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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 23, New Delhi, May 22, 2021

Revive Dange-Line to Revive Parliamentary Left Politics in India | Pratip Chattopadhyay

Saturday 22 May 2021

by Pratip Chattopadhyay*

Comrade Sripad Amrit Dange died on 22nd May 1991. After three decade of his death, parliamentary left politics in India is facing a near extinction situation with only 5 MPs in 17th Lok Sabha following 2019 elections and governing in one federal unit, Kerala. The latest shock came with 2021 West Bengal Assembly election verdict where not a single candidate won from Left parties or Left led alliance including Indian National Congress and Indian Secular Front. As always Comrade Dange and his political line of Congress-Communist united front against the rise of communal fascist forces is not highlighted by left leaders but they are ready with critical approach towards such united front tactics following the latest debacle. In this article Dange-line is contextualized theoretically and practically in Indian parliamentary politics domain and linked with the probable revival route of Indian parliamentary leftism.

Left politics in India is a divided house torn internally from the days of its inception. The debate still lingers on the year of origin of Communist Party of India among left political circles between 1920 and 1925. Left Front parties(CPI, CPI(M), RSP, FB) and non-Left Front political parties (SUCI, CPI(ML)) are at loggerheads with each other regarding a correct political line. Moreover those defying party line, particularly in CPI(M) are often expelled and some expelled leaders like Saifuddin Chowdhury (late) and Samir Putatundu’s party PDS still battles out the Left-front. Some other expelled leaders joined rival political parties like Rhitobrata Banerjee. Still some other expelled leaders like Prasenjit Bose becomes critical of the present genre of Left Front leadership and rages an underground battle against all rival political forces in an elusive quest to find out a correct left political line. Most interestingly from the days of independence, left politics have altered its political line so many times on the question of character of Indian State and its ruling class and correct approach towards them, that presently left politics has no political line but only emotional attachment to socialist idea of class struggle and communist vision of classless society. Hardly have they realized that other identities like caste, gender, ethnicity, culture, religion and community have become more influential idioms in contemporary Indian politics than class struggle. Today collaboration with these identitarian movements for their rights and just position in society is the new form of struggle in addressing Indian politics which has become more transactional (short term social security) than transformative(long term change in social position) in nature. It was Comrade Sripad Amrit Dange who defied dogmatism of left political parties and tried to contemporaries left politics in India by developing new method of struggle in the form of collaboration keeping in mind larger political, cultural, economic and social issues. Such openness came as a shock to the party-leadership and CPI finally shed ties with Comrade Dange in early 1980s. Interesting to note that Dange, who was prized with the Order of Lenin by Soviet Union and for whom chairman post was created within CPI, was not expelled. Such an act by the Party to dissociate and shed terms with a personality like Dange without mentioning the word ‘expelled’ speaks volume of the merit of the vision and action of Comrade Dange who had foreseen the future of Indian politics of 2021 in 1970 itself! So it is time to go back to the future for left parties in India.

There are several difference between 1970s and 2021 –(a) Indian National Congress have not only diminished its parliamentary electoral prominence but faces a crisis of leadership internally and even could not find enough strength in federal elections as well (b) Left political parties have not only reached a near extinction situation electorally but leadership feuds surfaces regularly questioning and criticizing each other on correct approach to Indian politics (c) Regionalism have become more prominent and regional political parties are playing a critical role than ever before in Indian politics (d) fascist politics as a mix of authoritarianism and majortarianism have intruded the cultural bedrock of Indian society in a fundamental manner particularly from 2014 onwards with BJP coming to power with a massive mandate at central level (e) left-liberal-secular social and political sphere is under attack unprecedented in Indian history because a tendency of unilateralism rather than pluralism is waving across the country. So Dange’s prescription for an alternative politics of united front under the communist-congress leadership needs to be reinterpreted to contemporize Dange-line. But before contemporizing Dange, it is essential to historicize Dange and understand the self-critical evolution of his politics. Dange was an ardent follower of Bal Gangadhar Tilak, the leader of extremist section of Indian National Congress. When Dange was about to compare extremism of Bolsheviks in Soviet Russia under Lenin and that of Tilak in India in late 1919, Dange found Indian politics under the seize of Mahatma Gandhi and his non-cooperation movement. Dange in his twenties, hurriedly wrote the first socialist pamphlet in India comparing Lenin and Gandhi in 1921 (Gandhi vs. Lenin) and severely criticized Gandhi and his political methods. Later in 1931 Dange declared that a decade back his understanding of Indian politics was naïve and he accepted the merit of Gandhian method in which Dange found revolutionary potential of bringing together the masses against the British. However Dange adhered to the prescription of Lenin regarding the role of communists in a colonial country - “With regard to the more backward states and nations…all Communist parties must assist the bourgeois-democratic liberation movement in these countries, and that the duty of rendering the most active assistance rests primarily with the workers of the country.”(for a detailed discussion see V.I. Lenin(1920): ‘Draft Theses on National and Colonial Questions: For the Second Congress of Communist International’. Lenin’s Collected Works, 2nd English Edition, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1965, Volume 31, pages 144-151) – and found progressive element in bourgeoisie leadership of Indian National Congress. As against CPI position, Dange’s different position on nature of Indian State, Gandhi-Nehru-Indira leadership, Sino-Indian 1962 war, bank nationalisation of 1967 earned infamy for him within CPI and later on among left circle as an agent of Congress. However a careful reading of Dange’s speeches in Parliament demonstrate that Dange criticised Congress government both during Nehru and Indira Gandhi’s Primeministership whenever situation demanded as Dange followed in letter and spirit the temporality dimension in Marxist dictum of ‘unity and struggle’ of opposite forces. In other words, simultaneous unity and struggle with a particular political force is both logical and scientific for a temporary period if situation demands for preservation of national integrity, national interest, democratic and secular political space and for larger long term interest of working class. As a firebrand trade union activist and leader who popularised the idea of strike and as a strategic political leader always trying to find way out to keep left politics in a leadership role in the country, Dange personified the bridging of gulf between ‘street politics’ and ‘electoral politics’, a debate which has surfaced among Left leaders following the debacle of West Bengal assembly verdict of 2021. That there is no gulf between ‘street politics’ and ‘electoral politics’ if one has a correct understanding of Marxism-Leninism and can remain free from dogmatism and egoism, is a lesson that left leaders has to learn from Comrade S.A. Dange.

Today there are three routes for revival of left political parties in parliamentary electoral democracy of India that are discussed among left circles – (a) continue with street politics of mass movements, mass connectivity and mass campaign against the policy-decisions of ruling class at centre and federal level, a brand that SUCI has mastered over the years with the watchword of breaking free of the shackles of bourgeoisie-corporate ruling class structure, waiting patiently for that elusive historical moment when masses will realise and reward them. Ironically the only time SUCI could win a Parliament MP seat is in their moment of alliance with Trinamul Congress! (b) continue with grass-root ideological knowledge sharing of class struggle of Marxism-Leninism and make people realise the vaccuosness of corporatized ruling class policies and programmes which are actually effort to feed the broader global capitalist structure and agencies and fight elections and after elections mostly singularly but sometimes in alliance form and win suddenly and massively, a brand that has been experimented by CPI(ML-L) in the recently held Bihar assembly elections in November 2020. (c) continue with high-level inner-party ideological and political discussions and debate with routine verbatim of being reflector, repository and saviour of working-class and poor sections of society and follow a concrete analysis of concrete situation and form different alliance strategies for different federal units and national level election and keep faith on masses to get bored and dissatisfied with similar policies and programmes of neo-liberal crony capitalist ruling classes at all levels and vote for them, a brand that CPI(M) has mastered off late and has made its’ front partners to eschew it. Apart from these three potions, there are two other approaches that are offered by left-leaning intellectuals and left sympathetic youths. While the former asks for re-reading of canonical texts of Marx and Lenin to find some new fresh theoretical insights from them to practice, the latter wants to engage with the masses in times of crisis like that of Covid pandemic and do some genuine work in the form of red volunteers and enjoy the adventurism keeping the ‘social’ over the ‘electoral’ gains. Taken together the revival of left politics seems far-sighted as none of these roadmaps addresses the current political, cultural and economic scenario of the country which is under the seize of a right reactionary fascist religious majoritarian ultra-nationalist political force – B.J.P and hardly there is any meaningful opposition at the central level to resist them.

Therefore a meaningful revival strategy for left political parties is twofold – (a)to unite among themselves and (b) try to revive the broader oppositional space in the country. In the former strategy, particularly CPI(M) must take the lead to dissolve all differences among all left formations of the country, like SCUI and CPI(ML) and also PDS for a broader left unity, something which was experimented for a short while post-2014 national electoral verdict. Also expelled but important leaders like Prasenjit Bose who still have not joined any political party must be brought in by revoking the expulsion and a united effort of all left leaders and organisation must be created with immediate effect keeping the larger goal of reviving the electoral parliamentary leftism in India. In the second strategy, left parties must take leadership to forge a broad united front of all anti-BJP political forces in the country both at central and federal level and see to it that in each election in each constituency anti-BJP forces must unite and give a unanimous candidate with the broader goal of securing the secular fabric of the country. In this effort the problematic that surfaces is logic of localised political adversary say with Trinamul Congress in West Bengal, with RJD in Bihar, with AGP in Assam, with DMK in Tamil Nadu, with AAP in Delhi, with TRS in Telengana and with Congress in Kerala. The thematic of defeating BJP everywhere today is so appealing that such local adversarial relations must be done away with and such an act will be rewarded by the masses as well if left political parties as a united whole leads that effort. The question still remains about singularity of left victory everywhere or autonomous presence of left. Today when left vote percentages slides from 34% in 2006 to 4% in 2021 in West Bengal it reflects that left votes have gone to the local adversary political forces of the left including both TMC and BJP. So going by the logic of electoral politics, if left votes add up to winnability of its adversaries by bowling alone, it is better option to increase its own vote share of its own candidates by bowling together even with its adversaries sometimes when votes of its adversaries in an alliance will add up to its winnability. In the long run going by the performance of the left political force people will chose them in a comparative assessment among the elements of the broad aligned force. So united front approach both within left political circle and outside of left political circle is the correct call of our time for the left political parties to lesson and adjust their political line accordingly.

Comrade S.A.Dange was pushed to oblivion by left political parties particularly CPI for prescribing a Congress-Communist united front approach in a specific context of 1970s to resist the growth of right reactionary fascist political force of Janata Dal at that time. The tragedy of history is such that when Dange was misinterpreted as a stooge of Congress, a Congress-Communist coalition government was successfully running in Kerala under the Chief Ministership of C. Achyuta Menon during 1970-77. That history repeat itself second time as a farce is amply demonstrated when today time and again Communist parties under the leadership of CPI(M) are teaming up with Indian National Congress to make an electoral comeback. It is said in Indian culture that if you not give respect or acknowledge your guru or teacher you are doomed to failure. Presently Left-Congress alliance is not clicking simply for this reason. It is important for the present generation to know the political historiography of India and theoretically and practically Congress-Communist alliance happened many a times in the past which have not jeopardised the autonomous presence of neither the left nor the communist and S.A. Dange was the person who vociferously propagated that political line of united front approach with Marxist-Leninist dictum of ‘unity and struggle of opposite’ political force. So name Dange and Dange-line, offer respect, acknowledge Dange’s foresightedness and revive it to revive parliamentary left politics in India. The sooner left leadership of India listen to this historical call the better it is for left politics and secular fabric of Indian society and politics.

*(Author: Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Kalyani, West Bengal)

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