Kavita Krishnan, the most prominent face of India’s far-Left, has quit the CPIML-Liberation in what many see as a purge for her criticism of Stalinism.
In a Facebook post on Thursday evening, politburo member Krishnan wrote that she “requested to be relieved of my posts and responsibilities” due to her need to “pursue certain troubling political questions”, including “the importance of defending liberal democracies” and the recognition of Joseph Stalin’s regime, the Soviet Union and China “as some of the world’s worst authoritarianisms that serve as a model for authoritarian regimes everywhere”.
She added: “The conviction that for our fight for democracy against fascism and growing totalitarianism in India to be consistent, we must acknowledge the entitlement to the same democratic rights and civil liberties for all people across the world, including subjects of socialist totalitarian regimes past and present…. I continue to be a rank and file member of the CPIML.”
Krishnan later deleted the last sentence.
She said she did not “wish to address media further”. Her mother Lakshmi Krishnan, who followed her daughter into the party, remains chairperson of the Central Control Commission of CPIML-Liberation.
CPIML-Liberation said in a statement that it “regretfully consented” to Kavita Krishnan’s plea to be “relieved from the Party” at its meeting in Vijayawada from August 25 to 27 and “looks forward to her continued contribution in the ongoing battle for democracy, justice and social transformation in India”.
Her post, a day after last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s death, highlights the unsettled debate over Stalin within communist parties almost seven decades after his death, and more than 30 years after the Soviet Union collapsed.
These divisions have come to the fore with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, for which CPIML-Liberation criticised Russia. In contrast, the CPM has called the Russian action “unfortunate” but held Moscow’s demand for Ukraine not to join Nato as “legitimate”. The CPI did not name Russia in its statement.
Krishnan went even further.
To mark the 83rd anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union on August 23, she wrote on Facebook: “The impact of the Nazi-Soviet pact on the anti-fascist awareness, awakening, unity, and resistance in the world was devastating — resulting in total confusion and disorientation on the communist left at least. This was also possible because the anti-Semitism inherent to Nazism was not emphasised at all by the Comintern and not at all inside the Soviet Union.”
She added: “‘Anti-imperialism” as a phrase used loosely on the Left to dilute the awareness of fascist danger has a long history; we see it in the Left response to Ukraine today of course, but it was there at the time of the Nazi-Soviet pact too, where communists the world over were encouraged overnight to stop treating fascist states and fascist expansionism as the worst danger to the world, and instead to see fascist expansion and the resistance to it as competition among ‘imperialists’.
“The only thing that could prevent this disorientation would be a definition of fascism based on empathy for its specific victims, those it profiles, demonises and attacks. That was missing on the Left in the 1930s and is largely missing now vis a vis Russian fascism, even on sections of the Left who are alive to these aspects of fascism in their own countries (such as India).”
Sources said Krishnan’s exit had exposed the unease within the party on this stand that forces a rethink on the communist understanding of the history of the Soviet Union.
The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact is seen by communists as a tactical move by Stalin to avoid immediate conflict and prepare for an inevitable conflict with Germany in the future. They equate it with Britain and France ignoring Francisco Franco deposing a democratically elected government in Spain with his Nazi-backed junta, and Hitler’s invasion of Czechoslovakia.
A CPIML-Liberation leader explained: “She became the prominent voice of the aspiration of fearless freedom of women in India when the country swelled in mass agitation against what is known as the Nirbhaya gang rape. Starting activism as a young Left activist and continuing as communist leader, she really inspired many to remain dedicated to the task of social transformation.
“It is really unfortunate that today she no longer finds the idea of socialism to be defended vis-a-vis existing liberal democracies. While communists today have the opportunity to learn from past experiences, both good and bad, of socialism, liberal democracies all over the world have had an active role in establishing the neo-liberal policy regime at a global level.”
After Nirbhaya, Krishnan was articulate and the party encouraged her to put forward the Marxist perspective on the gender question, which also brought the work of the party to light. She was made politburo member in 2013 when she was just 40 years old.
However, unlike in the case of recent departures of prominent young communists such as Kanhaiya Kumar from the CPI, the rancour against Krishnan — who had headed the party’s students’ arm and was until her quitting a secretary of the women’s wing — is ironically not from her party, but from social media handles of supporters of its uneasy ally, the CPM.
Banojyotsna Lahiri, Delhi-based researcher and activist, wrote on Facebook: “I watch with disgust and revulsion the kind of trolling and bullying that she is being subjected to since yesterday. You don’t agree with what Kavita says, debate with her. But mindlessly abusing a woman comrade, calling her names, branding her as agent, making memes using her photo reeks of disgusting entitlements of bullying men! Is this a statistical coincidence that 99.5% bullies of Kavita are city bred men, mostly from another Communist party?”
Krishnan has been a red rag for the CPM cadre, especially for her notes on Stalin on Facebook — which increased during the lockdown when she got more time to revisit the history of communism.
But CPIML sources told this paper that all wasn’t well within the party either, and it wasn’t merely ideological differences but insecurities over her meteoric rise and developing a media persona greater than the party itself.
Another party member explained: “At a time when the world is facing a fascist onslaught, particularly in India, abdicating one’s responsibility for differences over what happened abroad decades ago is very sad indeed…. Also, in any communist party, there will be an elder cadre who led mass movements who will not like a woman rising like this without more work on the ground. She was always a critic within the party, but had the support of (general secretary) Dipankarda (Bhattacharya).”
Multiple sources claimed that Krishnan disagreed with the party’s decision to stay out of government in Bihar.
Artist Shuddhabrata Sengupta said: “I had hoped that the very necessary questions that Kavita Krishnan was raising about the cult of nostalgia for Stalin and Stalinism, and the betrayals of the legacies of the November 1917 revolution that occurred as the state formerly known as the USSR degenerated, could trigger a valuable debate within the CPI-ML-Liberation.
“This could have strengthened, not weakened, the party and the communist and the Left movements in India. That this did not happen, or could not, occur does not speak well of the strength of democratic culture and openness within the party."