Election Fix: Do India’s Communist Parties Still Matter?

03 May 2019

Look away from the Bharatiya Janata Party versus Congress battles for a moment and there are still a number of fascinating questions that arise from India’s upcoming general elections. Who will capture the political imagination of Tamil Nadu? Will film star Pawan Kalyan make a dent in Andhra Pradesh? Does Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar still have a strong base?  We’ll try and get to these questions and others in the Election Fix. Today, we look at another one: what will happen to the Left?

Although India’s various communist parties, associations and trade unions still have a presence across the country, as a political force they have for the most part been confined to three states: Kerala, West Bengal and Tripura. Even in these three, the party has experienced major setbacks. In 2018, after nearly three decades of communist rule, Tripura got a Bharatiya Janata Party chief minister. In West Bengal, the Trinamool Congress and a recently assertive BJP have combined to turn the Left Front, a coalition of communist parties, into what seems like a bit player in a state it once ruled for three decades.

It is only in Kerala that the Left Front is actually in power. But here too, there are fears that the anti-incumbency factor could work against it. Congress President Rahul Gandhi’s decision to contest from a second seat in Kerala, in addition to his current constituency of Uttar Pradesh’s Amethi, complicates this further. Gandhi will be contesting from Wayanad, where he will be going up against the Left. The constituency sits on the corner of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, and the Congress hopes that its leader’s decision to contest from there will boost its chances across these three states.

But that means cutting further into the Left’s base in Kerala. In an election that is supposedly built around the idea of Opposition parties working together to “save democracy” by defeating the BJP, this decision presents a different picture: one where the Congress is pragmatically building its own base, which we discussed on the Election Fix a few weeks ago. So where does that leave the Left Front? Not in a great place. Opinion polls in West Bengal suggest the communist parties will be left with no seats at all.

Shoaib Daniyal, reporting from West Bengal, offers this snippet to give you a sense of what is happening to the Left: “Habibpur is an adivasi-reserved Assembly seat in the Malda district of West Bengal. Incredibly, the communists have held this seat since 1962 – with only one gap from 1967-’69, when it lost to the Congress. For the past three terms, the seat has been held by veteran Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Khagen Murmu.

But in March, Murmu jumped ship to join the BJP. The prize? He was made the Hindutva party’s Lok Sabha candidate for Malda North. The CPI(M) itself can scarcely be found in the villages of Habibpur anymore, as saffron blots out red. The communists once considered Bengal their fort. Now they cannot even hold on to their pocket boroughs.” In Kerala too polls are weighed against the Left, so Gandhi’s decision to contest from Wayanad will no doubt have an impact.

The big two Left Front parties, the Communist Party of India and the Communist Party of India (Marxist), put out their manifestos this week, with promises that included Rs 9,000 per month in pensions, more guaranteed employment and data privacy. But the Left’s ability to influence policy will depend, to some extent on its political fortunes. And those, at the moment, do not look promising.

[From the Election Fix published by the www.Scroll.in]

A Response from CPI(ML) Red Star to the Above Comment

The above report on future of the left in India in the context of the 17th Lok Sabha elections. Of course, if you reduce the communist movement in India to CPI and CPI(M) and the Left Front and the index of the strength of the communist movement only as its strength in the elected bodies, this evaluation may be correct. And this negative picture can be extended to global scene also with all former socialist countries including China and Vietnam degenerating to capitalist states though they still use red flags.

But generally very little serious study is made to analyse the reasons for this set back. Or to see whether there are forces who are making serious rectifications, developing the Marxist perspective according to present conditions, and trying to build socialist alternative to present crises including the ecological catastrophe.

Marxism calls for overthrow of the capitalist system and replacing it with communism through a long socialist transition period. Under the leadership of Lenin when Russian revolution became victorious, Soviet Union was formed, and when it took up socialist transition it had become the future hope of mankind. Communist parties took birth in most of the countries, Soviet Union played leading role in defeating the Nazi fascist offensive, a dozen more countries took socialist path, and by early 1950s it looked like the socialist wave shall submerge the capitalist imperialist forces.

At this time, the imperialist camp led by US, in order to beat back the socialist offensive, replaced colonial (direct) domination with neo-colonial (indirect) domination by transferring power to big capitalist-big landlord classes in the colonies and launched social welfare measures and state capitalist policies, while maintaining their hegemony through export of finance capital, market system and technology and through arms trade. On the one hand military blocs were formed, and on the other IMF-World Bank and later WTO along with UN and its various agencies, for strengthening the neocolonial control.

What the communists did? By and large they could not correctly evaluate this new imperialist offensive. They saw it as weakening of imperialism. So the post-Stalin Soviet leadership called for peaceful coexistence and competition with imperialism and peaceful transition to socialism, abandoning the path of class struggle. It opened the floodgates to the capitalist roaders in the socialist countries who degenerated these countries in the course of next two decades.

In India, the CPI leadership started abandoning the revolutionary path by 1957, believing that through parliamentary path socialist transformation can take place. Against this there was inner party struggle, CPI splitted, and in 1964 CPI(M) was formed. But soon they also took to the path of parliamentarism. In 1967 both of them came together, formed broad based class collaborationist fronts and came to power in Kerala and W Bengal. Though they had promed  implementation of land to the tiller like slogans, once in power, instead of using it for advancing class struggle, they soon compromised with the ruling rightist state system. Against this, there was revolt in Naxalbari in May 1967. But due to left adventurism, it could not take the movement back to the path of democratic revolution.

During this time the rightist Congress was degenerating fast and getting alienated from people. The space lost by it could be captured by the CPI(M) led Left Front, though for decades it was to power for decades in Bengal, Tripura and Kerala, as it continued to implement the ruling class policies and could not put forward an alternative path of development when the neoliberal policies were imposed by Narasimha Rao govt in 1991. It had lost the socialist narrative and naturally Singur, Nandigram happened degenerating and alienating them from the people fast. And the the space lost by the Congress and this institutionalized Left Front is now occupied by the autocratic TMC and the ultra left, regional, casteist parties. In spite of the setbacks in Bengal and Tripura, since the CPI(M) led LDF in Kerala is pursuing the very same corporate policies, it is bound to face setbacks there also. It reflects the fact that social democratic parties like CPI(M) are bound to fade out.

But it cannot be evaluated as the end for the left, it is incorrect. The revolutionary left is already on the path of overcoming this setback, not only in India, but all over the world. We are not talking about the CPI(Maoist) which is led by middle class’ utopian anarchist views, We are talking about CPI(ML) Red Star like forces who are leading Bhangar like people’s movements, who are trying to develop Marxist world view according to present conditions, and using all forms of struggle including parliamentary struggles to capture political power.

The hitherto history after the advent of capitalist system shows that only socialism can provide an alternative to present global turmoil created by the capitalist imperialist system, including the ecological catastrophe. So, learning from past mistakes, challenging and throwing out the present offensive of ultra right, neo-fascist forces at global level and in India, the socialist forces led by the revolutionary communists shall come to the centre stage as the people’s alternative in the coming days.

KN Ramachandran

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Kabeer Katlat

The Communist movement in India has a history of almost a century after the salvos of October Revolution in Russia brought Marxism-Leninism to the people of India who were engaged in the national liberation struggle against the British colonialists. It is a complex and chequered history.