In a sign of solidarity with the struggle by the peasants of Nandigram against the West Bengal state government's attempt to seize their land for a Special Economic Zone, the Communist Party of India (Marxist Leninist), publisher of Liberation magazine, held its 8th congress in Kolkata, the state's capital, December 11-16.
Addressing the congress, CPI (ML) General Secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya described a situation of unrest in rural and urban areas all over India, commenting: "When people are facing this onslaught there will be protests. Left forces are supposed to be the leaders of the movement."
But Bhattacharya noted that while "there is a visible presence of the left in national politics with more than 60 MPs, the last few years have shown that the opportunist lefts can't lead. There is a crisis of the left." Bhattacharya explained that the two largest left parties, the Communist Party of India and the Communist Party of India (Marxist), have failed to use their MPs to challenge the pro-US, neoliberal policies of the Congress Party-led United Progressive Alliance government.
The CPI (M) state governments in West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura have been implementing draconian neoliberal policies. The West Bengal government's massacre of peasants at Nandigram has particularly discredited the left.
Bhattacharya explained that some have responded to the actions of the West Bengal government by claiming "this is the death of the left, whereas others say that you can't criticise the CPI (M) because only the right wing will benefit". Instead, Bhattacharya called for a "realignment" and "resurgence" of the left in India. "The CPI (ML) is becoming the leading voice of the left in India", he said.
The day before the congress, the CPI (ML) organised a mass public convention that denounced imperialism as an assault on democracy and development. Speakers included a range of prominent critics of neoliberal and imperialist policies, including Indian writer Arundhati Roy.
Around 1200 delegates attended the congress from all over India. Two delegates couldn't attend because they were in jail.
Since its last congress in 2002, the CPI (ML) has experienced considerable growth. It now has 125,000 members, with some groups of former CPI (M) members joining.
The CPI (ML) has its origins in the Naxalbari peasant rebellion in West Bengal that began in the 1960s. The rebellion was led by CPI (M) members, but was brutally suppressed by the CPI (M)-led Left Front government of West Bengal. In response to this betrayal, the CPI (ML) was founded in 1969.
Discussion of all congress documents was lively, with many proposed amendments from delegates being accepted by the leadership. The discussion revealed that the CPI(ML) is deeply involved in all of the key struggles in India today.
A resolution on the international situation noted that the principal contradiction in the world today is between imperialism and the underdeveloped countries, which is reflected by the US drive for world hegemony. However the resolution assessed that this drive was failing, as evidenced by the popular resistance in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine and the rise of left governments in Latin America.
The agrarian crisis in India received a great deal of discussion. The crisis has resulted in a massive suicide rate among farmers with one Indian farmer committing suicide every 30 minutes. Ironically, the farmer suicides are mostly occurring in the states with the most highly developed agriculture, where farmers have to go into debt to money lenders to buy seed, fertilizer and pesticides. The congress called for an increase in work among peasants alongside the work among the rural poor.
During the last five years, the party's work among agricultural labourers, peasants and workers has expanded. This is reflected by the establishment of the All India Agricultural Labour Association.
The increase in the membership of the CPI (ML)-led All India Central Council of Trade Unions has resulted in it being officially recognized as a central trade union. This is the first radical left trade union centre to win such recognition. As well as expanding its influence among organised workers, the AICCTU has been organising unorganised workers, particularly construction workers.
The report highlighted the need for the All India Women's Progressive Association to develop its work among working women as well as rural women and challenging the feudal-patriarchal order.
While the congress noted the strengthening of the CPI (ML) and its associated mass organisations, it was noted that the party's increased influence had not been reflected in an increase in electoral support, with the party losing its only seat in the 2004 federal lower house elections. However, in state assembly elections, the CPI (ML) won seven seats.
The report noted that while elections are an important arena of struggle, they are an extremely unequal battleground for the left.
The success of the CPI (ML)'s 8th congress and the mass turnout for the December 18 rally sent the message that a resurgent left is possible.