by Arup Baisya
Frontier | Vol. 49, No.13-16, Oct 2 – 29, 2016
One common thread that binds all the CPI(ML) groups into a common camp till date is the identification of state character as semi-feudal, semi-colonial. There are divergent views on many strategic and tactical issues other than that. One extreme view on a tactical question turned into strategic question is ‘the armed struggle from the beginning delineating Indian democracy as illusion’. The Maoist still adheres to this extreme position which was formulated during the formation of party post-Naxalbari peasant upsurge. Other than the Maoist, all other groups who have more or less rejected this extreme position dwell on the question of democracy at some length, though the discourse on democracy in the Naxalite circle barring few exceptions still falls short of the nature of democracy in post-revolutionary society. Many erudite writers claim that the Indian sub-continent has great democratic civilisational traditions of debate and continuous questioning of status quo or whatever does exist. This civilisational pull always remains at play within each and every social and political process. The contrary view emphasises that this civilisational pull had already been neutered in the Indian society long back by the Brahminical traditions of cause-effect duality which is presently dominant. The state promotes and sustains this mindset through institutional means. But the freedom struggle had rejuvenated the civilisational past of democratic debate and dissent to a great extent. It culminated into a discontinuity in 1947 by unleashing the initiative of formation of a post-independence state, but maintained the continuity with the past through a combination of both reactionary brahminical traditions and democratic civilisational traditions. The birth of independent state had encountered peasant revolt like Tebhaga, Telengana movement at its initial years. But the peasant movement in the initial phase failed to articulate the political question of state power which has its foundation on the vestiges of colonial and feudal exploitation. Other factors aside, this is perhaps because it was a phase of post-war global capitalist expansion.
In 1946, there was the Thebhaga movement in undivided Bengal. The Telengana insurrection (1946-51) was much more broad-based and peasants were able to establish their control over about 3,000 villages and their influence extended over several others. Again in 1959, peasant movement in Naxalbari Kharaibari police station which did produce some result was spearheaded by Kishan Sabha of CPI. The Naxalbari uprising was a much smaller affair in comparison. But then Naxalbari left a far-reaching impact on the entire agrarian scene throughout India. 1961 Census data shows that proportion of cultivators with agricultural labour as secondary occupation in Naxalbari, Phasidewa Kharaibari was 94.4, 76.5, 92.6 per cent respectively and proportion of agricultural labour with cultivation as secondary occupation was 96.6, 96.2, and 58.8 per cent respectively. According to census report of 1961, 57.7, 72.2 and 64.4 per cent of the total population of Naxalbari, Kharaibari and Phansidewa, respectively, comprised Scheduled Castes and Tribes. 40.0, 30.8, 15.2 per cent of total population in these three areas, respectively, were engaged in mining, forestry and plantation. The tribal includes Santhals, Madesias, Oraons, Mundas and Rajbanshis. Though the revolt against exploitation of bhagchasis by the jotedars was the important dimension, it had a working class dimension too. Furthermore, the overwhelming participation of scheduled tribe groups in comparison to others revealed the dimension of caste-community and the cultural tradition. While formulating the strategy and tactics in the post upheaval phase, all these socio-economic intricacies and specificities were ignored.
But unlike other peasant struggles which were predominantly based on economic demands, the Naxalbari peasant movement was transformed into a political movement by placing the question of state power at the core. This was achieved more by the conscious intervention of communist vanguard elements from outside than the rise of mass-consciousness through social dynamics from within. In a leaflet of 9 April 1965 of Siliguri militants, guided by Charu Mazumder stated : ‘it is necessary now to come forward powerfully and tell the people forcefully that capturing of power area-wise is our way’. It further gave a call for laying foundation of a new people’s democratic India by building liberated kisan areas through kisan revolution. Though the much emphasis on Avant-gardist or Vanguard approach from outside created the basic foundation of dogmatism and democracy deficit in organizational affairs at a later stage, an epoch-making paradigm shift from status quo had happened as Samar Sen assessed the Naxalbari uprising in the following words:
“Naxalbari exploded many a myth and restored faith in the courage and character of revolutionary Left in India. It seemed that the ever-yawning gap between precept and practice since Telengana would be bridged. Indeed, the upheaval was such that nothing remained the same after Naxalbari. People had to readjust their position vis-à-vis every aspect of the system : political, administrative, military, cultural.”
The Naxalbari upsurge had changed the political milieu with radical break from revisionism and class compromise, exposure of Indian state character and the dream for a revolutionary systemic change. The Valliant participation of Indian students-youths with the dream for a revolutionary change was the hallmark of that genre. The brief period of political turmoil post-Naxalbari upsurge was marked with intense lively debate and commitment for a noble cause. But the whole enthusiasm and revolutionary zeal gave birth to a dogmatic mindset that prevented the review of the changing situation with its historic specificities for formulating new strategy and tactics. The two main aspects of the changing situation are the agrarian question and the question of democracy.
On 22nd April, 1969, the one hundredth birth anniversary of Lenin, the All India Coordination Committee of Communist Revolutionaries was liquidated and the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) based on the thoughts of Mao Tse-tung was formed. The programme of the party stated that India is a semi-colonial and semi-feudal country, the Indian state is a state of big landlords and comprador-bureaucrat capitalists and its government is a lackey of US imperialism and Soviet social-imperialism. It was announced that the first and foremost task of party is to rouse the peasant masses in the countryside to wage guerrilla war, unfold agrarian revolution, build rural base, use the countryside to encircle the cities and finally to capture the cities and to liberate the whole country. Thus, in the present day phase of Indian Revolution, the centre of gravity of work has to be in the village.
Mao’s statement that ‘if there were no contradictions in the party and no ideological struggles to resolve them, the party’s life would come to an end’ was also quoted to buttress the argument in favour of an early formation of Marxist-Leninist party.
The annihilation theory, Lin-Biao’s people’s war theory, abandoning of mass struggle were the point of disagreement within the CPI(ML). The one-sided view on struggle in Bangladesh in Deshabrati of 28 April 1971 caused disillusionment in rank and file. The authoritarianism that was brewing in the functioning of party immensely contributed to the disintegration of the party. Under these circumstances, the ‘operation steeplechase’ (july–august 1971) launched by Central Govt. in cahoots with the state govt. had broken the backbone of Naxalites. All these factors combined gave a coup de grace to the insurrection.
Participation of CPI(ML) groups in anti-emergency movement gave some leeway in the post-emergency election when for the first time CPI(ML) participated in the election as a tactical move and thus chose to make distinct break from the original tactical line. But instead of participation in mass struggle on different occasions especially in Bengal, Bihar, Assam, this extension of mass base also could not be sustained.
The original strategic and tactical line of the CPI(ML) has been adhered to by a certain section who renamed themselves as Maoist. This Maoist revived their violent activities in the 1980s and extended their area of operation in certain states and it touched a peak in 1991. But it also got retreated since the resurgence of such activities once again through regrouping in 2004.
The CPI(Maoist) has reaffirmed the programmatic line of the CPI(M-L) of 1970, committing to a people’s war for seizure of power whilst also stating that it will wage struggles against the Government of India’s plans to set up Special Economic Zones and against the displacement of tribals and forest dwellers by mining and other projects. In fact, their actual area of operation is confined to those areas where the battle against ‘primitive accumulation’ or ‘accumulation by dispossession’ as paraphrased by David Harvey is main agenda of the masses. The dogmatic mindset of the Maoists has deterred them from resolving the dichotomy between their practice and adopted theoretical position. When they are predominantly participating in the struggle especially of tribals against mining and other projects involving displacement of people, they stick to the original formulation of principal contradiction as between feudalism and peasant masses. That dichotomy and dogmatic adherence to the original line for claiming themselves as the vanguards of the only party that bears the legacy of Naxalite movement is the driving force to pull the Maoist to resort to the annihilation tactics instead of setting the objective for mobilization against ‘imperialism’ as reflected in India’s economic liberalization and the effects of globalization rather than ‘anti-feudal’ struggles.
However, the democracy deficit in organizational matters and the lack of flexibility to develop the theoretical formulations based on the changing socio-political milieu was ingrained in the Naxalite movement from the very beginning of party formation. According to some critics, the alleged suppression of the suggestions of the CPC by the Central committee led by Charu Mazumder was the root cause of factionalism, disintegration and alienation from the masses within few years after the ‘Spring Thunder’. What were those suggestions? Calling chairman of one party as the chairman of another party is wrong, the idea of united front is mechanical and is not conceptua-lised as a process, the abandonment of open mass activity is erroneous, adoption of Lin Biao’s military line of guerrilla war and annihilation out of context, lack of agrarian programme, the authority and prestige of the leader should be emerged, not stage managed.
But the moot question is why all those aberrations happened and what makes the practicing revolutionaries to avoid such criticism? Reply to this question may be the lack of flexibility to take stock of the specificities and to accommodate new observations in the practice to modify the theoretical position on changing social dynamics. If these traits are further generalized, the beliefs that the consciousness should be instilled within the working class vis-à-vis masses from outside, the dictatorship of proletariat does not entail the development of bourgeois democracy to its fullest extent etc become hindrance to incorporate new observations for the development of theoretical positions and to practice inner party democracy. The Naxalites with their utmost conviction for revolution, successful break with opportunism and revisionism in left practice failed to sever ties with certain traits of Russian and Indian left legacy, though they delineated erstwhile Soviet Russia as social imperialist. It was more due to the fact that Chinese revolutionary practice also did not challenge these traits of Russian communist legacy. What are those traits?
Toeing the line of the Commintern’s sixth congress, Indian left emphasized the control of the party leadership over the workers and peasants from above rather than the process of raising mass-consciousness and building a mass communist party whose members are organically linked with the struggling masses. The Indian communists also imbibed the idea of one party rule in a post-revolutionary society from the communist party of Soviet Union and the influence of Commintern. Naxalites were no exception in practice. Competition with parties representing the interest of other classes to win over the masses creates the space for a democratic environment which is necessary for the healthy interaction of diverse opinion within and outside the party. This acts as an important countervailing factor to save the party from plunging into the quagmire of ultra-centralism and inertia of moribund party life. The overdependence of the Indian left a la Naxalites on ‘conspiracy theory’ emanates from the vanguardist approach to lead the peasant revolution and to ignore the process of developing mass consciousness. This vanguardist approach was imbibed from Russian revolution while misreading the understanding of Lenin who described 1917 Russian Revolution as the first stage of the proletarian revolutions which are inevitable result of the war. According to Lenin, it was the horrors of the imperialist war that had led to these proletarian insurrections by which bourgeoisie gained power, but power was shared between it and the workers and soldiers soviets, and these evils could only be cured if the proletariat took power in Russia and adopted measures that, even if not yet socialist, were steps toward socialism. But at later stage, class and party has been equated in left practice. Furthermore, Naxalite movement post Naxalbari upsurge had to be operated under continuous apprehension of being purged and repressed by the state machinery. This has its own ramification on practicing Naxalites who become over conscious about enemy agents and conspiracy even during open legal activity, and thus sectarianism has taken its root both theoretically and practically within the Naxalite movement. The sectarianism is rooted within the peasant movements of the Indian sub-continent.
Following the legacy of Indian left, Naxalites were also guided by the premise that the party is able to decide the best interest of the working class on the basis of Marxist “science”. In this understanding, Marxism becomes an inert tool only to be handled by the Party to judge working class morality; in this framework, the working class becomes a passive onlooker who is only to be led and guided. Thus Marxist science degenerates into deterministic formulae to be used to predict the future. Following this approach, both the variants of the Indian left, the CPI-CPI(M) and the CPI(Maoist), have conceptualized the reality within the binary framework of opposite categories of war of position versus war of maneuver. The interconnectedness of these two categories and their dialectical relation with state are missed while strategizing the revolutionary movement.
The human rights activist, Professor G Haragopal of the University of Hyderabad, opined that the Maoists are now prioritising mobilisation, especially of tribals against mining and other projects involving displacements of people. If this assessment is true, then it can be considered as positive development.
However, it seems from the ethnographies that the extent to which the leadership has been able to develop a ‘revolutionary consciousness’ amongst the poor peasantry is very limited. George Kunnath’s research shows how support amongst Dalits for the Maoists in Central Bihar weakened considerably, as the latter sought to bring in men from the middle and upper castes in pursuit of the goal of capturing state power and rewarded the higher caste members of their armed squads (dastas) more highly than the Dalits. The tendency on the part of the leadership to romanticise the revolutionary character of the peasantry is sometimes a problem and it is clear that such as this consciousness is, it may well be suppressed when government provides adequately for the most immediate needs of the people. The other big tension is between mass mobilisation and the necessarily secretive, armed power of the underground movement which is not inherently democratic at all. This relates in turn to the contradiction between the moral basis of the Maoist movement and the violence that it perpetrates. Violence can undermine that moral base and alienate supporters as has happened. The understandable sense of their persecution amongst Maoist cadres, confronted by the violence of the state, may lead to the indiscriminate use of force and their alienation from the people they claim to fight for. It is clear, too, that there is but a thin line between the ‘revolutionary’ and the criminal thug.
Aditya Nigam argues similarly that the adivasis cannot represent themselves; they must be represented, it would seem. They must be represented either by agents of the state or by the revolutionaries and the voice of the revolutionary is almost always that of a Brahman/upper caste Ganapathy or Koteswara Rao or their intellectual spokespersons. So there has a Maoist-aligned intelligentsia vicariously playing out their revolutionary fantasies through the lives of adivasis, while the people actually dying in battle are almost all adivasis.
All variants of left parties including the Naxalites have skewed organisational practice historically imbibed from commintern’s left legacy. On the organization question, the position of Luxemburg who took an overall organic view has not been taken into cognizance by the Indian left movement. Her polemics against Lenin can be understood when she says, “let us speak plainly, historically, the errors committed by a truly revolutionary movement are infinitely more fruitful and more valuable than the infallibility of the best of all possible central committees”.
Luxemburg also states, “On the one hand, we have the mass; on the other, its historic goal, located outside the existing society. On one hand, we have the day-to-day struggle; on the other, the social revolution. Such are the terms of the dialectical contradiction through which the socialist movement makes its way. It follows that this movement can best advance by taking betwixt and between the two dangers by which it is constantly being threatened. One is the loss of its mass character; the other the abandonment of its goal. One is the danger of sinking back to the condition of a sect; the other, the danger of becoming a movement of bourgeois social reform. That is why it is illusory, and contrary to historic experience, to hope to fix, once for always, the direction of the revolutionary socialist struggle with the aid of formal means, which are expected to secure the labour movement against possibilities of opportunist digression”.
The Naxalbari peasant upsurge vindicated the stand of the section of left who severed ties with mainstream left and formed CPIML declaring the Indian state character as semi-feudal and semi-colonial. This characterization was in consonance with the Mao’s formulation of ‘erosion and retention’ of feudal relation in the era of imperialism and semi-colonial settings. The Naxalbari upsurge actually happened in the backdrop of a phase of class struggle that was unleashed during that period in the Indian agricultural sector. The question arises what happened to the agrarian relations of production after this phase of class struggle. Did this phase mark the beginning of gradual transition of feudalism to capitalism from below as it happened in France? The question also arises whether the continuation of same strategy followed by the CPIML groups in the rural areas post-Naxalbari upsurge has any bearing on the shrinking mass base.
As per the observation of Daniel Thorner, the American Historian, who initiated the Indian mode of production debate, the big business in India in late 1960s and early 1970s was campaigning for an open door policy of free entry into agricultural production. The house of Birlas took the lead in demanding a shift in Government policy away from cooperative farming, which failed to make any headway worth noting, towards corporate farming. The former Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, emphasized “Land reform is the most crucial test which our political system must pass in order to survive”. (LAND REFORMS REMAIN AN UNFINISHED BUSINESS’K. Venkatasubra-manian, Planning commission, GoI, Site).
This shift of political balance within the Congress to serve the corporate interest as against the feudal interest was visible in the early seventies. It is worth-mentioning here that the global capitalism also entered into systemic crisis just before the advent of that period of intense agrarian class struggle and was desperately searching for profitable destination for investment. The interest of corporate capital for making further deep inroads into the Indian agricultural sector was drawn by the presence of wage labourers along with a reserve army of labourers and the commodity production for market as the dominant features in the agricultural sector instead of subsistence cultivation. The forces for rapid transition to agrarian capitalist relations had taken the driving seat both politically and economically from that period.
After more than three decades of neoliberal globalization of capital, the corporate food regime dispossesses peasants as a condition of corporate agriculture, what Harvey terms as ‘accumulation by dispossession’. Massive acquisition of agricultural land by multinational corporations for non-agricultural purposes and increasing privatization of natural resources introduced new patterns of urbanization and industrialization. The increasing control of agribusiness over input and output flows of agriculture indicated a massive debouching of workforce from the farm sector.
When the agrarian question is revisited after three decades of neoliberal policy drive, the convergence of opinion among the academicians on the broad canvass of delineating the Indian agrarian relation as capitalist has been emerging. The penetration of corporate capital and accumulation of surplus thereof by global corporate giant through the value chain restrained the re-investment of capital by both landlord capitalist and peasant capitalist in the agricultural sectors and thus delinking of the peasant economy from global corporate control is essential to serve the interest of these agrarian classes. From the point of view of labour, there are regional and community variants. The formal, real and hybrid forms of subsumption of labour to capital fit to these unevenness of capitalist development.
The nature of agrarian relations in India is bound to reflect the external neoliberal influences as much as the internal historical specificities. The diversities in the agrarian relation of production ingrained in the labour process can be conceived from formal, real and hybrid forms of subsumption of labour to capital.
The primitive accumulation drive of the global corporate capital and the distress situation in agricultural economy are continuously converting the displaced peasants into wage labourers for their subsistence with wages below the value of labour-power and getting engaged in informal sectors which is being expanded due to neoliberal urbanization, and thus the agricultural labourers are coming under the purview of formal subsumption to capital. The technological inputs in the agriculturally and industrially developed Indian states are drawing the rural wage labourers under the real subsumption to capital. There is also a third category of large number of small peasants. Marx, in his letters to Vera Zasulich, pointed out the hybrid form of subsumption of labour to capital in the case of pre-revolutionary Russian peasant communes and observed that the survival of these communes were dependent on the occurrence of Russian revolution. The Indian small peasants are largely engaged in commodity production and send their products to the market through marketing chain which is rapidly being brought under the control of global corporate giants entering the retail market and agribusiness. The small peasants engaged in commodity production are actually paying their own wages from the small portion of surplus they can be able to accumulate. The survival of these small peasants is also dependent on Indian revolution that will usher in delinking of agricultural economy from the clasp of the global corporate and their Indian compradors. Due to the dominance of global corporate capital, the landlord capitalists in the agriculturally developed states and the peasant capitalists in the industrially developed states can also garner little control over production process to accumulate surplus to reinvest. Thus all the rural classes have a score to settle with the global corporate capital and their Indian compradors, be it the question of wages, delinking of economy from the control of global corporate capital for capital accumulation and re-investment or preservation of natural resources and ecological balances from the onslaught of primitive accumulation. The changing dynamics of rural class relations has also put the institution of patriarchy into intense questioning. A programme that encompasses all these factors to build a mass struggle against corporate plunder may rejuvenate the Naxalite movement once again.
The left radicals in India must come out of their sectarian outlook and this can be achieved by turning the focus on mass struggle against neoliberal corporate onslaught. The left radicals should dwell on at length the question of democracy in inner party organizational practice, democracy in mass movement and the democracy in post-revolutionary society. The diverse mass movements need to be built with a focus on corporate and neoliberal onslaught. The Naxalites have the potential to be the core of the broad democratic front to scuttle the attempt for theological fascistisation of the state provided the characteristic transformation of the Naxalite forces with a view to radical transformation of the state is achieved. Whether this is a hope against all hopes, only time will tell.
1) Red and Green : Five decades of the Indian Maoist Movement : Monoranjan Mahanty
2) The Naxalite Movement In India : Prakash Singh
3) The Naxalite/Maoist Movement in India : A Review of Recent Literature : John Harriss.
4) ‘The Left in Decline’: A Historical Perspective : Economic & Political Weekly EPW NOVEMBER 19, 2011 vol xlvi no 47. : Arup Baisya
5) Economic & Political Weekly EPW NOVEMBER 22, 2014 vol xlIX no 47 “Strategic Dilemma of the Indian Left—Arup Baisya.
6) A World to Build : Marta Harnecker.
7) Agrarian Transition : Naxalite Movement And Peasant Question : Frontier, Vol. 49, No.1, Jul 10-16, 2016, Arup Baisya.