Elections and the Challenge We Face

Interview of Comrade Lal Singh, General Secretary of the Communist Ghadar Party of India by Mazdoor Ekta Lehar

Mazdoor Ekta Lehar (MEL) : A group of kisan unions in Punjab have formed a new party to contest the assembly elections. Other kisan unions have opposed this and decided not to participate in these elections. What is your view of these developments?

Lal Singh: The fact that different kisan unions in Punjab are following different courses of action in these elections is not at all in the best interests of the kisan andolan.

The unity of more than 500 kisan unions all over the country had been built through the persistent effort of so many of us over many years. The kisan unions of Punjab were in the forefront of our year-long protest at the Delhi borders. In fact, it was due to the fighting spirit of the kisan youth of Punjab and Haryana that we were able to break all barricades and reach the Delhi borders. Now the division among the kisan unions of Punjab is a setback to our united struggle.

During the entire course of our struggle in recent years, the ruling bourgeois class has been trying to promote the line that our problems can be solved by changing the party in power through elections. However, the program of agricultural trade liberalisation has been pursued by successive governments headed by Congress Party and BJP at the centre. It has also been pursued by other parties in charge of state governments. It is a program of the ruling bourgeois class, headed by the Tatas, Ambanis, Birlas, Adanis and other monopoly capitalists.

Thousands of kisans rallied to the “Delhi chalo” call in November 2020. Did they come to the Delhi borders because they wanted to change the ruling party through the electoral process? No. They came because they wanted to save their land and their livelihood from the monopoly capitalists, popularly known as the corporate houses.

Throughout the protest at the Delhi borders, the rulers of our country have been trying to split our unity. They propagated the lie that our movement had been infiltrated by terrorists. They organised a diabolical plot on Republic Day last year in order to discredit the kisan andolan. However, the unity of the kisans became stronger. The support for the struggle grew, both within the country and from Indians abroad. Now, by dividing us on the question of participation in elections, the ruling class has succeeded in causing a breach in our unity.

After several rounds of talks in which the central government refused to concede any of our demands, the rulers decided to deliberately prolong the matter. Without conducting any further meetings with the kisan representatives, they kept us sitting at the borders for a whole year. Then they decided to announce their decision to repeal the three farm laws in November 2021, just three months before state assembly elections were due in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand. It was deliberately timed to make sure that all the protestors would return to their villages and get sucked into the electoral campaigns of rival bourgeois parties.

It is a mistake for us to get divided over the question of the tactics to adopt with respect to an election. We have to find a way to overcome this division and advance our united struggle for the fulfilment of our demands.

If all of us who share the strategic aim of establishing workers’ and peasants’ rule freely and frankly discuss all options, we can arrive at a collective decision on the tactics to adopt. Tactics must serve our strategic aim, and must be based on assessing the conditions of the class struggle at any particular time.

MEL: How do you assess the conditions of the class struggle at the present time?

Lal Singh: These elections are taking place at a time when the monopoly capitalist offensive against the working class, peasants and other small-scale producers has reached an unbearable level. There is widespread anger among the working people against the terrible deterioration in their conditions.

Masses of people are ready to join mass street protests in spite of the restrictions of ‘social distance’ being imposed on them. This is the case not only in our country but also in the United States, Canada, Britain, France and many advanced capitalist countries.

In our country, the Note Ban of 2016, followed by the introduction of the Goods & Services Tax (GST) in 2017, together led to the destruction of crores of jobs and small business enterprises. They led to massive wealth accumulation in the hands of monopoly capitalists, Indian and international.

Since 2020, repeated lockdowns have led to massive destruction of jobs and further intensification of exploitation of employed workers. Longer hours of work at the same or lower wages is rapidly becoming the norm in one industry after another.

The insecurity of the working class has greatly increased. Capitalist employers are taking advantage of this situation to extract more unpaid labour out of their employees. Many who are working from home are ending up working many more hours each day.

The intensification of their exploitation has led to widespread anger among the workers. There is growing unity against the privatisation program and the anti-worker labour codes. Workers’ unions in large-scale industry and services are uniting in struggle, rising above differences in their affiliation to rival parties and federations.

The liberalization program has led and is leading to widespread ruination of peasants. The increasing integration of agriculture with the global market, cut back in state support and expansion of monopoly capitalist companies in the markets for agricultural inputs and outputs have together squeezed the net incomes of peasants. Decline in procurement prices to below the cost of production has driven crores of peasants to unbearable levels of indebtedness. Those unable to repay their loans have faced the prospect of losing their land.

The terrible deterioration in their conditions explains the high level of anger and discontent among workers, peasants and other intermediate strata. It is reflected in their level of participation in mass protests. It is the material basis for workers’ unions and kisan unions uniting around a common set of demands.

The assembly elections during February-March 2022 are being used by the bourgeoisie to channel the opposition of workers, peasants and other oppressed people behind a parliamentary alternative in these states.

This is the way the bourgeoisie preserves its rule. One party spearheads the anti-people offensive while other parties ride on the people’s discontent and keep it within the confines of what is acceptable to the bourgeoisie.

MEL: Can you further explain this method of preserving bourgeois rule by developing parliamentary alternatives?

Lal Singh: The ruling class knows from past experience that whenever it launches a major offensive against the livelihood and rights of workers and peasants, it is bound to lead to increasing anger and mass protests. It organises to see that one of its trusted parties emerges as the champion of all the oppressed, so that the people’s opposition is kept within the bounds of the existing parliamentary system.

When the Congress-led government headed by Manmohan Singh became highly discredited, the bourgeoisie started promoting BJP as the party that would provide a clean and strong government at the centre. The anti-corruption agitation in 2012 and 2013 was used to bring BJP to head the Central government and Aam Aadmi Party to head the Delhi government.

For the past eight years, the bourgeoisie has entrusted BJP with the task of launching one vicious attack after another against the toiling majority of people in the country. At the same time, the bourgeoisie has been organising to see that a parliamentary opposition emerges, as a credible alternative to BJP.

It is worth recalling how the bourgeoisie managed to avert a looming revolutionary crisis in the 1970s.

A National Emergency was declared by the Congress Party government headed by Indira Gandhi on 26 June, 1975. Workers, peasants and the vast majority of people were deprived of all democratic rights and civil liberties at one stroke.

It was a time when mass protests had reached a peak. Lakhs of railway workers had gone on an indefinite strike in 1974, bringing the entire economy to a grinding halt. Mass student protests were growing across the country. Large numbers of people were aspiring for a revolution.

The main aim behind the declaration of Emergency was to avert the danger of revolution. In the name of safeguarding national security, widespread repression was unleashed against the workers, peasants, all revolutionaries and all critics of the government.

In addition to large-scale arrests of union leaders and communist revolutionaries, the Indira Gandhi government also arrested several prominent politicians of the parliamentary opposition. These included Jayaprakash Narayan, Morarji Desai, Atal Behari Vajpayee, Charan Singh, Lal Krishna Advani, George Fernandez, Laloo Prasad Yadav and Mulayam Singh Yadav. These arrests served to promote these politicians as heroes who were allegedly fighting for the democratic rights of all the people.

Various bourgeois opposition parties advanced the slogan of “Restoration of Democracy”. They merged to form the Janata Party to contest the 1977 Lok Sabha elections. The bourgeoisie established the Janata Party government in place of the Congress Party government, and continued with their exploitative rule. The struggle for revolutionary change got diverted.

Several political personalities who were promoted as champions of democracy during the emergency period ended up subsequently becoming chief ministers. Some became the prime minister of the country. One section of them formed the BJP, which was built up by the ruling class in the 1980s as the principal opposition to the Congress Party.

Both the declaration of emergency and the launching of a movement for restoring democracy were part of the plan of the bourgeoisie. They together served the aim of diverting and dividing the people, thereby preventing revolution and shoring up the credibility of the existing parliamentary system.

In recent years, BJP has spearheaded the economic and political offensive against the workers, peasants and other toilers. Congress Party, as well as the Trinamool Congress, Samajwadi Party, Aam Aadmi Party and other opposition parties have been riding on the discontent of workers and peasants to emerge as a credible parliamentary alternative to BJP.

The bourgeoisie organises to use the people’s protests to prepare a parliamentary alternative, which can be brought to the helm when the party currently in charge gets too discredited in the people’s eyes. For the past several years, they have been trying to use the kisan andolan to develop a parliamentary alternative to BJP.

There have been many times in the past when parties have exchanged places between the ruling and opposition benches after an election. The Congress-led UPA and the BJP-led NDA have replaced each other at the centre. Congress Party and Akali Dal have replaced one another in Punjab. BJP, Congress, SP and BSP have done the same in Uttar Pradesh. BJP has replaced Congress Party in Manipur, Goa and Uttarakhand.

While incumbent parties changed, there was no qualitative change in the nature of political power. There was no change in the program of the government and orientation of economic development.

Globalisation of Indian capital and production, through liberalisation and privatisation, has continued to guide the actions of all successive governments in the past three decades. A super-rich minority has kept growing even richer while the toiling majority of people have remained poor and been sinking deeper into debt.

It is not really the people who decide anything in this system. The Tatas, Ambanis, Birlas, Adanis and other monopoly capitalists who head the bourgeois class decide. They decide which party or coalition should be entrusted with the task of running the government at any particular time.

The bourgeoisie has always used its superior money power, along with the muscle power of its trusted parties, and their skills in booth capturing, to make sure that the party of its choice forms the government. Now in addition to money and muscle power, the bourgeoisie uses modern media power, as well as its ability to manipulate electronic voting machines.

The campaigns of the main contending parties are all financed by the bourgeois class. They together serve to prop up the illusion that the well-being of workers and peasants depends on which party forms the government and what policies it adopts.

The truth is that there is only one program as long as the bourgeoisie wields power and the economic system is capitalist, as is the case now. As long as the means of large-scale production are the private property of capitalists, the motive of production will remain the maximisation of profits in their hands.

MEL: What should be the response of revolutionary parties and mass organisations to electoral contests? Should we participate in them or boycott them altogether?

Lal Singh: Whether a revolutionary party must participate in the electoral process under bourgeois rule, and if so in what way it must participate, is not a new question. It is a question that has been plaguing the communist movement in our country for a very long time.

It is a tactical question, which means that there is no permanent formula. It is neither essential for a revolutionary party to participate in every electoral contest nor is it mandatory to stay aloof or boycott every election.

The outlook of bourgeois parties such as the Congress and BJP is to regard elections as the principal mechanism for preserving and expanding the space and influence of one’s own party within the existing system. This becomes the outlook of every party that joins and merges with the existing system and develops as an electoral machine.

The outlook of a communist party is that elections are just one of the arenas of class struggle. It is not even the main arena for the workers and peasants in their struggle for political power.

A communist party must not participate in elections in a way that is similar to the bourgeois parties. If we promise that the problems of workers and peasants will be solved if our party forms the next government, we are spreading an illusion. We will be contributing to the bourgeois propaganda that the interests of workers and peasants can be addressed within the existing system, without carrying out any revolutionary transformation in the political and economic spheres.

Historical experience confirms the conclusion which our Party and many others in the communist movement have drawn, which is that elections in this system cannot lead to any change in the class which wields power. However, it is a mistake to conclude from this that a revolutionary party must not participate in any electoral contest.

As I said before, elections are one of the arenas of class struggle. The bourgeoisie uses this arena to deceive and divert the working people, to weaken and destroy their unity against their common enemy. If revolutionaries stay aloof from this arena, it would leave the workers and peasants defenceless in the face of the ideological offensive of the bourgeoisie.

Elections are an occasion when the widest sections of people are drawn into discussing politics. The bourgeoisie tries to push the discussion to the lowest possible level. The task of a communist party is to raise the level of discussion and the political consciousness of the people to the highest possible level.

In recent years, workers and peasants have become more conscious than ever that their main and common enemy are the monopoly capitalists. The election campaigns in five states have been used by the bourgeoisie to weaken and destroy this rising consciousness among the workers and peasants.

Election campaigns are used by the bourgeoisie to draw people into the trap of taking sides in the so-called big fight between rival bourgeois parties. The task of communists is to make people aware that the real big fight is between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. It is between the old system of capitalism, which has become dangerously crisis-ridden, and the new system of socialism which is crying out to be born.

Our task, the task of every progressive force, is to defeat the deceptive tactics of the bourgeoisie by mobilising people around a revolutionary alternative.

We must wage all forms of struggle, on the streets, in the electoral arena and within elected assemblies, all together for one and the same program, the revolutionary alternative to the program of the bourgeoisie.

MEL: Can you please explain what you mean by the revolutionary alternative to the program of the bourgeoisie?

Lal Singh: There is a large degree of agreement among communists, and among workers’ unions and kisan unions, on a set of immediate economic measures. They include the establishment of a universal public procurement system covering all agricultural products, linked to a universal public distribution system covering all essential articles of consumption. They include an immediate halt to the privatisation program, repeal of the anti-worker labour codes and an end to the contract labour system.

The aim of the revolutionary program in the sphere of the economy is to change its basic orientation. From being driven by the motive of maximising private profits in the hands of a super-rich minority, social production needs to be reoriented towards satisfying the rising material and cultural needs of the working population. Foreign trade, domestic wholesale trade and large-scale retail trade, as well as banking, iron and steel industry, energy and some other strategic industries will need to be immediately taken out of the hands of private profiteering companies and brought under social control. Production and distribution of goods and services will need to follow one overall social plan. The state must take over the property of any capitalist who acts against the social plan.

In the political sphere, our program must be aimed at creating a system of democracy in which decision-making power is in the hands of the broad masses of people.

One of the major reasons why workers and peasants are angry today is that their elected representatives enact laws and adopt policies which are completely against their interests. What are the changes which are needed in the political sphere in order to empower the workers and peasants? We must agitate for such changes.

If we present a program which has all the appropriate economic measures but does not address the need for a qualitative change in the political system, we will be contributing to strengthen the existing system of bourgeois rule. We will be contributing to keep workers and peasants tied to the same old illusion that a change of party at the helm can lead to a qualitative change in the economic policy and program.

A revolutionary party, whenever it fields or supports candidates for election, whether at state or central level, must highlight the flaws in the existing parliamentary system and its political process. We must agitate for such changes which are consistent with the alternative system of proletarian democracy, changes which are necessary for empowering the toiling majority of people.

The Preamble of the Constitution gives the false impression that “we, the people” are the decision makers. However, the reality of the Indian Republic is that only elected representatives can make decisions, and they represent the narrow interests of the bourgeoisie and not the interests of the toiling majority of people.

The right to enact laws is concentrated in the hands of the Parliament and state legislatures. Workers and peasants have no say in deciding labour laws or farm laws. This has to change. People must have not only the right to vote but also the right to propose or reject laws and policies.

The Constitution legitimizes the concentration of decision-making power in the hands of a set of politicians who are accountable to the bourgeoisie and to their party high command, not to those they are supposed to represent. This has to change. The relation between the electors and the elected has to change.

People must not hand over decision-making power entirely into the hands of those who get elected.  They must hold on to the right to demand a rendering of account from their representatives.  They need to hold on to the right to recall the person they elected at any time.

The system of parliamentary democracy in our country is based on English bourgeois political theory, imported and implanted on Indian soil by the colonial rulers. This theory is based on the premise that the people of our country are unfit to govern themselves; and that we need white men to rule over us. The theory remains the same today, with the difference that the place of the white men has been taken by Indian politicians and parties trained in saying what people like to hear while acting strictly in the interests of the wealthiest capitalists.

During the period of the anti-colonial struggle in the first half of the 20th century, the British rulers developed a political process in which representatives of Indian capitalists and landlords were given some space in provincial legislative bodies. This process of elite accommodation has continued in the post-colonial period, with the monopoly capitalists accommodating elite from various regions, communities and castes.  The toiling majority of people remain completely excluded from power.

The Constituent Assembly decided to concede the popular demand for universal adult franchise to replace the limited franchise which existed under British rule. However, 72 years of experience confirm that universal adult franchise, by itself, does not guarantee the empowerment of the people.

The vast majority of people have no role in selecting the candidates for election. The leadership of rival parties select their candidates based on religious and caste identity. People are asked to choose, as Karl Marx said, “which member of the ruling class is to misrepresent and oppress the people in parliament”.

Private financing of election campaigns leads to an extremely unequal contest. The candidates of bourgeois parties enjoy enormous advantages as compared with candidates of communist parties, of parties of kisans and other intermediate strata. There is a huge difference in money power and degree of exposure on television.

The right to field candidates in many constituencies on a common election symbol is enjoyed only by organisations which register themselves as political parties under the Representation of People Act. This right is denied to mass organisations. Workers’ unions and kisan unions, for instance, cannot field candidates and demand a common election symbol. All those who are not nominated by a registered party are called “independent” candidates, as if they belong to no organisation.

Every political power is based on a political theory which justifies that power and the way it is constituted. The new system of workers’ and peasants’ democracy has to have its own political theory. Some of the essential ingredients of this theory are: (i) sovereignty belongs to the people; and (ii) the duty of the State is to ensure prosperity and protection for all.

The role of a political party must not be to rule in the name of the people, but to provide the vision and organised leading consciousness with which people can rule themselves. Those who vote must have the right to select the candidates for election and the right to recall their elected representative at any time. We must have the right to propose, approve or reject laws and policies; and the right to amend or reformulate the Constitution. The State must finance the entire process of selection and election; no private funding of any electoral campaign must be permitted.

In class terms, the new system will be a proletarian democracy, the rule of the working class in alliance with the peasants and other toiling and oppressed people. It will be a power to eliminate all forms of exploitation and oppression, a power to sweep away all remnants of feudalism and the caste system, end the entire colonial legacy and carry out the transformation from capitalism to socialism and communism. Only by uniting around the revolutionary alternative can we defeat the plan of the bourgeoisie to mobilise people behind a parliamentary alternative.

For too long has the communist movement in our country been divided over the tactics to adopt with respect to elections in the existing system. The times are demanding the restoration of unity of the communist movement so as to advance the struggle for workers’ and peasants’ rule. It is essential for all communists to engage in frank and thorough discussion of the revolutionary alternative, around which political unity of the broad masses of people can and must be built at this time.

MEL: Thank you, comrade, for this very educative interview.

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