Notes from the CPM congress

A politics based on democratic welfarism could offer a political alternative. The Bahujan Left Front in Telangana comprising communists and Ambedkarites may show the way.

Written by Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd | Updated: April 24, 2018 12:06:00 am Indian Express

Last week, I attended the inaugural session of the 22nd party congress of the CPM in Hyderabad as a guest for the first time in my life. In my student and post-student days, I had worked with the CPI-ML Nagi Reddy group. Most ML groups are small groups who claim to be a party. Though working with that group gave me a theoretical and ideological base, it did not provide me the feeling of associating with a party that has a national presence. The CPM is a party with a national presence and experience of parliamentary rule. That it has run governments in three states and had a substantial presence in Parliament gives me the impression of a communist party that could even rule India from Delhi if it re-positions its ideology.

In 2004, the communists influenced the national economic and political policy. It led to the enactment of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee and the Right To Information acts. In my view, the first UPA government that worked with the support of the communist parties improved the rural economy quite significantly. Communists in any government can be a check on individual and institutional corruption. During their 34 years in office in West Bengal, 25 years in Tripura and running coalition governments alternatively in Kerala since 1956, they did not leave any record of corruption.

The problem is they have not yet completely given up their path of non-parliamentary struggle. They still hang on to the theory that the parliamentary path is tactical, whereas the revolutionary path is strategic. This leaves enough space for the Congress and the BJP to remain as ruling parties in Delhi.

However, the tone and tenor at the 22nd congress was different. It gave the impression the CPM could work towards building a third alternative through the electoral path itself. The general aura of the CPM party congress was of discipline. The banner on the podium had a beautiful sketch of Karl Marx, the cover pages of the Communist Manifesto and Das Capital. But for Marx, the modern welfare democracies in the world would not have been what they are today. All the capitalist countries, including India, today implement democracy with social welfare of people as an integral part of the system.

The Marxists are better read and have more training in writing than other politicians. So, if they get to a position of influence at the Centre, they can bring in the knowledge of global trends in welfarism. They can do it much better than those from the Congress. There can be no comparison with the BJP leadership since the latter has little exposure to global systems. Besides, BJP leaders are exploring inward-looking Indian mythology, which does not contain theory or practice of people’s welfare. Democratic welfarism has to be advanced by studying all the global experiments.

For the first time in the communist movement (including the CPI and other small parties and groups), a communist party leader — CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury — said the new experiment of building an alliance involving the communists and the Ambedkarites called the Bahujan Left Front (BLF) is the politics of the future. The Telangana CPM has formed BLF with several small Ambedkar-Phuleite SC/ST/OBC parties. These parties have on the banner figures such as Mahatma Jotirao Phule, Savitribai Phule, Ambedkar and Karl Marx. In other words, it is an experiment in Marx-Ambedkar theories of democracy and welfarism. Though Yechury did not go into the theoretical relationship between Marx and Ambedkar, the party affirmed the new experiment as a positive initiative, which could be expanded nationally.

If the communists reformulate their position that they should come to power in Delhi through electoral means, as the Nepali communists did by giving up the ultimate armed revolution agenda, that itself is acceptance of Ambedkar’s idea of democracy as change agent. Some radical changes could be brought about by combining Marxian welfarism with Ambedkarite socio-economic reform. The avoidance of violent revolution and coming to power through vote with a manifesto of time-bound welfarism for people is one of the key ideas of Ambedkarism.

It also means that the communists recognise that India is a caste-class society. Through a gradual means of democratic welfarism, both caste and class oppression and exploitation could be tackled. Though many eulogise Ambedkar today — including the Congress and BJP — they do not accept the core theory of Ambedkar that caste should be annihilated.
But the communists have the potential to work out a process of annihilating caste and abolishing class inequalities by formulating a new theory and praxis. In my view, this is the best way to follow, given the Indian specificity of caste and the global weakening of class revolutions and “pure socialism”. The BSP winning power in UP was a case of Ambedkarite caste-centered path, but it did not become a creative experiment at the operational level. There was no theoretical rigour in that experiment. No democratic transformation can be achieved based only on pure Ambedkarism because democratic welfarism is a universal experiment. The communists are better suited to combine the universal with the native if only they seriously examine Ambedkar’s thought. The BJP’s intellectuals study Ambedkar only to attack Muslims, not to deepen democracy or annihilate caste. The Congress thinks that Nehruvian democracy is inclusive of Ambedkarism. It is not, though there are many meeting points between Ambedkar’s thought and Nehru’s ideas.

The BLF has come into existence in Telangana with the aim of achieving this broader goal by transforming the political and ideological discourse. It is meant to bring out the communists and Ambedkarites from their shells. It has initiated a discourse for Marx-Ambedkarites to capture power by transforming the social justice agenda and with a goal to deepen democratic welfarism. It is meant to address the school and college and university education system in terms of annihilating the caste mindset and class exploitation relations from childhood onwards. It is aimed at taking the discourse on secularism beyond religion and tackling caste class, religion, race and so on.

Marx and Ambedkar have given us enough theoretical tools to handle caste, class and gender inequalities. Reading one in the light of the other is very essential for the committed people working in communist parties as well as Ambedkarites working in the BSP and other organisations.