Theorizing the Indian path to socialism & beyond: CPI-M's draft ideological resolution

The Communist Party of India (Marxist), with a membership of over 1 million, is the largest among the left parties in India. Hence the ideological and political stand of CPI(M) is viewed with keen attention, not just by its members, but also by anyone keen on Indian politics. The fact that CPI(M) places in public domain its resolutions on ideological and political issues makes it possible for anyone interested to follow the evolution of the same. The political resolutions are discussed, revised and adopted during the 'party congress' that happens every three years and published as a single document. Ideological resolutions, on the other hand, are revised only after a major shift in international or national political situation. Last time the CPI(M) adopted a full-fledged resolution on ideological issues was in 1992 after the collapse of erstwhile USSR and the eastern block. Now, after 20 years, the party feels that it is time to have a reassessment of its ideological reading; taking into account the roller coaster ride that history has underwent in these two decades.

Indeed what an eventful ride it has been! Uncle Sam is the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world ever since The Kremlin knocked himself out. Afghanistan and Iraq were his victory marches. Capital now moves between nations faster than light. Stocks and derivatives were built and blown apart like a house of cards. Economics professors are back to books - analysing the crisis of capitalism. Political theorists are on the edge of their seats - watching the 'pink tide' in Latin America, 'jasmine revolutions' in the Arab world, and occupations of the wall streets in US and Europe. Historians are in giggles, murmuring about a guy who said that 1992 was the 'end of history'. Indian history too was eventful these two decades. Babri Masjid demolished in 1992. Communal tension threatened India's secular fabric. Riots, blasts, genocides. Lotus bloomed in the Indian Parliament in 1996, Ram entered the courtroom in 2011. India joined the neo-liberal bandwagon in 1990s. GDP growth rates are followed like cricket scores. Employment growth rate or school enrolment growth rate never makes news. Domestic and foreign IT sector becomes the dream destination for the Indian elite. Farmers are topping the suicide charts. Mining and SEZs are displacing entire communities. Left extremists are rated as the biggest threat to Indian state. Corporates are dictating terms to political parties. Corruption figures have touched the 13-digit mark. Government is stepping back from its social obligations, and NGOs (foreign and domestic funded) are rushing to fill that void. There is hardly anything that money can't buy - sports cars to medicine seats to pampering news to votes to ministerial berths. But sure, some things never change in India - 59% of our children are stunted and 43% are underweight. Caste atrocities and honour killings are reported every other week, and most men still have no idea what it takes to run a home.

It is in this backdrop of history, that we have to understand the points in the Draft of 'Resolution on Some Ideological Issues' (abbreviated as DIR henceforth) that CPI(M) has put out for discussion. It is a very terse summary of the party's diagnosis and prognosis of the world situation, and a prescription for treatment. An attempt to summarise it further always runs the risk of oversimplification. But still, that is precisely what is attempted here, in hope that this only serves as a motivation to read the entire document and not as a secondary reference to points in the same. Though the author's opinion, prejudice and wish-list will inevitably creep in at places, this is not to be considered as a critique to the document or a list of suggested amendments. By the way, the CPI(M) has invited amendments to the DIR and anyone can post the same till the 15th of March.

The inner workings of imperialism

After the first section of Introduction, the DIR moves on to give a concise analysis of the economic order of our times in Section II. The section is invaluable even if just for the concepts it defines : imperialism, globalisation, speculative trading, international finance capital, neo-liberalism, surplus and primitive accumulation of capital. The section tries to point out how all these phenomena of our times are natural outcomes of the single point agenda of capitalism which is maximisation of profit. Probably the maximum stress in the section goes to two things. One is to advance Lenin's understanding of imperialism as an advanced stage of capitalism, identifying international finance capital as its prime mover, globalisation as its post-colonial modus vivendi and neo-liberalism as its modus operandi. Second is the identification of primitive accumulation of capital, an analytical category used by Marx to describe the outright expropriation of natural resources like water, energy, land, minerals, radio spectrum etc. by capitalists, often aided by the bourgeoisie state, as the prime cause of large scale displacement, migration and impoverishment of entire communities and also its identification as the hidden cause behind mega scams in developing countries like India. It is the scale of this primitive accumulation which might explain why left extremists in India's mineral rich lands constitute the biggest enemy of the Indian state, and why corruption scams touch the 13-digit mark. Even when one admires the quality of analysis in this section, one is a bit dismayed that CPI(M)'s own attempts to aid primitive accumulation in Singur and Nandigram does not get a mention, at least so as to elucidate the differences.

Soviet era poster with Mayakovsky's famous quote: 'Lenin Lives, Lenin Lived, Lenin will live! Image Courtesy:

Military might and ideological indoctrination

Capitalist Crisis

The spread of class consciousness as opposed to mere economism among trade unions, the existence of a strong party, and the formation of larger mass alliances with peasants and other exploited sections is what will become the 'subjective factor' that can effect the revolution under ripe objective factors created by capitalism itself.

Section III is a very focussed attempt to prove that the present economic crisis witnessed in the advanced capitalist countries is a structural consequence of capitalism and not the outcome of individual greed or lack of regulation. This is in tune with the classical Marxist reading of capitalist dynamics. The section explains the phenomena of demand crunch, credit financing and speculative trading which results in periodic crises under capitalism. It also criticises the process of converting corporate insolvencies to sovereign (national) insolvencies by bail out packages and then imposing austerity measures on the working class to reduce the state fiscal deficit. It then moves on to ask the classical Marxist question of whether capitalism will tide over this crisis or will there be enough political power with the working class to overthrow the system and socialise the means of production. Many post-marxists have tried to argue that the nature of capital and labour has undergone fundamental changes (intellectual labourers, managers) since the time of Marx, that such a conflict of interest, and consequent workers' unity leading to an overthrow of the system is no longer possible. The section argues that this argument is flawed because the structure and composition of labour makes no difference to the process of exploitation. The section also cautions against the belief among a few sections of arm-chair Marxists that the capitalist system will collapse automatically. The section is clear in stating that the crisis of capitalism will create the 'objective conditions' for the collapse, but it needs concerted effort from the working class through class struggles and mass struggles to actually effect the collapse. The spread of class consciousness as opposed to mere economism among trade unions, the existence of a strong party, and the formation of larger mass alliances with peasants and other exploited sections is what will become the 'subjective factor' that can effect the revolution under ripe objective factors created by capitalism itself.

20th century socialist projects

What are the socialist countries up to?

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Analysis of the Chinese situation is detailed and spans 20 bullet points. It points to the peculiarities in the Chinese Communist Party's (CPC) ideological manoeuvres like taxonomising the current phase of development in China as the 'primary stage of socialism', the advancement of the idea of a 'socialist market economy' and the dropping of the concept of imperialism. The DIR also views with suspicion the CPC's decision from 2002 to admit capitalists into the party. It points out that the pro-market reforms undertaken has brought about rapid economic growth in China and claims that such growth acceleration was possible not because China 'broke from the Maoist past' but because it developed on the solid foundations laid by the People’s Republic of China during the first three decades of centralised planning. It also points out to the fact that although private sector has expanded rapidly in this period, the public sector is still the major player in most sectors and has full control over the strategic sectors. The section also points out to the economic inequalities and corruption that grew during the reform period. It notes that "in the ten years from 1997 , a period which saw the remarkable economic boom, the share of workers’ wages in national income fell from 53 percent to 40 percent of the GDP". This is how the section sums up its stand on the Chinese experiment: "During these three decades of reforms China has made tremendous strides in the development of productive forces and economic growth. A consistent 10 per cent plus growth rate on the average over a period of three decades is unprecedented in the entire history of capitalism for any country. However, this very process has clearly brought to the fore adverse changes in production relations and therefore in social relations in China today. How successfully these contradictions are dealt with and how they are resolved will determine the future course in China."

Indian path: People's Democratic Revolution & Beyond

It also notes that this double barrel manoeuvre requires a continuous vigilance against deviations of two kinds - one being the revisionist deviation of relying only on parliamentary activity, thus, neglecting class struggles through mass mobilizations and the other is the adventurist deviation of negating parliamentary democracy itself and adherence to a strategy of immediate armed struggle against the State.

With this wealth of lessons from around the world, the DIR moves on to outline the contours of 'Socialism in Indian Conditions' that it struggles to establish. Section VIII titled as and entirely devoted to it. It may be kept in mind that, for a communist party, socialism is only a transitional state from the exploitative capitalist system to the class-less communist system. Hence, socialism must establish its superiority over capitalism in achieving higher levels of productivity and productive forces based on the principle of transition from, ‘from each according to his ability, to each according to his work’ eventually leading towards a Communist society where the principle of ‘to each according to his need’ would prevail. Most of the section is presented as an answer to the question: "What does socialism in Indian conditions mean?". It forewarns that no blueprint for the same can be detailed till the People's Democratic Revolution is successfully completed and lessons learned are put to table. With this warning, it presents a partial list of its salient features. (i) Socialism in Indian conditions means providing all people food security, full employment, universal access to education, health and housing. (ii) 21st century socialism will mean the attainment of true people's power through a strengthened democracy. Under socialism, democracy will be based on the economic empowerment of all people and not just on illusionary formal rights granted by the bourgeois democracy. (iii) Socialism in India will mean the end to caste and gender oppression and the attainment of equality among all minorities and marginalised sections. (iv) Multiple types of ownership of means of production, like state controlled, collective and cooperative, will coexist under a centrally planned policy framework. (v) The market is bound to exist as long as commodity production exists

CPIM Election Campaign in Kerala. Image Courtesy: Hindustan Times

The road to achieve these aims in India has to be chosen based on a thorough analysis of the concrete conditions prevailing in India. Section X, the last in the document is the output of this analysis. The DIR states that the party will strive to achieve the socialist transition in India by peaceful and powerful mass struggles. It emphasises that a revolutionary advance can be made in India only by combining parliamentary and extra parliamentary forms of struggle. It also notes that this double barrel manoeuvre requires a continuous vigilance against deviations of two kinds - one being the revisionist deviation of relying only on parliamentary activity, thus, neglecting class struggles through mass mobilizations and the other is the adventurist deviation of negating parliamentary democracy itself and adherence to a strategy of immediate armed struggle against the State. This possibly draws out most clearly the line between CPI(M) and the other left parties in India. The Marxist reading of Indian parliamentary system, cited from CPI(M)'s party programme is illuminating. It reads: 'Although a form of class rule of the bourgeoisie, India’s present parliamentary system also embodies an advance for the people. It affords certain opportunities for them to defend their interests, intervene in the affairs of the State to a certain extent and mobilise them to carry forward the struggle for democracy and social progress.’ The DIR adds a note that the growing power of big capital and the entry of big money into politics and the growing criminalization of politics is distorting and undermining the democratic process. The section then goes on to emphasise the importance of worker-peasant alliance and working class unity in effecting the socialist transition. In fact, the inability of the working class to foster a strong alliance with the peasantry is noted as a major weakness of the present Indian situation. The section also describes how more and more of the labour force is pushed into the casual and contract work creating a huge sector of unorganised labourers but falls short of making any concrete suggestions on the praxis for organising in the unorganised sector. The section moves on to warn against the threat to class struggle, the only form of struggle that is potent to transcend capitalism, originating from identity politics in general and caste based mobilisations in particular. The role of NGO's in advancing the politics of identity is also noted. The section also highlights the need to continue the struggles against social oppression, patriarchy and communalism. It also makes a relevant note on nationalism. It asserts that "the defence of national sovereignty and anti-imperialist nationalism is an important aspect to rally solidarity of the exploited classes and strengthen class unity in the struggle against imperialist globalisation."

The antagonist stands exposed, trying to break free from the trap it created for itself, with all its tentacles in fine view.Soviet era poster declaring 'Death to Global Imperialism'

Thus,it is after 157 bullet points that we reach the concluding section. The DPR concludes by reiterating that the CPI(M) will use the analytical tool of Marxism-Leninism to understand the concrete situation and that it firmly believes that the fundamental direction of human civilization is towards Socialism. It also reiterates that the CPI(M) is mindful of the role of the 'subjective factor', the worker-peasant alliance, workers' unity and class conscience in effecting the revolutionary advance once the 'objective factors' are ripe. Finally it reiterates that the party will guard against all deviations and firmly uphold the revolutionary content of Marxism-Leninism.

The DPR concludes there. But the revolutionary task before the left is far from conclusion. Hence let me conclude this summary by quoting the very first point - point 1.1 - from the document.

"The current global crisis of capitalism, more intense in many of its manifestations than the great depression of the 1930s, has once again resoundingly demonstrated capitalism’s inherent oppressive and exploitative character. This crisis is imposing greater miseries on the vast majority of the world’s population. This crisis is also increasingly demonstrating that imperialism, notwithstanding all ideological efforts to obfuscate its existence and role, is leading global capitalism in this offensive against humanity. Thus, imperialism’s quest for global hegemony is the fountainhead that continues to deny humanity its complete emancipation, liberation and progress."

Perhaps, the revolutionary task begins here. The antagonist stands exposed, trying to break free from the trap it created for itself, with all its tentacles in fine view.