Last Opportunity for CPI(M): Prasenjit Bose

Guest post by PRASENJIT BOSE

The CPI(M) is going to have its party congress next year in the backdrop of its worst ever electoral performance in the general elections. A four day meeting of its central committee held recently to discuss the review report and political resolution for the party congress, however, ended without adopting any worthwhile political decision. The only decision was to have another central committee meeting in January next year. When meetings of the topmost committee of a national political party end only with fixing the next meeting, something must be going wrong somewhere. It reflects lack of political direction and disarray at the top.

At the heart of the dilemma faced by the CPI(M) today is the political-tactical line to be adopted in the backdrop of BJP’s ascendancy across the country and the rightwing offensive unleashed by the Modi regime at the centre alongside the threat of political marginalization faced by the CPI(M) in what was once its citadel, West Bengal. The options apparently being debated within the CPI(M) – either align with the Congress against BJP or maintain the status quo – are both inadequate for its own revival or to take on the resurgent rightwing in India. Unless the Left mobilizes forces from below and seeks to build alliances based on struggles with like-minded progressive and democratic forces, the “political line” debate will be fruitless, abstract and of no yield.

In the early 1990s the CPI(M) and its left allies pursued a line of “equidistance” from both the Congress and the BJP, which found reflection in the slogan – “Congress and BJP are two sides of the same coin”. Things changed after the 1998 general elections when the BJP for the first time succeeded in securing enough allies to head a government at the centre. The CPI(M)’s party congress held in Calcutta in October 1998 dropped the line of  equidistance and identified the BJP as the main threat because it enabled the communal-fascist RSS access to state power. While criticizing the Congress for its economic policies and vacillations in defending secularism, the CPI(M) had decided, for the first time since its formation in 1964, to extend support to a Congress-led government in order to replace the BJP-led government. Subsequently, following the defeat of the BJP in the 2004 elections, the CPI(M)-led Left parties unitedly decided to support the Congress-led UPA to form the government. But even in 2004 there was no pre-poll alliance or seat adjustment between the CPI(M)-led Left and the Congress. Support was extended to the Congress post-election and that too from outside on the basis of the UPA’s common minimum programme.

Following the advent of another BJP government at the centre, panic-stricken voices within the Left have started arguing that it is once again time to return to the line of supporting or co-operating with the Congress. Some enthusiasts are even suggesting an electoral alliance between the CPI(M) and the Congress in West Bengal to take on the Trinamul Congress government and combat the growth of the BJP. A similar understanding drove the CPI(M) to support the Congress’ candidate in the Presidential elections in 2012, which had divided the Left parties with the CPI and RSP abstaining in the polls and also led to protests within CPI(M)’s own ranks. Can going with the Congress today strengthen the resistance against the Modi-led BJP and help in reviving the CPI(M) in West Bengal?

There are important differences between the rise of the BJP in the 1990s which culminated in the formation of the Vajpayee government and the resurgence of the Modi-led BJP in 2014. Unlike the 1990s, there is no pan Indian communal mobilisation based on a ram mandir issue at the forefront in 2014. The communal mobilisation strategy of the RSS-BJP has instead become more localized and region-specific – it is alleged “love-jihad” in UP, “Bangladeshi infiltration” in Bengal while trying to stop Muharram processions in Delhi. This enables Modi to chant deceptive “development” oriented slogans like “Make in India” and “Swachh Bharat” from the centre to cater to the aspirational “new middle class” while the local stormtroopers of hindutva inject communal venom at the grassroots. This was implemented by the RSS-BJP in western UP through the Muzaffarnagar riots in 2013, which paralysed all the secular parties in UP.

Merely replaying the clichéd ‘Modi-is-communal’ rhetoric and building electoral alliances from above to arithmetically defeat the BJP is therefore not going to work. The secular resistance needs to be proactive, state/region specific and localized, by building broadbased, grassroots level coalitions against the RSS and its affiliates. The Modi regime also needs to be firmly countered on its aggressive neoliberal “development” agenda, which seeks to dismantle welfare schemes, laws and regulations that protect labour and the environment and bring about a total merger between the state, big capital and the financial oligarchy. The hollow claims of providing corruption-free and transparent governance, bringing back black money stashed abroad, ensuring inclusive growth etc. needs to be exposed. Since the Modi-led BJP did not come to power on the basis of a single point communal agenda but by combining targeted, localized communal mobilization with aggressive neoliberal developmentalism and social engineering, the struggle against the Modi regime also needs to be waged on multiple axes and not on a single point agenda of just defending secularism.

It is here that the folly of the pro-Congress line within the CPI(M) becomes apparent. Being in power at the centre for a decade, the Congress has done everything possible to discredit itself and alienate the people. Whatever little redistribution of resources was attempted through the NREGA, food security bill etc. was more than undone through the relentless rise in food and fuel prices under Congress rule, which hit the poor the hardest. The erroneous policy of hiking interest rates to curb inflation failed to check rising prices and choked off investment and economic activity instead. Most disturbingly, the Congress regime became synonymous with brazen cronyism and plunder of natural resources by a nexus of corrupt ministers, bureaucrats and big corporates. In more ways than one, it was the Congress which paved the way for the BJP.

Popular anger against the Congress not only took its tally to a historical low of 44 in the Lok Sabha elections which has denied it even the principal opposition party’s status in parliament, but the recent assembly elections in Maharashtra and Haryana have also shown that the anger is not going to die down soon. The additional problem with the Congress today is that its dynastic political culture has hit a dead end, making not only its present but even its future look gloomy and uncertain. The idea of the Left joining hands with a defeated and demoralized Congress party in order to build up secular resistance against the Modi regime glosses over these harsh realities. Such resistance will have no credibility in the eyes of the people.

Rather what the CPI(M)-led Left can and should do is to first bring about unity among all left forces, big and small, and unitedly play a leading role in building broad-based alliances from below to resist the attempts by the RSS and its affiliates to foment communal tensions and conflicts in different parts of the country. Alongside, the Left needs to strengthen manifold the class-based movements against neoliberal policies and bring its worst sufferers – the workers and peasants – into the forefront of that resistance. Building popular movements against the Modi regime and not electoral wheeling-dealing with this or that bourgeois party should be the priority for the Left today.

The ability of the Left to play a significant role in building resistance to the Modi regime is largely dependent on whether it succeeds in checking the rise of the BJP in West Bengal, which has mainly been at the cost of the CPI(M). The central problem with the CPI(M) in Bengal is not with its alliance arithmetic but with the serious ideological-political errors that it committed while running the Left Front government and the failure to rectify them even after three long years of being out of power. Despite the obvious problems with the central political line of the CPI(M) – the half hearted attempts to create a “third front” – the party has so far been able to hold on to its base in Tripura and to a large extent in Kerala. The steady erosion of CPI(M)’s support base in Bengal must have state-specific causes, which have always been unfairly evaded by the state leadership. In the absence of honest introspection and rectification, the Party has started to wither away. The BJP is trying to step into this vacuum.

The forthcoming state conference provides the last opportunity for the CPI(M) in West Bengal to formally accept its mistakes and usher in much needed ideological-political and organisational changes. If the CPI(M) state leadership chooses once again to shirk off responsibility and preserve the status quo by pushing a pro-Congress line, it will be seen by the people for what it is – downright opportunism and degeneration. Moreover, just like in the case of supporting Pranab Mukherjee for President in 2012, the Congress and the TMC can easily strike a deal before the 2016 assembly elections, leaving the CPI(M) out in the cold.

If on the other hand, the CPI(M) self-critically acknowledges and corrects its rightward ideological drift towards neoliberalism going against the interests of workers and peasants, its undemocratic and highhanded practices, tolerance towards corruption and neglect of the social sector and issues of women, adivasis, dalits and Muslims; and democratically ejects those faces who are identified with these deviations; it will pave the way for broader Left unity and enable the CPI(M) to rebuild an effective left and democratic movement in the state against the anti-people and corrupt TMC regime.

Much depends on the resolution of this debate within the CPI(M) in West Bengal today. Failure to resolve this dilemma, as was seen in the recent central committee meeting, is a sure recipe for political decimation and organisational meltdown.

6 thoughts on “Last Opportunity for CPI(M): Prasenjit Bose”

  1. Prasenjit Bose has pointed out some failures of CPIM which are responsible for asendancy of BJP. But he has not discussed the ideological lines of CPIM, whether this is still correct or not. If ideological line is correct, then strategetic stand should also be correctly implemented. It appears that CPIM leaders/cadres could not correctly implemented strategic stands that they adopted to fight against the Congress and BJP from ideological points of view. However, the writer here did not point out the new tactis and new offensives that the Capitalist forces or Neo-liberal forces are adopting under changed circumstances. The writer did not also pointed out the roles of National medias towards Conbgress and towards BJP. There are many disguised forces/NGOs, which are philosophically opposing left policies. Unless these could be identified, moving swords in the air without seeing the enemy will no assure any bodies win. The writter should have pointed out the mu;tiporong attacks that are being launched by exploiters forces, against which the left parties or CPIM should sharpen its attack.

    1. I share the same view. It’s all about how to counter BJP.
      Why an option of supporting AAP publicly in the Delhi elections being explored. This will also give visibility in the nooks and corners of Delhi to the left parties.

  2. Since the Modi-led BJP did not come to power on the basis of a single point communal agenda but by combining targeted, localized communal mobilization with aggressive neoliberal developmentalism and social engineering, the struggle against the Modi regime also needs to be waged on multiple axes and not on a single point agenda of just defending secularism.

  3. Ideology is the word. The CPM needs to formulate a new set of ideologies to stay even mildly relevant in near future. Communism has died all over the world, around 20 years back with fall of the Berlin wall and destruction of Soviet Union. Modern Russia is racist, homophobic, autocratic nation, The Chinese have become uber-capitalist, hell bent on beating the US in its own game. The old concepts of labour welfare and worker union doesn’t have similar relevance now, as the nature of job as shifted drastically. plants and factories are run by minimal people with technical expertise. Regarding agriculture, we have seen that 60 percent of the people are employed here while it contributes only 18 percent to the GDP. So other modes of employments are necessary. More and more people are moving to cities and urban areas for jobs and better opportunities. Under such circumstances communists have nothing to offer them apart from empty platitudes. So in the long run if they don’t have any solution to the problems of our burgeoning and aspirational youth of the nation then the party will will be consigned to the pages of history

  4. All the comments are very thought provoking and reveal a concern at the sliding position of the Left movement in India. I would like to consider the whole issue into separate perspectives and raise my questions on this perspective wise:
    First, coming to ideology. The main ideology here is Marxism, which is valid and relevant even today as the capitalist exploitation has not ended rather its grip has tightened on the neck of the working class in the name of neo-liberalism. Rising unemployment, curtailment of work force, poverty and overall economic crisis has exposed beyond doubt that monopoly capital is trying to survive the crisis created by its own system at the cost of working class. My question is, against such background shall we (those who believe in the dictum of greatest good to the greatest number) remain busy in inner fighting among ourselves and expel one and the other with whom we do have some differences over one or two issues and let the enemies of the masses take chance of our infighting and enslave more and more common people in its exploitative system?
    Second one is very much related to this. Provided we accept the relevance of Marxism even in today’s scenario, then the disputes and fissures within the Left is primarily over the interpretation and implementation of the ideology in the concrete conditions of the country. Let us acknowledge that we all are likely to have different interpretations, our own ideas about strategies and tactics. Still if we are committed to fight against the menaces of capitalism and imperialism can’t we have some common issues to fight jointly and strengthen the Left movement rather than finding fault with one another and make the people more vulnerable to attacks from the capitalist forces?
    Third, notwithstanding the crisis of capitalism, global scenario has changed much since the beginning of 1980s, Karl Marx had not visualized many of the changes to suggest what could be the probable impact. Marxist philosophy was last enriched by Mao and though there had been some successes of the communists in some parts of the world even after the Chinese revolution, the philosophy has not enriched or diversified to adapt to the changing circumstances. So in many countries the Left found it difficult to cope up with the changing scenario and keep spreading its ideological influence. I give a small example from India; in my school days most of the students went to vernacular schools run by state governments where we had students’ unions; we had such syllabus that taught us about progressive elements and many of us were politically inclined to some ideology by the time we completed our school final. Today my wards go to English medium schools run by private authorities; they have no exposure to progressive political events, experiences of running students’ union etc. If you look at the social life, crass consumerism has made the masses run after money and comforts. I have been associated with working class movement over years; today what is the growing tendency among the working class? Money, luxury and comforts. Instead of attending a meeting of the trade union they would prefer to sit with friends and have pegs of drinks, for a luxurious item offered by employer they would agree to work extra hours without remuneration, for a cash payment today they would prefer to sacrifice a vital right of tomorrow. When I was a first year college student a few of our classmates worked as honorary postmen for a trade union that did not have sufficient fund to send letters by post and it was because we were committed ideologically to that trade union. Today the same trade union can spare money to send the letters by courier/fax/email though the exploitation of workers by the employers has not changed that much. But even if the trade union, for some reason or other, cannot spare money for correspondence, can you find some college students who for the sake of ideology will act as the honorary postmen of that union? Before we in the Left go for criticizing one another let us evaluate these concrete situations. When your rival trade union, which is actually loyal to the employers instead of workers, will provide its activists with motor cycles to deliver letters, costly mobile handsets to communicate, can you expect workers to become the activist of your Union that just provides them with a cup of raw tea? Please friends forgive me if I am boring you but these are my experiences as a ground level worker for the Left movement. I was a district level vice president of the student wing when Aditya Nigam was in the JNU-SFI. The changing scenario I spoke above was largely induced by the capitalist system so that more and more masses can be intoxicated by the comforts and consumerism in such a way that it becomes more and more difficult to raise the political consciousness in them and to make them ready to fight for social justice. Look at the slow growth and even regression of the Left movement in various parts of India, you will notice the same phenomena. Exceptions are certainly there but in the overall scenario the mood of sacrifice for a greater cause, to declass oneself and to identify with the causes of the suffering masses are becoming rapidly disappearing events. My question is: those of us in the Left have we seriously thought of these changing impacts and contemplated how to cope with the situation?
    Fourth, coming to the context of India. Of the various Left groups working in India, none except the CPI(Marxist) has been able to spread their influence among the masses. Despite the dislike of the ultra-Left for the CPI(M), it is better to acknowledge that in India whenever one speaks of the Left force, the name of CPI(M) surfaces because till recently it was ruling in two states and had considerable strength in parliament. Though it has often been accused of being a victim of the parliamentary politics yet both in parliament and outside it resorted to struggle with its limited strength against the capitalist onslaught. The CPI(M)’s debacle in West Bengal in 2011 and its poor performance in the last Lok Sabha poll had a very devastating effect and the ruling parties at the Centre (be it UPA or NDA) vigorously carried forward their economic agenda in favour of the national and global monopoly capital and against the working class. So far as CPI(M) did not suffer the debacle it considerably protested against such anti-people policies and could consolidate people to participate in such protests. Unfortunately for the ultra-Left forces, except rhetoric against the CPI(M) and some infantile terrorist attacks, now and then, they miserably failed either to consolidate people’s support against the anti-people policies of the Centre or to make the Centre to go slow on its agenda. After NDA government came to power there has been ruthless effort by it to carry forward the economic reform in favour of the industrialists and monopoly capital, and with CPI(M) losing its base the protest against such anti-people policies has clearly weakened. My question here is: India today is beset with greater threat to the rights of the working class with NDA at the Centre. Shall we keep criticizing the CPI(M) for its various failures and short comings and let Modi government carry forward its agenda in favour of the industrialists or shall we organize all the Left forces on a common platform to protest against the anti-people, anti-working class policies?
    Fifth and the last, about CPI(M). Let us admit that every organization makes mistakes but as Lenin said for a communist party frankly acknowledging the mistake, analyzing the reasons that lead to the mistake are the hallmarks of a serious party. Apparently, CPI(M) is yet to analyze why its base eroded in West Bengal in such a way that after ruling for 34 years it fails to protect its supporters and cadres from the onslaught of TMC. Something must have went seriously wrong due to which the people who voted the party for successive years decided to change. But personally I made some study. Singur-Nandigram was indeed an issue but it was more a projected issue, inflated much more than it really was. SFI-JNU fell a victim to the same illusion. Its leaders should have gone to Singur-Nandigram themselves and seen how money was being supplied, arms were being delivered, roads were being destroyed at someone’s prompting so that the Left can be eradicated. The flow of money in 2011 assembly election in West Bengal must be understood in conjunction with Point 3 above, and need to be analyzed in the light of recent developments in Saradha Scam. The Left Front had its own mistakes in dealing with Singur-Nandigram but it was also a game plan to dislodge the Left from power in Bengal. In future the real conspiracy behind might come out someday as it came out after decades how the first communist government in Kerala was dislodged. After all, by dislodging the Left government from Bengal certain sections have benefitted. I read a post where someone was mocking at Buddhadev Bhattacharjee, the former CM of Bengal. Change of ruling party is a part of democracy but as one Assamese newspaper (not at all a pro-Left paper) wrote, defeat of an honest chief minister like Buddhadev, against whom there is no allegation of scam, is dangerous for Indian democracy because it indicates that in Indian politics honest politicians has no place. With all our anger against the CPI(M), I think we can say the same thing about Manik Sarker, the CPI(M)’s only Chief Minister today. He too is known for his simple life style and not an allegation of corruption against him. My purpose is not to campaign either in favour of CPI(M) or any of its leader. I humble attempt in this post is to point out some objective realities and my concern to see the country being more and more exposed to capitalist game plans being executed by the political patrons of capitalism in India. I had been to Bengal have my own assessment of Singur-Nandigram issue. There was a major gap in what the Left Front government decided and the way it was conveyed to the people. A very controversial role was played by the then sitting MP of Midnapur, Mr. Lakshman Seth. His attitude, the way he talked about the proposed land acquisition had severe negative impacts. What is surprising is that it took the CPI(M) leadership years to understand how its own MP was damaging the organization. An ordinary person like me felt it simply by talking to the common people at the beginning just months after the turmoil started over land acquisition. Ironically, it did not take much time for Mr. Prakash Karat to expel Mr. Somnath Chatterjee on disciplinary grounds. Just compare for a moment who is closer to the heart of the people Lakshman Seth or Somnath Chatterjee? Who of them really contributed in enhancing the image of CPI(M) by their respective action and behavior? I hope some active CPI(M) supporters read my post and dare to take these questions to the central leadership of the party. The decisions of the central leadership are often quite farcical. Very recently, in wake of Saradha scam when TMC decided for a protest at New Delhi, a section of the CPI(M) leaders were ready to join just because it was a protest against the BJP-led NDA government! It was finally Buddhadev Bhattacharjee who, at midnight, intervened and saved the party from embarrassment. In the wake of debacle many leaders, cadres and supporters of the CPI(M) has since shifted their loyalties. Those who remained may be taken as time-tested and sincere. To them goes my question: when will you learn to tell your leaders that a spade is a spade? This will only help to strengthen your organizational base.
    For all of us who wish to check the rising capitalist onslaught and protect the rights of the working class and masses, it is necessary that all of us make endeavors for unifying the Left movement in India instead of mudslinging among ourselves. If we fail, history will not forgive us. Let the Lefts of India unite!

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