Some Notes on the history of the Communist Movement in India

From its emergence in 1920 to the present, the Indian communist movement has had to deal with substantial ideological and organisational debates, to draw its own map from the present to the future. Repression of communism had been the ethos of the British Raj, as it has been throughout the history of the movement. Three major issues tore through the communist movement as the organizers tried to reach out to the people.

a) The relationship of the Indian communists to Moscow and the world communist movement: The entirety of the movement saw the Soviet example as incarnated hope. Within the communist movement emerged a view that the best understanding of the ground realities of their politics could not be found in Kremlin but amongst their own leadership – fraternal ties with Moscow should not become hierarchical. Much the same view would emerge about Beijing in its heyday as the promoter of Maoist rebellion. This sentiment went from 1925 through the split in the communist movement, into each of the communist parties.

b) The relationship of the Indian communists to the Congress Party: Before 1947, the communists had a complex relationship with the Congress – in alliance with it against the British Raj, but diverging from it when it came to the class politics within India. As the Congress began to represent the class interests of the industrial and agrarian bourgeoisie with increasing public confidence, the divide with the communists widened.

c) Participation in Democratic Institutions: Harsh repression by the state against peasant and working class assertion led to the view that no amount of institutional politics would be able to either defend the producing classes or sift the terrain toward transformation.  Over the years, ‘in an odd reversal of roles in ‘the world’s second largest democracy’, when all the political parties representing the liberal order were flouting the basic democratic norms and attempting to subvert the Constitution itself, the Communists were doing their best accepting the obligations and prerogatives laid out in the Constitution, even when the exercise of some of those prerogatives worked against their interests. All this was done with the best of intentions that even the ‘caricature of bourgeois democracy’ that prevails in India could provide some elbow room for struggles within to edge ‘closer to an approximation of what democracy really is’.

These issues played a major role in splitting the communist movement in India. The contradictions of the communist movement exploded outward to create a host of organisations.  The splits in the communist movement developed entirely out of the contradictions faced by the movement. These splits certainly weakened the organizational power of Indian communist, and turned friends against friends. Over time, the CPI and CPI-M found a modus vivendi in the Left Front and drew closer. The gap between these two communist parties and the Maoists – who have landed themselves into the vicious circle of Violence as tactic, strategy, goal; in fact everything – is very wide.  Although here, as far as the above ground Maoists are concerned, things seem to be in flux.  Unity, if it ever does come, will only take place at a higher level – with a more mature sense of the political landscape and with a much more realistic understanding of how to work together.

The communist movement adopted the view that they should work within the confines of multi-party democracy and the main slogan for the period was to ‘govern and mobilize’ to provide relief, run a rational system of administration and use extra-parliamentary means to build power among the working people. Kerala, West Bengal and Tripura are the core areas of the Left, where it has advantage in the electoral arena; in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, the ‘Left’ has sizeable influence but is still not a ‘governing option’ for the people. The electoral victories for the Left in its core regions, were rendered possible by several years of sustained ‘communist work’ among the people in building mass organisations of toiling people with ‘revolutionary patience’ and spearheading incessant waves of  mass struggles.   ‘The most obvious material fact about the Left is its overwhelming weakness and its inability to break out of its regional sequestration’; and this not merely an outcome of diverting the party’s priority attention and meagre resources to develop the mass base and the party in ‘compact and contiguous area’ as per the general consensus reached by November 1967.

It was not the use of parliamentary democracy that bothered the CPI or the CPI-M; but the danger of annihilation of a working-class bloc to fight against the very powerful bloc of Property and Privilege. This is precisely what is happening now in the badlands of West Bengal. In West Bengal, The steady commitment to land reform remained undaunted. Land redistribution, in its final years, had become an intense political struggle, rather than an administrative process.  The neo-landlords and the older social classes reasserted themselves through the Trinamul Congress and the BJP in the countryside to drive a hard agenda against the Left.  It helped them that the Left’s industrialization policy alienated many people and provided the basis a new anti-Left coalition.  The industrialization policy was not itself the reason for the undoing of the Left; it was the spur. Violence had ‘cleansed’ the landscape, preparing it for the kind of authoritarian populism of Mamata Banerjee.  It is at a scale comparable to the Congress-led violence of the early 1970s (1972-77). Human rights organisations maintained a studied silence, as hundreds of Left leaders, cadres and supporters were put to death and as thousands were expelled from their homes, with the Left bearing the brunt of the intimidation, the assaults, the expulsions and the murders.  The life and events are once again proving that: The class struggle that is endemic to capitalism cannot be seen merely in the electoral domain.

Today ‘liberalization’ commands a consensus among the bourgeoisie far more absolute than Nehruvianism or anything else of that kind has ever been able to achieve.  Nonetheless, the brutality of neo-liberal policy sets in motion forces of disgruntlement and anger that could erupt at any moment.  The CPI-M’s internal review worried that the communists were not prepared to harness such an upsurge. A new energy is necessary, a new enthusiasm for organizational work, drawing people from new areas. The ‘question of imperialism is central to the communist position vis-à-vis the social democrats and the necessity to transcend capitalism bound up with this issue.’ The bottom-line remains that the Left should be ‘ideologically assertive but a more open and democratic and engage with various forms of social movements against oppression’ more actively.


No Free Left by Vijay Prashad

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