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A few letters from the Spring Thunder-time

Farooque Chowdhury

Sudeb, a young revolutionary walking along the path of proletarian revolution, was shot at and beaten to death by jotedar’s [owner of a large farm landholding or a de facto sub-proprietor, often with land leased out to sharecroppers] henchmen at Keshpur, Midnapur in June 1970, said press reports. Sudeb’s father wrote:
“Let no other father face the terrible task of having to recall the memories of a son after his death.…
“In his [Sudeb’s] opinion, the hour of revolution had already arrived, and to stand by at that moment was sheer stupidity.…
“Sudeb had another trait in his character – a stern and unalterable dedication to ideals….
“[H]e gained much affection and esteem … among the illiterate, hungry, innocent and oppressed peasantry …
“Not affection and esteem alone, he was able to win their hearts and minds with his love…. He mixed with the peasants, identified with their joys and sorrows, lived like them in every way, and became one of them….
“It seems he went towards his death with full knowledge, awareness and declaration…. He gave up his home for his revolutionary effort to remove the suffering of the oppressed. Revolution was his singular concern.” (“A Naxalite who died”, in Samar Sen, Debabrata Panda, Ashish Lahiri, Naxalbari and After, a Frontier anthology, vol. I, Kathashilpa, Calcutta, now, Kolkata, June 1978; Frontier from Kolkata carried this and other letters cited below.)

In a letter to his grandma, aunt and elder sister, Sudeb suggested:
“[Reflect] about those poor people, who have taken up arms to demand the right to live as [human being]”.

There’s no ambiguity that Sudeb and his comrades, political fighters in the ranks of the Spring Thunder-camp, were standing with the exploited. Sudeb depicted the situation he was living in:
“[T]he sleeping, exploited masses are waking up…. The hungry masses of this land are fighting…. A single spark of Naxalbari has lighted a prairie fire in the whole of Bharatbarsha [India]. In that fire will be burnt to death the rich, all those who built their palaces on loot, on the blood of the poor…. The world is changing. It will change further.” (“Sudeb’s letter”, in Sen, Panda, Lahiri, op. cit.)

Standing with the exploited is standing against backward ideas. No backward idea propagates to change existing exploitative relations. This fundamental position should not be blurred today as a group of today’s “right”-mongers keep silent on the question of existing property relations and the task of changing these relations while they drive their pens for a group of marginalized.  

Days of the class warriors put behind bars were full of cruelty. Mandakini Narayanan wrote from Calicut, Kerala on December 8, 1973:
“On November 15, I met Ajitha for the first time after a break of nearly one year. She was … transferred to the Trivandrum Jail.
“I had an interview with her for half an hour in presence of the jailor, surrounded by most of the jail staff. She is in high spirits in spite of the enhanced life sentence given by the High Court. But her living condition is grueling. She is completely isolated from other jail inmates … Moreover, she is under strict watch, so much so that even if she goes for washing or to the toilet, she is followed.… Her morning food comprises steam-boiled wheat balls, very hard to digest even for a healthy person in a normal condition … Her face was swollen due to … bile and I could presume that her health must have been shattered. I believe that comrades at the Cannanore Central Jail must be experiencing the same cruel life…. I am writing this to keep you informed of the ‘special’ treatment given to Ajitha, one of the best proletarian daughters of Kerala as well as Gujrat. I am writing this not only as the mother of Ajitha but as her proletarian mother.” (“‘Special’ treatment”, in Sen, Panda, Lahiri, op. cit.)

Class warriors of those days were steadfast, brave. They had no illusion about class character of state they stood against. They also knew the meaning of state machine. “Gopal Majumder, editor of the weekly Deshabrati [the Baanglaa organ of the Communist Party of India (M-L)], who was arrested in April 1970, is now facing trial … He has not engaged any lawyer for his defence. It has been observed that Majumder is being produced before the magistrate with bar fetters and hand-cuffs on every occasion. Some advocates, suo moto pointed out this gross violation of the law to the magistrate but it appears that he has not bothered to take any action in this regard so far…. No action appears to have been taken by the magistrate so far. This is how political prisoners are being treated even in a court of law in ‘the world’s largest democracy’.” (“In fetters”, in Sen, Panda, Lahiri, op. cit.)

The struggle of the poor in those days gained support from many quarters. “On August 15, on the 27th anniversary of India’s independence about 300 academicians and intellectuals from many parts of the world joined to express their deep concern and protest over the way the government of India has been suppressing political dissent in the country and depriving a large number of people of their basic human, political, and legal rights.” The signatories included: Simone de Beauvoir, Lasse & Lisa Berg, Dr. C Bettelheim, Dr. Malcolm Caldwell, Dr. Paresh Chattopadhyay, Dr. Noam Chomsky, Dr. Jonathan Fast, Dr. Tudor Hart, Felix Greene, Elliot Kanter, Dr. Harry Magdoff, Dr. Gail Omvedt, Dr. Joan Robinson, Dr. Mark Seldon, Dr. Amartya Sen, Dr. Paul Swezy, Dr. Thomas E Weisskopf. (Hari P Sharma, “Behind bars: How long”, in Sen, Panda, Lahiri, op. cit.)

The fighters standing with the poor masses exemplified courage and sacrifice. Mary Tyler wrote to Sati, a prisoner in the days of the Spring Thunder, on May 21, 1977:
“It is you who have taught them the meaning of Comrade. And though we are separated, though they have taken [you] from us the closeness born of constant contact in adversary, it is comradeship which keeps you thinking of me, and me of you.
“Do you still get fevers from the beating, aching from the torture scars, dizziness from the damage their blows did to your ears? I can see you picking the stones and husks and straw out of their filthy rice before you force yourself to eat a few mouthfuls, pushing aside the blackish dal [lentil soup] and rotten curry. I hear you talking about your old mother, the father who died without your seeing him, your brothers, your own daughter, last seen years ago. Do you ever get news of your dear ones, living so near, hardly twenty miles away and yet too poor to pay the fare (and the bribe) to visit you – and too afraid? Do you still think about the future, about the dangers of returning to your village, about the landlord’s men waiting to get their revenge for the trouble you caused them by urging the poor to stand up to them? Do you manage to get word of your husband, confined within the same walls as yourself, yet out of sight and reach?”

With a few questions, Mary Tyler describes condition of the exploited people:
“What is today’s crisis? Which child is sick and getting no medicine? Which of the old women is wheezing? Which of the young ones suffering from open wounds and sores which the ‘doctor’ dismisses as something quite natural for the poor to suffer from?”

Condition of the political prisoners is told by Mary Tyler as she continues the letter:
“Are you still managing to bear the nightmare nights, locked, so many of you, in your cage of heat, noise, disease and stench, unable to move, to twist or turn without disturbing your equally uncomfortable neighbors? Is your throat dirty, your burning body stinking because there is a water shortage, or has it rained and left the leaking roof to swamp your cell, blankets, clothes, everything? Are you still longing for a few quiet minutes to call your own? … How about the jail ‘babus’ [here, the officials]? Are they still making you work for them, grinding chillies, till your eyes sting, turning the grindstone till every bone in your body aches, squatting in the burning sun over the fire, roasting their chick-peas (or, I should say, your chick-peas, for [those] are stolen from the prisoners) and making their ‘chhatu’ [grind chick-pea]? Are they still forcing you to ‘sell’ your soap ration at a quarter of market prices and pretending they are doing it as a favor to you? …. Telling, you should count yourselves lucky that their government is giving you food and shelter, contemptuous of you as of flies on the wall?”

She recollects her experience:
“Yes, my dear Sati, I am sure that you have heard the cries of beaten comrades from across the wall many more times since I left, that many more corpses have passed in front of the gate, that you have shed tears for your fellow prisoners …”

A noble lesson is reiterated in the letter:
“And you taught me that to end the cruelty, one has to suffer injustices and cruelty. And ignoring heat and cold, sickness and suffering, one has to march onward, in every situation.” (“Letter to a former cell-mate”, in Sen, Panda, Lahiri, op. cit.)

The spirit of Naxalbari was liberation: liberation from exploitation. The spirit of Naxalbari was reconstruction of an archaic society, which is failing to deliver equity and equality, justice and rights, access and progress – the essentials of life; and the question of life is not related to human life, it’s wide, it encompasses all forms of life. Exploitation deforms life, demolishes life, obstructs progress. One of the aims of humanity is to form a better form of society, which doesn’t harbor exploitation, neither of human nor of nature, which doesn’t shackle possibilities human development; and as feudal, semi-feudal, capitalist systems stand against these endeavors because of their interests, Naxalbari’s aim was to oppose these, to smash down these. This is the logic behind the rising of the downtrodden. With these aims and endeavors, the downtrodden took up the task on behalf of all the people in the society. This broader aspect is not spelled out, is not affirmed most of the time while discussions on Naxalbari goes on. Most of the discussions are concentrated only on issues of strategic and tactical flaws. Carrying on discussions, reviews and debates on the strategic and tactical errors are an imperative task. But, it doesn’t justify ignoring achievement, significance and implication of the political endeavor; neither is justified ignoring the role the downtrodden classes have played/are playing for social advancements while the propertied classes are hindering the society’s forward movement. These are known to all. Today’s young generation is also aware of these facts. Despite this, these facts are to be told and re-told, affirmed and re-affirmed. A look at the tact of the propertied classes provides opportunity to learn from the propertied class. Sell outs, betrayals, working as lackey of many of the leaders of the propertied classes are depicted with a diametrically opposite face and color; its tactics of betrayals are sold out with a different name; and their same commodity of lies and betrayals are sold out with new packs. These classes are able to sale their same rotten, failed “products” – politics full with failure and hollow promises – for years and years. Amazingly, these, the commodities of lies, don’t sound cliché – neither to tax payers, whose consent is required to secure the rule, nor to the scholars. Efficiency indeed!    

But, sacrifices and achievements the downtrodden and exploited classes have made so far for the country go untold, un-affirmed, unsung. Telling of these is required not to boast them, but to learn from these acts. For example, the Naxalbari: it was an output of an attempt to wage a theoretical debate, formulate a theory, and begin work in an area instead of keeping eternally busy with debates; it was basically opposite to turning self into a ceaseless chatter box. It was sticking with a work, pay for it, even if the price is supreme sacrifice – a style mostly absent today among a group of slogan-mongers.  

Graame Chalo (Let’s Go to the Villages, a literal translation), a Baanglaa novelette by Sarna Mitra, pen name of a famous film director, from Paschim Banga, depicts a part of the days of and characters from the flaming Seventies. Raghoo is one of the characters organizing the rural poor. A group of reviewers of the GC finds a lot of flaws, mistakes, errors and deviations in the novelette while to another, it’s a nice depiction. The former group tries to find failures of Charu Majumdar’s line in the work, which to a part of them is not to the level of literature. But, to the later group, the work draws sketches of the persons engaged in the struggle. The former group tries to find out detail tactical line and method of work in the novelette, and finds that that is full with theoretical deviations there. They fail to find out the main message of the work, which was also one of the main messages to the urban educated youth of the time: Reach the poor, especially the rural poor, live with and learn from them, politicize and organize them, and through the process, try to declassify self – give up middle class ideas and arm with ideology of the proletariat. Flaws in the implementation of the approach appeared – a very natural growth in the circumstance. But, the spirit is not lost in Raghoo.

The GC is the reflection of the Spring Thunder-time. Sudeb is there with a different name. Ajitha is there, but with a different name, with the same identity, with the same goal – a happy life for the exploited people, a political system with participation of the classes without property, a culture free from fetters, dogmas, obstructions and backward-pulling practices, an ideology free from medieval ideas, and an economy capable of acting as a base of these.

A quarter regularly colors the endeavor as “an explosion of youth, their unbridled over-enthusiasm and adventurism”. A quarter regularly paints the initiative as “of the middle class restlessness and opportunism”. A quarter regularly evaluates the struggle solely on the basis of tactical slogans. The quarters miss significance of the endeavor. The quarters miss the initiatives’ political role in the entire national politics.

They all miss these aspects as they miss a society’s pain and groaning for making a forward journey that commits many errors. It’s problem of these quarters in perceiving a process for change within a society with limitations, with traces of old practices, with connections of a well-entrenched system, mature with at least a century’s experience although they are well-aware of the tortuous path capitalists had to go through for their rise, for taking hold of political power and for its consolidation. It’s these quarters’ problem with learning from history, problem with comprehending process for progress – a pure problem with scientific knowledge.

These problems lead them either to deny or to belittle Brotee, the immemorial creation by Mahasweta Debi in her Haajaar Chooraasheer Maa, (Mother of the Corpse Numbered One Thousand and Eighty-four, a literal translation of the title), and many of Brotee’s comrades, murdered even without any pretension of bourgeois legal procedure.

The same problems lead these quarters to the failure of recognizing Subbarao Panigrahi, the warrior-poet from Srikakulam, the message he was conveying, the classes his message was representing. Subbarao Panigrahi was tortured by police for half a day, and was told that he would be produced in court if he resigned from the CPI (M-L), and he was shot dead as he refused to follow the dictation. Subbarao Panigrahi’s message was for a democratic system, which doesn’t effectively disenfranchise many toilers robbed of their produce in a system that continues the “great” job of robbing the working people for generations and ages.

Ajitha, Mary Tyler’s comrade Sati, Sudeb, Gopal Majumder, Panigrahi are not a few in numbers. The numbers are hundreds; and these hundreds represented millions’ political demand democratic in all terms. They were from many areas spread over a vast land. They were from the Spring Thunder-time. The political position they took was of the exploited millions. Their political position was neither based on any ideology from medieval days nor was fuelled by any part of imperialism and its compradors. They were not a group of “anti”-imperialists of today and pro-imperialists of yesterday as is found in flock today.

Today, a lot of talks about anomalies, mal-administration/mal-governance, curtailment of rights, suppression of one section or another, and similar issues are being raised, discussed, debated. Even, there’s a spate of tirade against a faction of imperialism by a section of writers, who don’t find capitalism-imperialism, exploitation-condition of the working classes, and democracy of the people. They don’t feel shy to market medieval ideas while they chant slogans against a single faction from the imperialist camp. These “brave warriors” against a faction of imperialism deny looking at imperialism in its entirety, as development of capitalism, as economic-political connections with, obviously, military implications, and, most importantly and funnily, deep state, now as wide as a distinct interstate existence. These “courageous” sepoys standing with spears befriend hard core interventionists, a part of which dons a liberal outfit so that these elements appear progressive. To enhance self-credibility, they tout that they are referred in imperial legislative hearings. Their narcissism makes them so stupid that they forget that to be referred as knowledgeable/analytical mind in imperial legislative chamber is a medal of friendship and trust from imperial power. Sarcasm with self (?)!

Here is the beauty and identity of Naxalbari. The ideological-political initiative vigorously participated by the poor never forgot the issue of imperialism. One of its strengths was its die-hard stand against imperialism, social-imperialism, and their cohorts at local level. Their documents, theoretical and propaganda, are evidences.

Class collaboration is another fundamental issue that distinctly shows the fundamental difference between Naxalbari and today’s neo-anti-single faction imperialism pens collaborating interventionists with a liberal face. Naxalbari’s stand against the exploiting classes was so powerful, so vigorous and so all-encompassing that, probably, that was one of the reasons influencing to sorts of slogans leading to adventurism; however, the contention made here can be best reviewed and evaluated only by participants in the political initiative and by competent theoreticians. Naxalbari’s fundamental position was to radically change existing property relations while the neo-anti-single faction imperialism pens don’t even dream it although they dream for a “just” world, although they now have turned aware of “rights”.

Naxalbari’s authenticity is its stand on the issue of state. It claimed from its very initiation that it was a political struggle by the exploited targeting a ruling machine, the task avoided by revisionist and neo-revisionist trends. The issue of class collaboration is integrally connected to the issue of revisionist and neo-revisionist trends. Today, the issue of class collaboration is more important as forces posing as progressive and marketing medieval ideas are emerging, as forces posing as anti-imperialist and standing for intervention selectively are emerging, as forces posing as anti-communalism and marketing communalism are emerging, and these forces are trying to have foothold in the pro-people camp.

Here is Naxalbari’s relevance to today’s people’s struggle, to today’s anti-imperialist struggle. A part of polemic finds Naxalbari’s problems with theoretical formulations on the question of united front, a debate to contend/continue and develop, but, no part of polemic finds flaw in Naxalbari’s class position: With the exploited, in the rank of the exploited, for the exploited, to the exploited.

In cases in the 1970s, ruling machine took opportunity of its position to push lumpen elements in the political initiative with the design of creating indiscipline within the political struggle; and it was successful to some extent. But, the class position was unequivocal, and this unequivocal-uncompromising position was one of the driving forces that led Naxalbari to organize struggles of the poor, that demarcated it from all the political trends the status quo was feeding and fattening.

This class position led to the birth of Sudeb, Ajitha and Sati, Raghoo and Brotee, Mary Tyler, Gopal Majumder and Subbarao Panigrahi, a few names from a blood-soaked long list of hundreds of similar characters steeled in the struggle christened with fire, driven by the sense of serve the people, bright with the blood-drenched duty of self-sacrifice for the cause of the exploited.

One of the messages of Naxalbari, thus, is politics of the exploited classes, political struggle of the exploited classes, political power of the exploited classes; and in this struggle, there’s no space for alliance with medieval ideas, backward practices, and adherents of these anti-people trends.

The reason that forces this position is in the socio-economic reality: A society requiring radical change requires democracy of the majority classes, requires economic program appropriate to change existing property relations based on exploitation, requires a political program that supports implementing the economic program, requires a cultural program that facilitates the economic and political programs; and all medieval, backward programs and practices being propagated and upheld today in the name of opposing a part of imperialist camp go against the economic, political, social and cultural programs of the exploited classes. These backward programs with the appearance of upholding rights of a section of the marginalized not for a single moment talk about breaking the chains of exploitation as that will hurt its base – the existing property relations, and these backward programs and practices are ultimately, and in real terms, tied to imperialist economies. A part of these backward programs and practices are designed and driven by imperialists and its comprador allies, their operative arms including intelligence agencies. These facts are very often and regularly forgotten and missed by a part of political initiatives claiming to be standing for the exploited. This lack of awareness goes against the interests of the exploited. The tricky move by a section of “right” advocates makes Naxalbari significant as the political initiative was with the exploited, not with the exploiting classes; and the “rights” advocates and anti-single faction imperialism “fighters” never perceive the reality with a class point of view.

Farooque Chowdhury, writing from Dhaka, has not authored/edited any book in English other than Micro Credit, Myth Manufactured (ed.), The Age of Crisis and What Next, The Great Financial Crisis (ed.), and he doesn’t operate any blog/web site.

Jul 11, 2017


Farooque Chowdhury farooque_chowdhury@yahoo.com

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