The Indian state is in a hurry to ruthlessly and violently suppress the Maoist armed groups because the big business industrial houses of India, and powerful transnational corporations of the West are feeling impatient. Their big industrial projects are held up because of resistance organised by Marxist groups, especially in resource-rich forest areas inhabited by poor tribals.
The state’s response to armed struggle or suspected violent social movements, whether during colonial rule or in independent India has been consistently ruthless. P Sundarayya had written about how the Nehru government had deployed military personnel to crush the Telangana peasant struggle launched by the Communist Party of India. This pattern of the state’s response continues till today when dealing with the challenge or threat posed by Maoists. While the state response is clear, the responses of the Maoist leadership deserve an analysis.
Unlike the Vietnamese struggle for liberation which was a politically integrated and militarily well-trained movement under the leadership of a universally respected personality, the Palestinian movement remains divided (between … other various factions) without any effective leadership
The Palestinian struggle is also bereft of effective international support, especially from Arab states. Banerjee, by comparing two important armed struggles for liberation, provides us a powerful key to analyse the Indian phenomenon of armed struggles launched by the Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist) — CPI(ML) — popularly known as the Naxalites, led by Charu Majumdar and others after splitting from the Communist Party of India (Marxist) — CPI(M) — in April 1967.
It also deserves to be mentioned that Banerjee, in his seminal work, In the Wake of Naxalbari (1980), while optimistically writing about “The Prospects,” mentioned: “But ultimately it is the vast countryside — the centre of the CPI(ML) armed struggle — which will determine the success of the revolution” (1980: 399). Nothing like this has happened from 1967 till now. However, Banerjee also perceptively mentioned in the same book that “in the absence of any direct occupation of India by foreign powers, the nature of any armed struggle here is bound to be different from the national liberation movements of Vietnam or Africa” (1980: 398). Hence, context matters.
Indian Naxal Movement
A few salient facts may be mentioned about the Indian Naxal movement, in comparison with these other armed movements, to highlight the Indian “exceptionalism” in which this armed struggle has been taking place. First, like the Palestinians, the Indian Naxal movement has been highly factionalised and divided, beginning with its formation in 1967. It is only in 2004 that two of the more important groups — the CPI(ML) People’s War and the Maoist Communist Centre of India — decided to merge and form the CPI (Maoist). Despite claims of having established its “people’s governments” in Dandakaranya and other so-called “liberated areas”, and its success story in the face of state suppression faced by its dedicated and devoted cadre, the Maoists have been cordoned off in deep forests and jungles. The question is: Do the Maoists have enough capability to face the military challenge of the Indian state?
Second, Banerjee has very appropriately drawn attention to the fact that Ho Chi Minh’s Vietnam was supported by socialist countries like the Soviet Union and China, and that such support is essential to sustain popular armed struggles. He also refers to Palestinians as “divided” and fighting a “lonely battle”. Applied to India, the CPI (Maoist) is fighting an internationally “lonely battle,” and it is a canard spread by the Indian state that Indian Maoists were getting Chinese support. Maoists are themselves responsible for the falsehood spread by the Indian state because Charu Majumdar and others had wrongly claimed Mao’s own backing for Indian Naxals. Mao of China never supported Indian Naxalism.
Third, if the Naxalites wanted to learn any lessons from the Chinese People’s Revolution led by Mao, the writing on the wall was clear — unlike the People’s Liberation Army, which was fighting against Chiang Kai-shek’s ramshackle army — the Indian state and its army was very well equipped to smash the splintered Naxal groups. What happened to Charu Majumdar and Kanu Sanyal’s Naxalbari movement, which simply collapsed before the physical might of the Indian police and army? Fourth, it is not only state repression, but Operation Barga and the land reforms programme launched by the CPI(M) government in West Bengal which empowered the oppressed peasantry. This took the wind out of the Naxalite movement whose leaders failed to understand the social dialectics that was unleashed as a consequence of Operation Barga.
The Maoist leadership’s philosophical and theoretical understanding of the social essence of the Indian state and ruling class has remained completely stuck in the communist party formulation of 1947, that “semi-feudal and semi-colonial” India’s freedom from colonial rule is “phoney and spurious” and Nehru is a “comprador collaborator of imperialism”. This misreading of the meaning of Indian independence and essence of the ruling class was responsible for the communist party launching the peasant rebellion of Telangana. However, the communist leadership in its post-Telangana review of the situation abandoned this theoretical characterisation of post-Independence India, especially accepting the fact that “the Nehru government was not an alien and socially rootless” phenomenon. A much more sophisticated theoretical analysis was undertaken by the communist party leading to the “revision” of its earlier characterisation of the meaning of Indian independence.
There is absolutely no denying the fact that the capitalist class-state of India has protected and promoted the interests of the exploiting and oppressive ruling class, including the surplus-producing peasant gentry. At the same time, the political executive, as an agency of the ruling class, draws its legitimacy from Indian voters who regularly review or withdraw their support from the democratically elected political executive. How can such a political executive betray popular mandate even while protecting the class interests of all fractions of the ruling classes? How can an elected political executive in a democracy ride roughshod over the labouring underclasses by completely ignoring their “essential needs for survival”? Further, with the rising levels of voters’ consciousness, the elected political executive has to dynamically respond to the changing social needs of the underclass. There is enough empirical evidence to substantiate the argument that in any democracy — Indian and Western — the state has to carefully “balance” the interests of the exploiting profit-seeking classes with the needs and aspirations of the “basic classes”.
Further, the Maoists will be hard-pressed to answer that it is the Supreme Court of the capitalist state of India that intervened to admonish the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief minister of Chhattisgarh to stop his illegal action of making “tribal fight against tribal” in the name of the notorious Salwa Judum programme. Why is it that Chhattisgarh — with its strong Maoist presence — has elected a social counter-revolutionary party like the BJP for a third term? The Maoists argue that the present phase in India can be described social counter-revolutionary, a stage where only “one reactionary ideology” of the Hindu Sangh Parivar has occupied the mainstream of society, and all liberal and civil society spaces are gradually getting infected by the ideology of the fascist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh led, controlled and guided Sangh Parivar.
The levels of mass consciousness in India are still determined by ritual-based religiosity, and the hold of so-called god-men, priests and holy persons is still dominant. The dominant ideology of “religious faith” has neither died nor has it been challenged sufficiently by new social forces to overcome it. This religious ideology has been appropriated by the modern bourgeois state with a view to keep the masses under control. Can this content of Indian society and culture be denied by the armed revolutionaries?
The crux of the issue is that the complexities of ideological superstructure have been ignored by progressive democratic forces and armed revolutionaries because they have forgotten an elementary lesson from Karl Marx’s voluminous writings, that the bourgeois democratic revolution has to cross many hurdles, and especially because “the new is born out of the world of the old”, it does not mean that the “old” has just disappeared from the social consciousness of the new society. The “old” of India has persisted and it has been appropriated by the globalising capitalist class, and the entire ideological apparatus of the state is deployed to spread of the ideology of Hindutva. Can this ideological contextual reality be ignored? This question about the stage of historical development of India and its specialities deserves an answer.
If the Maoists had not been off the mark in their understanding of the “historical epoch” of India, they would not have launched this futile armed struggle where committed revolutionaries are only getting killed. Not only this, the unstoppable process of “splits” in the communist parties and movements has not only weakened the whole communist movement’s capacity to provide a democratic socialist alternative to the exploitative class regime of the Indian state, but the armed guerrilla revolutionaries under the misguided leadership of Maoists have destroyed the possibility of the emergence of a “United Front of Communists” as a formidable challenge to the forces of exploitation and oppression.
writer (email@example.com) taught at the Centre for Political Studies, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.