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Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI(M)]

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI(M)] was formed at the Seventh Congress of the Communist Party of India held in Calcutta from October 31 to November 7, 1964. The CPI(M) was born in the struggle against revisionism and sectarianism in the communist movement at the international and national level, in order to defend the scientific and revolutionary tenets of Marxism-Leninism and its appropriate application in the concrete Indian conditions. The CPI(M) combines the fine heritage of the anti-imperialist struggle and the revolutionary legacy of the undivided Communist Party which was founded in 1920. Over the years, the Party has emerged as the foremost Left force in the country.

Once a favorite of the middle class because of its anti-establishment stance and relatively clean image, the party has had difficulty maintaining its appeal in an era when rapid economic expansion presents new opportunities for the urban middle class. The trade unions, once a breeding ground for future Communist leaders, no longer attract the "talent," making it difficult for the Communist parties to groom a new generation of leaders. Communist parties have been very successful in recruiting new members on university campuses, but have trouble keeping them after they graduate and enter the workforce. They are conducting an internal review to devise an effective policy to retain membership.

The CPI(M) has grown steadily since its formation in 1964. The membership of the Party, which was 118,683 at the time of its formation, has grown to 10,48,678 in 2014. The Party has sought to independently apply Marxism-Leninism to Indian conditions and to work out the strategy and tactics for a people's democratic revolution, which can transform the lives of the Indian people. The CPI(M) is engaged in bringing about this basic transformation by carrying out a program to end imperialist, big bourgeois and landlord exploitation. The CPI(M) as the leading Left party is committed to build a Left and democratic front which can present a real alternative to the existing bourgeois-landlord policies.

CPI(M) experience in West Bengal, where it had "creatively applied Marxism to India's society," ensured its survival there for the last 27 years, and it is looking to build on its success, while adapting to a post-Cold War world, and redefining "the struggle." In this new environment, the "class enemy" is no longer "capitalist imperialism," but the neo-liberal economic and development policies espoused by the US and "captive" multilateral lending institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The Communists were also moving away from a combative approach and towards a commitment to parliamentary and electoral politics, appealing to a wider audience.

Communist leaders with actual governing experience, such as West Bengal's Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, were open to foreign and private investment for infrastructure development in the state as long as it "takes care of the working class." Bhattacharjee, for example, has in the past asked New Delhi to offer special incentives for foreign investment in six industrially backwards districts of North Bengal. His government also has worked with industrial houses to support the expansion West Bengal's machine tool and electronics sectors, and "joined hands" with foreign investors to develop ports, airports, and roads.

Former West Bengal Chief Minister and CPI(M) heavyweight Jyoti Basu admitted that the "world has changed where militant trade unionism has no place," and said the Communist parties were wrong in allowing aggressive labor movements during the 1980-90s. According to Basu, Communists also recognize that India's traditional caste struggle overlaps with the socialist emphasis on "class struggle," and that Communists can use caste to develop a wider base of support. The party also made it clear that it will continue alliances with non-Communist parties -- for specific electoral purposes -- as it did with Congress in Maharashtra, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) in Bihar, and the RJD, Congress, and Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) in Jharkhand.

In recent elections, contesting on an average 15 percent of the total seats, the CPI(M) has been getting around 5-6 percent of the votes. (India follows the “first past the post” system and not proportional representation) In the 2014 elections to the Lok Sabha (lower house of the Indian Parliament) the CPI(M) won 9 seats. The Lower House of Parliament has a strength of 543. In the Rajya Sabha (Upper House) the CPI(M) had 8 members.

The CPI(M) headed two state governments – Tripura and Kerala. In Kerala, the Left Democratic Front headed by the CPI(M) was elected to office in the elections held in 2016. In Tripura, the CPI(M) was first elected to office in 1977. In won the subsequent election also in 1983. However, due to largescale rigging, it lost the elections in 1988. However it has been voted to office in all subsquent elections. The Left Front government headed by the CPI(M) was uninterruptedly in power in West Bengal since 1977 upto May 2011.

Recognizing that it cannot at present replace capitalism with a socialist or communist economic system, the CPI (M) is focusing on more immediate goals, such as ensuring that the Center's reforms do not "go to far," and that India's economic development does not "leave the poor and powerless behind."

The CPI(M) also faced a challenge from Naxalites and Maoist parties, which strongly emphasize rural and low-caste recruitment. The new generation leaders have advocated that the CPI(M) and other mainstream Communist parties expand into the rural areas, where Maoists and Naxalites have laid the foundation by cultivating support and educating the rural poor about Marxism.

Despite its "faults," the Communists overwhelmingly prefer secular Congress ideology to that of the "communalist rightists" of the BJP. The CPI(M)'s view of Congress as a treacherous ally to be kept in check through constant brinkmanship.

Prakash Karat is a powerful member of the CPI(M) Politburo and one of India's best-known Leftists. The relatively young (born in 1949) and articulate CPI(M) spokesman has climbed to the upper ranks of a party dominated by octogenarians. Karat was seen, along with Sitaram Yechury, as a leadership candidate to succeed aging party heavyweights such as General Secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet and former West Bengal Chief Minister Jyoti Basu. Ideologically a Marxist hardliner, Karat is a consensus candidate, and his election as General Secretary of the CPI(M) represented an attempt to placate the important, but more dogmatic, Kerala constituency, which viewed Sitaram Yechury as too moderate.

Karat is an ideologue opposed to foreign direct investment, privatization, and "interference" in Indian affairs by the United States and multilateral lending agencies such as the World Bank and IMF and remains focused on class struggle. Indicative of his lack of interest in developing a positive relationship with the United States, he has reportedly stated that "India should not act as a US agent in South Asia." Karat did not support the Communist decision to back the UPA. Having never contested an election or held an government position, his hardline views are not tempered by executive experience, unlike many of the Communist leaders in West Bengal, who are more open to foreign investment in infrastructure in the state.

Born into a middle class Hindu family of Kerala. He graduated from Madras Christian College before earning a M.A. in economics from Edinburgh University, Scotland. After returning to India, he attended the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), then the Mecca of Indian Marxists, as an M.Phil/Ph.D. student, but did not complete his degree. Drawn to politics since his campus days in Chennai, Karat was elected President of the JNU Students Union in the 1970s before plunging into full-time CPI (M) politics. He was initiated into politics by communist veteran, A.K. Gopalan, and was closely associated with the first Communist Chief Minister of Kerala, E.M.S. Namboodaripad. He has authored and edited several books, including "World To Win," a volume of essays explaining the relevance of the communist manifesto. Karat is married to Brinda Karat, a well-known feminist leader. He described by US officials as urbane, sophisticated, and a good organizer.

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Page last modified: 18-02-2018 16:25:32 ZULU