The political milieu: The development of a revolutionary milieu in India

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After the crisis which shook the revolutionary milieu at the beginning of the '80 (see IR 32), the political vanguard of the proletariat is again showing signs of a new strength. One of the most obvious signs is the appearance of a number of new groups moving towards a communist coherence. Some examples:

-- in Belgium, the appearance of RAIA in a process of breaking with anarchism (see Internationalisme 105);

-- in Austria, the appearance of a circle of comrades breaking with the Kommunistische Politik group for its academicism and evolving towards revolutionary positions;

-- in Argentina, the development of groups such as Emancipacion Obrera and Militancia Clasista Revolucionaria, who seem to be close to Groupe Communiste Internationaliste but have also been in contact with other groups of the milieu (see Le Communiste 23);

-- in Mexico, development of the Alptraum Communist Collective and the publication of the first issue of its review Communismo (see IR 44) .

But perhaps the most dramatic developments are those which have recently taken place in India. The aim of this article is to present an outline of the origins and trajectory of the milieu there, based on their publications, on correspondence, and on a recent, visit, of an ICC delegation to India.

The emergence of revolutionaries in the peripheries of capitalism

Before discussing the specific groups of the Indian milieu, it is necessary to make some remarks about the fact that the majority of these new groups have appeared in the peripheral countr­ies of capitalism. In the next issue of the IR we will criticize the position of the International Bureau for the Revolutionary Party, who hold that the conditions in these regions, where democrat­ic and trade unionist institutions have less hold over social life, are ‘better' for the ‘massific­ation' of communist organizations. A similar pref­erence for the exotic is expressed by the GCI who ceaselessly denounce what it refers to as the ‘so-called revolutionary milieu' for ignoring the appearance of revolutionaries in the peripheries (a blatant untruth, as will be seen from the content of this article).

The emergence of revolutionary groups in India and Latin America is certainly an expression of the international scope of the present resurgence of class struggle and confirms - against all leftist theories about the need for ‘democratic' revolutions in the ‘dominated' countries - the unity of the communist tasks confronting the proletariat. But it does not prove that communist consciousness is deeper or more extensive in the peripheries than the metropoles, and that conse­quently (whether or not this is stated openly) the revolution is closer at hand in the former.

To begin with, we must remember that the views of the IBRP and others are distorted by their inabil­ity to distinguish the appearance of genuine rev­olutionary groups from the radicalization of leftism, as demonstrated by their unfortunate alliance with the ‘Communist Party of Iran' and ‘Revolutionary Proletarian Platform' in India. Secondly, the revamped version of Lenin's theory of the weakest link is based on a very narrow empiricism which fixates on the immediate facts and fails to situate the emergence of these groups in the historical context of the general resurgence of class struggle which began in 1968, and which provides the background to the various wave-movements of struggle which characterize this period. Once this context is grasped, it becomes clear that these groups are appearing between one and two decades later than the groups in the metropoles, most of which came out of the first international wave of class combats from 1968-74. And of a break, thirdly, while there is an important element of spontaneity in the engendering of elements looking for class positions, we should not have tell groups like the IBRP that this spontaneity is insufficient, that there would be little chance these groups finding a solid communist coherence if it were not for the intervention of the groups centered in western Europe, who have a more direct connection to the traditions of the communist left. It will become obvious from this article that the more the Indian groups have opened up towards the international political milieu, the more thoroughly they have been able to develop a communist practice.

It is extremely dangerous to underestimate the difficulties facing revolutionaries in the backward capitalisms. As well as the ‘physical' problems posed by geographical isolation from the main foci of the revolutionary movement, by language barriers (including illiteracy), by material Poverty (things which revolutionaries in the West take for granted today as tools for their inter­vention - typewriters, telephones, duplicators, cars, etc - are far less accessible to groups in a country like India), there are the profound political problems created precisely by the overt domination of imperialism and the absence of ‘democratic' norms, which makes the working class more vulnerable, in the final analysis, than workers in the West to the mythology of national liberation, democratization, etc. This in turn makes it even harder for revolutionaries in the peripheries to fight these illusions, both within the class as a whole and within their own ranks. Neither should the dead weight of the more ‘traditional' ideologies in such countries be under­played: in India, for example, it is extremely difficult at this stage for women to enter into revolutionary politics. All this is of course connected to and compounded by the weakness or lack of a historical left communist tradition in most of these countries, in opposition to the prevailing leftist perversions, particularly Stalinism/Maoism, which is capable of dressing itself in very radical colors in these areas. To forget all this will not help the evolution of the comrades who are now beginning revolutionary work in spite of and against these problems.                                                                                

The milieu in India: the difficult process of breaking with leftism         

Communist Internationalist

"A revolutionary organization is always indispensable, even amidst deepest defeat of the class. Of course, the changing role and impact of a revolutionary organization, in a period of defeat of the class and of deepening class struggle, can only be understood through the concepts of fraction and party. Today, in a period of accelerating world-wide crisis and collapse of capital and rising class revolts tending towards confrontation with the state and opening up towards revolution, the role of revolutionaries is becoming increasingly important and decisive. It is calling for the international regroupment of revolutionaries and the formation of the revolutionary party." (Letter from the Faridabad circle to the ICC, 11.1. ‘85)

Most of the elements making up today's element of proletarian milieu in India have emerged out of a break, more or less clear, with radical leftism, facilitated by the direct intervention of the groups of the international milieu, in particular the ICC and IBRP. But as the ICC has always stressed, the future of a group which has emerged in this way depends to a great extent on the clarity of this break, the degree to which the elements involve are aware of where they have come from and how much further they have to go. The group in India which is making the most thoroughgoing rupture with leftism is the one which in its positions and political attitude is closest to the ICC: Communist Internationalist.

As we wrote in IR 42, a number of the comrades of CI were formerly involved in radical leftist politics, most recently in Faridabad Workers' News, an activist, trade unionist paper in Faridabad, an important industrial centre near Delhi.

In India, as in many ‘underdeveloped' countries, the trade unions usually behave in such an openly anti-working class manner (blatant corruption, beating up militant workers, etc) that workers often have a deep hostility towards them as well as towards the left parties with which they are linked (CPI, CPIM, etc). An anecdote illustrates this: while travelling by train from Delhi to West Bengal, the comrades of the ICC and CI got into a discussion with some railway workers who had saved us from missing the train by inviting us into their work-carriage. After a few minutes of general conversation, and without any prompt­ing from us, these workers (who had participated in the great rail strike of 1974) began to say that all the left parties were bourgeois, all the unions were thieves, and that only the revolution would change things for the workers. Such attitudes, which are fairly widespread in India today, don't mean that revolution is imminent, because the workers have great difficulty in seeing how to turn their disillusion into an active struggle against capital. But they do indicate the extent of the workers' antipathy to the unions and left parties.

This accounts for the whole importance, in India, of very radical forms of leftism, which are quite capable of denouncing the unions and the left as agents of capital - in order to trap workers in a more extreme variety of the same thing. In Faridabad itself there had been a whole series of struggles in which, following the exposure of one union/party apparatus, another, more left-sounding one had stepped in to fill the breach, circle had gone through several turns until it came to the point that the ‘Faridabad Workers Group' had been on the verge of forming an ultra-radical union in certain plants; but the ‘arrival' of ICC literature on the union question allowed them to escape this vicious circle. And since this was coupled with a process of clarification of the national question, which is a life-or-death issue for any emerging proletarian group in the peripheries, the comrades were able to embark on the painful path of breaking with their leftist past.

From the collapse of the Faridabad Workers Group a discussion circle was formed which very quickly found itself agreeing with what it understood of the positions and analyses of the ICC. The com­rades then faced the question of how to organize. They recognized that the discussion with the ICC had not been sufficiently homogeneous to consider the possibility of a rapid integration into the Current; but the need to intervene in the resurgent class struggle, to defend revolution­ary positions, impelled the comrades to form themselves into a group which while still engaged in clarifying basic positions and analy­ses, could take up the tasks of intervention through publishing a magazine, leaflets, etc. Thus Communist Internationalist was born.

In our discussions with CI, we expressed our support for the decision to move from discussion circle to political group, while stressing that the first priority of the comrades is theoretical deepening and homogenization, which means that the group as a whole must acquaint itself more fully not only with ICC positions but with the history of the workers' movement and the posit­ions of other groups in the revolutionary milieu. But in today's period, revolutionaries, even when their understanding of class positions is only at an initial stage, cannot remain silent. CI will thus continue to intervene, through leaflets through a physical presence, in important moments of class struggle; t will maintain publication of Communist Internationalist in Hindi and - in order to make its work more accessible both to the milieu in India (where English is a more univers­al medium than Hindi) and, more importantly, to the international milieu - it will produce and English language supplement to CI.

The overall perspective for CI is towards integration into the ICC. But both CI and the Current are fully aware of the problems involved in this process. For a solid and lasting regroup­ment to take place, a whole work of political and organizational education needs to be carried out; incomprehensions or possible divergences confronted. There is nothing predestined or automatic about this. But we are confident that CI's grow­ing convergence with the ICC's positions, especi­ally those on the nature of leftism, on the proletarian milieu and the dangers it faces, provide a firm and reliable basis for the group to complete its break from the leftist past and assume the enormous responsibilities it faces both in India and internationally.

As is often the case, the step that the Faridabad circle took in forming CI was not taken without a price: a split with a comrade who had played a leading role in the initial break with leftism and has subsequently formed a small circle of his own. The reasons for this split were for a long time obscured by ‘personal' issues but through its intervention into the situation, aimed at healing an unjustified split or at least bringing out the real differences, the ICC now considers that the essential question was this: the CI, for all its weaknesses and immaturity, understood that it could not do without a collective framework for homogenizing the group, and that it must at least begin the tasks of a political intervent­ion in the class. The conceptions of the seceding comrade, however, expressed a greater difficulty in breaking from leftist attitudes.

His argument that CI wasn't a political group because there wasn't sufficient homogeneity within it was actually based, on the one hand, on a classical leftist elitism which judges individual comrades to be fixed forever at a greater or lesser level of understanding and fails to see how consciousness can advance through a process of collective discussion; and, on the other hand, as frequently happens with comrades reacting against a past in leftist activism, on an academic approach which does not grasp the relationship between theoretical deepening and practical intervention. This was expressed, for example, in a tendency to fixate on Luxemburg's theory of decadence without seeing its militant implications for revolutionaries today.

Academicism today generally appears as an aspect of the weight of councilist ideology, of the underestimation of the need for an organization of political combat within the class. Had CI followed the orientations of the seceding comrade it would have postponed indefinitely its work of intervention. We regret this development because these comrades could have made an important cont­ribution to CI's work. But we think that these comrades will have to go through a bitter process of political failure before they can understand the mistake they are making.

It is no accident that the question of collective work should have been so central in this split. We consider that CI, because of its movement towards a clear conception of organization, intervention, and the political milieu, is going to play a key role within this milieu, through its defense not only of general communist positions but also of a rigorous approach to the process of discussion and clarification. This was expressed, after many days of discussion with the ICC delegat­ion, by one of the CI comrades who had been involved with Maoist politics for many years. For him, one of the most evident proofs that there is no common ground whatever between leftist and revolutionary politics was precisely the contrast between the phony ‘discussions' that take place in a leftist group, based on the old bourgeois division of labor between thinkers and doers, and the truly collective effort of clarification where all comrades are called upon to take a posit­ion and develop their political and organizational capacities in a context of clearly defined, centralized responsibilities. The defense of this view of organization against both the hierarch­ical notions inherited from leftism, and the anti-organizational neuroses of councilism, will be a primary task for revolutionary groups in India.

Lal Pataka

The ICC may be the clearest international pole of reference for revolutionaries, but it is not the only one. Since the collapse of the ICP (Communist Programme) the IBRP, whose positions tend to be half way between the ICC and Bordigism, has developed its international presence, albeit in a manner strongly marked by opportunism.

In India, at about the same time that CI was being formed, a split took place in the radical leftist group Revolutionary Proletarian Platform, which had been exposed to the positions both of the ICC and the IBRP. The comrade responsible for producing RPP's Bengali paper, Lal  Pataka  (Red Flag) was pushed out of the organization after calling for RPP to restructure itself along the lines of the basic positions of the IBRP.

Before describing the discussions between the ICC and the Lal Pataka comrade, we want to make clear our position on RPP.

When we first received the English language pub­lications of RPP, we were not entirely clear whether this was an attempt to break from left­ism or another radical Stalinist group like the ‘CP of Iran'. These uncertainties persisted in the article on the Indian milieu in World Revolution 77, which while being more clear on the bourgeois nature of RPP, still makes certain concessions to the notion of a ‘movement away from leftism' by this group. But our own internal discussions on opportunism and centrism[1] and a further acquaintance with the history and positions of RPP (thanks largely to the work of the CI comrades), enabled us to close the door finally on any notion that leftist groups as such can pass from one camp to the other. As it states in the resolution on opportunism and centrism from the 6th ICC Congress (see IR 44):

"The collective passages of a political organism that is already structured or in formation in the existing parties can necessarily only take place in one direction: from parties of the proletariat to the bourgeoisie, and never in the opposite direction: from bourgeois parties to the proletariat."

A brief survey of RPP's pre-history makes it clear that this group was always a "structured political organism" of the bourgeoisie. At the beginning of World War 2, the Revolutionary Socialist Party of India was formed, in rupture with the Indian Communist Party, but not at all on a proletarian basis: on the contrary, the policy of the RSP was to fight for the ‘national liberation' of India by allying itself with Brit­ain's enemies - German and Japanese imperialism. The overt integration of the RSP into left front governments in ‘independent' India led to a split in 1969, giving rise to the RSPI (ML), which was characterized by some very radical-sounding pos­itions (denouncing Russia, China, the CPs, and even the unions as capitalist), but which never criticized the nationalist origins of the RSP. RPP was formed at the beginning of the ‘80s from a split in RSPI (ML): again, not to defend class positions, but in reaction against the RSPI (ML)'s: "ultra-leftist deviations" (to quote RPP in Proletarian Emancipation, December ‘85). In particular, RPP defined itself from the beginning as a staunch defender of the trade unions as basic workers' organizations, and has never wavered from this: significantly, the union question was at the heart of the split with Lal Pataka. Neither did RPP ever put into question the nationalist ancestry of the group, or the dogma of the ‘right of nations to self-determin­ation'. The whole trajectory of RPP and its forbearers thus contains moments in the radicalization of leftism, but never a qualitative break from its bourgeois starting point.

RPP's encounter with groups from the proletar­ian camp has not shifted this trajectory. While the IBRP, repeating the errors it made with Iranian leftism, has persisted in relating to RPP as though it were a confused proletarian group, RPP itself is in a way more conscious that it has nothing to do with the communist movement. Despite the IBRP's protestations that RPP shouldn't mix them up with the ICC, RPP has now publically denounced both these revolutionary organizations as ‘petty bourgeois anarchists', and has identified itself with the CP of Iran and the American ‘ex'-Maoists of the Organization for a Marxist-Leninist Workers' Party. Moreover, the picture painted in the IBRP's Communist Review (No 3) of RPP ‘disintegrating' under the impact of the Bureau's positions, seems to be completely false. It's true that Lal Pataka (which, significantly enough, existed before joining RPP and always had a certain autonomy within it) has left to defend proletarian posit­ions, but the departure of a small number of elements has not resulted in the collapse of RPP, which as far as we can ascertain still has several hundred members and a certain implantation in the union apparatus (another small split which took place at the same time as Lal Pataka's, in Nagpur, was entirely on a leftist basis, as their elements want to defend the CP of Iran's position on the ‘democratic revolution' and are openly opposed to the positions of the communist left, as we discovered by meeting them).

In our discussions with the Lal Pataka comrade in December ‘85, it became clear that he had already advanced beyond the positions of the IBRP and his own former position expressed in Lal Pataka's final text within RPP (published in CR 3), which is where he calls for RPP to adopt the platform of the IBRP. We pointed to the ambiguity of this text, and of the fact that the comrade had not himself formally left RPP, but had been ‘suspended' by them on the basis of various trumped-up organizational charges. We emphasized the need for a clearer statement in the next issue of the paper, denouncing RPP as leftist (as he now characterized it) and pro­claiming his break from it. We also argued that the name of the paper be changed in order to indicate this total break in continuity.

One of the positive outcomes of our discussions with Lal Pataka was expressed in a letter to the ICC following our visit:

"We are preparing a statement about our present positions in Bengali for Lal Pataka which will clearly define our total break from leftism; we have no confusion that the rump of the RPP is a left-capitalist group ... Although an eclectic group in political transition, the RPP had at least one positive point in its attitude when it stated itself to be a draft platform which ‘... may be suitably changed and improved through discussions and analyses of the objective material conditions prevailing in India and the world at large ...' However in reality the majority faction of the CC of RPP has refused to face up to the political and organizational implication of completing the break with the counter-revolution ... Thus the rump of the RPP remains a faction of the capitalist left, the inevitable result of which is the splintering of the organization itself. Lal Pataka leaves behind its prehistory - the history of left-capitalism." (28.12. '85)

In our reply to Lai Pataka we welcomed the intention to publish a statement defining RPP as a "left capitalist group." On the other hand, as we pointed out in our reply, Lal Pataka's formulations retain a number of confusions:

"When you say "although an eclectic grouping in political transition, the RPP at least had one positive point in its attitude, etc ... you avoid the issue of the bourgeois nature of this group from the beginning. RPP did not begin its life as a break, however confused, however eclectic, from leftism ... As a well-structured leftist group with a certain implantation in the union apparatus, it could not, by definition, be ‘in evolution' towards anything except a more radical form of leftism.

By talking about the ‘rump' of the RPP, you give the impression that it is only now that the RPP can be clearly defined as leftist. In fact what is left after your departure is not a rump but ... the RPP." (4.2. '86)

Nevertheless, this discussion is a fruitful one because it poses a vital question facing the entire revolutionary movement: the need for a coherent method for grasping the relationship and distinction between bourgeois and proletar­ian organizations.

The discussions between Lal Pataka, CI and ICC in West Bengal were held in a very fraternal atmosphere, and we were able to talk construct­ively about the proposed conference of emerging revolutionary elements, in the preparations for which Lal Pataka has played a galvanizing role. We think that these discussions indicate the possibility of overcoming sectarianism, of confronting divergences in a context of funda­mental class solidarity. We do not for a moment water-down our criticism of opportunism and confusionism wherever it appears in the prolet­arian camp, but neither must we forget the under­lying unity of interests between the different components of the revolutionary movement, because at root this unity expresses the indivisibility of the interests of the proletariat as a whole.

Majdoor Mukti

Through Lal Pataka we entered into contact with another group, based in Calcutta: Majdoor Mukti (Workers' Emancipation), which has appeared recently in a somewhat ‘spontaneous' manner, breaking with the leftist milieu essentially on the question of the party and class consciousness. In a political environment dominated by the left­ist version of ‘Leninist' views on organization, it is significant indeed that a group should arise which, in its founding statement, contains positions such as:

"Against attempts at replacing the role of the working class in its own emancipation by various self-styled liberating agents the communists must consistently advocate that the emancipation of the working class or the build­ing of socialism is impossible without the self-conscious activity of the proletarian masses from below."

or again:

"Against usurpation and monopolization of political power by so-called communist parties and designating that power as proletarian power the communists should bluntly declare that party power is not and can never be synonymous to workers' power..."

In fact, of the seven basic principles elab­orated in the statement, at least five of them are criticisms of substitutionist conceptions. While showing a healthy preoccupation with the need for workers' self-organization, this is still an imbalance which demonstrates - in a country lacking any councilist traditions - the immense pressure of councilism on today's prol­etarian movement. Furthermore, councilist fixat­ions do not represent a bulwark against leftism, on the contrary. From the group's statement and our discussions with them, it is clear that the group doesn't see the dividing line between left­ism and the proletarian movement, a difficulty compounded by its confusions between substitutionism (an error within the proletarian camp) and the anti-proletarian behavior of the capitalist left; that, although it insists that "socialism has not yet been achieved in any part of the world whatsoever," it has hesitations in defining Russia, China, etc, as capitalist states; that, having no clear conception of decadence, it is extremely fuzzy on the nature of unions, reform­ism, etc.

For these and other reasons, it is obvious that the group's break with leftism is far from complete. But we could hardly expect anything else from a group which initially arose without any direct reference to the existing communist forces. What permits us to hope that this group can throw off its leftist and councilist influences is its confidence in the revolutionary capacities of the working class; its rejection of nationalism and emphasis on the international tasks of the prol­etariat; its defense of the need for communist organizations, and a communist party, to inter­vene actively in all the struggles of the class; and, last but not least, its open attitude, its willingness to discuss with and learn from the groups of the revolutionary milieu.

Conferences of revolutionaries

The appearance of these groupings in India expresses a real ferment in the proletariat's avant-garde. It is absolutely essential that the relationships between the components of this milieu be established on a serious and organized basis, to permit the necessary con­frontation of ideas, to allow for practical cooperation and solidarity. We thus wholeheartedly support the proposal of Lal Pataka to organize conferences for these emerging elements. Though unable to attend the initial meeting, the ICC sought to make its political presence felt by sending a declaration to the conference:

-- stressing the importance of the conference by situating it in today's period of accelerat­ing crisis and class struggle;

-- supporting the choice of its essential theme, ‘the foundations and implications of capitalist decadence', ie in that an understanding; of decad­ence is indispensable in the elaboration of the class frontiers which separate the proletariat from the bourgeoisie. At the same time, we emphasized the need to avoid academic debates and to apply the concept of decadence to the present unfolding of reality and the resulting tasks of revolutionaries (in conjunction with CI, the ICC submitted to the conferences three of its published texts on crisis theory, the proletarian struggle in decadence, and the present international situation);

-- calling on the conferences to adopt criteria for future participation ‘broad' enough to keep it open to all emerging proletarian elements, but ‘narrow' enough to exclude radical leftists;

-- insisting on the need for the conference not to be ‘dumb' but to take positions through joint resolutions, to clearly define areas of agreement and disagreement;

-- defending the need for the conference to open up to the international revolutionary milieu, particularly by publishing its results in English;

-- pointing out the link between this conference and the need for an international forum for debate between revolutionaries. As the declarat­ion puts it:

"Although the 1976-80 conferences collared under the weight of the prevailing sectarianism in the milieu, we think that the resurgence of class struggle and the appearance of new revolut­ionary groups in a number of countries (India, Austria, Mexico, Argentina...) is again confirm­ing the need for an organized international framework for discussions and activities within the proletarian milieu. Even if a new cycle of international conferences is not yet an immediate possibility, the meetings in India, by breaking out of fragmentation and sectarianism, can play their part in the development of new and more fruitful conferences at the international level in the future."

The development of the revolutionary movement in India can thus be a factor in vitalizing the whole international milieu, It is a confirmation of the profound promise contained within today's period; an encouragement to revolutionaries everywhere; a clear indication of the need for the revolutionary organizations in the heartlands to live up to their international responsibilit­ies. For its part, the ICC has no doubt that it must do everything it can to support and stimul­ate the work of all our comrades in the ‘Indian section' of the world proletarian movement.


[1] See IR 43, ‘Discussion: Opportunism and Centrism in the Working Class and its Organizations'; IR 44 ‘Resolution Adopted on Opportunism and Centrism in the Period of Decadence' and rejected resolution on ‘Centrism and the Political Organizations of the Proletariat'.