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Mainstream, VOL L, No 6, January 28, 2012

Whither CPI-M?

Tuesday 31 January 2012


In an article in the Mainstream, July 22, 2006, Professor Randhir Singh has raised a very pertinent question: is the CPI-M going to renounce its long cherished objective, its commitment to socialism?

In the programme, adopted bty the party at the Calcutta Congress in 1964, it is clearly stated that through a People’s Democratic Revolution, which is headed by the working class, “India will quickly pass over to the stage of the socialist revolution”. (Emphasis added). (CPI-M Programme, 1964, clause 10)

Compare this with Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s assertion: what West Bengal is practising today on the industrial front, is nothing but capitalism. What a gulf that separates the present assertion from the past profession! In matters of ideology, it seems the CPI-M is really in a mess.

In this connection, I want to raise a fundamental question: is socialism a practical proposi-tion in the Third World countries today? I have no quarrel with those who say: socialism is our goal, our distant objective, but to assume that socialism is on the agenda today, is to argue for the impossible.

What is Globalisation?

THE world is passing through a phase of capita-list triumphalism today. In the race between capitalism and socialism, socialism has been defeated.

Globalisation is a child born of capitalist triumphalism. It works hand in hand with liberalisation and privatisation. In the driver’s seat sit the multinational corporations of the USA and Western Europe, predominantly the USA.

Capitalism today is more powerful than ever before. The aim of globalisation is to establish capitalism as a universal system. The remotest corner of the world will embrace capitalism. The writ of capitalism will run everywhere. Market economy, neo-liberal regime, consumerism—these will be the new dispensation of the day. Globalisastion wants to remake the world in its own image. It is not at all a blind force. It clearly shows the way to modernising a nation and that way is capitalism and nothing but capitalism. It claims that it is the last system that delivers. In that sense, it is the end of history!

This is, however, one side of the story. There is the other side. Capitalism as a system is divided within itself. It is both creative and destructive. It is creative for the rich and desctructive for the poor. Through globalisation, the rich nations of the world are becoming richer at the cost of the poor nations. The gulf between them is growing larger and larger. The Third World countries are the worst victims. (Beaud, A History of Capitalism, Ch. VII)

Central to capitalism is the contradiction between capital and labour. The more capitalism becomes a universal system, the more we see the universalisation of class struggle. The universali-sation of capitalism means its increasing vulnerability to its internal contradictions. We have been seeing unprecedented examples of different kinds of struggle in many parts of the world in the last few years. These provide a clue to capitalism’s vulnerability.

As capitalism advances, material conditions are maturing for socialism in the developed capitalist countries, though the subjective factor is not ready to take the plunge, it is lagging much behind. Yet there are many symptoms of a yearning for a radical change in the developed countries in an anti-capitalist direction. The unprecedented sweep of workers and students struggles in France, the rising tempo of people’s struggles in Italy and Germany, the huge protest demonstrations in the USA point to the fact that everything is not well within the capitalist system itself.

Decolonlisation and After

AT the same time, we should take note of the fact that material conditions are not yet ripe for socialism in the Third World countries generally.

As the process of decolonisation unfolded in the fifties of the twentieth century, only three countries, China, Vietnam and North Korea, opted for socialism (Cuba joined the socialist camp later). In the period between 1946 and 1950, it had been possible for the colonial and dependent countries (numbering more than fifty) to win their independence under the leadership of the national bourgeoisie. After winning independence, these states opted for the capitalist path and pursued generally a liberal bourgeois line in the political sphere.

Interestingly, these developments completely upset the theoretical calculations of the Sixth Congress of the Comintern (1928).

In the Colonial Theses adopted by the Sixth Congress, it was declared that the role of the colonial bourgeoisie had been exhausted. It was now a spent force, ready to collaborate with imperialism. The Sixth Congress further declared that there is no question of joining a nationalist organisation led by the bourgeoisie. As the Comintern saw it, in these conditions the mantle of anti-imperialist struggle would fall on the working class. The anti-imperialist struggles in these countries, to be successful, must be led by the working class.

All these calculations had been proved wrong. Curiously enough, the CPI-M persists in clinging to these time-worn ideas.

It is an irony of history that after sixty years of decolonisation, the Third World countries are again subjected to Western domination, though this time the subjection takes a different course (subtle forms). Globalisation is the noose through which the Third World countries are being forced to submit to the dictates of the multi-national corporations of the USA and Western Europe.

Those countries in the Third World—in which the national bourgeoisie are at the helm of the state, which follow the capitalist path and which pursue ideals of liberal democracy—become soft targets for the forces of globalisation. These national-bourgeois states become the channel through which the act of compromise is being forged. The big bourgeoisie is quick to appreciate the rewards of globalisation. Thanks to globalisation, the influence of the big bourgeoisie within the national bourgeois state is on the increase. The big bourgeoisie gained most out of their deals with the MNCs.

We should take note of the fact that the bourgeoisie do not constitute a homogeneous class. The small bourgeoisie generally and sections of the middle bourgeoisie, who do not gain to the same extent through the process of globalisation, remain dissatisfied. This makes the state the battleground among different sections of the bourgeoisie. In the end, the big bourgeoisie win but the clash of interests is there. This aspect of contradiction within the bourgeois camp must be taken into consideration.

It is in this complex situation that the CPI-M has lost its wits and unmindfully swims in the direction that offers immediate gains.

The Concept of Revolutionary Democracy

WHAT then is the way out? Is there any possible alternative to the existing situation? In my opinion, there is an alternative and that alternative is Revolutionary Democracy.

Revolutionary Democracy is a Marxist concept. Marx himself was a revolutionary democrat before he was a Marxist. The term was widely used by Lenin.

According to Lenin, Revolutionary Democracy is a type of social formation which is half-way between capitalism and socialism. In the words of Lenin, "It is no longer capitalism, but not yet socialism.” (Lenin, Impending Catastrophe and How to Combat It) The concept was discussed at greater length in Lenin’s book, Two Tactics of Social Demo-cracy. There he says, Revolutionary Democracy is a variant of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry. So Revolutionary Democracy is not a substitute for socialism, it is a transitional stage through which a country marches toward socialism in the future.

The term was much in use in the days of Lenin Dr Sun Yat Sen was described as a revolutionary democrat by Lenin himself. Jose Marti is described as a revolutionary democrat by the Communists of Cuba.

It is a very rich and versatile concept, suitable for those countries which are not yet ripe for socialism, but which seek to transcend the capitalist path, each country in its own specific way.

The term, however, fell into disuse in the councils of the Comintern after the ascendancy of Stalin. The Sixth Congress of the Comintern arrived at an oversimplified conclusion. It declared that in the colonial and dependent countries, only two alternatives were open: bourgeois democracy, that is, democracy led by the bourgeoisie which, in its opinion, had turned reactionary, and democracy led by the working class which was revolutionary and which charted the way to socialism. The possibility of a third alternative was not taken into account. The independent role of the petty bourgeoisie and the peasantry (their revolutionary potentialities as an independent force) was not taken into consideration. The idea of the exclusive leadership of the working class was foised from above, without taking into account whether the country was ready to take a plunge to working class leadership. The claim of Revolutionary Democracy as a possible alternative was quietly ignored.

Old ideas die hard. This is particularly true of the CPI-M. In 1964 (forty years after the Sixth Congress of the Cominern), when the CPI-M came into existence, they adopted a new Programme which stuck to the old understanding enshrined in the theses of the Sixth Congress. Some old formulations were almost bodily transferred to the new Pro-gramme. These are: (i) the bour-geoisie is not a force of revolution; (ii) democracy led by the working class is immediately on the agenda. Infatuation about the decisions of the Sixth Congress placed the CPI-M in a dilemma. The more the slogans became unrealisable, the more the CPI-M was pushed into a welter of ideological confusion.

If one goes through the CPI-M Programme, one feels life has stood still in all these forty years.

The international communist movement sorely felt the need of doing some new thinking. This was most clearly reflected in the under-standing of the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1956). The Congress recognised the fact that many countries in Asia and Africa had won their inde-pendence under the leadership of the national bourgeoisie. A positive view was taken of the transfer of power in India (1947). Khrushchev, during his tour of India in 1955, described India as an independent, sovereign republic. The long-held understanding that the transfer of power in India was nothing but a change from a colony to a semi-colony was discarded for the first time, in a communist Congress.

The CPI-M took a negative view of the decisions of the Twentieth Congress of the CPSU. In their opinion, the decisions of the Twentieth Congress were marked by a reformist under-standing and hence unacceptable. (Resolution on Ideological Issues, Madras, 1992)

The Eightyone Parties Conference (1960) marked a step further in the unfolding of the understanding the communist movement. About newly liberated countries, which were mostly led by the national bourgeoisie, the conference recommended that the Communists in these countries must struggle for an alternative social formation, which was given the name of National Democracy. It is clearly stated that National Democracy has two main characteristics: (i) it will follow the “non-capitalist path of develop-ment”; (ii) the leadership will be vested in “the workers and the peasant masses”. Thus it is clear that National Democracy is distinctly different from bourgeois democracy. It is an intermediate type of social formation which may be summed up as a variant of Revolutionary Democracy.

The CPI-M rejected National Democracy as a reformist slogan and stuck to the outdated slogan of People’s Democracy.

Facts of life have, however, revealed that Revolutionary Democracy is a correct slogan, realisable in the current world context. Look at Brazil, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Equador, where revolutionary democratic states have been set up through the battle of the ballot box.

So there is an alternative, an alternative based on the power of the workers, peasants and the petty bourgeoisie. The anti-imperialist bourgeoisie has an important place in it, though not as a leader.

CPI-M in a Dilemma

IT is a pity that the party that always boasted of its revolutionary zeal, that always thundered that the bourgeoisie is not a force of revolution, is now courting the friendship of the comprador bourgeoisie, the big bourgeoisie, foreign bourgeoisie and all sorts of multinationals!

To cover up their opportunism, they seek to justify their action by citing the example of China. Their argument goes: if China, a socialist country, can do it, why not we? They conveniently forget that China is a sovereign socialist republic (though the Chinese brand of socialism proceeds at an uncertain pace—one step forward, two steps back). It has the power to bargain with multi-national corporations and, as Stiglitz testifies to it, it bargained with the IMF successfully. (Stiglitz, Globalisation and its Discontents, pp. 63-67)

West Bengal is a small State within the Indian Republic which is committed wholesale to the process of globalisation. The Government of India does not hide the fact that they are determined to follow the so-called ‘reforms’ programme. “Reforms” are a code name for a specific type of capitalist modernisation as prescribed by the IMF and World Bank. The terms of the agreements are treated as a closely guarded secret.

To certain sections of the Indian bourgeoisie who hold a commanding position within the Central Government, collaboration with the foreign bourgeoisie is a normal state of affairs, if it brings enough money to the Indian counterpart—whether it makes the rich richer and the poor poorer, that does not matter. They know in their heart of hearts that the ‘trickle-down theory’ is nothing but a farce.

Is the West Bengal Government in a position to control the actions of the Central Government? If they cannot, how can they hope to bargain successfully with the MNCs, as China is doing it?

It is a pity that the CPI-M is taking an ambivalent attitude to the globalisation process. In its Programme, the party loudly proclaims, it is against the MNCs but in daily life, it is inviting the MNCs to build up industries in West Bengal. The Chief Minister makes confusion worse confounded when he says, he is for labour reforms, though he is not for hire and fire. He should know that these labour laws are being dictated by the IMF at the behest of MNCs. Hire and fire is an essential part of it. A hot controvery is raging within the inner circles of the CPI-M, whether the IT sector should be unionised or not. While the Chief Minister is against the unionisation of the IT sector, the CITU is for it. The Chief Minister should know that the Scandinavian countries and Canada have registered unions in the IT sector.

As a matter of fact, the West Bengal Govern-ment has no alternative planning for urban development. They unmindfully swim in the river of globalisation—they run after the same shopping malls, five-star hotels, ultra-modern restaurants that speak of the Western lifestyle, which will be of little interest to the ordinary people living in the cities. If they persist in the present course, people will suffer and social justice will be delayed.

Alternative Path

I do not say: shut the door to foreign investments, which is an impractical proposition today. The emphasis should be on self-reliance and not on over-dependence on foreign investments.

We are living in an unequal world. We must take advantage of the prosperity of the Western nations without impairing our own rights as far as possible.

The Leftists are in difficulty not only in India but all over the world. Against all odds, the Leftists in Brazil, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Equador are tyring to build up an alternative path, based mainly on self-reliance. They have not shut the door to globalisation, but they are using it selectively. They are fighting against globalisation both from within and from without. That is the only course open to the Leftists in the present juncture. While making use of foreign investments selectively, they should know how to make use of the discontents of globalisation.

It is true, the situation in India is vastly different from that of Latin America. India would have to develop its own brand of Revolutionary Democracy with its own characteristics.

But there is something that binds the Third World countries together—it is the common struggle against the common enemy: neo-liberalism. It is this that makes the Latin American experiment so inspiring to all the Third World countries, irrespective of their differences.

In West Bengal, some Left Front leaders are confiding to the press that there is no way out of globalisation and reforms. The process is “irreversible”. (The Statesman, December 10, 2006)

As Latin America shows, the situation is not so helpless. India must devise its own plan of struggle against globalisation in conformity with the Indian situation.

The fight against globalisation in India, as elsewhere, is a fight of the whole people.

Globalisation affects the interests of all sections of the people. The first to be affected is the working class. At the instigation of the MNCs, new labour laws are being framed, which rob the workers of their hard-won trade union rights. Then follows the discontent of the farmers (the farmers’ suicides in a number of States), the discontent of the coastal people in Andhra and Kerala (in these States fishermen are being driven out of their ancestral occupation), the discontent of the tribals who are being adversely affected by the construction of dams, the discontent of the small traders who are facing unemployment, the discontent of the sober sections of the middle class who can see through the game of the MNCs, and finally, the discontent of that section of the bourgeoisie who are being squeezed out by unfair competition.

It is mainly upon the discontents of globalisation that the Leftists have to build up their alternative strategy, under the impact of which the country may not shine (in the interest of the richest few), but will march ahead slowly but steadily towards revolutionary democratic changes which will be in the interest of the overwhelming majority of the people. What is most important, under the revolutionary democratic regime, the country will regain the freedom to control its own destiny.

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