Vinod Mubayi and Daya Varma


The Lalgarh episode in West Bengal again brought into prominence the Communist Party of India (Maoist), or CPI (Maoist) which claimed leadership of the widespread insurrection that erupted in the district over the last several months.  Different forces including the Maoists and the Trinamool Congress exploited the resentment of local tribal population to launch a bloody attack on  the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPM; the outcome may be bad for CPM and for India and both need introspection.


The Lalgarh episode in West Bengal again brought into prominence the Communist Party of India (Maoist), or CPI (Maoist) which claimed leadership of the widespread insurrection that erupted in the district over the last several months.  The insurrection had one target, the district committee of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPM, which has been ruling the state for over 30 years.  


It is now widely admitted that the debacle of the CPM in Lalgarh (and, it must be admitted in view of the election results, in much of W. Bengal and Kerala) is mainly due to its own mis-governance over the last several years.  Nothing illustrates this more graphically than the spectacle of the destruction wreaked on the palatial home of CPM’s Anuj Pandey by the local people in this backward and impoverished village. No doubt the local people were urged and incited by the Maoist cadre.  But why would they have obeyed the dictates of the Maoists unless they were already fed up with the CPM? As a CPM supporter in Bengal comments: “CPM leaders find themselves isolated from the masses and popular agitations can easily be built against them. The CPM cadres are perceived as representing authority, as beneficiaries of the system, an empowered class of people.” How did this happen when only 3 years ago CPM won a massive victory in the state elections?  And who is the beneficiary of this eclipse of CPM? This defeat was perhaps only to be expected as the spoils of office had brought a large number of careerists and other opportunists into positions of influence in the party.


In West Bengal, the major electoral beneficiary is the Trinamool Congress, led by the erratic Mamata, who had earlier flirted with the Hindutvawadis, but is now with the Sonia Congress.  The Lalgarh insurrection occurred under a widely perceived informal alliance of TMC with Maoists, which were also earlier the case in Nandigram and other places in Bengal.  The Maoists can justify this alliance on the basis of ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ although such an opportunist coupling can last only as long as CPM is still in power in the state. 


But the projection of the Maoists in the mainstream media in India, now addicted to sensationalist stories especially if they involve violence, has again highlighted the issues that were brought to the fore by the uprising in Naxalbari in 1967 hailed as “Spring Thunder over India” by the Chinese Peoples Daily newspaper.  Armed agrarian revolution, encirclement of the cities by the countryside and similar slogans that had receded into the background over the years have emerged again. India’s Home Ministry and the Prime Minister identified Maoism as the most serious internal crisis facing India and the Central Government recently took the step of banning CPI (Maoist) as a terrorist group over the objections of the CPM and other left parties, who wanted the Maoists to be fought politically rather than administratively.


To understand the position of the CPI (Maoist) it is useful to recall some history.  One of the major political questions in the Indian communist movement (and in several other 3rd world communist movements) from the 1940s on has been whether to follow the Soviet path of the Bolshevik revolution or the Chinese path of armed agrarian revolution. It was an issue during the Telangana peasant struggle, which erupted in the erstwhile Hyderabad state under the feudal rule of the Nizam in the late 1940s and continued for over two years. It was partly an issue that led to the split of the Party into CPI and CPI-Marxist (CPM) in 1964. It was a big issue just preceding and following the 1967 Naxalbari peasant struggle. Telangana and Naxalbari happened almost 20 years apart, the former during the last days of British colonial rule and the first years of independent India and the latter during the international turmoil of the 1960’s and at the height of China-Soviet polemics and the Cultural Revolution in China.


In almost every way the Telangana peasant struggle was bigger than the Naxalbari upsurge. Yet, while Telangana became merely a part of history, the Naxalbari episode of 1967 remains a trend in the communist movement through these years.  Why is this so? There could be diverse explanations for this.  Both political and organizational considerations made Naxalbari different. Politically, Naxalbari espoused armed struggle as the main or, rather, the only form of struggle and shunned all other forms of struggle as revisionist. Organizationally, the leaders of Naxalbari felt that CPM did not constitute a decisive break from revisionism and therefore a new revolutionary party was needed. The climate in the international communist movement in the late 1960s favored splits in practically all countries.


The main leaders of Naxalbari were Kanu Sanyal and the late Charu Mazumdar. Sanyal’s thesis that peasants in the Terai region fought for political power and not for land was the most significant theoretical formulation of Naxalbari.  The clearest pronouncement of the split in terms of the pro-Soviet and pro-Chinese lines came with Charu Mazumdar’s declaration that the victory of the Indian revolution is assured because “China’s Chairman is our Chairman and China’s path is our path”.  The Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) (CPI-ML) came into being in 1969. The formation of Communist Party of India (Maoist) on September 20, 2004 is a re- incarnation of CPI (ML) although the two organizations which joined to the form the CPI (Maoists), namely the  Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist)-People’s War Group (PWG) and the Maoist Communist Centre of India (MCCI),  have a distinct or rather diverse history.  While PWG is an offshoot of the CPI (M-L) founded by Charu Mazumdar, MCCI is not. To be generous to MCCI, one can say that it wanted to combine mass line with armed struggle as distinct from armed struggle divorced from mass movement advocated by Charu Mazumdar; in practice, however, MCCI built no mass organization and its arms were principally directed against class allies and not class enemies.


Mao Zedong developed revolutionary theory and practice suitable for the Chinese conditions at the time. He aroused the peasantry through a protracted struggle and did not rely on insurrection. But does “Maoism” mean simply armed struggle and especially that kind of armed struggle where politics does not command the gun?  Mao used guns but he did many other things including organizing and leading the largest mass movement in history. Mao identified the principal contradiction in China and targeted the principal enemy. In contrast, the newly formed CPI (Maoists) declared: “(CPI-Maoist) will continue to expose, isolate and defeat the more dangerous Hindu fascist forces, while exposing all other fundamentalist forces. It will continue to do so while keeping the edge of the people’s struggles directed against the new Congress rulers in Delhi along with the CPI/CPM and their imperialist chieftains.” So the “edge” of the struggle to be waged by CPI (Maoist) will be against Congress-CPI-CPM. From their dismal record of fighting Hindutva, one can conclude that they will do little against “Hindu fascist forces”.


According to CPI (Maoist) spokesperson, Azad, writing in Economic and Political Weekly in 2006, the Maoists’ perception of India’s socio-economic reality view is that India is still a semi-feudal, semi-colonial comprador state.  It “has been reduced to a condition that is, in some respects, worse than most of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa.” (Azad, “Maoists in India, A Rejoinder,” October 14, 2006, EPW).  This view, which was also widely proclaimed when Naxalbari happened, makes no recognition of the reality that India today as well as in 1967 differs greatly from what prevailed in pre-liberation China. The peasant question is still important but its dimension is different. A substantial section of rich peasantry has emerged in the Indian countryside and urbanization of India has established a vibrant link between the countryside and the cities. Agricultural labor and Dalits are in sharp contradiction with rich peasants rather than despotic landlords. Practically all the left forces are concerned about suicides by capitalist farmers, who borrow money to expand production and become richer but commit suicide when the crops fail for one reason or another. In any case, the Indian scenario is not conducive to armed agrarian revolution or an encirclement of the cities by the countryside.


The Maoists vision of the future, as identified by Azad in a section of his article called Maoist Model of Development is “to create a huge home market in the country itself.” Use of the concept of “market” in this context is revealing.  Market implies an economy based on exchange value that existed earlier in history in the period of petty commodity production and exists now under capitalist production.   It is revealing that in almost 2 pages of description of the Maoist model of development in Azad’s article, the word “socialism” is not mentioned even once as opposed to words like “growth”, “extension of the home market,” “people-oriented,” “self-reliant,” etc. The program described by Azad does not talk about industry or the working class. It is the kind of program, which apart from the emphasis on violence to achieve its goals, could be one proposed by the many sarvodaya type NGOs.  Since the Maoists are based in the isolated rural areas inhabited by India’s First World people (i.e., adivasis), this program perhaps makes sense to them but does not seem to have much relevance to the rest of India.  Where the “large investments in agriculture (to also regenerate the soil destroyed by the green revolution), forestry and allied activities (poultry, goat farming, fishery, etc.)” will come from is not identified, presumably it will come from seizing “the vast wealth, illegally and immorally appropriated by the imperialists, feudal elements and compradors.”  These investments coupled with land reforms “in turn will create a market for the basic necessities of life and will help generate local industry, resulting in employment generation.”  In talking about employment generation, the description does not identify who the “employers” will be. Will they be local capitalists? Or the state? This sort of rural utopia is familiar in the Indian context.  One has to look no further than Gandhi. It is also close to the program espoused by the Narodniks and their successors the SRs (Socialist Revolutionaries) in pre- and post-revolution Russia and was also extensively discussed by Lenin in his polemics with their leaders.  A less charitable description may point out the resemblance of elements of Azad’s program to that of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia (Kampuchea).


D.D. Kosambi very perceptively commented that India is a land of long survivals; survivals of techniques, technologies, cultural aspects and habits, as well as ideas and ideologies and movements based on them.  Primordial modes of existence, that have long died out in other places, still find a home in India due to the great diversity and heterogeneity prevailing within the country.  The same is true of movements.  Secessionist movements, many of them armed struggles, based on ethno-nationalisms have persisted for over 50 years in frontier regions in an unending fashion and no near end to them appears likely. 


The Indian situation does permit isolated struggles with arms, which more often than not cannot be distinguished from banditry, be it in Bihar, Andhra, or the North-East. The bandit Veerappan operated in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu for almost 20 years and it took lots of resources and almost an army to kill him. But genuine peasant armed struggles against the state as happened in Bihar following Charu Mazumdar’s death could not be sustained.  The Maoist movement is largely based in the economically backward portions of central and southeastern India in the states of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, and in pockets in Andhra, Maharashtra, and West Bengal.  In Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh and in parts of Orissa, the major industry is the extractive mining industry that encroaches on the adivasi and tribal lands and hence leads to a natural grievance on the part of the affected population, which is otherwise ignored by the state’s “development” activities.  As long as this pattern of economy prevails in these areas, and remains unaccompanied by any significant initiatives by the state in education and economic and social development of the local population, there will remain a natural “base” for the Maoist movement.


Another feature of violent movements that have persisted over a long time in India, is the perverse nature of the incentives that have been created over time to keep these movements going indefinitely, because of the “benefits” obtained by various actors, middle-men of all kinds ranging from corrupt policemen and other state officials, to arms dealers, contractors, etc.  It is to the interest of these people that these conflicts never end as they are a source of booty and income to them.  Maoists undoubtedly have their involvement and association with these people as do all other groups engaging in violent struggles in various parts of India.  In a recent interview in the Indian business publication Mint, a subsidiary of the Wall Street Journal, one of the Maoist leaders Koteswar Rao stated that his party had established links with groups like ULFA, which are also fighting the Indian state not on the basis of any ideology but on reactionary ethno-nationalist ideas.


The latest news from Lalgarh area is that the Maoists have retreated into the forested areas and are choosing not to directly confront the armed forces sent by the central government and the state, apart from isolated acts of mining of roads and continued targeted killings of CPM party workers, many of them also poor peasants from the area.  The latter acts have reportedly led to disputes between Maoists and local villagers.  There are also reports of peace talks between CPI (Maoists) and the state, which are likely to lead to further splits within the party as happened in the past.  The Indian communist movement today spans an entire range of organizations from CPI/CPM, who participate in mass, democratic politics and parliamentary institutions to the Maoists, who completely reject mass politics and rely on violence to accomplish their aim of capturing political power by annihilation of enemies.  A host of other formations lie in-between CPI/CPM and CPI (Maoists) trying to hang on to their spheres of influence.  The recent resurgence of the Maoists may be due to their tacit alliance with established parties like TMC and the success this alliance has had in shaking up the long entrenched rule of the CPM in Bengal.  Alliances with violent ethno-national groups like ULFA can extend the potential of the CPI (Maoists) to be a thorn in the side of the Indian state, but may considerably dilute its ideological appeal to its cadre.  No doubt the main strength and potential of the Maoists is to destroy the CPI and CPM whose cadre are the main targets of their attacks.  In this, the Maoists will get tacit, if not open, encouragement from the major parties, including Congress and BJP.  But that is likely to be the limit of their ability. Their analysis of India’s socio-economic realities is many decades out of date and so are their remedies.  As long as there is lack of economic development and positive governance in the tribal-adivasi belt, the Maoists will have a base for their activity but that cannot remain for long given India’s economic growth, even if it is unequally distributed.  One can hope that the group will follow the example of their comrades in Nepal and join a larger democratic mass communist movement, but that remains to be seen.

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