A split in the Left ? No way!

Posted on July 17, 2008. Filed under: Communist, India, Nuclear, Politics |

There is a huge amount of gossip making the rounds of Indian media – the speculation that Somnath Chatterjee, CPI(M) MP and the Honbl., Speaker of the Indian Parliament has sent an open letter to the party, and probably delivered primarily to the higher committees like the CC and the PB. The letter is supposed to have been written on plain paper and not on the Speaker’s letterhead, and indicated his opposition to voting against the Congress on the floor of the parliament on the nuclear deal. Apparently the PB instructed its members to burn all copies for secrecy.

The gossip could have originated from political quarters hoping to boost the morale of the pro-deal groups. The “burning” makes the authenticity of the news doubtful though. Although Communist political history throughout the globe abounds in stories of intrigue, and the deepest of political skull-duggery, this last flourish in the news item makes all this a bit too dramatic. First, for this last piece to be true, one of the PB members has to tell the outside world about the “secret letter”, which is highly unlikely given the very small size of the group. It could only realistically happen if one or more members of the PB have decided to embarrass their GS, or if the leak took place from someone close to or sympathetic to Somnath Chatterjee as well as having access to the PB. Such incidents were very common in the early days of the Bolsheviks in Soviet power, when “left-deviation” alternated with “right-deviation” almost every other year and definitely from one party congress to the next.

A story about an instruction to burn or destroy potentially embarrassing documents or records is not without precedence in Communist history, and appear in the annals of the Soviet Communist Party – the famous ones being the so-called “request to Stalin to be given poison to commit suicide” by Lenin, and pages of “Lenin’s last will and testament” where Lenin had apparently dubbed Stalin extremely “arrogant”, and a potential threat to the Party with inordinate concentration of power as GS. But even if these were true stories, there were specific factional in-fights at these times which would have justified suppression or destruction of potentially embarrassing leaks to the ruling instantaneous coalition, and in spite of which the cornered faction would still make the leak.

As pointed out in my previous blog, I don’t think that anything resembling the spectacular splits of the past in the Indian Communist movement will take place now. Those were the times when becoming a Communist was dangerous in the face of violent state repression, and it primarily attracted or promoted to leadership members of the intellectual and well connected caste/class elite. These were also dedicated people of fiercely independent intellect and perhaps in an indirect way also looking for recognition, dominance and power. The small party however tried to hold on to them to the very last point when a split became inevitable. The formation of the CPI, its expulsions and purges following the whimsical twists of the Comintern, its first significant splits in 1948 in the Telengana region, split in the 60’s forming CPI(M), and in the early 70’s forming the CPI(ML), and finally into the 14 odd splinter groups of the CPI(ML), all follow this classic struggle for leadership cloaked under abstract polemical debates.

With the electoral success of the CPI(M), however, the Party needed to quickly expand for various reasons. It also attracted people who saw that it was the new regime which would now need to be used for preservation and advancement – a phenomenon as old as the period following Soviet take over of Russia leading to a consolidation of the apparatchik regime sequentially of Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin, and in India, right after Independence, when individuals and sections within Indian society who had actively collaborated and supported the British against the pro-Independence groups suddenly switched their allegiance and in many instances were even given electoral tickets.

The party structure requiring “selection” of committee members by members of “higher” committees, and then within that committee decisions being taken by majority voting, meant that leaders needed majority support from their committee members. It became therefore advantageous to select members who would be loyal in internal power struggles, and as history of organization amply show – weaknesses in the form of lack of independent thought or popularity, or “problems” in the background, make for the best loyalty and dependence. Gradually this will mean replacement of lower committees with members who are dependent on their higher-ups for party positions and influence or stature, and consequently are also increasingly distant from the non-partisan population because of the very lack of qualities that make them attractive as committee members.

This is what usually degenerates a Communist Party long in state power from within, and in this phase spectacular splits are no longer feasible. It will not happen with Somnath Chatterjee either. The maximum that can happen is a scaling down of Prakash Karat’s power in the next Party Congress, with the subtle signals given out in promotions to the PB and CC. Neither will there be any deviation from Prakash Karat’s stated target of punishing the Congress for going forward with the nuclear deal as reflected in the public and parliamentary behaviour of the party.


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