INDIA: Communists discuss resistance to 'communal fascism'



DELHI — “Red resistance to saffron subversion” was the central theme of the seventh congress of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) held November 25-30 in the city of Patna, capital of Bihar state, in north-eastern India.

This was the party's first congress held since the coming to power of the Indian Peoples Party-led (BJP) National Democratic Alliance government of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. The BJP has been carrying out an agenda of “saffronisation” (Hinduisation) of India's secular educational system, incitement of anti-Muslim hatred and pogroms, privatisation of state industries and government services and removing restrictions on imports of manufactured goods and agricultural products (at the behest of the World Trade Organisation). How to build mass resistance to the BJP's Hindu-chauvinist and “economic rationalist” agenda was the central question discussed by the party congress.

Bihar, which has 83 million inhabitants, is India's poorest state and is notorious for violent attacks by armed police and state-backed, landlord-owned private armies against the poor peasants and agricultural workers who make up the big majority of the state's population.

Bihar is also the Indian state in which the CPI (ML) — which originated from the unification of a number of Maoist-inspired groups that had split away from India's largest left party, the 2-million-member Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), in the late 1960s — has its greatest concentration of members. Of the CPI (ML)'s total membership of 75,000 (up from 55,000 in 1997 and 22,000 in 1992), 49% live in Bihar.

As a result of its consistent championing of the interests and struggles of poor peasants and agricultural labourers in Bihar over the last 30 years, the CPI (ML) has emerged as the strongest left party in the state, with six members elected to the 324-member Legislative Assembly in the last state election in February 2000.

The CPI-M, which campaigned in alliance with the ruling Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD — National Peoples Party), won only two seats. The pro-Soviet Communist Party of India (CPI) — India's second largest left party — which had held 23 seats in the state assembly retained five seats. This has now been reduced to only two, following the creation in November 2000 of the new state of Jharkhand out of 18 mineral-rich southern districts of Bihar, inhabited by 26 million people.

The streets of Patna were festooned with red flags, large red banners and even commercial billboards welcoming the 750 congress delegates as they arrived by train on November 25.

Armed police provided congress delegates and guests with security in case of assassination attempts by right-wing death squads or the Maoist-anarchist Peoples War Group guerrilla bands, which have murdered several prominent CPI (ML) members in Bihar in recent years.

Strengths and weaknesses

The congress began on the evening of November 25 with the presentation by CPI (ML) general secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya of a 60-page draft political-organisation report prepared by the party's outgoing 39-member central committee. The report set out the CC's assessment of the international and national political situation, the party's work since the last congress and set projections for the next five years.

While noting advances made by the party since its last congress, held five years ago in the eastern Uttar Pradesh city of Varanasi, the CC's report pulled no punches in outlining the party's weaknesses and the shortcomings in its work, particularly in building an implantation within the urban working class and the trade unions, in involving women in the party's activities and leadership bodies, in the circulation of its press and in the systematic education of its members in Marxist ideas.

Over the following four days, the delegates discussed the report in separate sessions devoted to the international situation, the national situation, the agrarian crisis and struggles, mass campaigns and trade union work, and party organisation. Discussion was highly impassioned and often very critical of the party's leadership.

Among the issues hotly debated was the relationship between the party's legal political work, particularly its intervention in parliament, and the need to organise armed resistance to the violence unleashed by the state and landlord-funded private armies against the struggles by poor peasants for land redistribution and by agricultural workers for decent wages and working conditions.

In his reply to the discussion, given on the last day of the congress, Bhattacharya reaffirmed the party leadership's view that the party's parliamentary activity was agitational and subordinate to building mass actions. He said that in the present political context, armed struggle was a tactic to be utilised to defend such mass actions and must grow out of, and be integrally linked to, the mass struggles of the peasants and rural workers.

Prelude to fascism

Bhattacharya explained while in the CC's view the goal of core leadership of the BJP was to establish a “fascist dictatorship” in India, the present Vajpayee government could only be described as “a prelude to communal [i.e., Hindu religious] fascism”.

He argued that the implementation in India of the neo-liberal “economic rationalist” agenda that is common to capitalist governments around the world requires not only increased state repression but also a change in the way the capitalist rulers legitimise their rule among the working masses, with attempts to co-opt sections of the lower classes into identifying with the neo-liberal “reforms”.

But this attempt at co-option generated a desire among the lower classes for greater participation in determining government policy, a desire which the ruling class needed to contain and channel into forms that serve its interests.

It was in this context that the BJP's anti-Muslim, anti-poor, Hindu-chauvinist populism had become acceptable to India's capitalist ruling class. Bhattacharya stressed that a similar policy would also be followed by a Congress-led government, should the capitalist opposition parties win at the March federal election, as current opinion polls suggest they might. Indeed, while Congress party leaders such as Sonja Gandhi present themselves as defenders of India's secular political culture, other Congress politicians are accommodating to the “Hindu nationalism” of the BJP.

In contrast to both the CPI-M and the CPI, which have sought to counter the BJP's virulent right-wing Hindu populism by entering into electoral alliances with the Congress party, the CPI (ML) rejects any electoral or governmental alliance with the capitalist opposition parties, while favouring the broadest united fronts for mass action in defence of democracy and secularism against the Hindu chauvinists.

In its report to the congress, the CC set out the following conditions for the CPI (ML)'s participation in any broad democratic united front: “(i) the party's independence and initiative must be retained; (ii) the Congress [party] must be isolated from any secular or democratic anti-BJP configuration; and (iii) we must continue to oppose all anti-people policies and steps of non-BJP, non-Congress governments.”

The draft CC report was unanimously approved by the delegates.

The congress concluded in the early hours of December 1 with the election of a new 41-member central committee, from a field of 44 candidates, three of whom were added by delegates to the list of 41 initial nominations presented by the outgoing CC. Bhattacharya was re-elected CPI (ML) general secretary by the incoming CC.

During the congress, and at a mass rally attended by 25,000 members and supporters held in Patna's Gandhi Maidan city park on the afternoon of November 30, greetings were presented by guests invited to observe the congress.

These included greetings from Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist) general secretary Madhav Kumar Nepal, Labour Party Pakistan leader Farooq Tariq and Jill Hickson from the Democratic Socialist Party of Australia. Written greetings were received from the Peoples Democratic Party of Indonesia and the Philippines Workers Party-Merger.

Greetings to the congress were also presented by a delegation from the Communist Party-Marxist (Punjab), a left-wing breakaway from the reformist CPI-M in Punjab state. The CPI-M (P), which has 50,000 members, was formed in December 2001 by the majority of the Punjab state committee of the CPI-M after a four-year factional struggle against the increasingly open class-collaborationist orientation of the CPI-M national leadership.

The CPI-M (P) is developing joint work with the CPI (ML), while at the same time continuing to work with left opposition forces in other state branches of the CPI-M in the hope of winning a substantial part of its membership to the perspective of forming a new revolutionary party in India.

[Doug Lorimer is a member of the Democratic Socialist Party national executive and, along with DSP NE member Jill Hickson, represented the DSP at the CPI (ML) congress.]

From Green Left Weekly, December 11, 2002.
Visit the Green Left Weekly home page. 

If you like our work, become a supporter

Green Left is a vital social-change project and aims to make all content available online, without paywalls. With no corporate sponsors or advertising, we rely on support and donations from readers like you.

For just $5 per month get the Green Left digital edition in your inbox each week. For $10 per month get the above and the print edition delivered to your door. You can also add a donation to your support by choosing the solidarity option of $20 per month.

Freecall now on 1800 634 206 or follow the support link below to make a secure supporter payment or donation online.