Ideological Debates within the PWG
AFTER ITS formation in 1981, the CPI(ML) People’s War, commonly known as the PWG, took the trouble, for the first time, after two decades of its existence, to hold a party congress in March 2001. Concentrated as it has been mostly in Andhra Pradesh and some bordering districts of the neighbouring Chhatisgarh and Maharashtra states (its state units of Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu could not stay for long with the Andhra core), the PWG attempted to forge unity with the ‘like-minded’ MCC and CPI(ML) Party Unity in order to gain a foothold in northern India. Although the MCC had gone close to merger with the PWG in the beginning, ultimately it was the Party Unity which merged with the PWG a few years back.
In the run up to the party congress, a section of West Bengal comrades, who had obviously been with the Party Unity earlier, submitted two documents in the West Bengal Plenum of PWG, criticising the draft document that was circulated by the CC of PWG among its ranks. These documents represented the minority opinion there and we are informed that they were also presented to the congress. However, according to these minority comrades, the congress did not hold a healthy debate on these questions. The CC even imposed a ban on taking these documents down to the ranks below. Thus not finding any scope of conducting a proper inner-party struggle on these questions, these comrades published the two documents for a wider discussion (Some Fundamental Problems of Indian Revolution, published in March 2002 in Bengali). While doing so, they added another document specifically related to West Bengal situation, written after the congress in November 2001. For our purpose, however, we shall take up the first two documents only, which are related to PWG’s general strategy and tactics.
In the first document titled Can we advance the Indian revolution without working class leadership? the comrades have accused that in the draft document there is no serious concern about the weak proletarian base of the party or lack of working class role in the revolution. There is no initiative to overcome this serious weakness of the party as well as revolution, they allege. Although the Political-Organisational Report (POR) notes that “Indian working class has been confined into the quagmire of economism for almost a century, it has not devoted a single chapter to review our work among the working class and set up the tasks to overcome this basic weakness of Indian revolution. It seems that the party is seriously lacking theoretical understanding regarding the role of working class in the revolution, whether the leadership of working class is necessary at all. Because, the POR, does not include any call for building up workers’ struggle in the immediate tasks given at the end of Political Resolution document”.
From here the criticism starts, but takes in its fold the problem of general isolation of PWG. These comrades point out that, “although our party has built up a strong peasant movement in some parts of the country, it is suffering from isolation with the broad masses of workers, employees, intellectuals and other democratic people. In this era of globalisation, when our country is passing through a phase of recolonisation ... our party stands in a queer isolation with the new tide of anti-imperialist, anti-state movement ... In face of the great prospect of worldwide anti-imperialist movement, JAFIP (Joint Action Forum of Indian People, a frontal organisation formed under PWG leadership) constitutes a considerably weak response.”
This isolation cannot be broken without the independent political role of the working class, they assert, because without that role neither worker-peasant unity can be built nor the united front. “Unless the Indian working class rises as a class against imperialism and Indian ruling classes in the course of class struggle, it would not be possible to link the agrarian revolutionary movement with the anti-imperialist, anti-feudal movement of the broad masses. Without an independent political (‘independent’ of ruling class politics) role of the working class we cannot coordinate and lead the struggle of broad masses against imperialism and Indian government. We have not yet been able to forge worker-peasant unity on the basis of which alone can a broad anti-imperialist, anti-feudal united front be built. This is the most fundamental shortcoming of Indian revolution today.” Yet, the comrades are not able to elaborate what in concrete terms they mean by independent political role of the working class, nor do they specify as to what extent they are ready to concretise this political struggle.
However, it is in the second document titled Political struggle and political theoretical work is the key to success where these comrades raise the most basic question of political strategy of PWG. They point out that, “the concept of political upsurge or insurrection is completely missing in the draft document... More specifically, there is no mention of peasants’ area-wise insurrection that Mao emphasised in the development of Chinese Revolution”. Assigning a great role to mass insurrection in the overall development of revolution in our country, these comrades point out, “No one can deny the role of peasant insurrections like Naxalbari and Srikakulam in the history of our party.”
It is here that the root of economism and sectarianism in the PWG lies, according to these comrades. “This grave distortion or the consequent deviation has resulted in simultaneous emergence of economism and left sectarianism as powerful trends even in the forward posts of our movement. And from this some serious ideological problems have arisen in the movement as a whole. For instance, belittling the role of people in revolution. Viewing the vanguard party as people’s liberator. And probably this is the reason why we have to suffer so great losses in advancing the cause of Indian revolution”.
How, in practice, do the PWG activists rouse the masses politically at the grassroots? “Mainly we take up economic issues in our area of work and attempt to mobilise masses on the basis of their demands. Side by side, we also conduct the propaganda that the basic problems of the people can be resolved only by completely changing the system through new democratic revolution. When a small section of people start getting mobilised, vested interests in the area start threatening them, and beat up the cadres. And ultimately they launch attack in a big way. What do we do in this situation? Our cadre gathers some militant persons in the area and organises them into squads... and counters the enemy through militant squad action. In the whole process, our work is firstly organiser-centric and then squad-centric. People get activated mainly in economic struggle. Even on economic issues like wage increase, when class enemies get organised and launch attacks while rejecting the demand, the people in some or other way become dependent on squads for getting those demands... This way the people become more and more dependent on squads for solving all their problems. There comes a situation when without squads’ assistance or their assuming the main role no economic demand is settled. The people’s struggles get confined to the level of economic struggles whereas their consciousness remains at the level of trade union consciousness”.
The document notes that a veteran Central Committee member Comrade Shyam, who was killed in an encounter a couple of years back, has cited ample examples of this malady in his article appearing in People’s War magazine. There he has shown that in the main areas of struggle the people’s consciousness lies at the level of economism. “In almost all areas the picture is the same. From forwards posts like North Telengana, Dandakaranya or Bihar to West Bengal”, he says, on the basis of the reviews undertaken by the plenums of Andhra and North Telengana state committees.
Pointing out the necessity of conducting political movement on the basis of political exposure for rousing the people and organising mass uprising, these comrades feel that “for that purpose, political theoretical work is necessary to be taken up”. And here PWG faces the real crunch. Once again the minority comrades quote Comrade Shyam, “Our party, leading committees in particular, are lagging in theoretical political matters... better if we say we evade or show lack of interest towards them because it is a long-standing problem. This has involuntarily degenerated our consciousness on theoretical level to that of fight for immediate benefits, to the trade union consciousness of a common worker”.
This accusation is corroborated from the shabby treatment that the PWG has meted out to the question of participation in elections in the congress documents. Though they are compelled to admit that participation in the elections is a question of tactics, they however cite no positive reason for their boycott. Rather they choose to repudiate three selective arguments commonly put up in favour of participation. This is not the place to enter in this debate, but in order to bring into the readers’ notice views on the question of insurrection we cite here only one argument. PWG document says: “Those who argue that participation in elections is necessary because there is no high tide of revolution are wrong because the question of tide and ebb in revolution arises only in those countries where the tactics of uprising or insurrection is adopted. In India there is a permanent revolutionary situation and the path of revolution is protected people’s war. Therefore, there exists no relation whatsoever between (participation in) elections and the tide and ebb of revolution.”
Though these comrades nowhere discuss the tactical question of participation in elections, they have reached some significant conclusions while taking stock of the developing features of Indian situation and their relevance to Indian revolution. Whereas the PWG document (Strategy and Tactics), while comparing Chinese and Indian situations, holds that factors like India having a relatively more developed industry, capitalist relations getting developed in agriculture, communication and transport system being much more developed, Indian government having a large modern army with a powerful centralised administrative system, etc. are favourable to the enemy, these comrades do not think so.
Questioning this approach, these comrades say that in that case we are conveying the idea that revolution will be easier and speedier where there is relatively more backwardness. But this is contrary to Marxism. Because, the more the industrial development, the more developed would be the working class which is the “guiding force of Indian revolution”. Secondly, development of capitalism in agriculture makes the identification of the enemies easier, it brings out the nexus of feudalism, comprador capital and imperialism into open, and helps get people mobilised in larger numbers in the struggle against imperialism. For example, in Punjab where development of capitalism in agriculture has been the highest, peasant discontent has been simmering politically for a long time. For this reason armed struggle in the name of Khalistan could continue there for such a longer period. This movement showed that the grounds for armed struggle or uprisings have matured even in those areas where capitalist relations have developed in agriculture. Coming to transport, these comrades say that although it is useful for the enemy, it is also a favourable condition for the expansion of revolutionary forces. Developed communication and transport system must be utilised by revolutionaries to spread revolutionary politics throughout the country. For this reason only Marx had welcomed installation of railway lines, which prepared conditions for organising the Indian people’s revolt against the British.
But the best of all comes towards the end. While arguing that even the centralised administrative system is not beneficial to the enemy alone, these comrades hold it is also favourable to revolution, because the spontaneous discontent and protest of the people also gets centralised against the government as a consequence. “We have witnessed many statewide tides of mass movement, for example the food movement in 1965 in West Bengal and the 1974 movement in Gujarat and Bihar. Development of People’s class struggle in a centralised way against a centralised administration is favourable to revolution.
The comrades agree that only a powerful modern army is really the condition favourable to the enemy alone. However, in that case, they say, we must answer a theoretical question. In China there were warlords who exercised their own rule in the principalities and they were constantly at war with each other. This division of the enemy army and constant war among the enemy forces was the most important condition which made it possible for the red areas or base areas to stay and develop. Another important condition for base area was the existence of regionally self-dependent agrarian economy. But these two significant conditions for area-based seizure of state power are absent in India. This being the case, how in the concrete conditions of our country the problem of building and developing base areas can be solved?
Finally the comrades put up another question. They say, on the one hand, we assert that revolutionary situation is excellent in this country and it is continually improving throughout the world. Imperialism is getting entangled in deeper crises and people are getting mobilised in struggles in still larger numbers. On the other hand, we are theorising that Indian revolution will be more protected than the Chinese Revolution and the battle for seizure of power will be more arduous. Are these two formulations not contradictory?
The cat is thus out of the bag, but the comrades do not seem to be fully aware of it.