Spartacist Canada No. 171
West Bengal After the Elections
The Political Bankruptcy of Indian Stalinism
Forge a Leninist-Trotskyist Party!
The humiliating rout of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI[M]) in the West Bengal elections last May puts a harsh spotlight on the political bankruptcy of Indian Stalinism and its Maoist variants. The dominant force in the Left Front, the CPI(M) had ruled continuously since 1977, wielding the repressive powers of the capitalist state against the deeply impoverished and oppressed masses of West Bengal. The CPI(M) has committed many crimes against the toilers, but its bloody repression in Singur and Nandigram virtually assured its defeat at the hands of the right-wing Trinamool Congress (TMC).
In December 2006 the Left Front government expropriated land in the Singur district on behalf of Tata Motors, one of India’s largest capitalist conglomerates. Those who resisted were severely beaten and arrested and a young woman activist was brutally raped and murdered. The following March, thousands of police and armed CPI(M) cadre assaulted peasants resisting a forced land expropriation in Nandigram. At least 14 were killed and over 200 injured. (See “India: The Nandigram Massacre,” SC No. 159, Winter 2008/2009.) Try as they might, oceans of lying CPI(M) propaganda could not wash away the blood of Singur and Nandigram.
Trinamool leader Mamata Banerjee demagogically manipulated the anger over Singur and Nandigram, but this posturing was aimed only at wresting power from the CPI(M). A right-wing split from the Congress Party, Trinamool is a Bengali regional outfit that has repeatedly allied itself with the communalist Hindu-supremacist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Trinamool’s rule will be marked by Hindu chauvinism, anti-Communism and intensified attacks on workers and the poor. Already Banerjee has called for a law against strikes and bandhs (street protests).
The CPI(M) was reduced to a rump in the state legislature, though its 30 percent of the vote indicates that it still retains the allegiance of millions of workers and peasants. This is the context for a wave of political violence—largely aimed at the CPI(M)—that has marked the post-election period in West Bengal. Reportedly, TMC thugs have killed up to 30 leftists, most of them CPI(M) supporters, and carried out hundreds of rapes and thousands of assaults, arsons and mass evictions. The offices of non-Trinamool trade unions have been ransacked and taken over by the ruling party. The workers movement must oppose all such anti-worker and anti-Communist attacks, as well as any communalist violence—which often targets India’s large Muslim minority—that TMC reactionaries may provoke.
Grotesquely, however, CPI(M) leader Buddhadeb Bhattacharya protested that “Instead of taking action against the ‘Maoists’ the government is acting against us,” adding that the Maoists “are the real danger to the state” (People’s Democracy, 21 August). With this, the CPI(M) continues its criminal support to Operation Green Hunt, the Delhi government’s armed offensive against Maoist guerrillas in India’s eastern and central interior. Trinamool, needing no urging from these contemptible hacks, has already announced its own plans for an “all-out” military offensive against the Communist Party of India (Maoist)—hereafter referred to as CPI (Maoist)—and its supporters among the adivasi tribal peoples. As one of her henchmen put it, “Chief minister Mamata Banerjee is for development in the Maoist-dominated areas and those who oppose it will have to face the wrath of the government” (Hindustan Times, 6 July).
Permanent Revolution vs. Stalinist Betrayal
Twenty years after capitalist counterrevolution devastated the Soviet Union and East Europe, India is one of the few places in the world where parties purporting to be Communist continue to have mass influence among the working class and oppressed. However, as the events in West Bengal demonstrate, the politics of the many parties that are derived from Indian Stalinism, including the Maoists, are sharply counterposed to the revolutionary, proletarian and internationalist program of authentic Marxism. Today, these parties are entering into significant political and organizational crises. The question of what way forward for the Indian masses is posed acutely.
Without exception, the Stalinist parties espouse a two-stage program of “democratic revolution.” This dogma means supporting brutal capitalist exploiters while postponing the proletarian revolution to an indefinite future, i.e., never. The end result is not “democracy,” much less socialism, but the killing of leftists, workers and peasants.
In pursuit of its “People’s Democratic Front” strategy, the CPI(M) has always sought alliances with a mythical “progressive” wing of the bourgeoisie. The official CPI(M) program instructs workers to ally with the “non-big bourgeoisie,” stressing that “every effort must be made to win them to the democratic front.” In reality, the CPI(M) has courted not just the “non-big,” but the really big bourgeoisie. The violent dispossession of the impoverished peasants of Singur and Nandigram on behalf of the Tata and Indonesian Salim Group conglomerates was an application of this political logic.
Nor are the Maoists an alternative, for they share the same fundamental program, also routinely seeking alliances with bourgeois forces. During the protests against the Singur and Nandigram atrocities, various Maoist groups allied with Trinamool. Going into the May elections, the CPI (Maoist) backed this extremely right-wing party as the “alternative” to the betrayals of the CPI(M). “We will support her [Banerjee] and follow the roadmap for development drawn up by her if she comes to power,” they vowed in a statement (The Hindu, 18 January), only dropping this unabashed support at the eleventh hour.
In India, where capitalist development is belated and constrained by imperialist subjugation, the weak national bourgeoisie is dependent on its imperialist masters—yesterday the British, today the U.S.—and above all fears its “own” working class. The only road to liberation for the subjugated masses lies in the successful struggle of the proletariat for state power, at the head of all the oppressed, especially the vast peasantry, and under the leadership of a revolutionary workers party. An Indian workers revolution would spark a revolutionary upsurge throughout the subcontinent, from Pakistan to Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Its survival and advancement would hinge on the achievement of social revolutions in the imperialist centres: Japan, North America and West Europe.
This is the perspective of permanent revolution. First elaborated for countries of combined and uneven development by Leon Trotsky around the 1905 Russian Revolution, it was stunningly confirmed by the October 1917 Revolution and the coming to power of the working class under the leadership of the Bolshevik Party. The Russian workers were able to take power in 1917 thanks to the Bolsheviks’ intransigent struggle for class independence from the capitalists. The result was a workers state, a revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat supported by the peasantry. Key to cementing the workers’ alliance with the peasants was the Bolsheviks’ support for peasant seizures of the landed estates and the division of the land among those who worked it.
Internationalist to the core, Lenin, Trotsky and the other Bolshevik leaders saw the revolution in economically backward Russia as the first step in a worldwide socialist revolution, crucially including the advanced capitalist countries. But the failure of a number of revolutionary opportunities in the period after World War I—particularly the defeat of the 1923 German Revolution—deepened the isolation of the Soviet state. This, combined with the economic devastation of World War I and the subsequent Civil War, allowed the emergence of a conservative bureaucratic layer in the party and state apparatus.
Beginning with a political counterrevolution in 1923-24, the USSR underwent a qualitative bureaucratic degeneration in which the working class was deprived of political power. The nationally narrow conservatism of the consolidating bureaucratic caste was given ideological expression by Stalin’s promulgation in late 1924 of the theory that socialism could be built in a single country. Under this anti-Marxist dogma, the struggle for the international extension of the revolution was increasingly shelved in favour of the pipedream of “peaceful coexistence” with world imperialism. The parties of the Communist International were transformed—after ruthless purges in most cases—into reformist tools of class collaboration with their “own” capitalist rulers. In the colonial and neocolonial world this meant the resurrection of the old Menshevik formula of “two-stage” revolution—the very program that had been defeated and discredited in the victorious 1917 Revolution. The result has been defeat after defeat for the toiling masses.
The Origins of Indian Stalinism
The original Communist Party of India (CPI), founded in December 1925, was marked by class collaborationism from the start. Under the guidance of the pseudo-Marxist adventurer M.N. Roy (then a close ally of Stalin and Nikolai Bukharin in the leadership of the Communist International), the CPI set out from its inception to build a cross-class “Peasants’ and Workers’ Party” in Bengal. This party in turn operated as a pressure group on the bourgeois Indian National Congress of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. Roy’s aim in this was to capture the bourgeois Indian National Congress and make it a “people’s” or “revolutionary nationalist” party based on a democratic program of national independence (see “M.N. Roy: Nationalist Menshevik,” Spartacist [English-language edition] No. 62, Spring 2011).
Both before and after independence, the CPI time and again gave political support to the bourgeois-nationalist Congress. For a period during World War II, it even renounced the struggle for Indian independence in favour of an alliance with the “democratic” British imperialist oppressors, attacking Congress from the right. The CPI(M), which issued from the CPI in 1964, unswervingly upholds this ingrained class collaboration. At the all-India level, both CPs have repeatedly backed Congress and its allies, including until 2008 the Congress-dominated United Progressive Alliance government of Manmohan Singh in New Delhi.
Like tsarist Russia, present-day India is marked by combined and uneven development, with stark contrasts of wealth and poverty, modern industries directly abutting unspeakable squalor. Myriad forms of special oppression—based on sex, caste, nationality, religion—are among the heritages of a pre-industrial past that were reinforced and deepened by nearly two centuries of brutal British colonial rule. This culminated in the 1947 British partition of the subcontinent into India and Pakistan, which unleashed communalist slaughter and the forced migration of millions of Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus. Since independence, and mainly under the rule of the nominally secular Congress Party, the Indian bourgeoisie has continued to fan the flames of every kind of murderous division. It is criminal and illusory to place even a shred of confidence in this venal and backward ruling class as a vehicle for liberation.
From Naxalbari to Nandigram:
CPI(M)’s History of Betrayal
As leftist author Achin Vanaik noted in a recent New Left Review (July/August 2011) article, the CPI(M) and CPI are “the principal legatees of the old Nehruvian consensus—the social-democratic vision of a strongly secular, welfarist and non-aligned, yet capitalist India. Formal commitment to a communist future leaves no imprint on these parties’ programmes or behaviour.”
The CPI(M) has an unbroken and often bloody history of class betrayal in West Bengal. In 1967, shortly after it joined the “United Front” state government, a peasant revolt broke out in the Naxalbari district. CPI(M) cadres who for years had organized tea estate workers in the area now began urging peasants to seize the land. Many of the impoverished peasants of Naxalbari did so, and their actions sparked land seizures across India. The United Front government responded with bloody repression.
The CPI(M) leadership denounced supporters of the Naxalbari upheaval as CIA agents and counterrevolutionaries, expelling them from its ranks and launching a bloody fratricidal assault on these erstwhile comrades. The revolt reverberated throughout the country and shook the CPI(M) to its core. A mass of defections over the party’s role in the murderous vendetta against the Naxalbari uprising led directly to the birth of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), the forerunner of today’s CPI (Maoist).
The United Front government was soon thrown out of office and replaced by direct rule from the centre (“President’s Rule”), as was a second United Front government in 1970. In the years that followed, West Bengal was wracked by massive terror at the hands of the ruling Congress Party, which came to power in the state in 1972. In Calcutta (today Kolkata), 1,800 opponents of the government were simply murdered in the early 1970s. By 1973, nearly 18,000 people had been imprisoned as Naxalites. The CPI(M) itself was subjected to organized political terror and tens of thousands of its supporters were driven underground.
The repression in West Bengal was supplemented in 1975 by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s brutal two-year “Emergency” rule which saw some 150,000 people jailed, civil rights shredded, strikes banned and virtually all elections cancelled. Little wonder then that the CPI(M)’s 1977 victory at the polls in West Bengal aroused enormous expectations. The raw violence ended, but the CPI(M) did not hurry to empty the jails of political prisoners, and ensured that the careers of the police who had become notorious for torturing leftists would not suffer.
Upholding capitalist rule, and thus incapable of mobilizing the working class against the vicious caste, class and communal oppression that has defined nominally secular India, the CPI(M) was a mirror of the Indian ruling class. The Nandigram massacre had a precursor in a 1979 massacre of dalit (so-called “untouchable”) Hindu refugees from heavily Muslim Bangladesh. These refugees, some 30,000, had tried to settle on the small island of Marichjhapi in the inhospitable terrain of the Sundarbans, but the CPI(M) leaders declared their settlement “unauthorized.” After a starvation blockade led to as many as 1,000 deaths, forcible removal began and hundreds were simply massacred. Settlers were tear-gassed, their huts razed, their fisheries and wells destroyed. As they were driven out of Marichjhapi, over 4,000 families perished.
At no level could the CPI(M) reformists solve the burning needs of the toiling masses—in West Bengal or anywhere else. Modest land reforms helped build support for the party, but without a thoroughgoing agrarian revolution to expropriate the feudal landlords and big capitalist farmers, the poor peasants still had no land. While the CPI(M)’s mass support comes in part from a reputation for opposing communalism, its repeated alliances with Congress have fuelled Hindu chauvinism, betraying the often decent impulses of its own militants. In India’s 1999 Kargil War against Pakistan—a war in which the proletariat had no side—the CPI(M) spewed vile patriotic gore. In CPI(M)-run West Bengal, the police targeted Muslims, while antiwar protesters in Kolkata were first attacked by Hindu communalists, and then arrested.
The CPI(M)’s most valuable service to Indian capitalism has been to ensure that the struggles of the proletariat would never breach the limits of capitalist class rule. For 34 years, West Bengal’s capitalists got class peace, as the CPI(M) served up a steady diet of class collaboration to the workers, to be sure wrapped in red flags. In the first weeks of Left Front rule, according to a report in Economic and Political Weekly (27 August 1977), chief minister Jyoti Basu openly assured the capitalists that he “would not allow a rash of labour troubles to break out” and trade unions were told to treat strikes as a “last resort.” In recent years, CPI(M) leader Bhattacharya repeatedly denounced “irresponsible” strikes.
Mao and Stalin vs. Lenin and Trotsky
The original Naxalite movement of the late 1960s won support from urban youth who mistook the “revolutionary” rhetoric of Mao’s China for the real thing. Today, some leftist youth are similarly animated by the armed struggles of the CPI (Maoist) in the so-called “Red Corridor,” seeing in them an alternative to the flagrantly pro-capitalist CPI(M). But behind the Maoists’ “protracted people’s war” rhetoric is the same basic program upheld by the CPI(M): the quest for alliances with a wing of the bourgeoisie. The Maoists’ “New Democratic United Front” is a class-collaborationist bloc embracing, as their leader Ganapathy states, “four democratic classes, i.e. workers, peasants, urban petty-bourgeoisie and national bourgeoisie” (Sanhati, January 2010).
These are obvious references to “New Democracy” and the “bloc of four classes,” the twin pillars of Maoist faith. Instead of fighting for workers revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat, the CPI (Maoist) presents the peasantry as the epicentre for a “democratic” overthrow of oppressive Indian society. Time and again, this strategy has meant that the thoroughgoing workers revolutions so desperately needed in India and all South Asia have been deferred, derailed and defeated.
Maoism is a modern crystallization of the politics which Lenin and the Bolsheviks had to combat in order to plant the banner of Marxism in tsarist Russia and then bring the 1917 October Revolution to victory. In fighting to win radical intellectuals away from the then dominant populism, founding Russian Marxist Georgi Plekhanov insisted as early as the 1880s that the proletariat, not the peasantry, was destined to make a revolution in Russia, leading the oppressed masses against the tsar. Due to its place in production—where its collective labour is exploited by the capitalists for profit—the working class alone has both the material interest in liberating and expanding socialized production based on a collectivized economy, and the social power to carry out the necessary revolution.
India’s history has seen no shortage of the volatile explosions of collective rage that are peasant uprisings. But the peasant masses, highly stratified and dispersed in small villages all over India, cannot cohere an independent social policy. The decisive classes in capitalist society are the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The peasants are part of a heterogeneous intermediate layer, the petty bourgeoisie. Their outlook and aspirations are proprietary, not the coherent and collectivist class interests of the urban proletariat. Thus peasant parties are at bottom pro-bourgeois or bourgeois. A revolutionary workers party must win the poor and landless peasants to the side of the proletariat, demanding expropriation of the landlords and land to the tiller, while seeking as much as possible to neutralize the middle and upper strata of the peasantry.
With their inherently class collaborationist “people’s war” perspective, the Maoist guerrillas of India are unable to root out the intense backwardness of village peasant life, be it women’s oppression or the devastating oppression of caste. Moreover, the Maoists’ strategy of two-stage revolution is exactly what Lenin rejected in 1917. Following the February Revolution that overthrew the tsar, Lenin returned to Russia and waged a fight in the Bolshevik Party against the then-leadership centred on Stalin and Kamenev, who were conciliating the new capitalist Provisional Government and its continued participation in World War I. In his famous April Theses, Lenin argued that power must “pass to the proletariat and the poorest sections of the peasants aligned with the proletariat.”
A decade after the Russian October, the tragedy of the Chinese Revolution of 1927 was a powerful negative confirmation of the theory of permanent revolution. Stalin and Bukharin (and their agent M.N. Roy) had ordered the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to literally disarm the proletariat, hold down the class struggle of workers and peasants against the “anti-imperialist” bourgeoisie and liquidate into the bourgeois-nationalist Guomindang of Chiang Kai-shek. The fruit of this strategy was the defeat of the revolution as the Guomindang drowned the Chinese working class in blood. It was the experience of this defeat that caused Trotsky to generalize his theory of permanent revolution to countries of belated capitalist development.
In the years that followed, the CCP, now under Mao Zedong’s leadership, retreated from the cities to the countryside. It was only under the highly exceptional circumstances of the immediate post-World War II period that Mao’s peasant-based People’s Liberation Army was able to take the cities and smash capitalist class rule in 1949, creating a bureaucratically deformed workers state modelled on the Stalinist-ruled USSR. The deeply corrupt Guomindang regime had collapsed and the working class, atomized by the vicious repression of both the Guomindang and Japanese occupation forces, was not a factor. A final crucial factor was the existence of the Soviet Union, a workers state that could provide military and economic support to the new People’s Republic of China.
The Chinese Revolution shook the world and was a beacon for millions of toilers in Asia. Despite the bureaucratic rule of Mao and his successors, China’s collectivized economy has brought immense gains for workers, peasants and women, not least an end to centuries of chronic starvation in the countryside. This stands in stark contrast to developments in capitalist India. But the Chinese Stalinists’ search for “peaceful coexistence” has meant conciliating imperialism, including under Mao himself, as seen in their criminal alliance with U.S. imperialism against the Soviet Union. In 1972, as bombs were raining down on Vietnam, Mao hosted U.S. president Nixon in Beijing. In 1979, four years after the heroic Vietnamese had defeated the U.S. and its Vietnamese puppets, Chinese troops criminally invaded Vietnam, acting in concert with Washington’s interests.
Today, U.S. imperialism sees India as a strategic ally in its drive to overturn the gains of the Chinese Revolution. The International Communist League stands for the unconditional military defense of China against imperialism and counterrevolution. At the same time, we call for a proletarian political revolution to oust the nationalist, Stalinist ruling caste in Beijing and create a regime based on workers democracy and revolutionary internationalism.
For a Workers India in a Socialist Federation of South Asia!
For the CPI(M), the workers are voting cattle, buttered up with promises and fake Marxist phrases while their struggles are contained and betrayed. To the CPI (Maoist), the workers are—at best—just another urban support group for their rural struggles. In practice, the Maoists end up supporting a section of the bourgeoisie, as with Trinamool in West Bengal.
Yet it is the proletariat—in the car factories, mines, steel mills and railways—whose labour produces the massive profits that enrich the Indian ruling class. This vibrant working class holds the key to the future. The Indian capitalists and the imperialists to whom they answer are sharply aware of the potential power of this sleeping giant, and continually work to obstruct or prevent the growth of unions, especially in new enterprises. A new labour bill would exempt operations with fewer than 40 workers from almost all basic laws governing minimum wages, payment of wages, working hours and contract work. This would give legal sanction to virtual slave conditions for millions of workers.
Indian workers have been on the defensive in the face of unremitting capitalist attacks, and strike levels are at record lows. Nevertheless, labour battles in some vital and highly profitable industries have rattled the Indian bourgeoisie. In Gurgaon, a massive industrial area near Delhi, workers have repeatedly struck against the giant car producer Maruti Suzuki. Hundreds of thousands of auto and other industrial workers in the area suffer brutal superexploitation, as their labour creates fabulous profits for Indian, Japanese, American and other capitalist magnates.
In some of the very areas where the Maoists are leading peasant insurgencies, large numbers of workers in coal and other mines have been waging hard-fought battles from protests to strikes and blockades. In October, a one-day general strike of some 300,000 workers against Kolkata-based Coal India Ltd. (CIL), the world’s largest coal producer, swept the country. With record commodity prices, mining conglomerates worldwide are raking in the profits, and workers from Chile to South Africa have struck for higher wages. Just how massive these profits are may be gauged by the fact that the one-day strike against CIL cost the company 1.2 billion rupees ($25 million).
A small spark could light this enormous social tinder, but a revolutionary Marxist leadership that fights for proletarian unity and class independence is essential. The fighting power of the proletariat is greatly undercut by the fact that the unions are divided politically. Congress, the Hindu-communalist BJP and various of the Stalinist-derived parties, among others, each run their own unions and there are some 13 separate labour centrals. A working class divided by caste, religion and ethnicity is further fractured by these competing party-linked unions. An authentic proletarian leadership would fight for industrial unions which include all workers in an industry as an elementary defense of the working class.
The reality behind the myth of “Shining India,” with its start-ups in Bangalore and its tiny layer of fabulously wealthy in cities like Delhi and Mumbai, is that the Indian masses are even poorer than they were 30 years ago. Industrial development and the pillaging of India’s natural resources have destroyed the lives and livelihoods of millions of peasants, and it is this which fuels the almost continual cycle of peasant revolt and protest. The working class—which has grown rapidly in recent years—toils under terrible conditions for miserable wages.
The situation cries out for the kind of perspective fought for by the Bolsheviks in the 1917 October Revolution: the workers seizing power at the head of the oppressed masses and smashing the bourgeois state, agrarian revolution to liberate the peasantry, the socialization and rational reorganization of the economy in the interests of human needs not profit, and the fight to extend socialist revolution internationally, especially to the imperialist heartlands.
Social liberation in South Asia will not come through bourgeois parliamentarism and political blocs with the parties of the capitalist exploiters. Nor will it come through isolated struggles in the forests and jungles. On the contrary, it requires the mobilization of the urban proletariat under revolutionary leadership—a Leninist-Trotkyist party. Such a party, a genuine tribune of the people, will oppose every kind of caste and communal oppression, fight for land for the peasants and be in the forefront of the struggle for women’s liberation. In the fight to forge such a leadership, crucial lessons can be drawn from the work of the revolutionaries of the Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India (BLPI), Indian section of the Trotskyist Fourth International during the years of World War II. The BLPI fought heroically for a Marxist proletarian perspective and sought to chart a path to the Indian workers revolution and a socialist federation of South Asia. Writing in 1942 on the revolutionary tasks of the proletariat in India, these comrades stated:
“The realization of the combined character of the Indian revolution is essential for the planning of the revolutionary strategy of the working class. Should the working class fail in its historic task of seizing the power and establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat, the revolution will inevitably recede, the bourgeois tasks themselves remain unperformed, and the power swing back in the end to the imperialists without whom the Indian bourgeoisie cannot maintain itself against the hostile masses. A backward country like India can accomplish its bourgeois-democratic revolution only through the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat.”
—“Draft Programme of the Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India” (1942)
Such is the perspective we in the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist) fight for today. Forward to the construction of Bolshevik parties in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka! Forward to the socialist federation of South Asia!