[From Liberation, March 1990.]
Human history has entered the decade of the ’90s. The last year of the last decade witnessed a series of tumultuous events in socialist countries, Eastern Europe in particular. The bourgeois world is rejoicing over these events and in a well-orchestrated move the bourgeois media has once again pronounced, perhaps for the third time this century, that communism is dead. Intellectuals everywhere have started wavering and deserting the communist parties. This phenomenon has had its impact on our Party too and the liquidationist trend within the Party, which began with questioning the relevance of CPI(ML), is now spreading doubts over the science of Marxism-Leninism itself. Its adherents are now ashamed of calling themselves communists and prefer to be known as ‘democrats’. Under these circumstances it is the bounden duty of all genuine communists to hold high the banner of Marxism-Leninism, defend it against all attacks from liberal bourgeois circles and at the same time critically examine the failures of communist parties and the Socialist system and enrich the science of Marxism-Leninism answering new questions and facing new challenges.
In contrast to the other two communist parties, viz., the CPI and the CPI(M), who till the other day held the Soviet and East European socialist models to be exemplary and sung praises in their favour as a routine matter, the CPI(ML) since its inception has been highly critical of these systems. It is true that we went to extremes in criticising them but our essential criticism of bureaucratic distortions of economic and political life, denial of socialist democracy etc. has stood the test of time.
The CPI(ML) was the only Indian Communist Party which unequivocally condemned sending Soviet troops to Czechoslovakia in 1968 to crush a popular uprising, the Russian invasion of Afghanistan and the Russian-backed Vietnamese invasion in Kampuchea. Never did we retract from our principled positions on these questions and history has testified that we were correct.
We refused to join the Chinese Communist Party in its advocacy of an anti-Soviet front including American and pro-American forces. Time and again we expressed our reservation on Chinese policies and emphasised the necessity of an ideological campaign against the influx of liberal bourgeois thoughts while interacting with the West.
It was against the backdrop of Gorbachevian reforms in the Soviet Union, which brought into focus the degeneration of the socialist system in Russia during the Brezhnev period and critically reexamined the policy of sending troops to Afghanistan, that we decided to review our earlier position of branding it as social-imperialism.
As we pointed out in our Fourth Party Congress held in 1987, our mistakes did not lie in criticising the essential degeneration of socialism during the Brezhnevian period in Soviet Russia but in altogether negating the possibilities of change from within the Party and the system themselves.
We, however, continued to criticise the superpower status of the Soviet Union and pinpointed Gorbachev’s policy of painting imperialism in rosy colours and undermining the interests of Third World countries. Adherents of the liquidationist trend were swayed by the Gorbachevian gospel of a peaceful civilised imperialism and aspired to delete all references critical of the Soviet Union.
Despite an all-out malicious campaign against Stalin in the Soviet Union and the whole bourgeois world depicting the Brezhnevian regime in Russia and its counterparts in Eastern Europe as Stalinist, we refused to join the chorus. We believed and still believe that a strict differentiation should be made between Stalin’s and Brezhnev’s periods. We continue to abide by Mao’s evaluation of Stalin that his mistakes were outweighed by his achievements.
First of all, in over 70 years of building socialism in Russia, Stalin’s period still stands out in bold relief. From a backward peasant country Russia was put into the front ranks of industrialised countries of the world. This is the period of most rapid economic advance in the entire Soviet history so far and it was on this might that the Soviet Union withstood an all-out Nazi onslaught. Branding this historical period as a criminal period is a travesty of history. By contrast, the Brezhnev period were marked by stagnation all around.
Secondly, as regards Eastern Europe, it is true that the communist regimes there were installed on the strength of the Red Army, but we must not forget the fact that in those days the communist parties of East European countries were in their period of ascendancy and the popular fronts led by them were the only ones resisting Nazi occupation. In most cases the bourgeois-landlord governments of these countries had either capitulated to the Nazis or fled. By contrast, Brezhnev’s sending troops to Czechoslovakia was intended to crush a popular revolt against an unpopular regime.
Thirdly, it is true that in Stalin’s period itself seeds were sown of a superpower-dependent relationship between Soviet Russia and Eastern Europe, and the Soviet Party’s relationship with other parties assumed the distorted shape of leading party versus led parties. However, till then there was a popular acceptance among others about the leading role of Soviet Union and the CPSU emanating from the immense prestige it enjoyed in the communist fraternity. It was not an imposed relationship as in the Brezhnev period.
Fourthly, there was no allegation of corruption, luxury and nepotism against Stalin and the communist leaders of his period, whereas one finds such allegations galore regarding Brezhnev and his cohorts throughout Eastern Europe.
We do not think that the theories of Trotsky or Bukharin would have taken Russia anywhere near building socialism in the conditions obtaining then. The most serious mistake in Stalin’s period was the serious distortion in inner-party struggles resulting in a personality cult around him at the cost of serious erosion in party institutions. As a logical consequence, and backed by the excessive centralisation of the economy, the party and government bosses acted as bureaucrats and the institutions of socialist democracy suffered a serious reversal. In retrospect, this was the price the CPSU and the Soviet society had to pay in "building socialism in one country" and in a situation of a world war. It was only expected that when the situation returned to normal the party leadership should have concentrated on rectifying these errors. But in the Brezhnev period they were continued, repeating what was a historical tragedy as a farce.
We refuse to subscribe to the theory that the East European debacles are rooted in the ‘unnatural process’ of communist parties coming to power there. Any extension of this logic will make Soviet and Chinese socialist societies too appear ‘unnatural’ as they do not correspond strictly to Marx’s original predictions of the advent of socialist revolutions first in highly developed capitalist countries.
We continue to believe in the Leninist dictum that communist parties must seize any opportunity coming their way for capturing political power and then rebuild the society.
Distortions in Soviet Russia, China or Eastern Europe should be sought in the process of exercising proletarian power and not in the seizure of power itself.
Bureaucratic distortions of economic and political life resulting from excessive centralisation and serious erosion of institutions of socialist democracy are as real as the fact that generally speaking it is possible to rectify them through an economic restructuring and political reform movement from within the party and the system themselves. The positive phenomenon of economic restructuring and a drive against corruption in China and glasnost and perestroika in Russia bear testimony to this fact.
Apart from the distortions in the communist parties and the socialist system, the problems in Eastern Europe were further compounded by the fact that communist parties there were heavily dependent on the Soviet Union and the anti-Russian nationalist sentiments arising out of a sort of superpower-client relationship were quite acute. This did result in deeper alienation of communist parties from the masses and the rise of the church and a host of other opposition forces giving vent to nationalist sentiments.
It was in this context of a strong undercurrent of popular resentments in Eastern Europe that glasnost and perestroika in Soviet Union came as a great morale booster. The Soviet Union too could no longer continue the uneasy relationship and more importantly the changing pattern of Soviet society made it imperative to bring about similar changes in Eastern Europe. It was an objective compulsion as otherwise the two societies could not possibly continue to interact in any meaningful way. The Soviet priority was obviously to bring about changes through reforms in the communist parties, but Gorbachev knew the risks involved and he found it worth taking. The Soviet pronouncement that it will not repeat the Czechoslovak operation provided the vital external condition which led to the explosion. It is nobody’s case that changes in Eastern Europe were engineered by the Soviet Union in any conspiratorial way. Quite possibly the pace of events and the emerging mediums of change have gone beyond its anticipation. While, still a superpower-client relationship is basically maintained between the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, East European countries now enjoy a greater degree of independence and manoeuvrability vis-a-vis the Soviet Union. It must be kept in mind here that changes in Eastern Europe including their opening-up to the West are quite compatible with the present Soviet policies. Gorbachev is quite correct when he says that changes in Eastern Europe are not detrimental to the interests of socialism, meaning Soviet socialism. "Eastern Europe can always rely on Soviet Union" declared Gorbachev in his new year address and of course it would continue to do so.
Rumania’s case stands apart in the entire scenario. Ceausescu had long been following an independent policy vis-a-vis Moscow and had already considerably opened up to the West. He did have a strong base of his own. Despite the popular discontent against his dictatorial rule, the involvement of army in his ouster and subsequent killing makes it more a battle within the top layers of society than a popular rebellion from below.
Moreover, the specific Russian interest in Ceausescu’s ouster, the Soviet response to the Rumanian events and subsequent improvement in relationship do point an accusing finger towards Moscow.
Anyway, capitalism cannot solve the problems of East European countries, the countries having a lower rate of capital formation. In contrast to Western Europe, socialism is more ‘natural’ to East European countries. The capitalist road will only bring misery for the broad masses of people and make these countries vulnerable to neo-colonial exploitation.
Secondly, barring a few exceptions, communist parties through a series of internal changes have managed to retain a cardinal role. In countries where they have failed to do so, the new breed of rulers are finding it difficult to dismantle the socialist economic system. Certain measures of the Polish and Hungarian governments are bound to be unpopular with the masses.
The next cycle of change resulting in a better combination of socialism and democracy is not far off.
Gorbachev’s premises of a peaceful, civilised imperialism without neo-colonial exploitation, of nations, states, and continents coming together, of cooperation with American imperialism ostensibly for world peace etc. are creating suspicions among the communist parties, democratic organisations and people of the Third World. Third World countries are the worst victims of neo-colonial exploitation and the sermons telling them to dilute their struggle against imperialism are being interpreted as betrayal of their interests by Soviet Union. The coming together of the two big powers thus constitutes a threat to the vital interests of the Third World countries. Thus, we are in for a fresh round of great debate between the CPC and the CPSU. We, being the communist party of a Third World country, and in accordance with our opposition to Gorbachev’s theory of imperialism made in our Fourth Party Congress itself, perhaps earlier than anybody else in India, cannot but side with the representative parties and organisations of the Third World. However, we must continue to have a positive evaluation of glasnost and perestroika in the Soviet Union, and support the Soviet Union’s measures directed towards disarmament and world peace. On the other hand, we still maintain that apart from a concerted drive against corruption and ideological-political education, there is much left to be done in the field of political reforms in China. We must shed the comprador mentality of blindly following this or that ‘leader party’ and their charismatic leaders. Neither should we mortgage our brains to Western media think-tanks. Basing ourselves on the principles of Marxism-Leninism and taking as supreme the interests of our country, our people and our Party, we shall independently judge the formulations and specific acts of other communist parties.
Since Khrushchev, the Soviet Union has been advocating passing over to socialism skipping the capitalist stage with Soviet help for the developing countries of the Third World. Politically it meant communist parties forging broader alliances with the ruling ‘national bourgeoisie’ against imperialism and monopoly capital. In concrete economic terms, it meant developing the public sector with Soviet help, which was projected as the bulwark against private sector that would enable these countries to pass over to socialism. CPI’s entire concept of ‘National Democracy’ was based on this premise and to an extent CPI(M) too followed a similar course. The CPI(ML) since its very inception exposed the myth of the public sector and showed how it will only generate bureaucratic capital working in alliance with monopoly capital.
Soviet theoreticians have now come to the conclusion that the public sector generates inefficiency, waste and bureaucracy. Now the new model they advocate for the developing Third World countries is what they call ‘democratic’ or ‘civilised capitalism’. It goes without saying that this new prescription is in line with the needs of the changing patterns of their own society. Once again there is a call for forging broad alliances with the forces representing this ‘civilised capitalism’. One wonders whether CPI and CPI(M)’s new-found love for VP Singh is in tune with this prescription. Well, this is one line of turning towards people’s democracy!
We on our part, on the basis of Mao’s teachings on New Democracy, have been trying to develop a democratic front. Our whole concept of a democratic front or a people’s revolutionary party is derived from the principles of Marxism-Leninism, more correctly from its integration with concrete Indian conditions, its programme is derived from a revolutionary democratic premise as a transitory phase to socialism, and its leading nucleus is formed by none other than the Communist Party itself. Our experience in the last few years of building such a front in India has been marked with a degree of success. Particularly in Bihar, the front keeps on attracting a large number of leftists and democrats from the ranks of other parties. We have also succeeded in combining various forms of struggle to an extent including making a breakthrough in parliamentary struggles.
It is at this stage that we find a strange theory developing from within the Party, a theory having got a fillip from recent East European developments. This theory calls for liquidating the Party, euphemistically put as "Party coming out into open in the form of IPF". The communist party should be replaced by a democratic party, or as some prefer to say, a ‘left formation’, is their constant cry. Why this sudden outburst against the Party despite obvious successes to its credit, despite its successfully developing a democratic front, or a democratic party if you like? The reason is not far to seek. The ‘democratic party’ or the ‘left formation’ conceived by these fellow-travellers essentially follows a liberal bourgeois programme and quite obviously the communist party is no longer compatible with this scheme of things as it always strives to impart a revolutionary democratic orientation. To justify the need for a liberal democratic party, this theory travels in the opposite direction. First, the struggle against imperialism is diluted and for all such liberals Gorbachev is the guru whose gospels about imperialism, about states, nations and continents coming together etc., are taken uncritically. As far as the other enemy, feudalism is concerned, the feudal remnants can be eradicated step by step through legal measures by a bourgeois government itself. Revolutionaries only need join such a government or, at the most, put some popular pressure on the government.
Upholding the great red banner of Marxism-Leninism, strengthening the CPI(ML) and expanding the democratic front remain the strategic tasks before us for the entire decade of the ’90s.