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From Petty Rivalries To Armed Struggle: A History Of Rifts In India’s Communist Parties

It’s been 97 years since the formation of the Communist Party of India (CPI) in Tashkent. Today, there are many communist parties in India and most of these parties don’t have any footprints in electoral politics. Some of the parties have adopted the path of armed struggle. Most of these parties were formed out of splits from another party. A question arises here – have the splits in the communist parties weakened the communist movement in India?

At the time of the formation of the CPI in 1920, two prominent leaders in the party were MN Roy and Abani Mukherji. They started out as friends but soon, after the formation of the party, became bitter enemies. So, the incident of splitting in the communist parties had already started back in that era.

This fight between the two leaders resulted in an expulsion of Abani Mukherji from the party. The main reason behind his expulsion was his alleged lying. Later, MN Roy was also expelled from the Comintern for “contributing to the Brandler press”. The communist movement in India suffered badly due to these expulsions at the time. There was some serious leadership crisis, but this was the only the start.

In later years, there were some ideological differences in the party like the PC Joshi incident but the party stayed together in spite of differences. Ajoy Ghosh was the main man to hold the party together.

The first major split came in 1964 when the CPI split into two factions – the Communist Party of India and Communist Party of India (Marxist). The differences between the leadership intensified after Ajoy Ghosh’s death and at the time of the Sino-Indian war. There were mainly two groups in the party – leftist and rightist. There were also some centrist leaders. Some of the leftist leaders were AK Gopalan, P Sundarayya, M Basavapunnaiah, Jyoti Basu, BT Ranadive, while SA Dange, C Achuta Menon, MN Govindan Nair, Raj Sekhar Reddy were on the right side.

The tussle between these two groups took place at every point, from Rajya Sabha elections to party membership.In 1964, the CPI spilt into two parties when 32 members walked out from its national council meeting.

The CPI(M) was formed at the seventh congress of the Communist Party of India held in Kolkata, from October 31 to  November 7, 1964. The main reason for the split was the question regarding which political line the party should follow. The leftists took a pro-Chinese stand while the rightist were in favour of the Soviet Union line.

As a result of this split, the communist movement was damaged badly. Many supporters of the party took retirement. The two parties suffered the most in Andhra Pradesh where they performed poorly in the assembly election.

The CPI(M) did manage to win some state assembly elections later, but in states like Maharashtra, these parties lost their ground completely.

Many people would say that the split was due to ideological differences and they can glorify this but we have to also acknowledge that the communist movement in India suffered badly due to this split.

In 1967, there was another major turn in the communist movement when the events of Naxalbari exploded. Several men and women joined the movement, but the differences between the leadership had started even before the movement began.

For instance, there was a serious difference between Charu Mazumdar and Kanu Sanyal over individual assassinations. They formed the All India Coordination Committee of Communist Revolutionaries (AICCCR) in 1968 in which a good number of CPI(M) workers joined, mainly from West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh.

The CPI(M) lost a good number of cadres. In 1969, they formed a new party, the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) or the CPI(ML). After the first congress, the splitting began in full force. Sushital Roy Chowdhury was sidelined from the party due his differences with Charu Mazumdar. Charu Mazumdar had differences with the Andhra group led by Chandra Pulla Reddy. While Satyanarayan Singh and Ashim Chatterjee split away from the Charu Mazumdar group due to their own issues.

After Charu Mazumdar’s death in 1972, the CPI (ML) totally disintegrated. Many leaders found their own party. Almost in every state, there was a different faction of CPI(ML). The ‘original’ party was led by Mahadeb Mukherjee and Sharma, following the line of Charu Mazumdar. Later, these two leaders also parted ways on the question of the Lin Biao line. Sharma was expelled by Mukherjee and he found his own party.

In Andhra Pradesh, Kondapalli Seetharamiah started the CPI(ML) PW. He actually split away from the Central Organising Committee, Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist). The Naxalbari revolution failed and one of the major reasons of failure was the constant splits. Supporters were divided, they didn’t knew who was their leader and what was their tactical line.

After the splitting of the CPI, there were still differences within the party. SA Dange was challenged by several CPI leaders for his pro-Congress line and one of the main leaders who challenged him was Rajeswara Rao. Rajeswara Rao’s faction wanted a left unity and he was victorious in the eleventh party congress. Dange was continuously sidelined and later, he was expelled from the party in 1981.

On the other hand, things in the CPI(M) were much more stable, although some differences remained. In the year 2000, the party’s four time MP Saifuddin Choudhury was expelled from the party. Later, leaders like Somnath Chatterjee, and in recent times MP Ritabrata Banerjee, were also expelled. Again a story of splits, a story of damage.

Some expulsions were necessary for the party but not all. Many left leaders said that the communist movement was hugely affected by the 1964 CPI split. There were some rumors about merger of the CPI and the CPI(M). The CPI’s general secretary Sudhakar Reddy firmly believes that it will be possible for the two communist parties to unite in the future. The merger of these two parties is the need of the hour because the causes for the split (in 1964) are irrelevant today. For reviving the communist movement in India, there should be a merger.

We saw that the Maoist movement in India was intensified after the merger of Communist party of India (Marxist-Leninist) PW and Maoist Communist Centre of India in 2004.

Now, there is an ideological crisis in all the communist parties. These parties don’t have a clear political line. How many people have heard the name of Lin Biao? But a political party was broken on the question of whether it will adopt his line or not. There is a line in “The Communist Manifesto” that, “The communists do not form a separate party opposed to the other working-class parties” but what is happening is just the opposite.

Once, Marx said, “Workers of the world, unite!” but here in India, what needs to happen can be summed up by, “Communist leaders (parties) in India, unite!”

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