A Contribution to the Ongoing Debate on the Question of
The Attitude and Tactics of Communists towards Bourgeois Parliaments
The question of the attitude of Communists and their tactics in dealing with bourgeois parliaments has been settled long ago by the authoritative pronouncements of the Comintern and the practice of various Communist revolutionary parties the world over. However, the recent deviation from this in the parliamentary activities of the capitulationist parties having become dominant, coupled with the further decay of bourgeois parliamentarism in general and its becoming more obsolete historically, seems to have paved the way to facilitating the comeback and resurgence of the old deviation on the left, ‘abstentionism’, under the garb of slogans of ‘active boycott’, under the false premise that the old tactics of the Comintern have become obsolete, outmoded and useless or that they are not meant for countries like India. A caricature of the ‘Chinese Path’ is illogically being presented in contradistinction to the Comintern tactics. As a critique of an official article by certain Indian Maoists, ardent advocates of such ‘boycott’, an attempt is here made by us to bring forward the truly revolutionary approach towards the issue of the attitude and tactics of Communists towards the bourgeois Parliaments, essentially based upon a Marxist-Leninist viewpoint.
Owing allegiance to and in the name of the ‘Chinese Path’, the old variety of petty bourgeois revolutionism that once again preaches abstention from bourgeois parliaments, has staged a virtual comeback on a worldwide scale. This is being done under the guise of ‘Maoism’, following the very same positions politically and strategically and playing the same role historically. It is painful to once again deal with the old rhetoric, one and a half century after it was relegated to silence in the face of the theoretical offensive of revolutionary Marxism, but it is necessary to put forth the correct tactics of tackling the enemy fortresses, the bourgeois parliaments. The task remains of extreme importance today since, contrary to all preaching of our Maoist boycotters, bourgeois parliamentarism continues to be politically potent and therefore bourgeois parliaments remain a very important arena of class struggle for Communist revolutionaries.
Taking the anarchists, the then disciples of Bakunin, to task, who in the name of ‘abstention’ from taking part in the elections to bourgeois parliament, had been calling upon the workers to ‘boycott’ the elections to parliament, about more than a century ago, Engels, in his famous article, ‘Bakuninists at Work’, says:
This is what Bakuninist "political abstention" leads to. In peaceful times when the proletariat knows in advance that the most it can achieve is to get a few deputies into parliament and that it has no chance at all of gaining a parliamentary majority, it may be possible to convince the workers, here or there that it is a great revolutionary action to stay at home during elections and in general instead of attacking a concrete state in which we live and which oppresses us, to attack an abstract state that exists nowhere, and therefore cannot defend itself. This is magnificent way of playing the revolutionary for people who are easily disheartened….
However as soon as events themselves push the proletariat into the foreground, abstentionism becomes a tangible absurdity, and the active intervention of the working class is an unavoidable necessity.
Criticising Bakuninist anarchists for the damage they had done to the working class movement, by preaching their politics of ‘abstention’ at the time of general elections to the bourgeois parliament in Spain in 1873, Engels wrote in the same article:
…Given the tremendous fascination that the name of the International still exerted at the time on the workers of Spain and given the excellent organisation which, at least for practical purposes, the Spanish Section still preserved it was certain that in the factory districts of Catalonia, in Valencia, in the towns of Andalusia etc., all the candidates nominated and supported by the International would have achieved a brilliant victory, producing a sufficiently strong minority in the Cortes to decide the issue every time it came to a vote between the two republican groups. The workers felt this; they felt the time had come to set their still powerful organisation in motion. But the honourable leaders of the Bakuninist school had long been preaching the gospel of unconditional abstention, and could not suddenly reverse course;
This shows how even in the 1870s, revolutionary Marxism stood up in opposition to such abstention terming this a ‘tangible absurdity’ and raised its hand in favour of revolutionary intervention by the Workers’ Parties in bourgeois parliaments as an ‘unavoidable necessity’.
Much water has flown under the bridge since then, and the Bakuninist politics of ‘abstention’ has unfolded itself in many forms, from ‘individual participation’ to ‘passive’ (abstention) and then ‘active’ (boycott) of bourgeois parliaments. It was in the early part (say the first two decades) of the last century that ‘abstentionism’ staged a bolder comeback in the disguise of ‘boycottism’ and then was finally defeated in theory as well as in practice, as a definite tendency and as a strategic slogan against the tactics of participation in bourgeois parliaments.
In 1919, in ‘Greetings to Italian, French and German Communists’, what Lenin writes is of interest for utilising the possibilities of participating in bourgeois parliaments:
The differences among the German Communists boil down, so far as I can judge, to the question of ‘utilising the legal possibilities’ (as the Bolsheviks used to say in the 1910-13 period), of utilising the Bourgeois Parliament, the reactionary trade unions, the ‘works’ councils law’ (Betriebsratgesetz), bodies that have been hamstrung by the Scheidemanns and Kautskys; it is a question of whether to participate in such bodies or boycott them.
We Russian Bolsheviks experienced quite similar differences in 1906 and in the 1910-12 period. And for us it is clear that with many of the young German Communists it is simply a case of a lack of revolutionary experience. Had they experienced a couple of bourgeois revolutions (1905 and 1917), they would not be advocating the boycott so unconditionally nor fall from time to time into the mistakes of syndicalism.
Both from the standpoint of Marxist theory and the experience of three revolutions (1905, February 1917 and October 1917), I regard refusal to participate in a bourgeois parliament, in a reactionary (Legien, Gompers etc.) trade union, in an ultra reactionary workers’ council hamstrung by the Scheidemanns etc. as an undoubted mistake.
At times in individual cases, in individual countries, the boycott is correct as for example, was the Bolshevik boycott of the tsarist Duma in 1905. But the selfsame Bolsheviks took part in the much more reactionary and downright counter-reactionary Duma of 1907. The Bolsheviks contested the elections to the bourgeois Constituent Assembly in 1917, and in 1918 we dispersed it to the horror of the philistine democrats, the Kautskys and other such renegades from socialism.
At one time we were in a minority in the Soviets, the trade unions and the co-operatives. By persistent effort and long struggle – both before and after the conquest of political power – we won a majority, first in all workers’ organisations, then in non-worker and finally, even in small peasant organisations.
Only scoundrels and simpletons can think that the proletariat must first win a majority in elections carried out under the yoke of the Bourgeoisie, under the yoke of wage slavery, and must then win power. This is the height of stupidity, or hypocrisy; it is substituting elections under the old system and with the old power for class struggle and revolution.
The proletariat wages its class struggle and does not wait for elections to begin a strike, although for the complete success of a strike, it is necessary to have the sympathy of the majority of the working people (and, it follows, of the majority of the population); the proletariat wages its class struggle and overthrows the bourgeoisie without waiting for any preliminary elections (supervised by the bourgeoisie and carried out under its yoke); and the proletariat is perfectly well aware that for the success of its revolution, for the success overthrow of the bourgeoisie, it is absolutely necessary to have the sympathy of the majority of the working people (and it follows of the majority of population).
The parliamentary cretins and the latter-day Louis Blancs "insist" absolutely on elections, on elections that are more certainly supervised by the bourgeoisie, to ascertain whether they have the sympathy of the majority of the working people. But this is the attitude of pedants, of living corpses, or of cunning tricksters.
Real life and the history of the actual revolutions show that, quite often the "sympathy of the majority of the working people" cannot be demonstrated by any elections (to say nothing of elections supervised by the exploiters, with "equality" of exploiters and exploited!). Quite often the "sympathy of the majority of the working people" is demonstrated not by elections at all, but by the growth of one of the parties, or by its increased representation in the Soviets or by the success of a strike, which for some reason has acquired enormous significance, or by successes won in civil war etc., etc.…
One has only to give some thought to this complex, difficult and long history of proletarian struggle for power – a struggle rich in the extraordinary variety of forms and in the unusual abundance of sharp charges, turns and switches from one form to another – to see clearly the error of those who would "forbid" participation in bourgeois parliaments, reactionary trade unions, tsarist or Scheidemann Shop Stewards Committees or works’ councils and so on and so forth. This error is due to the lack of revolutionary experience among quite sincere, convinced and valiant working class revolutionaries. Consequently Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg were a thousand times right in January 1919, when they realised this mistake, pointed it out, but nevertheless chose to remain with the proletarian revolutionaries, mistaken though they were on a minor question rather than side with the traitors to socialism, the Scheidemanns and the Kautskys, who made no mistake on the question of participating in bourgeois parliaments, but had ceased to be socialists and had become philistine democrats and accomplices of the bourgeoisie.
A mistake, however, remains a mistake and it is necessary to criticise it and fight for its rectification.
Further, referring to debate then going hot on the question of participation in bourgeois parliaments, around 1920, Lenin remarked, in his ‘Speech at a Meeting of the Moscow Soviet in Celebration of the First Anniversary of the Third International’, delivered on March 6, 1920:
Disagreements are again arising, for example over the question of using parliaments, but since the experience of Russian revolution and the Civil War, since the figure of Liebknecht and his role and importance among parliamentarians, have become known to the world, it is absurd to reject the revolutionary use of parliaments. It has become clear to people of the old way of thinking that the question of the state cannot be presented in the old way, that the old bookish approach to this question has been succeeded by a new one based on practice and born of the revolutionary moment.
In the first place it was the practical activities of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht in Germany and of Z. Hoglund in Sweden which showed in practice and beyond any pale of doubt that parallel to the degenerated bourgeois parliamentarianism and virtually in stark opposition to it, there stands revolutionary parliamentarism of the proletariat. This treasure of revolutionary experience was further enriched by the revolutionary activities of the Bolsheviks in Russia who, dealing with four tsarist Dumas, not only succeeded in disbanding the Duma through material force, but undermined bourgeois parliamentarianism itself, in the true sense of the word.
The rich practical experience gathered through the activities of Communists in Germany, Sweden and Russia, was then embodied in the theses of the Communist International itself, which openly declared that participation in bourgeois parliaments is a rule and boycott an exception to the general rule under very rare circumstances, i.e. when the mood of the masses is rebellious and the objective conditions are ripe to carry out a revolution.
This practical experience so accumulated by proletarian parties and further reinforced by the official theses of the Communist International, continued to be the guiding star for the activities of revolutionary Communist parties the world over. This revolutionary theory and practice of participation in the bourgeois parliaments, aimed at destroying bourgeois parliamentarianism itself through scathing attack from within and without, continued to be a trusted weapon in the armoury of revolutionary communism.
However, the threat to this well-recognised tactic of revolutionary participation in bourgeois parliaments has once again raised its head, in the course of time, from two sides. First and foremost, it comes from the side of those who in the name of communist parties had entered the bourgeois parliaments, but only to prove themselves under the tutelage of, and to be assimilated into bourgeois parliamentarism, rendering further strength to it, following in the footsteps of old yellow Social Democracy. Referring to this capitulationist participation and contrasting the same to revolutionary participation, the thesis adopted by the Comintern at its Second Congress held in August 1920, stated:
From the start, from the epoch of the First International, the attitude of the Socialist Parties to the parliamentarism was that bourgeois parliaments should be used for agitational purposes. Participation in Parliament was considered as a means of developing class consciousness, i.e., of awakening the hatred of the proletariat for the ruling classes. This attitude has changed, under the influence, not of theory, but of the course of political events. As a result of the development of the productive forces and the extension of the arena of capitalist exploitation, capitalism and the parliamentary states acquire a lasting stability.
As a consequence, the parliamentary tactics of the Socialist parties adapted themselves to "organic" legislative work of the bourgeois parliament, and the struggle for reforms within the framework of capitalism became increasingly significant for these parties. The so-called maximum programme became a platform for debating the altogether remote "final goal". In these circumstances, parliamentary careerism and corruption flourished and the vital interests of the working class were secretly and sometimes openly betrayed.
The attitude of the Third International to parliaments is determined not by new theoretical ideas but by the change in the role of parliament itself. In the preceding historical epoch parliament was an instrument of the developing capitalist system, and as such played a role that was in a certain sense progressive. In the modern conditions of unbridled imperialism, parliament has become a weapon of falsehood, deception and violence, a place of enervating chatter. In the face of the devastation, embezzlement, robbery and destruction committed by imperialism, parliamentary reforms which are wholly lacking in consistency, durability and order, lose all practical significance for the working masses.
Parliamentarianism, like bourgeois society as a whole, is losing its stability. The transition from an epoch of stability to an epoch of crisis has necessitated the adoption of new tactics by the proletariat in the sphere of parliamentarianism. Even in the past period, the Russian Workers’ Party (Bolsheviks), for example, developed an essentially revolutionary parliamentarianism, the reason being that the political and social equilibrium of Russia was destroyed by the 1905 revolution and the country entered a period of storm and stress.
More concretely, in the ‘Letter to the Austrian Communists’, Lenin criticised the call for boycott given by the Austrian Communists on the eve of parliamentary elections and the capitulation shown by the Social Democrats in all their activities including parliamentary work, while putting it in sharp contrast to the line of the Comintern:
The Austrian Communist Party has decided to boycott the elections to the bourgeois-democratic parliament. The Second Congress of the Communist International which ended recently recognised as the correct tactics, Communist participation in elections to and the activities in bourgeois parliaments….
The Austrian Social democrats are behaving in the bourgeois parliament, as in all spheres of their "work", including their own press, in the manner of petty-bourgeois democrats who are capable only of spineless vacillation, while in fact they are totally dependant on the capitalist class. We Communists enter bourgeois parliaments in order to unmask from their rostrums the deception practised by these thoroughly corrupt capitalist institutions which dupe the workers and all the working people.
In his letter dated October 28, 1919, ‘To Comrade Serrati and to All Italian Communists’, Lenin mentioned:
The news we get from Italy is extremely scanty. It is only from the foreign (non-communist) press that we have learned of your party congress at Bologna and of the splendid victory of Communism. I send my heartfelt greetings to you and all the Italian Communists and wish you enduring success. The example of the Italian party will be of enormous significance to the whole world. In particular the resolution of your Congress on participation in elections to the bourgeois parliament is in my opinion perfectly correct and I hope that it will help to achieve unity in the Communist Party of Germany, which has just split on the issue.
In his ‘Speech on the Role of Communist Party’, delivered on July 23, 1920, Lenin sharply pointed out the role played by the opportunist parties and its more incorrect criticism carried out by the British lefts, somewhat allergic against participation:
They can conceive of political parties only in the image of the parties of Gompers and Henderson, parties of parliamentary smart dealers and traitors to the working class. But if, by parliamentarianism, they mean what exists in Britain and America today, then we too are opposed to such parliamentarianism and to such political parties. What we want is new and different parties. We want parties that will be in constant and real contact with the masses and will be able to lead those masses.
Secondly, and on the other hand a more serious challenge to the correct tactics of revolutionary participation, has emerged from those ‘lefts’ who, while referring to the disgraced parliamentarism practised by the former, negate the tactics of revolutionary participation as a whole and refuse to recognise the theory and practice of such participation aimed at uprooting bourgeois parliamentarism, demanding revision of the profound and time tested thesis of revolutionary participation. Criticising such anti-parliamentarianism being propagated by ‘lefts’ inside the Communist parties, the Comintern through the theses adopted at its Second Congress in August 1920, has expressed its anguish as follows:
16. Anti-parliamentarianism as a principle, as an absolute and categorical rejection of participation in elections or in revolutionary parliamentary work, is therefore a naive and childish position which does not stand up to criticism. Sometimes this attitude expresses a healthy disgust with the manoeuvring of the parliamentarians, but it is nevertheless a failure to recognise the possibilities of revolutionary parliamentarianism. This position is frequently connected with a completely incorrect view of the role of the party – the Communist Party, seen not as a militant centralising vanguard of the workers, but as a centralised system of loosely connected groups.
17. At the same time a recognition of parliamentary work does not imply absolute acceptance of the need to participate, whatever the circumstances, in all elections and parliamentary sessions. Participation in a particular election or session depends on a whole series of specific conditions. A certain combination of conditions may make withdrawal from parliament essential. The Bolsheviks left the pre-parliament in order to weaken it, undermine it and sharply counterpose to it the St. Petersburg Soviet, which was about to take on the leadership of October Revolution. They left the Constituent Assembly on the day of its dissolution, transferring the focal point of political events to the third congress of Soviets. Under other circumstances it may be essential to boycott elections and use direct action to revoke the whole bourgeois state apparatus and the bourgeois ruling clique. Alternatively participation in elections, followed by a boycott of parliament may be necessary etc.
18. So, while accepting as a general rule the need to participate in elections to both national parliaments and the organs of local government and in the work of these institutions, the Communist Party has to decide each case separately, evaluating the specific conditions of the given moment. A boycott of elections or of parliament or a withdrawal from parliament, are permissible primarily when conditions are ripe for an immediate move to armed struggle for power.
Unfortunately, in complete derogation of what had been laid down by the Comintern, the capitulationist as well as boycottist lefts both call for revision of the revolutionary tactics of participation in bourgeois parliaments, under the common slogan that the tactics of revolutionary participation as advanced by the Comintern have become obsolete and outdated and have no validity for the present era. Both of these currents demand revision of the internationally acclaimed revolutionary tactics of participation in bourgeois parliaments on various pretexts, including a lower level of mass consciousness in their countries, a changed role of bourgeois democracy, specific conditions prevailing under imperialism in general and in the underdeveloped and undeveloped world, etc. etc.
Both of these trends, unfortunately holding sway in the Communist movement of today, have become a virtual hurdle in the path of development of revolutionary parliamentarism of the proletariat under correct revolutionary tactics – participation in bourgeois parliaments as a matter of rule and ‘boycott’ them as an exception, i.e. at the climax of revolutionary mass upsurge – already endorsed by the rich revolutionary experience the world over and officially adopted by the Communist International.
The parliamentary activities of many of the capitulationist parties of today, like our CPI-CPM, following in the footsteps of the disgraced Social Democratic parties of the Second International, have won praise and medals for their leaders from bourgeois sections. The utter disgrace these parties have brought to the name of revolutionary Marxism, and the damage done by them to the revolutionary movement in general, is immeasurable. Instead of undermining bourgeois parliamentarism, the activities of these parties inside as well as outside of bourgeois parliaments have given a new spate of life to this bourgeois parliamentarism. It is not without reason that the leaders of these parties (for instance Somnath Chatterjee and Indrajit Gupta) have been conferred with awards of ‘best parliamentarians’. This lies in contraposition to the revolutionary parliamentarism practised by revolutionaries like Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht who were murdered by fascist butchers and the Bolsheviks who were sent to Siberia to serve terms of penal servitude for the revolutionary activities they carried out inside and outside bourgeois parliaments.
Taking advantage of and referring to the activities of capitulationists, the ‘lefts’ make an open, unqualified attack on the tactics of revolutionary participation in general and call for revising the settled principles of revolutionary Marxism, for ‘boycotting’ the bourgeois parliaments, as a rule. They also forget the history and role of revolutionary parliamentarism and negate this as inapplicable, invalid and obsolete. This tendency, proclaimed under the banner of ‘Maoism’ and the ‘Chinese path’, has nothing in common either with Maoism or the Chinese path. This ‘boycottism’, though appearing to be more ‘revolutionary’, stems from the weakness of the revolutionary parties, out of their failure to lodge an effective intervention on the parliamentarism or to carry out a determined struggle against it, to destroy it from within and without.
In his ‘Speech on Parliamentarianism’ delivered on August 2, 1920, Lenin clearly outlined a sketch of revolutionary parliamentarism, depicting its contrast to the capitulationist parliamentarism. Lenin argues:
Comrade Bordiga admitted that historical experience is not created artificially, he has just told us that the struggle must be carried into another sphere. Is he not aware that every revolutionary crisis has been attended by a parliamentary crisis?
Parliament is product of historical development and we cannot eliminate it until we are strong enough to disperse the bourgeois parliament. It is only as a member of the bourgeois parliament that one can, in the given historical conditions, wage a struggle against bourgeois society and parliamentarianism. The same weapon as the bourgeois employs in the struggle must also be used by the proletariat, of course, with entirely different aims. You cannot assert that that is not the case, and if you want to challenge it, you will have thereby to erase the experience of all revolutionary developments in the world.
…There are very backward elements in the trade unions too; a section of the proletarianised petty bourgeois, the backward workers, and the small peasants. All these elements really think that their interests are represented in parliament. This idea must be combated by work within parliament and by citing the facts, so as to show the masses the truth. Theory will have no effect on the backward masses, they need practical experience.
This was to be seen in the case of Russia too. We were obliged to convene the Constituent Assembly even after the victory of the proletariat, so as to prove to the backward proletarians that they had nothing to gain from that Assembly.
You must know how parliaments can be smashed. If you can do it by an armed uprising in all countries, well and good. You are aware that we in Russia proved our determination to destroy the bourgeois parliament not only in theory, but in practice as well. You have lost sight of the fact that this is impossible without fairly long preparations, and that in most countries it is as yet impossible to destroy parliament at one stroke. We are obliged to carry on a struggle within parliament for the destruction of parliament.
In all capitalist countries, there are backward elements in the working class who are convinced that parliament is the true representative of the people and do not see the unscrupulous methods employed there. You say that parliament is an instrument with the aid of which the bourgeois deceive the masses, but this argument should be turned against you, and it does turn against your thesis. How will you reveal the true character of parliament to the really backward masses, who are deceived by the bourgeois? How will you expose the various parliamentary manoeuvres, or the positions of the various parties, if you are not in parliament, if you remain outside parliament? If you are Marxists you must admit that in capitalist society, there is a close link between relations of classes and relations of parties. How, I repeat, will you show all this if you are not members of parliament, and if you renounce parliamentary action? The history of the Russian revolution has clearly shown that the masses of the working class, the peasantry, and petty office employees could not have been convinced by any arguments, unless their own experience had convinced them.
It has been claimed here that it is a waste of time to participate in the parliamentary struggle. Can one conceive of any other institution in which all classes are as interested as they are in parliament? This cannot be created artificially. If all those classes are drawn into the parliamentary struggle, it is because the interest and conflicts are reflected in parliament. If it were possible everywhere and immediately to bring about, let us say a decisive general strike, so as to overthrow capitalism at a single stroke, the revolution would have already taken place in a number of countries. But we must reckon with the facts, and parliament is a scene of the class struggle.
Germany provides the best example that a communist group in parliament is possible. That is why you should have frankly said to the masses; "we are too weak to create a party with a strong organisation".
That would be the truth that ought to be told. But if you confessed your weakness to the masses they would become your opponents, not your supporters; they would become supporters of the parliamentarianism. If you say "fellow workers, we are so weak that we cannot form a party disciplined enough to compel its members of parliament to submit to it", the workers would abandon you. For they would ask themselves: "how can we set up the dictatorship of the proletariat with such weaklings?"
You are very naïve if you think that the intelligentsia, the middle class, and the petty bourgeois will turn communist the day the proletariat is victorious.
I think that this accounts for your unwillingness to admit that the repudiation of parliamentary action by a great many of the new communist parties stems from their weakness. I am convinced that the vast majority of the really revolutionary workers will follow us and speak up against your antiparliamentary thesis.
We need not discuss much about the former trend, the capitulationist one, which depicts an open, obvious degeneration and patent deviation from revolutionary parliamentarism to such an extent that its own practice has pushed it out of the arena of revolutionary movement itself. But the latter trend, which attacks revolutionary parliamentarism, from the ‘left’ under the strategic slogan of ‘boycott’, in the name of ‘Maoism’ and the ‘Chinese path’, has to be seriously dealt with, so as to expose its hollowness.
To understand the dynamics of this trend, it would be in place to focus upon an official proclamation, put out by some of our Maoists, in support of their theory of ‘boycott’. This article may be termed a summing up of the views of these adherents of ‘boycott’ of our times, these ‘Maoists’. Readers would find it difficult to find a trace of any historical or theoretical ‘analysis’ of the subject in this article. Amazingly, the arguments advanced to make a point in favour of the slogan of ‘boycott’ are all those which were refuted by revolutionary Marxism in both theory and practice, in the first half of the last century and had since vanished for a fairly long period. Intriguingly, the same arguments have been raised in this article without even any reference to such debates, posing the question to be a novelty of the day. The criticism of bourgeois parliamentarism by Marx and Lenin has been presented in a way as if this were a criticism against participation in general, including ‘revolutionary participation’ as well. This deliberately suppresses the fact that both Marx and Lenin have always distinguished the former from the latter and have throughout advocated participation in bourgeois parliaments as a valid tactic of the proletariat. The article says:
"We start here with the background to the debate. Way back in 1871 Marx made a devastating criticism of parliamentarism. The parliament as a body is formed once in three or six years to decide which member of the ruling class was to represent and repress people. Lenin wrote that professional Cabinet Ministers and parliamentarians, the traitors to the proletariat and the "practical" socialists of his day had left all criticism of parliamentarism to the considered bourgeois anarchists, and, "on this wonderfully reasonable ground, they denounce all criticism of parliamentarism as "anarchism"! Lenin added this in a mood of exposure: "To decide once every few years which member of the ruling class is to repress and crush the people through parliament – this is the real essence of bourgeois parliamentarism, not only in parliamentary – constitutional monarchies, but also in the most democratic republics."
‘Parliament is an instrument in the hands of bourgeois, where they decide periodically as to who would repress and crush the people’ – from this our Maoist derives the Puritan conclusion – ‘Boycott such dirty parliament’. Anyway why take part in a parliament which is an instrument in the hands of enemy? Let the enemy deal with it as it wants while we continue to call upon the masses to boycott it! We have adopted the Chinese path, the line of armed struggle and agrarian revolution, therefore we need not enter the dirty bourgeois parliament, forgetting that in order to wipe out the dirty parliamentarianism, revolutionary parliamentarianism has to make its headway into the bourgeois parliaments and not abstain passively in the face of bourgeois parliamentarism, exactly as our Maoist boycottists want us to do.
The article says:
The situation for the revolution in Russia was created by the objective condition and mainly by the bold non-parliamentary preparations made by the Bolsheviks.
According to their whims, though without reason and in a most illogical way, the role of Bolshevik activities inside the Dumas is diminished to nothing. Everyone, except our ‘lefts’, knows that the parliamentary activities of Bolsheviks in four Dumas were no less important in bringing about the revolutionary situation in Russia, which ultimately put the Bolsheviks in command of state power. Special focus was always given by the Bolshevik party to the activities of its Duma group. But the writer knowingly obliterates that role and the importance of the struggle of the Bolsheviks on the parliamentary front.
The article further criticises, and rightly so, the CPI-CPM for failing to play a revolutionary role inside the parliament as was played by the Bolsheviks inside the Dumas, but in the same breath it attacks parliamentarism in general, without making any exception even for revolutionary parliamentarism, and counterposes ‘agrarian revolution’ to the issue of revolutionary participation in parliament. It says:
Lenin’s Bolshevik Party participated in elections in the European context but such participation was not obviously for ‘providing relief’ from within the exploitative system but to root out the illusion of bourgeois parliaments. Indian social democrats like the CPI, CPI(M) etc. have had enough of experience in parliaments, legislative bodies in India but is there any voice heard to expose parliamentary democracy? Rather we find the reverse i.e. how to add to the dangerous illusion itself. They even dream a false dream of social change by using the Parliament in India. Could anyone hear any real voice or a semblance of protest and/or a public awareness campaign from the CPI(M), etc., against the politics of rigging elections? They cannot launch such a campaign in order to tenaciously cling to the politics of winning seats, be it in parliament, or the state legislative or in the Panchayats.
Any un-cautious readers would be mistaken here if they got the impression that our Maoist is not against ‘participation’ in general, but is only against the capitulationist politics as practised by the CPI-CPM combine, but that is not the case. We will see that our Maoist criticises the CPI-CPM, primarily and above all for their participation and not so much for capitulation. The treachery is that our Maoist quotes Lenin and praises the tenets of revolutionary participation as practised by the Bolsheviks, counterposes the activities of CPI-CPM to that revolutionary practice, but then suddenly jumps to the total negation of participation in bourgeois parliaments, without qualification. This is exactly what the ‘lefts’ have been doing since the inception of their assault on revolutionary Marxism. In ‘Left Wing Communism – An Infantile Disorder’ Lenin had this to say:
…the "Left" Communists have a great deal to say in praise of us Bolsheviks. One sometimes feels like telling them to praise us less and to try to get a better knowledge of the Bolsheviks' tactics.
Similarly what is targeted by the advocates of boycott is not submissive and capitulationist parliamentarism, but in fact it is the participation in general as advocated by Leninism as a general tactic, obviously including revolutionary participation. The article says:
When the Socialist Revolutionary Party and the Mensheviks joined the bourgeois ministry Lenin made a devastating criticism. Lenin said "…Revolutionary democratic phrases to lull the rural simple Simons, and bureaucracy and red tape to ‘gladden the hearts’ of the capitalists; this is the essence of the ‘honest’ coalition" [ibid p. 557, emphasis by Lenin]. This is also the actual role of Indian social democratic parties. And if one searches through the huge body of CPI or CPI(M) literature one hardly finds such Leninist critiques of parliamentary politics. Revisionists cannot change themselves. They only justify participation in the so-called democratic process of semi-colonial semi-feudal India, which actually needs agrarian revolution through protracted people’s war.
Lacking the daring to attack Lenin openly, the article thus stabs him in the back. Playing at intrigue, it draws justification for its politics of strategic ‘boycott’ from two sources simultaneously – firstly, from the criticism of bourgeois parliamentarism by Lenin and secondly and simultaneously from the activities of the CPI-CPM. Unfortunately this exercise is carried out by our ‘lefts’ stealthily, in camouflage and in a partisan manner, even in the name of Lenin. Because Lenin has criticised the dull bourgeois parliamentarism and because the CPI-CPM are not behaving in revolutionary manner, our ‘Maoists’ draw the conclusion that the ‘participation’ is wrong and ‘boycott’ is the way!
The article further raises the question:
The question before us is that in the past half century of ‘communists’ participating in elections, to what extent has it raised consciousness against constitutional illusions, and instilled the consciousness of the need to seize power by armed force. This is the central question that needs to be answered by them.
This means that communists’ participation in parliament has not raised the consciousness of the masses. Now see how this argument runs contrary to our Maoist’s own logic that the long-standing parliamentarism in India has led to shedding of parliamentary illusions by the masses and their tilt towards the politics of armed struggle (which evaluation is though highly exaggerated!).
The only logical conclusion which can be drawn from the above facts is that the revolutionary parties should replace the capitulationist parliamentarism, so as to carry out revolutionary intervention inside the bourgeois parliaments. Dealing with a similar complaint made by the German ‘lefts’, Lenin said in ‘Left wing Communism…’:
The German "Lefts" complain of bad "leaders" in their party, give way to despair, and even arrive at a ridiculous "negation" of "leaders". But in conditions in which it is often necessary to hide "leaders" underground, the evolution of good "leaders", reliable, tested and authoritative, is a very difficult matter; these difficulties cannot be successfully overcome without combining legal and illegal work, and without testing the "leaders", among other ways, in parliaments. Criticism – the most keen, ruthless and uncompromising criticism – should be directed, not against parliamentarianism or parliamentary activities, but against those leaders who are unable – and still more against those who are unwilling to utilise parliamentary elections and the parliamentary rostrum in a revolutionary and communist manner. Only such criticism – combined, of course, with the dismissal of incapable leaders and their replacement by capable ones will constitute useful and fruitful revolutionary work that will simultaneously train the "leaders" to be worthy of the working class and of all working people, and train the masses to be able properly to understand the political situation and the often very complicated and intricate tasks that spring from that situation.
But our ‘lefts’, with a pre-conceived notion, a prejudice deeply embedded in their minds, go over to draw an absurd illogical conclusion – ‘boycott’. In fact, and what our ‘lefts’ do not admit openly, their criticism of the CPI-CPM is not for their capitulation and not carrying out the revolutionary policy inside the parliament, but virtually against their ‘participation’ in bourgeois parliament. Our Maoist hits the capitulationists at the wrong place. In 1919, Lenin put the cause rightly in ‘Greetings to Italian, French and German Communists’:
The fight against the traitors to Socialism, the Scheidemanns and the Kautskys must be waged mercilessly, but not on the issue of for or against participation in bourgeois parliaments, reactionary trade unions, etc. This would be an obvious mistake, and a bigger mistake still would be to retreat from the ideas of Marxism and its practical line (a strong, centralised political party) to the ideas and practice of syndicalism. It is necessary to work for the Party’s participation in bourgeois parliaments, in reactionary trade unions and in "works’ councils" that have been mutilated and castrated in Scheidemann fashion, for the Party to be wherever workers are to be found, wherever it is possible to talk to the workers, to influence the working masses.
But our ‘Maoist’ does not criticise the capitulationist politics of the CPI-CPM in general or specifically their activities inside the Parliament, but consciously attacks their ‘participation’ in Parliament as a root cause of their capitulationist politics in general.
The article openly says further:
Unfortunately some rightists within the M-L movement also think that they can use the election platform in India to further the revolution. Though most of them have little mass base, they feel that the masses can be prepared for revolution through such participation.
…However, the question of boycott of electoral politics lies in the very line of People’s War. Electoral politics is the reverse of People’s War.
While criticising the ‘electoral politics’, it is ‘participation’ in general which is opposed and the armed struggle is directly counterposed to it. It is said in no ambiguous terms that neither can an election platform in India be used to further the revolution nor can the ‘participation’ be used for preparation of the masses for revolution and finally that the electoral politics (that means participation!) is the reverse of ‘people’s war’ and it is ‘boycott’ which lies in line with the politics of people’s war. Then why has our Maoist been swearing in the name of Lenin? Why has the article been counterposing the activities of other parties and groups to that of Bolsheviks? It should have clearly said that it rejects the very idea of participating in bourgeois parliaments! The theoretical dilemma reflected in the stand of our Maoist is that what he wants to say he is not able to say in so many words. The idea of our Maoist that the parties, having little mass base, cannot pursue the line of ‘revolutionary participation’ is another mistake which does not coincide with the fact that Luxemburg and Liebknecht in Germany and Z. Hoglund in Sweden were the leaders who had successfully practised such revolutionary participation, virtually without a ‘mass base’.
Considering the anarchist views about participation erroneous, Lenin takes them head-on, as is clear from what he writes in his article ‘On the Eve of the Elections to the Fourth Duma’:
Not a platform "for the elections" but elections to implement the revolutionary Social-Democratic platform! – that is how the party of the working class sees it. We have already used the elections to this end, and will use them to the hilt. We will use even the most reactionary tsarist Duma to advocate the revolutionary platform, tactics and programme of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party. Truly valuable are only those platforms that complete the long work of revolutionary agitation, which has already given full answers to all the questions of the movement, and not those platforms (particularly the legal ones!) that are composed in all haste as a stop gap and as a noisy advertisement, as in the case of the liquidators.
But our ‘Maoist’ refuses to hear to any reason at all. His rhetoric of ‘boycott’ prevents him from seeing that it was a ‘boycott’ of one and ‘participation’ in three Dumas, as a tactic through which the Bolsheviks prepared a full-fledged and successful armed uprising in Russia. Our ‘Maoist’ elevates the ‘tactic’ of ‘for or against participation’ to a wholesome strategy, substituting the strategy for tactics in open words:
The question of tactics is very important and it is dependent on the obtaining situation. Tactics are subject to change. Marxism teaches us that tactics are resorted to by a Marxist party with the sole aim of serving the strategy for the unleashing of attacks on the ruling classes and the state machinery (i.e. the seizure of political power by armed force). But, there are tactic and tactics. Some may change very fast, changing with the fast changing situation, others may assume a long-standing character. Such tactics naturally appear like strategy. If it is accepted that Indian revolution has to pass through a long period of protracted people’s war and that such question of war of different dimensions have to be initiated from the very beginning against class enemies and their protectors, the very question of participation in parliamentary politics – the issue of the degree of democracy or the nature of parliament and its emergence, etc. are irrelevant – does not simply come up.
So ‘boycott’ as a tactic, appearing as a strategy to our ‘Maoist’, is correct in his opinion for the entire period of ‘protracted people’s war’ and simultaneously the ‘participation’ remains out of context. He says that ‘war of different dimensions has to be initiated’ but this war excludes the war waged by the revolutionary proletariat inside the parliament. Rejection of revolutionary parliamentarism is carried out behind the smokescreen of ‘Naxalbari’ following in the footsteps of the ‘Chinese Path’:
When the Naxalbari upsurge brought forward the Chinese path for making Indian revolution rejecting participation in parliament, a barrage of charges were let loose against Naxalbari politics. The CPI(M) leaders resorted to the cunning way of quoting from Lenin’s book "Left-Wing" Communism – An Infantile Disorder, written against the wrong tactics of some European parties working in a specific context, deciding to skip participation in the bourgeois parliament. Such revisionists never pointed to the wealth of Lenin’s writings concentrating on building a revolutionary party, making preparations for revolutions and also the need for boycotting elections during the revolutionary upsurge. Even in that valuable book meant for correcting the mistake of the West European Marxist parties (i.e. in the insurrection path), comrade Lenin stated the possibility for such participation in parliament "to expose, dispel and overcome these prejudices…" ["bourgeois-democratic and parliamentary prejudices" of the peasantry and workers [V.I. Lenin, "Left-Wing" Communism – An Infantile Disorder, In Marx, Engels, Lenin, On Historical Materialism, Ibid. p. 656]. This too was in the context where the seizure of power by armed force was the central task of the revolution and any occasional participation was linked to it. Besides, in the Russian experience the Bolsheviks sometimes participated, sometimes boycotted, utilizing whatever tactic served the central task best – i.e. preparations for the armed uprising. But here, the revisionists while utilizing Lenin’s quotes, participate day-in and day-out in all parliamentary/legislative elections without any link to the armed struggle.
Here again the same tactic is applied. Lenin is misquoted to subvert Leninism. ‘Left Wing Communism – An Infantile Disorder’ is said to be of limited application to some parties of West Europe, ‘in specific context’. The peasant uprising of Naxalbari is said to have ‘brought forward the Chinese Path for revolution, rejecting participation in Parliament’. But how and in what manner, the uprising of Naxalbari reverses the time-tested and internationally acclaimed Communist tactics of participating in bourgeois parliament to work for its destruction, is not explained by our Maoist. Logic is substituted by rhetoric, anyway.
It is the general tactical line, laid down by the Second Congress of the Comintern, which should be noted:
The Second Congress of the Third International considers erroneous the views on the Party’s relation to the class and to the masses, and the view that it is not obligatory for Communist parties to participate in bourgeois parliaments and in reactionary trade unions. These views have been refuted in detail in special decisions of the present Congress and advocated most fully by the Communist Workers’ Party of Germany and partly by the Communist Party of Switzerland, by Kommunismus, organ of the East European Secretariat of the Communist International in Vienna, by the now dissolved secretariat in Amsterdam, by several Dutch comrades, by several Communist organizations in Great Britain, as, for example, the Workers’ Socialist Federation, etc., and also by the Industrial Workers of the World in the U.S.A. and the Shop Stewards’ Committees in Great Britain, etc.
…The erroneous views held by these organisations regarding participation in bourgeois parliaments can be explained, not so much by the influence of elements coming from the bourgeoisie, who bring their essentially petty bourgeois views into the movement – views such as anarchists often hold – as by the political inexperience of proletarians, who are quite revolutionary and connected with the masses.
The Chinese revolution is called upon by our Maoist to aid in opposing ‘participation’, forgetting that the Chinese revolution has nothing to do with the issue, since there was no parliament at all in China and the Chinese Communists did not have to deal with the question. The path pursued by the Chinese Revolution in no way presents an anathema to the general line of the international communist movement, i.e. ‘participation in bourgeois parliaments as a rule and its boycott as an exception’. However, our ‘left’ would find it difficult to swallow that the Revolutionary Council organised in China under Sun Yat-Sen, a pre-parliament, had Mao Tse-tung himself on its board. It was Mao Tse-tung who had demanded a National Assembly in China.
It is also an absurdity to say that the participation of the Bolsheviks in the Russian Duma was a task subordinate to the central task of ‘armed struggle’. Lenin has maintained that armed struggle is one of the forms – the highest form of political struggle and not its only form, as our ‘lefts’ are trying to put it, but in vain. Thus revolutionary participation in bourgeois parliament, as a matter of rule, is subordinate to political struggle in general, and it cannot be a revolutionary participation if it is not subordinated to political struggle, now armed and then unarmed.
In the name of ‘Naxalbari politics’ and the ‘Chinese Path’, our Maoist tells us that ‘Left-Wing Communism – An Infantile Disorder’ was written by Lenin to correct the mistakes of West European parties, working in a specific context; where the central task was seizure of power by armed force and ‘occasional participation was linked to it’. In conclusion what again they hesitate to say openly is that the West European ‘lefts’ were wrong when they advocated boycott, but our lefts, the Maoists, are right when they preach the ‘boycott,’ since according to them the context has changed and thus Leninist teachings and ‘Leninism’ are not relevant for our country, as the context in which Leninism was born and developed, is irrelevant to us. Thus Leninism has to be revised on this point.
Carrying out this type of scathing attack against Leninism, at the same time our Maoist continues to call Lenin to his aid. To obliterate the apparently erroneous and anti-Leninist politics, in the name of ‘Naxalbari’ and ‘Chinese path’, in the next breath our ‘Maoist’ starts to criticise the CPI-CPM once again in the name of Lenin"
Leave alone the question of revolutionary preparation, have the CPI, CPI(M) and such parities, using Lenin’s name to pass themselves off for communists, any mentionable history, over 50 years of participation in parliamentary politics, done anything to really expose, dispel and overcome the parliamentary prejudices of the masses in India? Just the reverse. They have been more charmed and sedated by the rosy prospect of parliamentary politics than the common backward masses in India. All such parties CPI, CPI(M), CPI(ML)(Liberation) etc., even nurture a fond hope of overhauling the existing system using the Indian parliamentary system. The CPI and CPI(M) have further revised their programmes to join even at the central government. Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and Mao – all the great Marxists repeated that states in the class society serve to coerce the exploited masses and so they gave the call for the need of destroying such states. Indian revisionists, as devoted follower of Bernstein or Kautsky, never focus on this basic fact on the question of state and the need for its destruction by force. Comrade Lenin had this to say, "This definition of the state (as given by Marx and Engels) has never been explained in the prevailing propaganda and agitation literature of the official Social-democratic Parties. More than that, it has been deliberately ignored, for it is absolutely irreconcilable with reformism and a slap in the face for the common opportunist prejudices and philistine illusions about ‘peaceful development of democracy’" [V.I. Lenin, The State and Revolution, in Marx, Engels, Lenin, On Historical Materialism, Ibid. p. 539].
Unfortunately some rightists within the M-L movement also think that they can use the election platform in India to further the revolution. Though most of them have little mass base, they feel that the masses can be prepared for revolution through such participation. But, the essence of their political line is not to prepare for the "seizure of political power by armed force" (the central task of any revolution) but to indefinitely continue the ‘preliminary tasks’ of ‘exposure’, ‘propaganda’, ‘agitation’ around partial demands, etc., etc. with no qualitative leap towards armed formations and armed struggles. Even their mass struggles are generally kept within the confines of ruling-class-set legality, restricting them from the intensification of the class struggle. The last two decades experience has shown how far they could advance utilizing this parliamentary line compared to those leading people’s wars!!
Once again it may seem as if parliamentary opportunism is being attacked in favour of revolutionary participation as preached by Lenin, but that is not the case. The fact is that our ‘Maoist’ does not negate opportunist parliamentarism alone, but revolutionary parliamentarism as well. What is opposed is not opportunist parliamentarism but ‘participation’ in general in the bourgeois parliaments. The article goes on to say:
Way back in 1926 Stalin summed up that the Chinese revolution was fighting armed counter-revolution. Mao developed his theory of People’s War on the basis of the peculiarities of the Chinese society in the light of Stalin’s formulation. This was a development of Marxism in regard to its successful implementation in backward countries. This people’s war is not related to the politics of participation in parliament. The leaders of the CPI never gave proper importance to Mao’s twin-theory of People’s Democratic Revolution and People’s War. The CPI(M) speaks of People’s Democratic Revolution but such acceptance on paper is dismissed by justifying the Transfer of Power in 1947 as ‘national freedom’ and thereby, like the CPI, since its formation in 1963 the CPI(M) began to plunge into electoral politics supposing it to be an expansion of democracy by the new rulers. What the CPI(M) suppresses or hates to consider is that the present Indian parliament is basically a blessing of the colonial rulers with their stamp of approval to the Government of India Act 1935. However, the question of boycott of electoral politics lies in the very line of People’s War. Electoral politics is the reverse of People’s War.
One finds it difficult to catch hold of our Maoist as he continues to jump from one to the other plank, blowing hot and cold at the same time. The opportunist, capitulationist variety of yellow parliamentarism is criticised and rightly so for not pursuing revolutionary parliamentarism, but in the same breath the ‘lefts’ negate revolutionary parliamentarism as well, virtually putting it at par with the degenerated opportunist parliamentarism. This way they present a self-defeating argument.
And then comes the best of their arguments. The old anarchist rhetoric regarding ‘active and passive boycott’ is played with impunity towards Leninism. The article says:
Simultaneously, it is to be made clear that boycott of elections does not mean abandoning myriad forms of people’s struggles. Nor does it mean not intervening in the on-going electoral political process. It only means that instead of supporting this or that party, or putting up candidates, one widely propagates the politics of boycott. Practice has shown there is enormous response to this propaganda, even if people finally go and vote due to lack of an alternative. The level of the campaign depends on our subjective strength in a particular area, and will assume various dimensions. In the areas of intense struggle, with popular support of the people, and its armed detachments, the boycott call would be an action slogan concretely resisting the farcical electoral process through a mass upsurge (like what is often seen in Kashmir). Here, the Old Power will be sought to be smashed and the New Power established. In areas where the movement for alternative people’s power has developed and the enemy forces are actively locked in battles with the revolutionary forces, the boycott call will mainly assume the form of an agitation slogan. On the other hand, in other areas where revolutionary movements are at a low ebb or yet to take shape, the election boycott, for a period of time will be a mere propaganda slogan. But in all areas the political focus will be the same.
In addition to this, struggles of the workers, peasants, youth, women, nationalities would be organized to link up with the ongoing people’s war. The slogan of election boycott and the relentless exposure of Indian parliamentary democracy, which merely means who amongst the rulers will rule for a certain period, is not a negative approach. The alternative would have to be put forward and people be taught the path of people’s war and through it the call for replacing the present fake democracy with the setting up genuine people’s democratic power as the only positive (and possible) alternative to the existing ridiculous game of elections.
The political propaganda will go in tandem with various levels of movements of the people. This political propaganda against the electoral farce would always have to contain the strategic presentation of developing alternative democratic people’s power in the form of peoples’ committees elected through gram sabhas, where the masses exert their right to recall. This is an ideological/political battle to uproot the people’s wrong concept of ‘democracy’, drilled into their minds day-in-and-day-out by the establishment. As the path of people’s war is a protracted one, there will be many twists and turns, set-backs and leaps. Whatever may be the situation, there does not arise the question of participation in elections in the course of the continuing people’s war. And in the course of the people’s war there will be overlapping forms of boycott in the obtaining situation and contexts. After all, it must be realized that in a country like India the holding of elections (or imposing elections) has been considered by the ruling classes as the most suitable and effective means to continue with this highly exploitative system in acute crisis. One just has to take the example of Kashmir, where the rulers are just desperate to get the people to vote, whoever may be candidate.
Our ‘Maoist’ strives for ‘relentless exposure of parliamentary democracy’. But there is no better means for such exposure than exposure from ‘inside’, from its own parliamentary rostrum; this is what the entire experience and history of the world communist movement has taught us. But our ‘lefts’ disagreeing with it go for ‘boycott’, especially a special ‘active’ boycott. This is how the theory of ‘active boycott’ reveals itself in so-called contrast to ‘passive boycott’. In 1920, in an article written for the journal Kommunismus, Lenin shatters the argument in favour of this very ‘active boycott’:
Lastly, Comrade B.K. s’ article in Kommunismus No. 18, which I have mentioned, very vividly, strikingly and effectively reveals his error in sympathising with the tactics of boycotting parliaments in present-day Europe. When the author dissociates himself from the "syndicalist boycott" and the "passive" boycott, but at the same time invents a special kind of active (Ah. how left!…) boycott, the full extent of errors in his argument is brought out very strikingly.
"An active boycott", the author writes, "means the Communist Party does not confine itself to disseminating the slogan advocating non-participation in elections, but, in the interests of the boycott, engages in revolutionary agitation just as extensively as if it were participating in the elections and as if its agitation and action were designed to secure the greatest possible number of proletarian votes."
This is a gem. This demolishes the anti-parliamentarians better than any criticism could. An active boycott is devised "as though" we were participating in elections! The mass of unenlightened and semi-enlightened workers and peasants take a serious part in elections, for they still entertain bourgeois-democratic prejudices, are still under the sway of those prejudices. And instead of helping the unenlightened (although at times "highly cultured") petty bourgeois to get rid of their prejudices by their own experience, we are to hold aloof from taking part in parliaments and to amuse ourselves by inventing tactics free of all commonplace and bourgeois contamination.
Bravo, bravo comrade B.K., by your defence of anti-parliamentarianism you will help us to destroy this folly much sooner than I can through my criticism.
But our ‘Maoist’ continues with open advocacy of the slogan to ‘boycott’ without any qualification. While criticising all communist groups in India, from CPI-CPM to Liberation to Kanu Sanyal, who participate in elections, he says:
They are all in the same boat for saving and justifying the parliamentary system as a counterpoise against the revolutionary path of protracted people’s war. Such an alternative parliamentary path stands diametrically opposed to Naxalbari politics for the fundamental change of this system
Here our ‘Maoist’ changes the very essence and nature of the question itself. We have not seen even a single writing of any serious communist group or party worthy of the name, advocating the parliamentary system in opposition to any form of political struggle, armed or unarmed. It is probably only our ‘lefts’ who unmindfully talk of ‘path’ (confused conception of intermingled strategy and tactics) instead of ‘tactics’, when it comes to the debate for or against the participation. The question is not whether the road to revolution goes through the bourgeois parliaments, and none has ever argued that; the simple issue is whether the revolutionaries should penetrate this enemy fortress called parliament, and use this rostrum for its exposure and destruction? Our ‘Maoist’, in fact, evades this real issue by sidetracking and raises fictitious arguments in the form of old rhetoric against bourgeois parliamentarism in order to justify its groundless politics.
One can see with one’s own eyes with what impunity these adherents of the ‘Chinese path’ attack Marxism itself:
Parliamentary Marxism sometimes raises the question of immature condition of the revolutionary struggle, sometimes posits the Indian parliamentary system as provider of ample scope for establishing an alternative system and even sometimes shows acutely keen interest in saving the parliamentary system if people or some groups disdainfully refuse to join the electoral process.
‘If people or some groups disdainfully refuse to join the electoral process’ – where comes the question of ‘saving’ the parliamentary system, unless and until the refusal is so active and so widespread that it is able to sweep away the parliament itself? Do our ‘lefts’ visualise such or similar situation in India, as was there in 1905 Russia? There is no meaning of ‘boycott’ until the revolution has gathered the moss sufficient to immediately do away with the parliament! And until that moment arrives, the revolutionary forces really fighting to bring that moment nearer, may have no other alternative but to work patiently inside the bourgeois parliaments, to expedite their decay by conducting a relentless campaign of political exposures from inside and outside of the parliaments. This is the only tactics which falls in line with the experience of the world communist movement and the approach of the Comintern. In his ‘Letter to the Austrian Communists’ written in 1920, Lenin categorically said:
As long as we Communists are unable to take over state power and hold elections, with working people alone voting for their Soviets against the bourgeoisie; as long as the bourgeoisie exercise state power and call upon the different classes of the population to take part in the elections, we are in duty bound to take part in the elections with the purpose of conducting agitation among all working people, not only among proletarians. As long as the bourgeoisie parliament remains a means of duping the workers, and phrases about "democracy" are used to cover up financial swindling and every kind of bribery (the particularly "subtle" brand of bribery the bourgeoisie practises with regard to writers, M.P.s, lawyers, and others is nowhere to be seen on so wide a scale as in the bourgeois parliament), we Communists are in duty bound to be in this very institution (which is supposed to express the people’s will – but actually covers up the deception of the people by the wealthy) to untiringly expose this deception, and expose each and every case of the Renners and Co.’s desertions to the capitalists, against the workers. It is in parliament that the relations between bourgeois parties and groups manifest themselves most frequently and reflect the relations between all the classes of bourgeois society. That is why it is in the bourgeois parliament, from within it, that we Communists must tell the people the truth about the relation between the classes and parties, and the attitude of the landowners to the farm labourers, of the rich peasants to the poor peasants, of big capital to employees and petty proprietors, etc.
Rejecting even the argument of Austrian Communists against participation on the ground that the working class in Austria had a Council of Workers’ Deputies, Lenin firmly said:
One of the Austrian Communists’ arguments against participation in the bourgeois parliaments deserves somewhat more careful consideration. Here it is:
"Parliament is of importance to Communists only as a platform for agitation. We in Austria have the Council of Workers’ deputies as platform for agitation. We therefore refuse to take part in elections to the bourgeois parliaments. In Germany there is no Council of Workers’ Deputies which can be taken in earnest. That is why the German Communists pursue different tactics."
I consider this argument erroneous. As long as we are unable to disband the bourgeois parliament, we must work against it both from without and within. As long as a more or less appreciable number of working people (not only proletarians, but also semi-proletarians and small peasants) still have confidence in the bourgeois-democratic instruments employed by the bourgeoisie for duping the workers, we must expose that deception from the very platform which the backward sections of the workers, particularly of the non-proletarian working people, consider most important and authoritative.
But our ‘lefts’ defy settled principles on participation, in the name of changed circumstances and different terrain, without pointing out how this ‘change’ affects the general line of ‘participation as a rule and boycott as exception’. In fact our ‘left’ has openly deviated from the avowed principles of the Comintern and has sought so many pretexts to defy the general line of carrying the revolutionary struggle inside the parliamentary rostrum. In words, though they praise the Bolshevik practice of using (abusing!) the bourgeois parliament through participation, but in fact they themselves abuse the ‘participation’ itself, of all kinds and without exception.
Let us have a look at the idiotic argument:
In India such politics of capitulation only strengthens the existing exploitative system under the signboard of parliamentary democracy as if it were a means to resolve the problems facing the people. Over the last 50 years it has been quite clearly seen that none of the people’s problems have been solved (or even reduced) through parliament.
Such strategy cannot afford to take recourse to legal, parliamentary participation, disband armed units and expose the secret core of the party.
In the strategy of people’s war in general, there is no room for participation in parliamentary elections in India.
Our ‘Maoist’, while advancing his case in favour of ‘boycott’ and against ‘participation’, assumes that ‘participation’ is nothing but ‘politics of capitulation’ (obviously blinding himself against the rich revolutionary experience accumulated internationally) and that it strengthens the exploitative system by posing it as a means to resolve the problems of the people. He then says himself that none of these problems has been solved through parliament. It is clear that it is none but our ‘lefts’ who had been expecting ‘to have the problems of the people resolved through parliament’ and now disdainfully say that ‘none of these have been resolved through parliament over the last 50 years’. These ‘lefts’ forget that it is not their own realization as to the futility of parliament as an instrument of solving the problems of the people, but crores of people who still have faith in parliament as an instrument of change, who are to be shown through their own experience that parliament is ‘bogus’ and ‘useless’ as far as the question of people’s problems are concerned. It is to be able to show that effectively, to expose its futility, that the communists must enter the bourgeois parliaments and not to solve the problems of the people, as our ‘Maoist’ understands it. Let us see the way the Comintern appreciates the question. This was well clarified in the theses adopted by the Second Congress of the Comintern in 1920.. The relevant excerpt from this is cited below:
At the present time, parliament cannot be used by the communists as the arena in which to struggle for reforms and improvements in working class living standards, as was the case at certain times during the past epoch. The focal point of political life has shifted fully and finally beyond the boundaries of parliament. Even so the bourgeoisie is still forced by its relations with the working class, and also by the complex relations within the bourgeois class, to push measures sometimes and somehow through parliament. In parliament the various cliques haggle for power, exhibiting their strength, betraying their weaknesses and compromising themselves, etc., etc.
The historical task of the working class is therefore to wrest the parliamentary apparatus from the hands of the ruling classes, breaking and destroying it and replacing it with new organs of proletarian power. At the same time it is very much in the interests of the revolutionary general staff of the working class to have its reconnaissance units in the parliamentary institutions of the bourgeoisie, in order to hasten their destruction. The fundamental difference between the tactics of a revolutionary Communist who enters parliament and a Social Democratic parliamentarian here emerges clearly. The Social Democratic deputy acts on the assumption of the relative stability and the indefinite duration of the existing regime. They set themselves the task of achieving reforms at all costs, and are concerned that the masses should value properly each gain as the fruit of Socialist parliamentarianism (Turati, Longuet & Co.).
A new tactic is emerging to replace the old and compromising parliamentarianism. It is one of the weapons with which parliamentarianism in general will be destroyed. However, the disgusting traditions of the old parliamentary tactics have driven some revolutionary elements to oppose parliamentarianism on principle (IWW, revolutionary syndicalism, KAPD).
But our ‘lefts’ take a step further when they say that they cannot disband their armed units and expose the secret core of the party, exposing the fact that they have core forces sufficient only either to conduct armed units or to go to elections. Anyway, who has told you to expose the secret core or disband the armed units? Our ‘Maoist’ is wrong if he really thinks that the core of the party should go to parliament or that the party should submit to bourgeois legality while going to elections. These wrong and misplaced assumptions of our ‘lefts’ lead them to reject the ‘parliamentary participation’ itself. Thus they declare – "In the strategy of people’s war in general, there is no room for participation in parliamentary elections in India", thereby rejecting participation in totality, unmindfully elevating the question of participation to the level of strategy from tactics. Further they say:
The politics of elections is a dangerous illusion that has caused incalculable harm to the communist movement in India. Instead of taking up the Maoist path of initiating armed struggle from the beginning to gradually develop local parallel power centres the CPI, CPI(M), etc. have always spun theories conveniently using some quotations from Lenin’s or Stalin’s writings to participate in elections… some frustrated and nervous leaders… once again raised the old argument of tactics in Lenin’s name to join parliamentary politics.
It is not the politics of elections, but the capitulationism on the one hand and boycottism on the other, both of which have virtually prevented the revolutionary participation to grow and become strong and have caused harm to the cause of revolution. The revolutionary line will have to fight both of them simultaneously to be able to play its role in establishing revolutionary parliamentarism, a proletarian current inside the bourgeois parliament, worthy of its name.
The theses adopted by the Second Congress of the Third International underline how the bourgeois parliaments are to be utilised:
2. Communism, the struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat and the utilisation of bourgeois parliaments.
4. Bourgeois parliaments are one of the most important apparatuses of the bourgeois state machine and like the bourgeois state in general cannot be won over to the side of the proletariat. The task of the proletariat is to shatter the bourgeois state machine, destroying it and its parliamentary institutions, whether republican or constitutional-monarchical.
6. Consequently, Communism rejects parliamentarianism as the state form of the future society, or as the form of the class dictatorship of the proletariat. It denies the possibility of parliament being won to the proletarian cause for the long run. It sets itself the task of destroying parliamentarianism. It follows from this that bourgeois state institutions can be used only with the object of destroying them. This is the one and only way the question of their utilisation can be posed.
10. The mass struggle is a whole network of activities which is increasingly intensified and logically culminates in an insurrection against the capitalist state. As the mass struggle develops into civil war, the leading party of the proletariat must, as a general rule, secure each and every legal position, using them as auxiliary centres of its revolutionary work and subordinating them to its plan for the overall campaign of mass struggle.
11. The platform of bourgeois parliaments is one such auxiliary centre. The fact that parliament is a bourgeois state institution is no argument at all against participation in parliamentary struggle. The communist party enters this institution, not to function within it as an integral part of the parliamentary system, but to take action inside parliament that helps to smash the bourgeois state machine and parliament itself (examples are the activities of Liebknecht in Germany and of the Bolsheviks in the tsarist Duma, the ‘Democratic Conference’, Kerensky’s pre-parliament, the ‘Constituent Assembly’ and the town Dumas and finally the action of the Bulgarian Communists).
12. Parliamentary activity, which consisted mainly in disseminating revolutionary ideas, unmasking class enemies from the parliamentary platform, and furthering the ideological cohesion of the masses who, especially in the backward areas still respect parliament and harbour democratic illusions – this activity must be absolutely subordinate to the aims and tasks of the mass struggle outside parliament.
Participation in election campaigns and utilisation of parliament as a platform for revolutionary ideas is of particular significance for the political conquest of those layers of the working class such as the rural working masses who until now have stood aside from political life and the revolutionary movement.
The ‘lefts’, though, advocate ‘boycott’ in the name of different conditions in India, but in fact, and what they conceal, they preach the line of boycott of bourgeois parliaments for universal application, in derogation of the instructions of the Comintern. Parties working under the banner of ‘Maoism’ worldwide, whether in Europe, America, Asia or Africa, have the slogan of ‘boycott’ at the helm of their political line. This falsifies the stand of our ‘lefts’ that they are advocating the prescription of ‘boycott’ in the specific conditions of India. This universal prescription of ‘Maoists’ can be well gathered from this article also:
It is not beside the mark to say that even in western countries elections after many decades of practice in parliamentary politics have been reduced to a lack-lustre, useless game with minimum interest of the common people. Turnout numbers even in the western countries clearly show that people over there feel little urge to cast their votes. Only 40% of Canadians, 41% of Britishers and Germans and 48% of American voters bother to exercise their franchise [The Times of India, March 29, 2004]. Use of comrade Lenin’s name for mere participation in electoral politics and practice has equated the parliamentary Marxists with Fabian socialists or social democrats of the 2nd International. The international situation has changed; people’s movements also nowhere remain within the confines of parliamentary politics. This reality cannot be ignored. The gigantic anti-war demonstrations in the West are witness to this.
Yet there is a world of difference between the bourgeois democracies of the West and those of countries like India that have not been through any bourgeois democratic revolution. Also, in the path of insurrection electoral tactics may have some relevance, if it is linked to the question of the preparations for the seizure of power by armed force. If not that too will lead to atrophy of the movement. But in countries like India where there is no relevance whatsoever for so called Maoists to partake in elections, under the guise that the conditions have not ripened is a plain hoax. For, situations do not ripen on their own; however good the objective situation, unless the strategy and tactics are linked to concrete preparations for people’s war, there will be no advance of the revolution.
Many of the arguments put and their method of functioning smack of the path adopted in developed countries (do they not say so) where these groups seem all set to work in the same fashion legally for an indefinite period, focusing primarily on urban work. The actual work at the grass roots of most of these groups is confined to reformist and economistic functioning, with occasional bouts of political propaganda to prove their political existence. Generally even militancy is lacking. They often say fascism is around the corner, but make no realistic preparations, either politically or organizationally, to face it – let alone preparations for revolution.
These ‘lefts’ say that the ‘participation’ even as a tactics is a correct prescription for the advanced countries of the West, but not for India. But the fact remains that these groups working even in Western countries under the common banner of ‘Maoism’ raise the slogans of ‘boycott’ there also, though in vain. One cannot commit a mistake to see that it is the old ‘left’ that has taken shelter under the newly invented ‘Chinese Path’ and ‘Maoism’. Pointing to the errors of Western ‘lefts’, who at the time were face to face with a real revolutionary situation, what Lenin said in ‘Left Wing Communism…’ is of immense importance:
Now let us examine the "Dutch-Left" arguments in favour of non-participation in parliaments. The following is the text of Thesis No. 4, the most important of the above-mentioned "Dutch" theses:
"When the capitalist system of production has broken down, and society is in a state of revolution, parliamentary action gradually loses importance as compared with the action of the masses themselves. When, in these conditions, parliament becomes the centre and organ of the counter-revolution, whilst, on the other hand, the labouring class builds up the instruments of its power in the Soviets, it may even prove necessary to abstain from all and any participation in parliamentary action."
The first sentence is obviously wrong, since action by the masses, a big strike, for instance, is more important than parliamentary activity at all times, and not only during a revolution or in a revolutionary situation. This obviously untenable and historically and politically incorrect argument merely shows very clearly that the authors completely ignore both the general European experience (the French experience before the revolutions of 1848 and 1870; the German experience of 1878-90, etc.) and the Russian experience (see above) of the importance of combining legal and illegal struggle. This question is of immense importance both in general and in particular, because in all civilised and advanced countries the time is rapidly approaching when such a combination will more and more become – and has already partly become – mandatory on the party of the revolutionary proletariat, inasmuch as civil war between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie is maturing and is imminent, and because of savage persecution of the Communists by republican governments and bourgeois governments generally, which resort to any violation of legality (the example of America is edifying enough), etc. The Dutch, and the Lefts in general, have utterly failed to understand this highly important question. The second sentence is, in the first place, historically wrong. We Bolsheviks participated in the most counter-revolutionary parliaments, and experience has shown that this participation was not only useful but indispensable to the party of the revolutionary proletariat, after the first bourgeois revolution in Russia (1905), so as to pave the way for the second bourgeois revolution (February 1917), and then for the socialist revolution (October 1917). In the second place, this sentence is amazingly illogical. If a parliament becomes an organ and a "centre" (in reality it never has been and never can be a "centre", but that is by the way) of counter-revolution, while the workers are building up the instruments of their power in the form of the Soviets, then it follows that the workers must prepare – ideologically, politically and technically – for the struggle of the Soviets against parliament, for the dispersal of parliament by the Soviets. But it does not at all follow that this dispersal is hindered, or is not facilitated, by the presence of a Soviet opposition within the counter-revolutionary parliament. In the course of our victorious struggle against Denikin and Kolchak, we never found that the existence of a Soviet and proletarian opposition in their camp was immaterial to our victories. We know perfectly well that the dispersal of the Constituent Assembly on January 5, 1918 was not hampered but was actually facilitated by the fact that, within the counter-revolutionary Constituent Assembly which was about to be dispersed, there was a consistent Bolshevik, as well as an inconsistent, Left Socialist-Revolutionary Soviet opposition. The authors of the theses are engaged in muddled thinking; they have forgotten the experience of many, if not all, revolutions, which shows the great usefulness, during a revolution, of a combination of mass action outside a reactionary parliament with an opposition sympathetic to (or, better still, directly supporting) the revolution within it. The Dutch, and the "Lefts" in general, argue in this respect like doctrinaires of the revolution, who have never taken part in a real revolution, have never given thought to the history of revolutions, or have naively mistaken subjective "rejection" of a reactionary institution for its actual destruction by the combined operation of a number of objective factors. The surest way of discrediting and damaging a new political (and not only political) idea is to reduce it to absurdity on the plea of defending it. For any truth, if "overdone" (as Dietzgen Senior put it), if exaggerated, or if carried beyond the limits of its actual applicability, can be reduced to an absurdity, and is even bound to become an absurdity under these conditions. That is just the kind of disservice the Dutch and German Lefts are rendering to the new truth of the Soviet form of government being superior to bourgeois-democratic parliaments. Of course, anyone would be in error who voiced the outmoded viewpoint or in general considered it impermissible, in all and any circumstances, to reject participation in bourgeois parliaments. I cannot attempt here to formulate the conditions under which a boycott is useful, since the object of this pamphlet is far more modest, namely, to study Russian experience in connection with certain topical questions of international communist tactics. Russian experience has provided us with one successful and correct instance (1905), and another that was incorrect (1906), of the use of a boycott by the Bolsheviks. Analysing the first case, we see that we succeeded in preventing a reactionary government from convening a reactionary parliament in a situation in which extra-Parliamentary revolutionary mass action (strikes in particular) was developing at great speed, when not a single section of the proletariat and the peasantry could support the reactionary government in any way, and when the revolutionary proletariat was gaining influence over the backward masses through the strike struggle and through the agrarian movement. It is quite obvious that this experience is not applicable to present-day European conditions. It is likewise quite obvious – and the foregoing arguments bear this out – that the advocacy, even if with reservations, by the Dutch and the other "Lefts" of refusal to participate in parliaments is fundamentally wrong and detrimental to the cause of the revolutionary proletariat.
In Western Europe and America, parliament has become most odious to the revolutionary vanguard of the working class. That cannot be denied. It can readily be understood, for it is difficult to imagine anything more infamous, vile or treacherous than the behaviour of the vast majority of socialist and Social-Democratic parliamentary deputies during and after the war. It would, however, be not only unreasonable but actually criminal to yield to this mood when deciding how this generally recognised evil should be fought. In many countries of Western Europe, the revolutionary mood, we might say, is at present a "novelty", or a "rarity", which has all too long been vainly and impatiently awaited; perhaps that is why people so easily yield to that mood. Certainly, without a revolutionary mood among the masses, and without conditions facilitating the growth of this mood, revolutionary tactics will never develop into action. In Russia, however, lengthy, painful and sanguinary experience has taught us the truth that revolutionary tactics cannot be built on a revolutionary mood alone. Tactics must be based on a sober and strictly objective appraisal of all the class forces in a particular state (and of the states that surround it, and of all states the world over) as well as of the experience of revolutionary movements. It is very easy to show one's "revolutionary" temper merely by hurling abuse at parliamentary opportunism, or merely by repudiating participation in parliaments; its very ease, however, cannot turn this into a solution of a difficult, a very difficult, problem. It is far more difficult to create a really revolutionary parliamentary group in a European parliament than it was in Russia. That stands to reason. But it is only a particular expression of the general truth that it was easy for Russia, in the specific and historically unique situation of 1917, to start the socialist revolution, but it will be more difficult for Russia than for the European countries to continue the revolution and bring it to its consummation. I had occasion to point this out already at the beginning of 1918, and our experience of the past two years has entirely confirmed the correctness of this view. Certain specific conditions, viz., (1) the possibility of linking up the Soviet revolution with the ending, as a consequence of this revolution, of the imperialist war, which had exhausted the workers and peasants to an incredible degree; (2) the possibility of taking temporary advantage of the mortal conflict between the world's two most powerful groups of imperialist robbers, who were unable to unite against their Soviet enemy; (3) the possibility of enduring a comparatively lengthy civil war, partly owing to the enormous size of the country and to the poor means of communication; (4) the existence of such a profound bourgeois-democratic revolutionary movement among the peasantry that the party of the proletariat was able to adopt the revolutionary demands of the peasant party (the Socialist-Revolutionary Party, the majority of whose members were definitely hostile to Bolshevism) and realise them at once, thanks to the conquest of political power by the proletariat – all these specific conditions do not at present exist in Western Europe, and a repetition of such or similar conditions will not occur so easily. Incidentally, apart from a number of other causes, that is why it is more difficult for Western Europe to start a socialist revolution than it was for us. To attempt to "circumvent" this difficulty by "skipping" the arduous job of utilising reactionary parliaments for revolutionary purposes is absolutely childish. You want to create a new society, yet you fear the difficulties involved in forming a good parliamentary group made up of convinced, devoted and heroic Communists, in a reactionary parliament! Is that not childish? If Karl Liebknecht in Germany and Z. Hoglund in Sweden were able, even without mass support from below, to set examples of the truly revolutionary utilisation of reactionary parliaments, why should a rapidly growing revolutionary mass party, in the midst of the post-war disillusionment and embitterment of the masses, be unable to forge a communist group in the worst of parliaments? It is because, in Western Europe, the backward masses of the workers and – to an even greater degree – of the small peasants are much more imbued with bourgeois-democratic and parliamentary prejudices than they were in Russia; because of that, it is only from within such institutions as bourgeois parliaments that Communists can (and must) wage a long and persistent struggle, undaunted by any difficulties, to expose, dispel and overcome these prejudices.
Our ‘Maoist’ tells us about the areas where the people’s consciousness has reached the level of ‘boycott’ but does not make any difference in their tactics, in respect to those areas and other areas. The mantra of ‘boycott’, for them, remains, in every case of universal application. Not able to withstand criticism, our ‘Maoist’ takes a turn away from theory:
In addition the ground reality can clearly be seen that those who boycott elections and prepare the masses and the Party for armed revolution have continued to advance their movement in spite of losing a large number of their cadre and even leaders to state repression. On the other hand those for participation continue to be fringe groups, that continue their splitting, with little mass base. So without going into any theoretical arguments it is evident even to a child that those who boycott and advance the class struggle have been more effective in winning over the masses to revolution.
Besides, if the path of protracted people’s war is accepted as the path to actualize the establishment of people’s democracy in India, there is no question of participating in a long legal process, including participation in elections.
Where the State can go to the extent of using its paramilitary and police forces to campaign for the people to vote (in those areas where mass consciousness has risen to the level of boycott), one can understand the importance attached to elections for the rulers of this country. Yet some so-called revolutionaries insist on participation.
And then they draw absolutely irrational conclusion from a quote from the Cominform, referring to an entirely different context:
Way back on 27th January, 1950 in the editorial of the organ of the Cominform, ‘For a Lasting Peace, For a People’s Democracy’ it was clearly stated, "The path taken by the Chinese people … is the path that should be taken by the people of many colonial and dependent countries in their struggle for national independence and people’s democracy…"
While Indian revisionists always fought shy of accepting such a path, the neo-revisionists who identify themselves as Naxalites like the CPI(ML) Liberation, COI(ML), CPI(ML) New Democracy, etc. now deceive the people with the bait of parliamentary politics after their betrayal of the path of Naxalbari and pinning faith in electoral politics.
This is what our ‘Maoist’ understands from the quote! ‘The path taken by the Chinese people’ in its imagination means nothing but ‘boycott’. It is an absurdity to misquote the Cominform in favour of the strategic slogan of boycott, as is understood by our ‘lefts’. We have already shown that in practice, even the ‘Chinese path’, had nothing to do with the question of parliamentary democracy or even a parliament for that matter. The debate about the relevance of the Chinese path thus does not have anything to do with ‘boycott’. However, it is worth mentioning here that it was none but Mao Tse-tung himself who raised his hand in favour of struggle for a Parliament (National Assembly) in China. In a press interview given in February of 1938, in Yenan, replying to a query regarding the summoning of a bourgeois parliament in China, Mao Tse-tung commented:
Q. How do you picture the democratic republic advocated by the Communist Party?
A. In the democratic republic which the Communist Party advocates, parliament will be elected by our people, who refuse to be colonial slaves. Elections will be based on universal suffrage without any restrictions. Ours will be a democratic state. In broad outline it will be that state on whose establishment Sun Yat-sen insisted long ago. It is along these lines that the Chinese state must develop.
Not only this, but Mao Tse-tung and other Communists had taken part in the pre-parliament, the ‘National Political Council of China’ formed in 1938, though this ‘Council’ was far more undemocratic compared to the Fourth Russian Duma or even the legislative structures in British India, wherein the Communist Party of India had taken part. Both of these were at least based upon some sort of franchise, however narrow it may have been, while the Council was structured without a franchise at all. This fact was well recognised by the Communist members of the ‘Council’ in their declaration:
Although the Council, both in the method whereby it was established and in its composition, is not yet an absolutely representative body of the people, …
…the Communist members of the Council do not repudiate responsibility on the pretext that the members of the Council are not elected by the people. We realise deeply that the members of the Council are the servants of the people, consequently we will resolutely strive to realise the desires, hopes and demands of the people of China.
It is clear that the ‘Council’ in China, however undemocratic it may have been, had a common goal before it, which in our case is absent. However, the point we are making is altogether different. The aforementioned quotes from the interview with Mao and from the joint declaration by Communist members of the ‘Council’ are demonstrative of two things – firstly, that the question of dealing with the issue of bourgeois parliaments is a tactical issue and the question of attitude and role of Communists should be decided in context of different situations at different times and places, while maintaining the strategic position – participation as a rule and boycott as an exception. Secondly, the ‘Chinese Path’ as propagated by our ‘Maoists’ is in no way the path of the strategic negation – of ‘boycott’ of the bourgeois parliament.
The concept of the ‘Chinese Path’ is well understood in Marxist-Leninist parlance to be the ‘path’ taken by a Communist Party in a country where pre-capitalist forms of production are dominant and the proletariat has a nominal presence. Thus the issue of proletarian revolution remains out of the question, and it is the semi-proletarian mass, particularly the peasant masses, who are to be organised and oriented towards a democratic revolution. This internationally recognised concept of ‘Chinese Path’ has hardly anything in common with the ‘boycott’ being preached by our ‘Maoist’.
Stalin’s reading of what constituted the ‘Chinese Path’ also relates to the importance of the path of people’s democracy and within it the agrarian question as opposed to the slogan of socialist revolution. The abovementioned editorial of the Cominform, from which the excerpt referring to the relevance of the ‘Chinese Path’ has been extracted out of context by our ‘Maoist’, only to mislead one on the issue, was in fact adopted by the Cominform as an indirect criticism of the line of B.T. Ranadive, who was trying to make a case for ‘socialist revolution’ in India at that moment.
For Stalin, as for Mao, there was no contradiction between the ‘Chinese Path’ and ‘participation in parliament’. A year after the aforesaid Cominform editorial, on which our ‘Maoist’ has been misleading, Stalin had sanctioned the utilisation of the Indian parliament by the then CPI, recommending the use of parliament by the Communists.
All this goes to show that the understanding of our ‘Maoist’ of the ‘Chinese Path’ is different from what has been understood by the leaders of the International Communist Movement and those who had trodden the ‘Chinese Path’.
The impugned article by our ‘Maoist’ puts incontrovertible facts on cards, but in support of its incorrect argument in favour of ‘boycott’, which in the final analysis is thus turned against it:
Regular elections, at huge expense, with no real change in people’s lives only creates frustration and hopelessness, reflected in various forms of people’s demonstration of anger, which are evident everywhere.
Very true! But how this rudimentary form of ‘anger’ should be elevated to a conscious revolt against the system, that simply our ‘Maoist’ does not know. However, the truth remains miles from the perception of our ‘Maoist’. People at large still do not show any anger at ‘elections’; rather they see them as an assertion and re-assertion of their aspirations.
But the article goes further:
Surveys conducted by the media in the newspapers, journals, letters sent to the editors of dailies, etc. unfold the increasing trend of faithlessness in any political party, the farcical election promises, the disgust and yawning surprise of the people at the squandering of money for buying votes and most of all the loss of credibility of the electoral system itself in India.
In a massive survey conducted by The Times of India in cities and towns found that 40% of the people clearly and 30% not so clearly consider elections are a waste of time. The same source makes it clear that in 1999, 60% of the electorate turned out to vote in India. One thing is clear that in towns and cities about 40% clearly and 30% not so clearly state that elections are a waste of public money. The same source also highlights the crucial fact that 50% of women in cities and towns do not know who their M.P. is, and that 34% of men and women could not recall the name of their parliamentary representative.
The favour shown by the electorate to this or that party, say Congress(I) or the BJP or some other formation in this election and some other in the next, only shows the restlessness of the masses in the absence of a strong alternative trend. A study of the past elections has shown that the electorate in any particular election throw out two-thirds of sitting MPs.
The instability in electoral politics is also obvious from the increasing trend of the loss of seats in the same parliamentary constituencies by the same party. … in the elections in 1991, 1996, 1998 and 1999, constituencies not re-electing the same party were in 231, 271, 272 and 263 number of seats respectively. With this trend, we have also to count the very important fact that more or less 40% of the voters have never bothered to cast their votes in each and every election in India. If the percentage of rigged polls is taken into account the number of non-participants in so-called democratic elections is a staggering figure.
What rises prominently is the general unsteadiness, lack of faith in particular party(ies) and the shifting sands on which the electorate stand in respect to the parliamentary parties.
In any case, all political parties have, to a large extent, lost credibility in the eyes of the masses. In addition, even the educated segments in cities and villages have shown their shifting and unsteady support for those undesirable elements as mentioned above. And so it is not unusual for the same electorate to support the Congress(I) in this election and the BJP or any other party in the next election and so on. This also substantiates the prevalence of a rich objectively revolutionary situation needing proper subjective intervention.
All this is cited to support the plea that the masses at large have already negated bourgeois politics and ‘a rich objectively revolutionary situation prevails’ needing proper subjective intervention. The political backwardness of the masses, whether urban or rural, resulting in indifference towards state affairs and politics in general and towards elections in particular, demonstrated in low voter turnout, is identified by our left with negation of bourgeois politics. Here lies one of the important mistakes committed by these adherents of ‘boycott’. In fact, both of these situations are in stark contrast to each other. Whereas ‘indifference’ emerges out of political passivity and idiosyncrasy of the masses and results in the political stultification of society, the ‘negation’ of a given system by the masses emerges out of and is a sign of mass activism and the emerging fighting mood and spirit of the masses, which is bound to result, sooner or later, in a revolt. Our ‘Maoist’, unable to understand the difference between the two, makes a jumble of them, rejoicing itself over the fact that ‘a section of the people does not go to the polling booth’. The fact remains however that the illusion of bourgeois parliamentarism still holds sway among the masses and is politically potent enough.
Conceding to our point of view, our perception of the level of mass consciousness and distancing itself from what is stated, the article, in the very next breath, says something contrary to its own observation, with a sign of hopelessness:
Besides that, the illusion of parliamentarism, still sits grippingly in the minds of crores of people. …the parliamentary system of the bourgeois-feudal classes, particularly in a country like ours, will continue with all its perverted as well as increasingly refurbished features for many years….
Anyway, the cat is out of the bag! Bourgeois parliamentarism ‘sits grippingly in the minds of people’, this is the whole matter. Even then our ‘Maoists’ say that there is no need to enter the bourgeois parliaments to expose their impotence, uselessness etc. before the people so that this illusion is dispelled away, as soon as possible. They simply preach ‘boycott’, which does not in any way help to elevate the consciousness of the masses even an inch further. ‘Boycott’ is a slogan, a clarion call for action, only when the masses by their own political experience have realised that parliament is ‘superfluous’ and when the revolutionary forces have resultantly mustered forces sufficient for a forcible overthrow of the bourgeois parliament. But we know, and our ‘Maoist’ also concedes, that this is not the case in India. The ‘illusion of bourgeois parliamentarism grips the minds of crores of people’. If merely a section does not go to vote that does not imply in any way that this section has been raised to the level of political consciousness of negation of bourgeois parliamentarism, but rather is broadly due to the reluctant and passive attitude of the masses towards politics in general. The ‘lefts’ draw incorrect conclusions on the basis of an otherwise correct set of facts. From the simple fact that voter turnout has become low, the ‘lefts’ draw the conclusion that bourgeois parliamentarism is outliving its existence and is becoming obsolete politically also. Refuting this erroneous view of adventurist lefts, Lenin propounded in ‘Left Wing Communism…’:
Parliamentarianism has become "historically obsolete". That is true in the propaganda sense. However, everybody knows that this is still a far cry from overcoming it in practice. Capitalism could have been declared – and with full justice – to be "historically obsolete" many decades ago, but that does not at all remove the need for a very long and very persistent struggle on the basis of capitalism. Parliamentarianism is "historically obsolete" from the standpoint of world history, i.e., the era of bourgeois parliamentarianism is over, and the era of the proletarian dictatorship has begun. That is incontestable. But world history is counted in decades. Ten or twenty years earlier or later makes no difference when measured with the yardstick of world history; from the standpoint of world history it is a trifle that cannot be considered even approximately. But for that very reason, it is a glaring theoretical error to apply the yardstick of world history to practical politics.
Is parliamentarianism "politically obsolete"? That is quite a different matter. If that were true, the position of the "Lefts" would be a strong one. But it has to be proved by a most searching analysis, and the "Lefts" do not even know how to approach the matter. In the "Theses on Parliamentarianism;', published in the Bulletin of the Provisional Bureau in Amsterdam of the Communist International No. 1, February 1920, and obviously expressing the Dutch-Left or Left-Dutch strivings, the analysis, as we shall see, is also hopelessly poor.
In the first place, contrary to the opinion of such outstanding political leaders as Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, the German "Lefts", as we know, considered parliamentarianism, "politically obsolete" even in January 1919. We know that the "Lefts" were mistaken. This fact alone utterly destroys, at a single stroke, the proposition that parliamentarianism is "politically obsolete". It is for the "Lefts" to prove why their error, indisputable at that time, is no longer an error. They do not and cannot produce even a shred of proof. A political party's attitude towards its own mistakes is one of this most important and surest ways of judging how earnest the party is and how it fulfils in practice its obligations towards its class and the working people.
Frankly acknowledging a mistake, ascertaining the reasons for it, analysing the conditions that have led up to it, and thrashing out the means of its rectification – that is the hallmark of a serious party; that is how it should perform its duties, and how it should educate and train its class, and then the masses. Failing to fulfil this duty and give the utmost attention and consideration to the study of their patent error, the "Lefts" in Germany (and in Holland) have proved that they are not a party of a class, but a circle, not a party of the masses, but a group of intellectualists and of a few workers who ape the worst features of intellectualism.
Second, in the same pamphlet of the Frankfurt group of "Lefts", which we have already cited in detail, we read:
"...The millions of workers who still follow the policy of the Centre [the Catholic 'Centre’ Party] are counter-revolutionary. The rural proletarians provide the legions of counter-revolutionary troops." (Page 3 of the pamphlet.)
Everything goes to show that this statement is far too sweeping and exaggerated. But the basic fact set forth here is incontrovertible, and its acknowledgement by the "Lefts" is particularly clear evidence of their mistake. How can one say that "parliamentarianism is politically obsolete", when "millions" and "legions" of proletarians are not only still in favour of parliamentarianism in general, but are downright "counter-revolutionary"!? It is obvious that parliamentarianism in Germany is not yet politically obsolete. It is obvious that the "Lefts" in Germany have mistaken their desire, their politico-ideological attitude, for objective reality. That is a most dangerous mistake for revolutionaries to make. In Russia – where, over a particularly long period and in particularly varied forms, the most brutal and savage yoke of tsarism produced revolutionaries of diverse shades, revolutionaries who displayed amazing devotion, enthusiasm, heroism and will power – in Russia we have observed this mistake of the revolutionaries at very close quarters; we have studied it very attentively and have a first-hand knowledge of it; that is why we can also see it especially clearly in others. Parliamentarianism is of course "politically obsolete" to the Communists in Germany; but – and that is the whole point – we must not regard what is obsolete to us as something obsolete to a class, to the masses. Here again we find that the "Lefts" do not know how to reason, do not know how to act as the party of a class, as the party of the masses. You must not sink to the level of the masses, to the level of the backward strata of the class. That is incontestable. You must tell them the bitter truth. You are in duty bound to call their bourgeois-democratic and parliamentary prejudices what they are – prejudices. But at the same time you must soberly follow the actual state of the class-consciousness and preparedness of the entire class (not only of its communist vanguard), and of all the working people (not only of their advanced elements).
Even if only a fairly large minority of the industrial workers, and not "millions" and "legions", follow the lead of the Catholic clergy – and a similar minority of rural workers follow the landowners and kulaks (Grossbauern) – it undoubtedly signifies that parliamentarianism in Germany has not yet politically outlived itself, that participation in parliamentary elections and in the struggle on the parliamentary rostrum is obligatory on the party of the revolutionary proletariat specifically for the purpose of educating the backward strata of its own class, and for the purpose of awakening and enlightening the undeveloped, downtrodden and ignorant rural masses. Whilst you lack the strength to do away with bourgeois parliaments and every other type of reactionary institution, you must work within them because it is there that you will still find workers who are duped by the priests and stultified by the conditions of rural life; otherwise you risk turning into nothing but windbags.
Third, the "Left" Communists have a great deal to say in praise of us Bolsheviks. One sometimes feels like telling them to praise us less and to try to get a better knowledge of the Bolsheviks' tactics. We took part in the elections to the Constituent Assembly, the Russian bourgeois parliament, in September-November 1917. Were our tactics correct or not? If not, then this should be clearly stated and proved, for it is necessary in evolving the correct tactics for international communism. If they were correct, then certain conclusions must be drawn. Of course, there can be no question of placing conditions in Russia on a par with conditions in Western Europe. But as regards the particular question of the meaning of the concept that "parliamentarianism has become politically obsolete", due account should be taken of our experience, for unless concrete experience is taken into account such concepts very easily turn into empty phrases. In September-November 1917, did we, the Russian Bolsheviks, not have more right than any Western Communists to consider that parliamentarianism was politically obsolete in Russia? Of course we did, for the point is not whether bourgeois parliaments have existed for a long time or a short time, but how far the masses of the working people are prepared (ideologically, politically and practically) to accept the Soviet system and to dissolve the bourgeois-democratic parliament (or allow it to be dissolved). It is an absolutely incontestable and fully established historical fact that, in September-November 1917, the urban working class and the soldiers and peasants of Russia were, because of a number of special conditions, exceptionally well prepared to accept the Soviet system and to disband the most democratic of bourgeois parliaments. Nevertheless, the Bolsheviks did not boycott the Constituent Assembly, but took part in the elections both before and after the proletariat conquered political power.
Failing to asses the role and strength of bourgeois parliaments correctly, our ‘Maoist’ continues with his rhetoric of boycott, refusing to listen to reason at all. The old argument in support of boycottism is then merely repeated in the article, on the ground that ‘parliaments do not hold the reign of real political power, but are a farce’:
In fact, all existing class-based states are run not by parliaments, though parliaments are projected as repositories of power, but through actual power wielded from behind the screen by the ruling classes. This is lately more crudely seen in India where policy is more openly being dictated by the US, multilateral institutions, TNCs, the Ambanis, etc., etc. This is not only becoming an obvious reality, but is also a basic tenet of Marxism on the character of the state. The election boycott campaign can teach the common masses about this fundamental truth.
The facts narrated above are incontrovertible. And everybody in the revolutionary stream knows this ABC of politics: that bourgeois parliaments do not wield any real power, but merely act as a smokescreen to conceal the real power centres in the bourgeois state machine, say ‘bureaucracy’ in India. But the question is not of grasping of this idea by the communists in theory. The question is how the masses are to be made to realise the same, the masses who do not learn just from theory, but by their own practical experience. This practical experience cannot be accumulated before the eyes of the masses except through a revolutionary intervention inside parliament, converting that rostrum from a stage set up to dupe the masses to a school of learning for the masses. The argument of the ‘lefts’, that no real power is vested in parliament, has another dimension too. The strength and role of parliament as an institution of the bourgeois state does not lie in its ‘potency’, but exactly in its impotency, its farcical role as a ‘smokescreen’ in concealing the real centres of state power behind it and thereby duping the masses.
Lenin deals with this issue referring to the Third Duma, in 1908, in his article ‘The Assessment of the Present Situation’:
The Third Duma is not a compromising but a downright counter-revolutionary body, which does not cover up the autocracy, but exposes it, and which plays no independent part in any respect; no one anywhere expects it to produce progressive reforms; no one imagines that the source of tsarism’s real power lies in this assembly of diehards. All are agreed that tsarism does not repose on it, but makes use of it, that tsarism can pursue its entire present policy, both if the calling of such a Duma be postponed (as the calling of a parliament was "postponed" by Turkey in 1878) and if it be replaced by a ‘Zemsky Sobor’ or something similar. The slogan ‘down with the Duma’ would mean concentrating the main attack on an institution which is neither independent nor decisive, and which does not play the principal part. Such a slogan would be wrong. We must keep the old slogan of ‘down with the Autocracy’ and ‘long live the Constituent Assembly’ because it is precisely the autocracy which continues to remain the real authority, the real support and bulwark of reaction. The fall of the autocracy inevitably means the removal (and the revolutionary removal at that) of the Third Duma as an institution of tsarism, but the fall of the Third Duma by itself would mean either a new adventure by that same autocracy or an attempt at reform – a deceptive and only apparent reform – undertaken by same autocracy.
The obviously immature stance of our present-day ‘Maoist’ falls thus in direct conflict with that of Lenin, who put it very clearly that it is not the parliament which is target of the revolutionary struggle, but the real power hiding behind the farce of parliament, and that proletariat is duty bound to penetrate the bourgeois parliaments as a matter of rule and to carry out the revolutionary war inside it, to expedite its decay. This stance is endorsed by the International in theory and is tested in practice by the Communist Parties world over.
The character of bourgeois parliaments hardly demands any further analysis at this stage. The issue is how these bourgeois parliaments are to be dealt with and how parliamentarism in general is to be undermined. More specifically, whether revolutionary forces should participate or boycott the parliaments so as to prepare the masses to disband them at the earliest? The ‘Lefts’ stand in support of ‘boycott’ while revolutionary communism favours participation as a rule and boycott only as an exception to that. Lenin says in ‘Left Wing Communism…":
The conclusion which follows from this is absolutely incontrovertible: it has been proved that, far from causing harm to the revolutionary proletariat, participation in a bourgeois-democratic parliament, even a few weeks before the victory of a Soviet republic and even after such a victory, actually helps that proletariat to prove to the backward masses why such parliaments deserve to be done away with; it facilitates their successful dissolution, and helps to make bourgeois parliamentarianism "politically obsolete". To ignore this experience, while at the same time claiming affiliation to the Communist International, which must work out its tactics internationally (not as narrow or exclusively national tactics, but as international tactics), means committing a gross error and actually abandoning internationalism in deed, while recognising it in word.
Synthesising the practical revolutionary experience so accumulated the world over by the Communist Parties, the Comintern then developed a whole set of tactics as regards to the revolutionary work inside bourgeois parliaments and adopted specific guidelines to direct the activities of the Communist Parties not only within parliaments but also in local state bodies, if they fall to their hands. The theses adopted by the Second Congress of the Communist International, ‘The Communist Party and Parliament’, thus propounds:
13. Should the Communists receive a majority in the local government institutions, it is their duty to take the following measures:
Form a revolutionary opposition to fight the bourgeois central authority;
Aid the poorer sections of the population in every possible way (economic measures, the organisation or attempted organisation of armed workers militias etc.);
Expose at every opportunity the obstacles which the bourgeois state power places in the way of fundamental social change;
Launch a determined campaign to spread revolutionary propaganda, even if it leads to conflict with the state power;
Under certain circumstances, replace the local government bodies with Soviets of Workers’ Deputies.
All Communist activity in the local government institutions must be seen as a part of the struggle to break up the capitalist system.
Similarly broad contours of how communists have to work inside the bourgeois parliaments are also marked by the Comintern:
3. Revolutionary Parliamentarianism
In order to guarantee that the revolutionary parliamentary tactic is used correctly, the following points should be observed:
5. Communist deputies must subordinate all their parliamentary work to the extra-parliamentary activity of their Party. The Party and its Central Committee must see that legislative proposals are regularly introduced, not with the idea that they will be accepted by the bourgeois majority but for the purpose of propaganda, agitation and organisation.
8. Communist Members of Parliament must bear in mind that they are not "legislators" seeking agreement with other legislators, but Party agitators sent into the enemy’s camp to carry out the Party’s decisions. The Communist Member of Parliament is responsible not to the atomised mass of voters, but to the Communist Party whether legal or illegal.
11. Communist Members of parliament must use the parliamentary platform to expose, not just the bourgeoisie and its avowed followers, but also the social-patriots, reformists, the indecisive politicians of the ‘centre’ and the other opponents of Communism. Likewise, they must use it to spread the ideas of the Third International.
12. Even where the Communist Party has one or two people in parliament, the behaviour of its deputies should be a challenge to capitalism. The deputies should remember that they only deserve the name of Communist if they show ceaseless hostility to the bourgeois system and its social-patriotic lackeys.
The role of the elections and the parties participating in them was made clear by the Comintern in the following words:
14. The election campaign itself must be conducted not as a drive for the maximum number of parliamentary seats but as a mobilisation of the masses around slogans of proletarian revolution. The election struggle must involve rank and file party members and not the party leadership alone; it is essential that all mass actions (strikes, demonstrations, movements among the armed forces etc.) occurring at the time are taken up in the campaign and that close contact is maintained with them. The mass proletarian organisations should also be drawn into active work around the election.
15. If conducted in line with these theses and also with the conditions laid down in the special instruction, parliamentary work represents a direct contrast to the dirty political manoeuvring practised by the various social-democratic parties who enter parliament to support this ‘democratic’ institution or, at best, ‘to win it over’. The Communist Party must stand exclusively for the revolutionary utilisation of parliament, in the spirit of Karl Liebknecht, Hoglund and the Bolsheviks.
These are not principles which had remained in theory, on paper alone, but have been practised by the revolutionary parties the world over. And it is no argument against revolutionary parliamentarism that this or that party did not carry out or failed to carry out the revolutionary policy.
How the revolutionary principles of participation were put into practice by Communist parties can be seen from the memoirs of A. Badayev, Bolshevik Deputy in the Fourth tsarist Duma. It would not be out of place to cite certain excerpts, which throw ample light on the subject of revolutionary participation, and how this was put into action by Bolsheviks in the most reactionary Tsarist Duma:
Chapter I. The Elections to the Fourth Duma
The third State Duma, which was the first Duma to complete the full legal period of five years, was dissolved in the middle of the summer of 1912. It had a majority of nobles and landlords, and proved an obedient tool in the hands of the government. The fractions of the Social Democrats and the bourgeois democrats (Trudoviks) were small in number and were of course unable to prevent the Duma from passing all the bills submitted to it by the government. The Cadets, the party of the liberal bourgeois, although professedly in opposition to the government, were afraid of resolute words and deeds. Under the slogan of ‘saving the Duma’ the Cadets and the Progressives, a group akin to them, were quiet and submissive, allowing the majority on the Right to do as they pleased. The Third Duma gave the government all that it desired. It was a ‘law abiding and efficient’ people’s representation.
In a survey of the five years’ work of the Third Sate Duma, on the day after its dissolution, Pravda wrote as follows:
The entire activity of the State Duma was directed towards the preservation of the class interests of its majority. Therefore these five years of an ‘efficient’ Duma did not in any way assist in the solution of a series of urgent questions which are of enormous importance to the country. All attempts made by the Left Parties, by means of interpellations, to shed light on the dark aspects of Russian life and to draw to them the attention of the country were frustrated by the votes of the dominant majority…. A good riddance.
With these words, Pravda took farewell of the Third Duma, expressing thereby the general attitude of the workers and peasants.
The Fourth Duma was to follow in the footsteps of the Third. The electoral law remained the same, and therefore the majority in the new Duma was bound to be as Black Hundred as before. There was no doubt that the activities of the Fourth Duma would also be directed against the workers and that its legislation would be of no use either to the workers or the peasantry.
In spite of these considerations the Social-Democratic Party decided to take an active part in the elections as it had done in those for the Second and Third Dumas. The experience of the preceding years had shown the great importance of an election campaign from the standpoint of agitation, and the important role played by Social-Democratic fractions in the Duma. Our fractions, while refusing to take part in the so called "positive" work of legislation, used the Duma rostrum for revolutionary agitation. The work of the Social-Democratic fractions outside the Duma was still more important; they were becoming the organising centres of party work in Russia. Therefore our Party decided that active participation in the campaign was necessary.
…The tactical line of the Party at the elections was defined as follows:
…The party must wage a relentless war against the tsarist autocracy and the parties of landlords and capitalists that support it, persistently opposing at the same time the counter-revolutionary views and false democracy of the bourgeois-liberals (with the Cadet party at their head). Special attention should be paid in the election campaign to maintaining the independence of the party of the proletariat from all the non-proletarian parties, to revealing the petty bourgeois nature of the pseudo-socialism of the democratic groups (mainly the Trudoviks, the Narodniks and the Socialist Revolutionaries), and to exposing the harm done to the cause of democracy by their vacillation of questions of mass revolutionary struggle.
The Bolsheviks regarded the election campaign to the State Duma as an opportunity for far-reaching agitation and propaganda and as one of the means of organising the masses. By attempting to secure the election of their own candidates, the Bolsheviks did not transform the campaign into a mere struggle for a few seats in the Duma. The activity of the Duma fraction both within and outside the Duma had great revolutionary importance. But the election campaign itself was of no less importance and throughout its course the revolutionary position of Social-Democracy had to be preserved in all its purity, without being toned down or retouched for any secondary considerations.
…In the resolution of the Prague Congress…, the Bolsheviks defined the political platform to be advocated during the elections as follows:
The principal slogans of our Party at the coming elections should be the following: (1) a democratic republic, (2) an eight-hour working day, (3) the confiscation of all landlords’ estates. During the whole of our election campaign these demands should be clearly explained on the basis of the experience of the Third Duma and the entire activity of the government in the sphere of both central and local administration. The rest of the Social-Democratic minimum programme, such as universal suffrage, freedom of association, popular election of judges and officials, the substitution of an armed people for a standing army, etc., is to be brought up in our propaganda and linked up with the above three slogans.
These three basic slogans of the Bolshevik Party, afterwards called the "three whales", formulated the fundamental demands of the Russian workers and peasants. The slogan of a "democratic republic" directly raised the question of overthrowing tsarism, even though that tsarism was masked by an emasculated Duma. This slogan exposed the "constitutional illusions", and showed the working class that the reforms passed by the State Duma would not help them in the least, and that there was no possibility of improving their lot under the existing form of government.
The other two "whales" expressed the main economic demands of the workers. The eight-hour day was the chief demand in the economic struggle of the working class. Nearly all the strikes, which were continually increasing in extent, were accompanied by the demand for an eight-hour day. The slogan of confiscation of landlords’ estates offered a revolutionary solution of the agrarian question and formulated the demands and aspirations of the hundred million Russian peasants.
Chapter VI. The Cracow Conference
…The workers’ deputies, said V.I. Lenin, must use the Duma for agitation and help to develop the revolutionary movement by exposing both the tsarist government and the hypocrisy of the so-called liberal parties. The workers’ deputies must be heard by the entire working class of Russia. But activity in the Duma was only a part of the work of the fraction; as an integral part of the Party, the Bolshevik ‘six’ must take part in the vast work to be done outside of the Duma. The organisation and guidance of Party groups and activity in the Party press and in the trade unions were among the important duties of the workers’ deputies and demanded from them continual work and effort.
The workers deputies must remain in touch with the masses and all working class organisations, legal and illegal, must regard the Duma Bolsheviks as the leaders and organisers of the revolutionary struggle. Lenin constantly stressed these points in conversation with us.
Chapter XII. The Poronino Conference.
Several sittings were devoted to the debate on our report, and in the resolution adopted the conference reaffirmed previous Party decisions that Social-Democratic deputies were not concerned with so-called positive legislative work, but that their task was to utilise the Duma for revolutionary agitation and propaganda.
These excerpts provide the test ground and go to show clearly the stark difference between the practice of ‘bourgeois’ and ‘capitulationist’ parliamentarism on the one hand, as practised by the majority of Communist Parties these days including our CPI-CPM, vis-a-vis revolutionary parliamentarism, on the other hand, as practised by the Bolsheviks. Comparing these activities of the Bolsheviks in Russia to those of various Communist groups participating in bourgeois parliaments today, one immediately realises the stark contrast between the two. But from this, the only conclusion which can be drawn is that a true revolutionary opposition has to be built up inside the parliament. The viewpoint, preached by our ‘lefts’ that parliament should be boycotted, is sheer absurdity of an extreme nature and parliament should be fought against with the same spirit with which capitulationist politics has to be countered.
In any case, if our ‘lefts’ genuinely and seriously want to make a case for deviation from the general principles of participation in bourgeois parliaments, accepted as a matter of rule by the international communist movement, then they must show by positive arguments and logic how the thesis is not applicable to this day or this country. Simple rhetoric that the theses were for certain western countries, while our situation is different, does not stand up to logic.
The ‘lefts’, while criticising bourgeois parliamentarianism or its capitulationist lackeys, must not ignore that side by side with this rotten parliamentarism, stands the revolutionary parliamentarism advocated by the Comintern and communists are duty bound to carry out that practice in every country where such parliaments exist, unless the point is reached when the Communists are really able to overturn these parliaments and undermine parliamentarism itself. A simple criticism of bourgeois parliamentarism cannot serve as an argument against revolutionary parliamentarism, which stands in sharp opposition to the former.
Even armed struggle can be no pretext for refusal to participate in parliament. Elevating one form of struggle, ‘armed struggle’, to ‘the path’ and then counterposing this to other forms of struggle like parliamentary struggle, is a patent absurdity. These forms of struggle are to be chosen, and may go consecutive or simultaneous to each other, as the situation calls for.
Che Guevara, whom even our lefts consider to be standing to their left, put the question of armed struggle in correct perspective. In his famous book ‘Guerrilla Warfare’, Che underlines the necessity of exhaustion of legal procedures before an armed struggle could be successfully launched and taken to victory:
1. General Principles of Guerrilla Fighting
…Certain minimum pre-conditions are needed to kindle the first spark. The people must be shown that social wrongs are not going to be redressed by civil means alone and it is desirable to have the oppressor, wittingly or not, break the peace first.
Under these conditions, popular discontent assumes increasingly positive forms, creating a state of resistance, that provoked by the attitude of the authority, can easily lead to an outbreak of fighting.
If a government has come to power through some form of popular vote, whether fraudulent or not, and if that government maintains at least the appearance of Constitutional law, a guerrilla uprising cannot be brought about until all possible avenues of legal procedure have been exhausted.
The Lefts, who talk of armed struggle as the negation of struggle inside bourgeois parliaments, would have to answer first if, in their opinion, ‘all possible avenues of legal procedure’ have really been exhausted and the masses have already come to realise that ‘the social wrongs are not going to be redressed by civil means alone’, before resorting to armed struggle. But the problem is that our ‘Maoist’ has just now conceded that the ‘parliamentary illusion sits grippingly in the minds of crores of people’ and also that ‘the same would continue for a long time to come’. So the first and foremost task before Communists is to dispel this ‘illusion’ from the minds of the people and not to shut their eyes from the reality and create an inverted image of the whole issue in their minds. Undermining bourgeois parliaments needs first and foremost wiping out its illusionary image from the minds of people. As soon as that is done, wiping out parliamentarism would be not more than child’s play. But until this illusion is dispelled, bourgeois parliamentarism cannot be wiped out, whatever the forms of struggle may be. We must not overlook the historic fact that even after the successful armed insurrection of October 1917, the bourgeois Duma had to be restored in the Soviet Union, though the bourgeoisie was already disarmed and all arms were under the command of the Bolsheviks. It was only after the bourgeois Duma was exposed through tremendous efforts on the part of the Bolsheviks that the ‘illusions sitting grippingly in the minds of the people’ could be dispelled and the Duma dispelled into thin air. The otherwise impotent bourgeois parliaments remain omnipotent until ‘illusions about them sit grippingly in the minds of people’. ‘Illusions sitting grippingly in the minds of people’ – that is the whole issue. You cannot bypass parliament by your rhetoric of ‘boycott’ or by simply hurling curses at it; you will have to deal with it as a very potent institution of the bourgeois state machine. It is clear that this exercise has not been undertaken seriously, much less exhausting it. Whoever talks of rising in open rebellion, in open armed struggle against the state, is more under obligation to ensure that the legal avenues opened by bourgeois parliamentarism stand exhausted as soon as possible. And there is no way to exhaust these except through revolutionary participation in bourgeois parliaments and carrying out the revolutionary campaign in a way that the illusions about it in the minds of people vanish as soon as possible. This is exactly what our ‘Maoist’ refuses to recognise and illogically counterposes the armed struggle to this arduous exercise of revolutionary parliamentarism.
Now let us see for a moment, how this incorrect position in theory taken by our ‘Maoist’, when confronted with objective reality in the social and political arena, resolves itself in the field of practice! On the eve of general elections of the 13th Lok Sabha, though our ‘Maoists’ had come out with the official line of boycott, yet in practice they called on the people to vote against the NDA alliance led by Chandrababu Naidu in the province of Andhra Pradesh. It is not the only example of such deviation from their official line. In the general elections for the 12th Lok Sabha, when the political campaign of all other parties, including the CPI-CPM, was put under threat by the ‘Maoists’, the Bahujan Samaj Party, a bourgeois party claiming to represent dalit castes, was allowed by them to campaign. In the province of Bihar also the ‘Maoists’ had been throwing their support behind this or that party or candidate. It is this way that the contradiction erupting from the incorrect theoretical formulations of our ‘Maoists’ regarding the bourgeois parliaments and elections to them, are reconciled and resolved in practice, under compulsions, through what can be termed as nothing but ‘deformed’ and ‘disguised’ participation in bourgeois politics, under its tutelage, without an independent and revolutionary initiative and policy. This clearly reminds us of the Blanquist line in Spain, which Engels had taken head on in the 1870s. Anyway, this is the sum total of the policy of our ‘Maoist’, who demands revision of Leninism on the question of the bourgeois parliament, in its application to the third world.
Armed struggle, of which our ‘Maoist’ talks so much, whether carried out as partisan warfare or city insurrection, is no anathema to participation in bourgeois parliament. Participation is neither an alternative nor a negation of armed struggle. Armed struggle is nothing but the political struggle through non-peaceful means, while participation is a tactical move to take the same political struggle deep inside the fortress of the bourgeois parliament. Our ‘Lefts’ are mistaken when they pose them against each other under the fictitious slogan of ‘parliamentary path vs. people’s war’. It is people’s war which has to be fought on the parliamentary rostrum and the parliamentary rostrum provides one of the many battlefields and an important one to carry out that people’s war, under the nose of the class enemy. This is how the Comintern decided and sealed the issue and this is how the revolutionary parties the world over have put, and should put it into practice.
Before we part with the article, it would not be out of place to mention that recently the Maoist Party in Nepal has lately but correctly appreciated the issue, revising its position, more significantly by consensus, and has reached the conclusion that the question of participation being of tactical importance, they must participate in the elections for a Constituent Assembly, while making the political demand for convening one in Nepal. Simultaneously, the Party has not conceded to lay down its arms and disband the PLA. In our opinion this position of the Nepali Maoists is correct theoretically. However, we are doubtful of its correctness in practice at this moment of Nepali politics, as the situation may call for bolder steps than mere participation on the part of revolutionary parties and the participation may be a retrograde step. More interesting is the recent advice of the Nepali Communists, who still call themselves Maoists, to the Indian Maoists (popularly known as Naxalites), that they should also resort to participation instead of boycott. In a recent interview, responding to a query, as to what extent the logic of their new line on taking part in multiparty democracy applies to the Maoist movement in India, Prachanda, the General Secretary of the CPN (Maoist) is quoted to have said:
"We believe it applies to them too. We want to debate this. They have to understand this and go down this route. Both on the question of leadership and on multiparty democracy or rather multiparty competition I believe those who call themselves revolutionaries in India need to think about these issues. And there is a need to go in the direction of that practice. We wish to debate with them on this. If revolutionaries are not going to look at the need for ideological development, they will not go anywhere."
Focussing on their political line, Prachanda says in the same interview:
"…Our bottom line is the election of a Constituent Assembly.…"
What the Nepali Maoists could learn and come to realise ultimately from their own experience lately, and undoubtedly by paying for this lesson, is in consonance with the experience accumulated by international communism. The basic formulation, thus devised by international communism, to intrude on and penetrate the enemy fortress, the bourgeois parliaments, and to consistently work inside them for destruction of bourgeois parliamentarism itself, holds water. The only correct answer to the question of the manner of dealing with bourgeois parliaments cannot be anything, but to ‘participate as a matter of rule’, and ‘boycott as an exception to that rule’, under very exceptional conditions.
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