The news that the Communist Party of China is celebrating its centenary sparked two memories. The first was of a conversation with a “lapsed” communist. It was in the late ’80s and he was a member of an organisation that called itself the “purest communist party”, at least in India.
While attending the meeting of one its state committees in Bangalore, a report about an incident from the student protests in Beijing came up for discussion. Someone had thrown paint on a portrait of Chairman Mao on Tiananmen Square in Beijing. In response to the news, a senior leader of the party on stage suddenly burst out in anger and gave his judgment: the culprits should be hanged.
Defacing the portrait of Mao was deemed an act of blasphemy, which called for nothing less than the death sentence. These words sent shivers down my friend’s spine. That turned out to be possibly his last day in the party.
A heavy hand
I was in Patna then and was active on various fronts of the Communist Party of India, a party not considered sufficiently red by other communist parties. When the news of the Tiananmen Square protests reached us, we were filled with hope. What could be better after glasnost and perestroika, which had ushered in democracy in the Soviet Union. But after the initial democratic hesitation, the Chinese Communist Party decided to crush the protest with a heavy hand.
Stunned by this brutal response I, who had no memory of Hungary or Czechoslovakia, hurried to Ajay Bhawan, my party headquarters, hoping that my senior leaders would share my anguish. In an agitated tone, I proposed that the party should issue a statement condemning the suppression of the popular movement by the Chinese government.
A senior comrade, a gentleman to the core, looked at me curiously and said, “Comrade, had we been in the position of the Chinese Party, we would have done the same.”
This from a leader of a party that had allegiances to the Soviet Bloc and was not known for nursing any sympathies for the Chinese Communist Party. I was almost crushed. Look back, I feel I had missed the irony in my elder comrade’s response.
It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that we had understood that Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov was prophetic and not a lunatic as a Progress Publication book had persuaded us to believe. We had started reading other books, but which we believed to be Central Investigation Agency propaganda. Those books eventually led people like me out of the party fold. (I will accept though, that despite all this history, the various communist parties perform an important role in the democratic set up of India)
But those words keep ringing in my head, “Had we been in the position of the Chinese Party, we would have done the same.” I shudder to think, what would have happened to renegades like me.
All these memories came back to me when the bell rang for the centenary celebrations of the Communist Party of China. It was only natural for the communist parties of India to respond to the occasion. One does not know whether all the communist parties were invited to participate in the celebrations by the Chinese Communist Party. But comradely feelings do not wait for an invitation to be expressed. After all they are essentially internationalist in orientation.
After the fall of the Soviet Bloc, it was only China that could save the honour of the communists across the world and help claim that the communist dream was not yet over and being lived by the largest population on Earth. The Chinese Communist Party has been ruling China for more than 70 years, a record for any political party in the world. Yes, the Workers’ Party of Korea in North Korea does compete with the Chinese Communist Party for this honour. But then we know that there are no political parties in China with which the Chinese Communist Party would have to compete with for power. And it has an ideological army to safeguard its interests.
How does a democratic political party react to a situation like this? How can communist parties that have been enjoying the freedom of a parliamentary democracy for more than seven decades congratulate a party that has not allowed any individual voices to exist in China? Can one imagine a democratic party congratulating a Nazi party on its foundation day?
I know that I will be hauled over the coals for comparing a “people’s party” with a Nazi one. But even the Nazi party claimed that it not only represented but also owned the people and that people and party were synonymous. So, by supporting the Chinese Communist Party blindly, we are being asked to respect the will’of the Chinese people, who have allowed the party to speak and act on their behalf for all these years.
However, the Indian communist parties have joined the Chinese Communist Party in the celebration of its centenary. The Communist Party of India, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) all congratulated the Chinese Communist Party for completing 100 years. Of these 100 years, it has been ruling China for 72 years.
Imagine a people’s democracy that has only one political party. A party, responsible for the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, both resulting in the death of millions of Chinese people. The intent behind them was noble, has been the argument. The deaths of millions are a matter of detail. After the Sinicisation of Tibet, the systematic genocidal violence against the Uighurs is yet another chapter that does embarrass some communists. Yet it is not horrifying enough for our communist parties to stop holding the Chinese party’s blood-stained hands or saluting it .
In its congratulatory message, the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) reminded the Chinese party that it owed its existence to them. “The armed agrarian revolution in China was a major source of inspiration to the great Telangana struggle and later the Naxalbari movement,” it said. “During the International Great Debate of the early 1960s, the CPC led Marxist-Leninists across the world in the struggle against modern revisionism and this contributed a lot to the emergence of the CPI(ML) in India.”
A lot has been written about the claims of the Naxalbari movement and how violence was fetishised by its ideologues. This is not an occasion to talk about it nor do we have space to discuss the modern revisionism the Chinese Communist Party was fighting against.
It is interesting to see that the Communist Party of India (Marxist Leninist), however, expresses its disappointment over the fact that it does not see “any attempt at course correction, especially with regard to the party’s handling of collective or individual protests, nationality movements in Tibet and Xinjiang regions as well as autonomy movements in Hong Kong and Macau, and the treatment of the Uighur Muslim minority population. The growing extension of the surveillance state is also a cause for concern.”
“Course correction?” We are expected to treat the suppression of the autonomy movement in Hong Kong and Macau or brutalisation of the Uighar Muslims as aberrations, deviation from the main course on which the party has stayed all along? In the usual course of things, the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) does not mince its words about such matters domestically.
For example, it would never write about “the Bharatiya Janata Party’s handling of the movement against the Citizenship Amendment Act”: it would describe this as the “suppression of the anti-CAA movement”. It is also strange that the party has not deemed it fit to talk about the regimentation of the campuses and criminalisation of independent thought in China.
And yet, the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) does see something wrong happening at the top of the Chinese Communist Party: “President Xi’s speech describes the ‘leadership of the Party’, in particular ‘the core position of the General Secretary on the Party Central Committee and in the Party as a whole’; as well as the need to ‘follow the leadership core, and keep in alignment with the central Party leadership’, as ‘the defining feature of socialism with Chinese characteristics’. This is a distortion of the Marxism-Leninist principle of democratic centralism, which does not fetishise the role of the Party General Secretary in this fashion; nor does it equate the country or the state with the party. The touchstone for socialism can only be the control of the immediate producers (workers and peasants) over the means of production and the fruits of their labour.”
The message from the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) shows an independent mind that is trying to be ethically and politically right and also consistent with its domestic stand on such issues without being unpleasant to its source of inspiration, the Chinese Communist Party.
The greeting by the general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) to the Chinese Communist Party is pathetic in its silence on all these issues. There is no mention of Hong Kong, Macau, Uighur Muslims or the suppression of freedom of thought and expression. How could a party that fights against majoritarian nationalism, against the suppression of the freedom of expression and saffronisation of education in its own country remain silent about similar phenomena elsewhere?
Hasn’t the Communist Party of India (Marxist) supported the Black Lives Matter movement in the US? If the party decides to omit references to similar campaigns in China, what message does it send to its own ordinary party workers? Wouldn’t they would think that all these charges against the Chinese Communist Party are fiction, that this is propaganda against a rising socialist economy?
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) faithfully copies and echoes the claims of the Chinese Communist Party: “The CPI(M) is heartened to learn that the CPC has reached the landmark completion of one of the centennial goals of building China into a ‘moderately prosperous society in all respects’. China has accomplished the yearning of the Chinese people for nearly 2500 years of pursuing ‘xiaokang’ – a peaceful and happy life.”
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) admires China’s growing stature in world affairs: “The over four decades of reforms and opening up adopted by the CPC since 1978 has achieved stupendous successes, outstripping the capitalist economic ‘miracles’ of the 20th century – Germany, Japan and South Korea. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) is very close to emerging as the world’s biggest economy.”
While the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) was surprised that “President Xi’s speech even remained silent on the far-reaching crisis arising out of the ongoing Covid19 pandemic, which incidentally had originated in China”, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) thinks otherwise.
“The exemplary manner in which the PRC [People’s Republic of China] tackled and contained the Covid pandemic, reopened its society and economy with requisite protections and put the economy back on a growth trajectory is a lesson for the world, establishing the superiority of socialism as a system compared to capitalism. Even through the Covid pandemic the PRC has been able to maintain average GDP growth rate of 9.2 per cent over the four decades since 1978.”
(Note the words, “the superiority of socialism as a system”.)
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) applauds the vision of the Chinese Communist Party, “The proposals that form the agenda for this summit on the theme “For the People’s Well-Being and Responsibilities of Political Parties” are both laudable and noble.”
But it feels that if the party does not succeed here, responsibility would lie elsewhere. “However, to achieve the realisation of these proposals, the bitter realities that confront the world’s people and systems must be recognised,” it said. “Particularly, the hectic ongoing efforts for strengthening US global hegemony in the post-Covid world.”
The statement of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) does not mention democracy once, something for which its leaders would die in India, nor does it talk about the rights of the minority or human rights which are of utmost importance for it in India.
A nationalist project
Apart from these official statements, at least two articles marking the occasion were published by two left intellectuals. Prabhat Patnaik, the economist, does not share the view of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) about China building a socialist economy. “China’s development trajectory since the 1980s has not been oriented towards building socialism in the sense of creating a community within which the individual can lead an unalienated life; it has not even been oriented towards achieving full employment and eliminating poverty. Its orientation has rather been towards making China into a big power,” he wrote in The Indian Express.
Patnaik is very clear, “Its project has been essentially nationalist rather than socialist.”
Why has China chosen this path? Please do not hold the Chinese Communist Party responsible, Patnaik seems to argue. The nationalist turn in China “has been caused by the ever-present threat of imperialism, of domination, that is, by metropolitan powers”.
The article talks about the inequalities in China and feels that it is a mistake to think that the socialist path would not have been effective but again concludes at a realist note: “…the fact of encirclement is real, as numerous US initiatives, from the now-defunct Trans-Pacific Partnership to the Quad, testify”.
Should it disappoint us that Patnaik fails to tell us what this nationalism is? How is it different from the nationalist path India has taken? Would it be going to far o expect him to mention the crimes that the communist party has committed on the people of China, which can even be termed as crimes against humanity? He, being an economist, could at least have talked about the abysmal labour rights situation in China, about how in Special Economic Zones, which he would oppose in India, labour is almost treated as slaves, about the restrictions on their movements.
We did not find any sign of aversion to the state-driven child policies imposed on the people of China. The Chinese Communist Party does not see them as free agents. They are simply cogs in the giant wheel of the Chinese economy. Each of them exists only to make China a great nation.
Patnaik does not feel it necessary to talk about the dictatorship that the Chinese Communist Party has established. He does not talk about education at all. He talks like a hardcore economist who does not digress to political issues.
Manoranjan Mohanty does talk about the success trap into which China has fallen and also about China’s democratic problem. But the persecution of Uighurs or minorities fails to find a mention here and the complete control on the minds of the people too escapes Mohanty’s attention.
One can see our left parties being polite to the Chinese Communist Party in matters they would never spare their own governments and our left intellectuals trying to find a language in which they are safely critical of the Chinese experiment.
None of them had the compulsion that diplomacy imposes on governments where they cannot call a spade a spade. The only inference to draw from this is that once they are in power, communist parties do not really believe in the niceties of democracy, which in turn makes their commitment to the concept in their own country somewhat doubtful.
Apoorvanand teaches Hindi at Delhi University.
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