Whither Communist Movement?

Of Unity and United Front

Arup Baisya

The question of the Unity of Communists and the United Front needs to be dealt with within the framework of the subject–object,structure–superstructure relationship. The manifesto for revolution needs to be evolved based on a theoretical premise for communist unity and the united front. Dwelling on this theoretical premise, it opens a broad understanding of the urgent need of building the subjective force incommensurate with the objective reality. This rests on a general perception of the Marxist philosophy of praxis. But it has also its own specificities. In the Indian context, the left legacy has its bearing on the complexities of left unity in the here and now.

The Indian Communist Party, when first formed in Tashkent in the year 1920, carried with it the legacy of the idea of 'socialism from above' of the Second International. Though Lenin always considered Rosa Luxemburg with high esteem as a left revolutionary, Lenin criticised Luxemburg in the Seventh Congress of Second International for her underestimation of the role of the party. Though Leninist strategy was presumed to be correct in the history of the communist revolution, Rosa's contention became clear in 1906 when she wrote an outstandingly original booklet, 'The Mass Strike, the Political Party, and the Trade Unions'. She brought the Marxist idea of "the emancipation of the working class is conquered by the working class themselves" into the centrestage by advocating 'socialism from below'. It underlines the importance of 'social movement' as specific achievements by self-organising social forces.

The social movement is one of the key collective forms in which the class struggle is conducted. But the self-organising social movement has diverse tendencies in consonance with the class interest of contending classes which have their organic linkages with the social movement in specific space-time and strive to give a direction of the movement to serve their own class interest and as such all social movements are not revolutionary in character. Here comes the question of 'social movement from above' where the conscious vanguards belonging to the communist party can consciously evaluate the objective condition under which the self-organising social movement can be revolutionary and formulate the ways and means to connect with the movement from below to act as catalysts for a radical transformation of the movement. Though Gramsci's diagnosis that no movement can be purely spontaneous is true, the conscious leaderships which he termed as organic intellectuals are mostly influenced by the tradition of the specific space-time and remotely influenced by the capitalist world system in General. But the self-organising social movement releases the classes from the clutches of the tradition to make a distance with the tradition for enabling them to identify themselves as part and parcel of the class in general to challenge the entire system for a revolutionary change. This psychological uplift-ment can transform into a material force of the class-unity only through the process of the unity of myriads form of revolutionary social movements against diverse manifestations of the exploitative system.

The vanguard character of the communist party only becomes meaningful in the sense of becoming a subjective force for both the revolutionary seizure of power and radical social change when this unity becomes the prime mover of praxis. Where the lever is to be applied for the revolutionary seizure of power is decided by the development of such unity from within the movement itself and by the emancipation of the working class conquered by themselves. If this becomes the understanding of the development of the social revolution, the solid and temporally fixated conception of arrogating all knowledge of revolutionary change as scientific knowledge by the communist party and the vanguards and the idea of the infallibility of the Central committee melt into the air. Here, Rosa Luxemburg was again correct when she asserted that the process of learning of the masses from the defeat of their struggle is more precious than the victory of the vanguards. This idea of the dialogical development of the revolutionary moment can remove the barrier of the egoistic mindset and authoritarian outlook of the Party as the supreme authority of the revolution and pave the way for the unity of the revolutionaries.

The influence of the Comintern on Indian Communists had further accentuated the process of developing a sectarian outlook. Sobhanlal Dutta Gupta in his book 'Comintern and the destiny of Communism in India 1919-1943: Dialectic of Real and Possible History (Kolkata: Seriban, 2006)' writes that in the aftermath of the Sixth Congress in 1928, the Indian communists were expressly directed by the Comintern to disband the Workers and Peasants Parties (a number of such parties were acting as the vehicle of the communist movement at that time) and to leave the nationalist mass organisations. But when the Comintern shifted to a united/popular front strategy in 1935 in the face of the fascist threat, it did not admit that the line of the Sixth Congress was a mistake. A similar thing happened when consideration of the Second World War as an imperialist war at the initial phase was abruptly changed to people's war for Germany's attack on Soviet Russia. Indian Communists under the leadership of CPI was just formulating the tactics under the strategic direction of the Comintern. When the centre of the Indian communists shifted to India especially after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the same conceptualisation of Marxism as scientific knowledge arrogated and internalised by the vanguards of the party centre prevailed. The fundamental tenet of Marxism as a 'philosophy of praxis' and a process was thus undermined. This legacy is continued and has its bearing on Indian practicing communists. This is a big impediment in evolving the unity of the communist revolutionaries because each party claims that it has perfected the theory and set it for the communist revolution in India.

Caste, Class and Communist Unity
This understanding has also misrepresented the conception of class. The class is considered solely as a static structural question. The conception of class without class struggle is a misnomer because, in the real world, there are classes as 'being' which is only in the process of 'becoming' through struggle. There are diverse categories of individuals or groups of individuals sans class struggle, even if they are workers in the capitalist system. This static mindset of conceptualisation of the class obscured the caste question in India from the Indian communists to ignore it from the beginning -- whenever they considered it under the compelling reality of caste struggle, they treated it as a mere tactical question. The worker–capital, the lower caste–upper caste etc. are interpenetrating in the super-structure to sustain the structure of the division of labour. Both the category of worker and caste become class in the process of struggle for the revolutionary change of the system of interpenetrating capitalism and casteism under the hegemony of capital. The static formulaic version of the class is also another stumbling block in achieving the unity of the communist revolutionaries as the real struggle in the here and now remains out of sight and focus. If the revolution and the conception of 'the working class emancipation conquered by themselves' become the prime concern, the unity of the communist revolutionaries can easily be achieved despite some differences in the theoretical polemics of strategic question which can be debated and evolved within the garb of the vibrant struggle of the classes.

The unity of different revolutionary communists and parties does not mean a monolithic formation without any inherent struggle within it. If this is conceived as the basis of unity where all differences are resolved, then this unity will transform into a dead mass without any vibrant energy necessary for living contact with the people's or class struggle. But the question remains what will be the mechanism to encourage debate to resolve differences? The mechanical formulations of constitutional norms and code of conduct for resolving the differences cannot be ruled out, otherwise, the possibility of the emergence of a debating club instead of practicing a revolutionary party cannot be avoided. But this must be subject to the continuous scrutiny of objective necessity and cannot be considered as a fundamental premise. The transitional moment determined by the intensity of class conflict necessitates the division of strategic position on the class-line for completion of a task historically bestowed on the shoulder of the revolutionary party. In this moment of societal transition too, the unified party may allow praxis based on diverse strategic positions and this is possible if the Indian communists shed their legacy of not conceding mistakes in front of the struggling masses who can learn even from the mistakes of the vanguard communists revolutionaries.

The third but most important impediment in achieving the unity of the communist revolutionaries is the nature of uneven development which is ingrained in capitalism and it is much pronounced in a country like India which is an ex-colonial country of British imperialist. The diverse revolutionary formations are engaged in revolutionary praxis in diverse parts of India, some parts are more developed than the others, and as such the class struggle in which revolutionary parties are engaged experiences diverse forms of struggle. This creates a variety of understanding of the reality internalised from the praxis. As the party centre is organically linked with its rank and file, the understanding of the party centre also gets influenced by the experiences of the praxis which is continuously summed up and the primary political task is thus continuously evolved. This is a structural barrier against the unity of the revolutionary parties. But this barrier is getting somehow mitigated by the overwhelming pressure from the combined development of capitalism and the forces of homogenisation from above for the fascist takeover of centralised power. That the proletarian ideology of the communist revolutionaries settles the question once and for all is over-simplistic.

United Front
The question of the united front can be viewed from the Gramscian notion of 'War of Position' and 'War of Maneuver'. From Gramsci's study, this author is not sure whether Gramsci considered these two categories segregated for capitalist West and backward Eastern countries. But considering capitalism as a system which carries all previous pre-capitalist systems within its hegemonic control and inherently imperialistic from its birth and when, at this juncture, capitalism reached to its zenith of global expansion, both 'War of Position' and 'War of Maneuver' are intrinsically imperative for the communist parties to undertake for the development of the revolutionary social movement of diverse categories for the emancipation of the working class. But the practising revolutionaries based on their wisdom of assessment of the concrete situation must be capable of determining the moment of time when one prevails over the other and dominates the direction of the movement. The rise of fascists forces and the danger of fascist takeover of power underline such moment of history when "War of Position" i.e. the building of the united front even with a section of ruling class bourgeois parties becomes the determining factor for the development of the class struggle for revolutionary systemic change. It does not mean that the "War of Maneuver" is completely abandoned, it just becomes contingent on the united front struggle. Again, by Gramsci's account, fascism is a passive revolution and it means, the rise of fascism manifests the objective revolutionary situation for active revolution under the leadership of the working class. The weakening of fascist forces through the United Front struggle will open the space for the revolutionary forces to occupy and transform the "War of Maneuver" as a dominant form for the revolutionary seizure of power. There are revolutionary forces who consider the fascist danger in India as real but denies the necessity of a united front. Such perception is evolved from the sectarian view of considering the party as the dominant player for revolution, not the working class and their emancipation. They do not realise that the fascist forces gather strength in the absence of the emancipation of the working class and that sets the agenda for the revolutionary parties as the facilitators to create space for the working class to emancipate themselves through the united front movement.

What will be the nature of this united front? The Foundation of the united front must be the unity of the social movements. It is not the unity brought about only by social engineering or by co-ordination amongst the leaders. It is to be developed through the movements of the parts going ahead with a realization to change the whole, the systemic whole. The unity is not improvised, but the organisers are animated by the unity with total devotion to the construction of a new society as a whole far ahead of the need and interest of the parts. In this phase of capitalism, the zeitgeist is defined by the diverse social movements that have surfaced in the world stage, be it 'Black Life Matters' of America or the "Gilets Jaunes" movement of France or the "Citizenship" movement in India or for that matter, the "Save Climate or Save Nature" movement, "Anti-eviction or Rehabilitation" movement, 'Women's liberty movement' etc. All these movements have revolutionary potential to unite for the emancipation of the working class to radically change the system. The independent peasant and labour movements are also raising its face once again. The unity of revolutionary forces will accelerate the process of unity of those struggles.

But the anti-fascist united front must also include the bourgeois forces and parties who are willing to fight the fascist forces to safeguard the constitutional democracy and to gain electoral space for power. This is important because revolution does not only mean seizure of power but also means social revolution which necessitates the fulfilling of the task of extending democracy by eradicating the deficits in a constitutional democracy. As such, safeguarding the constitutional democracy becomes the primary task when the danger of fascist takeover of power becomes a reality. This also means accentuating the struggle for radical democracy and building of socialism within the garb of anti-fascist united front struggle and this task cannot be postponed as a post-revolutionary task. So, the anti-fascist movement has the primacy of safeguarding constitutional democracy through a broad-based united front movement. There will be on-going criticism of the parliamentary parties, but it won't be opprobrium from above so long as these forces maintain some distance from the fascist and uphold people's issues, the harsh criticism will be at play within class struggle and class conflict, in the vibrant life of which the working class can understand from their life experience where their class and people's interest lie.

All movements, be it revolutionary or anti-fascist, do not become a real movement so long as these do not become the festival of the oppressed. The united front gives the oppressed masses a sense of empowerment to defeat the fascist forces. This sense of empowerment is the only way for the psychological build-up of the working class to transcend their desire for higher plank for their own revolutionary emancipation. The class-struggle within which the revisionism and parliamentary cretinism need to be combated must have the agenda of restructuring the power and society until the moment comes when the revolutionary seizure of power becomes an inevitable task. What this agenda should minimally include?

The united front movement will open the space to consolidate the revolutionary forces to build overwhelming mass support-bases in various pockets. It is true that without a revolutionary Government at the centre, there will not be enough available resources for the building of a new economy in various areas. A revolutionary Government in power can only stop the diversion of resources from unproductive expenditure and primarily from huge defence spending by dismantling the standing army and arming the people for national security and striking a peace deal with neighbouring countries even if it is tantamount to sacrificing some disputed land claimed only for pandering national pride. The world history tells us that any imperialistic aggression can be successfully combated by the people's militia resurrected with a zeal to safeguard the nation for building a new society and a new country that belongs to them when mighty defence forces of the bourgeois ruling class states even fail to safeguard. The people's power can also be activated to safeguard the public property and public services with their pride to suffer but not to compromise with their sense of freedom in the event of any imperialist sanction and conspiratorial counter-revolution. But even when the united front struggle gathers sufficient strength to compel the bourgeois fascist forces in power to take a backseat, some new economy-building measures can be undertaken by the revolutionary forces within the garb of vibrant people's struggle.

A village or cluster of villages or urban areas can be mobilised for cooperative economic activities. The great reversal of China to capitalism was started by returning to family responsibility in agricultural production and party bureaucratic ownership in industrial production that dismantled the commune and collective ownership of means of production. There was a big leap in socialism-building as well as growth during the initial phase of post-revolutionary China. Pre-revolutionary China was most backward and as such building of socialism was not possible to germinate prior to the revolutionary seizure of power. But the social balance of forces is different in present-day India which is much more advanced than the then pre-revolutionary China. It is mechanistic to shelve the idea of even taking any baby-step for the building of socialism until the bourgeois class is not dislodged from power.

Charles Bettelheim writes "In the initial phase of post-revolutionary China, the commune coincides with the basic administrative unit, viz, the canton or the townships. For the time being, the administration of the commune is run by the popular council of the township. The communes can federate and constitute a single federation in each district or council. It is also within the framework of the commune that people who can carry arms are armed and organized into popular militias." Initially the mode of distribution was according to a "wage system", then moved to the passage to distribution "according to need". (Source: China's Economic Growth: Charles Bettelheim, Monthly Review, Volume 10, Number 11, March 1959). What can be done in India within the united front struggle in a pre-revolutionary period?

At the least, 'Peasants' Association' in agricultural production and 'workers' council' in the industrial work and service-place can be formed for upgrading the democratic decision-making process, and land reform and cooperative ownership of means of production can be promoted in the areas where revolutionary forces are formidable in strength and workers-peasants' class gathers sufficient power and the supreme form of electoral democracy with right to recall can be practiced. This process is, of course, sustainable if the people's movement is raised to a higher plank where working-class emancipation is on the verge of being conquered by themselves. The anti-fascist United Front struggle must also be pressurised from below to undertake the agenda of nationalization of production and service units and providing universal ration and free universal service in health, education, etc. with people's participation for popular control over the services so that only use-value is created replacing the capitalist exchange-value. The communist revolutionary forces within the united front struggle must ensure that these minimum people's power is achieved whenever the liberal bourgeoisie occupy the citadel of state power for an interim period replacing the fascist forces, and the revolutionary seizure of power is still to be achieved.

Vol. 53, No. 22-25, Nov 29 - Dec 26, 2020