On internationalism and internationals

by B. Sivaraman

B. Sivaraman is a member of the Polit Bureau of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) and editor of its journal Liberation.

Reprinted here is the text fo three contributions to the Marxism 2000 conference held in Sydney in January. The first was a response to summary remarks at the closing plenary by Max Lane from the Democratic Socialist Party; responses were also presented by representatives of eight other parties in the Asian region. The second item was a response to the talk on international left collaboration by John Percy (see article in this issue); other respondents were arry Sheppard from the US organisation Solidarity and Farooq Tariq, general secretary of the Labour Party Pakistan. The third text was a presentation to a panel discussion on the Third International that was also addressed by Sonny Melencio, chairperson of the Socialist Party of Labour, Philippines. Appended to these three texts are extracts from the political-organisational report to the CPI(ML)'s Sixth Congress, in 1997, and from ideological resolutions adopted at the Fifth Congress in 1992.

Response to concluding summary

Comrades, let me first of all congratulate Comrade Max Lane for presenting an excellent summing up of an inspiring and very successful conference. My heartfelt appreciation to the comrades of DSP for making such a very useful conference possible.

It is quite heartening to learn about the progress made by the DSP in recent years. On behalf of the CPI(ML), I wish them still greater victories in the days to come in their struggles against the Australian bourgeoisie.

Comrades in Resistance deserve a special mention. Your commitment, exuberance and self-confidence have been a tremendous inspiration. I can't but agree with Comrade Max Lane in exhorting you to work more. Keep it up, comrades: the new millennium is yours.

Comrades, the pride of place that the DSP has given to international solidarity work in its overall revolutionary work is very much laudable.

The solidarity with the fighting peoples of the Third World—in East Timor and in Indonesia and elsewhere—extended by the comrades of the DSP speaks volumes for their spirit of revolutionary internationalism. I wish them all the success in this work.

I also thank all the organisers and all those volunteer comrades who tirelessly worked to make this conference possible. Special thanks for putting up with unpredictable and often impossible demands of the international guests!

Comrades, socialism in the 21st century will be a socialism blossoming on a developed material-cultural basis. Hopefully, 21st century socialism will have less of the distortions of a socialism born in backward material-social conditions.

Socialism in the 21st century will be a socialism with a smiling face. It will be democratic, based on green-sensitivity and gender justice. But, as there can be scientific socialism of the 21st century there will also be a 21st century version of utopian socialism. The scientific socialism of the 21st century can develop only through a struggle with various new versions of utopian socialism. And also it can emerge only out of the real life contradictions of capitalism and the so-called "actually existing" socialism.

The Third World will have a prominent place in 21st century socialism. Exciting acts of the 21st century world drama are waiting to be enacted in the theatres of Asia, Africa and Latin America. The revolutionary movements in the Asia-Pacific will have a pride of place in the unfolding revolutionary process across the globe.

The 21st century will witness growing international solidarity and cooperation between revolutionary communist and socialist parties as well as popular movements for people's liberation. It will be a century of strong national parties, rooted in their national conditions but reaching out to join hands with all the fighting forces of socialism to take on the common enemy, imperialism. I fully agree with Comrade Max Lane that we need more and more links with greater numbers of parties as well as greater dialogue among parties. We extend our fullest possible cooperation in this unfolding international collaboration.

The Asia-Pacific Solidarity and Education Conference will be a major milestone in the millennial march of the peoples in the Asia-Pacific region. Though a modest initiative, it paves the way for major strides in solidarity and cooperation in the coming years, because it represents the right idea. Long live international solidarity! Long live socialism!

Response to presentation on international left collaboration

Thanks to Comrade John Percy for giving a lucid presentation laying down the basis for international collaboration. Above all, the sincere attempt to reach out to work with parties coming from other traditions is so transparent and permeates the entire presentation. We hail this broad approach.

We feel that in its international approach the DSP is moving in the right direction. Yet, since it is breaking out of a certain tradition and is still evolving, I see the tension of transition. I see certain contradictory pulls.

For instance, on the one hand you call for a broad socialist renewal. I think all of us should be clear whether we are to work for a broad socialist renewal or we want Trotskyite renewal or "Maoist" renewal or "Stalinist" renewal as the case may be. Well, there is nothing wrong in attempting a revival and renewal of one's own current even while working with parties coming from other traditions for a broad socialist renewal.

One is perfectly free to do that. But only one should not mix up the two objectives in the context of international collaboration.

We fully agree with you that the division between social democrats and revolutionary communists is far more basic and continues to remain the fundamental line of demarcation. Other divisions among the non-social democratic left along "Stalinist", Trotskyist or "Maoist" varieties are becoming increasingly irrelevant. True, some of the old differences among them might organically resurface in new contexts in the course of future advance. But let there be no "baggage war", no hairsplitting over the past. It is important to make a distinction between "historical Stalinism"—or for that matter, "historical Trotskyism or Maoism"—and the contemporary political physiognomy of the parties that have evolved in these traditions.

We take a positive note of your thrust for a forward-looking approach and agree with you that there is no point in going into abstract debates about the past. Yet it is a bit disappointing to see you bringing in contentious issues into what you propose as the possible commonly agreed basis for international collaboration. For instance, our party takes a positive assessment of the overall role of Comrade Stalin in the building of socialism in USSR and in the anti-fascist struggle. It acknowledges very serious bureaucratic distortions and degeneration in CPSU and USSR but does not equate these with "Stalinist distortions".

Internationalism, Yes; International, No!—this is the position of our party on this question, and I see basic agreement between our two parties on this. We just wonder whether it would be better if we acknowledge that an international is not possible for the present historical era and just leave it at that, instead of visualising our international collaboration as some kind of transitional process leading to an international. Of course, it would be quite unnecessary to rule out an international on principle for all time to come, but a touch of realism would spare us from unnecessary pressures from artificially "accelerating" this process of international collaboration to take it to some "higher stage".

Likewise, it is necessary to take care that our attempts at "clarification" do not lead to a narrowing down and reification of our identity as a current or sub-current. We are in full agreement with you that to attempt any "democratic centralism" in international relations in the present historical period would be futile. Going further, we would even say that laying down a common basis of programmatic and strategic principles for international collaboration would also amount to some sort of centralism in ideas which is better avoided. It is for this reason that we are not keen on international conferences coming up with joint statements of a basic nature, especially limiting it or identifying it with this or that current. Joint statements of a broad anti-imperialist and solidarity nature are, however, always possible. We are also at one with you on the need for an internationalist outlook.

Well, each party can have its outlook, and is it necessary that we all should have a common international outlook?

You comrades underline the need for strong and independent parties operating at the national level. In the same breath you also talk of "helping the parties in the Third World stand on their own legs and think for themselves"! Doesn't it sound a bit patronising?

On the one hand, you are quite aware that "some well-intentioned help will strangle, hinder not help". But you also talk of extending material help to the parties in the Third World and suggest that they set up NGOs to receive aid. I'm afraid all sorts of distortions will crop up in the relations between parties once there is this kind of dependence. We feel that the best form of help to revolutionaries in the Third World countries is to fight against one's own imperialist bourgeoisie and thereby extend political solidarity.

Well, these are some points I have outlined where we can carry on a dialogue and offer further mutual clarifications even while carrying on international collaboration.

Finally, we are broadly in agreement with most of the concrete proposals for international collaboration listed in Comrade Percy's presentation as to what we can do today. The practical side of this can always be discussed. To add some suggestions of our own, it would be better if we can come up with a joint resolution condemning the role of imperialism, especially that of the us, in the Asia-Pacific region in concrete terms like interventionism, military presence, arms build-up and nuclear escalation etc. There can be joint protests against international imperialist meetings as well.

On the Third International

We believe that the Third International played an overall positive role, especially in its formative period. Upholding the historically positive role of the Comintern of course doesn't mean acknowledging in principle the need for an international today. Hence, in the first place, we don't hold any brief for the Comintern. Nor do we denounce it in toto.

We are not familiar enough to take a stand on various controversies concerning different countries. In any case, it is too late now to make a detailed post-mortem of the Third International. It was a chapter closed by history itself, and perhaps we should let it rest in peace. Different offspring of the Comintern have long since drawn different lessons from its dissolution, or some would say collapse. Let me try to recollect some of them for the occasion.

Being a representative from a communist party in India, I'm specially constrained. Perhaps you are aware that a leader of the Indian party, M.N. Roy, went to China as a representative of the Comintern to offer guidelines, or shall we say instructions, to the Chinese revolution. Mao Zedong, the leader of the Chinese revolution, went on record saying, "M.N. Roy was a fool". Personally speaking, Roy was a man of calibre. But his role as an institutional representative earned him that unenviable distinction. Poor Roy.

Since an Indian had once earned that unique distinction, I want to be doubly careful about taking upon ourselves the burden of having to offer guidelines for other countries. We don't want to rush into this business. We fear to tread in this path in the name of internationalism. We are aware that the Chinese revolution became victorious only through a struggle against the Comintern. Mao Zedong led this determined struggle without, however, personalising the differences, and without challenging the framework of an international in principle. The Chinese gave the Comintern the respect it deserved. And soon the Comintern itself came to a glorious end under the burden of its own weight. Amen!

The Indian experience has been far more tragic. The CPI's abstention from the nationalist insurrection of 1942 remains a black spot in the history of the Indian communist movement. We identify external dependence as one of the fundamental weaknesses of the Indian communist movement. Even after the dissolution of the Comintern, the influence of its legacy continued to haunt the CP in India. For instance, the decision to abandon armed struggle in Telangana in 1951, the manner of retreat from that armed struggle, as per "international guidance", remains controversial to this date.

Even in the history of the CPI(ML), certain comments made by Chou Enlai and Kang Sheng to a CPI(ML) representative which were in the nature of instructions and even amounted to interference in our internal affairs played no mean role in intensifying the split and disintegration of the party in its first phase. Hence we in the CPI(ML) don't recognise any "leading centre" or "leading party", and we brook no interference in our internal affairs.

The Third International was born in extraordinary circumstances. The chauvinistic turn by the parties of the Second International put to the fore the defence of the fundamentals of Marxism. The fight came up as an internal trend within the Second International, which later assumed the shape of the Third International. Subsequently, the victory of the October Revolution gave it a sweep to expand the frontiers of the revolutionary communist movement as well as to alter the balance in favour of the Leninist current.

Perhaps the Bolsheviks made the maximum out of the international impact of the October Revolution. But the flip side was the grandiose scheme of attempting to direct the revolutionary movement in different countries from a single centre. Initially, so long as the exercise of building internationals was confined to Europe, by and large there was perhaps a relative homogeneity even though there were key differences in the conditions from country to country. Once numerous colonial and dependent countries got into the circus, things became unwieldy. Probably those who were running the Comintern realised their folly at some point and tried to introduce some flexibility, like intermediate conferences, anti-imperialist leagues etc. But by then things had gone too far.

It was not that "distortions of centralism" were associated with this or that individual leader or this or that phase. The agony of Italian comrades, as brought out in the political writings of Antonio Gramsci in the late 1920s, illustrates the pitfalls of such centralism even when Lenin was around. The distortions were inherent in such an organisational form.

On the other hand, there have been instances of higher political collaboration and even integration which do not presuppose such an organisational form. Once some CPs assume power in some countries, the framework of an international becomes further untenable. Some people have accused Stalin of having subordinated the Comintern to the foreign policy interests of the Soviet Union. Once you go for a rigid interpretation of the principle of internationalism, this cannot be helped perhaps. Stalin was right, from his point of view and within the ambit of his politics, in considering the Soviet Union the forward post of world revolution whose defence was the priority for the parties of the international.

The other view on the opposite extreme too would have subordinated parties, and governments, to their own international line. The distortion is inherent within the very framework of internationals. Well, I was sort of forced to read Fernando Claudin's account of the Comintern before coming here. I got the impression that about a dozen countries missed out on revolution all because of a demon sitting at the centre of the Comintern. It is difficult for me to judge whether Fernando Claudin was right or wrong.

Yet, it left me wondering whether those revolutions were worth their salt which could be derailed by an individual or an international outfit or even some wrong political tactics decided from above. It appeared to me to be some kind of demonological conception of history rather than historical materialism. Well, I may be wrong. Anyway, there have been vast changes in the situation in the post-Cold War scenario. All trends are undergoing metamorphosis. Fixation with building "international currents" and "international centres" as well as dependence on centres had sapped the energy of communist parties and groups in no small measure. The Soviet collapse and the changes in China have cleared the deck for independent and self-reliant growth and assertion of national parties. Why reverse this trend?

Those who put down roots among their own people survived, be they Stalinist parties, Mao Zedong Thought parties or Trotskyite parties; those who adjusted with the changing world conditions survived. Others have vanished. Hence in this period it is more important to expand our base among the working class and popular masses. The actual political cooperation in solidarity and anti-imperialist tasks is to be enhanced based on the present international context.

Principles for bilateral relations

The collapse of the Soviet bloc and the far-reaching changes in China have drastically changed the scenario of the international communist movement. The old division between pro-Soviet and pro-Chinese parties, a legacy of the Great Debate of the '60s, has become irrelevant. The Soviet collapse, however, has brought about a reorganisation of communist parties and communist platforms in Russia as well as in several East European countries. These parties are reassessing their past, particularly the harmful effects of revisionism. On the other hand, several ML parties who uphold Mao's Thought, and that too a particular interpretation of it, is too sectarian an approach and unsuited to the present conditions. (Vinod Mishra, Inaugural address to the Central Party School, 1994.)

We are of the opinion that communist parties and groups who adhere to Marxism-Leninism should develop bilateral and multilateral relations among themselves based on mutual respect and non-interference in each other's internal affairs. The international communist movement is facing complex questions and as the process of rethinking and readjustment is going on among various communist groupings it is proper to go in for wider interactions rather than forming exclusive associations. While strengthening our international work, we shall particularly strive to develop closer relations with parties and groups from the countries of South Asia and the Asia-Pacific region. We shall try to be more vigorous and active in international solidarity campaigns and in developing closer people-to-people relations among South Asian countries. (From the Political-Organisational Report of the Sixth Congress of the CPI(ML))

Ideological resolutions

[Adopted at the Fifth Party Congress, 1992.]

1. The CPI(ML) firmly upholds the banner of the Great October Revolution of 1917 led by Comrade Lenin in Russia. This was not only the first successful proletarian revolution in the world, it also brought about a new awakening in Asia. Though, after 75 years, the revolution is defeated, its historic significance can never be obliterated.

2. The CPI(ML) reaffirms the crucial role played by Comrade Stalin in building socialism in the Soviet Union and in defending the Soviet Union against fascist aggression. Stalin, however, had a lot of metaphysics in his approach and this was the main source of his grievous mistakes. During his period, inner-party democracy as well as socialist democracy in society suffered from gross distortions.

3. The CPI(ML) stands by the struggle conducted against modern revisionism by Mao Zedong and the CPC in the Great Debate of early 1960s. Comrade Mao's theses regarding the existence of class struggle in socialist society and its reflection within the communist party; the danger of capitalist restoration and the as yet undecided nature of the struggle between socialism and capitalism have been borne out by history. Mao's thought thus developed in negation of both Stalinist metaphysics and Khrushchevite revisionism and put Marxism-Leninism back on the rails once again. Mao's struggle had a great impact on the Indian communist movement. His thought contributed a lot to the emergence of our Marxist-Leninist party in struggle against all the Indian variants of modern revisionism.

4. In order to revitalise socialism, the Soviet Union in the post-Brezhnev period was in crying need of a thorough transformation of its superpower status, restructuring of its rigid economic structure and rebuilding of its socialist democratic institutions. That is why when Gorbachev embarked upon Perestroika and Glasnost, he received overwhelming support from communists, progressive forces and democratic people throughout the world. However, it turned out that Gorbachev had been operating within the framework of liberal bourgeois ideology and economic-political collaboration with Western imperialism. The CPI(ML), therefore, denounces Gorbachev as a renegade.

5. The CPI(ML) is firmly against any international centre and any super party. In international affairs, it believes in following an independent policy based on its perception of the international situation. While welcoming the Chinese efforts to normalise and improve relations with Vietnam, we cannot but criticise the Chinese foreign policy response to the Gulf War.

6. The CPI(ML) does not rule out the possibility of a proletarian state with a multi-party system in Indian conditions. Its nature and form can, however, only be decided in the course of practice.

7. The CPI(ML) considers it to be the Party's foremost duty to rise in defence of Marxism, which is now facing an all-out attack by the world bourgeoisie, to retrieve its revolutionary essence and to enrich it further in the course of accomplishing the Indian revolution.