We are gathered here at an anti-imperialist Convention preceding our 8th Party Congress. This is a theme that binds a range of struggles together; representatives of important centres of anti-war, anti-imperialist struggles have assembled here: representatives from Australia, Great Britain; from neighbouring Bangladesh, Nepal. Those friends from beyond the party who are concerned about the degeneration of the Left and who are speaking out are also amongst us. Today’s Convention is a much-awaited gathering of genuine Leftists and democratic forces. For international observers, today’s Kolkata can appear to be a capital of the distorted and degenerated Left. However, Bibhas Chakravarty and Nabarun Bhattacharya who spoke before me observed quite rightly that today’s Kolkata is holding high the genuine red flag. A battle is on in West Bengal today: a battle whose issues are intimately tied up with the theme of today’s Convention: Imperialism’s War on Democracy, Independence, and Development.
This is the third time we are holding our Party Congress at Kolkata. In 1970 when we held our First Party Congress here, those were different times: turbulent times, difficult times. If the decade of the 70s was one of revolutionary struggle, it also marked a decade of intense repression nation-wide. The ruling class thought they had finished off the CPI (ML). The indomitable spirit of the people, of the rural poor, their irrepressible courage and strength, revived our party. After this, the next time the Party held its Congress at Kolkata was in 1992, when the Party came over ground.
Forty years ago, Naxalbari took place in a different context. Then, communists thought circumstances existed for a direct, bold, confident revolutionary bid to capture state power. But that bid failed. Today, we can see many similarities between Nandigram and Naxalbari. Here once again, peasants are in revolt, forcing the government to retreat. The special economic zone (SEZ) Act was passed in Parliament unanimously, with not a single vote against the SEZ Act from the partners of either National Democratic Alliance (NDA) or United Progressive Alliance (UPA), or even the entire brigade of more than 60 Left MPs. The West Bengal Government imagined that this Act could be the foundation for the state’s industrialisation policy. But in a development that no one expected, the peasants of Nandigram challenged the power of the entire Parliament, and the State Government which enjoys a massive majority in the State Assembly. This was the power of the people that all the power of the state failed to defeat. Without this power of the people there can be no left politics. It is this power of the people that we are gathered here to uphold, defend and consolidate.
There is a government in this state, a ruling party and Left leadership, that constantly hobnobs with industrialists, but is extremely hostile to intellectuals and the people. This spineless, tailist Leftists think that they can continue in state power in Bengal only by selling out the interests of the Left forces nationally. They imagine that they can stop the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) by allying with Lalu, Mulayam and Congress. If anyone imagines that the CPI (M)-led Left’s degeneration will repeat the circumstances of Eastern Europe after the Soviet Collapse, then we are determined to prove them wrong. If we can see the degeneration and decay of the Left here, then the regeneration of the Left is also an objective truth.
The 8th Congress is the biggest Congress we have held till now. The delegates here will discuss the documents on the agrarian crisis – a crisis that causes a farmer to commit suicide every half hour; a crisis that is destroying livelihoods on a huge scale. They will also deliberate on the Nuke Deal, which is no isolated deal. It is part of a larger gameplan to turn India into a strategic pawn of the US. We can’t allow the country of 1857, of Bhagat Singh, to become a pawn of the US: we must foil this ploy.
Right now we find the CPI(M) branding its critics as ‘enemies of the people’; rather than taking the criticisms to heart, they are instead presuming to tell historians how to write history, writers how to write poetry; artists how theatre should be played…
In our history, we have made many mistakes, and we never hesitated to correct them: and we are willing to reflect deeply on all the criticisms, all the suggestions that are made to us. We are a small force but in the past years, and even in the past months we have seen a significant expansion – and I don’t just mean the expansion of ranks of our party. Singur and Nandigram and struggles against SEZs have in fact rekindled a Left urge very widely. In 1967 India had felt the need for revolution. In 2007 again India seems to be looking with hope and eagerness for a revolutionary Left alternative. It is this Left urge, this resurgence of the Left that we are committed to. I appeal to all genuine and principled sections of the Left; all those concerned about the Left’s future, all democratic forces and civil society – we are committed to walking shoulder to shoulder with them every step of the way in this struggle for a resurgence of the Left. In this struggle, I appeal to all, especially the people of Kolkata: give us the strength to rise up to the occasion, to fulfil our resolve. We are committed to march together with all the genuine Left, democratic forces for a bright future, a better tomorrow, both in West Bengal and in India.