August 09, 2020

Special Congress 1958: On the Back of Electoral Victories and Intense Debates

THE period from 1957 was one of gradually intensifying debate inside the Communist Party over fundamental ideological issues. However, the Party put aside all its ideological differences and rallied unitedly in the fight to defeat the Congress Party in the second general elections held in 1957. Though the Congress retained power at the centre and in all states, except Kerala, a massive change took place in the political landscape of the country.

In 1957, the Communist Party doubled its votes since the first general elections (1951-52) and had emerged as the second largest Party in terms of both the seats won and votes secured. The Party won a majority in Kerala and emerged as a major opposition party in Andhra and West Bengal. The Party won seats in every state legislature in the country, whereas earlier, it had none in several states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. In most of the industrial and working class centres, the Party had performed well. Even in those states where the Party was a negligible force, its votes had increased considerably. Overall, the Party secured over 11 per cent of the vote share and 12 million votes. The number of seats won by the Party would have been much more higher, if they were calculated in proportion to the votes polled.

Reviewing these election results, the Party thanked the people’s faith in the Party and identified certain weakness that needed to be overcome. It noted the increase in the number of seats and votes secured by communal parties like the Jan Sangh, specially in states like Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, where the feudal forces are dominant. They had gained ground in states like Orissa, where the communist movement and other progressive and democratic sections are weak. The Party also noted that in many rural areas it had failed to win seats and pointed out the need to further strengthen the Kisan Sabha and the Party among the peasants.

Immediately after the general elections, the Party Central Committee gave a call to double the Party membership, with an effort to build a ‘mass party’. Due to the general elections, the Party could not hold the Plenum that was decided by the Central Committee to address various political, ideological and organisational issues. Instead of the Plenum, it was decided to organise a Special Congress of the Party immediately after the elections. Accordingly the Fifth Congress of the Party, a Special Congress, was held in Amritsar from April 6-13, 1958.

The Special Congress, apart from discussing and adopting the political resolution and organisational report, had discussed and adopted the Party Constitution. The preamble of the Party Constitution declared that its aim is the ‘establishment of People’s Democracy led by the working class, based on the alliance of the working class and peasantry, and the realisation of socialism and communism’. Further, it stated that the Party will ‘fight against all obscurantist conceptions and practices such as communalism, caste, untouchability and the denial of equal rights to women’. In this struggle for the establishment of a socialist society, the constitution vowed to combat tendencies of ‘revisionism, dogmatism and sectarianism in all their manifestations’ and work out its policies by applying Marxism-Leninism to Indian conditions, ‘taking into account India’s history and its national peculiarities as well as the best traditions of the Indian people’.

In spite of its stated intention to fight revisionism, sectarianism, the constitution contained a reflection of these very tendencies that were found in sections of the Party. It declared that the Party, ‘by winning majority in the parliament and by backing it with mass actions’, can ‘overcome the resistance of the forces of reaction and ensure that parliament becomes an instrument of people’s will’ and bring about a ‘fundamental change in the economic, social and State structure’. This reveals the parliamentary illusions that had crept into the Party, particularly after the 1957 election results.

Another reflection of revisionist organisational principles introduced in the Party Constitution was the changes brought out in the way the committees were being constituted. A three-tier structure – the national council, central executive committee and the secretariat – was introduced. This had led to members spending much of their time in participating in various meetings at different levels, rather than working for the implementation of the decisions taken in such meetings. In the name of inner-party democracy, the number of members in these committees was also increased with no concern for political and ideological standards. Territorial representation and membership alone were taken into consideration, with no consideration for the nature, character and the depth of the revolutionary movement. Thus a revisionist understanding began to manifest itself in organisational practices.
The constitution prescribed twelve duties to the Party members – regular participation in Party activities, study of Marxism-Leninism, read and support Party journals, observe Party discipline, serve the masses, comradely relations with one another, practice of criticism and self-criticism, deepen the understanding of the traditions of Indian people and their rich cultural heritage.
Similarly, it guaranteed every Party member seven rights – to get elected to Party organs and committees, participate freely in discussions and contribute to the formulation of Party policy, criticise Party committees and functionaries at Party meetings and submit their opinion to the higher committees. It had also elaborated the principles of democratic centralism and how they would be applied in the Party.
The Congress decided to bring some radical changes in mass activity and style of mass work, by ensuring that the basic units of the Party – branches – become the leaders of people in their struggles for a better life. The Party decided to carry out sustained activity in every sphere so that ‘for every job there are comrades and for every comrade there is a job’.
The Congress decided to increase the number of whole timers, review their work regularly, ensure their minimum needs were met by paying them adequate wages and meeting their medical expenses. Along with whole timers, the Congress also resolved to ensure that the vast majority of Party members do not remain inactive, a characteristic feature of that period. Improving Party education, production of popular literature and running of political schools for cadre to strengthen their all India consciousness were planned. The way Party conducts agitation was also sought to be improved. The Congress deplored that various papers run by the Party carry articles that are lifeless, with lots of jargon and without adequate presentation of facts. Even the resolutions adopted by the Party are lengthy and not precise. ‘We have to speak and write with the consciousness of growing into a mass party, a party to which millions of people look for guidance’.
The Congress also self-critically apprised the functioning of the leadership at all levels. The organisational resolution noted that the leadership should grow in maturity and ability to meet the demands of the movement and proper functioning of committees at all levels has to be ensured. Modesty, tolerance, comradely behaviour, attention to criticism, overcoming the divergence between decisions and their implementation, between profession and practice, combating individualism and strengthening discipline are identified as priority tasks before the Party. The Congress noted that bureaucratic indifference to criticism and suggestions from below had become a characteristic feature in the Party, along with fissiparous tendencies like ‘frontism, federalism and localism’. The Congress resolved to combat all these tendencies. The Congress also criticised all those who were questioning the principles of democratic centralism and dictatorship of proletariat stating that these were expressions of revisionism that need to be fought.

However, much of what was prescribed, was not implemented. In the name of building a mass party and recruiting members in proportion to the votes secured, there was a dilution in the norms for recruiting members. All these led to the gradual strengthening of revisionist tendencies inside the Party.

The Political Resolution noted the growing working class struggles during this period, particularly that of the post and telegraph workers, which won the demand of the second pay commission. Members of the Party working in the AITUC played an important role in forging united trade union struggles. It also noted the struggle for the oil refinery in Assam, in which the Party played a prominent part.

The political resolution supported the shift in the foreign policy pursued by the government of India and also certain ‘progressive content’ in the Second Five Year Plan that talked about rapid industrialisation of the country.

During this period, another bourgeois-landlord party, the Swatantra Party, was formed, then an insignificant force. This development was sought to be used by the reformist section of the Party to line up with the Congress, treating the emergence of the Swatantra Party as the biggest danger. The Amritsar Congress, put cold water on this line, explaining that it was the reactionary and anti-people policy of the Congress government that had given rise to anti-national, extreme right forces in economic and political life, which could not be defeated without a simultaneous battle waged with determination and vigour against the anti-people policies of the government.

Differences persisted even after the adoption of the political resolution in the Amritsar Congress. The softening of the attitude towards the Congress pursued by the reformist section in the Party was rudely shocked by the dismantling of the Communist government in Kerala. Nevertheless, their shock was only short-lived and they continued on their reformist path.