Constitutionalism in Indian Communist Movement
Ish N. Mishra
Unlike other political parties, a Communist Party lays more emphasis on theory, a theoretical system of ideas which defines and analyses the evolutionary and the revolutionary progress of the political processes with a historical perspective in terms of economic development at various times and spaces. The guiding principles of such a theory are derived from the principles of historical materialism, known to be the science of Marxism. The philosophical basis and the derivative of this theoretical system, founded by Karl Marx and F. Engels, is called as the dialectical materialism by subsequent Marxists after Marx’s death. are based on an empirical understanding of society, within which lies the roots of social and economic change. Change is necessary in class divided systems, the Marxists believe, which is ‘exploitative’, ‘unjust’ and clearly based on the domination of the majority by a few who not only control the means of production, but also ‘power’ in all its institutional dimensions. “The state is the instrument of the ruling classes”. However, the evolution of theoretical and pragmatic Marxism has gone through immense internal stress, encountered multiple contradictions and faced various questions, the answers of which it has failed to provide, or it has simply reduced them into black and white categories, in a way, the international Communist movement witnessed many tragic situations when history overtook them with an unimaginable pace and “official” revolutionaries sought immediate, and almost stupid answers to highly complex situations.
The more complex political contests became, the more they turned to simplistic reductionism. The fear of confusion tormented the Communist leadership, the fear of innovation of looking beyond the foundations of set, structured laws – an insecurity symbolic of the Freudian ‘daughter-father’, ‘son-mother’ relationship the acceptance of the “objective reality” that the world had changed, and so has the equations of the power and social relations, came very hesitantly, while contradictions diversified, multiplied and acquired more complex possibilities. Marxism remained reduced within the parameters of the basic contradiction – ‘Labour – Capital’, ‘Proletariat– Bourgeoisie,
The world, thereby, became a matter of easy comprehension.
Though various streams of analytical, unconventional Marxism have entered the realm of social sciences especially after the 2nd world war – the dominant section of the International Communist movement is led by the Central Committee of C.P.S.U. The Central Committee Remained happily submerged in the dogmatic theoretical structures of early Marxism, later reinforced by Lenin in the precarious conditions of Russia, the revolution and the aftermath. .
The Indian Communist movement also constituted a part of the same political attitude. Since its birth in 1925, after the initial commitment to revolutionary politics, especially in the 1930’s when as part of the Congress Socialist Party, it consolidated its mass base in trade unions, student movements, and grass root politics in Kerala, West Bengal, Tripura, Bihar, and Marginally in Punjab, Andhra and other states, the post-colonial Communist Movement has gradually, and steadily moved towards unilineal political passivity and degeneration. (
The Marxist- Leninist emphasis on mass based politics no more troubled their conscience. The “mistakes” (which were quite a few) of the past revolutionary years were “regretted” and conveniently sidetracked. Blatant pragmatism became the fundamental premise of the bankrupt politics – ornamented with the liberal use of jargons and slogans. (Karl Marx is in heaven and everything is alright with the world)
100 years ago Marx turned Hegel upside down. 100 year after, the Indian Communist movement has certainly succeeded in turning Marx upside down.
Since then, it has pragmatically rejected the “violent overthrow of state and ruling class power” line and opted instead for the “peaceful transition” of power, through constitutional, electoral politics. And though the conceptions of the “dictatorship of proletariat”, and “classless society” remained the ideal of its socialism and Utopia – it entered the constitutionalism of “bourgeois–parliamentary democracy” with initial hesitation and gradually with greater scientific deliberation. Passive Constitutionalism has come to dominate the communist parties of this nation, though, at least apparently, its inherent political indecisiveness and guilt conscience has been haunting them from time to time.
Theory and Strategy - The Dichotomy of ‘No Return’
One of the fundamental problems which the Indian Communist Movement has been facing is evolving a correct, analytical explanation of the Indian State, the Congress, or, the “bourgeoisie” or the political elite. Unable to place the European context of Marxism directly in the Indian situation, the dilemma of a plausible definition, and thereby a strategic attitude towards it, continued to plague its theoretical ideologues. The Indian bourgeoisie and its leadership practiced policies which could not be explained in straight forward Marxist postulates – even in its most generalized form.
In fact, the Congress determined the articulation of political decisions and channelization during periods of crisis and otherwise, whereas the Communist leadership was forced to a position where it could only react or adapt, or adopt counter positions. While they participated in the mainstream of the struggle – the leadership and strategy of the movement was firmly entrenched in the hands of the Congress. It was believed that the congress, though a mass umbrella organization with various shades of political philosophies, was essentially led by big business, feudal interest groups – who will further reinforce the class divided exploitative structure of the polity if able to acquire political power. The successive debates of Comintern Congresses further reinforced this belief. As late as, February 1984, this doctrine reappeared in the Congress of the CPI.
Therefore, one has witnessed the intense Love-hate fluctuations in the relationship-between the CPI - and the “bourgeois democratic national liberation movement” (as the 2nd Congress of the Comintern termed it after the famous debate between MN Roy and V. Lenin).
All future categories of the CPI are derived from this premise. And the contradictions increased many fold. Confused and pushed into the wall, the movement immersed in repeated exercises of self-introspection – but mostly, emerged, with a deeper sense of confusion. Thereby the need for reductionism and pragmatism became stronger Rigorous analysis was discarded. Jargons, slogans and orthodox Marxism was grasped with a drowning man’s delight, the second theoretical dilemma was related to the first. It was difficult for the Indian Communist to understand the “relative autonomy” of the political apparatus i.e. the superstructure which Nehru professed to adopt and pursue under the conception of a “mixed economy”
Nehru, despite the inherent problems of this framework, made an effort to transcend the stereotypes of existing societal models. His was a search for an alternative in a country where indigenous capitalism had immense potential to grow as a subsidiary force to the public Sector which comprised the core of the economy, Nehru’s alternative was borne out of a compromise between his socialism and the right wing, extremely powerful section of the Congress.
“The transfer of power:, therefore, from the ‘white to the Brown Masters’, as the Communist preferred to call it, resulted in the further strengthening of the indigenous bourgeoisie which had a knack for innovation and experimentation in the accumulation of private profit. The terrain was now wide open.
However, Nehru’s domestic and foreign policy could not be placed in the same context as that of banana republics or puppet regimes within the strait jacket to general Marxist laws. The Communists were not able to clearly analyze the polarizations of the Nehruvian notion of a “mixed-economy based welfare state”. In its analysis of the nation-state, the CPI was partially right and partially wrong. While on the one hand its understanding seemed correct, but on the other this correctness could not be assumed as a political finality. When stereotypes change, especially in liberal bourgeoisie democracies, the deviations are much more difficult to perceive and analyses, so multifarious they are in quality and approach. What is visible might be an “objective reality” but the hidden “”invisibility” can also be a major propellant for its concrete determinations. The subtleties of such political processes are more intricate and intertwined, the balance of forces more indirect and subject to change, the fluctuations more sharp and unexpected. Here, the trap which pushes logic on either side of the cobweb, and thereby escapes the fluctuations, becomes more authentic and vicious. Theory manages to rationalize, if it does not innovate, to reject or accept, condemn or hail.
The 1949 February CPI Central Committee resolution saw a turnabout from the 1947, June (P.C. Joshi) resolution which welcomed the Mountbatten plan as a “Compromise” that the imperialists had been forced to make to the “urgent demands of national liberation movement”. However it pointed out that the forces of imperialism and feudalism were still strong. It called for a united anti-imperialist front – “unity of all from Gandhi to the Communists”.
Later, within a span of eight months it came round to the view that the Mountbatten plan was a natural “culmination of the betrayal of the revolutionary struggle”. This line continues to be reinforced even in the present state, although in certain crisis situations as in the 1962 war and 1975 emergency era a section of the CPI turned pro-congress.
Similar was the crisis of political strategy during the “people’s war” line, when Congress declared that the CPI has betrayed the movement and allied with Britain, a country which was an ally or Russia in the war against Fascism. If Russia lost the war, they believed, the world communist movement will be pushed back or even destroyed.
The second Congress of the CPI marked the stage for post war national independence, which was an integral part of the overall war against colonialism. Tactics, especially that of P.C. Joshi and the “rightists” within the CPI started governing revolutionary Commitment – armed struggle, et al. Though armed resistance or the violent overthrow of state was not ruled out, it was believed that the leadership structure of the nation should not be disturbed. Communists should mobilize grassroots opinion so as to create “pressure from below”. This was a dual policy, but an important starting point of constitutional pragmatism. This was the line taken by the Comintern from 1947 to 1953, and followed by most communist parties of the world in the postwar era.
The Bombay workers strike, the Telangana, Tibhaga movements, resulted again in the sharp polarization between the state and CPI. It was no longer General Dyer Killing people in Jalianwala Bagh but Indian Generals, commanded by Nehru and Patel themselves. An isolated Telangana movement was lost over the dead bodies of thousands of workers and peasants. The “historical blunder”, as Telangana movement was later called, is perhaps the last battle the communists have fought in their quest for socialism. The line changed rapidly after that and led to lesser optimism in the later years. Thus started the great debate -- Is armed struggle by mass mobilization and as undertaken by the Bolsheviks and later by Mao’s Red Army, applicable in the Indian context? The polarization within the CPI sharpened. The left, center and right were clearly divided.
By the mid-fifties, in the aftermath of Talangana, the polarization within the CPI on political approach towards the Indian State became distinct. One stream of thought discarded the “adventurist” and hasty characterization of the Nehru regime. Led by PC Joshi, SA Dange and others, this line dictated a softer approach towards Nehru –the national bourgeoisie has a strong progressive element. It stated and suggested that questions of armed struggle, or direct confrontation and hostility with the government should be discarded. Instead, it argued that the “pressure from below” vis a vis cooperation theory should be applied. This line came to be known as that of the “rightists” line within the party. The other major deviation comprised a militant position led by Ranadive, Basavapunnaia, P. Sundarayia and others, which stuck to the old position that is was a neocolonial state controlled by monopoly business allied to the West and feudal interests.
Therefore, during this period one saw the party take up a position which was neither of the left nor of the right variety but that of the center – a “minority line” which was ambiguous and took no strong position on any issue.
The factionalism and power game inside the party, however, continued. Which line will overwhelm? How long can this “false truce” sustain itself”? The crucial questions became more pronounced, though, at a subterranean level. However, the more distinct the “internal crisis” turned, the more “left unity” became an issue. With Khrushchev, there again followed a break in the international theoretical line, which the Indian Communists had followed. The Zhdanovist’s “tow-camp” theory was discarded by Khrushchev and a period of “peaceful co-existence (even with the imperialist USA) followed.
In the Indian context, the state sprung another major surprise. Under the 2nd Plan, where emphasis was laid on heavy industry, large scale soviet collaboration was realized, both with the public and private sector. This further strengthened the “National bourgeoisie is progressive” thesis. Meanwhile, the first elected Communist Government in Kerala (1957) was toppled by the Congress Government at the Centre. The ideological confusion, now with the absence of the ‘two camp’ theory deepened. The 1962 China – India War was the final nail in the coffin of a United Indian Communist Movement based on Marxist – Leninist revolutionary principles.
While the rightists declared it as an aggression on Indian territorial independence, the left were hesitant to call it in such blatant terminology. ‘It is a border dispute, which should be resolved through negotiations’ they believed. The polarizations, having accumulated over the last two decades – between “revisionist” and “revolutionary” ideology – clearly acquired objective conditions for the split. The split was inevitable – and its roots could be traced back to the historical evolution of global and national politics Vis a Vis the left movement. It was once again a replica of the Menshevik-Bolshevik conflict. If time is a great healer, the left movement has been certainly a beneficiary. The formation of the CPI and the CPI (M) in 1964 and their gradual internalization of bourgeois politics over the years, helped them accomplish themselves. While the rhetoric remained, as usual, more as a self-rationalization of militant nostalgia, the application of Marxism as a theory acquired new dimensions. Constitutional electoral politics requires different calculations, slogans, intrigues, conspiracies and power games. The connotations are certainly in absolute contrast to the militancy of the communist manifesto or the 1951 tactical document (circulated in secrecy and to a select few but later widely known), which did not rule out the inevitability of an armed overthrow of bourgeois state power.
For the CPI (M), the line, even now continues to remain, but both the left parties have been overtaken by the power game of parliamentarianism, with such remarkable consistency that despite the last semblances of revolutionary rhetoric, the Khrushchev thesis of capturing power through peaceful transitions – overpowered the political motivations and emotional sensibilities. Marxian humanism was discarded in Toto and what followed was a Comte-humanism reflected on the Congress Culture – with all its share of cold calculations, and blind miscalculations, which have since then, backfired on the movement.
The Love-hate relationship continued to flourish between the two left varieties and the Congress The premises for people’s struggle, democratic rights & consciousness, mobilizations of workers – peasants youth, women, intelligentsia and left unity, etc., automatically got geared towards one goal – electoral power.
Parliamentary politics sucked in the left so deep that the value systems practiced by bourgeois power games slowly got incorporated into it. Passivity, opportunism, and strategic silence dominated the political conscience of the left.
While history moved with its share of misfortune, brutality, and the state repression and private profit flourished famines and floods, mass killings and holocausts, even Fascism in its most blatant and naked reality, entered the polity with regular consistency, the logic of “Parliamentary Marxism” was maintained, legitimized and sustained.
Summing up in a few lines, the degenerations of Marxist Praxis, A. K. Gopalan the veteran Communist leader from Kerala wrote:
“A new life, a new environment, a new alliance – I found myself in an environment calculated to ruin a man. First class travel, comfortable chambers in the parliament, a surfeit of money, magnificent quarters – and a life devoid of heavy responsibility. All circumstances favorable to a life of pleasure. The overall framework was such that we did not feel hopeful about this much eulogized parliamentary democracy.” (In the Cause of the People, 1972, pg. 181-182; Orient Longman, New Delhi)
The Naxalbari movement in the late sixties was an inevitable outcome of this stagnation. Mainly, a split from the local leaderships of West Bengal, Andhra and Bihar supported and provided leadership to the revolutionary flame ignited by the spontaneous peasants’ uprising at Naxalbari formed the core of the movement. After an initial burst of intense idealism and honesty, the movement fizzled out into disorganized, scattered realms of political anarchy;
Arter Telengana, this was the second major shock to the left moment, a shock, which their ideologues had not perceived even in their most militant logic of historical materialism and protest. Looking back into the dialectics of its growth, the Naxalbari movement and the further splits in the left ideology can be clearly traced back to the organizational and ideological crisis in the party formally recognized in 1950. The crisis remained in the depths of its structure, in undercurrents which grew stronger over an accumulated period of stagnation. ‘Constitutional Freedom”, even in the divided CPI continued to be viewed by a large section as illusions, a farce and a pseudo rationalization. The crisis of constitutionalism in the left remained unresolved. The choices now remained limited within the paradigm of bourgeois politics. Mass participation became directly proportional to the number of votes required. Caste-clan calculations no longer were purely bourgeois – communal gains but also that of secular, communist forces. The state might still be the “instrument of the ruling class” – but it certainly has a “progressive foreign policy”. The CPI went so far as to declare its support for Mrs. Gandhi’s Emergency at the behest of the Kremlin.
The cycle of degeneration and perversions, as it seems, has ripened to a state – where even rhetoric is not used, nor the pretentions of raising “mass consciousness” or the workers – peasants’ unity in the democratic movement for equality, justice and freedom. While the Indian state violates the constitution as a matter of attitude the communists dip into it, with a ‘holier than the Ganga belief.
Theoretically, the left variety of parliamentary Marxism is trapped in the quagmire of no return. Its methodology needs an “epistemological break” if it wishes to restore and consolidate the essential doctrines of Marxism. A new tradition has to be built, based on the changing forces of societal complex and state power, and existential experiences directly linked to new modes of production, of class alienation, of organization and strategy. This tradition needs to respect the various streams of Marxist analysis which has flooded the theoretical market, find the reasons for its origin, its deviations from the established current, and seek more practical solutions based on humanism.
Reductionism, in a constitutional stagnation, is inevitable; it is the comfort of political hypocrisy clothed in mechanical, simplistic assessment of reality. Reductionism is categorical. It cannot transcend its own wall, its own fortress of pseudo rationalization, divorced from genuine self – introspection.
The communist movement in India, however, is not in a mood or position to enter into the trauma of self-realization
Both the official communist parties (CPI & CPI (M) are at their peak of passivity, theoretically bankrupt, divorced from revolutionary praxis. The cobweb, in which it has entered, can now only expand further, till the point of Hegelian totality, when the cobweb, itself would transcend the dichotomy, break apart, and create, perhaps, another Telangana or Naxalbari. Till that time. There can be only a further elongation of postponement. The sky is the limit.
(Written in 1985, published in 1987 in Third Concept, has to be updated with substantiation)