Notes on Namboodiripad's "National Integration and the Communist Party"
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Notes on Namboodiripad's "National Integration and the Communist Party"

Notes on Namboodiripad's "National Integration and the Communist Party"

"National Integration and the Communist Party" was a discussion document written by E.M.S. Namboodiripad in 1962 and published in advance of the 1964 Communist Party of India (Marxist) congress. The CPI(M) had formed in 1964 after a split in the Communist Party of India. This split centred on a division between the faction led by S.A. Dange which sought accommodation with the ruling Congress Party and a left-wing faction led by figures such as E.M.S. Namboodiripad, P. Sundarayya, Jyoti Basu, Harkishan Singh Surjeet. The split was also caught up in the dynamics of the Sino-Indian War and the Sino-Soviet Split.

Namboordiripad wrote regularly on the national question. His National Question in Kerala in 1952 outlined national basis of the left-wing struggle in Kerala and the historical development of a Keralese nation, a book influenced by Stalin's Marxism and the Problem of Linguistics. Yet beyond Kerala there was also the question of how India – understood by the communists as a multi-national state -- could address problems of national integration and the questions of the national language and culture this entailed. His "National Integration and the Communist Party" is notable for its more critical engagement with thinking on the national question, both within India and internationally.

Central to this is Namboodiripad's concern with the problem of communal and regional separatism which he saw as an ongoing threat to Indian politics. This was a problem he saw as emerging out of the elections in 1952 with the emergence of regional or communal parties, yet the Congress was able to attain a significant victory leading it to believe that it would be able to see out communal forces. Central to this was a belief that state socialism and more equitable development would provide the basis for overcoming communal divisions:

Subsequent to the election, the congress leaders thought that the new orientation that they were giving to their policies—friendship and cooperation with the Socialist powers on a world-scale; adopting of the Socialist pattern, and subsequently Socialism, as the goal of the nation; the new perspective regarding planned economy; agrarian reform, etc—would secure them such solid support from the people that a crushing blow could be dealt to communalism and regionalism.

As he would go on to argue:

Subsequent developments showed how misplaced was their optimism in this regard. Parties based on communal and regional separatism grew stronger, rather than weaker. They were able to cash in on the growing discontent of the people against Congress policies to a far greater extent than Left Democratic Opposition. And by 1959, they had grown so serious that the then President of the AICC, Smt. Indira Gandhi, called a representative meeting of Congress workers to discuss the problem. That Conference decided to appoint a Committee to consider the whole question of what has since come to be known as National Integration. This decision. however, was not implemented in the meanwhile, the language disturbances in Assam took place and showed the explosive character of the situation.
It was against this background that the Bhavanagar session of the Congress, held in January 1961, adopted a resolution on National Integration. That resolution stated: “democracy, with its widespread: system of elections, which is vitally important and which is the very basis of our Constitution, has also resulted in some ways in encouraging certain: disintegrating forces. Under the cover of political and social activities, the old evils of communalism, casteism, provincialism and linguism have appeared again in some measure...... Communalism which has in the past done so much injury to the nation is again coming into evidence and taking advantage of the democratic apparatus to undermine this unity to encourage reactionary tendencies. Provincialism and linguism have also injured the cause for which the Congress stands. Caste, although losing, its basic force, is beginning to function in a new political garb. If these tendencies are allowed to flourish, then India’s progress will be gravely retarded and even freedom will be imperilled. It is, therefore, of the utmost importance that every effort should be made to remove these evils and always to keep in view the unity and integrity of the nation. Adequate progress can only be based on a national scale, embracing all communities and states.”

In response Namboodiripad would outline the way in which the Communists under Ajoy Ghosh would advocate to Nehru for an alliance of non-communal and secular politicians. As Ghosh would argue in a letter to Nehru in 1961:

"In the light of what happened in Jabalpur and other places, it is evident that the Congress, by relying on its own influence alone, cannot wage an effective battle against communalism. Not merely is the influence of the Congress to-day considerably less than it was in the days of struggle for national freedom but also it is a well-known fact that many Congressmen themselves have come to “imbibe communal ideas. At the same time, larger numbers of Congressmen are definitely non-communal. There are non-communal and secular-minded men and women in other parties also and many of those who ness of the menace, we feel that an appeal should be issued by you and by the Congress Working Committee to ask Congressmen in all parts of the country to join hands with other non-communal forces to wage a concerted struggle against communalism. Also we feel that it is high time that a Conference is convened of all the major secular parties and elements in the country to discuss communal problem in all its aspects and evolve ways and means to eradicate it"

This highlights the manner in which the CPI saw the problem of communalism as central to left-wing politics in India in the period. As a fundamental question which needed to be addressed. Yet as Namboodiripad outlines, the CPI had not managed a coherent theory of the national question. It had failed to undertake a "proper Marxist analysis" of communalism in India and the result was that the party was "not able to take a unified stand on the problem of national integration" and this produced conflicting trends in the CPI.

Namboodiripad then goes on to outline the Marxist approach to the national question and its relevance in India. Here he turns to Lenin's "On the Right of Nations to Self-Determination" which emphasised the processes of nation formation proper to modern capitalism and Marxist support for the right to self-determination of all nationalities. Yet as Namboodiripad argued, it would be incorrect to "make mechanical comparison of the conditions in Russia with those in India and to apply to India the principle of self-determination for all nationalities. Lenin himself had warned against such mechanical application of the principle of self-determination to all countries regardless of differences among them."

Lenin, he argues, suggested that the development of capitalism "does not necessarily awaken all nations to independent life. But to brush aside Mass national movements once they have started and to refuse to support what is progressive in them means, in effect, pandering to nationalistic prejudices, that is recognising 'one's own as the model nation'". Namboodiripad saw this in the assumption of the Indian state as a Hindi state and the denouncement of other sub-nationalisms.

Yet Namboodiripad would highlight differences between the Russian and Indian cases. Central to the nationalities question in Tsarist empire was the fact of Russian national domination and the requirement to resolve this domination in order to mobilise all nationalities. Yet as Namboodiripad argue, it would be "idle" to see the same features existing in Tsarist Russia as existing in 1960s India.

The very manner in which capitalism developed in our country and generated the national movement is basically different from that of Russia. It is therefore necessary to analyse the specific features of the development of capitalism and of the national movement in our country in order that we may be able to apply the general principle of Marxism-Leninism to our own conditions.

The central difference lay in the fact that in India the bourgeoisie was not from the dominant nationality but was largely foreign. As Namboodiripad argues, in fact in India the largest group, the Hindi speaking people were less economically advanced than in other territories. It was Bombay and Calcutta and not the cities of the Hindi Belt which industrialised under British rule and nor was the Hindi-speaking region able to become unified to become a dominant national political group. In this respect there are interesting links with a colony like Malaya in which the dominant linguistic and national group, the Malays, were also less economically developed, compared to the Chinese who had a large capitalist class.

In the case of India, the weakness of the Hindi-speaking region meant that it was the equality of languages that dominated the nationalist movement – focused against the domination of English. Alongside this was the emphasis on federalism. The two prongs of the nationalist movement were for Namboodiripad federalism and linguistic states. Yet against this the national bourgeoisie persistently advocated centralization, elements of the CPI also came to advocate centralisation as a means of combatting separatism.

Yet as Namboodiripad would argue, central to the traditional approach to the national question in the CPI was the attempt to produce "the utmost possible unity of the entire country consistent with the need for allowing all the linguistic and cultural groups to develop their languages and cultures". As he would go on to state, "The unity of the country is not to be counterposed to, but integrated with, the widest possible autonomy for the states formed on a linguistic basis". This emphasised the need to build unity through diversity and to combine national unity with autonomy which mirrored the ideas of unity central to Soviet nationalities policy. (As Stalin would argue in 1930: "It may seem strange that we who stand for the future merging of national cultures into one common (both in form and content) culture, with one common language, should at the same time stand for the flowering of national cultures at the present moment, in the period of the dictatorship of the proletariat. But there is nothing strange about it. The national cultures must be allowed to develop and unfold, to reveal all their potentialities, in order to create the conditions for merging them into one common culture with one common language in the period of the victory of social-ism all over the world. The flowering of cultures that are national in form and socialist in content under the dictatorship of the proletariat in one country for the purpose of merging them into one common socialist (both in form and content) culture, with one common language, when the proletariat is victorious all over the world and when socialism becomes the way of life—it is just this that constitutes the dialectics of the Leninist presentation of the question of national culture.

It may be said that such a presentation of the question is "contradictory." But is there not the same "contradictoriness" in our presentation of the question of the state? We stand for the withering away of the state. At the same time we stand for the strengthening of the dictatorship of the proletariat, which is the mightiest and strongest state power that has ever existed. The highest development of state power with the object of preparing the conditions for the withering away of state-power—such is the Marxist formula. Is this "contradictory"? Yes, it is "contradictory." But this contradiction is bound up with life, and it fully reflects Marx's dialectics.").

Yet, despite this position, due to the "chauvinistic" attitude of the Indian bourgeoisie and the central government, debates over the language issue had continued in the post-independence period. These debates mirror debates over language taking place in a colony such as Malaya. For Namboodiripad, failure to see the multi-national basis of Indian politics led the bourgeoise but also elements of the CPI to denounce forms of anti-national separatism without addressing its social, economic and historical roots. This led elements of the CPI towards "tailism", either following the position of the bourgeoise in denouncing separatism or, in dogmatically applying Lenin's right to national self-determination, tailing behind separatist movements. This contradicted the communist need to produce unity through difference.

As he would then argue:

The unity of the entire Party has to be built through a systematic struggle against bourgeois trends of all varieties (a) against the tendency of over centralisation and domination as well as against provincialism and regionalism; (b) against the efforts to develop Hindi and help it to dominate in the administrative and cultural life of the country at the expense of other languages, as well as against refusal to recognize the special role of Hindi as the language of all-India communication; (c) against the landlords and capitalists of the plains who want to dominate the tribal belt, as well as against the growing bourgeois elements among the tribal people to set their people against the plains people.... It can be done only if the Party independently comes before the people with a programme of building the unity of India on the basis of recognition of the real diversity which exists because of its multi-lingual character, the uneven economic and cultural development of various states and regions and the existence of the various tribes inhabiting the various parts of India.

He then ends by outlining the proper position of the Party on the question of national integration:

(a) On separatism: Opposition to separatism yet opposition to the centralisation of the bourgeoisie.

(b) On language: Adhering to the principle of replacing English by regional languages and Hindi as the official language.

(c) On provincialism and regionalism: Aim towards the rapid reduction of provincial and regional disparities. Allocations of funds for development plans on the basis of population size.

(d) Tribal discontent: Emphasising the need to protect tribal groups from the exploitation of landlords and capitalists and to assist them with modernising, yet on their own terms.

(e) Caste: opppostion to casteism but also opposition to the suggestion that the lower caste mobilisation along caste lines is casteism. Support for the continuation of educational concessions and reservations in government jobs.

(f) Communalism: support for secular politics and acting against the intrusion of religion into politics.