Characterisation of Indian Society
Here the old dogmatic Naxalite formulations persist. The CPI (ML)-Liberation characterises Indian society as "semi-feudal but also semi-colonial". The justification for calling Indian society semi-feudal is, “The persistence of feudal remnants not only assure availability of cheap labour power and raw materials for both Indian big capital and imperialism, it also provides grounds for the persistence of medieval obscurantism, casteist frenzy, communal fanaticism and barbarity in different spheres of life. In the process it acts as the biggest stumbling block to any real democratic awakening of the Indian people. The Party, therefore, characterises the Indian society as semi-feudal.” This analysis underplays the development of capitalism in both the urban and rural sectors. It refuses to accept the objective fact that despite persistence of feudal and semi-feudal agrarian relations, capitalist farming is becoming the dominant mode of production in Indian agriculture. Similarly, it mechanically sees different forms of obscurantism as being exclusively linked to persistence of semi-feudal remnants thereby underrating the co-option of these obscurantist ideas and practices by Indian capitalism.
The reasons for calling Indian society semi-colonial are traced to factors like the comprador origin and dependant nature of Indian big capital, dependence on finance capital, interference of imperialist powers in our domestic affairs, pursuit of the IMF-World Bank path of liberalisation etc. Their understanding about the nature of the Indian big bourgeoisie is sectarian, one sided and flawed, as we shall see later. Suffice it here to remind the Liberation theorists that when Mao Zedong characterised pre-revolutionary Chinese society as semi-colonial he was talking about a country divided into spheres of influence by different imperialist powers, including a significant part over which the Japanese imperialists exercised direct military control. There was no central government worth its name. Besides imperialist depredations, the people were also subject to the oppressive rule of different warlords engaged in internecine warfare. Capitalism had just begun to develop, the national bourgeoisie was weak and comprador sections linked with different imperialist power exercised substantial influence. Only the motivated or credulous can believe that contemporary Indian economy, society and polity resemble semi-colonial China of pre-revolutionary times.
Issue of Political Independence
While calling India a semi-colony M-L Liberation believes that this is not in contradiction with political independence. The absurdity of this stand is obvious- how can India be a semi-colony and yet be politically independent? The General Programme and other documents of M-L Liberation are unable to provide any cogent argument in support of this. Unfortunately for them, mere assertions however loudly they may be made, do not acquire validity unless they are backed by solid reasoning based in objective reality.
The Ruling Classes
According to CPI (M-L) Liberation, “the state is led by the big bourgeoisie in alliance with the landlords.” Landlords are seen to be feudal or semi-feudal in the main. No mention is made to whether they consider rest of the bourgeoisie as part of the ruling classes or not. Further, they say that, “imperialism, big capital and feudal remnants also present themselves as a veritable nexus and the masses of our people are groaning under the deadweight of this alliance.” This clearly indicates that they consider imperialism to be part of the ruling class alliance as well. Why then do they run shy of stating this? The problem is that if they accept this directly then they will not be able to sustain their formulation that the big bourgeoisie are in the leadership of state power. Instead they will have to posit that the ruling class combine is led by imperialism for the question of leadership of this combine cannot be decided on any other basis than that of concrete relative strength of its components. Nobody can deny the greater strength of imperialism as compared to that of the Indian big bourgeoisie. But then this will lead to jeopardising even further the logic of their utterly dubious formulation that India is politically independent despite being a semi-colonial society.
In distinction to the contradictory and perfunctory assertions of the M-L Liberation regarding characterisation of the Indian ruling classes, the CPI (M) Programme, after making a detailed analysis of the path of capitalist development pursued since 1947, comes to the conclusion in Para 5.1 that, “The present Indian State is the organ of class rule of the bourgeoisie and landlords led by the big bourgeoisie, who is increasingly collaborating with foreign finance capital in pursuit of the capitalist path of development.” Besides delineating the ruling classes, their leadership and their character, the CPI (M)’s Programme clearly includes the bourgeoisie as a whole in the ruling classes.
Nature of the Ruling Classes
The General Programme of the M-L Liberation at the time of their 4th Congress in 1988 had stated that, “We prefer to characterise Indian capitalism as comprador-monopoly-bureaucratic capitalism, or, in popular terms as dependent monopoly capitalism or comprador-bureaucratic capitalism.” The only difference between this characterisation and that put forwards by the Naxalites in the early 1970s was to recognise the existence of the monopoly bourgeoisie. However, this monopoly bourgeoisie was dubbed as being comprador.
Their Programme of 2001 has ‘progressed’ from their 1988 characterisation of “comprador-monopoly-bureaucratic capitalism” to believe that, "Indian big capital is comprador in origin and monopoly bureaucratic in appearance and operations." This is nothing but juggling of words to repackage the same understanding in a different wrapper. The continued description of Indian society as semi-colonial can only mean that they still consider monopoly bourgeoisie to be a comprador class. Instead of stating this directly, as they did in their General Programme of 1988, they have now resorted to doing this indirectly. In so doing they are trying to be too clever by half. To those who believe that the monopoly bourgeoisie is not comprador they can say that we have only called it comprador in origin. Those who believe it to be comprador can always be satisfied by reference to usage of “comprador in origin” and “bureaucratic in appearance”!
To see Indian monopoly bourgeoisie as comprador is ridiculous. It defies both the Marxist-Leninist analysis of the comprador bourgeoisie as well as seeks to deny the enormous growth and vast industrial base of the Indian monopoly bourgeoisie.
What is Comprador Bourgeoisie?
The formulation regarding the Indian bourgeoisie being comprador has nothing to do with the Marxist-Leninist understanding of what really comprises the comprador bourgeoisie. 'The Theses on the Revolutionary Movement in Colonial and Semi-Colonial Countries' of the 6th Congress of the Communist International held in 1928 had stated that, "The comprador bourgeoisie in a colonial, dependent or a backward country is a servitor of foreign imperialism concerned mainly with trade operations connected with the export of indigenous raw materials and import of manufactured goods from imperialist countries." Mao Zedong in his work- 'Chinese Revolution and the Chinese Communist Party’ (1939) accepted this definition of the comprador bourgeoisie made by the Communist International. Thus he described the comprador bourgeoisie as, “..a class which directly serves the capitalists of imperialist countries and is nurtured by them.” In other words comprador bourgeoisie essentially represent bureaucratic merchant capital and are virtual commission agents dependent on proceeds from buying and selling goods for imperialism. Industrial capital, which is preponderant in India, has its own material base and interests arising thereof and hence cannot be comprador.
Growth of Indian Monopoly
Indian monopoly bourgeoisie have benefited most from the policies pursued by Governments since 1947. Assets of the top 22 monopoly houses grew 500 times from Rs.312.63 crores in 1957 to Rs.1,58,004.72 crores in 1997 (from Para 3.12 of the CPI(M)'s Programme). Since then, thanks to the depredations of neo-liberal policies, there has been a further and massive enhancement in their assets. The scale of this growth can also be seen from the fact that while Tata and Birla had 67 and 63 crores assets respectively in 1947, the assets of the Ambani brothers, before they fell out in 2004-05 stood at a colossal 1 lakh crores! Assets of other leading monopolists today range from 20000 to 50000 crores. A huge proportion of these assets are in the form of industrial capital, the very existence of which presumes a definite material base and interests of sections of bourgeoisie that own and control it. The Indian monopoly bourgeoisie are thus not commission agents having no material basis of their own.
Dual Character of the Indian Big Bourgeoisie
The CPI (M) does not characterise the Indian big bourgeoisie as being comprador. Instead it points to it dual role of conflict and compromise with imperialism. Thus Para 3.4 of the CPI (M)’s Programme states that, "After independence the dual character of the bourgeoisie manifested itself through conflicts and collusion with imperialism." Para 7.10 of the CPI (M)’s Programme explain the dynamics of this dual character as follows: “The Indian bourgeoisie as a class has its conflicts and contradictions with imperialism and also with the feudal and semi-feudal agrarian order. But the bigger and monopoly section, after attainment of independence seeks to utilise its hold over the State power to resolve these conflicts and contradictions by compromise, pressure and bargain." Developing further on the nature of the big bourgeoisie Para 5.1 of CPI (M)'s Programme states that the big bourgeoisie, ".. are increasingly collaborating with foreign finance capital in pursuit of the capitalist path of development."
Indian monopoly capital has a big industrial base. Besides it controls large part of the trading and service sectors. All this presumes that the big bourgeoisie has interests of its own as a class. These interests and the concrete condition, strengths and weaknesses of the Indian big bourgeoisie determine its dual role of conflict and compromise vis-à-vis imperialism. The conflict arises out of clash of interests on control of indigenous markets and share in the world market. The collaborationist trend of the big bourgeoisie vis-à-vis imperialism and its tendency to increase with the passage of time is rooted in a. Relatively weak position of the Indian bourgeoisie as compared to the imperialist bourgeoisie; b. Limitations imposed by its compromise with landlordism; c. Its dependence for advanced technology on imperialist countries; d. Lack of colonies that helped capital accumulation for those capitalist countries where capitalism first came into being and e. Late start in building capitalism.
Given its weaker position, the Indian bourgeoisie’s relationship with imperialism is no doubt unequal and dependent. The demise of socialism in the Soviet Union and the consequent strengthening of imperialism have also helped strengthen the trend towards increasing collaboration. However, “The increasing collaboration with foreign finance capital by the Indian big bourgeoisie and its integration with the globalised capitalist system does not mean that it has become comprador. Collaboration with or dependence on imperialist capital should not be confused with compradorism.” With most colonial countries gaining independence in the post Second World War period, “The bourgeoisie were engaged in developing capitalism in these countries with degrees of collaboration with imperialist capital. The capitalist path in the lesser developed countries obviously could not proceed without having integral links with the world capitalist system” (Nature of Capitalist Path of Development Since Independence by Prakash Karat in ‘On Party Programme’). This does not mean that, the bourgeoisie of such countries has no interests of its own or has no conflict of interests with imperialism and has become comprador. As we earlier noted, comprador bourgeoisie essentially represent bureaucratic merchant capital and are virtual commission agents dependent on proceeds from buying and selling goods for imperialism. If the M-L Liberation’s logic of equating dependence with a comprador relationship is accepted in the case of the Indian bourgeoisie, then there is no 3rd world bourgeoisie that is not comprador. The dual character of the Indian bourgeoisie entailing both conflict and collaboration is not some contrived theoretical formulation. It is borne out by the history of the path of capitalist development in the post-independence period. Unfortunately, so obsessed is the CPI (M-L) Liberation with its set construct of the character of the Indian bourgeoisie that it is unable to see this duality as being the result of the class needs of the bourgeoisie and chooses to ignore the numerous examples of this duality in political life of the country over the last 50 years or more.
Unity of Opposites: Right & Left Deviation Obfuscate Role of Monopoly
The revisionists, till they had a Programme, used to deny leadership of the ruling classes by the big bourgeoisie to somehow justify their characterisation of the Indian bourgeoisie as being both anti-imperialist and anti-feudal. By doing so they concealed from the Indian people one leading enemy of democratic revolution. ML - Liberation performs the same role by first positing leadership of monopoly bourgeoisie in the ruling combine and then ingeniously obfuscating its real power, exploitation and counter revolutionary role and potential by virtually dubbing it comprador i.e. having no base of its own. This petit bourgeois revolutionary phrase mongering grossly underestimates the development of capitalism in India as well as the vast development and industrial base of the monopoly bourgeoisie as the main beneficiary of Government policies since independence. It also shows their desperation to somehow hold onto the essentials of the old Naxalite baggage regardless of facts and experience.
Underplaying Development of Capitalism in Agriculture
In their Policy Resolutions on Agrarian Question, the ML- Liberation recognises penetration of capitalism into agriculture - emergence of capitalist landlords and rich peasants or kulaks carrying on agriculture by capitalist methods as well as proletarianisation of large parts of the peasantry under impact of the development of capitalist relations. It however believes that this process is very slow, uneven and marked by "forces of capitalism entering into hybrid relations with feudal remnants." Despite development of capitalist relations they opine that the main thrust of their agrarian struggle is against feudal remnants. This underestimation of development of capitalist relations in agriculture is reflected in their Programme which merely calls them, “growing pockets of modern farming." Their Policy Resolutions on Agrarian Question reflect the same tendency in the following manner: “..green revolution has not extended much beyond the Punjab-Haryana-Western Uttar Pradesh region and the rice growing regions in the Godavari-Krishna-Cauvery basins and some other parts of the country.” Their persistence in calling the state simply semi-feudal and semi colonial only underlines this underestimation.
There are no doubt significant tracts where feudal and semi-feudal relations still prevail. In other parts features of both semi-feudal and capitalist land relations can be seen side by side. It is also true that, “Capitalist development in Indian agriculture is not based on a resolute destruction of older forms, but has been superimposed on a swamp of pre-capitalist production relations and forms of social organisation. The development of the “modern” does no preclude the continued existence of the archaic: India is a vast and living example of the rule that capitalism penetrates agriculture and rural society in a myriad way.” (Para 3.19 CPI(M), Programme). However, there is no denying the fact that capitalism is becoming the dominant mode of production in agriculture. As the CPI(M)’s Programme puts it, “In agrarian relations the major trend has been the development of capitalist relations in the countryside which is characterised by: The proletarianisation of large sections of the rural working masses and a huge increase in the number of agricultural workers as a proportion of the rural population; the accelerated differentiation of the peasantry; production for the market; the large scale eviction of tenants holding traditional leases; and increased levels of re-investment of capital in agriculture and agriculture related activity by the rural rich, particularly landlords, laying the basis for reproduction of capital on a scale that did not hitherto exist.”
It appears that M-L Liberation’s underestimation of development of capitalism in agriculture derives from their artificial transposition of the agrarian relations in Bihar (where it has its main political base), over the rest of India. This impacts their strategic assessment about the role of different strata of the peasantry in the democratic revolution in stranger ways than one, as we shall see later.
Stage of Revolution
ML-Liberation sees 4 contradictions in Indian society - between imperialism and the Indian nation; between feudalism and the people; between big capital and the people, especially the working class and among different sections of the ruling classes. For them the principal contradiction is that between feudal remnants and the people. From this they conclude that," the stage of revolution is People's Democratic Revolution with agrarian revolution as its axis."
Given their formulation about India being semi-feudal and semi-colonial, the correct stage for them should have been that of national liberation or general united front against imperialism and its internal ally feudalism in which monopoly sections are also part of the revolutionary front. However, this is not possible for them given their vesting virtual comprador status on monopoly. The fact that they do not talk in terms of national liberation yet again reflects their confusion. Semi-colony, comprador bourgeoisie and yet no call for national liberation!
Tasks of Revolution
They are defined as: "Though the primary aim of this democratic revolution will be to abolish all feudal remnants and the concomitant autocratic and bureaucratic distortions in the polity, it will necessarily have several socialist aspects as well. More than creating conditions for a decisive victory of democratic revolution, the struggle against big capital will also pave the way for an uninterrupted transition from the democratic to the socialist stage of revolution." They also say that after the democratic revolution they will conduct thorough land reforms, comprehensive industrialisation by taking over reins of the national economy from the hands of monopoly-multinational-landlord nexus and giving people effective say in decision making and production.
The above tasks prescription raises several questions. What exactly do they mean when they say that the task of agrarian revolution is to conduct thoroughgoing land reform? Their Programme is silent on this. However, their Policy Resolution on the Agrarian Question gives a clue to this. It states that, "land to the tiller remains the central slogan on the agrarian question." To assure this: "Nationalisation of land is the most consistent and thoroughgoing means of redistribution of land and realising the slogan of land to the tiller." This resolution also states that, “While land nationalisation would remain the cornerstone of our agrarian policy for the entire country, this would be raised as an immediate propaganda and agitation slogan at certain stages and in certain states depending upon the level of the agrarian movement and under specific political conditions.” From this it is clear that nationalisation of land is both the tactical and strategic slogan of M-L Liberation.
Raising nationalisation of land as the central slogan of agrarian revolution is to guarantee that vast mass of the agricultural workers and small peasants never rally behind the democratic revolution, as it does not address the land hunger and hopes and aspirations of these sections for having land of their own. It will also alienate the middle peasants and push them into the arms of the enemies of revolution. The nature of the role of different sections of the peasantry (or for that matter other classes as well) in democratic revolution is not determined by some abstract construct but by their interests arising out of the place they occupy in the productive processes. So obsessed is ML-Liberation with its rhetoric that it has forgotten the simple truth borne out by the experience of the Russian and Chinese Revolutions and of land struggle within India that nationalisation of land is the slogan of the socialist and not the democratic revolution.
An example from the experience of land struggles in Bihar starkly bears out the problems inherent in making nationalisation of land the primary tactical and strategic slogan in the phase of democratic revolution. In 1993, Kisan Sabhas led by the CPI(M), CPI and CPI(M-L) Liberation held a joint convention in Patna and decided on synchronised action for occupying land held illegally by the landlords. This movement began on 9th August. After 2 months M-L Liberation announced withdrawal of this struggle on the plea that this was not the stage for forcible occupation of land and that they would instead fight for nationalisation of land! Besides abandoning the movement, they caused tremendous confusion and disruption by raising a slogan that alienated the agricultural workers and small peasants who composed the main mass fighting this struggle. Incidentally, they soon abandoned the 14,000 acres they claimed to have occupied after striking deals with the landlords from whom this land had been snatched. The CPI (M) continued this struggle. 42 comrades of the CPI(M), Kisan Sabha and All India Agricultural Workers’ Union were martyred at the hands of the police and landlords in this phase of struggle. The CPI(M) and Kisan Sabha and AIAWU led by it, occupied over 22,000 acres of land in 10 districts – Darbhanga, Purnea, Bhagalpur, Samastipur, Nawadah, Madhubani, Sitamarhi, Begusarai, Katehar and Khagaria. This land was distributed among agricultural labourers and small peasants. Landlords have made repeated attempts to recover these lands but have failed in face of determined resistance. Over 95% of the land occupied remains in the hands of the agricultural workers and peasants to whom it was distributed. A total of 116 comrades have been martyred in the struggle to occupy and later defend this land till date.
The mismatch between the stage of revolution outlined by the M-L Liberation Programme on the one hand and the tasks outlined in its Agrarian Resolution as well as its practice on the other, finds reflection in their understanding about role of different sections of the peasantry, as we will see while dealing with this issue.
What will be done to imperialist and monopoly capital after the victory of the democratic revolution is conveniently subsumed by the ML-Liberation under the general formulation of taking over reins of the economy from the hands of the monopoly-multinational-landlord nexus. Whether this implies nationalisation of their assets or bringing them under public ownership in different forms or letting monopoly capital exist as non-monopoly capital, just as the revisionists envisaged - all these are matters about which the ML-Liberation Programme sheds no light. After all revolutionary phrase mongering what ultimately emerges is this unclear hotchpotch, pregnant with revisionist possibilities.
Class Front for Revolution
For ML-Liberation the main force of the revolution is the peasantry led by the working class. Worker peasant alliance is the front's core. Reliance on agricultural workers and poor peasants, alliance with middle peasants and winning over part of the rich peasants while neutralising the rest and confidence that only a tiny section of the rich peasants will join the enemies are other features of this alliance. Small-medium capitalists and bourgeois intellectuals are seen as vacillating and unstable allies.
The acceptance of the leadership of the working class in the front for revolution is a positive change from old Naxalism that assigned it only a subsidiary role to the peasantry. However, the assessment of the role of rich peasants in their Programme is more hopeful than what is warranted by objective reality. Bourgeois-landlord agrarian policies and the development of capitalism in agriculture, besides benefiting the landlords, have also favoured the rich peasants. As Para 3.21 of the CPI (M)’s Programme states, ‘Most of the rural areas have seen the rise of a powerful nexus of landlords-rich peasants-contractors-big traders who constitute the rural rich.” Taking note of this change in conditions of rich peasants, the CPI (M) made appropriate changes in its Programme regarding assessment of their role in the people’s democratic revolution. While the 1964 Programme had opined that they could, “By and large.... be brought into the democratic front and retained as allies in the people’s democratic revolution”, the Updated Programme (2000) in Para 7.8 states that “At certain junctures they can also be brought into the people’s democratic front and play a role.... despite their vacillating character.”
Overestimation of the role of rich peasants by M-L Liberation derives from their underestimation of the development of capitalism in agriculture. In strategic terms such an assessment is bound to impact adversely on the possibilities of agrarian revolution and undermine the leadership of the rural proletariat and small peasantry in it. Here too the similarity between the impact of the strategic understanding of the M-L Liberation and the revisionists is striking. The revisionists didn’t differentiate between the roles of different strata of peasantry in the democratic revolution and clubbed agricultural workers and small peasants, main pillars of agrarian revolution, along with the rich peasants. This is a position that will allow seizure by the rich peasantry of leadership in the countryside and to betrayal of the agrarian revolution. The M-L Liberation, by overrating the potential of the rich peasantry in democratic revolution, opens up similar possibilities.
There is no consistency in the position of the CPI (M-L) Liberation vis-à-vis the position of rich peasants in democratic revolution. While their Programme calls the Indian state that of the big bourgeoisie in alliance with landlords, their Agrarian Resolution places rich peasants using capitalist methods in ranks of the ruling classes by saying: "The central objective of the agrarian policy.... would be to intensify the class struggle in the countryside: between old and new type of landlords and the kulaks and their state on the one hand and the rural proletariat and the vast mass of poor peasantry on the other." Such is the creative thought of M-L Liberation that it can combine overrating of potential of the rich peasantry as allies of the working class in democratic revolution with dubbing them as co-sharers in state power and targets of democratic revolution!
This confusion is also visible regarding their assessment of the role of the middle peasant. Their Agrarian Resolution describes them as vacillating allies. Their understanding is that the middle peasant will vacillate between the rich peasants and kulaks on one side and the agricultural labourers and small peasants on the other. The same resolution has however, also stated that, “.... majority of the poor and middle peasants are trapped in subsistence or near subsistence farming.... The broad mass of poor and middle peasantry, apart from groaning under the yoke of semi feudal remnants, are at the receiving end of the expanding forces of capitalism, viz, these new landlords and kulaks and are oppressed by these classes.” The question legitimately arises that why would the middle peasant ground down in such poverty and exploitation, much like the small peasants, vacillate between the agricultural workers and small peasants on one side and the rich peasants on the other? The M-L Liberation’s assessment in fact amounts to jumbling together of the middle peasant’s role in Socialist Revolution with that in People's Democratic Revolution. The experience of different revolutions shows that middle peasants are reliable allies of the working class in the stage of democratic revolution. It is in the stage of socialist revolution that they vacillate between the chief target of revolution in the countryside i.e. rich peasants on one side and the rural proletariat and small peasants on the other.
As regards role in democratic revolution of classes other than the working class and peasantry, the General Programme of the CPI (M-L) Liberation has the following prescription to offer: “Small and medium capitalists and bourgeois intellectuals are vacillating and unstable allies of the democratic revolution.” This formulation does not reveal any dynamic understanding of the role of the non-big bourgeoisie vis-à-vis both monopoly and imperialism. The changes engendered by neo-liberal policies in these sections of the capitalist class find no mention.
There is no assessment at all about the role of the urban and rural middle classes. Who they are, what impact liberalisation has had on them, whether differentiation among them has grown due to neo-liberal policies, what role their different strata will play in democratic revolution – all these are matters of no concern to the M-L Liberation. Mention is made only of middle class intellectuals who are mechanically dubbed as vacillating and unstable allies of the revolution. This undermines the potential of their progressive sections and does violence to the Leninist understanding of the role of intellectuals in backward, developing societies.
Method of Transition
Different tactics including participation in elections, extra-parliamentary struggle, utilisation of possibilities of forming provincial governments etc. are envisaged in the process of achieving democratic revolution by the ML- Liberation. It concedes the possibility of peaceful transition in exceptional circumstances but deems this to be unlikely. The abandonment of the line of individual annihilation propagated by old time Naxalism and attempts at involving the masses rather than armed squads of committed revolutionaries are positive.