The uneven growth of the CPM in the country is an old story although the setback in West Bengal, where it held unchallenged political power for 34 years, is of more recent origin. While the former did worry the party leadership and followers, it was the rout in West Bengal that forced the leadership to comprehensively review its organisational failing and propose corrective steps to rec-laim its lost elan and appeal at the Kolkata plenum that concluded on Thursday.
It does not go to the credit of the CPM that it needed a shock like the one it got in West Bengal to go in for soul-searching, 37 years after a similar exercise was undertaken at Salkia. Then, the rising fortunes of the Left had led to a crucial change in the party’s self-proclaimed identity and role — from a Bolshevik-type, cadre-led revolutionary party to a mass revolutionary party — to carry out the people’s democratic revolution in India that its programme envisioned.
The party’s failure to grow outside its strongholds and even lose out in states like Andhra Pradesh and Punjab and the electoral and physical decimation it faced in West Bengal were part of the same problem, a problem not just of organisational weakness but of analytical failure to correctly understand the concrete, fast-changing conditions in the country and across the world and adopt changes in both theory and practice. It was in many ways reminiscent of the plight of the former Soviet Union, which had to survive in a sea of failed or aborted working -class revolutions in neighbouring Europe.
The party went to Kolkata with a broader task of national rejuvenation than just organisational revival in West Bengal. The deliberations and decisions at the plenum were largely circumscribed by the new tactical line the CPM had adopted at its Visakhapatnam congress last year. The new line had, in effect, shifted the focus of the party from a third front formation, including all and sundry against both the Congress and the BJP, to one of left unity against the two major national parties, with an eye to building a larger left democratic front in the course of time.
While the move not to have truck with opportunistic regional and caste-driven and corrupt, satrap-led parties was a step forward in recovering the CPM’s role and image as a party with a difference, the commitment to go for an exclusive left unity platform conflicted with the ground reality of the threat to the country from the RSS-controlled Narendra Modi government.
There is no doubting that the CPM leadership was truly into a searing self-criticism of its organisational failing. It had tried to touch the heart of the crisis by asking experts to study the impact of neo-liberal reforms in the life of the classes the party hoped to mobilise through popular struggles. The three study papers recommending new mobilisation strategies for the CPM, however, constitute only some kind of toolkit for party cadres committed to following the party programme and implementing the political tactical line.
It took a while for the party after the dissolution of the socialist bloc to change its programme to allow itself the freedom to participate in elected governments in the states and at the Centre. But the party’s latest political tactical line, arrived at the Visakhapatnam Congress, denies the party the freedom of being part of any large electoral coalition of parties against the rising tide of Hindutva. The flexibility clause in the tactical line, which was widely cited in the context of a possible tactical tie-up with the Congress in West Bengal, has proved to be non-operative, as shown by the reported outcome of the discussion on the sensitive issue at Kolkata.
It does not require any ideological acumen to figure that the unfolding Indian political scenario after the rise of Modi to power demands both flexible and feasible united fronts at several levels — from the grassroots defence of human rights to defending the Constitution, both inside and outside Parliament.
The daring and honesty of the CPM’s organisational revamp will be tested in practice by its success in building up and leading the most effective united front of secular and democratic forces against the immediate threat to republican India posed by political Hindutva.