Continuing Ideological Conflict

'Other Voices in Naxalbari Movement...'

Mihir Chakraborty

[The forthcoming book 'Other Voices in Naxalbari Movement: Streams against Right and Left Deviations', is a compilation of articles written by prominent leaders and activists who didn't join CPI(M-L) while continuing ideological and political debates from their respective group platforms. The book is edited by Mihir Chakraborty, Subodh Mitra, Sabuj Sen, Dipankar Roy and published jointly by Nandimukh Samsad and T Nagi Reddy Memorial Trust. We publish below editorial of the said book.]

1967 was an extremely important and colourful year in the communist movement of India. In that year, some such incidents took place which created a deep turmoil inside the communist politics of India. Suniti Kumar Ghosh described in his book ' Naxalbari : Before and After' that at the foot of the Himalayas, around a cluster of a few obscure villages,rather hamlets of the remotest corner of the district of Darjeeling, there took place in 1967 an incident of deep national and international significance. It was a historic event which constituted the beginning of a radical turn in India's political history. The event was the peasant uprising at Naxalbari. Suniti Kumar Ghosh was a member of the central committee of the CPI(M-L) and edited its English organ 'Liberation'.

The chronology of the events can be broadly summerised as follows:

February 1967: The United Front Government came to power in West Bengal.

7 March 1967: The Siliguri Subdivisional Committee of the Krishak Sabha of the CPI(M) held its conference. The resolutions adopted at the conference included:

  1. to set up the authority of peasant committees on every issue in the villages,
  2. to get armed and organised for crushing the resistance that would come from landlords and reactionary forces in consequence,
  3. to redistribute land through peasant committees.
  4. to get armed and organised for crushing the resistance that would come from landlords and reactionary forces in consequence,

On 7 May, the joint worker-peasant conference of Siliguri subdivision was held at the village Rambolajot of Kharibari P.S.area. In his Terai report, Kanu Sanyal said that within March-April-May, local revolutionary committees and a central revolutionary committee were built up and peasants' political power was established in every locality.

On 16 May, Mr. Harekrishna Konar, the minister for Land and Land Revenue in the then United Front ministry, and a member of the Central Committee of CPI(M) as well as the general secretary of the West Bengal Krishak Sabha, arrived in Siliguri and met Kanu Sanyal at the Sukna forest bungalow.

On 24 May, a large party of policemen tried to enter Barpathujot and faced stiff resistance by peasants. Arrows shot by peasants wounded police inspector Sonam Wangdi who later died in hospital.

On 25 May, armed policemen entered the village of Prasadjot and fired at a women's rally. Eleven persons, including eight women and two children died in firing. Naturally, peasants got excited and their agitational activities intensified.

Those who were leading the movement were Kanu Sanyal, Jangal Santal, Khokan Majumdar, Keshab Sarkar, Kadam Mallik and Khudan Mallik.

On 12 June, 1967, a team of six ministers, including Harekrishna Konar and Viswanath Mukherjee, went to Siliguri. Through a leaflet, they exhorted the peasants to give up the path of violence and place faith on the state administration for the solution of the land problem. They even threatened that unless the peasants stopped violent activities by 22 June, the police and administration would take repressive steps.

On 14 June, Naxalbari Krishak Sangram Sahayak Samity was formed through a mass convention held at Rammohan Library Hall, Kolkata. Pramod Sengupta was elected President; Sushital Raychau-dhuri and Satyananda Bhattacharya were elected Vice-Presidents and Parimal Dasgupta was the secretary.

In line with the above-mentioned threat, the police expedition started with the code name 'Operation Crossbow'. Police outposts were set up at different villages. An warrant was issued for the arrest of Kanu Sanyal and even a 'shoot at sight' order was given. At Kadamtala in the Naxalbari area, a camp of several thousand policemen, including Gujarat's fourth battalion and Malabar special reserve force, was set up, which was kept stationed till 1969.

The month of June witnessed several other important events. The CPI(M) leadership disbanded the elected Darjeeling district committee and the Siliguri sub divisional committee without any discussion with them. Many were expelled, without giving any charge sheet in many cases, e.g. Sushital Raychaudhuri, Saroj Datta, Parimal Dasgupta, Pramod Sengupta etc. Party cadres were sent to take possession of the office of Deshitaishi, the weekly organ of the party, because Sushital Raychaudhuri and Saroj Datta were on its editorial board. Charu Majumdar, Kanu Sanyal, Jangal Santal were expelled. Towards the end of June was formed West Bengal Co-ordination Committee of Communist Revolutionaries (WBCCCR) with Sushital Raychau-dhuri as convener. Among the members were Saroj Datta, Parimal Dasgupta, Suniti Ghosh, later joined by Pramod Sengupta, Asit Sen, Shymal Nandi, Dilip Paine and others.

On 7 July, 1967 was brought out the weekly Deshabrati with Saroj Datta as editor and Sushital Raychaudhuri as editor-in-chief. On 11 November was launched the English periodical LIBERATION with the aim of uniting communist revolutionaries at the all-India level with Suniti Ghosh as editor.

Here it is very important to stress another point. The uprising of Naxalbari was not an event that took place all on a sudden. Within the CPI(M) itself there was the struggle between two lines, the parliamentary path or the path of (armed) revolution. Even in 1964, when the CPI(M) was formed by breaking out of the CPI, this debate was there at least on the surface. At the time of the formation of the United Front Government in West Bengal in 1967, the CPI(M) still composed their document in favour of revolution and thought that formation of a non-Congress government(the principal constituent of which 'believed' in Marxism) in one state of India was one step towards that inevitable revolution and this United Front(later, Left Front) government could and would be used for organising the revolution.

Already before the event of Naxalbari, struggle between two lines was going on not only in West Bengal, but in other state committees as well. The essays of this volume contain some discussions on it. The basic point is that opinions and small-scale practices in favour of the revolutionary path were going on. Before the installation of the United Front government, the CPI(M)'s written documents, group meetings and promises in election campaigns had created the possibility for the practical application of the above-mentioned line. Yet the CPI(M) leadership then thought it proper to sustain itself in the government. It thought that such type of movements just at the time of formation of the government would only strengthen the hands of reaction. But the repressive measures that were applied at the official and party levels in order to crush the movement was in a word unthinkable. The discussion/agreement between Kanu Sanyal and Harekrishna Konar was not implemented in the least. Its manifestation was the 'operation crossbow' as mentioned earlier.

The impact of Naxalbari movement was felt in almost all provinces of India and many leaders and activists of the CPI(M) came out to form coordination committees of communist revolutionaries or to work under other names. In this process, the All India Coordination Committee of Communist Revolutionaries(AICCCR) was formed in November(12/13) 1967. Efforts and discussions went on to bring all communist revolutionaries into the AICCCR. But the way Charu Majumdar and some persons from other provinces formed the AICCCR at a meeting in Sushital Raychau-dhuri's residence left some procedural questions, which found reflection in Kanu Sanyal's later writings. Time, however, was fast rolling on.

One of the decisions taken at the meeting was as follows:

'to formulate a revolutionary programme and tactical line in the light of Comrade Mao Zedong's thought on the basis of analysis of concrete conditions of India'. Now Mao's name was added to those of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin. Sushital Raychau-dhuri was elected convener of the AICCCR. Since the Sino-Russian great debate, Mao's thought was considered as a new addition to Marxist theory all over the world. Beijing (Peking) Radio broadcast the event of Naxalbari as 'Spring Thunder over India', which endowed that event with a special position of dignity in international circles. Later, some of the leaders of this movement more than once went to Beijing, met Mao Zedong, Zhou En Lai and Kang Shen and have listened to their opinions. The next meeting of the AICCCR was held in May, 1968. In that meeting, the decision for a strategic boycott of elections was taken. But stress was laid on organising working class struggles through trade unions. Pramod Sengupta was absent at this meeting. Later he came and learnt about the decision to boycott elections. According to Suniti Ghosh's account, he did not say anything, but dissociated himself from the organisation. Thus within six months of the formation of the AICCCR, there appeared a difference of opinion on a major issue. In Pramod Sengupta's own language, 'the second declaration of the Co-ordination Committee, showing the height of petty bourgeois revolutionist arrogance and sectarianism, made public its leaders' claim to monopoly of the right to revolution'. Within the APCCCR(Andhra Pradesh Co-ordination Committee of Communist Revolutionaries) too, there were differences regarding elections. In spite of that, they joined the AICCCR even before the meeting of October, 1968.Nagi Reddy, Kolla Venkaiah, DV Rao etc. attended the October meeting. Despite differences on the issue of boycott, Nagi Reddy, obeying the decision of the organisation, resigned from the Andhra Pradesh assembly. His speech on the occasion of resignation has been included in this volume.

Among the decisions taken at that meeting, one was the following resolution:

"Comrade Babulal Biswakarma has sacrificed his life in order to raise the peasant struggle of Naxalbari to the stage of guerrilla war."

Babulal Biswakarma, aged thirty, was the assistant secretary of the sub divisional peasant association and the vice-president of the Terai tea-garden workers' union. He fought a valiant battle with the police and enabled his companions to move away, but was himself killed. This happened on September 7. After that, the comrades of Naxalbari, in a tribute to Babulal, adopted the resolution that his heroic struggle had raised Naxalbari's peasant struggle to the stage of guerrilla war. In that very resolution, it was said,

"In order to advance our struggle, units have to be formed and a leader has to be elected for each order to launch as a guerrilla unit, sudden attacks on the enemy, strike hard at notorious class enemies in the proper moment of time and concurrently, launch assaults at police informers and reactionary armed forces."

The reason for citing these lines is that this resolution shows seeds of differences on other issues except boycott of elections. In other words, the outline of future movement that was being formulated and that was far removed from Marxism or Mao Zedong thought. Naturally, separation of mature, tested persons well-versed in Marxism with that line became unavoidable. Within a short period, this contradiction began to grow within the AICCCR. The stream that had placed confidence on—mass movements, mass organisations and the role of the working class was gradually sidelined. A rift was created also on the excessive importance given to the movement of Naxalbari by the Communist Party of China. The Andhra Pradesh Coordination Committee was reconstituted with relatively inexperienced, young activists by excluding the well-tested party workers of the AICCCR. Within this situation, efforts were under way to disband the AICCCR and to form a new communist party. The last meeting of the AICCCR was held during 19-22 April, 1969, at which the decision was taken to form the CPI(M-L). On 1 May of that year, the formation of the party was announced at Shaheed Minar ground in Kolkata. The meeting was presided over by Asit Sen.

There should be no difficulty in understanding that the party was formed in great haste, leaving many basic questions unresolved.

The CPI(M-L) leaned towards left deviationist mistakes one by one, each more intense than the last. For example, the following theories and slogans were spread:

"Open mass movements and mass organisations were impediments to the development and spread of guerrilla war."

"In order to win victory in revolution, we have to set up a revolutionary authority."

"Our loyalty will be to Chairman Mao, Vice-Chairman Lin Piao and the Communist Party of China. Alongside, we shall fully be loyal to the revolutionary authority of Comrade Charu Majumdar's leadership."
"Is Srikakulum going to be the Yenan of India?"

"Annihilation of class enemies is the higher form of class struggle and guerrilla war is the beginning of people's war."

"It is guerrilla war that will be the principal form of struggle for the entire period of the democratic revolution".

"Without class struggle, that is, the annihilation campaign, the initiative of the poor peasant masses will not be built up, the level of people's consciousness will not be enhanced."

"The decade of the seventies will be the decade of liberation."

"If this campaign of statue-breaking and attacks on schools and colleges by the youth force of Bengal is to be decried, disparagement of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution of China follows inevitably."

"Political power grows out of the barrel of the gun."

Thereafter, the CPI(M-L) was decimated within a very short period. Already earlier, Pramod Sengupta and Parimal Dasgupta had expressed their opposition and got separated. Although he presided over the mass meeting of 1 May, 1969, Asit Sen never shared the politics of annihilation. Details of his activities will be known from two articles of this volume. Already the separation from important leaders of Andhra Pradesh had taken place. The new leadership created in Srikakulum was either killed or put behind bars. In October, 1970, Sushital Raychau-dhuri took leave from the Polit Bureau on ground of 'ill-health.' But in that very month, he wrote a document criticising the left-deviationist line of the CPI(M-L), which is known as Purna's document. This document has been included as an addendum to the present volume. In March 1971,he died in a nursing home. Saroj Datta was arrested on 4 August 1971, and the police killed him, although there is no 'public document' in this regard, and no investigation was conducted. In March, Souren Basu was arrested, and almost at the same time, Rampiyara Saraf was arrested in Kashmir. Finally, Charu Majumdar was arrested on 12 July, 1972. He lived for ten days in the police custody. Just one day before were arrested Dipak Biswas and Dilip Banerjee.

One point may be mentioned here. The formation of CPI (M-L) party was declared on 1 May, 1969 at the Monument maidan of Kolkata, that announcement was made by Kanu Sanyal, the president of the meeting was Asit Sen and the first speaker was Banabehari Chakrabarty. The latter two disconnected themselves from the party within a short time. About them some details will be available from this volume. Though Kanu Sanyal continued with the party for quite a long period, that there were differences between him and Charu Majumdar may be available in the article of Sanyal namely "The history of the CPI (M-L) from 1969- 1972 : an evaluation" (The Guide, vol. 1, No. 2, may 2006). In this article he has given an open account of why he had stayed with the party in spite of differences . An open letter on November 4, 1972 by six senior communist leaders including Kanu Sanyal (published in Frontier) also shades light on this matter.

Over the next few years, the CPI(M-L) went on doing ultra terrorist activities in a directionless manner and thus ruined itself. Thus ended a last venture of India's communist movement with immense potentiality. Yet it must be admitted that despite its mistaken line, it made an unprecedented impact on public mind, particularly on the young middle-class psyche.

Our present compilation is meant not to write or rewrite the history of the party or to evaluate its line, but to make a partial presentation of the trends followed by those who emerged from the Naxalbari movement and yet stood in opposition to this current. It has to be kept in mind that some important groups who, although inspired by Naxalbari, did not join the AICCCR and worked with separate identities. Some of these trends have been presented in this book.

The two articles ,one by Subodh Mitra, and another by Dipankar Ray and Prabir Sinha Ray, mainly present a description of the group led by Asit Sen. Subodh Mitra's article contains an account of the work in Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. Dipankar and Prabir have written mainly on the work in West Bengal.

Viswam's article deals with the various phases of the movement in Andhra Pradesh. One of the main features of this article is the account of struggle by senior leaders including Nagi Reddy and DVRao against revisionism and neo-revisionism.

Sabuj Sen's article is the description of the activities of the Liberation Front group founded and led by Banabehari Chakrabarty. This article also discusses the politics of statue-breaking.

Dipak Piplai's article is a piece of research on the Bhitti group, of which the chief leadership role was assumed by Sudhir Chatterjee. Even before the Naxalbari uprising, they, based on the journal Bhitti and earlier Chinta, were conducting ideological struggles. We have not been able to obtain any article on the Lal Jhanda group, which was led by Phani Bagchi, Santi Ray and Sunil Sen; this is our weakness.

Timir Basu's article describes the activities of the Post Graduate Students Federation (PGSF), his personal recollection and the transition from the PGSF to NLDF (National Liberation and Democratic Front). On NLDF, which was led by Parimal Bhattacharya, some more of the details can be found in Sanjay Mitra's article. It is known from this article, written in the style of personal recollection, that a different stream of work was going on. Possibly this was the only group that abolished itself through a decision.

The volume has three parts. One consists of current articles already mentioned. The second contains reprints of some important, now deceased, leaders and reprints of some documents in which the CPI(M-L) left deviations were criticised even during its upswing. Besides there are photographs of covers/first pages of some journals/booklets published during that period. In the end has been added the bio-data of some important personalities and short introductions of present writers.

The writers of the articles of the first part have entirely expressed their own opinions in their own styles. As a result, the diverse nature of writings will be witnessed. Some have tried to adopt a research-oriented objective approach, the articles of some are a bit aggressive and acrid, and some have taken resort to quite a bit of personal recollection.

They were only requested to limit themselves to the history of oppositions to the left-deviation of those times, i.e. 1972-73, only and to avoid, as far as possible, opinions in the later and/or the present perspectives. The reason is that we wanted to show that ever since the movement of Naxalbari took an adventurist turn, many woke up to it and started working in other ways and continued that. However, it has not been possible to follow strictly this chronology in all cases.

The significance of the title to this book is that in this volume those trends arising from the Naxalbari movement that endeavoured to oppose both the rightist and leftist deviations of the communist movement have been presented. Many books, compilations and articles have been published on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of Naxalbari, but all of them in some way or other belong to the shadow/ boundary of the CPI(M-L). The many other currents that were flowing outside it have been scarcely mentioned. We have felt a responsibility to present, albeit partially, these currents before the posterity. That is why this enterprise has been launched. We shall deem this enterprise successful if this presentation is considered valuable by others too.

[Translate from original Bengali by Anirban Biswas]

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