By John Percy
VARANASI — Waving red flags, chanting slogans and singing revolutionary songs, 50,000 peasants and workers assembled for an inspiring rally to conclude the sixth congress of the Communist Party of India Marxist-Leninist (Liberation), held in Varanasi (Benares) October 20-26. They had come by train, bus and on foot, camping overnight at several locations around the city.
The city streets were festooned with CPI ML banners and posters before the congress. Red arches were constructed on many streets. Outside the congress hall stood a huge sculpture in straw and wood: two fists with a hammer and sickle. The congress received detailed coverage in the Indian press.
This was the second open congress of the CPI ML. The fifth congress in 1992 brought the party out into the open after years underground since its formation out of the Naxalbari uprising of the late 1960s.
The main perspectives for the party in the coming years were outlined in documents and articles in the months before the congress. Six hundred delegates were then elected at regional gatherings on the basis of one per 100 members, and 100 delegates were appointed by the outgoing central committee to give representation to comrades working for party units, women comrades and veterans of the movement.
On the opening day, delegates and foreign guests were welcomed, the party's martyrs of the struggle were honoured and the main political and organisation report was presented by party general secretary Vinod Mishra. The written report was distributed to delegates.
This report was the basis for discussion over the next three days. The five sections were discussed separately, and hundreds of amendments were proposed in a lively and extensive discussion. After discussion on each section, a member of the outgoing leadership would summarise the discussion, indicating which amendments or proposals the leadership thought should be incorporated or rejected.
There was extensive discussion of the international situation and the Indian economy; the current political situation and the party's tactics; and all the varied aspects of the party's united front work.
There was especially thorough discussion of its peasant work. Seventy per cent of party members are peasants, and the party has a strong base of support among peasants and rural workers, particularly in Bihar.
The main political perspectives put to delegates as challenges for the period ahead were:
1. Ousting the social democratic parties — how the CPI ML describes the CPI and CPI M — from the commanding heights of the left movement. The fact that these parties are now seen as coopted by the system presents a golden opportunity for an ideological and political struggle against them for leadership of the left movement.
2. It was a period of heightened repression, both by the state and the landlords' private armies (often with the assistance of former leftists turned mercenary anarchists). More than 200 party members and supporters have been murdered by these gangs in recent years, including party youth leader Chandrashekar, who was gunned down while addressing a public meeting. The party's task was to defend its comrades from such attacks and politically defeat the forces behind them.
3. There was a great opportunity for building a broad left democratic front of all progressive, democratic and human rights forces across the country. The CPI ML alone was capable of bringing such forces together, according to the document, but to do this, first "we must champion the cause of progressive nationalism against imperialism and national chauvinism, and put greater emphasis on anti-imperialist tasks.
"Secondly, corruption of the top political leadership and the all-round criminalisation of politics have emerged as two major issues haunting the public mind. We must vigorously build popular movements on these issues and provide them a revolutionary democratic orientation.
"Thirdly, the Party must actively intervene in the dalit [lower caste] and national minority movements and pay special attention in widely interacting with the Muslim masses, youth and intelligentsia.
"Fourth, we must be at the forefront in opposing state terrorism — police and army atrocities — anywhere in the country."
The final section of the document covered the party's organisation and party-building work. It set a goal of 100,000 members within three years, organised in branches; increased party education through the recently formed Indian Institute of Marxist Studies, as well as locally; stepped-up party propaganda through developing party organs as mass popular papers; expanding inner party democracy; more recruitment of women and training of women leaders; expansion into areas of the country where the party is currently weak; and strengthening the party's working-class composition.
Separate resolutions were also adopted on tactics, agrarian policy and the nationality question.
The CPI ML is aware that it can play a bigger role in helping regenerate the international communist movement in years to come. The report states:
"We are of the opinion that communist parties and groups who adhere to Marxism-Leninism should develop bilateral and multilateral relations among themselves based on mutual respect and mutual non-interference in each other's internal affairs.
"We are facing complex questions and as the process of rethinking and readjustments is going on among various communist groupings it is proper to go in for wider interactions rather than forming close groupings. In coming years we hope to further intensify our international activities. Sometime next year we plan to organise an international seminar on Marxism 2001. While strengthening our international work, we shall particularly strive to develop closer relations with parties and groups of countries from South Asia and the Asia-Pacific region. We shall try to be more vigorous and active in international solidarity campaigns and in developing closer people-to-people relations among South Asian countries."
International representation at the congress consisted of a four-person delegation from the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist), headed by its general secretary, Mhadav Nepal; two representatives of the Marxist Leninist Party of Germany, and one from the Workers Party of Belgium; myself as national secretary of the Democratic Socialist Party, Australia; and Kampala Wilson from the London-based South Asia Solidarity Group. Written greetings were received from the Indonesian People's Democratic Party and many others.
The congress discussed and voted on a wide range of amendments to the party constitution and elected an enlarged central committee of 39 members.
In his closing speech, Mishra summarised the main line of march for the party in the coming years. He also pointed to two "secrets" of the unity of the party that had allowed it to grow and surpass other Marxist-Leninist groups.
First, it had succeeded in upholding the glorious tradition of the movement, in spite of some criticisms of the past. Secondly, the party had been able to learn from past mistakes and update its line.
Also, the party had a leadership able to pool the collective wisdom of the entire party. It had a collective leadership forged through years of struggle. He pointed out that the debates at the congress "had generated a lot of heat, but also a lot of light. In the elections for the central committee, some had won and some had lost. But the party goes out of the congress hall united."
The recent growth of the CPI ML, the open and democratic functioning of its congress, and the clear perspectives presented and agreed on for its work in coming years give cause for hope that Indian workers and peasants will increasingly have leadership that can give clear direction in their struggles against the bourgeoisie and landlordism, and against the grinding poverty and oppression faced by the majority of the people of India.
Moreover, the party's seriousness and Marxist clarity can be a lesson and inspiration to revolutionaries in other countries as well.
[Subscriptions to the CPI ML's monthly English language magazine Liberation can be obtained from: Liberation, U-90, Shakarpur, Delhi, 110 092. The cost is US$20.00 per year.]