People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 16

April 27, 2008



The Role And Experience Of Left-led Governments

N S Arjun

PART 2 of the Political Organisational (Polorg) Report, which dealt with “The Role and Experience of Left-led Governments” was placed in the 19th congress by general secretary Prakash Karat on the evening of April 1, 2008. For the last few decades, Party has been running state governments in the three states of West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura. Many issues came up in the course of the running of these governments and were discussed in Party fora. The updated programme of the Party had also taken into account some of these developments. The 18th Congress discussed and adopted an important document “On Certain Policy Issues” which were related to the running of these governments.

Prakash Karat at the outset stated that the central committee felt it was necessary to take up for discussion in a document form a framework on how to deal with issues arising in the work of Left-led governments in the changed circumstances after liberalisation and the change of correlation of forces at the international level. And therefore Part 2 of Polorg Report in this congress. He also said that this discussion was intended to evolve a clearcut and unified understanding by the entire Party on the role of these Left-led governments. The document, by setting out the programmatic understanding of our work in state governments, would also help in better defending of these governments by the entire Party. He clarified that the document is not meant to review the entire experience of these governments. It is only for updating our understanding in the context of the present situation, which will help in dealing with various issues that crop up from time to time.


The first communist government formed under the leadership of Comrade EMS in Kerala in 1957 faced a totally uncharted path, yet survived for 28 months and took pioneering steps for land reforms; inititated welfare measures for the working people; decentralised power etc. Although the EMS ministry was dismissed by Congress government at the centre, this experience helped the Party in formulating the tactical direction in the Party programme. Para 112 of Party programme contains the understanding of the Party on our participation in state governments. It sanctions Party participation in governments in states where we become strong enough to acquire a majority in the legislature during the course of the struggle to build Left and Democratic Front at the all India level. However it is made clear that while “bringing into existence governments pledged to carry out a modest programme of giving immediate relief to the people”, there should be no illusion that they can solve the basic problems of the country in a fundamental manner. It was also mentioned that “such governments will give great fillip to the revolutionary movement of the working people”.

In the new situation which developed in 1967 when the monopoly of Congress power was broken in the states, the Party joined only those governments in which it could influence policy and provide people some immediate relief to the people. The Party was part of the United Front governments in Bengal and Kerala during 1967-70. These governments were also used as struggle instruments. The tactical line of Party programme was put to test during this period. It threw up a rich and varied experience for the Party on the united front tactics and also on how to participate and run governments, said Karat.

This understanding of ours was not necessarily shared by other Left parties. Unity and struggle within the Left was also carried forward. Our Party faced attack on this position. But we never flinched and the Party's correct united front tactics and creative approach to the state governments helped in overcoming the odds. Another feature during that period was our understanding that the Left movement will go forward nationally, and internationally socialism was a decisive force. Although state machinery was used to repress the Party and over two thousand of our cadres were killed in Bengal and Kerala by the goons of the ruling class parties, this period helped the Party in establishing its leadership role among the Left and democratic forces in these states, noted Karat.


Post 1967 UF governments did not last long. But even in that short period, they utilised the time to provide relief to the people and show our distinctness. However post Emergency there was a change in the situation. The ruling class parties were divided on the question of authoritarianism and our governments got longer lease of life. The 1964 understanding was not found sufficient as the kind of attacks envisaged from ruling classes did not materialise.

Karat pointed out that as our governments began lasting longer, expectations of people also grew. More relief was sought. So we had to work out an all India level understanding of the changed situation. The basic understanding about these governments not being in a position to bring out fundamental changes remained. However it was no more relevant to view the Left-led governments solely as instruments of struggle. In the updated programme of Party in 2000, the idea of providing modest relief to people was changed to meeting the aspirations of the people. The ideas of projection of alternative policies through these governments was also strengthened. This is how these governments will help in strengthening the all India movement.

Another aspect which was taken into account was the change in correlation of forces internationally and advent of liberalisation policies and the change it brought about in the centre-state relations to the detriment of states.

In West Bengal, even before liberalisation, the question of how to go about industrialisation came up in the context of the discriminatory attitude of a hostile central government. When the Haldia petro-chemical project being set up in joint sector with private participation, the issue was discussed in 12th Party congress in 1985. Comrade BTR had said that West Bengal under Left Front rule was facing an “economic blockade” and called for breaking the blockade in the class interests of the working class. It was the first major industrial venture inititated by the state government after it cam einto office in 1977.


However post liberalisation policies, a sea change was brought about in the situation with deregulation of the economy and delicensing of industries. With cutbacks in public investment and withdrawal of state from its social responsibilites, the state governments were squeezed of resources even in the social sector. These affected first Bengal and then Kerala and Tripura also. Karat underlined that the conditions and priorities of development in the three states are different and this must be kept in mind while we discuss about our governments there.

In order to industrialise, West Bengal government had to solicit investments. In 1994 West Bengal government came out with an industrial policy. Since it raised various questions, the central committee also discussed and adopted a resolution in 1994 titled “On the Role of the West Bengal government in the context of the New Economic Policies”. It clearly stated development does not mean abandoning of public sector. In fact both of our governments in Bengal and Kerala have revived many PSUs. Unlike other states there has been no undermining of labour laws.

After three decades of agricultural development in Bengal, the Party decided to give priority for industrialisation and in the new situation it would mean not just public sector but expansion of private industry. Since it is private industry, they would obviously come for their profits. But it was decided that there should be no unjustifiable concessions. Also the people must be taken into confidence about the need for industrialisation. Even while pushing for greater industrialisation with private investment, the people should be told that such private sector industries cannot solve the basic problems associated with the liberalised capitalist system.

Karat said there is a serious problem for our governments in finding resources for social sector development. Apart from undertaking land reforms in these states, our governments raised the living conditions of people. This task has now become difficult due to the squeeze of finances of the states in the changed situation. The major challenge facing these governments today is to see that the big gains achieved over the decades are not eroded. He praised the performance of our governments within these limitations.

Another challenge facing the Party is as to how to align the work in these states with our all India line. With the biggest contribution to our movement coming from these states, our all India movement is highly dependent on these movements. Karat stressed that there should not be unrealistic estimates from these governments. Also, the nature of coalition governments results in limitations on what can be done through the various ministries. He said sometimes these governments may have to implement certain aspects which the Party may be opposing or advocating an alternative policy at the all India level. He cited the example of Smart City project in Kerala, which our government successfully renegotiated with the promoters, changing many harmful clauses agreed to by the previous Congress-led government. He stressed that these will have to be decided on issue to issue basis. The governments in the three states will also have to be conscious of the fact that just as the movements in these states help all India movement, any negatives would harm the all India movement also. He called upon them to do their best – despite the severe constraints under which they were working – to sharply show their difference from bourgeois governments. The fact that these government keep getting elected consecutively and with greater numbers shows that they are performing well and have credibility among the people.

Karat said that one way of breaking out of this difficult situation would be by taking forward the struggle to restructure centre-state relations. The position of states would change if this can be achieved.

The important role played by the Left-led governments in expanding the influence and base of the Party in West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura was underlined. In 1977, the Party membership in West Bengal was 33,720 and the total membership of the mass organisations 25 lakh. After 30 years of Left Front rule, the Party membership today stands at 3,18,025 and mass organisations membership over 3 crores (3,35,37,955). In Kerala the Party membership in 1978 was 67,366 and mass organisations membership over 10 lakh. Today the corresponding fugures are 3,36,644 and around 1.45 crore. In Tripura in 1978 the Party membership was 3,970 and mass organisations membership was 1,07,822. Today the Party membership is 67,764 and mass organisations membership is 19,52,485. The programmatic understanding of these governments providing great fillip to the revolutionary movement of the working people has been proved correct.

The document concludes with the following passage: “The movements in these three states have strengthened the all India movement. The Left-led governments are functioning within severe constraints after the phase of liberalisation. The Party has to constantly devise ways by which the governments can pursue pro-people policies and undertake measures which can meet the minimum needs of the people while also helping the Party to project alternative policies at the national level. The defence of the Left-led governments is an intrinsic part of the national agenda of the Party and the Left and democratic forces.”

(Discussion and Reply will be

published in the next issue -- Ed)