India: The ‘Third Front’ is no real alternative to Congress-BJP regime

Today elections are being held in India. The CPI and CPI(M) leaders have come up with another version of class collaborationist politics, the so-called “Third Front”. It is presented as an alternative to both the BJP and Congress, but in reality it is an alliance with smaller bourgeois formations. It is time for the leaders of the Indian Communist Parties to break with this kind of policy and offer the workers of India a United Front of workers’ organisations.

CPI(M) mural. Photo by souravdas on Flickr.Upon the initiative of the leadership of the CPI and the CPI(M), once again a “Third Front”, a pre-poll alliance of political parties of different shades, has been raised on the eve of general elections for the fifteenth Lok Sabha (Peoples’ House), one of the two chambers of parliament in India. In a public rally held on 12 March 2009, attended by around 5 lakh (five hundred thousand) people, at Dobbespet, 70 kms from Bangalore, representatives of around 10 parties, both large and small, including CPI(M), CPI, RSP, Forward Block, BSP, TDP, JD(S), AIADMK, TRS and HJS, from six states, proclaimed this Third Front, with all the usual fanfare.

The “Third Front”, which was floated by the leaders of the CPI and the CPI(M) after their unhappy exit from the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), is comprised of political parties of different shades and different programmes, rooted in different social classes, from Communist parties to the long time bed fellows of the right wing BJP. The idea behind this front is basically to collect all dropouts from the two major coalitions, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), on a single platform. While the CPI and the CPI(M) leaders, in order to seek at least some justification for their hobnobbing with pro-capitalist parties, are striving to give the alliance a “left, democratic and secular” mask, the other parties are less concerned about keeping up such appearances.

The CPI and the CPI(M) leaders have been projecting the “Third Front” as an alliance of parties with similar ideologies and as an alternative in order to keep the Congress and the BJP out of power.

CPI(M) and CPI leaders have no real alternative

The last two decades have witnessed many coalitions such as this, with “left, democratic and secular” rhetoric, falling apart one after the other, after treading the same path of pro-capitalist policies, while providing nothing in the real interests of working people.

CPI supporter. Photo by Carol Mitchell.In 1989-91, the CPI(M) and CPI were partners in the “National Front” Alliance, led by Vishwanath Pratap Singh, alongside the right wing BJP. While the CPI joined the coalition government, the CPI(M) supported it from the outside. The stated reasoning was to keep Congress out of power, which according to the leadership of these two ‘communist’ parties, was the real enemy of the people. The coalition government, however, could not sustain its term and fell midway.

In 1996-97, they joined hands in the seven party alliance of the ‘United Front,’ headed by H. D. Devegowda, now supported by Congress, which also could not complete its term and fell. However, it saw three Prime Ministers, H. D. Devegowda, I.K. Gujaral and then Chandrashekhar, during the course of its tenure.

In the 2002 elections, these parties joined the bogey of the Congress, under the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), with Sonia Gandhi as its leader, allegedly to keep the BJP out of the power, as then the BJP was the bigger enemy in their view. They remained welded to Congress until they were kicked out of the Alliance, along with their “left” and “democratic” rhetoric. The Congress government, aided by the BJP, through more than 20 abstentions, and with the support of a few small parties, succeeded in winning the confidence motion on the floor of Parliament.

The Left Front, led by the CPI(M), utterly failed to play any effective role in any of the coalitions. It continued under the tutelage of various pro-capitalist parties and coalitions, which it joined under the fictitious slogans of “left and secular democracy”. Instead of standing out as parties of the working class, these parties, under their Stalinist leadership, formed the left-democratic wing of capitalist democracy and sustained it by holding back the working class from taking action against their anti-worker, pro-capitalist policies.

In West Bengal, where a coalition of four parties, led by the CPs (the Left Front), is in power and runs the government, the “communist” leaders have openly sided with the capitalists, unleashing severe repression upon the peasants in Nandigram and Singur. They dispossessed the peasants in order to forcibly acquire those peasants’ holdings that were under active cultivation. The mass base of the Left Front in West Bengal was thus substantially eroded and the “communist” parties appeared to the masses as anti-worker, anti-poor peasant, and pro-capitalist. Instead of drawing the conclusions that they must break with these policies, their dwindling mass base further pushed the leaders of these parties into the arms of the capitalist parties. The CPI and the CPI(M) leaders were apprehensive as to whether they would be able to secure the total 58 seats that the four parties in the Left Front had won in the last general elections for 14th Lok Sabha.

Lessons of history

The idea of entering into coalitions with capitalist parties, in the name of fighting for “democracy” or against fascism, to be sure, has not been invented by these leaders, but was put into practice by Stalin himself. It was pressed into service by the Soviet bureaucracy headed by Stalin in the 1930s, for purely nationalistic considerations, after the ultra-left policies of the so-called “Third Period” resulted in defeats and the isolation of the international communist movement.

At the end of the 1920s, Bukharin and Stalin put forward their incorrect prognosis of a supposed ‘third period,’ arguing that capitalism was on the verge of collapse and thus the parties of the Comintern should dissociate themselves from the Social Democracy in general, whose parties, like the SPD in Germany, still had strong roots among the working class. Stalin termed the social-democratic parties as “social-fascist”, which should be alienated and fought against. Leon Trotsky opposed this policy. In its place, he called for an alliance of Communist and Social-Democratic workers against fascism, a workers’ united front. The failed policy of the “Third Period” led directly to the victory of fascism in Germany!

When the Stalinists’ ultra-left policy in the early 1930s backfired, a 180-degree turn was proposed by Stalin. This was the policy of “Popular Frontism”, of forging alliances between the parties of the working class (communist and socialist) with the so-called “progressive” bourgeois parties of all colours (liberals, republicans, radicals etc.). Leon Trotsky again fought this policy tooth-and-nail. He stressed that there is no such thing as a “progressive wing of the bourgeoisie.” He explained that such “Popular Fronts”, i.e. alliances with capitalist parties, ultimately mean support for the capitalist class, which holds the workers back. Inside and through such alliances, the reformist leadership of the workers' own parties can be utilized, to the service of the capitalists, in order to make sure that they do not go beyond the democratic programme, so that the property and the state of the capitalist class remains untouched. As mentioned above, Trotsky proposed instead a united front of the communist party with other workers’ parties and the trade unions, which are rooted in working class.

The policy of “Popular Frontism” resulted in severe defeats whenever and wherever it was applied. France and Spain present two classic examples. Following the lines of the policy proposed by Stalin, the Spanish Socialist Party joined a coalition of bourgeois parties in 1931 and again in 1936. The same happened in France in 1936. Communist parties were also part of these alliances. Both Communists and Socialists inside the Popular Fronts were used by the capitalists to hold back the workers from dislodging the bourgeois state. This “Popular Frontism” led to the victory of Franco in Spain and terrible defeats for the working class in both countries.

“Popular Frontism” – a Menshevik idea

However, Stalin was not the originator of the idea of coalitions between workers’ and capitalist parties. He had borrowed the idea from the Mensheviks. The idea of coalitions with pro-capitalist parties was in fact a Menshevik idea, developed by them in the years leading up to the Russian Revolution and discarded by history during the revolution itself. The Mensheviks thought that, given the backwardness of Russia, there was no question of a proletarian or socialist revolution in Russia, as according to them, the relatively small Russian working class was incapable of carrying out a successful revolutionary overturn on their own. By this logic, it therefore followed that the working class could only follow the lead of the capitalists, under whose rule, someday in the distant future, conditions would ripen for socialist revolution.

However, Lenin and Trotsky were both convinced of the reactionary nature of the capitalist class, even in a semi-feudal country like pre-revolutionary Russia, and opposed any alliance with the parties of the capitalist class, such as the Cadets. This remained the key bone of contention between the Bolshevik and Menshevik perspectives. However, after the death of Lenin, Stalin resuscitated this once dead Menshevik formula and re-clothed it in the dressings of the “Popular Front”.

As Spain was relatively underdeveloped, according to Stalin, the workers should not take power; rather they should support the “democratic” wing of the bourgeoisie. In France, the same policy pushed back the revolution. The first version of this two-stage policy was applied by the Stalinists to the Chinese Revolution, by entering into the bourgeois Kuomintang, the result being the complete crushing of the mature proletarian revolution in 1927 at the hands of Chiang Kai Shek and then Wang Ching Wei.

After the Second World War the same policy was once again applied to France and Italy, where communist parties joined cabinets of capitalist governments. On this basis the revolutionary wave of 1943-48 was finally defeated and the revolution was thrown back for decades, and conditions for the peaceful development of capitalism were created.

The same policy was later applied to Chile in 1970-73 by forming a coalition government under President Allende, which prepared the ground for the Pinochet coup by not taking decisive steps to defend the revolution, due to the vacillations and fears of the reformist and bourgeois leadership of the Popular Front, which ultimately resulted in the killing of thousands of revolutionaries and workers, including Allende himself.

The Italian Communist Party, which secured record votes in 1976, lost heavily in 1979, after supporting and then entering the government majority led by the bourgeois Christian Democrats. For three years they supported the policies of the Christian Democrats, including a whole series of austerity measures. Through this policy the Italian Communist Party set itself up for a long-term decline, eventually splitting in two with the bulk of the party leaders first forming a social democratic party and then recently fusing with bourgeois parties to form the Democratic Party. This is how far these leaders have gone after adopting the policy of alliances with the Christian Democracy in the 1970s.

Wherever the policy of “Popular Frontism” has been put into practice, it has sowed the seeds of illusions in bourgeois democracy amongst the workers, holding them back from using all their force and eventually causing workers to lose confidence in their own forces.

“Popular Frontism” – a guarantee for the bourgeoisie

This very same policy of forging alliances with pro-capitalist parties is now being pressed into service once again by the leadership of the main Communist parties in India. It hardly matters for them if it is Chandrababu Naidu, Mayawati or Jayalalitha, who only yesterday backstabbed them and did not hesitate to go with the BJP or the Congress, in order to form pro-capitalist governments.

This honeymoon with capitalist parties never seems to come to an end for the leaders of the CPI and CPI(M). The so-called “democratic” stage of the revolution, during which they deem it their duty to throw their weight behind the “progressive” capitalists, goes on and on and on without end. The other day it was V. P. Singh, then it was Sonia Gandhi and now it is Mayawati, each coming in their time to stand in as the “progressive” bourgeois of the day. The working class, in their view, must back these great “democrats”, as the Comintern under Stalin had recommended for the Chinese Communists and just as the CPI and CPI(M) leaders have been recommending for decades. This is their “Popular Frontism”, which they are trying to sell to the working class as a “Communist” position.

They oppose the BJP only to seek a justification to join the bandwagon of Congress, and their opposition to the Congress comes to justify their alliance with other capitalist parties. For decades together, they have continued to shuttle between the capitalist parties in the same manner, while honest and sincere cadres wait for a revolutionary advance in vain. It never comes into the minds of these so-called Communist leaders of the working class that the workers, as a class, should be oriented towards an independent political policy, i.e. not in alliance with the capitalists, but directly against them!

Genuine Communist cadres present inside the Communist parties of India must think of orienting these parties towards a proletarian revolutionary perspective. For this, they must consolidate themselves as an independent proletarian current inside these parties, defeat the policy of class collaboration pursued by their current leadership and propose instead class struggle against the capitalists. Ultimately, this current must set out to become the leadership of these parties.

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