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Mainstream, Vol. XLIX, No 29, July 9, 2011

Open Letter from an Old Communist

Sunday 10 July 2011

by T. Venkateswara Rao

This open letter addressed to CPI General Secretary A.B. Bardhan and CPI-M General Secretary Prakash Karat was sent to the Ajoy Bhavan, the CPI headquarters, and the A.K. Gopalan Bhavan, the central CPI-M office, early last month and released in Vijaywawada. An old Communist veteran of Andhra Pradesh,
T. Venkateswara Rao was twice elected the Mayor of Vijayawada. He has been a CPI member since 1938.

Dear Comrade,

I am an old Indian Communist of 95 years who is at the twilight of life. Having been immensely influenced by the Marxist-Leninist philosophy, Great October Revolution in Russia and the inspiring role of the first generation Indian Communists such as Com S.A. Dange, Com P.C. Joshi, Com Rajeswara Rao, Com Sundarayya, Com Basavapunnaiah, Com Ravi Narayana Reddy, Com Ajoy Ghosh, Com Bhupesh Gupta, to name a few, I joined the CPI in the thirties of the last millennium. Since then, I was closely associated with this party till recent years when I realised my inability to play an active role anymore. I had always felt proud to be among those hundreds of thousands of Communist activists and to contribute to the communist movement in my own humble way. I witnessed both electoral victories of the fifties, glorious mass struggles spearheaded by the Indian Communists spanning for over six decades and also the turbulent moments for the Left movement as well.

The aftermath of the recent electoral debacle of the Left parties, namely, in West Bengal, Kerala and other States has prompted me to share some of my impressions at this critical hour for the Left movement in India. The drubbing is clearly a ‘defining moment’ and a warning to all Left forces in the country with a clear message—‘either change or perish’. I do not wish to discuss the outcome in detail since much has already been written and said by both non-Marxist analysts/commentators and also by some leaders of the Left parties as well. In Com Bardhan’s words,”…sweeping victories make one hot-headed, a bit arrogant and makes you feel you can take people for granted…, and [the Left] accept the defeat with all humility. It is a big setback…” It is comforting to see that the Left leadership has now realised the need for “antarmanthanam” (self-criticism) to understand the reasons and circumstances so as to assess the policies that have led to the Left’s defeat. I hope that the brainstorming National Council/Central Committee sessions of CPI, CPI-M and other Left parties, scheduled to be held in the coming weeks/months, would address this while reflecting the results and draw conclusions and would evolve their next course. At the same time, it is extremely important to observe today’s highly influential bourgeois media which has exacerbated the slanderous campaign that Marxism and communism at large have proved to be bankrupt, and some of them have even suggested that the Indian Communists should dump their outdated ideology and adopt social democracy if they wish to remain alive in the political spectrum of the country.

While discussing the current predicament in the Left movement, I cannot continue without recollecting the colossal damage done to the Indian communist movement five decades ago which is today felt badly than ever before. The painful split of 1964 led to the fragmentation of the Indian communist movement over ideological issues perhaps relevant to those times. One of these differences was the perception of the class nature of the ruling class and means to accom-plish the revolution, that is either democratically (national democracy aligning with sections of bourgosie) or violently under the leadership of the working class (people’s democracy). The split reflected heavily both in the electoral battles and in mass struggles despite their party programmes being more or less identical. The political price that they paid is beyond imagination.

Overall statistics [except the 37-year-old success story of the CPI-M that has come to an end now] on their strength both in Parliament and the State Legislative Assemblies speak for themselves. The worst affected ones were the lower level committees in many States which were originally strong bases for the Communists. I speak for my city of Vijayawada—the city glorified as the fort of the Communists of AP till recent times. In the eighties and nineties, the party entrusted me with the task to lead the Vijayawada Municipal Corporation twice under the CPI-CPI-M banner and I was privileged to be the first Communist Mayor in the State. Yes, times have changed and the structure of the Indian society and its socio-political and economic fabric has dramatically changed. But, we failed to live up to those changes. As one of my contemporaries and veteran party comrades (Com Sivarama Reddy) has rightly observed, the Left parties have failed to analyse these changes and evolve the corrective strategy and tactics whereas the ruling (capitalist) class, on the other hand, had craftily transformed its strategy to penetrate into the Left’s vote-bank. It had conquered those segments of society including the rural sector which had earlier supported the Left policies. In short, much water has flown down the river Ganges since 1964 and the fragmented Left forces had not only lost their authority to influence India’s political course but were also reduced to weak, irrelevant regional groups without proper vision and direction. One rough comparison indicates that the percentage of votes in AP polled by the Left parties fell from 35 per cent in 1952-55 to 3.5 per cent in 2009!

Today, in the backdrop of the comprehensive debacle in West Bengal, Kerala, we have an entirely different situation in which many of us see no other alternative to unconditional reunifi-cation or merger of all the Left forces, and to resume the process of rebuilding the Indian communist movement. By suggesting this, I am not reinventing the wheel but merely echoing afresh the aspirations, emotions of those demoralised rank-and-file cadres, those who genuinely wish to see Left unity, those who maintain a distance from the Left parties since the split by associating with regional parties and caste and creed welfare associations, and finally of those millions of Left sympathisers. Today, the Soviet Communist Party has disappeared; the model built in China is described as the “socialist society with Chinese specifics”. Moreover, the generation that had sealed the split in the Indian communist movement is also no more. The next generation leadership of both the CPI and CPI-M is left with a historic opportunity today to bury their minor ideological differences and consider initiating the process of unification of the Left forces in the country. I know this process will be complicated and long. But, the first and decisive step has to be made. I appeal to the leaderships of both the CPI and CPI-M to break the ice and allow this process to begin. I am sure it will inspire those lakhs of party workers, sympathisers and well-wishers of the Left movement. A single mighty communist force can emerge as the leading force in any future alternative front. I recall the statements by Com Bardhan and Com Prakash Karat at the 20th National Congress of the CPI underscoring the need for close coordination in order to bridge a few minor differences still existing between their parties.

Notwithstanding the process of unification, it is essential for the Left leadership first, to focus on reconnecting with the masses by demonstrating their selfless commitment to fight for their cause and to win their trust and confidence. They should evolve a common minimum programme devoid of dogmas, dictates from the top and promote inner-party democracy, inner-party discussions on all organisational and policy issues. The May 2011 electoral debacle could be a fresh lesson. Mere survival in a parliamentary democracy by way of seat adjustments in representative bodies offered by major partners in electoral alliances may not revive the Left authority. It may be noted that India is being projected of late as one of the fastest growing economies in the world, and unfortunately, it has the largest concentration of poverty in all its manifestations. Indian capitalism has brought harrowing misery and destitution for the masses. So, it is now both an opportunity and a challenge for the Left to win back the proletariat, farmers, and the vibrant youth towards building a strong party organisation, trade unions and other affiliated mass organisations. I strongly believe that both parties and especially their leaderships would make sincere efforts for unification of the Left forces in India. My generation of Communists, who saw the rise and decline of the Left parties, would like to see at least this process begin in our lifetime.

With revolutionary greetings,

T. Venkateswara Rao (Member, CPI since 1938, First Mayor of Vijayawada)

Marutinagar, Vijayawada-520004 (AP)

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