workers in the Central Committee.” (Duttagupta ibid: 109)

Again Sen’s writing comes as a torchbearer to understand Duttagupta’s implied meanings in a broader perspective. Sen notes that the biggest break from Marx was in the treatment of classes. Classes in themselves and classes for themselves is a distinction as old as Marxism itself. Classes finding themselves as it were through an integration of economic, ideological and political struggle are what Engel’s postulated in Anti-Duhring. Lenin, in What Is To be Done?, insisted that working class consciousness of its historic role to lead the struggle for socialism could only come about through the unity of the actual movement of the workers and the efforts of the socialist intelligentsia in the form of a vanguard party. This complex process of the formation of the working class into a class for itself was not adequately or understood at all by the Communists of India. The working class was treated as a class on the basis of its sheer existence, on the one hand, and the activities of the Communist Party, whatever they were, were taken as those of the working class, on the other. Class origin does not determine everything. Marx and Engels had stated in the Communist Manifesto of a portion of the ideologists of the ruling class taking part in the revolution who had theoretically understood the movement of history as a whole. They led not only the struggle for national emancipation but also that for social justice. Marx theoretically hinted this in the Grundrisse when he advanced the concept of ‘collective labourer’ in which, apart from the industrial proletariat, transport workers, engineers and scientists were included. The unity of labour and culture envisaged by Gramsci also points in the same direction. The working intelligentsia or ‘mental labourers’ can be the leader of the progress of humanity to socialism. The Communists in India, Sen believed, missed this historic fact and the working class was given a burden it could not bear. (Sen ibid.: 182, 505)

In line with Lenin’s thinking, but closer home, Mohit Sen also analysed that the Party whole-timers worked on a party wage that was meagre but the Party could not pay more. All received the same wage be they leaders or ordinary cadres, with grades for the number of family members. However, Sen comments that “Over the years departure from these strict standards had led to a situation where the previous equality between the Party workers was reduced to a mockery. It also reflected the difficulties of running the Party in conditions of legality over a long period when the pace and rhythm of the revolution was slow. I should imagine that in conditions of long term legality it is advisable to have as few wholetimers as possible and to have many more members participate in the work of the Party with a wide ranging system of allowances.” (Sen ibid: 248-49)


MOHIT Sen inherited the spirit of communism which was seen in terms of theory as well as practice as a carry forward of the already existing modes of thought and action. True to the dialectical approach of Marxism, Sen tried to transcend the opposite understandings of a given situation with a new approach without siding with any of the opposites. Such a phase was most noticeable in Sen’s life in the events following the Prague Spring of 1968-69. The Action Programme to introduce a multi-party civil libertarian democratic system and a combination of market and planning and adopting an inde-pendent foreign policy and competing elections with other parties where the Communist Party had the monopoly of power running the risk of losing elections were the important items of the ‘Prague Spring’ spearheaded by Dubcek and other leaders of the Communist Party of Czechoslo-vakia. In totality these reforms intended to establish ‘socialism with a human face’ that very much resembled the vision and programme of Nehruvian socialism. As the enthusiasm with ‘Prague Spring’ was gaining ground internationally and among the leaders of the CPI (though Dange was skeptical), the ‘Brezhnev doctrine’ was pushed to the fore aiming to prevent what the Soviet leadership would consider as the export of counter-revolution and which presented a threat to the security of the Soviet Union and, therefore, to global peace. The most crucial decision to be taken was whether or not the Soiviet Union and those of its Warsaw Pact allies who agreed with it should militarily intervene to cut short the ‘creeping counter-revolution’ in Czechoslovakia. China, Romania and Yugoslavia opposed it. The CPI-M was opposed to the Dubcek line, root and branch. After six months of inner-party discussion to the utter dismay of Sen, it became clear that supporters of Soviet intervention were clearly in a majority in the CPI as well.

Sen proclaims: “For me, this was a turning point in my personal development as the biggest two—Dange and Rajeswara Rao—was opposed to my point of view. It was then I decided that I should trust my own judgment no matter who disagreed with me. The Soviet intervention demonstrated how incomplete and tumultuous was the break from the fundamentals of Stalinism not only in the CPSU but also in the CPI.” An important landmark in his personal ideological-political development was the writing of the booklet India’s Revolution—Path and Perspective in 1970 where he stated that our freedom struggle was a national revolution and that it overthrew the colonial state and founded a national state. Reminding Lenin’s declaration that the fundamental question of every revolution was the question of power, Sen wrote that on August 15, 1947 “India witnessed the overthrow of colonial class rule and its replacement by rather rule of a national bloc of classes—the bourgeoisie, workers, peasants and petty bourgeoisie. For the communist movement 15th August was either a downright betrayal of the revolution or it was a compromise for sharing of power between the colonialists and the Indian capitalist-landlord bloc. I broke with that understanding.” (Sen ibid: 267, 292)

Renowned communist ideologue Prabhat Patnaik argues that empiricisation or the pursuit of a political praxis that is uninformed by the project of transcending capitalism was ultimately responsible for the defeat of the CPI-M in West Bengal. It is this empiricisation that is far more worrying than the election defeat itself. In a period when many have abandoned the concept of imperialism, the CPI-M remains steadfast in its adherence to this concept; as long as the concept and project remain valid, the historical relevance of the party remains unimpaired.
But if the party does not arrest the process of empiricisation it has been experiencing and finally ends up accepting the hegemony of bourgeois theory, then it will get supplanted by some other communist formation subscribing to a theoretical position similar to what it has today. (Patnaik: 2011) Murzaban Jal, agreeing with Patnaik that the established Left is governed by a form of “empiricisation” where the prog-ramme of communism as the transcendence of capitalism is totally forgotten for a form of state capitalist social engineering, believes that the project of transcending capitalism can never be formulated if the rigorous critique of the old socialist principles (keeping commodity production intact within the socialist order) is not undertaken. (Jal ibid: 50) Professor Shobhanlal Duttagupta says: “Taking cue form Antonio Gramsci one can argue the Left in West Bengal has paid the price for being guided not by the strategy of hegemony but by that of domination. Instead of exploring a language seeking the consent of the governed, it chose a language of power, control and surveillance. The strategy of domination led to seizure of seats, not always by adopting fair means, but what escaped their attention was that the hegemonic sweep could hardly cross the 50 per cent borderline even after 34 years of Left rule. The Gramscian understanding that the Communist Party has to be the ‘Modern Prince’, the vehicle of ‘national popular collective consciousness’, could never be grasped by the powers to be.” (Duttagupta ibid: 110)

Mohit Sen’s life-saga demonstrates everything what these contemporary commentators profess. Sen’s antipathy towards the anti-Congress brand of unidirectional political strand of the mainstream Left in India (mostly captured through the CPI and CPI-M’s party politics) showcases his commitment for a “rigorous critique of the old socialist principles”. Sen notes that “the leaders of the CPI-M clung more tenaciously to the mystique that mass action was the source of all wisdom. The leaders of that party seemed never to have read or at least understood Lenin’s What Is To Be Done? and the relationship between theory and practice, between socialist consciousness and mass movements. The concepts of praxis (revolutionary practice) and theoretical practice were not taken seriously by them. For the CPI leadership, intellectuals and intellectual activity were useful only if both were subordinated to it. Neither leadership seriously attempted to work out the logic of their positions. What the CPI was unable to clear about was its assessment of the Congress. It needs to be reiterated that the success and failure are due to the CPI’s incomplete break from Stalinism and to the CPI-M’s failure to combine Stalinism and Maoism.” Sen states categorically that “The split as it took place was unnecessary and harmful because the CPI did not really break comprehensively, ideologically and theoretically from Stalinism. A proper break, however, was essential and the CPI after the split embodied the best chance for bringing about such a break.” (Sen ibid: 250-53)

It seems that Sen shouldered such a responsibility, when highly influenced by the “Gramscian understanding of the Communist Party” and Palmro Togliatti’s concepts of ‘structural trans-formation’ and ‘the United Front as a strategy’, Mohit Sen launched in 1987 the United Communist Party of India (UCPI) based on his unconditional faith in communist principles and frustrated by the Stalinisation of the leading Communist Parties in India with an aim to achieve some-thing like the Italian Communist Party’s ‘socialism of the ninety percent’. Validating Patnaik’s claim that the party “will get supplanted by some other communist formation subscribing to a theoretical position similar to what it has today”, the UCPI, as a new type of Communist Party, vowed to develop an organisation that would be democratic and at the same time a party of effective and rapid action, whose ideology would be based on the fundamentals of Marxism-Leninism, creatively developing these in the light of the experience of revolutionary movements as well as a total break from dogmatic, sectarian, anti-scienctific and anti-human Stalinism. In terms of political practice, the United Communist Party of India considered the Indian National Congress as the most powerful party of the ongoing revolution and regarded itself as its strategic ally along with the CPI and CPI-M. The strategy of communist and nationalist unity was and is a sound and indispensable one not only in India but in all countries where the dominant reality was national oppression and the aim of the national revolution was to vanquish it and advance to development, social emancipation and democratic socialism. Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, The Long to Freedom, mentioned the cooperation between the African National Congress and South African Communist Party. The UCPI’s programme broadly remained the same as that of the CPI, that is, the transition to socialism through the national democratic revolution with two new points that the transition would not be through an armed revolution but by democratic mass movements combining parliamentary and extra-parliamen-tary forms of struggle. What was novel was the characterisation of the present state as a multi-class national state. Sen opines, “As politicians and politics were indispensable for popular sovereignty and civil liberty, so also was there a need for a new type of Communist Party. So I would say that the jury is still out on the question about the fate of the UCPI.”(Sen ibid: 450-51, 457,478)


MOHIT Sen’s ideas are reflected in his autobio-graphy in the context of the overall political developments in the national and international communist movement. The book is thus a must read for all the sympathisers of communist ideals for understanding the theoretical cross-currents present within its fold and to take a position a la Marx, Lenin and Gramsci going beyond Stalin’s approach for a better popular base in Indian society. Guided by Lenin’s conceptualisation of the unity and struggle of opposites and Mao’s elaboration of the meaning of Contradiction, Mohit Sen’s different ideological and theoretical commitment was noted by none other than Jawaharlal Nehru when he described Sen as “a Communist with nationalist sympa-thies” (Sen ibid: 239)

Indian politics has reached a crossroad where coalition among political parties is the only route to attain power. In such a situation the mainstream Indian Left, as represented through the Communist Parties, has shown considerable effort to form alliances with non-BJP and non-Congress parties but not with major success due to lack of cohesion among the Third Front constituents. It was only after getting aligned with the Congress in the UPA-1 Government during 2004-08 that the Indian Left came closest to influence political power/government policies directly at the national level. However, such an alliance ended abruptly. One can also notice considerable division among the Communist Parties regarding their support to the Congress party as seen during the recently concluded elections to the posts of the President and Vice-President of India.

On the occasion of S.A. Dange’s 113th birth anniversary on October 10, 2012, a re-reading of Mohit Sen’s autobiography against the backdrop of the ideological twilight zone the Indian Left has reached today, brings to the fore the continuing relevance of the strategy of ‘unity and struggle’ with the Congress party. Commen-ting on the Indian communist movement, Mohit Sen states that Brecht has written, ‘Unhappy the nation that needs heroes’ and Sen adds ‘tragic the movement that cannot have the heroes, that it needs’. For Sen, heroes are those characters who like true travellers continue to search for new routes (read new political positions or to update the existing positions within the Marxist theoretical formulations) without being content like a tourist with the given road-map (read the path of the mainstream Indian Left’s position of the simple anti-Congress agendum).

Sen’s concluding remarks in his autobio-graphy are like a beacon light for the directionless and ideologically moribund Left politics in India. Sen says: “Communists we have been of different kinds. There will be other kinds in the future but Communists there will be. More open than we were, less arrogant and going along with many others who will not be Communists but whose aims, though differently expressed, will not be all that different from and not antagonistic to what Marx wished for humanity. He predicted fulfilment without insisting that a particular party was needed for it.” (Sen ibid: 510)

Recently by withdrawing support from the UPA-2 Government on the issue of FDI and subsidies in LPG cylinder, the Trinamul Congress is seen successfully adopting the Joshi-Dange-Mohit Sen strategic brand of ‘unity and struggle’ strategy vis-à-vis the Congress for the cause of social emancipation. In the ‘empty homogeneous time of ours’ where one finds only ‘small changes in politics’(Patnaik 2011: 12) can the Left parties leave the ‘political space’ for the Trinamul Congress by being far removed from executing such a strategy in a sustained manner? Such a question may drive the Indian Communist Parties to set their political course in the days to come. Meanwhile one can only offer sincere tributes to Mohit Sen and his brand of analysis of Indian politics and communist movement by saying—“The author is dead, long live the author”!

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The author, who stood First Class First in Political Science in BA (2004) and MA (2006) exams in the University of Kolkata, completed his M.Phil (2008) from the same University; he is presently registered as a Ph.D scholar working on “Domestic Roots?: Interrogating the Positions of Marxist Political Parties in India on Indian Foreign Policy”. He specialises in Comparative Politics, South Asian Politics and Public Administration, while teaching as an Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Kalyani, Nadia (West Bengal).

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