People's Democracy

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


No. 24 

June 14, 2009




An Exceptional Communist

Prakash Karat



JUNE 13, 2009 marks the birth centenary of E M S Namboodiripad, whose life and work has left an indelible imprint on the communist movement in India. Born in 1909, EMS's remarkable life spanned the entire gamut of the social and political movements of the 20th century in India.


As a young student he became the standard bearer for social reforms in the orthodox Namboodiri community to which he belonged. He became a Gandhian Congressman who participated in the Civil Disobedience Movement as a student and went to jail. He was one of the founders of the Congress Socialist Party when it was formed in 1934 at the all India level. He became a key organiser of the peasant movement against feudalism and imperialism in Malabar. By 1936, he joined the Communist Party, being among the first group of five members in Kerala.


Thus began the extraordinary journey of EMS as a communist who became the foremost leader of the communist movement. It is not possible to make a full and proper evaluation of EMS as a Marxist thinker and his great contribution to the communist movement in a short article. But there are five distinctive features which stand out in his revolutionary life.


Firstly, EMS was pre-eminent among all the communist leaders in his creative application of Marxist theory and practice. His extraordinary intellectual prowess enabled him to grasp the essence of Marxism and apply it in a creative fashion to Indian conditions. It is this outstanding ability which enabled EMS to become the first to lay down the theoretical basis for the abolition of landlordism in Kerala after a concrete study of the socio-economic conditions. He also had the unmatched capacity to translate theory into practice. His thesis on the jenmi-landlord system in Malabar became the basis for providing practical guidance to the developing peasant movement. His exposition of agrarian relations and the democratic content of the agrarian revolution laid the basis for the pioneering land reforms which were later initiated when he became the chief minister of the first Communist ministry in Kerala in 1957.


EMS also showed how a Marxist analysis of society and history should be conducted in his study of the evolution of the linguistic nationality formation of the Malayalis and Kerala society. His Aikya Kerala and the study of “National Question in Kerala” became the basis for the major democratic movement in post-independence India for the linguistic reorganisation of the states. On all the major questions of India's politics and society, EMS made an original contribution because of his firm grounding in Marxist theory. He analysed history, society, politics and culture from the Marxist standpoint in the most authentic manner. These interventions and views would provide the catalyst for discussions and debates amongst not only Left intellectuals but also among all thinking sections of society.


It would not be an exaggeration to state that no other communist leader has made such a contribution to the development of Marxist theory and practice in the ex-colonial countries or the developing world.


As a Marxist-Leninist, EMS was deeply committed to the cause of world socialism and internationalism. But after decades of experience of the international communist movement, the CPI(M) leadership of which EMS was part, broke from the practice of heeding the line emanating from Moscow. EMS and his comrades began the arduous quest to apply Marxism-Leninism to evolve the correct strategy and tactics of the Indian revolution based on their own experience. EMS played an important role in this process.


The second important feature was the pioneering role that EMS played in developing the correct perspective for the Communist Party's participation in parliamentary forums. He himself charted out the course for communist participation in government by becoming the chief minister of the first communist ministry to be formed in India in Kerala in 1957. The 28-month stint of the communist government blazed a new path by adopting land reform measures, democratic decentralisation and a pro-people police policy. EMS throughout was firmly committed to democratic decentralisation. Both as a Party leader and as an administrator EMS conceived of and worked to execute a more federal and decentralised system from the centre to the states and down to the panchayats. It was EMS who did the most in translating the Left vision into public policy making and execution. To EMS must also go the credit for clearly demarcating from revisionism and parliamentarism when he drew the proper lessons of communist participation in government. He saw this as part of the class struggle and laid out clearly that participation in government should be accompanied by extra parliamentary work which will strengthen the working class movement.


The third distinctive feature was EMS's original contribution to the Marxist understanding of caste and class relations. After analysing the caste structure in Kerala society in the early decades of the 20th century, EMS drew out the class content of the caste configurations and was able to develop the communist outlook and practice which harnessed the anti-caste revolt and the democratic aspirations of the lower castes to the wider goals of the proletarian movement. Unlike many in the earlier generations of communists, EMS did not ignore the realities of the caste system and was able to utilise the impetus for social change for building the wider unity of the working people. In later life too, EMS also sought to apply Marxism to an ever changing caste-class correlation. As an authentic Marxist leader, EMS's interests spanned all aspects of society and social change. He was equally insightful in interpreting culture and on ways to build an alternative cultural hegemony to that of the ruling classes. From his earliest days fighting for social reform he was deeply committed to women's emancipation and as the general secretary he played a key role in the Party addressing issues of gender equality and women's oppression.


The fourth unique feature was EMS's unparalleled role in communicating to the people the ideas and the politics of the Party. No other communist leader had such a prodigious output in terms of articles, reviews, commentaries and books. In Kerala, there was a remarkable dialogue between EMS and the people through his daily writings.


EMS was the editor of a number of Party publications starting from Prabhatham which began as a paper of the CSP in 1935 in Kerala and ending in his last years once again as the editor in chief of Deshabhimani. In between he was the editor of a number of papers in the united party and of People's Democracy and The Marxist.  The collected works of EMS in Malayalam which are being brought out will run into over a hundred volumes. These writings put together are an impressive and enduring legacy for the people and the country.


The fifth distinctive feature of EMS was that he was a communist of special mould. Despite his intellectual prowess he was modest and devoid of egoism. The love and reverence of the people of Kerala never turned his head. He lived a life of utmost simplicity after giving up his property to the Party. As a leader he set the standards for democratic functioning and by sheer example exercised a great moral influence over the cadres to live up to the expectations of the people.


For the Communist and Left movement in India the theoretical and practical work of E M S  Namboodiripad is a rich and abiding legacy. The essence of that legacy –  study of Marxist theory, its creative application to the live and concrete conditions of society, the firm belief in the emancipatory goal of socialism and a total identification with the people – has to be transmitted to succeeding generations of activists committed to the people's cause.