Autumn Number 2019

How Wrong?

Charu Majumdar, CPI(ML) Then, Maoist Party Now

Bernard D'Mello

As the Charu Majumdar (CM) centenary commemoration goes by, how may one assess CM? As an independent socialist intellectual deeply influenced by Marxism, and one who has been writing about the revolutionary left in India with an allegiance to the cause of the liberation of the Indian people, what strikes this writer most about CM is his reckless political leadership and his rash optimism. But it was CM who mentored the Naxalbari leaders. Land had to be seized by force by the peasants themselves, and distributed—defying the law and the establishment. Despite failure, it was Naxalbari that inspired revolutionaries in many parts of the country to embark on the revolutionary road. Naxalbari, Srikakulam and Bhojpur (covered in chapter 1 of this author's book, India after Naxalbari: Unfinished History, hereinafter, IAN) held out the promise of a revolution in the future that could possibly lead the way for the liberation of the Indian people from oppression and exploitation. But, and I write this with humility and modesty, right from CM to the present, more collective, leadership of the revolutionary-left movement, theoretical weakness, especially failure to profoundly understand and thoroughly apply (what may be called) Mao's practice theory of knowledge, still leaves this word of honour far, far away from being realised.

The Naxalbari struggle began in March 1967 with a programme of militant anti-landlordism. By end-July of that very year, it was brutally crushed by armed police. But soon thereafter, in the autumn of 1967, CM, the mentor of the local leaders of the uprising, the one who insisted that revolutionary violence has to be the main ingredient in the struggle to overthrow the existing system of oppression and exploitation, said: "Hundreds of Naxalbaris are smouldering in India …Naxalbari has not died and will never die." Igniting the power of memory and dreams, Naxalbari unleashed a powerful dynamic of resistance that has, ever since, alarmed the Indian ruling classes and the political establishment. In 2006, an Indian prime minister warned the establishment that "Naxalism" is the "single biggest internal security challenge ever faced by our country," and sounded such alarm bells again in 2010. The People's Daily editorial of July 5, 1967 that thought of Naxalbari as "a development of tremendous significance for the Indian people's revolutionary struggle" may now, 52 years later, be reread in this context. In India's revolutionary left, Naxalbari still stands for the road to revolution, indeed, dogmatically, in the slogan, "Naxalbari, ek hi raasta," as if it signifies the one and only road to revolution in India.

"1968" was a phase when "revolutionary humanism" was in the air in many parts of the world. It was also a chapter when the establishment left was seen by the "revolutionary humanists" as having stripped Marxism of its revolutionary essence. Naxalbari and the revolutionary Naxalite movement it catalysed was as it has been argued in IAN-part of this "contemporary worldwide impulse among radicals embracing the spirit of revolutionary humanism."

CM was the Naxalite movement's principal leader and "ideologue" in its first phase until his death in police custody on July 28, 1972. Born in a landlord family in Siliguri, CM gave up his studies for the Intermediate examination and became a full-timer in the then outlawed Communist Party of India (CPI) in the late 1930s in the party's Kisan Sabha (peasant front). He took a leading part in Jalpaiguri in the Tebhaga movement in undivided, mainly north Bengal in 1946 to enforce the demand of bargadars (sharecroppers) for a reduction in the rent paid to jotedars (landlords) from half to one-third of the crop. Interestingly, CM is said to have embraced Mao's thought as early as 1948, and from then on, he was well-known in the CPI in Jalpaiguri and Siliguri for the anti-"revisionist" positions he took. Going against the tide of national chauvinism in the wake of "India's China war" in 1962, he was imprisoned for his views but stood his ground even after his defeat as a CPI candidate in a 1963 by-election for the Siliguri seat of the West Bengal State Assembly. When the party split in 1964, he joined the CPI (Marxist), hereinafter, CPM, as a Maoist in its ranks. Not unexpectedly, he was censured the very next year when the first of his "Eight Documents" appeared. As is evident in those Eight Documents, in CM's view, the real fight against "revisionism" (i.e., stripping Marxism of its revolutionary essence) in India would begin when the poor and landless peasantry took the revolutionary road.

Indeed, this is what happened when his political followers at the local level whom CM had mentored and inspired-Kanu Sanyal, Khokan Mazumdar, Jangal Santhal, Kadam Mullick, Babulal Biswakarma, and others—led the poor and landless peasantry in the Naxalbari revolutionary uprising. (It must be kept in mind that CM suffered from multiple ailments that kept him out of the line of direct action.) The armed struggles and the fight against revisionism were the twin tasks to be focused upon. An All-India Coordination Committee of Revolutionaries (AICCR) in the CPM, composed of those CPM members who rejected the "parliamentary" road to socialism, was formed. This was followed by the formation of an All-India Coordination Committee of Communist Revolutionaries (AICCCR) after severing all links with CPM. Despite internal differences, the process culminated in the formation of the CPI (Marxist-Leninist), hereinafter, CPI(ML), on April 22, 1969, and it's first Party Congress was held in May 1970. Needless to say, CM was at the centre of most of these organisational and political developments.

In all these turn of events, there were significant internal differences that led to bitter divides. As it is explained in IAN, "in the absence of an archive, as regards such differences, and too many unknowns and unknowables, it may be better to refrain from comment." Moreover, choosing to comment on these matters in IAN would have meant going beyond the scope of that book. But here, in assessing CM, one has to take account of these bitter divides and related organizational matters. As regards the relevant "facts" having a bearing on the independent opinion the author has relied on Suniti Kumar Ghosh's Naxalbari, Before and After-Reminiscences and Appraisal (New Age Publishers, 2009), hereinafter NBA, but, of course, not uncritically.

Here is a framework within which the writer assesses the role of CM during the period 1967-72. One, the life of an individual cannot be adequately understood without situating it in an authentic history of the society of which he or she was a part. In the world since the beginning of colonialism, the history that has affected each individual is world history. There are definite links between what an individual experiences, and does, and the historical processes and changes, the class and other contradictions, which affect him/her. At moments of revolution and counter-revolution (the two are inextricably intertwined), history usually comes with many setbacks. Given the strength and ruthlessness of the counter-revolution, many grave mistakes are made by the revolutionists. Two, to be writing authentically about CM, besides locating him in the times of which he was a part and which affected him, the ethos and the quintessence of those times must be taken into account, the mental, psychological and moral constitutions of the dramatis personae involved. There must have an understanding of the assessments these characters arrived at from the "facts" as interpreted by them. This is a tall order that cannot be fulfilled over here, and so assessment of CM and the original CPI(ML) of which he was General Secretary is preliminary, provisional and tentative, and therefore, subject to change.

CM and the Communist Milieu
In the light of the two dimensions of the framework, when looking at the life of CM, one cannot leave out how the Bengal Famine of 1943, the Republic of Hunger that India was in 1966, and landlordism in the relations of production and in the ruling culture, all of which shaped CM's consciousness. And, of course, the Russian Revolution (1917) and the Chinese Revolution (1949), especially the latter, for it seems to have then (in the mid-1960s) established a pattern for the underdeveloped countries of the world to follow and to emulate. This was the case especially after Lin Biao suggested as much in his 1965 pamphlet, "Long Live the Victory of the People's War!"

Of course, the history of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks), including the period, from the 1880s to 1912, leading to the creation of such an "independent Marxist party," the Russian Revolution and its aftermath, and the Stalinist phase from 1928 up to 1937 (this phase continues up to 1941), was, most likely, viewed by CM as presented in J V Stalin's History of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks): Short Course (1938). A central idea running through that Short Course is that any opposition within the Party becomes a vehicle for counterrevolution. Indeed, Stalin links dissent by his Bolshevik activists to conspiracy, even imperialist machination. A paranoid and conspiratorial frame of mind has proven destructive of the communist cause wherever and whenever it gripped Communist-Party leadership.

One also needs to bring in the likely affect on CM of the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) in February 1956, especially the not-so-secret "Secret Speech" of Nikita Khrushchev denouncing the personality cult and the brutal dictatorship of Stalin. And, of course, the 22nd Congress of the CPSU in October 1961 that brought in the political line advocating peaceful coexistence with imperialism and peaceful transition to socialism. The outcomes of both these Congresses led to sharp differences in the Communist world, leading to a bitter divide between the CPSU and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Mao was, nevertheless, very critical of Stalin on many counts, but upheld him, in the main, as "70% good, 30% bad." Such an overall assessment led to ambiguity in respect of Stalin's leadership of the Communist Party and the international Communist movement, and especially Stalin's promotion of the build-up of a personality cult around himself, with expectations of blind obedience and reverence, and no one being permitted to criticise him. During the Stalinist period in the Soviet Union, 1928-41, the democratic component was stamped out from "Democratic Centralism" ("freedom of discussion, unity of action") in the Communist Party, followed by the institution of a dictatorship of the Party and the state over the whole of society in the Soviet Union, aspects that CM was blind to.

Indeed, the "Leninism" CM and his generation of CP leaders had imbibed came from Stalin's The Foundations of Leninism (1924) which viewed the Party as the "embodiment of unity of will, unity incompatible with the existence of factions," and so all "opportunist elements" had to be "purged." The "Lenin Testament," dictated by Lenin in the last weeks of 1922 and the first week of 1923, had, in a post-script, recommended, with reasons, Stalin's removal from the position of General Secretary of the Party, but the very existence of this text was officially denied until Stalin's death on March 5, 1953. In view of the brushing aside of Khrushchev's "On the Cult of Personality and its Consequences" (1956) by Marxist-Leninists who had embraced Mao's Thought, it is unlikely that CM ever introspected over the Lenin Testament.

The Cultural Revolution (1966-69) in China, however, struck at the heart of what had gone wrong with post-revolutionary societies, highlighting a central idea. This was that despite a socialist revolution, political, managerial, and bureaucratic power-holders entrench themselves as a ruling elite and, over a period of time, assume the position of a ruling class, and that the people have to be constantly mobilised to struggle against this tendency. Mao's Big Character Poster, "Bombard the Headquarters," on August 5, 1966 called for revolutionary struggle against the "capitalist roaders" in the CCP, the Chinese government, the People's Liberation Army (PLA), the enterprises, the communes, the educational system, and in the cultural realm. But sadly, Mao too seems to have fostered a cult of personality around himself during the Cultural Revolution, and this had negative fallouts in India too, with CM in late 1969 wanting Mao to be "our Chairman" and China's path to be "our Path," and even going to the extent of advocating blind obedience to his word. CM seems to have been gripped by the cult of "Mao's thought" in the course of the Cultural Revolution in China, without using his head to grasp the basics of Mao's way of thinking. Indeed, to have assumed what the Chinese media was saying about India's road to revolution to be what Mao thought was absurd.

In the light of all this, and keeping in mind the constraint of length, CM will be assessed and the original CPI(ML), of which he was the General Secretary, on three considerations—failure to move in the direction of a real Leninist Party; the main tactic of "annihilation of class enemies" (ACE) being far removed from "revolutionary violence" as understood in Marxism; and the Party's wrong characterization of Indian society as semi-feudal, semi-colonial.

Long Way From A Real Leninist Party
Let's then come to the question of a real Leninist Party. Worldwide, almost all the significant CPs, which started out with revolutionary goals, degenerated into purely reformist parties. So, what has happened to the CPI since 1951 (some might say 1957) and the CPM since 1964 is not unique. CPs organised on Leninist lines—such organisation derived from a deep understanding of what it takes to put in place a revolutionary movement to take class power—were allowed by their leaderships to be assimilated into bourgeois society and transformed into reformist parties engaged in (what can be called) "acceptable politics." They however retained their Leninist forms—the CPI and CPM leaderships proudly claimed that they were leading the working class and the peasantry in the "National Democratic Revolution" and the "People's Democratic Revolution," respectively, and were committed to "Democratic Centralism." But, both the CPI's and the CPM's political programmes were bereft of Marxist-Leninist revolutionary content, the very raison d'être of the Leninist forms. They were caricatures of a real Leninist Party. For CM, right from its inception, the CPM, even as it swore by "People's Democratic Revolution," it consciously refrained from initiating any groundwork-"ideological," political, organizational and defence-to bring it about.

But, in respect of the creation and evolution of a real Leninist Party, as far as the original CPI(ML) is concerned, failure is writ large to any independent socialist intellectual who understands what being a Leninist Party necessitates. A real Leninist Party must have the ability and the determination to lead a revolution. Such ability needs the Party to have a close relationship with the masses to the extent of being favoured with political and moral authority vis-à-vis the people, to the extent of being blessed with their trust and confidence. Determination to lead a revolution entails that the Party resists the lure of working within the framework of the capitalist system. Such a Party resists the temptation of living off the class struggle through engaging in struggles solely for mere reform. It is determined to lead the class struggle to resolution of class contradictions in favour of the exploited and the oppressed, i.e., leading the class struggle to a triumphant conclusion.

It is almost certain that a Leninist Party in this sense will, sooner or later, be deemed "illegal" by the state and will thus require the Party to put in place constant vigilance against arrest and infiltration. In such circumstances, assuring the democratic component within Democratic Centralism will be a challenge, even as the Party takes firm measures to mitigate the risks of infiltration and arrest. What is required is the methodical creation of a cadre of experienced members who share a commitment to the revolutionary programme, and are able to legitimise their leadership in different local settings, urban and rural, and in the mass organisations too. Party members will have to be chosen on the basis of the clarity of their class consciousness and devotion to the revolutionary cause, as also their ability and willingness to integrate with and be part of the lives of the masses in their miseries and in their struggles.

The most essential aspect of the Leninist Party is raising the consciousness of the toiling classes for overthrowing capitalism. And, in this effort, mass organisations and mass participation are necessary for the practice of the "mass line," a leadership principle where guidance is "from the masses, to the masses," and the twin pitfalls of "tailism" and "commandism" are avoided by the Party. The Party also has to constantly guard against the twin perils of "right" opportunism (where revolutionary principles are abandoned to adapt to prevailing "trade-union consciousness") and "left" sectarianism. For one thing, even Lenin could put into practice what he advocated about a Communist Party, only in the 1914-17 period. Fortunately, his Party was at the height of its quintessence in the autumn of 1917 when the situation clearly was one where the ruling classes could no longer rule and the popular classes could no longer tolerate their lot.)

How did CM measure up to the exacting requirements of a Leninist Party in the steps leading up to the creation and in the course of building such a Party, i.e., in the AICCCR and the CPI(ML)? Relying on the facts as presented in Suniti Kumar Ghosh's NBA.

Violence That Wasn't Revolutionary
It is also evident from NBA that CM was not clear about what constituted "revolutionary violence" and what did not, leading him to insist on ACE by secret armed squads as the main tactic. Tragically, he even told peasant cadres (CM, "A Few Words About Guerrilla Actions," Liberation, February 1970) that a "time will come when the battle cry will be, 'He who has not dipped his hand in the blood of class enemies can hardly be called a communist'." CM had no idea of what in a Marxist sense should or should not legitimately be considered to be revolutionary violence.

Violence is, of course, action causing injury or death, irrespective of who inflicts them. And, social revolution is radical upturning and transformation, within a relatively brief period, of the economic and social relations of a society and its political institutions by the people for a better world with a qualitatively richer democratic foundation, all this as a defensive act in the face of grave social injustice widely regarded as being prevalent. In putting social revolution and violence (as a necessary evil means) together as revolutionary violence, the aim is to demolish the established violence that maintains the status quo, namely, the social system that reproduces exploitation, oppression and domination, and thus makes relative poverty, misery, degradation and violence inevitable.

If this is the aim of revolutionary violence, then such violence must also necessarily, ethically and otherwise, be justified, irrespective of the fact that it is one of the necessary means of revolution in the sense defined above. It is worth fighting against grave social injustice, but one has to compare the fundamental rights that would be violated in the process of fighting with those fundamental rights that are being violated and will continue to be with the preservation of the status quo of grave social injustice. This is the restriction of proportionality, which revolutionaries must necessarily meet after ensuring that their strategy & tactics and means are efficacious, post adding for the risk of defeat, and stipulating that the use of force will be the minimum required. Of course, forms of violence—i.e., cruelty and brutality as, for instance, in terror and torture-that negate the very end, the creation of a social system in which misery and violence will no longer be inevitable, are strictly impermissible. And, one also has to consider the ways and the extent to which revolutionary violence would unintentionally be putting the lives of non-combatants in danger (not merely collateral damage).

While necessary, such conditions are, however, not sufficient. The oppressed are also concerned with respecting the rights to life and limb of their oppressors, e.g., the ruling classes, their henchmen, political leaders who advance ruling-class interests, and combatants in the employ of the repressive apparatus of the state. "Class enemies" are also human beings. In dealing with the oppressors, as far as possible, humanitarian attitudes ought to prevail to the degree and extent that contingencies allow. But even when one includes this condition, the sufficiency conditions of revolutionary violence are not satisfied. The doctrines of "Just War" and "Humanitarian Law" have to be brought into the picture.

In what is a civil war that the revolutionaries have been fighting, they need to specify certain limiting conditions for the deployment of violent means, like those in the Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and Protocol II of 1977 relating to non-international armed conflict, even though the Indian state is not a signatory of the two 1977 Protocols. Revolutionaries have an obligation to fight within certain ethical limits. Even when agencies of the Indian state indulge in massacre, torture, terror, use of prohibited weapons, killings of non-combatants and of guerrillas wounded, surrendered or rendered helpless in combat, revolutionaries must never engage in any of these abominable acts.

CM's recommended ACE by secret armed squads divorced from mass movement, such ACE was akin to assassination of individual class enemies by individuals or a handful of people, and proved to be harmful to revolution. Such ACE did not constitute an integral part of any meaningful struggle on behalf of the Naxalite cause. Indeed, on the historical record, whether one takes that of the Narodnaya Volya in 1879-1884 in Russia or the Anushilan Samiti and Jugantar in the first quarter of the twentieth century in Bengal (India), the postulation is against the efficacy and appropriateness of such acts of "revolutionary terror."

The 'Semi-Feudal, Semi-Colonial' Dogma
CM's and the original CPI(ML)'s erroneous characterisation in 1970 of Indian society as "semi-feudal, semi-colonial" with the contradiction between "feudalism" and the "broad masses of the people" being the principal one was simply erroneous. This contradiction, it was claimed, determines or influences the existence and development of the contradictions between the Indian people and imperialism, between capital and labour, and among the ruling classes, for that is how Mao defines a principal contradiction in his classic 1937 essay "On Contradiction." Fifty years later, the two theses are repeated almost verbatim by the CPI (Maoist).

What might be the fundamental features of a semi-feudal social formation? Landlord and bourgeois presumably coalesce into a semi-feudal ruling class, and under such rule, "capitalist development" doesn't do away with exploitation based on "extra-economic" coercion of the feudal sort. Based on such conceptualisation and viewing feudalism from the vantage point of capitalism, and learning from the semi-feudalism (and semi-colonialism) in China's past, one can conceive of what might likely be the fundamental features of semi-feudalism, more generally.

Can one legitimately conceive of a semi-feudal social formation as a hybrid of an estates and a class system? Property in such a society would presumably be both landed property with serf-like labour attached to it and bourgeois property, and some mixed-breed of the two. The division of labour would likely be manifested in both a rudimentary division of labour and an advanced international division of labour. Dependence would reflect both personal servitude based on "natural" superiority-inferiority and what emanates from a cash-nexus.

The mode of exploitation would include a great degree of "extra-economic" coercion veiled by religious and political illusions and, to a lesser extent, being compelled by lack of ownership of the means of production to sell one's labour-power for less than the value of the goods produced. The exploited would be both serf-like labour and wage-labour, and "capital" would be "estate capital," class capital, and a cross-breed of the two, with high rates of rent and profit resulting from super-exploitation. Control of the labour process in proto-industry and industry would likely be "journeyman" dominating over "apprentice" and bourgeois managing proletarian, respectively, and also a combination of the two.

Societal arrangements would likely reflect a blend of manifold gradations of social rank (as in the social institution of caste) and class antagonisms. Philosophical and cultural outlooks would likely be influenced by both pre-capitalist localism and capitalist universalism, but more by the former. Power would be a deadly cross-breed of an organic unity of polity and economy and a functional separation of economic, political and legal functions. And, as the geographical territory within which the state is supposed to be sovereign, the nation, in a semi-feudal social formation would be based on a coming together of "parcellized sovereignties" in a weak centralized state sovereignty, this as a peripheral state in the "inter-state system" when viewed in a global frame.

In a semi-feudal nation, there would thus be stretches of country where the writ of warlords prevails. And, of course, in such a nation, the system of land tenure would be one wherein landlords (who will also be military and political officials) own at least half of the total arable land and lease large parts of it under semi-feudal tenancy. Persons from poor peasant households, comprising as much as 70% of the rural population, will be subject to high rates of rent and the millstone of usury. The bulk of the peasantry would be eking out a living by intense labour on small plots of mainly leased in land.

With all these fundamental features of a semi-feudal social formation, if one were to then begin to describe the fundamental characteristics of a "semi-feudal, semi-colonial" social formation, one would have to add imperialist enclaves (the imperialist powers would have seized and 'leased' parts of the territory, even exacting huge indem-nities), numerous unequal treaties, and imperialist control of important military bases, trading ports and port-cities. Such imperialist hold would give rise to inter-imperialist rivalry that would bitterly divide the big bourgeoisie of the semi-feudal, semi-colonial nation. Moreover, there would likely be widespread military authoritarianism, state failure, and severely inhibited industrial development.

Without a doubt, most of the above-mentioned fundamental features of a semi-feudal, semi-colonial social formation were absent in (peripheral, underdeveloped capitalist) India in 1970 and are not to be found in (semi-peripheral, underdeveloped capitalist) India today. The contradictions between the Indian people and the imperialist powers, among the Indian ruling classes, between the Centre and the States, and among the establishment political parties in 1970 and today have not been of the same kind or intensity as the contradictions one might expect in a semi-feudal, semi-colonial social formation. The latter would be between its people and the imperialist powers exercising unequal treaties and in control of internal enclaves, military bases, ports and port-cities, contradictions within the amalgam of "estate capital" and class capital, between the weak, centralised state authority and the provincial state authorities, among the establishment political parties, and between the central authority, the provincial authorities, and the warlords. If the Indian social formation was/is semi-colonial, semi-feudal, as the CPI(ML) thought and the CPI(Maoist) thinks it is, then, some of the fundamental features (characteristics/attributes) of such a social formation would have been in existence. And then, it would have been possible for Red Base Areas to exist and multiply even as they would have been surrounded by White Areas. One must never forget that a system's tendencies are a function of its nature and character.

Mao's practice theory of knowledge—"practice, knowledge, again practice, and again knowledge", "repeating itself in ...cycles", but, with each cycle, the content of practice and knowledge raised to a higher level. This was how Mao put it in 1937 in his 'On Practice: On the Relation between Knowledge and Practice, Between Knowing and Doing.' Interpret the world scientifically in order to revolutionise it in practice. For it is also part of the foundation of theory (the knowledge of objective laws), which, when developed on that basis, serves as a guide to practice. Practice as the revolutionising of the world on the basis of a scientific knowledge of it is also the most important foundation of theory.

What a deep struggle the creation and acquisition of scientific knowledge is? For this requires the learning of truth about the world from history, from economics, sociology and politics, etc, and from the real world of social relations and class and other struggles? Lin Biao notwithstanding, Mao didn't think he should recommend China's revolutionary path to socialism for Indian revolutionaries to emulate. Indeed, he cautioned against transplanting Chinese revolutionary experience mechanically. If one thinks and studies hard; understands, critiques, develops and apply Mao's practice theory of knowledge, which requires an organic unity of practice with theory, one could possibly find new roads to socialism, ones that would genuinely qualitatively be more egalitarian, democratic and humane.

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Autumn Number 2019
Vol. 52, No. 13 - 16, Sep 29 - October 26, 2019