‘Violence and Marxism, Marx to Mao’

Asis Ranjan Sengupta

The Book (containing 190 pages), VIOLENCE AND MARXISM, MARX TO MAO, by Dr Rustam Singh, published by Aakar Books, Delhi (Price Rs 495/-), deals with a burning and yet unresolved issue in the domain of Socialist movement worldwide.

This is basically a thesis submitted for PhD, and obviously has the flavour of Academic discourse. But when published as a Book, must be admitted that it has successfully transcended the bounds of what is merely Academic, and becomes a valuable work. The Author admitted that he made some changes in the text to make it what it is now. At the preface he acknowledged debts to such erudite Marxist Scholars like, Prof Bhupinder S Brar (to whom he dedicates the book), and Prof Sudipta Kaviraj and Prof Randhir Singh.

The controversy over the role of violence in social and political revolution gained momentum after the death of Engels. Bernstein, Kautsky and Rosa Luxemburg, all provided different answers. Bernstein argued there was no need for launching violent struggle to capture power. Kautsky challenged him and argued for working class participating in democratic reforms, and wait till the situation is ripe for capture of state power. Rosa agreed with Kautsky, but differed that the working class need not wait for time to ripe but start struggle immediately. After the Sino-Soviet split by 1960 the Soviet doctrine of peaceful transition to socialism gained ground. Marx and Engels were primarily thinkers, whereas, Lenin and Mao were primarily activists who engaged in theoretical exercise just to solve and clarify immediate questions of strategy and tactics. Even today worldwide one finds two distinct forms of communist movement. One, the liberal stream who shun the violent path altogether and follow the path of legal and formal route, while the other resort to violent armed struggle as the sole method and abandon the official way totally. But the Author has not entered into the current affairs, as he restricts his discourse only from Marx to Mao, and not beyond.

The Book is subdivided into four chapters. Chapter one deals with the purely theoretical aspect of Marxism, from the works of Marx and Engels, Lenin and Mao. At the general theoretical level, Marx and Engels believed that a violent socialist revolution was inevitable. The struggle between bourgeoisie and the proletariat revolves round the issue of private property, the nature of proletariat is such that it is compelled to abolish private property. As the private property heads to its own destruction, the proletariat becomes the instrument of such destruction. This drives the proletariat to revolt against private property, and such act culminates in 'action of annihilation', hence the inevitability of violent nature of revolution. The Bourgeoisie will never concede to the proletariat, and resort to violence in defence of their privilege, so there is no way other than violent clashes. In 1920-21 the English Philosopher Bertrand Russell visited China and advised that communists could attain their goal through education and persuasion. But Mao objected, "This is all very well theory, but infeasible in practice". Mao maintained, "The Bourgeoisie would never hand over power of their own accord but will resort to violence, the Communist Party may adopt the slogan of peaceful transition, as defensive or tactical weapon, but finally to seize power by armed force."

The alternate view always existed in a subdued manner in the writings and pronouncements of both Marx and Engels. About the question of peaceful means, Engels wrote in the 'Principles of Communism', "It is desired that this could happen, the Communists would be the last to resist it". On the question of 'universal suffrage' Marx in 1852 observed, ‘the carrying of universal suffrage in England, would, therefore be a far more socialistic measure than anything which has been honoured with that name in the continent’. Marx here points out the difference between the conditions of Britain with the continent. But this statement does not clearly spell out whether universal suffrage would necessarily mean the abandonment of violent method of struggle. Again in September 1871, in a statement on the resolution of London conference of the First International, declining Bakuninist doctrine of adherence to normal political activity, Marx said, "the governments are opposed to us, we must answer them with all the means that are at disposal... we will proceed peacefully but also by force of arms, whenever it may be necessary". But immediately after Hague conference of the First International in 1872, Marx made the following remark on September 8, "We know of allowances we must make for the institutions, customs and traditions of the various countries, and we do not deny that there are countries such as America, England, and I would add Holland if I knew your institutions better, where the working people may achieve their goal by peaceful means!" Again in September 1872, he said, "....the peaceful development could quickly change into a violent one through a rebellion by those with a stake in the old order".

But Lenin and Mao believed that Bourgeois parliamentary institutions could not be a vehicle for the transformation of the society. Mao said that legal struggle, utilising parliament, organising trade unions, and educating workers can serve the purpose only of preparing the workers for the impending violent struggle. Lenin characterised Parliament as an instrument of bourgeois oppression and of limited historical importance to the proletariat." In 1917, Lenin appeared to be updating the observations of Marx and Engels, as after the world war, the world situation underwent a rapid change, and the possibility of any peaceful means became obsolete, as world capitalism fundamentally departed from its democratic values and traditions, and 'universal suffrage' was nothing more than an instrument of bourgeois rule. In 'State and Revolution', he clearly asserted that the Bourgeoisie could not be overthrown without use of violence, "Force is the midwife of a new birth". So, Marx and Engels opined that the proletariat could make use of the bourgeois democratic institutions as instruments of change, but violence may be inevitable whenever struggle may drag for indefinite period in absence of such situation, and there may also be a situation when a revolutionary situation may pass by unutilised in the absence of a revolutionary party and struggle. The success of Lenin was that he analysed the situation properly, seized the right ripe opportunity and struck with a party under true leadership and organisation.

And further, the utility of violence is not over with the seizure of state power, the dictatorship of the proletariat was to be used not only to eliminate the bourgeoisie and the landlords violently, but also to neutralise the non -bourgeois, non-landlord classes, who would oppose in any way the interest of the proletariat for whatever reasons, such was Lenin's view and practice.

In China, (Fourth Chapter) Mao was closer to Lenin than Marx and Engels in so far as he believed that ultimately violent revolution was inevitable even in societies with Bourgeois Parliamentary institutions. Mao believed that in predominantly feudal countries like China, the revolution must turn violent because the unremitting oppression under feudal conditions will force the mass to react in a violent manner, and the power of feudal forces was so deeply entrenched that it could not be overthrown without violence. But in one respect Mao differed from Lenin. Whereas for Lenin, it was a full-scale imperialist war that exacerbated the inevitability of a violent reaction, for Mao even the presence of imperialist political or military forces was sufficient to create a situation which left no option with the socialists except waging a violent struggle. The path of Mao must be different from that of Lenin, as he described the state character of China as semi-feudal and semi-colonial, so he presented the theory of 'people's democratic revolution' as a precursor to ushering in the Bourgeois democratic transformation of Chinese society for ready transition to socialism.

In May 1927, during the Kuomin-tang regime, the peasants organised under CPC, started confiscating the land of Landlords and started reforms. Mao who stayed there, found the peasants arresting, humiliating, and murdering whom they called 'local tyrants and evil gentry', looting their houses, killing animals, "doing whatever they like and turning everything upside down, they created a kind of terror in the countryside". Mao noted approvingly, "This was some people called 'going too far', or 'exceeding the limit in righting a wrong' or 'really too much'. Such talk may sound plausible, but it was wrong, firstly because the lawless landlords, had themselves driven the peasants to this desperate state,... for ages they had used their power to tyrannise... the peasants and trample them underfoot". That is why, according to Mao, "why the peasants reacted so strongly and sharply". According to him, "the most violent revolts invariably occurred in places where landlords had perpetrated worst outrages, and without using the greatest force, the peasants could not possibly overthrow deep rooted authority of the landlords, which lasted for thousands of years". Justifying the execution cases, Mao observed, "There is revolutionary significance in all the actions labelled as exceeding limits...... the execution of one big landlord reverberates through the whole country and very effective in eradicating the remaining evils of feudalism........ is the only effective way of suppressing the reactionaries is to execute at least a few... who are guilty of most heinous crime...... now that the peasants have arisen and created just a little terror, in suppressing the counter revolutionaries, but what with indiscriminate killing of innocent peasants by the landlords? (Report on the investigation of peasant movement in Human, Selected works, volume I, pp 28-29)
In 1930, while writing his famous sentence "political power grows out of barrel of gun" Mao added, "our principle is party command the gun, and gun must never be allowed to command the party". (Problem of War and Strategy, Selected Works, volume II, pp 224-25) The latter sentence has often been under emphasised, even overlooked, while quoting the first, thus giving a false impression of Mao's strategy..

"All things grow out of the barrel of a gun", Mao wrote, "Experience in the class struggle in an era of imperialism teaches us that it is only by the power of the gun that working class and the labouring masses can defeat the armed bourgeoisie and the landlords; in this sense we may say that only with the gun the whole world can be transformed. We are advocates of the abolition of war, but war can only be abolished through war and to get rid of the gun it is necessary to take up the gun". (Problems of War and Strategy, selected works volume II, pp. 224-225). Regarding relationship between politics and war, Mao observed, any tendency..... to belittle politics by isolating war from it and advocating the idea of war as an absolute, is wrong and should be corrected". (On Protracted War, Selected Works volume II, pp. 153). Another pertinent aspect of Mao's views on captured enemy soldiers, traitors, etc. should be dealt with, in an interview with British Journalist James Bertram, Mao replied, "We shall go on lenient treatment to captured Japanese soldiers, and to those captured junior officers who fought us under coercion, we shall not insult or abuse them, but shall set free after explaining to them the identity of interests of the people of two countries. Those who do not go back, may serve in the communist army".

In 1951-52, Mao asked the party "to strike, surely, accurately and relentlessly the reactionaries and counter revolutionaries. But the persons to be killed must be kept within certain proportions, after examination of the list of persons to be arrested or executed..... but those who deserve death penalty must be eliminated........ wrong executions to be avoided...... they must be the persons who owed blood debts, or whose death is demanded by the people.....but those whose crime does not warrant death penalty should be sentenced to various prison terms and put under public surveillance...... for minor offences, the guilty should only be criticised and educated..... but in major offences, the guilty, should be sentenced to prison terms, to be reformed through labour, and worst among them to be shot". (Be Activists in Promoting Revolution, Selected Works, Volume-V, pp 50-54, 1991).

So all this was Mao's views, policy and strategy, in respect of the role of violence in people's war. But evidently Mao moderated his extreme views in later life, particularly on the issue of minority communities, and question of Tibet, its people and culture. What comes out finally is, that neither Marx-Engels nor Lenin -Mao encouraged anarchy in the name of revolution. Violence, for them, was a tool of socialist revolution, and the purpose of that is to overthrow Bourgeois regime and breaking of autocratic and tyrannical institutions. Street fights, terrorism, execution, all can be revolutionary if organised and guided by proper ideology, with exercise of necessary restraints. It would be the task of the revolutionary party to orchestrate them into one striking note. Otherwise, stray violence, act of isolated terror, vengeance killing, bloodshed for the sake of itself, even though might be outbursts of public rage, must be purposeless, and as such cannot be taken for granted as samples of revolutionary violence.

Prof J Singh started in the preface by stating that the present project was an extension of the project "Roots of violence : jive, Life and other things", so, he got fascinated with the ideology of' violence in Marx, Engels, Lenin, Mao. 'In the concluding chapter, the Author winds up with the works of later and current thinkers on the topic. Among them, works of K R Popper (The Open Society and its Enemies), Ralph Milband (Marxism and Politics), Daniel Bell (The Coming of Post Industrial Society),James Petras (Retreat of Intellectuals), James Petras and Morris Morley (Latin America : Poverty of Democracy and Democracy of Poverty, EPW, July 27) find mention. In a drastically changed, by phenomenal flourish of technology, like information and Communication, and growth of Neo-Liberal Capitalism under Neo-Colonial Imperialism, hitherto unknown, but the basic structure of Capital as analysed by Marx, centuries back, remaining more or less the same, surely the validity of orthodox Marxian doctrine of violence, as practiced by Lenin or Mao, deserves a thorough relook.

This Book is a product of painstaking research, in-depth study, and hard work over a period of time. The end product is a comprehensive and exhaustive analysis of a subject which may not otherwise be regarded as so wide or broad. The text may at times seems monotonous, repetitive, and a bit digressive, but at the end, leaves an impression of unified whole, without much loose end left. The otherwise high serious subject has been presented in a good and lucid prose, in a well structured narrative arrangement. This Book is a must read for students and scholars of History, Political Science, Social Psychology and for those who are interested in the past, present and future of Marxian socialist revolution, particularly in an age when capitalism is in deep crisis, and socialist movements are in a matching state of degeneration, ('end of era', theory gaining ground ) globally.

The third chapter concentrates on Lenin's interpretation and implementation of the Marxian doctrine of capturing state power in the Russian context. Marx and Engels appeared to believe that socialist revolution would assume a violent form in societies in which the Bourgeoisie had become the predominant class in economic sphere but Bourgeois democratic institutions were totally or partially absent or lacked entrenchment. In such states, the feudal and monarchical classes still control the political structure or retain enough power. Lenin was in conformity with Marx and Engels, in so far as the necessity of the violent nature of revolution in an authoritarian state is concerned. But he differs from them that in that he does not attribute the authoritarian nature of the state only to the absence of or lack of entrenchment of Bourgeois democratic institutions. But Lenin regards those institutions themselves, as authoritarian. So, it follows that a violent revolution is inevitable in an authoritarian state.

The Publisher deserves thanks for presenting the Book in a fair hard bound international standard Edition wrapped in an attractive cover, quality pages, and flawless smart print. This reviewer strongly recommends the inclusion of the worthy Book in all the Libraries anywhere in the world, be it individual, private or public.

Vol. 49, No.12, Sep 25 - Oct 1, 2016