In Lieu Of Review
Reflections on ‘‘Days and Nights in the Heartland of Rebellion’’
[This is not a typical book review but some reflections on Gautam Navalakha's thought provoking book "Days and Nights in the Heartland of Rebellion", addressed to the author.]
I have read your book with avid
interest. Both critical and passionate,
yours is the most thought-provoking book on contemporary Maoist Movement.
Your information about the Maoist-led Janatam government's alternative developmental efforts in the parts of Dandakaranya (DK), particularly those in agriculture, health and education are very interesting. Role of the women in the guerrilla army and civil administration as well as party's support to their fight against patriarchal social customs within the tribal communities are evocative. Descriptions of the communi-tarian tribal traditions and the egalitarian daily lives of the People's Lineration Gurellia Army (PLGA) men and women in the forest where the party GS was found washing his clothes reminds the finest days of revolutionary histories around the world.
Like many other urban middle class left-liberals, I do cherish these two social-political traditions. They were the cornerstones of the libertarian socialism that Paris commune, early Soviets and Mao's village communes practiced when these revolutions were young and their makers were rich in vigor and imagination. Even the hard-nut Doubting Thomas like me fails to shake off the impact. Nevertheless, I can't afford to be swayed by self-denying emotions. As one of my young friends had reminded me rather disdainfully, our 'baggage' particularly those who had been bogged down in Bengal quagmire for long is too heavy.
Despite your self-declared bonding with the CPI (Maoist), your critical queries on revolutionary practices and vision are really engaging and fulfilling. This is a significant break from the Stalinist tradition that has always tried to suppress the insider critics in the name of closing ranks with besieged comrades during war.
The other day I read Eric Hobsbawm recalling war-time stigmatization of George Orwell for his 'Homage to Catalonia' after (long before 'Animal Farm' and '1984') he had fictionalized his real but unpleasant expeiiences in Republican camp during the Spanish Civil War. Many communists and other left volunteers in Europe knew about the communist-anarchist-republican tensions and role of Soviet Union from their personal experiences. But the 'overwhelmingly prevalent' view chose to remain silent fearing that the public criticism would help Franco (Hobsbawm: Revolutionaries, Abacus, page-70, 133-34).
The same consensual silence reined our collective conscience umpteen times in all strands of Indian communist movement in post-war years. The recent example of the Orwellian-era dilemmas is the proverbial ostrich-like behavior of many of our friends during and after Jungelmahal miscarriage. They did not like many actions of the Maoists but refrained from criticizing them in public lest it would help the 'enemy'. I will focus on your critical observations on controversial issues related to Maoist praxis skipping the chapters and parts that are focused on criticizing the Indian State. There are hardly any difference among us on the primitive accumulation and loot by government-corporate nexus, particularly in mineral-rich regions where Maoists are mostly active. The differences are about the ways to fight back the neo-liberal juggernaut and nature of alternatives and people's power.
I pick up the thread of our earlier discussion from the chapter—'what about killings?' You quoted their standard reply—they kill only the incorrigible informers. In many cases the party leadership had prevailed on lover rung preventing executions despite death sentences by the peoples' courts. Also, how they had admitted mistakes in case of unintended killings of the civilians, particularly when the victims belonged to their core support base.
But clearly these did not satisfy you. So you repeatedly questioned about the murders by Maoists in Bengal's Junglemahal and also in Bihar, Jharkhand and Orissa hoping that 'surely there must be a policy against reckless killings'.
You often referred to Junglemahal and raised questions about killings of political rivals, as well as suspected police moles. On the murders of the CPM cadres, you said: " Was it necessary to kill them? If they were corrupt and oppressing people and if people wanted revenge did the party go along with the people's demand or did they try to restrain them, pointing out that reckless killings will harm them as well as not win them friends? (pg.74)". Earlier, you wondered 'why the party failed to restrain people from carrying out executions in Lalgarh if the party was opposed to it' (pg.76).
Recalling Kisenji's admission that '52 persons were killed in just seven months during January-July 2009', you asked whether these executions were carried with the sanction from 'higher courts' in accordance with the constitution of the Maoists' Janatam Government? As the party did not bother to explain these killings and justice system involved, you observed:" ...one does know if these killings were of political opponents or of those who had committed henious crimes against the people' (pg. 209).
However, your doubts did not last long. You were forthright in your criticism in next lines. "This is not how political differences can be resolved. Today if Maoists have been virtually vanquished in Junglemahal it is not due to the superior war machinery of the State but in no small measure due to their own conduct which alienated sections of people with some turning against them. Years of selfless and painstaking work carried out by them for nearly two decades stands crushed". You sounded more caustic when you remarked that 'paradoxically, going by what happened in Junglemahal, the Maoists snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by scoring a self-goal' (pg. 211).
Next you disapproved the killing of Niyamat Ansari, an NGO activist in Jharkhand's Latehar in 2011, calling it a culmination of a 'summary trial' by a 'Kangaroo court and not a People's Court'. You questioned the 'nature of party's control squads if they carry out an act of summary custodial killing or an act of revenge as in Jamui (Jharkhand)' and suspected that 'their (Maoists) conduct of war and system of justice can become cruel and arbitrary'. "In other words, Maoists must be measured against the standards they demand from the state and the claim they have set for themselves," you commented.
Time and again you raised questions about the party's control over the armed squads and their roles in decision-making process in case of killings and other violent acts. Even after meeting the GS and others, you could not 'stop wondering—at what level does it get decided when, where and how an action is to be carried out?' "Is it decided by the party or the squad? If a squad carries out an action without the party's permission, especially one in which a dastardly act gets committed what punishment is meted out? If there is a great deal of autonomy given to the armed squads, then how does the party maintain discipline to ensure that their strategic objective does not get jeopardized by tactical errors "(pg. 75-76).
But your questions on killings and criticisms evidently did not go down well with the Maoist leadership. "Questions thrown at them were listened to but a response was not forthcoming except telling me that they would certainly take my criticism seriously". You found them 'quite upset' when you brought up the incidents of killings outside the DK 'time and again'. Even the GS became 'visibly agitated' at one occasion when he felt it was an attempt to compare between the PW work in DK and MCC practices in Jharkhand with the intention to 'weaken the united party'. But you asked about the post-merger killings in those states, which you called 'most reprehensible'. He 'listened patiently but refused to answer questions saying they did not believe in mindless violence' (pg. 74-76).
They were also silent on your musings about the 'political immaturity of their forces to conduct a people's war' and the squad domination over the party on killings. You wondered aloud that 'could their silence mean that they shared my concerns but were reluctant to say so because this would, through me, become public?' Their assurances to take you 'seriously' did not stop you from doubting whether it was a 'polite brush-off'.
You proposed them to allow civil liberties groups to probe into the complaints regarding Maoist killings. They promised to put it before the party CC with the rider that 'situation in the ground is not always conductive for easy entry and exit and much planning and time is needed for making it possible'. You reminded them the 'appeal to the party to abide by and accept Geneva Convention' from 'non-funded' Human rights groups, which the fellow Maoist parties in the Philippines and Nepal had assured earlier. You were told, despite the leadership's knowledge of international norms and their widely known access to the Internet and print, that 'they have not seen it [the appeal] and asked you to provide documents on adherence from the fellow parties' (pg.77-77)
You tried to underscore the difference between their 'consent'-based hegemony in DK and coercive practices elsewhere where they did not find green pasture. You observed: "The JS [Janatam Sarkar] had taken roots in DK amongst people over the course of three decades where they, the party , has been able to create an alternative structure, virtually uncontested (emphasis added) ...this allowed them to establish their hegemony through consent than coercion.... Is it this ideological hegemony which their source of strength and sustainabiiity in DK. Is it the same elsewhere?" (pg. 79) Next you inserted a 'caveat' that the same can be achieved elsewhere depending upon right steps by the party despite difference in specificities of struggles.
Nevertheless, volunteered to 'suspend' your 'judgment' on Bihar-Jhakhand-Orissa-Bengal as the party leadership was 'cagey' about controversial practices outside DK mainly on the ground of inadequate reports from respective state units. Despite your reservations about the reckless killings which continued even after you met the GS and other senior leaders in 2010, you chose to stand in between the 'diehard critics and diehard supporters' of the Maoists.
Well, the difficulties of central leadership of an underground party in checking facts of incidents with state units are understandable. But is it a federal or federalist party? Or, DK-based top guns have no control over the state units and lower rank and file? Even CPM leaders from Andhra, Tamilnadu, Maharastra did not stop from criticizing the 'Bengal line' during Singur-Nandigram and pulled up the leadership for speaking with forked tongues on police firing on farmers in Khammam and Nandigram.
Secondly, 'in contrast to the reluctance to discuss the goings-on in other zones', you found them 'forthcoming about what is being done in DK'. Well, is it because the idolization of the party hegemony in almost inaccessible, largely pre-agrarian and hitherto uncontested DK counters multiple challenges in mostly accessible, state-controlled, highly complex and contested Bengal, Bihar, Odisha and Jharkhand? Is it the impatience over the absence of geographical-social-political conditions that facilitated DK-type consent-based hegemony led to coercive practices in Lalgarh and elsewhere?
Thirdly, they simply dragged cold foot on your proposal on probing alleged human rights violation by Maoists by citing security and logistical difficulties. The absence of invitation for such a fact-finding team since 2010 when you met them underlined the fact. Is this not in a sharp contrast to their eagerness to run conducted tours for adulating celebrities and media-persons in guerrilla zones or base areas in DK? Have not we experienced their excellently planned and executed media and celebrity management in other areas too in the intervening period before you published the book in 2012? You chose not to raise these questions.
For more critical observers, the attitudes of Maoist top guns apparently confirmed the repetition of worst traditions of communist movement both during war and peace-denial of wrong practices or superfluous admission without any honest soul-searching. They seemed to have inherited the tendency to put the blames on distant state units, lower rank and file while de-linking the past mistakes from the present despite no essential break between the two. They refused to make public admission of follies in the name of democratic centralism, cadre morale as well as in the larger interest of the revolution.
Clearly, they mirrored the state logic when they admitted 'excesses' or 'deviations' but claimed to have right policies and doctrines. But GS' silence, in addition to Azad's earlier justification of killings of informers, even booby-trapping of fallen enemy's body (in his interview with The Hindu before his murder) and Kisenji's advocacy about inevitable compromises on human rights and democratic norms in war zones (in response to Sujato Bhadra, later incorporated in the collection 'War and Peace in Junglemahal: People, State and Maoists'), makes the mindset of the leadership clear.
But it's not the problems of mere deviations from the line of selective and deterrent violence against wrongdoers among people. It smacks of a cult of political violence aimed at coercive hegemony, a shortcut for painstaking political campaigns and popular mass movements. I remember my interaction with Kisenji in which he countered the criticism of killings of CPM supporters and suspected informers. He insisted that he had been following the CC line. Dismissing the sentiments about sparing poor suspects considering their class background, he said: "Ask our CC if you think it is Kisenji line that we are practicing in Junglemahal. We killed only 50 per cent those who should have been eliminated. Media may have portrayed me as a bloodthirsty person. But in my party, I am known as soft-minded".
In a digression, I remember him offering me the privilege to clear my 'confusions' by presenting myself before a CC meeting. After his initial reproach for not serving the revolution, this invitation gratified me hugely. But the opportunity to exchange views at much lower level never came. Probably, it was his method to disarm and win over the skeptics.
More than a year has passed since he has been killed. But I have not come across any self-critical note by the party leadership on the Lalgarh movement despite pointed criticisms of reckless killings in Junglemahal by friendly people like you (Navlakha in 'War and Peace in Junglemahal, page 295). Also, your questions regarding 'the party's debacle in AP' remained 'unanswered' as the GS evaded the issue. "Each time I was told we will discuss it later. 'Later' did not materialize" (Days and Nights, pg.169). In the meantime, Sushil Roy (TOI, 18 October, 2012) and other CPl(Maoist) leaders (latter in guarded language) have begun blaming Kishenji for the miscarriage of the movement. So much in conformity with our chequered tradition of blaming the individuals while being silent on collective follies!
Interestingly, you appealed to Maoists 'to fight honorably if they fight must' and cautioned against arbitrary killings, Kangaroo courts, squad-domination and party's consequent alienation from the people. But these cautions came up along with your disdains against those whose 'morality rises on a full stomach' since they failed to celebrate the death of government combatants in Maoist ambush or mine-blasts. You dismissed the skeptics' concerns over the rural poor or working class background of the slain uniformed men as well as the inevitable state reprisals that would continue the cycle of competitive violence, mostly at the cost of undefended civilians (Page 190-91).
Citing the examples of atrocities by Indian army in Kashmir, you argued that lament over the killing of government forces is as good as absolving them from war crimes and denial of individual guilt collective agency. The onus of violence, you rightly said, lies with the Indian state. "If the Indian slate outlaws war against our own people it will be surest way of ensuring that people do not take recourse to violence to make themselves heard or be taken seriously and to that extent undercut the appeal of armed resistance" (page 192).
For you, the uniform makes the distinction between two rustic poor even if both are actually or potentially in people's camp. You yourself mentioned that 'no les than 25 per cent of security forces personnel developed psychological disorders while serving in Jammu and Kashmir.... [it] goes to show that there are a fairly large number of soldiers with a conscience'. Nevertheless, you felt that 'such personnel form a minority. Just as it is a minority of Maoist combatants who are guilty of war crimes'.
I understand the inevitability of brutal killings in battles and ambushes even if these are supposed to be governed by the rules of war engagements. But what about the blurred lines between combat and non-combat killings? What is your take on killing off-duty soldiers (as happened in Silda in WB) or on-leave soldiers (in Assam and elsewhere)? Are they considered legitimate targets? Or, do you offer them cover under the higher revolutionary morality that you reminded the Maoists? If state forces deserve our condemnation for custody and fake encounter killings, what exempts revolutionaries from the public flak when they kill abducted or captured POWs as it happened in Jhakhand and Bengal?
There is no question of condoning the wanton atrocities committed by the Indian army and other government forces in Kashmir, Manipur, Nagaland, Chattisgarh and other 'disturbed areas' with almost total impunity under Armed Forces Special Power Act and other draconian laws. More the Indian nation-state resorts to such brute forces to subdue social-political discontents and legitimate aspirations of ethno-religious minorities, more it would expose the hollowness of its democratic credentials.
But what about the Maoists (ethnic insurgents too) who continued to mirror the logic of state violence despite your cautions and criticisms. The latest example is the party's endorsement of the belly bomb that the PLGA nen had planted inside the abdomen of a slain CRPF jawan in Jharkhand's Laterhar after an encounter in January this year. Also they had booby-trapped another Jawan's body, which exploded taking the toll of four innocent lives after the CRPF-Jharkhand Jaguar joint force had forced villagers to pick up the dead uniformed men at gunpoint. You along with some other leading rights activists as well as a section of the civil liberty bodies condemned the 'bestial deeds of the two warring sides'—the desecration of the dead bodies by the Maoists and use of civilians as human shields by the forces of the government and described them both as war crimes.
You and rest of PUDR held Indian government for triggering the war. But you also criticized the CPI(Maoist) for doing disservice to the resistance to state-corporate joint plunder of minerals in Jharkhand by such crimes and wanted its leadership to own up the 'command responsibility' for these acts. "However, CPI (Maoist) through such deeds does its own cause harm apart from weakening the resistance to Government's growth obsessed and FDI driven policies, which is resulting in development of underdevelopment. Instead of occupying higher moral ground for their 'people's war' Maoist combatants are showing propensity towards regression. We need to know from CPI (Maoist) if they accept the principle of command responsibility for this act? What action have they taken so far to find out who was responsible for this act which was not possible without some planning and preparation?" the PUDR statement said.
Did the party listen to your well-meaning criticism? No. Toofan, the spokesman for the Bihar-Jharkhand-North Chattisgarh special area military commission of CPI(Maoist) not only justified the booby-trapping and belly bomb but also threatened to repeat the acts in future with the singular aim to 'inflict maximum possible losses to the central forces'. The statement owning up the acts indicated that the belly bomb or 'the simple timer' was set for explosion while the body being ferried, presumably in the chopper, which carried it to Ranchi. Had it materialized as planned, the explosion and its impact would have been spectacular. No doubt, Maoists would have celebrated a befitting reply to the government's use of army choppers for ferrying troops and guns against Maoists. But one shudders to think of the casualties, mostly non-combatants if it had occurred in congested areas, particularly Ranchi hospital where the bodies were taken.
The Maoist justification followed the logic of ruthless retaliation as it cited similar atrocities by the government forces on civilians and fallen Maoists. It denied desecration of dead by likening the planting of the belly bomb with the surgical incisions that doctors make during postmortem! The middle-rung Maoist leader also denied any war crimes and made the compliance with Geneva Convention contingent upon the similar gestures from the government forces. I have not come across any release from the higher leadership denouncing the belly bombs. By now, it has become quite apparent that they have thrown aside your pleas for command responsibility and higher morality in revolutionary warfare.
Revolutionary Violence and Human Rights
Like many fabled revolutionaries from Che to Charu Mazumdar, GS, Azad or Kishenji may not have enjoyed killing at personal level but defended them as a 'historic necessity' or inevitable part of revelutionary class struggle. Though Che personally pulled the triggers in case of traitors and deserters, suspected or real, he mourned a murdered puppy after it had followed the Granma guerrillas and unwittingly put their lives at risk during an enemy encirclement (Che Guevara Reader, ed. David Deutschmann). Similarly CM rescued endangered cats at "his Calcutta shelter but did not object to the killings of petty policemen as class enemies (Antaranga Charu Mazumder, a Bengali collection).
I am not a foolhardy to think of any revolution (going by its classical sense, not the media hyperboles) without bloodshed. Also, armed sentinels against reactionary forces are a necessary guarantee for any revolutionary power, history teaches us. Nevertheless, acceptance of such axiom does not condone Maoist obsession with military means or paramount importance of violence as political strategy that led to the de-facto domination of armed squads resulting into wanton killings of political rivals of all hues and suspected police moles and other civilians. Their competitive brutalities, arbitrariness of authority and suppression of internal and external dissent in guerrilla zones or base areas have only mirrored the horror of state repression. Some of these have compelled even faithful like you to criticize them publicly.
But I found your critiques half-hearted and inconsistent in comparison to K Balagopal's fundamental positions. It's true your political-ideological convictions are poles apart as Balagopal moved away from the People’s War group in inverse proportion to your growing identification with the CPI (Maoist). One of the few original thinkers and incisive analysts in Indian human rights movement, Balagopal relentlessly fought against both the state and non-state violence, without being caught in the quandary over the choice between, the friends and conscience, half-truths and truths. Unfortunately, the Human Rights (HR) movement has become poorer by his untimely demise. But I find his observations and questions regarding Maoist violence in particular and revolutionary politics in general vis-a-vis the Indian state are highly pertinent. They deserve equally rich replies from those who are their 'diehard supporters' or friendly critics within and outside the HR movement.
In his critique of Maoist violence in its PW phase, Balagopal had articulated the age-old dilemmas in revolutionary thinking and ongoing debates in Human Rights movements over the question of state and revolutionary violence. Maintaining that the 'the HR movement is equally concerned about the physical violence and structural violence', he observed there is little philosophical difficulty in expressing simultaneous opposition to both when these 'two forms of violence are congruent with each other' helping the beneficiaries of the latter.
But the two concerns of the HR movement are at variance with each other when 'one form of violence is undertaken to purportedly get rid of another form of violence' by the rebels. "Does the HR movement defend the choice and implicitly sanction the taking of life? Or does it defend the right to life and lay itself open to the charge that it is implicitly defending or protecting structured inequity? This is a very difficult but very real dilemma," he said (Balagopal, Political violence and human rights : The case of the Naxalite Movement in AP, Voices for Change, vol 2, no 3, 1998).
While Balagopal was honest about the dilemma, he did not call it an 'ideological positioning' when one put the 'structural violence secondary to political violence', as you did. (Day and Nights, pg.197). None of us would possibly differ with you on the importance of fighting structural violence while exposing the hypocrisy of those opposing 'one type of political violence' (i.e. Maoists) but keeping mum over others. But your position statement that the 'structural violence is the most glaring form of the politics of bloodshed' denies the subtlety of structural violence that makes the struggle against it more challenging and complicated. On the other hand, it puts both the forms of violence at par and justifies the counter-violence in response, to be precise, Maoist killing of the oppressive state, its agents and props. This makes you stop at condemning the Maoist 'excesses' and 'deviations' from desired path of party-controlled violence without probing into their roots that lies in their faith in the supremacy of counter-violence as political strategy in the forms of both combat and non-combat killings, irrespective of their efficacy in mass awakening and mobilisation. No matter if the means has become an end itself.
In contrast, I found Balagopal's position refreshingly non-dogmatic and farsighted. Informed by his profound understanding of the problematic that honest activists of all hues have been facing over the means of effective mass mobilisations against the neo-liberal plunders in the name of development, he refused to be bogged down in the quagmire of the hackneyed binary of violence Vs non-violence as political strategy. Reflecting on the 'dispirited discussion on the ineffectiveness of people's movements,' he admitted the ' plain and stark fact is that while all strategies have been effective in curbing some injustice, none has succeeded in forcing the government to take back a single major policy in any sphere.' (Reflections on violence and non-violence in political movements in India, 26 January, 2009' South Asia citizens web).
Pointing to the comparative efficacy of both violent and non-violent movements in stretching up the 'limits of Indian democracy', he observed : "The naxalites—in particular the largest of them, the Maoists—are generally credited with having used strategies of violent struggle to great effect…. But looking back on nearly forty years of the naxalite movement, one is surprised how few are the important policy decisions of the State or tendencies inherent in the logic of unequal development that the naxalites have been able to stall (ibid)".
Then he delved into the problems of violence as instrument of fruitful means in fighting the structural violence. "To put it simply, you can hold a gun to a landlord's head but Special Economic Zones or the Indo-US Nuclear Deal have no head to put a gun to. This degree of simplification of the issue may be criticized as unfair, and one would readily agree that Maoist violence is not just the armed action of individual Robinhoods. Nevertheless, after dressing up this skeleton with sufficient flesh and blood to make it real, you still do not get away from the basic truth of the caricature" (ibid).
On the other hand, he also highlighted the limitations of peaceful means in view of the government's continued disregard to 'reasoned criticism' and public opinion at the gassroots, particularly when it comes to poor and dispossessed, socially and economically marginals. "Peaceful mobilisation has one advantage over violent mobilisation. A larger number of people can participate in it... It gives space for dialogue... not so much with the establishment as with society, and so the vital dimension of critique... and this is essential in any struggle against an opponent who operates in a universe of intelligent rationality. This is one reason why peaceful methods of struggle are not only morally but also politically healthier. But in terms of its effectiveness in reversing policy decisions or structural trends, peaceful methods are even more ineffective than violent methods." (ibid).
Having admitted the apparently jinxed situation, he neither ended in despair nor he espoused the 'shortcuts'. "All this combines to make strong mobilisation difficult and tempts honest activists to look for short cuts, ranging from armed action to PILs. But there are no short cuts."(ibid).
Regarding the 'Naxalite movement', he cited three justifications of their violence-elimination of an oppressive overlord to make the poor breathe freely, establishment of the limited authority of the oppressed in particular area and seizure of state power by the oppressed through their party. According to him, 'only a small fraction of the acts of violence indulged in by the Naxalites can be said to belong to the first.' "Most belong to the second and third. At these levels, it is quite difficult to assess the congruence of ends and means or the price paid and the result achieved," he observed leaving aside the old debates on ends and means for a while (ibid).
His nuanced skepticism about revolutionary violence was multi-layered. Firstly, he found that both the state and rebels 'copy a lot from each other because they set each others terms'. Secondly, their mutual'systematic and calculated violence' not only 'bleeds the society' but also 'it begins with the enemy but soon turns to the agents of the enemy within and among one's friends.' Listing landless poor, the peasants, workers and middle class as Naxalites' social base or ally he spelt out the well-known but still chilling paradox: "Yet majority, overwhelmingly of the victims of Naxalite violence belong precisely to these classes/groups" (ibid).
Thirdly, he pointed out that 'the systematic violence... creates a gap between the leaders and the led that in turn enlarges the questions... about the congruence between the ends and means'. In his effort to demystify the 'popular militancy', Balagopal said that the 'militancy is never 'popular' if that expression connotes majority participation therein' ...though on occasion... majority is supportive of it'. Further, 'it is the supporters who wily nily bear the brunt of the State's counter-attack'. He also cautioned about the 'greater evil' of 'a constant possibility... that the systematic violence from being a means to a noble end may reshape not only the ends but the agents as well in less than noble mould' (ibid).
Seizure of power
Unlike the Maoists and their supporters, he did not consider the seizure of power as the panacea for all ills. "One option then is to throw up one's hands and say that it is futile to fight an evil beyond a point while it remains in power. And that the real task is to gain political power and replace the fount of evil. This makes sense from one angle... (but) misses the point because at one level the question we are posing to ourselves is not about this society or this polity, but about democracy as such and the amenability of governance to correction by popular disapproval. To say that we need not spend too much time over this because we wish to come to power and then we will not face this problem is no answer.... if you do not know how to mobilize people in effective numbers against evil governance, how are you sure you know how to mobilize them for capture of State power?" (ibid).
Clearly, his concerns over popular mobilizations as 'means' stemmed from his commitment to democracy as the 'end' and faith in the role of flesh and blood classes and masses as the true agents of social-political changes before and after the revolutionary seizure of power.
Despite his philosophical convictions that gradually moved away from Marxism in general and Leninist principles in particular, Balagopal called non-violence 'desirable' but found it 'not always practical'. So he sought to come out of the dilemma over ends and means by seeking a 'balanced position that will do as much justice as possible to the totality of the concerns of the HR movement.' In this context, he found that 'the violence of the rebel movements is rarely as well balanced and exactly sufficient for its stated aim of establishment of justice' (ibid).
In his other writings, Balagopal opposed the death sentence, both by bourgeoisie and revolutionary people's courts on the grounds of value of human life and judgmental errors. He also found the indiscriminate killing of ordinary policemen, suspected informers as well as political rivals most reprehensible. (K Balagopal, Naxalites in AndhraPradesh/ Have we heard the Last of the Peace Talks? EPW, March 26,2005). Reflecting on ground reality in Chattisgarh, he acknowledged the widespread respect for Naxalism among all insurgencies because of its contribution to protecting the poor, especially the adivasis and dalits, from exploitation and oppression. However, he did not stop at criticizing the state-sponsored orgy of violence in the name of Salwa Judum.
He also observed that 'except the handful of paramilitary personnel and perhaps a few Maoists of Andhra Pradesh origin killed in the conflict, all dead in the last one year's violence are local advasis' (Physiognomy of Violence, EPW, June 2006). In the same article, he refused to believe that 'all the people opposing the Maoists are vested interests hurt by this widely appreciated activity of the Maoists'. He also made scathing attack on Maoists for demolishing school buildings on the ground of their occupation by state forces. We found the same kind demolitions in Jhakhand, Bihar and Junglemahal later with similar justifications.
In fact, Balagopal resonated a large section of anti-state opinion when he also questioned the Maoists that did they consult people involved in movements before switching to higher forms, i.e. armed struggle. Their refusal to discuss the lessons of Andhra rout, despite the trauma of the failed peace talks and subsequent wipe-out, is pertinent in this context.
I have not gone through Maoist leadership's reply, in any, to Balagopal. Neither have I come across your response to him, in any. It would have been interesting to know the exchanges between two of the finest minds and courageous leading lights of human rights movement in the country.
So far, what I heard from the Maoist sympathizers in human rights movement and in other fields are oft-repeated usual alibis-resistance to state terror needs to be ruthless, cruelties are inevitable in class struggle and revolution is not a banquet etc. Even if some of them express certain reservations in private, they too consider those prefer public criticism, unfriendly, if not enemy. In fact, my personal experiences taught me that a good section of Maoist supporters in the human rights movement are not at all interested in probing into the complaints of rights violations by the party and its armed squads, despite the fact that the party has become almost synonymous with the squads in the public eye. You know it better.
Nevertheless, it's unfortunate that Maoist partisans in human rights organizations tend to condone arbitrary killings by squads either as something inevitable in a war or unavoidable mistake and legitimate retaliatory actions. In many incidents, they did not feel any qualm in highlighting the government forces' atrocities while suppressing or de-linking them from the preceding attacks and killings of their men by the Maoists, which in many cases had triggered the cycle of wanton violence and violations.
They did not like those who try to interact with the affected people independently in conflict zones in order to ascertain the facts and sequences of incidents as well as know the mind of the hoi polloi on state and Maoist violence. For them, any such efforts are tantamount to espousal of 'sandwich theory' that declines to accept the complete unity of the people and party as a gospel truth. All parliamentary parties including CPM and Trinamul claim themselves as the sole agents of the people, particularly when and where they are in power. They deny independence both to the 'mute millions' as well as to those who belong to the intellectuals and civil society.
If the revolutionaries and their civil society supporters too behave in the same manner and expect unquestioning obeisance, why should we bother for fundamental changes in political culture which is an essential part of revolution worthy of its name. I have no hesitation to accept that Maoists have earned widespread support among people in their guerrilla zones by investing toil and blood for years. But that can't exempt them from independent investigation and immune to criticism, friendly or unfriendly.
One Party Rule
Notwithstanding CPI (Maoist)'s opposition to Prachanda's Path and the latest division in the Nepal party over the constitutional logjam in the fragile republic, you reminded our Maoists about Indian reality. "For Maoists to make their mark or expand politically they have to recognize that political plurality has become a hallmark of India just as much as its much-talked-of cultural diversity... they will have to respect the fact that they may become a leading force but not the only force spearheading change."
You also made distinction between Maoist base area in Dandakaranya and rest of India. 'DK had certain specificities of having been left out of the state's reckoning for centuries'. But elsewhere rural and urban poor and working class earned 'a variety of freedoms' through struggles, which are 'today under attack'. "Yet if the Maoists have to win over the working people.... will they not have to work for expanding these freedoms" (ibid).
The question of democracy, you rightly said is 'not a tactical question'. You affirmed your faith in the central question of revolutions: "Who wields political power and how is important because participatory democracy is and must be the central concern for all revolutions." Candidly, you expressed your 'doubt' that the 'Indian people will settle for anything other than democracy, not what passes for democracy but a system far superior to the one we possess today" (ibid, pg. 223).
Despite such concerns, you did not elaborate on the extent of political democracy that the organs of peoples' power in base areas in DK are offering. You just mentioned that the members of the Revolutionary People’s Committees were elected turning the bodies into 'embryonic forms of a system in which people directly participate in the making of their own lives'.
Your account of the activities of the RPCs and APRCs mentioned land distribution, efforts for cooperative farming and accounting for yield distribution etc. These are commendable moves towards economic democracy. But how much different are these forums from gram sansads or panchayat committees in official India? Does the party discuss its policies and practices—in short, its politics in these forums? Are the party and its army accountable to the people and in what form? What kind of civil and political freedom the people are enjoying there?
Does the party promote and allow free expression among people and cadres without the fear of reprisal? Does the party/army allow dissent against its rule and in what form? Do the locals have a right to form independent organizations and propagate their views if they oppose some of the RPC or APRC functionaries, even the entire party? Does the party listen to Balagopal's appeal to allow other parties to operate in Maoist-dominated areas so that the people, as he had famously felt, can 'realize the truth through their freedom'? (Balagopal, EPW, March 26, 2005)
In view of the Junglemahal experience and the party's silence on what went wrong there, I suspect both Balagopal's and your appeals fell on deaf ears. Despite the initial period of mass involvement in decision-making of the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities, its Maoist controllers gradually gagged the democracy in the movement. You yourself noted in your writings later that how they had killed, not only the CPM leaders, non-CPM social-political leaders who had either joined the PCPA or worked with it during its two-year-long hegemony. Civilians who had no known political background were also not spared, in many cases merely on the basis of suspicion.
True, neither CPM leaders nor their non-Maoist Naxalite and Jharkhandi counterparts; many of whom later switched allegiance to Trinamul, were epitomes of democratic values and impeccable integrities. Murders were not the exclusive forte of Kishenji and his faithful. Both CPM 'Harmads' and later Trinamul's 'Bhairavs' collaborated with the Centre-state joint forces to kill Maoists and PCPA leaders. Some of the Jharkhandi group leaders too joined them. Still, the fact remains that the majority of the men killed in between 2008-2011 did belong to non-Maoist political forces and their supporters. The Maoist way of the 'pest control' in Junglemahal as Kishenji used to claim, ruined the entire crop in the end. Later you described these killings, in addition to the party's opportunist alliance with the pre-poll Trinamul as great 'blunders'.
In your book, you repeatedly appealed to the party rank and file for setting 'higher ethical standard' in their self-professedly 'war of self-defence' to avoid ' the descent into regression and acceptance of every act of crime in the name of the class struggle or because the reactionary classes practise barbarism' (ibid, pg.225). Unfortunately, we have not come across any change in the party leadership's percepts and practices so far. Instead, we have witnessed the unchecked regression and reciprocal barbarity. The incidents of denial of last rites to CPM supporter Salku Soren as his dead body was left to rot for days in Lalgarh four years back and booby-trapping of slain jawans' corpses in Latehar in January this year are only two extreme examples.
But for me, these are not just silly 'mistakes' and ' crimes happen in revolutions' which you hoped that Maoists to learn from and rectify. Brutalities exhibited in neither incident were result of uncontrolled mass action or mob fury but calculated acts of party squads/ PLGA. I fear that the Maoist cult of violence, coupled with their self-righteous arrogance, impatience to gain supremacy forcibly and acute paranoia that always comes with such hurried power-grabbing revealed their deep-rooted authoritarian streaks and skin-deep commitment to the core values of democracy. In this context, I have no qualm in calling the brief Maoist rule in Junglemahal a miniature Stalinist regime like the CPM rule in Bengal. It neither essentially differed from the post-Paribartan paranoia and megalomaniac authoritarianism that succeeded the Marxists.
Maoist reports from other states and their documents available in public domain also do not reveal any signs of internal churnings over the nature of people's democracy in the light of Soviet and Chinese experiences and new trends in revolutionary experiments across the world. Instead, predominantly violent hegemony, both before and after revolution, is still their official credo.
You dealt with Maoist shortcomings with kid gloves because you shared their belief that the violent seizure of power alone makes distinction between revolutionaries and reformists. Why then you expect Maoists to ponder over the alternative policies on mining, industry, agriculture or the role of state in these sectors before they become rulers of India or at least substantial part of it? (Days and Nights/pg. 159-64)
Why do you want them to bother about the debates on desirability and feasibility of highly industrialized state socialism a la Soviet and China Vs eco-socialism based on low consumption of largely agrarian economy supported by small and medium industries in future India'?
Should not they put these concerns on the backburner since the armed seizure of power is more a pressing duty for them? If they are equally pressing tasks and the Indian left's failure to provide the alternatives beyond certain pockets is beyond dispute, why the hurry in lionizing the Maoist path as the only path? Why belittle, if not in theory but in practice, the other forces including heterogeneous people's movements and their non-party activists who are not keen on seizure of power either violently or peacefully, at least right now?
History of modern revolutions is replete with evidences that political violence orchestrated by any group/party and focused on seizure of power alone is ultimately harmful for toiling masses. It makes people passive and revolutionaries tyrants. The self-proclaimed repositories of revolutionary consciousness and subjective articulators of objective class interests, mostly the zealous political minorities who wanted to goad large section of passive masses to their desired direction. They believed it would be the inevitable course of history. Revolutionary terror always devoured its own children when this kind of minority tried to impose their will and vision of change on discordant fellow travelers. French and Russian revolutions are replete with such examples.
From Hebert of first Paris commune to Luxemburg in post-Bolshevik revolution days opposed the conspiratorial control of a coterie or party over the course of revolution. Because the latter aimed at replacing direct/participatory democracy and people's control of the revolutionary process through democratic debates in revolutionary forums like general assemblies of cacophonous citizens committees to soldier-peasant-workers Soviets as well as their armed street vigilance. F'or the former, these popular forums were not the parallel or transitional forms of people's power, which were to be subverted, undermined, controlled and finally demolished once the party gained control and moved to make its power absolute.
According to Albert Souboul, French revolutionaries were divided on the nature of revolutionary power even in 1789. Theorist-activists like Sieyes and Hebert stood for a collective dictatorship of an assembly and for others like Marat stood for a dictator or a tribune of people. Marat justified the violence against ancien regime but hesitated over the choice of the dictatorship: by plebiscite or dictatorship of a revolutionary minority. Hebert and others known as 'Sans-Culottes' espoused libertarian 'spontaneity' and popular sovereignty or direct democracy in contrast to representative democracy, the base of Jacobin dictatorship by the Robespierrists.
"The revolutionary practice of Sans-culottism was no less original and specific. Two essential principles guided the political action of the popular masses for whom violence constituted the last recourse. First there was publicity [openness], safeguard of the people, with its corollary of revolutionary surveillance... next there was unity founded on the unanimity of sentiments and convictions that permitted united action to be achieved and thus appeared as an essential factor of success. From these principles came a certain number of practices through which the specificity of the popular movement was affirmed, but these practices placed the popular movement in irremediable opposition to even revolutionary bourgeoisie". (Albert Souboul, Understanding the French Revolution, People’s Publishing House).
For Hebertists, fraternity among people was not an abstract virtue, 'but a warm feeling, an almost physical sensation of popular unity' that came from thinking and acting 'en masse' (ibid). It is another matter that Robespierre and his followers won the day and ultimately paved the ways for Bonaparte and his apologists.
In another era, Luxemburg hailed Bolshevik revolution but opposed Lenin and Trotsky on revolutionary terror, the nature of proletarian dictatorship and socialist democracy. Criticizing the ' rule by terror which demoralizes', she insisted on 'dictatorship of class, not of a party or a clique... that means in the broadest possible form on the basis of the most active, unlimited participation of the mass of the people, of unlimited democracy'. (Russian Revolution: The Problem of Dictatorship, www.marxists. org/archive/luxemburg)
For her, 'this dictatorship consists in the manner of applying democracy not in its elimination' . She stood for 'representative bodies by general, popular elections' as she felt that 'without general elections, without unrestricted freedom of press and assembly, without a free struggle of opinion, life dies out in every public institutions, becomes a mere semblance of life, in which only the bureaucracy remains as the active element'.
She was aware that no democratic institution was everlasting and an end in itself. "To be sure, every democratic institution has its limits and shortcomings, things which it doubtless shares with all other human institutions. But the remedy which Trotsky and Lenin have found, the elimination of democracy as such, is worse than the disease it is supposed to cure; for it stops up the very living source from which alone can come [sic] correction of all the innate shortcomings of social institutions. That source is the active, untrammeled, energetic political life of the broadest masses of the people.'' (RR : On Constituent Assernbly same source). It was, in short, her dream of 'socialization of revolution through socialization of society'.
On organizational principles too, she criticized the 'night-watchman spirit of ultra-centrism championed by Lenin and his friends' since 1905 despite her profourd respect for the leaders of Bolshevik revolution (Organizational Questions of the Russian Revolution/libcom.org).
Almost a century later, we realized how painfully prophetic were her words of cautions.
In the meantime, late bourgeois world has made the jobs of the holy shepherds immensely difficult and complex, both in imperialist Europe and its former colonies. Hundreds of its hypocrisy and structural violence notwithstanding, parliamentary democracy have given most of the people a test of social-political plurality, choice of their rulers who sometimes voice toilers' concerns. In contrast, the socialist states of all hues neither promoted class-based direct/participatory grassroots democracy after the communist parties consolidated their power. Nor did they allow political plurality and genuine representative democracy at the top.
In spite of the epochal achievements and potentials of first socialist revolution, the underbelly of Leninist vanguardism and its Stalinist deformity (whether or not the logical conclusion of the former) largely shaped the totalitarian bureaucratic states in the name of socialism. The miscarriage of Mao's dream that resulted in a monstrous Chinese state capitalism under one-party rule today, the heaven of neo-liberal economy at the expense of working class, farmers, women and ecologyis closer to our time. Neither any conspiracy theory can explain these debacles nor can any hackneyed old-school polemics on deviations from the holy books explore fresh ways of redemptions.
On the other hand, we have seen the experiments in 21st century socialism (Brazil, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nepal) that tries to mix parliamentary and grassroots democracy advocating strong anti-imperialist, pro-poor policies. Also, there are rich and equally controversial anarchist / anarcho-syndicalist (from Spanish civil war to Argentine barrios / Picadaro movement to Occupy Wall Street) traditions and indigenous autonomy movements (Zapatistas). Juries are still out what they achieved and failed. The debates are raging on cost-benefit ratio of the top-down and from-the-below revolutionary courses as well as vertical Vs horizontal organization forms. But no serious student of history and practitioner of socialist politics can ignore these new experiments.
All these experiences have huge and direct bearing on India, both in the context of path to revolution and the future state and society. Informed by Gramscian and subsequent critical Marxist studies on late bourgeoisie world, I am still looking for paradigm shifts in revolution making. The discourses on Indian revolution should no more be confined to the hackneyed binary of 'permanent postponement of revolution' by the parliamentary Left on the pretext of immature objective conditions and revolutionary Left's 'overemphasis on guerilla actions' meant to spark off the proverbial prairie fire. It demands more on the intellectual honesty, agility and ability of the leadership of all the communist parties in India in order to churn up new ideas about the ends and the means, strategies and tactics to ensure mass support and action, to win friends and isolate the enemies, both politically and militarily. But nothing substantially encouraging has come out so far.
On the question of violence, I agree that the extent of physical violence needed in the destruction of the old state and its social-political props depend on the response of the state, its armed forces and private armies of its stakeholders. But defining aspects of a revolutionary party must not be its military muscle but ideo-political appeals and synergy with the masses. It must promote and practice mainly non-coercive methods to achieve hegemony on public opinion. Innovative and sustained moves on this front will ensure popular mobilization of flesh and blood revolutionary classes and masses. A clear mechanism for people's control on the revolutionary party and its army must be in place before and after the revolution. The leadership's accountability must be ensured through genuinely democratic structures of people's power where they will exercise the right to recall their representatives. Plurality of political forces, even of parties and mass organizations representing sections of working class and other people have to be accepted and ensured structurally.
I believe intellectual support to this kind of paradigm shifts is growing even in regimented parties and their supporters in India. Despite his faith in the armed means, Bernard de Mello in his write up on your book made passionate pleas for libertarian socialism (Sanhati.com). His call for creation of urban occupation bases a la French Maoists of the sixties was anchored in Gramscian notion of hegemony. Also Kobad Ghandy's quest for new meaning of freedom (Questions of Freedom and People’s Emancipation, Mainstream weekly, August 2012-January 2013) showed the same libertarian Marxist underpinning. These indicated clearly that renewal of ideological appeal of Maoist movement in urban India needs massive intellectual morphing and template changes. Or else, is the huge gulf between our collective memories and attainment of our dreams, despite both being powerful instruments in igniting the motor of history. But is the party ready to come out of its myopia?
A quote from a recent article in Irish Left Review on Syriza movement in Greece, courtesy a Canada-based veteran activist, may sum up the task of communists today—broaden and redeem left politics, come up with the new ideas of resistance and nurture democratic political culture and make revolutions in revolutions.
"For me, Syriza is synthesis. It is a convergence of the old and new left. Within that, it is a convergence of diverse old left traditions, which were once so divergent, as well as various new left forces. Gathered up into Syriza are ex-CP communists, Trotskyites, Maoists and left social democrats as well as independent leftists, feminists, ecologists, alter globalization activists and indignados. This is particularly meaningful to me, because I have been part of both the old and new left.... It represents a critical continuity with that history along with a radical openness to a different future.
I believe in a politics that makes the long march through all the institutions of society. This includes electoral politics, but not in a myopic fixation on parliaments. It struggles for power and creates alternative structures in the streets, workplaces, schools, universities, media, and arts. I see Syriza as oriented to this kind of politics, seeing their presence in parliament as part of a wider social movement. It is even bringing in those in new movements who are skeptical about state power, seeing it as so limited, so subordinate to capital, so controlled by oligarchy, and persuading them that states still have some power and that the state must be a site of struggle. They envision governing in such a way as to combine horizontal and vertical power, both representative and direct democracy. They are attuned to the demands of the historical moment, requiring the left to surpass itself."
I am not aware enough about the Greek ground reality to comment on whether revolutionary seizure of power by Syriza forces, is desirable, possible and sustainable by the working population and their parties instead of powers-sharing. But I am only focussing on political potent of the broad-based radical politics. I am aware that there are differences between those anarchists and social autonomists who suspect all states and those Marxists who still believe their state will be the El Dorado.
The latter accept the existing state as a 'site of struggle' but only among the ruling classes. For them, it is a system completely alien to the people, a mere instrument of violence, both structural and physical against poor and minorities, irrespective of historical specificities of the state formations and functions. They believe that all the arms of the prevalent state work in tandem conspiratorially and efforts to make them sites of struggle would invariably lead to parliamentary revisionism and opportunism.
They dismiss any notion of relative autonomy of some of its institutions and individuals involved like judiciary as the 'trap of bourgeoisie legalism' but demand the unequivocal rule of the state's law and seek protection from the courts at the same time. In evangelical spirit, they believe and propagate that their state will be a truly people's state where there won't be any difference between the governments and governed, leaders and led, people and their representatives. There won't be any gulf between the lawmakers/enforcers/courts on one hand and law-abiders and breakers on the other in their state structure since all power will be in the people’s hands, although through the agency of the party and its state. Neither there will be institutional violations of people’s rights since there will be no violator any more.
The dream of such a secular heaven has been shattered long back. I don't believe in it anymore. There is growing recognition about the home truths even in the old-styled communist camps-that socialist states were also coercive states that trampled poor people's rights and imposed a leviathan on their lives. That the seizure of power alone can't ensure revolutionary transformation of a bourgeois state into a people's state. The stark truth remains that any state is a coercive state irrespective of its drivers.
Secondly, on economic front too, the lessons are no less painful and harsh. We learnt that revolutionary states also faced blockades and subversion by the controllers of global capital and compromised in many situations like their nationalist and state socialist variations. That like other postcolonial states in global south, they too need capital for industrialization and social sector spending but can't manage it on their own since they have no colony for predatory accumulation or oil reserves like Chavez's Venezuela. Or the revolutionaries have to abandon the Universalist project of stagiest social progress through industrialized/militarized/centralized state formations and think of the alternatives.
The question is whether these home truths have sunk in the minds of Maoist leadership and most of their sympathizers in the civil society. If not, I am afraid, import of your appeal to the leadership to rectify their 'woeful lack of respect to those who differ', will not dawn on them. Because, their 'intolerance', which is also a source of their 'political weaknesses' that you cautioned about, stems from their refusal to accept the revolutionary problematic and ponder over them.
No doubt, Naxalites since the days of, Naxalibari movement and the CPI (Maoist) as the inheritor of its 'spiritual legacy' (as Sumanta Banerjee observed and you quoted him) have earned people's respect in several parts of the country for their selfless sacrifice, devotions and commitment to the poorest of the poor and oppressed.
In a country where the goons, rapists, murderers, corrupt usurpers, exploiters and filthy riches populate majority of the political class and the elections become the carnivals- for the thugs and frauds, moneybags and horse traders, soothsayers and Charlatans, manipulators and wedge-drivers- such idealism and courage of conviction will always evoke admiration and empathy. The Naxalite movement's moral appeal in the society has been much larger than our collective political impact and much lesser organizational presence.
But such public adulation neither allows the followers of the generic politics nor its specific strand to bask under the self-righteous vainglory. Particularly, when the lessons from the legacy are highly contested still today, both among its practitioners as well as its critics.
Secondly, the larger ground reality points to the popular acceptance of the present Indian state and its supportive 'national' and regional political forces in varying degrees including the parliamentary Left. Only an honest admission of the collective failure of all shades of Lefts to influence millions outside our small pockets can make us less arrogant, more introspective and tolerant. Only this can stop them from claiming that all questions regarding Indian revolution have been settled.
In this context I remember that you urged the Maoists to consider other Lefts to consider 'force-multiplier' and win over them in order to become the leader of Indian revolution. But there is no dearth of such claimants and the verdict should be left to the people. True, Maoists have emerged as the 'biggest threat' to Indian state in military terms and spread to nine states. But the continued gloating over this recognition by the enemy as the proof of the correctness of their path will be suicidal.
They must get the credit for catapulting the issue of tribal dispossessions at the political centre-stage of Indian developmental discourse and gaining widespread support from these most oppressed communities. But still they have no noteworthy base among working class, large section of urban poor and middle class, dalits and minorities. If the leadership thinks that the party's political- social isolation as well as its absence in rest of the country can be undone only through the extension of the areas of armed struggle and supportive urban infiltration, they are horribly mistaken. In a vast, complex, fractured and uneven country like India, can a single party or force claim popular support from all sections of the masses across the land even if they command respect in distant corners?
So far, we have found that Maoist talks of flexibility and openness to friendly criticism are largely tactical and unconvincing. Frankly, I found it similar to CPM's public admission of follies and rectification campaign following its electoral drubbings in Bengal and Kerala. In fact, they share the CPM's big brotherly arrogance. All gestures of openness end whenever others question their respective claims to the leadership of left and democratic forces. Yes, others are not paragons of virtues. But the experiences showed that communists' intolerance had been the worst stumbling block for any genuine, broad-based and united people’s movements.
Vol. 46, No. 13-16, Oct 6 - Nov 2, 2013
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