Prakash Karat (CPIM General Secretary)
WE are observing the birth centenary year of Comrade M Basavapunnaiah which began on December 14, 2013. M Basavapunnaiah was one of the key leaders of the Communist Party. Like many leaders of his generation, MB made an all-sided contribution to the development of the Communist movement in the country. From being a student activist he directly joined the Communist Party in 1934 unlike many of his contemporaries who came to the Communist Party after being in the Congress and the Congress Socialist Party.
MB played an important role in the development of the Communist movement in Andhra Pradesh and was part of the leadership of the Telangana peasants’ armed struggle. Subsequently, he made a major contribution in the inner party struggle which led to the foundation of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). He had a unique role in shaping the ideological viewpoint of the CPI(M). This is the aspect which will be focused in this article.
The Indian Communist movement which had its beginnings in the 1920s worked within the framework of the guidance provided by the Comintern and later the CPSU. Thus it heavily relied on the Soviet Marxist apparatus for its ideological sustenance. While this was natural in the earlier period of the party, it also became the main source for a mechanical application of Marxist understanding to Indian conditions at times and later provided sustenance for the revisionist theory and practice which crept into the Communist Party.
A struggle developed within the Communist Party in the post-independence era on the question of the path of the Indian revolution and the strategy and tactics to be adopted. This struggle and praxis helped the “Left” communists to come out of the sterile framework which existed.
The CPI(M) was a product of this inner-party struggle. MB was part of the leading core which conducted this struggle. All the inner-party documents leading up to the split in the Party saw MB as a co-author along with leaders like P Sundarayya, Harkishan Singh Surjeet, B T Ranadive, P Ramamurthy and others. They set out the positions which constituted a rejection of the class collaborationist line advocated by a section of the leadership and which was supported by the CPSU.
In the early 1960s, differences between the CPSU and the CPC became sharp and bitter. The polemics between the two major parties stimulated the ideological debate in India too. It became intertwined with the struggle within the CPI about the programme and the strategy to be followed.
In the ideological battle to appraise Marxism-Leninism through the eyes of the Indian Communists engaged in building the communist party and to apply Marxist theory to the concrete conditions in India – this was a process, protracted and often torturous that the CPI(M) went through.
M Basavapunnaiah made a distinctive contribution to these inner-party debates and subsequently in the shaping of the ideological world view of the CPI(M).
The decade long inner-party struggle on the question of strategy culminated in the adoption of two programmes by the CPI(M) and the CPI in 1964 at their respective Congresses. The 7th Congress of the CPI(M) was held in Kolkata between October 31 to November 7, 1964. The draft Party Programme was introduced by MB. He explained that the essence of the Party Programme consisted of the analysis of the classes in Indian society, the stage of the revolution, the characterisation of the Indian State and the class alliance to be forged under the leadership of the working class for the people’s democratic revolution. In doing so, MB clarified the stand on the various issues which differed from that of the CPI. The Indian State is an instrument of the bourgeois-landlord alliance led by the big bourgeoisie; the leadership of the people’s democratic front had to be with the working class and could not be the joint leadership with the national bourgeoisie; the bourgeois-landlord State was increasingly collaborating with foreign finance capital and so on.
Within three years of the formation of the CPI(M), the Party had to confront the challenge of the Left sectarian trend in the form of Naxalism. The main battlefield was Andhra Pradesh where a large number of leaders and cadres of the Party were influenced by the CPCs call for armed struggle during the Cultural Revolution. MB had to be in the thick of the struggle against this ultra-Left deviation. The Andhra Pradesh state plenum held before the Burdwan Plenum on Ideological issues in 1968 saw MB along with P Sundarayya taking up the fight in right earnest. MB intervened during the discussions in the Burdwan Plenum to counter the Left sectarian positions presented by a section of the Andhra leaders. The Resolution on Ideological Issues adopted in the Burdwan Plenum provided the bedrock for the Party’s ideological struggle against both right revisionism and left sectarianism.
MB increasingly took on the responsibility of conducting the struggle against the revisionist line of the CPSU and the Left sectarian positions of the CPC. MB would use his pen as a scalpel to cut through the revisionist theories of the CPSU – on the wrong understanding of social contradictions and the illusion spread by the concept of a peaceful competition between capitalism and socialism and the peaceful transition to socialism.
MB had strongly opposed many of the Left sectarian positions adopted by the CPC during the period of the Cultural Revolution. These included the “three worlds’ theory”, the characterisation of the Soviet Union as “social imperialist” and the Left adventurist call for armed struggle around the world irrespective of the conditions existing in different countries.
While taking on the wrong policies of CPSU and the CPC, MB was categorical about not taking anti-Soviet or anti-China positions. He maintained that both were socialist countries, though they suffer from deviations from Marxist-Leninist positions and the scientific approach to building socialism.
MB poured scorn on the concept of the non-capitalist path of development advocated by the CPSU for the newly independent countries like India which was adopted by the CPI too. At the same time he trenchantly exposed the sectarian and dogmatic understanding of the Naxalites about the nature of capitalist development in India. In the “Letter to the Andhra Comrades” which was adopted by the Polit Bureau after the Burdwan Plenum, MB said:
“The fundamental critique of the capitalist path from the Marxist-Leninist angle is being erroneously understood and interpreted as though no industrial development of any significance is possible or has taken place, that the development of capitalism and capitalist relations in any degree under the capitalist path is only the increasing dominance of foreign monopoly capital and the strengthening and further consolidation of feudal and semi-feudal land relations. Thus the strategical despising of the capitalist path is being mechanically and dogmatically projected into its tactics evaluation, refusing to take into account the development of capitalism and capitalist relations under the bourgeois-landlord government.”
He also effectively debunked the Naxalite characterisation of the bourgeoisie in India as a comprador one. He defended united front tactics with other democratic parties. He also condemned the Left sectarian stand of opposition to participation in parliament and the coalition governments which were formed in Kerala and West Bengal in 1967.
After taking over as Editor of People’s Democracy in 1978 MB regularly wrote on ideological questions in its columns.
After the CPC made a critical evaluation of the Left sectarian deviation that occurred during the Cultural Revolution period and the promotion of the cult of personality around Mao Zedong, MB wrote an important article on the “Struggle against the Cult of Personality”. He set out the Marxist position on the cult of the personality and how such a distortion had developed in the case of Stalin in Soviet Union and Mao Zedong in China. An important point made by him was regarding how the cult of personality damages inner-Party democracy and collective functioning. He stated that:
“It should never be forgotten that the struggle against the cult of personality is very closely linked with the struggle to safeguard inner Party democracy, to ensure collective leadership and practice criticism and self-criticism. Good resolutions by themselves are not enough, they should be implemented properly without allowing any dichotomy to develop between words and deeds. The idea that no leader is a “demigod” and an “infallible Marxist-Leninist” should be propagated constantly among the Party ranks and the people at large. And no Communist Party should ever resort to punitive measures to punish differences and dissent.”
ON THE NATIONAL
During the discussion and formulation of the Party programme, it was decided that the issue of the national question in India would be reserved for a later discussion. In a multinational country like India, what is the role of the various linguistic nationalities? Will the right of nations to self-determination apply in India? The discussion and adoption of the Party’s stand on the national question took place in the 9th Congress of the Party held in Madurai in 1972. The “Note on the National Question” was discussed and adopted in the Congress. MB introduced the document in the Congress. It bore the stamp of his deep understanding of the Leninist stand on nationalities and the national question and how the conditions in pre-revolutionary Russia differed from India. While Tsarist Russia was a prison house of nationalities and subject to oppression by the Great White Russian nationality, India was a multinational country where there is no oppression by one or a group of nationalities over the others. Secondly, the ruling class in India, the bourgeois-landlord class, is a composite one drawn from various linguistic nationalities. It is these ruling classes which were exploiting the working classes of all the linguistic nationalities and subjecting them to a common class oppression. Therefore the call for separation or secession would weaken the fight against the Indian State and the class exploitation faced by the working people all over the country. The task of the working class party was to build the unity of the working class and peasantry of all the nationalities to fight the common class exploitation by the bourgeois-landlord classes.
MB also pointed out that during the anti-imperialist struggle, the calls for self-determination by any of the nationalities against British rule was valid. But with independence that stage of the general struggle against imperialism was over. The right of self-determination should not apply any more as in the pre-independence era.
MB had a polemical style which gave no quarter to opponents of Marxism or those who deviated from it. At the same time, MB was also aware that he and his colleagues could make mistakes while expounding on ideological issues. As he would say in his inimitable style: “These mistakes are made by us, not mistakes made at someone else’s bidding”. He meant thereby that one could learn from the mistakes one commits and rectify them. Unlike those who make mistakes under somebody’s influence.
The CPI(M) emerged from a protracted inner-Party struggle on ideological and programmatic issues. Later it had to stand its own ground against the wrong ideological positions adopted by the CPC and the CPSU. For this it had to rely on applying its own understanding of Marxism-Leninism to the Indian conditions. In this process, MB was the ideological warrior of the Party. He left his stamp on the ideological struggle with his deep knowledge of Marxism, his commitment to Marxism-Leninism and his relentless quest to apply Marxism-Leninism to fashion out the correct approach for the Indian revolution.