istory of communist movement in Kerala
The traces to the origin of the communist movement in Kerala can be attributed to the Congress Socialist Party (CSP), which in turn was the product of the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) of 1930 - 32. The leadership of the communist movement in Kerala had entered the political life of this country as ardent freedom flighters. Leaders like Moyarath Shankaran had entered political life in the nineteen twenties. Others like P.Krishna Pillai and A.K.Gopalan entered the scene in the beginning of the CDM, and E.M.S. Namboodiripad entered the scene at the end of the CDM. It was the factionalism developed in the KPCC, which intensified the right-left infight and led to the development of the Congress Socialist Party.
The people who had embraced congress Socialism in Kerala were people who had already emotionally alienated themselves from the Gandhian leadership of the Congress. As the All India leadership of the CSP was people who were by no means emotionally alienated from Gandhism, their interaction with Gandhism was not on antagonistic planes. The spirit of accommodation shown by Gandhians and the All India Socialist leaders were not acceptable to the emotionally cultivated Kerala Socialists. Naturally when they came into contact with the militant communist idealogy, this became attractive to them and so a core led by P.Krishna Pillai and E.M.S. Namboodiripad established contact with the All India Communist leadership. Stalinist ideology and leadership of the Communist Party gave them emotional satisfaction and a feeling of power and self-confidence. Psychologically they were becoming the submissive followers of the authoritarian leadership of Stalin and his ideology. In their eyes Stalin was an invincible leader who defeated his enemies. Moreover, he had an ideology, personally attractive to the petty bourgeois leadership of the CSP who were hurt by the socially and economically dominant classes.
Peacetime activities through legal channels have been quite useful to the communists and socialists. Before the acceptance of violent communist ideology, the socialists had organized the peasantry and working class with good success. This process was started again in 1951. Organized propaganda and agitation carried out during 1951 - 56 brought good results. In 1957 the Stalinist party could not use its power with discretion. The tendency to deaminate and dictate asserted through ‘cell rule’ and interferences in the day-to-day administration of the state by the party. Even the highest organ of power in Kerala was relegated to the position of an organ of the Communists Party. Other political parties which had grown vis a vis fighting the communists, who knew the communists through their words and deeds retaliated in the same coin. Using unconstitutional means and in uniting with communal forces they brought down the communists from power.
When we look back to 1957, the assumption to power of a popularly elected communist government in Kerala that year was a landmark. Embedded in that development was that, in ideological terms, the Indian Communist Party had accepted the perception, which Karl marx propounded after the violent end of the rise of Paris Commune in 1871, that in pluralist democracies socialism can be ushered in through peaceful democratic means ,without a violent revolution. It also showed the correctness of the methodology democratic socialists had chosen, more than a century ago, to press for universal suffrages, in place of organizing violent revolutions, to bring about socialist reforms through democratically elected representative institutions.
In Scandinavian countries like Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland the Social Democratic Parties had adopted a reform path more than a century ago, and established strong, stable and successful welfare states in those countries. In India, the Indian Communist Party, for the first time, joined that stream of approach when the first communist government assumed power in Kerala in 1957, after winning a majority in the state elections. Thus the EMS Namboodiripad government of 1957 set a a new example not only for the communist parties of other Indian states but also of the rest of the world to emulate.
It may be recalled that despite a major change in the perception of Karl Mark, as early as 1872, in favour of peaceful methods, the Indian Communist party held on to his earlier perception, contained in the Communist manifesto of 1848, and organised a violent struggle in 1946 at Punnapra - Vayalar – a Paris Commune experiment in miniature – and established a Stalinist model of governance there. But, like in the case of Paris commune, the Punnapra - Vayalar experiment also ended in great tragedy. That bitter experience seems to have greatly influenced the Indian Communist Party to finally opt for a peaceful democratic electoral path to capture state power. The introduction of universal adult franchise in India, under the new Constitution, also facilitated such a major change in their approach and outlook.
A notable feature of the first EMS Government was the calibre of distinguished personalities who occupied positions in the Cabinet. Indeed, each one of them had a right to be there. It was composed of the cream of the Communist movement in Kerala at that time, minus A K Gopalan and K. Damodaran. EMS Namboodiripad, C. Achutha Menon, T.V. Thomas, K R Gowri and so on were all people of high calibre who had a long history of popular struggles behind them. The three independents who joined that ministry – V.R. krishna Iyer, Joseph Mundasseri and A.R. Menon – at that time were also men of great distinction. Today, it is difficult to see such an array of an outstanding team of ministers in a single state cabinet. In consequence, they initiated thoughtful changes in state government policies. Indeed, it is fair to say that it was a government which approached problems basically from the angle of the poor and the downtrodden. The Land Reforms Act and the Education Act were expressions of that approach. They were progressive legislations.
The bane of the first EMS Government was its failure to draw a line between the party and the government. The interference of the local party units (the party cells), in the local administration- especially in the police administration- became quite widespread and caused considerable resentment among the people at large. Simultaneously, vested interests lined up in opposition to the Land Reforms Act. Soon another group of vested interests also lined up against the Education Act. For quite some time, these opponents remained disjointed. But two years later, for different reasons all these opponents began to converge and launched what is known as ‘liberation struggle’ against the Communist Government. That struggle led to the dismissal of the first EMS Ministry. Though elected for five years, that government could remain in power only for 28 months. From hindsight, I feel that communist government would have completed its full term,had the communist party cadre in the state not indulged in introducing ‘cell rule’ at local levels, and caused hostility among the people. In that case, it would have been just impossible for landlords and other vested interest’s to build a mass movement merely around the Land Reforms Act and the Education Act.
The dismissal of the first communist government in 1959, while it was still enjoying a majority support in the Legislative Assembly, on the basis of the recommendation of the State Governor, was clearly against the letter and spirit of parliamentary democracy. Indeed, in this case, the Governor seems to have acted against the spirit of authority vested in him under Article 356 of the Indian Constitution when he recommended the dismissal of the government which enjoyed a clear majority in the State Legislative Assembly. It created an unhealthy precedent in the Indian Constitutional system. Yet, to the credit of the Communist Party of India, that did not dilute the party’s commitment to electoral politics and Indian Parliamentary democracy. That is its strength today.
However, the assumption to power of the first popularly elected Communist Government in Kerala in 1957 was a historic event in the sense that it has pointed the way for other Communist Parties of Europe, and elsewhere in the world, to firmly anchor their politics too in democracy and electoral politics to usher socialism everywhere.
Prepared by Biju P R,Assistant Professor in Political Science,Govt Brennen College…….