100 Years Later

One hundred years have passed since the Communist Party of India was born. The achievements of the communist movement, however, give more frustration than hope. It is true that when the Indian Communist movement was fresh, its activists gave a good account of themselves . They gave up lucrative jobs, deserted their studies and went to workers and peasants in order to organise them. The successful Bolshevik Revolution in Russia was definitely a source of inspiration. There were the historic Tebhaga and Telengana movements, and prior to that, many working class movements. Students of the history of Indian working class movements can recall the Kanpur and Meerut conspiracy cases, and the statements of the leaders(e.g. Mujaffar Ahmed, Dharani Goswami, Radhraman Mitra, Gopen Chakrabarty, Biswanath Mukherjee etc)of the young CPI boldly defending the ideals of communism. Many terrorist revolutionaries, after coming out of prison, joined the communist movement. Their political role was more prominent in Bengal. They built up workers' unions, brought out journals, organised mass struggles against landlords and usurers, and built writers' associations. If anything the abolition of landlordism and rack-renting was largely due to the struggle of communists and their sacrifices.

Yet the failures of the Communist Party are too glaring to be glossed over. They could not seize the leadership of the anti-British national movement, which the Gandhian Congress successfully managed to do. In the 1940s, there developed a revolutionary situation, and the British rule in India was tottering under the impact of several movements, e.g. movement for the release of INA prisoners, the historic naval revolt, the agrarian movements in various parts of the country etc. The Communist Party could not grasp the opportunity and rather played a secondary role. Moreover, its Euro-centrism propelled it to oppose the Quit India Movement in the name of fighting fascism, which eroded its anti-imperialist credentials very badly. It started the Telengana armed peasant struggle, which began as a fierce battle against the Nizam's rule but soon turned into a low-intensity war with the mighty Indian military, but could not sustain it for long, or expand it, ultimately having to withdraw it . The historic Tebhaga movement was partially successful, but could not develop into a revolutionary uprising. The major part of the communist movement finally opted for the parliamentary path and utilised the successes of agrarian and trade union struggles for winning at the elections. The Indian state as it emerged after the exit of the British consisted of the same type of army, police and the bureaucracy; none of the army officers or bureaucrats who had faithfully served their British masters were removed from their posts, but the communists could not build up any nationwide movement against it, barring some slogan-shouting (e ajadi jhuta hai-this independence is fake).

What is most striking is that the larger part of the communist movement in India decided to operate entirely within the frame of the status quo, within the bourgeois parliamentary politics. Participating in elections and using them for the advancement of people's struggles constitute one thing; but considering electoral fight as the be -all and end-all of all political activities is quite another. The CPI and CPI (M) leaders chose the latter option, and the upshot was that they had to subscribe to the idea of corporate-led growth, the excuse being 'There is no Alternative'. Now, even in their bastion, West Bengal, the CPI (M) has almost lost their striking power.

Naxalbari in the late '60s marks a turning point in Indian communist movement. It is true that the upsurge in North Bengal raised quite a stir and drew many people to it. But the Naxalites were from the beginning divided, and when the CPI(M-L) was formed, several prominent leaders including Nagi Reddy, DVRao, Asit Sen, Parimal Dasgupta etc were excluded. Then the CP I(M-L) led by Charu Majumdar took a dangerously adventurist line, and an almost subservient position in relation to the Communist Party of China. Although many laid down their lives in West Bengal, Andhra, Punjab and other states, its alienation from the people grew in geometrical progression. Ironically, the Communist Party of China severely criticised the policies of the CPI (M-L), but the leadership of the CPI(M-L) did not feel any urgency to rectify themselves in the light of these criticisms. When various regional leaders realised their mistakes, the ruling classes had consolidated themselves and launched a severe repression on an unprecedented scale. The movement is still divided. One section, the CPI (Maoist), has caused some attention because of their sporadic armed action, but it seems to be lacking in understanding the unevenness of the situation and in getting rid of sectarianism and dogmatism.

The situations of the former USSR and China, particularly the transformation of post-Mao China, have had other depressing impacts.

Yet those who have not lost hope and faith in communism are re-analysing the Indian situation against the backdrop of rapidly changing world and new strategic polarisation in Asia and Indo-Pacific. Lessons of the Paris Commune and the teachings of Rosa Luxemburg, Gramsci are now being seriously discussed among communist circles. In a way they are re-inventing Marx in post-Marx Marxism. It may be hoped that some order will emerge out of the present chaos and ideological wilderness.       


Vol. 53, No. 21, Nov 22 - 28, 2020