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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 20, May 2, 2009

CPM and "Third Front"

Saturday 2 May 2009, by Barun Das Gupta


As the run-up to the 15th Lok Sabha elections gathers momentum, the CPI-M is desperaely and frantically trying somehow to knock together and prop up under its leadership what it calls a “Third Front” which, it believes, will form the government at the Centre, leaving both the UPA and the NDA far behind in the race.

The desperation is due to the CPI-M’s apprehension that it would lose heavily in both its strongholds of Kerala and West Bengal. If it has to remain relevant in national politcs, it must make up for the losses in these two States by winning seats in other States. And this it can do only by forging an alliance with other parties in a so-called Third Front.

As of now, it is a queer Front, comprising as it does such discrete and incompatible elements as the Bahujan Samaj Party of Mayawati, AIDMK of Jayalalithaa, Biju Janata Dal of Naveen Patnaik (which had consorted with the BJP for eleven long years), Janata Dal (Secular) of H. D. Deve Gowda, Telugu Desam Party of Chandrababu Naidu and Telangana Rashtra Samiti of K. Chandrasekhar Rao. Some of these leaders are not known exactly as paragons of probity in public life.

Names of some likely later entrants to this Front after the elections, now being bruited about, include luminaries like Sharad Pawar of the NCP, Laloo Prasad of the Rashtriya Janata Dal and Ram Vilas Paswan of the Lok Janashakti Party. These three are now part of the ruling UPA.

Since the CPI-M will be the leader and cementing factor of this Front, its strength as an all-India party assumes importance. The Political-Organisational Report adopted at the party’s 19th Congress at Coimbatore last year is a good basis to assess this strength. According to the Report, the total membership of the party in 2007 was 9,82,155, out of which the three States ruled by it, namely, Kerala (3,36,644), West Bengal (3,21,682) and Tripura (67,764), accounted for 7,26,090 or 73.92 per cent of the total.

Let us now turn to the vast Hindi heartland and see how the party fares here. In Haryana, the party membership increased from 1608 in 2004, to 1881 in 2007; in Himachal Pradesh from 1024 to 1505; in Jharkhand from 3292 to 4562; in Madhya Pradesh from 2320 to 3001; in Punjab it declined from 10,050 to 10,040; in Rajasthan from 3120 to 4263; in Uttarakand from 829 to 1050 and in Uttar Pradesh from 5877 to 6175.

Two conclusions are obvious. One, that the CPI-M, for all its claims to being an all-India party, is essentially a party confined to only three States, as three-fourths of its membership are drawn from there. Secondly, that even during the three years (2004 to 2007) when the party was supporting the UPA Government at the Centre and was reaping the maximum advantage of this without the responsibility of power, its strength in the eight Hindi-belt States grew very marginally.

There is also little doubt that much of its strength in West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura comes from power and not from the party organisation, that is, from the people. There is an astounding claim in the Report (p. 115):

Kerala State Committee had given four important fund collection calls in this period. Party members, including leaders, visited houses and shops and collected Rs 6,36,76,437 in two days for constructing a memorial for E.K. Nayanar, Rs 87,45,233 as Palestinian Relief Fund, Rs 76,93,621.50 as relief to Andhra Land Struggle comrades and Rs 7,93,13,880 to help the families of martyrs, old and ailing comrades and the family members of the Party members in jails.

The total works out to a whopping Rs 15,94,29,171,50 or roughly Rs 16 crores. And this money was collected, the CPI-M would have us believe, in two days and from houses and shops!

Even in Maharashtra, once the citadel of the working class movement in India led by such stalwarts as B. T. Ranadive, S. A. Dange and S. S. Mirajkar, the CPI-M’s membership rose from 10,256 in 2004 to 12,051 in 2007. In Narendra Modi’s Gujarat it was even worse: from 3398 to 3526.

As one goes through the party’s Political-Organisational Report, one does not find any serious and self-critical effort to analyse as to why in the era of LPG (Liberalisation, Globalisation and Privatisation), when the job security of the working class is being daily threatened, when tens of thousands are being thrown out of employment on the plea of recession, when the workers are losing their hard-won rights achieved through decades of struggle, the biggest Communist Party is showing signs of political atrophy and inertia.

Thirtytwo years ago, the CPI-M came to power in West Bengal, leading the Left Front of nine parties. Its slogan at the time was Bam Front sarkar, sangramer hatiar (the Left Front Government is an instrument of struggle). It was not a Front to win elections but, through its actions, spread the sturggle of the people in other States. Today, the only ‘success’ the CPI-M (and its smaller allies) flaunt is that for the last three decades it has been winning every election.

The CPI-M is now forging a new type of alliance with industrialists, big businessmen, promoters, developers, contractors and realtors and their goons, actively helping them with the police and their own armed party cadre. It has also been weakening its Front allies, routinely targeting them, committing murder and mayhem of their workers, burning and looting their houses and property and systematically destroying their organisational bases.

Paradoxically, instead of resising such assaults and onslaughts, the scared Front partners have been bullied into total submission. The more they have been bullied, browbeaten and physically beaten, the more they have become abjectly subservient to and dependent on the CPI-M because they know that without the latter’s help they cannot win any election.

There is an element of irony in the situation. By weakening the brother parties, the CPI-M has not only unwittingly weakened the Left Front but also itself. The Front partners are scared of the CPI-M no doubt, but they are also sullen, resentful and apathetic. In many constituencies today, the workers and other allies of the CPI-M are either not working for the CPI-M candidates or, in some cases, actually working against them.

However, the CPI-M’s anti-democratic attitude and authoritarian ways are not an aberration or exception. The malady the CPI-M is suffering from is characteristic of and endemic to all Stalinist parties. It is in its very genes, as it were.

A brilliant analysis of the attitude, thinking and methodology of the Stalinist parties by eminent Latin American Left intellectual Marta Harnecker helps us to understand the CPI-M better. She says that “we must overcome the organic forms of the past, which were the result of an acritical copying of the Bolshevik model of the party”. According to her,
the Marxist-Leninist Left has underrated democracy. When it has legitimately denounced the limits of representative or formal democracy, it has ended up by denying the importance of democracy itself.

Little wonder, therefore, that such parties developed a hegemonist attitude. She explains:

The Left must give up all vestiges of a hegemonistic attitude if it is to be capable of coordinating the forces opposed to neo-liberalism.

She elaborates:

I should make it clear that hegemonism must not be confused with hegemony. The latter is the opposite of hegemonism. It has nothing to do with the steamroller policy that some revolutionary organisations, availing themselves of the fact that they are strongest, have tried to get others to support their policies. … If a group is to exercise hegemony, others must accept as their own the proposals that this group, political front or movement puts forward.

The people of West Bengal in general, and the constituent parties of the Left Front in particular, are all too familiar with the “hegemonistic attitude” and the “steamroller policies” of the CPI-M, whether within the Left Front or in the larger political arena of the State.

We sometimes wonder why the CPI-M is adopting such a blatantly, shamelessly pro-capitalist attitude in the States they are in power in the name of development and employment generation. The party knows it fully well that modern, highly-automated industries create few jobs and the ‘development’ they talk about is a lop-sided one made at the cost of man and his environment.

Marta Harnecker hits the nail hard on the head when she says:
Another demobilising factor has been the appearance of a neo-liberalised Left which has substituted a belief in democratic capitalism for a belief in socialism; a Left which simply does not question the system and which, when mass mobilisations appear, manages them according to strict group interest logic.

Can the CPI-M lead a motley group of parties—parties which have no ideological affinity or a shared vision—and call it a Third Front that seeks to rule a country of sub-continental proportions with a population of over a thousand million?

[The quotations from Marta Harnecker are from her book, Rebuilding the Left, New York, 2007.—B.D.G.]

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