Review Article

J.S. Lyallpuri and the Communist Movement

V.B Cherian

This is the story of a veteran Communist, 94 years old. groomed in his youth as a Kisan Sabha activist and Congress worker who later converted to Communism through the experience of the Kisan Movement, erudite in the theory of Marxism-Leninism, rich in the experience of more than seven decades of leadership in mass struggles and still open to new ideas even at this age.

From the very beginning he was a man of convictions. That is why he allied with the Communists when he saw that Sardar Vallabhai Patel was against the Kisan Sabha. When the All-India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) and the Communist Party activists were arrested by the British rulers at the outbreak of the Second World War he had no hesitation to abandon his newly begun practice as a lawyer and to become a full time activist accepting the directive of the Party. On many occasions he came into collision with the Communist Party leadership when he thought they were treading on wrong path.

In its Second Congress held at Calcutta in 1948 the Communist Party adopted the path of revolution through armed upsurge consequent to a skewed understanding of the Russian Revolution. Under this adventurist position, the rich peasants were considered as part of the enemies and also the struggles for partial demands were considered reformist. But Com. Lyallpuri disagreed with it and he tried to carry on with the activity of the Kisan Sabha. At first Com. Harkishan Singh Surjeet was also in agreement with him. But when the Party served chargesheets on them for alleged reformism, Surjeet admitted his ‘mistakes’, but Lyallpuri stood firm in his arguments and he was subsequently suspended from the Party for 6 months. Later during the discussion with Stalin and the Soviet Party leadership in 1951, the stand taken by Lyallpuri was vindicated.

On the completion of the Bhakra Nangal Hydro Electric and Irrigation Project, the government levied irrigation charges and enhanced the rate of land revenue. When the state government decided to collect a betterment levy in addition to the above, the Kisan Sabha organised very big agitations against it. But the central leadership of the Party, which by now was under the revisionist illusions about the development programmes of the Congress Government, put pressure on the State Party to withdraw the agitation. But under pressure from the peasant masses the state party leadership, including the revisionists unanimously decided to continue the agitation. At that point none other than the General Secretary of the Party, Com. Ajoy Ghosh took the unilateral decision to withdraw the struggle and informed the state Party leadership about this. But the state Party unanimously resisted it and took the issue to the Central Committee of the Party and the CC was forced to publicly censure the General Secretary. Lyallpuri along with Harkishan Singh Surjeet took the initiative to fight the wrong stand of the central leadership and the anti betterment levy agitation was a big success.

It was the Shiromani Akali Dal that led the fight to liberate the Gurdwaras from the control of the corrupt and pro-British Mahants and therefore it commanded high prestige among the Sikh masses. The British rulers were forced to bring the Gurdwaras under the control of the democratically elected . (SGPC) After independence, the Gurdwaras served as a social and political platform against the Congress rule. But in the elections to the SGPC in 1960 Harkishan Singh Surjeet, the then State Secretary of the Party allied with the Congress. This was against the sentiments of the ordinary Sikhs since the repression unleashed by the Congress rulers during the anti betterment struggle was still alive in their memories. The alliance led to ignominious defeat winning only one seat out of the 140 elected members of the SGPC. On the report submitted by Com. Lyallpuri the state committee of the Party unanimously asked Surjeet to offer a public apology for the unholy alliance.

In the Fourth Congress of the Communist Party held at Palaghat in 1956 the left within the Party argued for characterising the Indian Government as ‘a bourgeois landlord government led by big bourgeoisie, increasingly collaborating with the foreign monopoly capital’. But in the end even BT Ranadive, P. Sundarayya and Harkishan Singh Surjeet agreed for a compromise resolution removing the clause ‘led by the big bourgeoisie’. But Lyallpuri stood firm and he moved an amendment to the compromise resolution to incorporate the deleted clause. He was seconded by Com. Harekrishna Konar.

After the formation of the CPI (M) the party took the revolutionary stand that it would join the State Governments only if it had considerable strength to influence the government polices because the Party wanted to use such state Governments as instruments of people’s struggle. But after the 1967 general elections in which Harkishan Singh Surjeet was elected to the Punjab Assembly, he tried to circumvent this decision and to join the ministry. Lyallpuri opposed it and the state committee stood by the Party line. Then Surjeet manoeuvred to become convener of the ruling coalition in which Jan Sangh, Swatantra Party, CPI and Akal Dal were partners. Lyallpuri complained to the Party and the Party directed Surjeet to resign from the position. Thus in his attempt to pursue a revolutionary line Lyallpuri again and again came into conflict with the Party leadership which led to his removal from the all India Leadership of the Kisan Sabha and the CC of the Party after 1967.

In spite of the correct understanding about the character of the Indian ruling classes in the 1964 programme CPI (M) leadership harboured illusions about the Indira Congress though not up to the level of the CPI. Though Smt. Indira Gandhi had raised certain progressive slogans during the 1969 split, the Indian ruling classes gradually rallied round the Indira Congress seeing that it is the Party that is able to represent their class interest more cleverly and tactfully. This change was not assimilated fully by the CPI (M). Therefore it continued to perceive the Syndicate Congress and its right reactionary allies as the more retrograde force and therefore the Party failed to appreciate the significance of the JP movement against the authoritarian tendencies of the Indira government. Therefore the declaration of Emergency by Indira Gandhi sowed confusion and CPI (M) failed to challenge the Emergency in a befitting sweep. When the Party rose from the confusion, it went to the other extreme that the Emergency and denial of democracy was the result of the contradiction of the ruling classes with the working class and therefore the emergency is going to continue for a comparatively longer period and it is the Party that has to take up the responsibility of the fight against it almost single-handedly. It failed to see the significance of the growing contradictions among the ruling classes and therefore failed to fully immerse itself along with other democratic forces to challenge the Emergency. At this time Lyallpuri submitted a note to leadership of the Party criticising its defeatist approach and demanding ‘a mass line of approaching ranks of all parties of guiding masses to some actions on the key political task’.

Com. Lyallpuri has noted in the autobiography the role of the Congress leadership in projecting Bhindranwala in Punjab’s politics. The Congress Party had a double purpose in doing that. On the one hand it wanted to weaken the influence of the Akali Party and on the other hand it wanted to project the entire Sikh Community as secessionist and separatist and thus suppress the democratic movement among the Sikhs which was essentially anti Congress. This line led to the growth of the Khalistan movement and to the Blue Star operation and ultimately to the assassination of Smt. Indira Gandhi in 1984. During the Khalistan movement and the anti Sikh riots after the assassination of Smt. Indira Gandhi the CPI(M) adopted a pro-Congress line, Harkishan Singh Surjeet acting as the advisor to the Government on Punjab matters, alienating it from the Sikh masses. At this time Com. Lyallpuri wrote a pamphlet asking the CPI (M) to desist from this suicidal path and requesting it to adopt a line of alliance with the Sikh masses, which had a rich heritage of democratic struggles to isolate the fundamentalist elements who were trying to mislead the community.

These were some of the instances in which Com. Lyallpuri, while trying to build up the Communist revolutionary movement was forced to confront revisionism, first in the undivided CPI and then in the CPI (M) and then to join the MCPI which later developed into the MCPI (U), of which he became the General Secretary. The correctness of his fight is now visible from the level of degeneration into which the revisionist line of the CPI (M) has led that Party, to experience increasing isolation from the working class, peasantry and other democratic sections of the society. Com. Lyallpuri firmly believed that revisionism is the bourgeois influence inside the working class movement and hence the Communist Party can carry on with the class struggle only if it is firm in its fight against revisionism. We can draw important lesson from the decade’s long fight of this legendary revolutionary against revisionism which he considered as an unavoidable part of the fight against the ruling classes.

There is no doubt that the Communist movement must be relentless in its fight not only against revisionism but also against the left deviations. Otherwise, it cannot lead the working class and its allies on a correct revolutionary path. But revisionism is the greatest threat especially in India since the bourgeois parliamentary system has the cunning power to generate legalistic illusions among the working class. The leadership of the Party, which is duty bound to liberate the working class from these reformist illusions are themselves prone to such deviations because of the attractions of the parliamentary positions. On most occasions the left extremist deviations were responses to these right reformist deviations. The history of the Indian Communist movement is beset with so many instances of these two deviations.

The comparatively progressive attitude taken by the Indian bourgeoisie in its struggle against the foreign imperialist rulers was mistaken by a sizable section of the Communist Party leadership as the progressive nature of the Indian bourgeoisie and the state power constituted by it after the country’s independence, and was considered as helpful to fulfil the peoples’ aspirations. Therefore they thought that the Communist Party was bound to ally with the new ruling classes. The parliamentary form of Government which began to take shape on the eve of independence strengthened these deviations. It is a common weakness among many Communists that when they enter a line of thinking they try to find out arguments in support of it, the result is that they lose objectivity. They forget the essential dialectical logic that the situation is not static but changing and every situation has different and contradictory facets of reality ingrained in it. Those who perceived the Congress Party, which was the major representative of the freedom struggle, as progressive because of its dominant anti imperialist credentials failed to recognise that when it assumed state power anti imperialism is bound to recede and it will begin to use the state power to consolidate its class authority and class interests. But the majority in the Communist Party opposed this line of class collaboration. A section among those who opposed class collaboration also lost objectivity and in their enmity towards Congress as the main ruling class Party, failed to realise that even though imperialism is the class brethren and natural ally of the Indian bourgeois, when the bourgeoisie begin to use its newly acquired state power for its class interest, it is bound to come into conflict with imperialism on many occasions and the working class must be careful and flexible enough to use such contradictions however minor or temporary it is. Instead they concluded that the ruling classes represented by the Congress Party was merely a puppet of imperialism and hence the country could not be considered as independent, the real power still with the foreign masters. Both the lines led to costly mistakes and the struggle for a correct path continued.

In the meantime the Indian ruling classes adopted a progressive posture of ‘democratic socialism’ and a nonaligned foreign policy gravitating more to ‘anti imperialism’ in its limited sense. This, together with the parliamentary institutions, strengthened the illusion of a parliamentary path to socialism. This got an added impetus from the peace trios (peaceful co-operation, peaceful competition and peaceful transition) proposed by the 20th Congress of the CPSU under the revisionist leadership of Khrushchev. The revisionist line in the Indian Communist Movement became dominant particularly after the support from the international Communist movement under the influence of the CPSU. This was resented by the majority of the rank and file of the CPI who were in struggle against the anti people polices of the Congress Government. They came out of the undivided CPI and formed the CPI (M) in their pursuit to build a real revolutionary movement against the Indian ruling classes mainly represented by the Congress Party. But a section among them argued for immediate revolution underestimating the influence of the ruling classes among the people. In order to substantiate their argument that the situation is ripe for a revolution, they characterised the Indian bourgeoisie as comprador who could not have much influence among the masses because by nature it was against domestic industrial development. While the dominant revisionist trend tried to cover up the attack unleashed by the ruling classes against the common people in their pursuit to build capitalism, the latter left sectarian trend refused to see the reality that the Indian bourgeoisie is not essentially trading bourgeoisie but industrial bourgeoisie having multifarious economic activity which could create illusions among the masses. Both the deviations harmed the progress of the working class movement and hence got set back but the CPI (M) which more or less correctly fought both the deviations came out as the major left movement in the country.

But the attraction of parliamentarism is so powerful that from the very early days the CPI (M) was threatened with the disease of parliamentarism. Lyallpuri has described how even in 1967, Harkishan Singh Surjeet tried to become a minister in the Punjab state, and when the attempt failed, manoeuvred to become the convener of the ruling alliance. Though ultimately CPI (M) made him to resign the Party could not exhibit the firm adherence to its revolutionary cause by taking disciplinary action against him. Therefore the trend resurrected again and again not only in Punjab but in different states, in different ways. Ultimately even the central leadership was swayed by it which led senior leaders Surjeet and Jyoti Basu to argue for Jyoti Basu to assume the premiership in a coalition ministry, the majority of which would be constituted by the ruling class parties.

Lyallpuri correctly points out the vacillations in the leadership of the CPI (M) when he brings out the eclecticism in an overwhelmingly correct document ‘New Situation and Party’s Tasks’ adopted in 1967. On the one hand it correctly stated ‘in a word the UF Governments that we have formed are to be treated and understood as instruments of struggle in the hands of our people, more than as governments that actually possess adequate power that can materially and substantially give relief to the people’ But the resolution creates confusion by stating at another place: ‘since the fortunes of the entire Party at the present stage of development are closely linked to the successful running of these ministries and the role our Party plays in them, the whole Party throughout the country will have to be mobilised to back the agreed programmes of these two non Congress governments and see they are earnestly implemented’, which gave room for the revisionists to misinterpret things. It is this latter argument which was developed by the revisionists to culminate in the revision of the 1964 programme in the Special Congress held in 2000.

The depth of the parliamentary illusion that engulfed the CPI (M) is best illustrated by the following new clause introduced in the amended Party programme in which the bourgeois constitution is unrealistically eulogised.

‘3.27 – The Constitution of the Republic of India which was adopted in 1950 had laid down a set of Directive Principles to be followed by the state. These include: adequate means of livelihood for every citizen and the right to work; an economic system which does not result in the concentration of wealth; right to education and provision for free and compulsory education for children; living wage for workers and equal pay for equal work for men and women. None of these principles haves been realised in practice. The glaring gap between the constitutional precepts and the practice of the bourgeois rulers is a scathing indictment of the bourgeois landlord system instituted after the independence.’

In the early 1980s the CPI(M) has adopted a resolution ‘On Mass Organisations’ in which it was correctly stated that mass organisations led by the Party must not function as adjuncts of the Party but must function independently and democratically. The goal of the Communist Party is to unite the class over and above Party affiliations so that the class unity will help the development of class struggle and class consciousness. But when parliamentarism gradually gained ascendancy in the Party the mass organisations were sought to be run as mere appendages of the Party. Disruption of the unity of the class and creation of vote banks even at the cost of class unity became the Party policy. The place of united militant struggles was taken over by namesake struggles by Party and Party’s mass organisations.

Just before the 1964 split in the CPI, Lyallpuri was covertly sent by the left wing in the Party to the Soviet Union for discussion with the Soviet Party. It was the CPSU which evinced interest in the discussions. Owing to certain developments in between, which Lyallpuri describes in his memoirs, the CPSU gave the cold shoulder to it and the discussions became merely formal.

During his stay in the Soviet Union he came to know that the Chinese Party showed interest in a discussion with Com. Lyallpuri and they informed the CPSU about it. But Lyallpuri was not informed of this and the discussion did not take place. But the Chinese Party was under the impression that Lyallpuri might not be interested and that is why the discussions could not take place. When Lyallpuri incidentally came to know of this, he used the good offices of Com. Aidit, General Secretary of the Indonesian Communist Party, to inform the Chinese Party of the reality so that their misunderstanding could be removed and a discussion arranged anew. In the discussion that followed, Lyallpuri explained the position taken by the Left wing of the CPI on various issues. Two things become evident from the related incidents described by Com. Lyallpuri. One is the narrow-mindedness of the big Communist parties in trying to prevent mutual contact and discussion between parties whom they do not like. The other is the proletarian internationalism shown by Com. Lyallpuri in maintaining cordial relations both with CPSU and CPC even while there were political ideological differences with the CPSU and the CPI. It is the experience of the Communist movement that often the narrow mindedness of leaders prevented the world Communist movement from developing its full potential. If the leaders were able to achieve the broad-mindedness of a Communist, relations could have been maintained even while there were ideological and political differences and in that case many differences also could have been solved through discussions and future experiences. Lack of broad mindedness of the leaders leads to many valuable comrades not being able to contribute their full potential to the Party and the working class movement. Com. Lyallpuri, himself is an example of how capable comrades are got sidelined when dishonest leaders show enmity towards criticism. Com Lyallpuri as a genuine Communist stood for his convictions. Even when experiences proved that he was right he was not given proper recognition. He relentlessly fought against both right and left deviations. His life and works show that he is an able disciple of Lenin having the capacity to give leadership in all fields i.e. ideological, political and organisational. If such capable leaders were not given proper opportunities and authority they could not employ their full potential for the revolutionary cause. The loss is more for the Party than for the individual.

Even while firm on upholding the revolutionary content of Marxism-Leninism, Com. Lyallpuri is never a prisoner of the past. He is conscious of the fast changing realities and is always prepared to have a relook on prevalent concepts and policies and if necessary to change it. While updating the 1964 Party programme he was adamant in conserving the revolutionary strategy of the programme. But he was equally adamant that basing on that strategy more importance should be given to the evaluation of the new national and international developments in the updated Party Programme of MCPI (U). He was never in doubt about the necessity of discarding the wrong practice prevalent even in the Communist movement of running the class mass organisations as adjuncts of the Party. He is always eager to understand the new scientific and technological developments that are taking place. He is a revolutionary to the core therefore he is alive to all new developments despite his age.

Jagjit Singh Lyallpuri: ‘My Life My Times, Journey of a Revolutionary’, Unistar Books, Chandigarh, 2012, 270 pages, Rs. 300. Available from the author: 833/3 Krishna Nagar, opposite Artee Cinema, Ludhiana.

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