Historically, these questions raised by her have been part of intense debates within communist parties in India and the world but the answers remain elusive.

Kavita KrishnanFacebook
Voices Politics Wednesday, September 14, 2022 - 14:16

Kavita Krishnan, a prominent face of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation, who has now been relieved of all the positions she held in the party including its primary membership, created a major stir in Left circles in India after she denounced the party’s position on some of its most dearly held icons, including Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong. But there is nothing new about the ideological and political questions raised by Kavita. Neither do they pertain to a specific communist party. There are also no convincing answers to these questions.

Kavita, a Marxist, feminist and civil rights activist, raised relevant questions on some of the political and ideological positions of the party, popularly known as the CPI(ML), that she represented till recently. While such debates questioning the communist’dogmas’ from within are often celebrated by the dissenting communists and democrats as an attempt to democratise communism, the anti-communist camp often uses them as a testimony against the “despotism” they consider inherent in the ideology. It is also true that the possibility of a fruitful debate is short-circuited often by the party collectives as people who raise such questions are labelled as either impetuous or renegades. On the other hand, the political opportunism shown by the person who raises such questions, many a times, also contributes to their marginalisation. 

Such developments make probing uncomfortable questions much more difficult within party structures. One could only hope the party and individuals involved in the present episode shall not follow that path. Historically, these questions have been part of intense debates within communist parties in India and the world. The answers remain elusive but the questions have become more complex, post the collapse of the erstwhile Soviet Union and the strengthening of capitalism. 

Kavita’s questions have an immediate context. It is the “inexplicable soft corner” that some of the communist parties show towards Russia in their analysis of Putin's war on Ukraine. While the Communist parties and Left intellectuals could easily identify the US-led NATO’s expansionist interests in the ongoing war, there is an expressed reluctance or negation of Putin's neo-czarist and fascist ambitions behind the aggression on Ukraine.

That the same yardstick of occupation of a weak country by a powerful state be considered as imperialist aggression needs to be applied to Putin's Russia, is not only a logical question but also a political question that needs to be raised. When it is the bounden duty of a communist to be on the side of the people under aggression, why is it that some communist parties are choosing the side of the aggressor just because of its communist past is another aspect that Kavita is perplexed about. When Putin’s officers officially admire fascism and use it as a model to install a new czarist regime in the region, she wonders why Putin is not considered as the principal enemy in the evolving political scenario.

Similar political criticism is extended to the calculated silence of many communist parties regarding China’s dictatorial regime run under the facade of Communism, which indulges in massive human rights violations and persecution of minorities. Likewise, there also exists the polarising question of why the “despotism” of Stalinist regime in the USSR is passed off as essentially a socialist one with inevitable flaws. If communism is all about expanding human freedoms, how different are fascist and Stalinist regimes in this accord? These are some of the extended ideological questions stemming from the present context of Putin’s war on Ukraine. 

While the sound political logic in the questions are obvious, one can also find in this narrative the reluctance to acknowledge the fascist admiration of the Zelensky regime in Ukraine and the support he derives from the native fascist organisations. Also important is the lack of emphasis in the narrative about the play of imperialist rivalry in the region between the US-led western imperialists and the China-Russia power block. Likewise, Kavita’s narrative also gives scope for apprehension that she is placing more premium on the corrective potential of capitalist democracy than that of socialism.

One can have different opinions about each of these narratives or their various aspects but still one fails to understand how raising them renders further debate and journey together impossible. This is the reason why the explanations provided by Kavita Krishnan and the party in the public domain does not seem convincing.

Nevertheless, it would be fruitful to locate these questions in the historical polemic around how to evolve a socialist democracy in post-revolutionary societies after defeating the feudal-capitalist regimes. The question of democracy in socialism has now become cardinal not only for communists but also for all those who aspire for the onward march of democracy towards socialism. 

To understand such debates and the practice of the communists on this question one should visit its theory of transition from capitalism to socialism.

The pure theory of transformation to socialism as conceived and practised by the communists is this:

The socialist and democratic revolutions led by communists, after defeating the feudal-capitalist regimes, bring in basic changes in the economy and property relations by ensuring equitable distribution of resources through a new revolutionary state machinery under the leadership of the communist party. But society will still have many classes and class antagonism. The defeated classes conspire to defeat the revolution by hatching counter-revolution. It then becomes incumbent upon the new revolutionary state to use coercion to suppress the erstwhile exploiting classes and defend the revolution. This necessarily requires the dictatorship of the working class to exercise coercion on the exploiter and ensure maximum possible freedom and democracy for the rest of the society.

It is this threat of counter revolution which is offered as theoretical justification for the non-feasibility of a multi-party democratic system in the period of transition, and the necessity of single party rule in communist countries.

While this theory has sound historical and political grounding, whether the erstwhile socialist regimes and the present day China really followed this path has been a subject matter of serious debate and critique within the communist camp itself.  

In fact, Mao Zedong of China made a scathing critique of the Soviet economy and warned of capitalist restoration and emergence of elite party aristocracy which would transform communist party into an instrument of bureaucratic capitalism. He conceptualised a theory of continuous revolution even after capture of state power. Unlike the soviet communists, Mao acknowledged the existence of different classes and possibility of emergence of new antagonistic contradictions and its reflection in the party structures.He also identified major sources of such contradiction like the ones between intellectual and physical labour, rural and urban, industry and agriculture, backward production relations and advanced forces of production. This creates the need for continuation of class struggle in the society and also within the party. The cultural revolution led by Mao during the late 60’s was one such attempt, which being a great experiment was also a great failure entailing a great amount of anarchy and human miseries. Other communists also committed similar purges.

As recently as in the beginning of this century, the Prachanda faction of Nepali Maoists tried to experiment with multi-party democracy, ahead of ‘revolution’, but did not succeed. The parliamentary communist parties in India and most parts of the world have been relegated to insignificance in multi-party democracies. The recent rejection of the new progressive constitution by the people of Chile provided by the communist-led multi-party government, and the neoliberal compromises by the Left-of-centre governments in many Latin American countries also demonstrate the near impossibility of pursuing socialist policies, through the existing state apparatus, in multi-party democracies. 

The possibility of multi-party democracy after the revolution might facilitate counter-revolution, since the exploiting class relations still remain, within the post revolutionary societies which could receive support from the surrounding capitalist world. But on the other hand, the single party state under the proletariat has proved its vulnerability to degenerate into a dictatorship of bureaucratic capital.

Communist history, so far, has only shown us how difficult the question of realising a socialist democracy is, instead of providing answers.  

Ambedkar had also recognised such predicament  in his seminal work “State and Minorities” and had offered a different solution. While explaining the indivisible trinity of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, he conceded that economic equality could only be achieved through coercion, but unlike class violence he preferred a constitutional coercion, by making equality a part of  fundamental rights. But this scheme envisaged a state where the executive and the judiciary would implement such a constitution in earnest. Not the Corporate, Brahminical Hindutva State which exists today. Ambedkar was only successful in including substantial economic and social rights only under the Directive Principles of State Policies which are not justiciable in a court of law. 

Given the Brahmanical social order permeating the Indian society which divides it into exclusive caste groups hierarchically, a socialist democracy in India is impossible without annihilation of caste. Given the shape-shifting elasticity of the Brahminical caste system, the caste order has all the potential to reinvent itself. Fraternity being so alien to the caste system, the realisation of socialist democracy by achieving annihilation of caste  in India would be much more complicated .

To realise equality, a certain amount of coercion is deemed necessary across different socialist spectrums. But if the state is given power of coercion, how to control it and who will control it is the question. The communist theory foresaw a class dictatorship, where the state machinery will be supervised by the exploited classes. The communist party would mediate as the people's instrument in doing so. But in almost all ‘existing socialisms’ this power exercised by the party slowly gave rise to a new aristocracy. Class dictatorship collapsed into party dictatorship and further to dictatorship of leadership and in some cases a supreme leader.

History has proved that only noble intentions and good sentiments cannot be an insurance against  degeneration. The processes and structures to ensure accountability of the state and the freedom of the people should therefore be institutionalised in post-revolutionary societies in more earnest ways than in the capitalist democracies. Unless the people at large are enlightened and empowered to exercise such supervision of the transition to socialism any or all of the measures can bitterly fail in ushering socialist democracy.

While the questions raised by Kavita Krishnan need to be debated not only by the communists but also by all those who are interested in the onward march of democracy towards socialism, no immediate or complete answers are possible. Eternal vigilance, debate, dissent and practice are the only steps possible at this historical juncture.

(The author is an activist and freelance journalist. Views expressed are author’s own)

Become a TNM Member for just Rs 999!
You can also support us with a one-time payment.