by Debabrata Panda
Frontier | Autumn Number | Vol. 50, No.12-15, Sep 24 – Oct 21, 2017
Those who uphold the peasant struggle of Naxalbari, Kharibari and Phansidewa in May, 1967 as the turning point in the communist movement in India are known as Marxist-Leninists (MLs). Fifty years ago the Chinese Communist Party hailed this upsurge in revolutionary struggle as the ‘spring thunder’ over Naxalbari. There the peasant masses did not fight only for the realization of their economic demands like confiscation of jotedars’ lands or cancellation of peasants’ debts. They were engaged in a political struggle for the seizure of power with which their economic struggles were linked. The struggle for seizure of power still continues to develop along a zigzag path through many ups and downs in tribal heartlands of Jharkhand, Bihar, southern part of Odisha, some pockets of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh and West Bengal. All the ML–parties and groups of activists who reject the parliamentary Left like CPI and CPI(M) as revisionists and accept Marxisnm-Leninism-Mao Tse-tung Thought as their ideology are labeled by the media as Naxalites. The authorities dub them as Naxals.
Right from the days of Naxalbari the ruling elite have been raising the bogey of Naxalism almost every now and then in any discussion of economic and social issues. To Mr P Chidambaram, former Union Finance Minister and Dr Manmohan Singh, the ex- PM, the Naxalites posed the biggest threat to internal security. Mr Arun Jaitley, the current Union Finance Minister, while justifying the demonetization of the old 500 and 1000 rupee notes as a masterstroke policy for curbing the menace of black money and as an anti-terrorist measure, expressed optimism that from then on the Naxalites would find it difficult to handle cash, and operate bank accounts. As they would no longer have enough cash to buy weapons requiring a huge amount of money at a time, their armed attacks would decline significantly. The articulation of his theory makes it obvious that the Naxalites, however small in number, are a cause of headache for the country’s political establishment in which the BJP, the Congress and the CPI (M) are the major partners. There is a consensus among them on creating a favourable investment climate so as to ensure rapid economic development. These parties want to curtail the political activities of the Left-wing Extremism (LWE), Naxalism, that is. The young people affiliated to the LWE camp have rebelled against the political Establishment. They have offered tremendous resistance against implementation of hundreds of Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed by the governments with big bourgeoisie of the country and foreign MNCs for extraction of mineral resources or for setting up mineral-based industries, for building dams, constructing super highways or creating enclosures within the country, the Special Economic Zones to be precise, in predominantly tribal India. The contents of MoUs still remain a well guarded secret, though of course, it is widely known that as an inevitable consequence the tribal people have already been evicted over wide areas from their traditional habitats by heavily mobilizing armed police and paramilitary forces. Formidable armed resistance grew in many places and the governments at the centre and in the concerned states thought it prudent to weaken the resistance in the LWE areas.
Of course this is not altogether a new phenomenon. India’s history from the days of the Raj is replete with stories of glorious adivasi rebellions and peasant uprisings which posed serious challenges to the state from time to time. In every struggle the adivasis and the rural poor voiced their demands for Jal, Jangal, Jameen (Water, Forests, Land). The myopic governments’ routine response was with guns, bayonets, torture, imprisonment and execution. In this current phase of globalization under the garb of second wave of economic reforms, a pro-imperialist development model with hidden agenda of massive displacement is being forcibly imposed on the people—mostly tribal—without their knowledge and consent for creating a New India marching forward in the 21st century as a major power. But it is being widely felt that this development is synonymous with death, denial and destitution for millions of the countrymen who have no other alternative than militant resistance. Apart from the widening gap between the rich and the poor, contradictions have sharpened between regions and various communities as a consequence of this kind of dehumanizing development under the aegis of liberalization, privatization and globalization. Extremes of the rich and poor create acute social tensions making it necessary for the state to resort to brutal repression and numerous diversionary tactics, such as the recently tried demonetization that had to be undertaken for fresh infusion of money into the public sector banks by carrying out surgical strikes in the pockets of the public simply because bad loans of public sector banks close to 600,000 crore rupees were not repaid by the big capitalists. The Conference against Displacement quite correctly stated: ‘Both fascist repression and numerous diversionary tactics of majoritarian communal hysteria are also an outcome of the existing policies of this model of development’. [“The Ranchi Declaration” in N P Chaubey, Debabrata Panda, Girijesh Pant Eds. Peoples’ Struggles and Movements for Equitable Society, Daanish Books, Delhi, 2013]
Protests and resistance by the Marxist-Leninist (ML) forces send clearly the message that they are still a political force to reckon with, and they are resolved to oppose tooth and nail the pro- imperialist development. Repression is, however, inseparably linked with the Naxalbari uprising and the revolutionary struggles which broke out in different parts of the country at the initiative of the Naxalites. Everywhere anti-Naxal operations are conducted with the unrecorded directive: fight to the finish. With much inferior military might the communist revolutionaries sometimes had to suffer setbacks. Following a setback they might move to an altogether newer area to build up another base area through sustained political campaign. The guerrillas do not have a fixed address. Their news bulletins or other publications are not within the reach of the common man. The environment of splits itself remains an obstacle to exchange of information amongst the groups. So the revolutionaries have to suffer the ignominy of defeat when abuses are hurled at them at random or when media reports exaggerate the figure of their losses.
The M-L movement suffered a major setback in the early 1970’s because of the ultra Left political mistakes committed by the leadership of the CPI (ML). Even then Naxalism could not be stamped out. Mistakes and setback notwithstanding, the Naxalbari uprising was of great significance as it exposed the revisionists in their true selves. The “sole mission” of the parliamentary roaders like the CPI and CPI (M) was “to divert the people from the path of violent revolution.”[Prabhat Jana, ‘Naxalbari and after: an appraisal’ in Naxalbari and After: A Frontier Anthology, Vol. II, 1978]. By rejecting the parliamentary path, the peasant masses, comprising mostly poor adivasis, remained steadfast in their determination to put an end to age-old oppression and social injustice. They chose the path of armed struggle, the path of sacrifice and sufferings for the emancipation of the toiling people. It drew the support of tea garden workers and that of the students and the youth who rebelled against the leadership of the parties in which they had been nestling. Within a relatively very short time the news of Naxalbari spread to different corners of the country. Newer struggle areas sprouted up. There was a countrywide upheaval. Frankly speaking, Naxalbari “restored faith in the courage and character of the revolutionary Left in India” [Samar Sen, Naxalbari and After, a Frontier Anthology, Foreword]. By directing its salvo against the parliamentary Left, Naxalbari went several steps ahead of Telangana. The historic significance of this uprising itself gives the ML groups and parties fillip even in times of setback.
Let us digress for a moment to make this point that it is really difficult to clarify the meaning of the concept of the ML movement. In fact there are so many splinter groups that it would be nearly an impossible job to try to unite them. So we take a short route to reach the movement as the one organized by an MLgroup that accepts the M-L-M Thought as its ideology and people’s democratic revolution as the present stage of India’s revolution.
The Chinese party’s support to the Naxalbari was of great help in uniting the CRs in the country. The spark of Naxalbari then flew to almost all the states, thanks to the intellectual brilliance of Charu Majumdar who succeeded in applying Mao Tse-tung Thought to the Indian conditions. He denounced the CPI (M) leadership for their class-collaborationist line. Majumdar’s clarion call to build up armed struggles in villages and make preparations for protracted people’s war spread like wildfire. Flames of agrarian revolution spread from Naxalbari to Srikakulam, then to Mushahari, Lakhimpur-Kheri, Debra-Gopiballav-pur, Baharagora, Birbhum, Punjab and so on. There was a countrywide political and emotional upheaval, leading to the formation of the CPI (ML), declaring Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse-tung Thought as its ideological base. The party was formed at a time when there was in existence the socialist bloc and restlessness was palpable in many countries. The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution at that time convulsed large parts of China and its impact was felt by the communist parties throughout the world. Historic student movement in France caused tremors in campuses. Vietnam, a small country, was then heroically fighting against the US super-power and anti-imperialist solidarity struggles were developing world-wide.
Regardless of its glorious beginning, the revolutionary upheaval revealed its inherent weaknesses within a short span of time. Failure of the leadership to comprehend them and take corrective measures well in advance opened the floodgates of sub-division and fragmentation of the organization and the party’s isolation from the people at large. After the formation of the CPI (ML) [April 22, 1969], the mass line no more occupied the centre stage. It was replaced by the line of individual annihilation of hated class enemies by secret guerrilla squads functioning in a conspiratorial manner. At the instruction of the party the CRs withdrew themselves from trade unions and other mass organizations. It led to the party’s isolation from the people. The leadership of the party did not have adequate organizational ability required to deal with the situation. The party degenerated into a terrorist organization. Support rendered by the party leadership to urban guerrilla actions in schools and colleges created an atmosphere of total anarchy in the educational field. In the rural areas guerrilla actions in a secret and absolutely conspiratorial manner created scope for white terror on a massive scale. As class struggle was equated with the annihilation of class enemies, in a number of places, senseless killing took place. Flushed with success in guerrilla actions very little caution was taken to prevent infiltration of lumpen elements into the secret squads. Anarchy was allowed without let or hindrance. Response of the ruling classes was prompt. Repressive machinery of the state was geared into service. Hundreds of young men and women were put behind bars. Not an insignificant number of young persons were made to disappear forever. In some localities in Kolkata and its neighbourhood the trigger-happy policemen killed a good number of students and the youth in cold blood before the very eyes of the public. In Andhra Pradesh and Bihar encounter killings became almost a routine affair. In the face of severe repression the party sensed the wrong and tried to rectify the serious mistakes. Majumdar in his last writing gave importance to mass organizations and mass actions. But it was too late. After his death the party he founded faced disintegration of the worst sort. In that critical situation it was widely believed that the party would beat a hasty retreat. Indeed after the debacle of the party in Srikakulam in 1970 gloom deepened in the radical circles in West Bengal where the Naxalites were running from pillar to post in search of shelter. In the dark days of counter-revolutionary backlash, the historic revolutionary role was played by the revolutionary writers in Andhra Pradesh. Formation of Virasam—Revolutionary Writers’ Association—went a long way in injecting revolutionary optimism in the minds of the masses in general. In fact, in the1980’s in Andhra Pradesh and Bihar the remarkable progress of the revolutionary movement was made possible by the ongoing forward movement of several mass organizations formed in various places and particularly in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra and West Bengal. Then began a period of severe repression in Andhra Pradesh. Thereafter to what extent the CRs have overcome their setbacks is not very much known to outsiders.
Unable to influence the course of events and to grasp the law of dialectics—things may change into their opposites—some of the splinter groups only played the role of silent onlookers. The disappearance of the socialist bloc and the transition from socialism to capitalism in China after Mao’s death are not certainly good news for revolutionaries anywhere in the world. But Indian revolutionaries did not shun the path of revolution even amidst depressing situation. When Gorbachov’s Perestroika removed the last vestiges of the communist party regime in the erstwhile USSR, or when restoration of capitalism took place in Vietnam and the base areas in Malay, Burma and Thailand became weak and the once powerful Philippines Communist Party lost its vitality, the revolutionary movement in India was not put on hold till the things were sorted out in favour of the revolutionary forces. Here lies the inherent strength of the Naxalbari movement. Setting aside splits and the neo-liberal thrust of the big bourgeoisie throughout the world, the M-L parties in Andhra and Bihar gained major success in strengthening their support base in 1980’s.
Under the IMF-World Bank and WTO dispensation the big bourgeoisie have been thinking over the past three decades that capitalism represents ‘the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution’. In the existing hegemonic order, the MNCs’ and TNCs’ thinking leave a pernicious effect on the minds of the general public. The people at large began to lose all hope for a revolutionary change of the prevailing social system. The communist revolutionaries were demonized, often branded as terrorists. Now they are diagnosed as the single biggest threat to the internal security and progress of the land. In such a scenario the CR-groups have to confront an existential crisis. They had to move on in spite of the setbacks in armed struggle from the early seventies of the 20th century onward. The party had to experience splits several times in the last 45 years, and those splits reportedly did not occur always as fallout of some debates on major political issues. Sometimes internal dissension and bickering resulted in the birth of newer groups. But as things stand now, on most occasions the leaders could unite the rank and file of their force against their common enemy. Negative factors were not a brake in the revolutionary movement. Otherwise the movement would have petered out long ago.
Very little is known about the Maoists in the Bastar region and the tribal heartland in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, southern Odisha and Maharashtra. Only this much of media reports is known that they have to live in harsh conditions in forests far away from the urban comforts. Surrounded and guarded by the police and Para-military forces, SPOs and all that, armed to the teeth with sophisticated weaponry, they have to subsist on local food and go on without medicine for days and months together. They wipe out their tears and then march forward whenever they lose any comrade in a combat. They have developed a habit of living on subsistence diet as they do not have any external support. Even then how could they reappear after some months or days following each debacle? How was it possible for them to re-emerge more determined and more confident than ever, after their hideouts were totally destroyed and their comrades were physically exterminated?
It is not known as yet whether they have been labeled as foreign agents. But it has been found by researchers that the Naxalites meet their requirements from their own resources. None other than Mr Prakash Singh, a former police chief of Uttar Pradesh and one who commanded the Border Security Force, is candid in his observation that the ‘Naxalites are today on their own with no shoulders to lean on’. Unlike Punjab terrorists or Kashmiri militants they run their movement without any external support. It shows ‘that it has acquired an inherent strength and a certain momentum of its own’.[Prakash Singh, The Naxalite Movement in India, Rupa, 1995].
Everybody knows that neo-liberal changes have taken place in the world in such a manner that no space would be left for the communist movement in any part of the globe. It will be sheer naivety to suggest that the CRs are unaware of this development. Apparently their task becomes very tough as the ruling classes enjoy immense support of the parliamentary opposition parties, along with a large section of intellectuals and similar other hangers-on. Indeed the confrontation will take many more years than what was expected. In terms of sacrifice, a greater loss of life, an enormous damage to ecology and a more massive environmental disaster than what could be assessed earlier will have to be taken into account. All these costs will reach astronomical heights as the ‘War on Terror’ has become part of the declared agenda of a government with expansionist ambition, having close ties with the US. In fact, with every passing day the jingoistic exercises do not rule out the possibility of a full scale war in South Asia. In that event declaration of internal emergency cannot be ruled out altogether. If war breaks out, either of the two possibilities cannot be ruled out. One such possibility is the total annihilation of lives in a nuclear war as the warring parties have their nuclear teeth. Another possibility is that the revolutionary forces will come out victorious. So it happened after two world wars. For this second possibility to come to fruition, the basic requirement is that the various ML groups or parties should have the courage to meet together. Minor differences can be resolved first. Big brotherly attitudes should have no place in a situation that demands confrontation with the adversary that has superior resources at their command. For a government headed by majoritarian communal forces, it is easy to adopt diversionary tactics having appeal to religious emotions of Hindus.