Countercurrents | July 26, 2022
On 28th July we commemorate the 50th death anniversary of Charu Mazumdar,who was tortured to death in police custody. It ranks amongst the worst abuse of human rights of a political prisoner or leader in India or the world. Today history is repeating itself in with Custodial deaths being a routine occurrence in prisons.Charu’s assassination illustrated the neo-fascist nature of the Congress regime in West Bengal. The Civil Rights groups undertook extensive research on the fascist nature of the execution of not only Mazumdar but thousands of cadres of C.P.I. (M.L).In 1997 a judicial inquiry was initiated 25 years after the murder by son Abhijit and other comrades, but the petition was dismissed by the high court and Supreme Court.
Charu Mazumdar must be credited for igniting the spark of ‘Naxalbari ‘by giving it a political shape, through, his Eight documents. He planted the seeds of the Indian Communist Movement demarcation from revisionism by formulating path of New Democratic Revolution. Whatever serious errors or dogmatic thinking,Charu Mazumdar formulated a path of agrarian revolution based on teachings of the Chinese Revolution. He stitched the base for re-building an All-India Revolutionary Party by delivering a striking blow to revisionism and parliamentary dogmatism. Naxalbari and Charu Mazumdar are inseparable.
Charu Mazumdar infused the spirit in thousands of students and youth to rebel against feudal autocracy and an authoritarian social order, which thronged the villages to organise the peasantry. Students and youth at the very core rebelled against the semi-colonial and casteist education system. Workers rage reached a boiling point over their economic exploitation. Peasants sprung out like a spark turning into prairie fire, to confront the jotedars. Poets, musicians and painters of West Bengal plunged into the flame. C.P.I. (ML) sprouted an upsurge nationwide.Tribals in Srikakaulam were also inspired to combat police and landlords heroically as well as peasants in Terai and Bhojpur or Punjab. Thousands were victims of police bullets, fluttering the red flag of liberation.
5 years ago Charu’s son Abhijit who is now a leader of C.P.I. (M.L) Liberation gave a heart touching interview on his experiences. He narrated how people were obstructed from entering the crematorium where his father’s dead body lay to pay tributes which was packed with policemen. Still even some even though hunted, daringly paid homage.Charu Mazumdar’s wife was so devastated that she fell into the morass of oblivion ,remaining in absolute political silence from media till death in 1995..His father was praised as being very loving and caring. He also recounted how his mother as a life Insurance agent, was the sole bread winner of the family. Even after his father’s murder Abhjit faced no humiliation of being his on, but on the contrary received great respect.
CM rebelled against social inequalities even as a teenager. Later, impressed by “petty-bourgeois” national revolutionaries, he joined All Bengal Students Association affiliated to Anusilan group.
Dropping out of college in 1937-38 he joined Congress and tried to organise bidi workers. He later crossed over to CPI to work in its peasant front and soon won adulation of the poor of Jalpaiguri.
Soon an arrest-warrant forced him to go underground for the first time as a Left activist. Although CPI was banned at the outbreak of World War II, he continued CPI activities among peasants and was made a member of CPI Jalpaiguri district committee in 1942.
This move motivated him to organise a ‘seizure of crops’ campaign in Jalpaiguri during the Great Famine of 1943, more or less successfully.
In 1946, he joined Tebhaga movement and knit a proletariat militant struggle in North Bengal. The stir designed his perspective of a revolutionary struggle. Later he worked among tea garden workers in Darjeeling.
The CPI was banned in 1948 and he spent the next three years in jail. He tied the nuptial knot with a fellow CPI member from Jalpaiguri – Lila Mazumdar Sengupta in January 1954.
The couple shifted to Siliguri, which remained the centre of his activities for a few years. His ailing father and unmarried sister lived there in abject poverty. But even erosion of peasant movement and personal financial crisis did not dampen his revolutionary spirits and he continued efforts to unite labourers, tea garden workers and rickshaw-pullers there.
CM’s escalating ideological rift with CPI came alive after the party’s Palghat Congress in 1956. The ‘Great Debate’ across the communist world in the late 50s had a telling effect o Charu ,inspiring him to devise a revolutionary line for the Indian situation He was again jailed during 1962 Indo-China war as part of curbs on all Left activities in India.
After the CPI split in 1964 CM joined the breakaway CPI (M) but failed to abide to it’s decision to participate in polls postponing ‘armed struggle’ to a day when revolutionary situation prevailed in India.
He kept a bad health during 1964-65 and was advised rest. But he devoted this time, even in jail, to study and write about Mao’s thoughts. The exercise crystallised his vision and ideas of a mass struggle, which were recorded in his writing and speeches of 1965-67. These were later called ‘Historic Eight Documents’ and subsequently formed the basis of Naxalbari.
The CPM formed a coalition United Front government with Bangla Congress in West Bengal in 1967 but CM and other ‘purist’ elements in the party charged the party with betraying the revolution.
On May 25 the same year, the CM-led “rebels” lit the first spark to the the historic peasant uprising at Naxalbari in Darjeeling district of West Bengal. It was “brutally” suppressed by the state government but the ideology of “naxalbari” spread like wildfire.
With the upsurge of naxalbari , comrades from Tamil Nadu, Kerala, UP, Bihar, Karnataka, Orissa and West Bengal set up All India Coordination Committee of Revolutionaries (AICCR) in Kolkata on Nov 12-13, 1967. It was renamed as All India Coordination Committee of Communist Revolutionaries, which launched CPI (ML) on April 22, 1969 with Charu Majumdar as its General Secretary.
Charu Majumdar: The Dreamer Rebel‘ by Ashok Mukapadaya ,is a most illustrative and well balanced portrayal of how Charu Mazumdar , in addition to propagating an armed revolution, moulded many a person in how to wage a struggle for it.. This book vividly projects the crystallisation of Charu’s early years, including his school experiences and academic achievements. Every event of his life is so well recorded to such an extent that it literally makes readers get the sensation of being very part of Charu’s life. There is a most intriguing chapter of Charu Mazumdar’s interrogation by the police which visualises the mind and feelings of Charu Mazumdar before he left the world. The book does not eulogise or demonise Charu Mazumdar,but projects how he was creature of his very times or product of social history.
To put a reader to suspense, the author gave a dramatic turn to several segments of the book without distorting any facts.. As a result, the book’s objectivity is virtually unruffled. Other historical characters or Charu’s supporters are also touched in great intensity with priority given to analysing heir role and significance.
Ashoke narrates how In his early twenties, Charu Majumdar had first hand exposure to the exploitation of peasant community by the landlord class as also the occasional resistance put up by the have-nots in villages, Debiganj-Boda-Pachagarh areas in the north Bengal, where he was closely associated with peasants during the Tebhaga Movement , which was essentially directed towards the landlord class. Later, he was associated with the Tea workers’ movement in Terai/Dooars region and Bengal Dooars Railway workers union.Following the British departure from the Indian firmament, by and large, the same inequality and exploitation prevailed till date. Hence, it was turning point in Majumdar’s life.
Quoting Ashoke “It was his simple, down-to-earth life-style, oratory skill blended with genuine emotion that placed him above the rest. With his vast knowledge of Mao Ze Dong thoughts and experience of daily life of the downtrodden, he could carry the audience through laughter, pain, anguish, anger and aggression in his speech; and he could do it with an unusual elan. Who else in Indian politics would say, ‘A person, who doesn’t dream and cannot make others dream, is not a revolutionary.’ His extensive knowledge in music, literature, history and politics coupled with a deep insight of the exploited class had helped him to become a true leader of the masses. I think these qualities are etched in very few people in history.”
Vaskar Nandy (1938-2018) an old acquaintance of Majumdar observed, “Charu Majumdar was known for his humane faculty, emotions, presence of mind and confidence in his comrade-in-arms. In fact Charu Majumdar was not an average communist; he was a communist with a golden heart, with a difference. There were gross mistakes in the revolutionary method formulated by him, yet, it was he who stood strongly against the rightist attitude of the then communists and rightly highlighted the question of land in India.”
Ashoke is convinced that inequality and exploitation inherent in the social system, will give birth to souls like Charu Majumdar.He credits Charu Majumdar, with successfully inculcating his theory of “New Man’–one who would be able to overcome all egoist or selfish tendencies and engage in unflinching self-sacrifice–in the revolutionary youth in the 1970s; However, given the transformation of economic system in modern era , many of Majumdar’s theories and methods, would not be practical today.
Errors and Evaluation of CM
Unfortunately Charu Mazumdar committed serious mistakes letting the movement veer towards left adventurism or terroristic path. His calling for ‘China’s path as India’s path’, ‘Chairman Mao as India’s party chairman’ and the ‘Chinese party the Communist party of India ‘etc was not in consonance with a Marxist Line. The national bourgeoisie was characterised as an enemy as well as the rich peasant class. Mass organisations were disbanded being described as revisionist. Line of ‘Individual annihilation of class enemies ‘was adopted as single form of struggle.,’ Boycott of elections’ propagated as a strategic path ‘ .The C.P.I. (M.L) too displayed authoritarian or bureaucratic tendencies, which led to it’s eventual disintegration. It failed to converge all the party forces around it and even dubbed genuine revolutionaries like T.Nagi Reddy-DV Rao as revisionists, going to the extent of expelling them earlier from the All India Coordination Commitee. In 1971 in an interview with Premier Chou En lai Souren Bose received strong criticisms of the CPI (ML).
Quoting Sankar Ray in Frontier weekly in 2011 “There is no denying that Majumdar had inspired thousands to plunge into the Naxalbari armed struggle However after few years after the formation of CPI(M-L), Charu failed to create an impulse among hundreds of youths to plunge into armed revolutionary path unlike in the end-1960s. The adventurist essence of Naxalbari came into the open. Nonetheless, the CPI (Maoist) and most of the variants of over-ground CPI (M-L) indulge in personality cult of CM. Portrait of Majumdar is placed aside Marx, Lenin and Mao at every state party conference and congress of the CPI(M-L) Liberation but no ideological debate on CM is encouraged.”
It must be remembered that Mazumdar did not play the sole role in Naxalbari. Charu Mazumdar himself admitted in his speech in the rally at Shaheed Minar on 11 November 1967, the leader of Naxalbari was not him but the local organizers including Kanu Sanyal, Jangal Santhal, Kadam Mallik and Khokan Mazumdar etc.
Though it is incorrect to say that Charu was the leader and architect of the Naxalbari peasant uprising, it must be stated that he created the breeding ground for its ideological basis. Charu Mazumdar was instrumental in establishing a radical rupture from CPM politics. Had it not been for Charu, perhaps the Naxalbari struggle would have simply been reduced to quagmire of economism.
Intellectuals like Bernard De Mello feel that Charu failed to distinguish the Indian path of revolution or the nature of the Indian bourgeoisie, from the Chinese one, but still credits achievement of Charu Mazumdar and C.P.I. (ML) in inspiring peasant uprising nationwide. Earlier late Mohan Ram made an incisive analysis in ‘Maoism in India.’ on why C.P.I. (ML) formation was incorrect in 1969.
All India Revolutionary Students Federation formed n 1985 was deeply inspired by Charu Mazumdar’s ideas and its founding constituent, the Andhra Pradesh Radical Students Union. The 1997 AIRSF Organ Kalam summed up Mazumdar’s historic contribution in Naxalbari in light of students integrating with peasantry in villages.
Suniti Kumar Ghosh felt it was unfair to blame Charu Mazumdar for the mistakes attributing the errors to the entire C.P.I. (M.L.) Party.Ghosh opposed the view that the party disintegrated only after death of CM. We must remember that Charu Mazumdar made a criticism in 1972 in his document “The Party’s Interest is the People’s Interest.”It is wrong to blame him solely for the disintegration of the party Central Committee and place responsibility on the weakness within the party as a whole.
Sushital Roy Choudhary was very critical of the party’s line terming it’ left-adventurist’ and ‘neglecting class and economic struggles.”
Still the Indian Revolutionary Movement today has not completely extricated itself from line of ‘annihilation of class enemy’ which glorifies individual heroism of squads.This phenomenon was illustrated in the crushing of the Lalgarh Movement 10 years ago and earlier suppression in Telengana an Andhra Pradesh.
Charu’s son Abhijit feels The Naxal movement of that period basically placed accent on organising the small farmers and the agricultural labourers as a class against the exploitation of the landlords. He feels today is not possible to limit the work to either villages or to the agricultural labourers. The migration to cities for livelihood, the poverty in the cities, slum life…have to all be given due consideration. In his view the classical Chinese path is not applicable today.
He spoke about politics guiding any movement, providing it a mass base among the people In Abhijit’s view only when all democratic mode of protests fail, it is imperative to conduct armed struggle. He stressed on weapons not being the sole arbiter or dictating the movement. Abhijit felt the Maoists today seem to have fallen into such a trap.Abhijit advocated a new brand of politics from the 1970’s which confronted the capitalistic revolution sown by the Corporates.He also stressed on organising movements against Brahmanical caste oppression and fascist attacks on minorities.
Today Marxist historians have to probe into the phenomena of the Charu Mazumdar era, in light of re-organising the Communist Movement in India, chalking a path conducive towards the Indian revolution and confronting neo-fascism. Readers should refer to ‘History of the Polemics of Indian Communist Movement ‘ of Tarimela Nagi Reddy Memorial Trust ,which enables someone to strike a balance on the positive and negative role of Charu Mazumdar.There is also a balanced view by late Deepankar Chakraborty in “ The Naxalite Movement: In Search of Root of its Debacle. The path of Naxalbari has to be synthesized in accordance to the current situation facing India, with Charu Mazumdar’s ideas resurrected in an appropriate form.
Harsh Thakor is freelance Journalist who has undertaken extensive research o Indian Communist Movement