Handling Contradictions among Fraternal Parties

A Document Drafted by the International Relations Study Group of the New Democratic Party (Sri Lanka)

Prelude

The manner in which debates are conducted among some Marxist Leninist organisations and individuals with Marxist Leninist views on issues of varying importance, makes one wonder whether they as Marxist Leninists have learnt much from Mao Zedong on the question of handling contradictions, especially those not concerning the enemy.

Disagreement and dissent are not new or unusual to communists. Yet, seemingly deep divisions of opinion have, more often than not, been healed inside communist parties by thorough discussion and debate, to lead ultimately to greater unity. Splits occur more for lack of dialogue than for sharp ideological differences. Individuals seeking to prevail over others through suppression of discussion and debate have done much harm. Nevertheless, the predominant desire has, as a rule, been to resolve internal contradictions through dialogue or debate as necessary. Criticism and self-criticism constitute an important part of the process.

The method of democratically resolving contradictions within an organisation has also been successful inside broad front organisations as well as short-term alliances led by good communists, because communists do not lose sight of the common cause and persevere to ensure that the common interest prevails over differences, except when the differences stand in the way of attaining the agreed goals or in the face of duplicity.

A reason why splits in left parties take long to come into the open is the practice of democratic centralism. Effort is always made to resolve contradictions through discussion and debate. Not only the great debates within the Soviet and the Chinese Communist Parties but also the debates between them on the questions of Stalin, People’s Communes, and the ‘peaceful path to socialism’ took place in a disciplined manner over a long time. It was after Khrushchev launched a vicious public attack on Comrade Stalin as a pretext for replacing Marxism with revisionism that the existence of serious differences became public knowledge. Even then, efforts continued to resolve the contradictions through discussion based on democratic principles; and it was Khrushchev’s hostile and provocative attitude towards fraternal parties and socialist countries opposed to revisionism which led to acrimony. What is important to note here is that, despite deep divisions and the prospect of reconciliation getting bleaker by the day, Marxist Leninists persevered in internal debate and refused to be provoked until the revisionist camp went on the offensive.

The tendency to split has been strong when the general political climate was not favourable to the left. Ironically so, since that is exactly the kind of situation demanding greater unity and serious effort to resolve the differences, and rebuild the proletarian revolutionary party and the left movement. Marxist Leninists cannot compromise with opportunism or adventurism, and need to be firm against such tendencies. But the way to correct erroneous tendencies is patient discussion and debate rather than hasty confrontation. There is a need for a culture of respect for opposing views—not one of accommodating wrong tendencies and views—in dealing with contradictions so that those who hold the wrong views are corrected while incorrect views are eliminated in a friendly and democratic way.

Intra-Party and Inter-Party Contradictions

Marxist Leninist parties have generally been good at handling internal contradictions. The Marxist Leninist movement in India was splintered in the wake of state repression in the 1970s and in Sri Lanka following the political chaos caused by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) insurrection. Similar problems have been faced by Marxist Leninists elsewhere in the 1970s and 1980s. But, as a whole, the Marxist Leninist movement has demonstrated remarkable resilience to survive the crises and re-establish itself, and in some cases launch successful revolutionary mass struggles.

Marxist Leninist organisations in India are showing a steady growth but have difficulty in uniting as a powerful revolutionary force. In Sri Lanka, active Marxist Leninists among the Tamils and Hill Country Tamils are, in effect, represented by a single organisation, while growth of narrow nationalist politics during the past three decades has not helped the growth of the left—not just the genuine—among the Muslims and Sinhalese. Emergent narrow nationalism has been a major factor among Muslims in the wake of hostility from Sinhala chauvinism and Tamil narrow nationalism. The strong Trotskyite tradition among the Sinhalese continues to be a divisive force even after the left lost ground to the populist pseudo-left JVP which assimilated the Sinhalese youth to its chauvinist agenda. There are, however, Marxist Leninist groups and individuals who are unable to organise themselves as a political party. Thus Marxist Leninists need to think in terms of a broad front to the exclusion of opportunist politics and opportunist alliances.

Attempts to develop international alliances of Marxist Leninist parties and organisations has had limited success. While the need for developing fraternal relationship between Marxist Leninist parties is urgent, its fulfilment is hampered by difficulties in resolving what would, if handled correctly, be only friendly contradictions.

Stable and healthy relationship needs to be built between fraternal parties, including Marxist Leninist parties with seemingly strong ideological differences, at a party-to-party level. While the relationship between Marxist Leninist parties within a country is mainly about unity and struggle in carrying forward the revolutionary mass movement, that between parties in different countries or even regions of a country, where geography and ethno-linguistic differences stand in the way of close interaction and collaboration, is mostly about mutual support and exchange of thought and experience. Based on past experience, both positive and negative, in the international communist movement, it is important that interaction between parties is fraternal and on an equal footing.

Given the absence of a broad umbrella organisation or a network, fraternal ties between organisations demand mutual understanding and support and the will to treat differences as friendly contradictions. This demands the recognition that conditions differ from country to country and from region to region, and that revolutionary strategy will invariably be unique to each situation, be it a country, a region or different communities within a region – in short the specific context.

One cannot deny a fraternal party the right to comment on the political situation in the country or region of another party; or make general or universal observations; or draw attention to potential dangers and errors. Fraternal relationship is meaningless without such right. But the way in which views are exchanged is important. A Marxist Leninist party, however strong or successful, should show humility and avoid dictating to a fraternal party on matters of policy, tactics and strategy. Equally, a Marxist Leninist party should be receptive to views expressed by a fraternal party as well as other friendly forces, and all parties should be willing to learn from each other.

Insisting on universal solutions to seemingly similar but fundamentally different situations leads to harmful misunderstandings. It will be dogmatic to refuse to recognise differences in approach in their context and to reject the need for different strategies in different situations. Marxist Leninist parties need to be cautious about utterances with unfavourable implications for fraternal parties. Equally, in the event of error, the response, while being uncompromising on principles, should not be hostile. Public debate is best avoided until every possibility of rectifying errors and resolving differences through fraternal dialogue has been exhausted.

Recent International Experience

One unfortunate recent instance concerns the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) – now the United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) – which had carried out a successful 10-year long armed struggle. The UCPN(M), besides declaring that they will pursue their goal of establishing a People’s Republic of Nepal peacefully, prescribed it as the way forward for socialism in the 21st Century. The views expressed had adverse implications for the Communist Party of India (Maoist) which has been persevering in armed struggle in several parts of India. Not surprisingly, the revisionist Communist Party of India (Marxist) mischievously demanded that the Indian Maoists should take the cue from their Nepali counterparts. The strong public response of the Indian Maoists to the Nepali Maoists only helped to strain the relationship between the two parties than to rectify mistakes.

It has already been seen through the recent experience of the UCPN(M) that any decision on a peaceful path for the Nepali revolution is not in its hands but in the hands of the Nepali reactionaries, Indian expansionists and US imperialists who are keen to restore the old order. Thus the declared position of the UCPN(M) has to be understood in the context of India and the US branding it as terrorist and using it as pretext to militarily intervene to restore the old order. Yet there was neither need nor adequate basis to generalise that experience or prescribe it to other countries. That error could have been rectified through dialogue which did not spill over into the media, at least until after its resolution, and allowing the UCPN(M) time to review their new found position.

Nevertheless, there are things for left parties across the world to learn from the Maoists of Nepal. Their ability to resolve internal contradictions through patient and thorough discussion is one of them. While the enemies of the Nepali revolution gleefully speculated that differences on the line of the struggle would lead to a split in the party, the Maoists surprised them by not only resolving their differences but also consolidating party unity. The Maoists achieved it through a long and thorough process of uninhibited discussion, debate, criticism and self criticism.

Thus there is no reason why Marxist Leninist parties within a country cannot find common ground and make it the basis for cooperation in mass struggles against the state. Such cooperation will inspire Marxist Leninist parties in other countries to cooperate with each other nationally and internationally.

There is also the question of how to deal with anti-imperialist and left movements whose political line disagrees with the Marxist Leninist position on the road to socialism. Venezuela is perhaps the most important case today, as it is also used by several reformists as well as frustrated Trotskyites to reject Marxism Leninism. Marxist Leninists know what is keeping the populist left government of Chavez in Venezuela in power amid sustained efforts by the US and the forces of Venezuelan reaction to topple it. Flatterers are seeking to lull the Latin American left into a state of complaisance, and Marxist Leninists have warned against it, especially since the enemies within and without are strong. Marxist Leninists call for the politicisation of the Latin American masses on the basis of class and class struggle and have reservations about the way in which the left is being organised in Venezuela.

More serious concerns exist about the extrapolation of the Venezuelan experience to the whole of Latin America, let alone the world, by some who project it as Socialism for the 21st Century. Yet it is essential to recognise the need for unconditional support for the left and anti-imperialist governments in Latin America in defending themselves against US-led conspiracies. It is equally important for Marxist Leninists and the broad left to be aware of the risks faced by the Latin American left governments and to warn against the risks, especially the dangers of over enthusiasm. But it will be a grave error to denounce the governments in ways that will weaken internal and international anti-imperialist solidarity.

Lessons in Handling Contradictions

Thus the central issue boils down to the correct handling of debates and discussion among fraternal parties and friendly forces. Many of the rules that apply to the correct handling of contradictions within a party apply to the handling of contradictions between fraternal parties. The Communist Party of China, at least until China took the capitalist road, was exemplary in its dealings with fraternal parties. It treated all parties as equal and with respect. The CPC did not dictate to fraternal parties, nor did it seek to advice fraternal parties how they should conduct their affairs. The most one could expect from the CPC was a statement of its experience and general comments indicative of its assessment of a situation, but never prescriptions.

The New-Democratic Party has learnt from friendly Marxist Leninist parties and through its own experience, including serious mistakes. Thus it has been able to avoid friendly contradictions from developing into hostile contradictions. For example, differences have existed between the NDP and most of the Indian Marxist Leninist parties in India on the Sri Lankan national question. The position of the NDP was that the national question should be resolved without recourse to secession, by establishing autonomies for the various nationalities based on the principle of self determination. While denouncing Sinhala chauvinism, it criticised Tamil narrow nationalism, the anti-democratic ways of the Liberation Tigers (LTTE), and LTTE’s excessive reliance on arms at the expense of mass politics. This approach was at variance with the views held by several Indian Marxist Leninist parties, which were conditioned by the general impression created by the Indian media and other biased sources of information.

The NDP did not fault the Indian Marxist Leninists for what it saw as erroneous positions. Instead it patiently explained its position to each party with which it was in touch. Some took the trouble to understand the position of the NDP by accessing its publications, while there are others who still differ. The NDP, despite its position that the national question is still the main contradiction in Sri Lanka, seeks to prevent differences over that matter from developing into a major contradiction.

Likewise, the NDP has its assessment of conditions in India. It supports all mass struggles against the repressive state and seeks friendly relations with all Marxist Leninist parties and groups in India. It has its overall assessment of the political situation in India, and the political lines and methods of struggle of fraternal parties. It shares its views with the party or group concerned wherever opportunity arises; and it makes its understanding clearer and corrects wrong impressions through exchange of views. It has, on principle, refused to take a public stand on disputes among Marxist Leninist parties and groups. At the same time, when its views are sought, it has expressed them frankly and in a friendly manner.

It is unfortunate that when an NDP delegate attends a function organised by one Marxist Leninist organisation, some other organisations frown upon it, as if it is an unfriendly act. The truth is that the NDP places its relationship with all fraternal parties, nationally and internationally, on an equal footing so that cooperation and support are on a mutual basis and without discrimination between friendly parties, and not siding with one against another. Here, again, the approach is like that of Marxist Leninist parties in the 1960s and 70s towards rival Marxist Leninist organisations from another country, namely one of encouraging the rival parties to resolve their differences amicably and forging closer ties without taking sides.

The Need for a Sound Marxist Leninist Approach

In the final analysis, all Marxist Leninists have to get close to each other, nationally and internationally. One has to be conscious of the fact that the Marxist Leninist line of struggle is based on mass struggle and broad front organisations. That means achieving the broadest possible unity based on a common programme without compromising on basic principles. It is important to strike the correct balance between broad-based unity and being firm on principles. Firmness in principles can go hand in hand with cooperation with others holding different views, provided that the aims are clearly defined and there is no hidden agenda. That was how Marxist Leninists across the world successfully led struggles against colonial rule, fascism, imperialist aggression and various forms of internal oppression.

It merely requires an extension of the above approach to the relationship between fraternal parties to enhance mutual support and cooperation with a view to build strong Marxist Leninist revolutionary movements nationally and internationally.

Contradictions are bound to arise between fraternal parties when policies and practices of one appear to be in conflict with those of the other. Such differences are not difficult, certainly not impossible, to resolve. It is important to study the conditions under which the seemingly unacceptable decisions are taken and appreciate the reasons for differences in approach. To understand a decision is not to endorse it but to recognise the conditions that lead to that decision. This step should be thoroughly implemented before making critical comments or suggesting more appropriate options.

It is important to remember that contexts differ and that the revolution needs to address specific situations and issues which vary not only from country to country but also from region to region and community to community within a country. That is not to deny universal principles and the primacy of class and class struggle. It is only a call to apply the scientific method of Marxism Leninism to solve a problem rather than redefine the problem to fit a model solution.

What Marxist Leninists should always remember is that all fraternal parties are equal and that party to party relations should emphasise matters that unite fraternal parties and not what seem to divide them. There is a need for unanimity on a wide range of issues concerning mass liberation struggles against imperialism and its lackeys. Such unanimity demands a flexible rather than a rigid approach, comprising firmness in principles and flexibility in handling differences.

Modern communication technology has certainly helped revolutionary struggles in many ways, including exchange of information with speed and establishment of contact with relative ease. But it has also encouraged hasty and ill-considered exchanges of views between individuals and organisations as well as to the spilling over of debates into the public domain before the issues concerned are even understood. The so-called “blogsites” and other such websites of Marxist Leninist organisations and individuals associated with them need to exercise caution and discipline in the handling of political information in the public domain.

We now witness the liberal use of the term ‘self criticism’ by parties to polemical debates demanding that the opponent should self-criticise before he/she or the organisation could comment on a subject. Such conduct is childish and violates the spirit of self-criticism as understood by Marxist Leninists. Indulgence in personal or personalised debates in the public domain can lead to childish petit bourgeois conduct which is certainly not characteristic of a good Marxist Leninist. It is well to remember that it is the enemy and mischief makers who gain when Marxist Leninists indulge in bitter personal attacks in the public domain.

The Marxist Leninist method of rectifying errors has criticism and self-criticism as a central feature by which the organisation seeks to correct erroneous views and actions and not humiliate the holder of a wrong view or doer of a wrong deed. What is needed is support and solidarity among individuals as well as organisations.

Marxist Leninists in Sri Lanka like those in other small South Asian countries look up to mass revolutionary struggles in India as an inspiration. A revolution in India will make the revolutionary task all the more easier for the smaller neighbours; and, in the event of an advancing revolution as in the case of Nepal, Indian revolutionary forces can effectively stop Indian meddling aimed at undermining the revolution and destabilising the country. It is our appeal to Indian Marxist Leninists that they should, irrespective of differences, seek to build and to strengthen ties with Marxist Leninist and anti-imperialist liberation movements in the region and encourage mutual support on matters relating to the common cause of anti-imperialist and anti-hegemonic mass struggles.

Courtesy: New Democracy 36

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