Sixth Congress – Last United Congress
THE intervening period between the Fifth Congress and the Sixth Congress saw many momentous developments in the political life of the country and also within the Communist Party. Two biggest events that had dominated the Indian political scene after the Amritsar Congress, were the developments in Kerala and the deterioration of India-China relations. While the Party unitedly launched protests against the dismissal of the Communist government in Kerala throughout the country, the later gave rise to serious differences inside the Party.
The campaign against the dismissal of the Communist government in Kerala grew into the biggest campaign ever conducted by the Party. It is in this situation that the border dispute between India and China was utilised by both the Congress Party and other reactionary forces to attack the Communist Party.
In spite of the virulent campaign against communists launched by the reactionary forces and the Congress Party, vast crowds greeted Comrade EMS Namboodiripad, in every state and far greater amounts of funds for the election campaign in Kerala were collected than expected by the Party. Though the Party lost in the state legislative elections (1960), it increased its voting percentage by nearly three points.
Apart from the betterment levy struggle in Punjab, in which the Party played an important role, in states like Tamil Nadu, Bihar and West Bengal, it had actively mobilised peasants on their concrete demands like land ceilings and amendments to the land reform legislations. Padayatras were organised in various states. In West Bengal, this movement forced the government to distribute lakhs of acres of land to the actual tillers, free of cost.
The Party also intervened in the central government employees’ strike of July 1960, the biggest working class action, after many years. For the first time, workers in all government services went on strike demanding a sliding scale of dearness allowance and minimum living wage. Defence establishments too participated in the strike and even railway services were hit. The Congress government unleashed severe repression. It had arrested more than 21,000 and killed seven workers. The Party self-critically reviewed that it could not mobilise public opinion in support of the workers as the Party centre failed to undertake adequate ideological and organisational preparations. These three years also witnessed many other working class actions where various trade unions had come together to launch united actions.
As a result of these struggles, the performance of the Party in various bye-elections was positive. Significant among them is the victory in Bhopal municipality. Together with its allies, the Party had won a majority in Bhopal municipal council. Similarly in Bombay corporation too, the Party won 18 seats, where it had contested elections as part of the Samyukta Maharashtra forum. This victory in Bombay was a reflection of the active role played by the Party in the formation of linguistic states – Gujarat and Maharashtra.
Between March 1959 and February 1961, the Party had issued ten statements detailing its position on India-China border dispute. These statements noted that the failed revolt of the forces led by Dalai Lama, aided and abetted by Chaing Kai Shek and the imperialist US, had, to a certain extent, damaged and disturbed the friendly relations between India and China. The reactionary forces in India, represented by the Hindu Mahasabha, Jan Sangh, the Swatantra Party and also the rightist elements in the Congress, distorted the developments in Tibet and used them to exploit the situation to further their own regressive agenda. They demanded the rebels to be given full freedom to continue their political activities against China, using India as a base and also permission to function as the ‘government of Tibet’. These forces attacked the foreign policy of the Indian government and also the Panch Sheel agreement between India and China. The Party noted that in this background, tensions flared up between the two countries and unfortunate incidents took place in the Himalayan region, where the borders were not clearly demarcated.
The Party expressed its hope that all the ‘controversies with regard to the border issue will be settled by mutual discussions’. It warned that imperialist forces were trying to utilise the discord between India and China to pressurise our country to abandon its independent foreign policy and also weaken Afro-Asian solidarity. The Party also noted that these developments were being ‘exploited for diverting people’s attention from the problems of their life and living and for disrupting and suppressing the country’s democratic movement’. While the Jan Sangh and other reactionary forces called for ‘a new foreign policy, a new defence minister and a new prime minister’, the Party opposed this call and urged for discussions at the highest political level for the resolution of the tensions. It welcomed the talks between Nehru and Chou En-lai, which lessened the tensions.
The Communist Party participated in the Moscow Conference of 81 Communist Parties, in November 1960, which adopted a statement after prolonged discussions. Representatives of the Party took an active part in the preparation of the statement and also in the Conference.
It was in such a background that the Sixth Congress of the Party was held from April 7-16, 1961 in Vijayawada. 439 delegates and 17 non-voting delegates and observers attended the Congress, representing a membership of 1,77,501. Total time spent by the delegates in prison added to 1494 years, 10 months and 28 days, while the total time spent underground added to 998 years and 9 months. This reflected the fighting component of the Party and its leadership.
Serious differences developed inside the Party on programmatic issues, on the issues of current policies, as well as ideological issues facing the world communist movement. The National Council appointed two commissions – to draft Party Programme and the Political Resolution to be placed at the Sixth Congress. Both these commissions could not come to any common understanding. So there were two draft programmes and two draft resolutions before the Party Congress.
Ajoy Ghosh, general secretary of the Party, in his report to the Sixth Congress, noted the prevailing sharp differences in the Party: “It was evident that we differ on the following issues: (i) The actual implications of the formulations of the Moscow Statement in relation to the newly independent countries; (ii) the political and economic situation in our own country; (iii) immediate tasks before the Party. With these differences, it was not possible for us to work out a common political resolution”.
The Political Resolution that was placed before the Party Congress by the majority of the National Council reflected collaborationist understanding. The Party thus faced the most acute crisis at the Sixth Congress. A split was avoided by making the Political Report and the speech of the general secretary, the basis for amending the Political Resolution. The Programme drafts, after introduction, were kept in abeyance and referred to the National Council.
The organisational report placed in the Congress, noted the failure to implement the decisions and tasks of the Amritsar Congress. The report also identified general slackness of Party discipline, which is ‘due to the growth of parliamentary constitutional atmosphere and partly to the fact that no Party unit at any level takes upon itself the job of fighting these alien trends’. The report noted the need for a ‘rectification campaign’, for the restoration of discipline, bridging the gulf between word and deed and strengthen comradely relations’. It deplored the continued neglect of the fundamental principles of Party organisation.
Noting the widespread prevalence of revisionist tendencies, it stated: “the practice of the leading committees and cadre of the Party came to be one of belief in the efficacy of the bourgeois parliament and constitutional forms of struggle as the sole means of winning the confidence of the people. Ideas of a slow but sure growth of socialist ideas among the people and therefore of the possibility opened out before the Communist Party to slowly but surely replace the Congress government by a combination of Leftist parties and elements in the country, came to dominate the thinking and activities of the Party. This led to a gradual shift of emphasis from mass work to parliamentary work as the main activity of the Party. It, in its turn, led to a slow change in the outlook in the leaders and cadres of the Party to their own life and work”.
The report also self-critically noted that the Party failed to take note of the warning issued by the 12 parties declaration of 1957: “Revisionists try to kill the revolutionary spirit of Marxism, to undermine faith in socialism among the working class and the working people in general. They deny the historical necessity for a proletarian revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat during the period of transition from capitalism to socialism. They deny the leading role of the Marxist-Leninist party, reject the principles of proletarian internationalism and call for rejection of the Leninist principles of Party organisation and above all, of democratic centralism. They are for transforming the Communist Party from a militant revolutionary organisation into some kind of debating society”. It exhorted the Congress to give a ‘stirring call’ to combat revisionism in the field of Party organisation.
The organisational report also called for the continuation of the three-tier committee structure and expansion of Party membership in proportion of the votes secured. These suggestions reflect revisionist influences, that very tendency which was sought to be eliminated.
Thus the Sixth Congress was a Congress of compromise and all the ideological, political differences which divided the Party remained unresolved. The only understanding that was achieved was with regard to the broad tactics that were to be pursued in the general elections to be held in 1962.