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Comrades No More

This editorial was published in the April 4, 1964 issue of Economic Weekly. This was the year the Communist Party split into two factions - CPI and CPI (Marxist) - over ideological differences. 

 

Arthur Koestler was wrong: the ultimate battle will not be between the communists and the ex-communists. From the way things are going it now seems that in that final of all confrontations, the backdrop will be severely intra-mural — it will in fact be the communists who will be fighting the other communists; and there could be no nastier battle.

This editorial was published in the April 4, 1964 issue of Economic Weekly. This was the year the Communist Party split into two factions - CPI and CPI (Marxist) - over ideological differences. 

 

Arthur Koestler was wrong: the ultimate battle will not be between the communists and the ex-communists. From the way things are going it now seems that in that final of all confrontations, the backdrop will be severely intra-mural — it will in fact be the communists who will be fighting the other communists; and there could be no nastier battle.

From all angles it is a sorry spectacle. Developments over the last few days indicate that the split in the Communist Party of India is almost inevitable. Holding press conferences to run down one's comrades, accusations and counter-accusations, prompt repudiation of pronouncements made by some leaders by other ones, add up to a sickening array of distasteful events. Clearly, whether or not the formal split comes at next week's meeting of the National Council, CPI has already ceased to function as an organised political entry. And yet this is the party which till the other day was known for its iron cohesion and rigorous internal discipline.

There is no question that the break-up of the CPI would grievously affect the growth of the Indian polity, and is to be regretted on that score alone. The PSP has all but withered away, while Dr Lohia's Socialists are too often given to aberration to be seriously considered as a category of the Left. With the Swatantra Party and the Jan Sangh crying hoopla on the Right, the balance of political forces in the country all of a sudden seems dangerously tilted in one direction. Given the reality that even within the Congress the conservative elements far outweigh those with overt socialist convictions, one can hardly dispute the need for a strong and stable party of the Left. A political democracy, after all, can survive and progress via the dialectics of balancing tensions. If the CPI cannot be cured of its schadenfreude no recognizable force will remain on the Left to challenge the propositions of the Right. Such an imbalance, for all one knows, might lead to a chain of unwholesome consequences. Neither the Jan Sangh nor the Swatantra Party can be fitted into a theme of progress: the Sangh's political doctrines are quasi-fascist, while the Swatantra Party's economic pronouncements are altogether innocent of the twentieth century context. The country's economic future as well as political integrity would be seriously compromised if the only challenges the Congress is exposed to were represented by these two parties.

Not that literacy has been the CPI's strong point either; it has had its own variant of obscurantism and jejune theology. But in the existing political situation in the country, the virtue of the CPI's theology lies in it's polarity from the Swatantra and Jan Sangh points of view. Besides, till now the party has been able to command the allegiance of a band of dedicated individuals who have suffered a great deal in the cause of the country's freedom, and have worked with in- mense devotion to organise the peasantry and the working class. The specific role the CPI decided to adopt during the Second World War still raises controversy, but that cannot really obscure the fact that many amongst the heroes of the 1942 struggle are now in the communist movement. Opportunists and career-builders abound in all parties, and the CPI is no exception. Nevertheless, one can perhaps go along with the assertion that, collectively, the communist rank and file would stand out, amongst all political cadres, for their sincerity and integrity.

And now they seem determined to split, one faction being desperately anxious to follow the leadership of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in analysing issues of international relations and in assessing the internal role of the Congress Government, while the opposing faction is equally determined to reject these 'lines' and to adopt, on these questions, points of view very similar to those propounded by the Communist Parties of China and Indonesia. It would seem that both the factions are fearful of losing international connections, and in a way the current worsening of intra-Party relations reflects the fact that, externally, in their squabble the Soviet and Chinese Parties are fast reaching the point of no return. One need not, and, on the basis of past record, should not, question the patriotism of Indian communists; but one can certainly castigate them for their inferiority complex, and can also deride them for the poor quality of their native wisdom.

By scuttling the party Communists of both hues are losing a lot. They will be splintering their organization; the goodwill they have accumulated over the years among the peasants and the workers, as also among the intellectuals and the middle class would be lost; and general frustration with the Left which the split would generate would do neither the warring factions nor the nation as a whole any good. It can also be hardly doubted that, for the next few years, a major part of their organizational skill and energy would be spent on efforts to whittle each other down, and only the residual would be available to propagate the ideology and the programme.

Thus, even if it is claimed that the rupture had become inevitable on" account of fundamental divergences in principles, programmes and policies, none of the latter causes will be even remotely furthered by the split. Who can deny that if the Russians and the Chinese had not started their bitter bout of recriminations, the Indian comrades, despite their protests of programmatic differences, would nonetheless have stuck together, and would have succeeded in evolving a series of compromise solutions?

The other aspect which perhaps has a bearing on the present tussle is the fact that the CPI is very much a party of the bourgeoisie. Both the factions are led by eminent representatives of the Indian middle class, and the overwhelming majority of the cadres continue to come from a similar background. Even after proper allowances are made for all the sincerity and all the devotion, all the conscious attempts to 'de-class' oneself and all the convictions of ideology, bourgeois egocentrism dies hard. A party without power is in an extremely delicate position, and one way of postponing the frustration of powerlessness is to engage in intra-party bickerings; the simulation of power which this calls for satisfies many souls. The length to which the episode 'over the Dange Letter' is being carried shows how much the disease has spread even among the CPI ranks: the issue has hardly any ideological cover; it is all a case of personalities.

Finally, a conjectural point. It could be that the CPI wrote its epitaph when it allowed EMS Namboodiripad to remove himself from General Secretaryship in 1962, but did not simultaneously insist that Dange leave the Chairmanship. The crucial decision was thus taken eighteen months ago, and the subsequent denouements are merely for public consumption. In the Party spectrum, Namboodiripad is only moderately Left, while Dange is very much of the extreme Right. To leave such a person in supreme charge of the party's affairs during this period of deep internal conflict was an act of calculated indiscretion. Given Dange's penchant for banter and invectives, the issue of personalities has merely got aggravated in recent months, and this has been of no help in quietening the ideological battle.

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