"Red Star Over India"

Jan Myrdal


The author of 'Red Star Over India' is no more. Jan Myrdal passed away on October 30, 2020, at the ripe age of 93+. Last year Frontier inquired about his birth centenary. The reply came without much delay, along with his article for special issue. The revised edition of his 'India Waits' is going to be published shortly by SETU prakashani of Kolkata.

Jan Myrdal

To: Timir Basu
Tue, 2 Jul, 2019 at 11:14 pm

By the way.
I wil be 92 the 19 of July.
But not yet 100!
All the best
Jan Myrdal

Snidaregatan 20
S-432 43 Varberg, Sweden
Tel: +46 76 218 15 47

Jan Myrdal was one of the great revolutionary intellec tuals of present time and his writings and works will make a permanent stamp on the democratic and Communist movement worldwide. Myrdal was a master at interacting and relating with the common people, thus giving a very accurate reflection. His style of writing was lucid. Above all it could make readers decide their viewpoint independently, similar to Brechtian technique in theatre. Myrdals' personality won the hearts of people worldwide touching the core of their souls with the red flame of liberation. His spirit will live on forever to enable new roses to bloom.

Communists must congratulate Myrdal for his death defying courage in touring Dandakaranya or Chattisgarh, which is the hotbed of Indian Maoist Movement and state proto-fascism. With the daunting courage of a military commander he toured Indian region of Bastar and interviewed leaders of the C. P. I. (Maoist) . In spite of being 85 he trudged himself to traverse through the most hazardous regions both geographically and politically. His voyage was like a resurrection of Edgar Snow entering China in the 1930's in 'Red Star Over China" or Felix Greene going there in 1950's in "The Wall Has Two Sides. "

Earlier in 1963 and 1970 Myrdal made visits to China under Chairman Mao and shimmered the true light of the experiences of how the people were liberated there like few men ever did. In his books 'Chinese Village', and 'China–The Revolution Continued', he exhibited absolute accuracy of detaisl on the people's lives and countered the false bourgeois propaganda with the sharpness of a sword.

One can never forget his talk in Ludhiana in 2012 which was one of the most inspiring ever by a political commentator. In a most balanced manner he summed up the positive aspects of the communist movement in India and the glaring weaknesses. Myrdal insisted that the Indian Revolution should never adopt the Russian or Chinese path hand must carve out a unique strategy of its own. In his view India will have a distinct form of fascism from Europe or even China under Chiang Kai Shek.

Today in the view of Myrdal India had virtually entered a new epoch in the Communist revolutionary movement if one assesses the strength of the people's guerrilla army and the existence of a Unified Party. No writer ever conducted such in depth interviews touching every facet of the Movement. His first visit to India was in 1980 when he met the Communist revolutionary leader, Chandra Pulla Reddy.

The book 'Red Star Over India' is realistic, not indulging in hyper praise, romanticism or scathed criticism thus reflecting objectivity.

Very classically and coherently it refers to anecdotes of events of past history of the world be it Europe, Russia or Asia. It makes reader get the sensation of the movement in Dandakaranya being an integral part of world history. In accordance with the given situation it dialectically evaluates both the similarity and dichotomy of past history with the present.

In chapter 'Present Civil War in India' he illustrates how in essence India negates a truly functioning bourgeois parliamentary democracy but still recognises certain salient features of liberalism. Ironically he even critically appraises Gandhi, who in many ways appeased British colonialism. Very boldly as contrary to many intellectuals he recognised some salient liberal features of India in terms of freedom of expression as even compared to Europe and America. He recognised that India still had a liberal space, which is of course fast changing in the recent context of rise of saffron fascism.

Myrdal was critical of the mechanical approach of Rajani Palme Dutt before 1947 as well as of the Communist Party of India. Myrdal felt that Palme Dutt towed the line of the Comintern or British Communist Party and put the aspect of Dalits and Adivasis in the backstage. Strangely he had kind words for Jawaharlal Nehru, praising his support to liberal ideas.

With deep historical insight he touches on the writings of Karl Marx with reference to India, chartist movement in Great Britain, experiences of Ho Chi Minh and anti-colonial struggle of Vietnam as well as the emergence of fascism in Europe and counter resurgence. He traces the paths of the eras of French, Mexican, Russian and Chinese revolutions with relevance to current situation. He elaborated why Marx supported the 1857 mutiny in India. The 1946 Naval ratings strike, and Quit India movement was also covered pointing out in light of Liberal democrats like Nehru only upholding the 1857 revolt after these uprisings.

Like a novelist he recounts how he put his first foot in the sacred area of Dandkaranya and the emotions and vibration he experienced. Here he reflects on the roots of Indian culture planted in Ramayana which the European left forgot about. A reference was made to the contribution of historian D. Kosamabi. Myrdal felt that Indian history or culture could never be ignored. Subtle references were also made on Marx on India.

In section 'What Independence" he recollects the crystallisation of Kali Ghosh into a full fledged revolutionary in Bengal from the 1920's. Myrdal described how he combated those in the Congress who abstained from demanding dominion status. Kali went on to work sabotaging Bengal telegraph lines. The Meerut conspiracy case transformed Kali into a Communist. This mutiny was a turning point in Indian communist movement and the party was able to function as a component of the Communist International in 1934. In August 1930 Kali was arrested by the police and deported to London. In this chapter he portrays Jawaharal Nehru in true light, highlighting the influence of Anglo-Saxon or Fabian culture in shaping his life.

In a chapter 'What Terror' very illustratively he explains why the actions of Maoists were essentially counterattacks to the neo-fascist political and economic oppression on the Adivasis, blessed by the Corporates. It gives even non-maoists a vivid illustration of why the Maoist movement in reaction to the semi-fascist state that masquerades in being a genuine democracy. In deep depth he has described the oppressive living conditions of the Adivasis as well as the monumental democratic revolutionary forms of power installed by the Maoists. Myrdal does ample justice to the relentless spirit of the CPI (Maoist) in confronting the neo-fascist rulers by organising armed resistance at the hardest point.

In chapter 'In the Camp' he touched on how the Maoist redressed the aspect of mass line and made a comparison with the resistance of the Paris Commune. The topic of leadership of the party, secret functioning, work in urban areas and a unified Communist Party was discussed in details. For one thing he also highlights the striking similarity of the Indian Maoist Party–CPI (Maoist)–with the Chinese Party in the period of Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.

A striking comparison was made between the experiences of the Paris Commune and India in 2010. Myrdal pointed out that in 2010 Intellectuals came out in support of the oppressed unlike the 1871 period.

A heart evoking chapter 'Singing the poetry of the people' was written on India's revolutionary writers and poets like Cherabanda Raju and Sri Sri. The chapter narrated the evolution of Cherabanda Raju through the Naxalbari and Srikakulam struggles to become one of the founders of VIRASAM. In the dark days of the emergency his poetry and voice created tremors in the camp of the Congress rulers.  Sri Sri's emergence from days of Progressive Writers Association was beautifully summarised. Sri Sri was not merely an intellectual but also participated in important political actions. Myrdal described how Sri Sri confronted orthodoxy blending romantic modernism with religious Shivailtik poetry, with his work Suptaasthikalu. Having origins in post modernism and surrealistic experimentation Sri Sri portrayed people's culture. His works played a major role in illuminating the flame of Naxalbari from 1970 and formation of Revolutionary Writers Association.

In 'Leaving the Guerrilla Zone' Myrdal describes that his exit of the guerrilla zone was more arduous than entering it, with many more government patrols. Touching the core of a reader's soul he revealed the vibrations penetrating within him longing the red flame to encompass the whole of India. His heart literally did the talking when he bid farewell to Maoist guerrillas he would never meet again. He made a reference to Jack London's "The Iron Heel" which Socialist readers at that time found very pessimistic".

In concluding chapter 'Negative Possibility', he summed up the emergence and extension of proto-fascism and its roots in colonial or neo-colonial tyranny of the past enslaving the proletariat worldwide. He illustrates the coherency of neo-liberalism worldwide breeding fascism. A passing reference is also made to the Bhumkal uprising of 1910. Myrdal points out the weakness of the maoist party not able to organise masses outside its limited orbit. Arun Ferreira's review in Economic and Political weekly on 'Red Star Over India' in 2012 is a must read for readers. It explains why the book is a kind of an epic and does full justice to the Indian Communist Movement.

Vol. 53, No. 22-25, Nov 29 - Dec 26, 2020