Rethinking Revolution

What Is To Be Done?

I Mallikarjuna Sharma

It is always an intricate question to answer: What do you think the task of the youths and students of the country in the present circumstances is? And a consequential query also crops up: As a revolutionary/rebel with considerable experience how do you explain the current apathy and self-centredness of the youths and other hopeful groups in the society which could fight for a critical change? Mainly because these questions assume that things have fallen apart nowadays for worse and it was much better in the olden days. But that in the face of lofty declarations from progressive writers and socialist pioneers instilling confidence and faith in the present and castigating the degenerate and oppressive traditions and practices of the past, and dreaming for a bright future. And then it flatters one to think that people consider them competent by their experience and talent and their own supposedly heroic or at any rate fighting past and ask them to deliver some wisdom of the ages. However, such questions do crop up and the temptation to answer them also pulls hard.

Well, there are no two opinions, however, on the need to build a more equal, just and welfarist society and a system of governance to make it move forward smoothly is essential—and that in all countries of the world—and in that effort the enormous destructive powers at the command of ruling classes and systems now existing have taken into account and the dangers and catastrophes lurking in such struggles for change have to be assessed carefully and as comprehensively as possible. As for India is concerned, the situation is more complex here because of the vast diversity of not only different religious or linguistic communities but also internally among the majority community with its hierarchical caste stratification and severe class/community conflicts. Overall, post-independence, despite the lofty declarations in the Constitution and the preachings and sayings of even eminent national and community leaders, people find themselves in a more unequal and conflict ridden situation than ever before and enormous concentration of wealth in fewer hands than ever before at the expense of public money in general of course, and relative degradation of vast majorities of population. The resistance and even some offensive struggles of the people for their rights and to counter this enormous fraud and theft of people's and natural resources for the benefit of the few super rich corporate crooks and undermining of even the existing constitutional ideals and provisions with the active aid or collusion/acquiescence of all the three branches of the State are not delivering the goods properly and the get-rich-quick mentality generated by the current capitalist growth [in the garb of socialist democracy] has enveloped almost all sections of the population, especially the youths and students of the society. The failure of the left—especially the extremist communist movement in the country generally known and called as the naxalite movement—is a prime cause for the certain degeneration of mass movements and mass struggles in the country to devious ways and means with no effective results for the good of the society. Post naxalite movement failure in the 1970s the caste conflicts in the society have come more into the open and though it is certainly salutary that the oppressed or downtrodden castes have been turning more rebellious or at least questioning and striving for their respective rights, statuses and development of their material conditions including political leverage in the society, the degenerate growth of casteism in worst forms and a destructively dangerous hate ideology and reality overwhelming considerable number of social groups in its wake is quite a worrying factor. The ideal of casteless and classless society seems to be a myth in such circumstances and one certainly needs to hark back to the past mass movements and struggles which concentrated more on the class and collective social interests.

However, the extreme left movement had grown militarily quite strong, stronger than even the past armed movements pre-independence or immediate post-independece days but worrying factor is they are concentrated or one may say pushed away to take refuge in some remote tribal or forest regions of the country with no effective spread or influence in the rest of the country. Whatever be their achievements or failures, even the bitter oppositionists in the country admit their dedication, sincerity and honesty and zeal for bringing out a socio-economic revolutionary change in the society and the sacrifices rendered by them in that course. But at the same time the State power and oppression have also enormously increased and in general succeeded in containing these movements with mainly police power without actually bringing in the military powers to a significant extent even i.e. involving the Army and Air Force, etc. in an intensive manner. In this situation, these extreme left forces have no future and face sure extinction unless they spread and influence the entire masses of the country with ingenuous skills and innovative policies and measures and not just concentrate on the what may be called their outdated military strategies, tactics or logics.

So in such critical situations turning to more moderate policies and measures cannot be called opportunism or surrenderism but wiser and more effective changes of policy and measures as per the established traditions of counsels by eminent revolutionaries, whether of Lenin in his "Leftwing Communism" or of Mao in his umpteen military writings even, or of Castro or Guevara in varying situations, but also of India's own prominent national revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh, Ramprasad Bismil, et al. The saner or extremist critics may say 'dispiriting' counsels of these two eminent revolutionary icons of the national revolutionary movement are worth quoting.

In his Autobiography written in his condemned cell, smuggled out and published by another eminent revolutionary journalist and freedom fighter martyr Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi, very soon after his hanging, Ramprasad Bismil had given some sane counsel to the youth of the country and that should be an eye opener to the present generations of youth, especially those in the militant left movements, also. Bismil said,
"At this point of time, I have come to this firm opinion that if [instead of these armed revolutionary activities] we revolutionaries had with all the zeal and dedication put up full efforts to make the people educated, it would have ensued in fruitful and long standing results and that would have been much more beneficial than the revolutionary movement we conducted....,
My final request to the people of the country is that whatever you do, you all do it unitedly and you all do it for the welfare of the country—only by this will the well-being of all becomes possible".

'Bismil', 'Roshan', 'Lahiri', 'Ashfaq' die due to atrocities.

And hundreds [of patriots] will spring up from streams of their blood!

Here another facet of Bismil's explanation to the people about his own 'inconsistencies and compromises' may also be cited in brief, especially to counter those who may accuse counsels of moderation and necessary changes of policy as opportunism and surrenderism.

"Knowing very well that the British Government would not heed a word in our favour, why have I given written undertakings? Why a series of appeals and mercy petitions made? Such questions could and would arise. My understanding is always that politics is like a game of Chess. The Chess players know very well how and why they have to get [allow] their own pieces [chessmen] killed when it becomes necessary. [For example,] when the issue of releasing the Bengal Ordinance detenues or in the alternative trying them in open courts was raised in the Assembly, it was asserted with all the force on behalf of the Government that they had all the evidence to prove their guilt; however, the concerned witnesses could face dangers to life and security concerns would arise if the matters are tried in open courts. However, [it was also declared by the government that,] if the Ordinance detenues (and prisoners) give written undertakings that in future they would not participate in revolutionary activities, then the matter of their release could be considered....  The Government was accusing the Bengal Ordinance detenues and prisoners also as dangerous elements and was boasing that it had full evidence to prove their guilt, and that many of them were members of a dangerous terrorist [revolutionary] organisation and were responsible for several gory murders, etc., but yet it was also declaring that it was prepared to consider their written undertakings to release them in case they committed to take part in no violent/revolutionary activities in future. Well, then, why couldn't the government apply the same standards in case of the Kakori Conspiracy case prisoners and empathetically consider their written undertakings too?"

Likewise Shahid-e-Azam Bhagat Singh too counselled some moderation and change of attitude and policy to the young political workers in his last letter [or one of the last letters] from prison, dated 2 February 1931:
"…for any revolutionary party a definite programme is very essential. For, you must know that revolution means action. It means a change brought about deliberately by an organised and systematic work, as opposed to sudden and unorganised or spontaneous change or breakdown. And for the formulation of a programme, one must necessarily study:
1.   The goal.
2.   The premises from where we are to start, i.e., the existing conditions.
3.   The course of action, i.e., Means and Methods.

Unless one has a clear notion about these three factors, one cannot discuss anything about programme…

The programme requires at least twenty years for its fulfilment. Cast aside the youthful dreams of a revolution within ten years or Gandhi's utopian promises of Swaraj in One Year. It requires neither the emotion nor the death, but the life of constant struggle, suffering and sacrifice. Crush your individuality first. Shake off the dreams of personal comfort. Then start to work. Inch by inch you shall have to proceed. It needs courage, perseverance and very strong determination. No difficulties and no hardships shall discourage you. No failure and betrayals shall dishearten you. No travails (!) imposed upon you shall snuff out the revolutionary zeal in you. Through the ordeal of sufferings and sacrifice you shall come out victorious. And these individual victories shall be the valuable assets of the revolution..."

Now it is clear that both Bismil and Bhagat Singh had benefited from a lot of introspection and recognised their failures gallantly and suggested some far reaching changes in attitudes and action practices. Those in the extreme left movements in India today may also be feeling such need and at any rate have to introspect a lot on realistic lines. One thing can be definitely and unquestionably recognised and stated: both left sectarianism and right revisionism/opportunism can be dangerous to the prospects of revolution and the parties/ groups leading it or attempting to bring it out. But among the two the former has the potential and even legacy of decimating the movements to a horrible extent, almost to a point of no-return, and also breeding so much illwill and hatred among the ranks of various revolutionaries/groups even that people begin to wonder how such a lot can ever think and talk even of a genuine socio-economic revolution which ought to result in the all round development of the individual—a noble purpose of utmost humanitarian import. That is why both Bismil and Bhagat Singh stressed on the need to sincerely work for and develop real people's movements and make it a basis for the future revolution. Even in an ongoing revolutionary struggle, this developing and basing of mass movements is quite essential and has to continue unhampered.

Not that individuals cannot contribute or do some great things on their own. They can certainly be role models and that by working sincerely and honestly in their own fields. They should grow and get entrenched like gigantic fruity and shady trees in respective fields and locations so that people began to look to them for guidance, advice and aid. Such individuals in many fields can gradually link with each other and develop collective movements or an active, innovative and dedicated party or like groups can link them up and foster and promote the people's movements. Whenever an existing policy or governance system or structure is criticised such individuals or groups or parties should be able to suggest viable alternatives too. Socialism or communism will solve everything type of attitudes or careless overlooking will never help.

Coming to the militant extremist movements of communist/socialist nature in this country today nothing prevents them from using all possible forms of methods and struggles to develop people's movements even if they or some of them have to and do indulge in a sort of militant military actions and struggles. The experience of the revolutionary movements the world over has the same lesson that it is quite possible, nay, even essential, in some circumstances, to engage in and coordinate parliamentary and extra-parliamentary struggles both. Mere boycottism is of no use; it will draw a mere cipher. And then what prevents these parties and groups to participate in and contest for self-governing institutions of other types than legislatures—which are nearer to the people at the base levels and through which some real relief to the aggrieved masses can be fetched even in the corrupt bourgeois state structures. It seems the militant extremists are afraid that by participating in such institutions and in legislatures etc their cadres and supporters will lose their militancy, sincerety and honesty even and they also become corrupt. This lurking fear seems to be the only reason for such childish boycottism. Then to be honest, and incorruptible, in a desert or forest atmosphere where even much money may not fetch one the needed luxuries is one thing but to stay dedicated and firm amidst all possibilities and facilities of luxuries and inducing, tempting, corrupt climates is another thing. The latter needs a much greater fortitude, forbearance and sacrificial spirit and this is what a revolutionary or a real public servant is expected to cultivate and display.

Undue and excessive stress on arms or armed struggles is also bad. What is needed is developing people's awareness, preparedness and fighting spirit. One may hold and use a gun at one time or not use it or throw it out at another time according to the need of circumstances. When circumstances are ripe for revolutionary insurrection or upheaval arms were never a problem. The State itself and its trained personnel themselves become a source—a storehouse—of all arms and ammunition which the people can use effectively to accomplish the revolutionary aims.

What is not to be forgotten is that seizure of political power may be the central issue of revolution at a time, but not the be all and end all of revolution or the real aim of revolution, which is to bring out a radical change in socio-politico-economic structures contributing to the flourishing of human rights and freedoms and all round development of the individual. Socialism or communism are noble ideals for the real development, welfare and peace of entire humanity and don't imply narrow ends and sectional interests.

Autumn Number 2018
Vol. 51, No.14 - 17, Oct 7 - Nov 3, 2018