A meeting to commemorate the tenth anniversary of Revolutionary Democracy was held in the auditorium of the Gandhi Peace Foundation, New Delhi on 5th March 2005 with the theme of ‘Communist Theory and Practice Today’. The meeting commenced at 4.30 p.m.
Prof. Nirmalangshu Mukherji in the Chair.
Messages of greetings on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the first issue of ‘Revolutionary Democracy’ from Communist parties, organisations and individuals from abroad were read out. (These are published elsewhere in this issue of the journal.)
This is the tenth anniversary of the journal and it is intended to report on some of the work of the journal and we hope that representatives of the Marxist-Leninist communist parties, organisations and individual comrades present here today will give their suggestions for the future work of the review. ‘Revolutionary Democracy’ can only be of value if it addresses the problems confronting the communist movement as a whole. Necessarily, at the centre of the work of the journal is the attempt to understand Indian society and the road to revolution in this country. Early on the journal investigated the nature of contemporary Indian society and the stage of revolution. The inquiry revealed the grip of imperialism and the existence of the pronounced remnants of the pre-capitalist society of feudalism, caste and tribe thereby confirming the semi-colonial and semi-colonial character of Indian society. Together with the re-reading of the writings of Marx and the Soviet scientists a number of questions became clear. It became apparent that the discussions on imperialism outside the Marxist-Leninist movement amongst the reformists were founded on the theories of Kautsky and Trotsky rather than the approach of Lenin and Stalin thereby exaggerating the nature of the break with imperialism in 1947. Second, the process of industrialisation was not understood as the construction of the production of the means of production (particularly Department I) as Marx had indicated in the first volume of ‘Capital’ but as any industrial development and so concealed the failure to embark on genuine industrialisation in the country. Third, Marx’s understanding of the caste form of labour as being comparable to the slave and serf labour forms, highlighted in Grundrisse, has been little understood. The Soviet orientalist E. M. Zhukov writing in 1946 noted that the lower castes in Bombay and Assam received half the wages of the upper caste workers for similar work. During the course of the discussions between Dange and Zhdanov in the following year the CPSU (b) recommended that the CPI pay serious attention to the question of the elimination of the vestiges of the caste system. The translation and publication of the writings of the Soviet writers of the 1930s, notably of Serebryakov on Trotsky’s theory of imperialism and R. A. Ulyanovsky’s criticisms of the then prevalent notion of the major colonial countries having undergone a ‘Prussian’ path of development thereby rendering outdated the stage of democratic revolution have their direct relevance in the contemporary world.. The journal had published a large number of articles on the variegated impact of imperialist globalisation on India. The review is known for the documentation it has published on the controversial questions of the communist movement, and especially the writings of Engels, Stalin, Dimitrov, Molotov and Kaganovich. In future it is intended to further investigate questions of the political economy of socialism. In the forthcoming issue it was planned to publish a study of the defence of the Marxist political economy of socialism in Cuba by Che Guevara and it was hoped to examine the political economy questions in relation to China, Vietnam and North Korea.
Prof. Nirmalangshu Mukherji
We are in a moment of intensified imperialist aggression. We must note the dedication and seriousness of the journal. Clearly such a journal is needed. It would be valuable if the speakers in the panel discussion suggest which issues can be taken up by the journal and how a greater reach can be achieved beyond the activists and the intellectuals to the common people.
Congratulations to the journal. It inspires all those who are engaged in fighting the forces of reaction. The discussion of communist theory and practice has become urgent in the context of Indian communist movement today. Practice without theory and theory without practice are incomplete and I propose to take up both these aspects. There are a large number of parties operating in India today which claim to be Marxist-Leninist. The two parliamentary communist parties are usually kept out of analysis for though they criticise the ruling classes they are constituents of these very classes and legitimise them. The revolutionary communist parties that arose with Naxalbari have faced ruthless repression and have also been continuously fragmented. It has to be recognised that we have failed to give leadership to the Indian people. Due to lack of study and other problems one trend has fallen into the lap of parliamentarism. The trend which has opposed this has gone into the other extreme of militarism and has abandoned all other methods of mobilising the people: instead of arms being under the control of the movement the contrary is the case with arms controlling the movement. Between these two extremes the movement is lost. How is a balance to be brought about between these two? The basic issue is to find the theoretical basis for a practice that has an equilibrium between the two options. There is intolerance amongst the communist organisations and mutual campaigns of liquidation take place between them. If Marxism-Leninism represents the highest expression of humanism then how is it that we have become so intolerant and barbaric in the relations of the communist organisations? The intellectuals and the youth who want to bring about change see all this and keep aloof from the movement. Further, the role of culture is not properly defined in the movement.
K.N. Ramchandran, CPI (ML):
I was associated with the journal ‘Mass Line’ and then with ‘Red Star’. We have been trying to promote the theoretical work and the organisation of the communist movement. The communist party is the only tool that we have in the struggle against imperialism and a journal is an essential tool of the communist struggle. The role of a journal devoted to communist theory and practice is urgent now since most communist movements have failed to identify the real character of imperialism. Marxism sought to analyse capitalism and give a direction to the communist movement. We can see that Marx and Engels from the very beginning did not divorce theory and practice. Marx emphasised that you need to understand the enemy, capitalism, in order to understand communism. The Second International failed because it did not understand imperialism. After Lenin had elucidated the understanding of imperialism the communist movement was renewed in the form of the Third International which was able to link the movement for socialism with that of national liberation. A communist is one who is a member of the communist party and not just a Marxist. What is the basis of the present crises? I think that it is because we failed to understand imperialism after the Second World War. I do not think that communism failed because of Khrushchev. It failed because Khrushchev misunderstood the nature of imperialism. He claimed that imperialism was in decline and was so weak that that it was possible to go forward peacefully into communism. This engendered the great debate which led to a new wave of the revolutionary movement. But after this with the 9th Congress of the CPC mistakes were made as happened also with the PLA. The CPC claimed that it was era of the collapse of imperialism and the rise of communism and this led to the approach of militarism. A similar error occurred with the PLA. We also fell into these errors. The failure to understand the enemy properly led to the decline in the movement.
There are a large number of non-proletarian ideological theories which are circulating today. The Frankfurt School’s theory of theoretical practice divorces theory and practice. Similarly post-modernism leads to the complete abandonment of the proletarian perspective. Che Guevara inspired many revolutionaries. But what was Che Guevara’s contribution to the organisation of the proletariat? There should be no compromise with communist concepts. Is the communist party a peasant party or a student power party as was argued in 1968? These non-proletarian perspectives dominate in Europe. Without the organisation of the proletariat in Latin America can there be a revolutionary movement? This question was ignored by Che Guevara and the Cubans. Che Guevara had an incorrect understanding of the relation between the military and the party. Che Guevara needs to be evaluated from the proletarian perspective. The principles of the NGOs, the ideas of participatory democracy, the subalterns, all are propagating anti-proletarian perspectives. We would agree with the views of Pankaj Singh on the current polarity between parliamentarism and militarism. In India it is necessary to organise the proletariat which is a very strong force and to simultaneously build the agrarian revolution. It is with this perspective that we are rebuilding the unity of the CPI ML and trying to unite all the communists in one party. A journal can play an important role in correcting the distortions in the communist movement. Revolutionary Democracy can be transformed into an organ of community unity.
Anand Swarup Verma:
There is an anti-United States wave taking place in Latin America and elsewhere. Revolutionary Democracy should give materials on these developments. A Hindi edition of the journal is required. The revolutionary war in Nepal is on the brink of success despite the international efforts to suppress it. The deep study of communist theory and practice in the actual communist struggle is exemplified by the current struggle in Nepal where the revolutionary forces have consolidated and progressed despite international opposition, including that of India. The Nepalese communist movement has drawn lessons from both revolutions and counterrevolutions in history to devise its strategy of armed democratic revolution. A sustained coverage of the Nepal movement through special issues of RD, by circulating their reports and theoretical views, will go a long way in bringing the issues of theory and practice back into the Indian communist movement. The first condition of revolution is the development of revolutionary ideas, not just that of men and arms. Together with the coverage of the Nepal movement, the complicity of the Indian state in supporting counterrevolutionary regimes also needs to be exposed in detail. It is clear that the Indian government feels threatened by the developments in Nepal because of the strength of communist ideology there. It is assisting the Nepali monarchy despite all its protestations to the contrary. All the tall talk of bringing in a multi-party democracy to replace the monarchy is designed to stall the revolutionary process.
A revolutionary but non-partisan journal can play a central role in the changed circumstances. The atmosphere of division in the communist movement has given way to a discourse of unity across the board. This new urge for unity is partly the reflection of the growing armed struggle of the united Nepalese communist movement. A journal is a central organ in bridging the gaps between different communist perspectives. This new urge for unity has also raised the issue of admitting multiple points of view and strategies. Another role for a journal such as RD is to in fact act as an effective alternative to mainstream media whose basic aim is to suppress real issues in favour of superficial reporting and analysis of events. There is a need for us to be analytical. It needs to be recognised that it is because of the revolutionary movements that the issue of self-determination is alive. We stand by the movements of the north-east and the other oppressed peoples of India. The bourgeois press tells us that the movement in Kashmir has died down but the issue is still alive. It is said that a certain percentage of the Kashmiri electorate has voted but let us remember that elections were held in a similar manner in Algeria and South Vietnam before the victories of the national liberation movements in these countries. Revolutionary organisations have an important role to play in highlighting these issues. For example, the media never reported the link between the huge number of missing people (25,000) in the recent snowfall with the issue of free Kashmir. With the closure of the all-weather road to Srinagar in 1947 for security reasons, millions were cut off from any escape route and from relief. The Jawahar tunnel collapses with every snowfall as does transport and communication. The human tragedy follows this. In Manipur the Manorama Devi issue has brought out forcibly the latent issue of self-determination. Similarly, the aspirations of the Assamese cannot be denied because of the mistakes of the ULFA. The question of self-determination has to be put in the forefront. It cannot be compromised by arguing that it is necessary to have unity in the fight against imperialism for we know that the first to compromise with imperialism are the ruling classes. The reactionary forces are concerned with the developments in Nepal as they fear its ideological implications. Nepal proves that armed revolution has its role, and we should not deny it as a legitimate form by denigrating it as militarism. A country as vast and complex like India is not likely to fall under a single form of struggle: elections, armed struggles, mass movements, civil rights movements all have their role in different areas. Before coming to hasty conclusions we need to investigate and learn. RD has a role in opening up these questions for discussion and become an alternative journal and a forum for challenging liberal democracy.
Arjun Prasad Singh (All-India People’s Resistance Forum):
It is necessary to do some plain speaking so that we can distinguish between the real and the fake revolutionaries. This does not mean that we need to eliminate each other. But there has to be a recognition that ideological struggle is essential to carry the revolution forward. We need to recognise that there are two trends: those who are working for armed revolution and those who are moving towards parliamentarism. There is a third trend that defends Naxalbari and takes the name of CPI ML but does not defend the principles of CPI ML. While many communist individuals and groups do not unite theory and practice, many advocate a very narrow view of such unity. A journal can help address this problem by detailed analysis of local and international struggles. In that a journal could play a more activist role. Reporting of and the study of actual struggles will bring theory and practice together as well as improve prospects for higher levels of unity, for real unity cannot be achieved without advancing and expanding struggles.
The context of today’s discussion is that of the contemporary movements. One the one hand the enemy is gloating on the defeat of the revolution and on the other hand sections of the movement are shedding tears over the losses suffered by socialism. It should be remembered that the bourgeois revolution took some 600 years before it was successful in France in the early nineteenth century. It had many setbacks and defeats before its final victory. One century is too small a period to evaluate the reasons for the failure to sustain socialism. It is necessary for defeated armies to reflect and learn but not to get dispirited. As far as the question of Nepal is concerned it is not clear that the United States and India are afraid of the Maoists. Rather it would appear that the United States and India are using the threat posed by the Maoists to threaten the monarchy to submit to their demands. The eventual outcome of the events in Nepal will be unfolded by history. On the military questions in India only the revolutionaries have faced a basic question: whether to divide the army of the bourgeois state or to confront the army of the bourgeois state. The Indian revolutionaries have selected the latter course. In contrast the parliamentarist parties have not faced the question of working within the army and breaking it which shows that they have not seriously addressed the question of revolution in India. The fact that the CPI and the CPI M follow parliamentarism does not in itself negate the use of the parliamentary tactic by communist revolutionaries. The Bolsheviks long ago criticised the Menshevik strategies which are being followed today in India by the CPI and the CPI M while they utilised the parliamentary tactic in certain situations. Lenin’s writings and Badayev’s book on the experiences of the Bolsheviks in the Fourth Duma make this abundantly clear. It is clear that in India today a section of the communist revolutionaries are making a false criticism of the parliamentary tactic which they are counterposing to an equally false conception of the military question.
N. K. Bhattacharyya:
The necessity of revolutionary struggle in the trade unions was of great importance. The speaker had come to Delhi as an unemployed person and had got a teaching job as ‘contract labour’ and retired as a permanent employee getting a salary of Rs. 30,000. This was a result of the trade union. Today permanent employment is in decline. The Supreme Court expelled industries and with them the working class out of Delhi. This is where we stand today. Revolutionary Democracy has to take up these issues and through discussion and debate carry forward the revolution. The recent budget allocated the sum of Rs. 50,000 crores for the social sector and this is a recognition of the fact that the people are dissatisfied and hostile to the government. We should note that the Indian government have invested a huge amount in US securities so that we are funding the US who is destroying us. While the communist movement in India has a number of achievements to its credit the central objective of the emancipation of the working class and the working people, for which so many have laid down their lives, is still unfulfilled. It is the task of Revolutionary Democracy to take the lead in bringing this about.
How will theory emerge from practice in diverse places? Armed revolution and also the non-armed peoples’ movements are in a position to challenge their respective governments. How are we to synthesise all these experiences into a theory? In Revolutionary Democracy we did not try to give a line. We want the journal to be an instrument of self-reflection of the movement. We of the generation after the 1960s have been divorced from the early history of the communist movement which has been kept hidden by the revisionists. There is no other journal in the world which places before us the experiences of the movement before the 1950s. The questions we have discussed today are not new: they were debated in the Communist International. There is a transformation from the positions taken at the Sixth Congress of the Comintern in 1928 to the stands of the Seventh Congress in 1935. The communist movement after the rise of Hitler recognised the reality not only that there could be polarisation between the left and the right but that there could also be a radicalisation of the right. The rise of fascism and the need to combat it meant that there had to be compromises with sections of the bourgeoisie. Revolutionary Democracy is trying to bring out this history and open up important questions that need to be debated. The developments of the Popular Front, New Democracy, People’s Democracy raise new questions such as the necessity of controlling the coercive apparatus of the state. In Nepal an armed struggle is going on for democracy. In any scenario of struggle mass organisation and mobilisation has to be the basis. Today no armed movement can succeed without the mass movement. We also need to look at the experience of the relationship between the armed struggle and the mass movement in the history of the communist movement. Experience showed that the centralised command structure of the Comintern on a world scale was redundant once the communist parties had become mass parties.
The meeting concluded with a screening of the Soviet film ‘Ten Days That Shook the World’. This was the Delhi premiere of the Hindi version of the film which has been dubbed by the Sandarbh Documentation Centre, Indore.
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