Naxalbari And The Spectres Of Marx

The Maoist Movement in India

Murzban Jal

The financialisation of the economy and the criminalisation of politics in India which has led to the rise of the Indian neoconservatives to power led by the Bharaitya Janata Party (BJP) have created a splintered secular democratic opposition and a declining parliamentary left. Without doubts the collapse of the Soviet Union led to the consequent entry of India into the not so brave world of neoliberal capitalism. The old ideologies of secularism, socialism and non-alignment (the three pillars of the ruling ideology of India till 1991) are now forgotten for an aggressive hyper-capitalist and ethno-nationalist ideology. For those who are pessimist about the given course of things, especially with the complete surrendering of the parliamentary left to bourgeois politics, the Maoists seem a ray of hope. However a counter-narrative is put up by the ruling elite for whom the Maoists are not only terrorists but anti-nationalists declaring a war on not only the Indian state, but the Indian republic itself. This essay while being a review of Bernard D'Mello's book India After Naxalbari is also a reflection on the Indian Maoist movement. The following questions are fundamental to understand the Indian Maoist movement, namely whether it is a genuine democratic and revolutionary mass movement or left adventurism that degenerates into 'anarcho-terrorism' which instead of helping the cause of the working class, is actually helping the state move in a more rightwards direction. It also states that the Maoist movement in India itself has to be located within a rigorous epistemological break from Marx's original repertoire and that this Maoist ideology has to be understood less with dialectics and people's movements and more with sophistry and messianic apocalypse.

On 1st January 2018 on the two hundredth anniversary of the victory of the forces that compromised subaltern castes against the last Maratha kingdom unexpected caste-based clashes broke out. While two right-wing leaders Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote were said to be involved in the clashes, a sudden finger of suspicion was pointed to the Maoists and a number of intellectuals, writers and human rights activists that include Anand Teltumbde, Gautam Navlakha, Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira and Sudha Bharadwaj.

Suddenly the Communist Party of India (Maoist) came into the limelight, a party banned since 2009 under the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh following his 2006 statement that the Maoists are 'the single biggest internal security challenge' for India. While the Indian state wanted to wipe out this movement, both really and also from people's minds, it unwittingly brought it not only in people's memory, but in direct visibility of the Indian masses.

A small note on what is called the 'Naxalite movement' which the mouth piece of the Communist Party of China, the People's Daily on July 5, 1967 called the 'spring thunder over India' is necessary. This 'thunder' has a slight precedent. Charu Mazamdar (then member of the parliamentary Communist Part of India (Marxist) or the CPI(M) soon to become the icon of Naxalbari movement) in 1965 started writing his 'Eight Documents' which argued for protracted class war against the Indian state. This followed the Mao line in the international communist movement which severely criticized what they thought was revisionism that stemmed from Khrushchev's denouncement of Stalin on February 25, 1956 in the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). While the Indian comrades were saddened and took offence to Khrushchev's critique of Stalin, they totally overlooked the substance of this critique-complete and absolute authoritarianism governed by a single person who could at will create unimaginable violence. And since the Indian left did not take this critique seriously, the cult of personality would once again emerge where mass line and class struggle would be replaced by not only by the cult of personality, but by the cult of violence.

Khrushchev quotes Marx that 'everything making for superstitious worship of authority would be deleted from its statue'. What followed in the Soviet Union post-Lenin was not only superstitious worship of authority, but authoritarianism of the worst kind, in fact counterrevolutionary authoritarianism, which had the entire leadership of the Bolshevik party massacred by Stalin on trumped up charges in the infamous Moscow Trials on 1936-1937-1938. The communist movement in India was, and is yet, totally oblivious of this. The Indian communist movement from the parliamentary left to the Maoists never questioned the very nature of economics and politics in the Soviet Union. It never dawned on them that what was present in the Soviet Union was nothing but state capitalism and the political economy of Stalinism and post-Stalinism had nothing to do with Marx's critique of political economy. Consequently for the Indian left it was not Marx that mattered, not even the specter of Marx, but Stalin and the ghosts of Stalinism.

What followed in the Indian communist movement since the 20th Congress of the CPSU was the debate between revisionism (Khrush-chev) and armed struggle (largely following Mao's idea of protracted people's war). In 1964 the Communist Party of India split when it was felt that Soviet revisionism and the abandonment of class struggle had taken a firm grip on the party and the CPI(M) was born. But within it the same debate and struggle took place and Charu Mazumdar along with other CPI(M) mass leaders like Kanu Sanyal, Sauren Basu, Susheetal Roy Chaudhary, Parimal Dasgupta, Asit Sen, Satyanarayan Singh rebelled against the party leadership and were consequently expelled from the CPI(M) along with D V Rao and Naga Reddy (2 leaders of the Inner Party Anti-revisionist Committee, a group within CPI(M)). By this time Mazumdar's idea of annihilation of class enemies or simply individual terrorism modeled after the 19th century Russian anarchists (Narod-nikis) was put to action.

While Khrushchevean revisionism and the Mao protracted war line were debated in the higher echelons of the communist parties, the internal contradictions of Kulak capitalism were reaching a climax. In May 1967 in Siliguri subdivision, a remote block in Darjeeling district of West Bengal called 'Naxalbari', with a mix of class struggle and Mazumdar's annihilation, the class contradictions burst forth. Something had to happen. It happened. History knows this as Naxalbari.

A leitmotiv is found in this movement independent of party ideology and leadership and that is direct unmediated confrontation with the state seen as a comprador association of landlords and capitalists, where armed revolution replaces parliamentary politics and liberated zones replace dancing with bourgeois politicians. In this sense it is depicted as a continuation of the Tebhaga peasants' movement in West Bengal in the 1940s and the Telengana armed peasant uprising (1946-51).

The verdicts of this event are extreme. While this movement is celebrated in certain quarters as revolutionary avant la letter, the CPI and CPI(M) claimed that Naxalbari was left adventurism, and sometimes also criticized as a CIA plot to destroy the left movement in India, there are other more serious voices which claim that basing their movement on Stalinism and Maoism they could create only disaster. And that this movement emerged from the ideology of annihilation of class enemies and individual terrorist methods (the Mazumdar line) added with the cult of personality, the formation of a mass peasant and worker part was impossible. What emerged since 1967 was the formation of the All India Coordination Committee of Communist Revolutionaries (AICCCR) which then led to the creation of the Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist) or CPI(ML) on April 22, 1969 by Kanu Sanyal which then split into numerous warring factions. Of these the most prominent was the largely Andhra Pradesh based People's War Group (PWG) created in 1980, by Kondapalli Seetharamaiah and Kolluri Chiranjeevi which then led to the former's expulsion from the party (in the early 1990s) and the consequent formation of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) in 2004. Now banned it also creates a certain type of aura. This aura creates magical spells. Maybe, so the spells say, the parliamentary left is totally defeated. But then, so the spells continue, the parliamentary left got destroyed because of its innate revisionism and with its defeat the real left as the left that raises the voice of protracted people's war would both emerge and triumph. Let us have a look at this emergence and alleged triumph. We go to one of the most detailed renderings of this movement.

Bernard D'Mello's India after Naxalbari. Unfinished History is a timely work. It is timely because a critical understanding of the left movement in India 'from below' and 'from within' is necessary. It is also important because one needs to be freed from the extreme polarization that this movement evokes. An excellently researched book with ten chapters (besides an introduction and appendix), it talks of the three phases of what is known in radical thought as 'spring thunder'.

First published by Monthly Review Press followed by Aakar Books in 2018, this book charters what we know now as the 'Maoist movement in India'. This work follows the researches of M. Ram's Maoism in India (1971), B. Das Gupta's The Naxalite Movement (1974), S. Jawaid's The Naxalite Movement in India (1979), Rabindra Ray's The Naxalite and their Ideology (1988), Prakash Singh's The Naxalite Movement in India (1999), Pradip Basu's Towards Naxalbari (1953-1967) - An Account of Inner-Party Ideological Struggle (2000), Pratul Ahuja and Rajat Ganguli's 'The Fire Within: Naxalite Insurgency Violence in India' (2007), Ajay Mehra's 'Naxalism in India: Revolution or Terror?' (2007), Aidtiya Sarkar's 'Nandigram and the Deformations of the Indian left' (2007), Sumanta Banerjee's In the Wake of Naxalbari (2008), Suniti Kumar Ghosh's Naxalbari Before and After: Reminiscences and Appraisal (2009), Rana Santosh's 'A People's Uprising Destroyed by the Maoists' (2009), Nirmalangshu Mukherjee's 'Charu Mazumdar's Vision' (2010), Kunal Chatttopadhyay's 'The Path of Naxalbari: An Appraisal' (2012) and 'Maoists and the Indian State: Is Peace Possible?' (2012), Ipshita Basu's 'Security and Development-Are they two Sides of the Same Coin? Investigating India's Two-pronged Policy Towards Left Wing Extremism' (2011), Ahmed Shawki's 'China. From Mao to Deng' (2011), Rajesh Tyagi's 'Maoists Openly to Throw their Weight Behind Mamta Banarjee. Exposing their Rotten Politics to the Core in Maoism' (2011), Tom Kerry's 'Maoism and the Neo-Stalinist Cult' (2011), Prem Mahadevan's 'The Maoist Insurgency in India: Between Crime and Revolution' (2012): Gautam Navlakha's Days and Nights in the Heartland of Rebellion (2012), Deepankar Basu and and Debarshi Das's 'The Maoist Movement in India: Some Political Economy Considerations', (2013), Jan Myrdal's Red Star over India (2013) and Alpana Shah's 'The Intimacy of Insurgency: Beyond Coercion, Greed or Grievance in Maoist India' (2013) and Nightmarch: Among India's Revolutionary Guerrillas (2018). 

India after Naxalbari, like any Marxist text, cannot be read in a single-level reductionist text caught in the binary of revolution vs. reaction, insurrection vs. parliamentary politics. Instead a critical-historico-political reading is necessary to understand this movement and where it is going. That it has been declared a terrorist outfit by the Indian state in 2006 and also that a number of arrests have been made in 2018 has also to be noted. At this point the question that needs to be posed is: 'Is the Naxalite movement now metamorphosized as the Communist Party of India (Maoist) a revolutionary force that can really facilitate transformation of society from capitalism to socialism, or is it merely an anarchist movement which celebrates terror and violence?'

These points are of great importance not only which pertain to this movement but to Marxism as a whole. At this juncture one recall Trotsky's Terrorism and Communism where he hailed revolutionary terror and Slavoj Zizek's reflections on violence and terror in his introductions to Robespierre, Trotsky and Mao.  Further: 'Was Mao the 'Marxist Lord of Misrule' as Zizek claims?  If this  is the case then what about the Indian Maoists?'

Besides a critical-historico-political reading, the questions that the previous General Secretary of the CPI(M) Prakash Karat raised in 1985 claiming that the movement is built on 'left-opportunism' which is 'dangerous for the left movement' because of their 'potential for mischief'  have also to be noted. Besides this observation, one must also reflect on Paresh Chattopadhyay's 2010 essay 'On 'What is Maoism?': Some Comments' where he has raised fundamental issues on theory in dialogue with D'Mello in the pages of Economic & Political Weekl . The understanding of the Naxalite movement is grounded in the theoretical understanding of Maoism. This itself leads to the understanding of Marxism itself.

Broadly speaking, Maoism is known as socialism in colonial and post-colonial nations dominated by the peasantry where an armed guerilla movement would herald the 'two stage' revolution. A bloc of four classes, the national bourgeoisie, middle class, peasantry and the proletariat would compose the revolutionary classes. That Mao himself involved an epistemological break from Marx's own understanding of revolutions, where Marx's ideas of multi-linear historicism and the Asiatic mode of production are not ever referred to, has to be pointed out. That Maoism emerged in China after Stalin's complicit hand in the mass murder of Chinese communist party workers in April 12, 1927, when Chiang Kai-shek ordered his troops to fire on the communist workers , and that Maoist political economy rests on commodity production-so called 'socialist commodity production', as Mao christens this in his Critique of Soviet Economic -has to be remembered.

The question thus that D'Mello raises: 'What is Maoism?' remains central to understanding this work. This book however should be read in conjunction with his earlier edited book What is Maoism and Other Essays which has chapters authored by Paul Sweezy, Harry Braverman, Ralf Miliband, Harry Magdoff, John Gurley, William Hinton and Tilak Gupta. While a number of reasons crop up in reading these two texts together, two fundamental points come up, the first that D'Mello asks (quoting the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation), one of the many Naxalite factions who have besides embraced parliamentary politics, have also massive presence in India, especially in the students' movement) calling the Communist Party of India (Maoist) 'anarcho-militarist'  and the second is Harry Braverman's essay 'Lenin and Stalin' (included by D'Mello in What is Maoism and Other Essays and first published in Monthly Review in 1969) where not only the differences between Lenin and Stalin are drawn, but literally the criminal aspects of Stalin are noted. This needs to be brought since the Naxalites brush over not only the stark differences between Lenin and Stalin, but also ignore Lenin's 1922 'Letter to the Congress' when Lenin had planned removing Stalin from the post of Secretary-General.  For the Indian Maoists, Stalin is the true successor to Lenin and the philosopher avant la letter of Leninism. For them the ideology of revolution is 'Marxism Leninism Mao Zedong Thought'.

Readers must be reminded of the Lenin-Stalin hostility especially in relation with Lenin's question of 'national autonomy' of the republics (Georgia, Ukraine, Byelorussia) forming the Soviet Union-and Stalin consequently calling Lenin a spokesperson of 'national liberalism'.

That there is a severe epistemological break between Lenin and Stalin has to be noted. Yes, true, D'Mello talks of 'Leninism and its Stalinist Decompositions'. Yet there is an unbearable weight of Stalinism on the Indian Maoist movement, and number of issues that crop up when discussing the Naxalite movement. The first is on the transition from feudalism to capitalism and the consequent struggle for socialism. But this issue is closely connected with other questions rarely posed in India, namely: 'Did India ever have the feudal mode of production? And if it did not then why do the Maoists talk of 'semi-feudalism'?' One must note here that for Marx (and Engels) no feudalism ever existed in India.

Thus when we are articulating this book, the questions: 'Is Maoism revolutionary or of class compromising character?, Is the bloc of four classes nothing but nationalistic and out and out bourgeois? and Is not this idea of the block of four classes an invention of the Mensheviks who could not create a programme of revolutionary overthrow of Czarism in Russia?' remain central for understanding the Naxalite movement. But the most important issue to understand the emergence and sustenance of this movement is to understand the dependency of the non-Maoist communist movement on parliamentary politics and the creation of the communist parties as bureaucratic entities totally alienated from the mass of the peasants and workers. The Naxals were, and are, rebels against this bureaucratic fetishism. But most of all they are rebels against the state of poverty, underdevelopment and super-exploitation. But then the rebellion is, to borrow from the repertoire of Lenin, an infantile rebellion-the rebellion of the child against the trauma-causing father.

 But there are deeper terrains that lie beneath underdevelopment and super-exploitation and that the discovery of these deep structures is initiated by a revolution that is lead by thinking people and that without 'revolutionary theory', to recall Lenin, 'there can be no revolutionary movement'.  Consequently to understand the Naxalite movement, not only have these points to be remembered, but one also has to recall Paresh Chattopadhyay's questions (directed to D'Mello) that there is an epistemological break between Marx and Stalin-Mao (he also includes Lenin here), that he (D'Mello) and Paul Sweezy are wrong in interpreting Marx and Engels; that Lenin has to be understood as the beginnings of the degeneration of Marxism and his misinterpretation of Marx and finally that Mao was an 'ideological Stalinist' and in no way has to be understood as an authentic Marxist. 

This means that there is an 'authentic Marxism' that lies beyond of the Stalin-Mao duo. Besides Paresh Chattopadhyay's extremely important observations, the issues raised by Jairus Banaj that the entire repertoire of revolution of the Indian Maoists is a 'rhetorical one' and 'the Maoist grasp of theory is unbelievably primitive, a collage of abstractions that bear little relation to reality at any level (analysis or strategy)'  and Kunal Chattopadhyay who says that the Maoists are caught in 'the shackles of Stalinist substitutionism'  have to be noted.

Consequently a large theoretical tract has to be made in order to understand the nuances in Marxism. One cannot be a liberal or a romantic seduced by Arundhati Roy's essay 'Walking with the Comrades' -Banaji calls this 'anti-Marxist, tribal revolutionary romance' -in order to understand revolution and counterrevolution in India.

Keeping in mind a critical reading which will have to note what revolution means in Marxism, the role of force in making revolutions and what post-Marx Marxists like Trotsky and Žižek (as we noted in the beginning of this essay) conceptualized on the role of force in making revolutions, followed by the role of parliamentary politics in furthering the revolutionary cause; we turn to this book. Without doubt this book is one of the best expositions on the Naxalite movement. D'Mello is no dogmatist or romantic, nor an anarchist or rebel without a cause. He is a thinker and a chronicler of a movement.

Structure Of India After Naxalbari
The book is set in ten chapters with an appendix on caste, besides an introduction. It begins with the first phase of the movement in March 1967 in Naxalbari in West Bengal when what D'Mello calls 'tribal peasants organized into peasant committees' under the leadership of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) began a program of anti-landlordism where they burnt land records, cancelled debts and looted the armory of the landlords.

Carefully argued and well documented, each event has got detailed references. What makes this book of utmost importance is the large repertoire and the mass of literature used to document this movement. Thus D'Mello is able to mobilize the following to garner the facts and arguments that comprise this book. These are Utsa and Prabhat Patnaik's theory of imperialism along with Rosa Luxemburg's Accumulation of Capital, Joan Robinson's introductory reading to Marxist economics, Sumanta Banarjee's book on Naxalite poetry and his remarkable In the Wake of Naxalbari, Manorajan Mohanty's Red and Green, the archives of Charu Mazumdar, the documents of the PUDR (People's Union for Democratic Rights), the works of Marx and Mao, Paul Baran, Bertell Ollman, Tomlinson, Hamza Alvi, Amiya Bagchi, Vivek Chibber, Amit Bhaduri, K Balgopal, Ramchandra Guha, Bipan Chandra, Rana

When the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is on a triumphant rise where liberals and leftists evoke the phantasmagorical political memory of the Congress party to save them from the onslaught of the BJP, his observations and notes on the relation between the Mukesh Ambani (now openly seen as the capitalist icon of neo-liberal capitalist 'development' BJP style) and the Congressdemonstrates what non-partisan writing is about, and that one should not get trapped in the logic of empiricism where the relation between state power and neo-liberalism is obfuscated and presented as the relation between only one party and only one capitalist firm. This is of fundamental importance since the parliamentary left engulfed in empiricism and social engineering no longer talk of capitalism, imperialism and the state as the committee of the capitalists, never thus talk of the problems that capitalism is creating (economically, socially, culturally and now most importantly ecologically), but criticize only certain capitalist firms that are seen aligning or funding the BJP. Thus the question of revolution is not posed by D'Mello in terms and references to only one party (i.e. support to one ruling/dominant party or one political and ideological bloc), but to the state, i.e. the state as state. In this sense this book clearly demarcates the politics of Naxalbari and that of the CPI and CPI(M) which because of their entrenched parliamentary politics have stopped critiquing the state, criticising only certain political parties as per their Stalinist empiric dictates. This book in contrast to the ideology of the CPI and CPI(M) highlights the importance of understanding the importance of the critique of the state, its policies and its abilities to create 'monstrous income inequality'.

Another important feature of D'Mello's book is that he refuses to become 'ideological' (in the negative sense of the term), i.e. he refuses to be burdened by ideologies of Lenin-Stalin-Mao, the way for example Paresh Chattopadhyaya  does or Banaji , both whose engagement with the Naxalite movement is in the negative sense. It is thus a clinically parched document, but not a dry one. True there is no ideology in the negative sense, but there is writing in the Marxist humanist sense, or what he himself calls 'the 'New Left' revolutionary humanism' . In this Marxist humanist spirit he says that the Soviet bloc was 'the so-called socialist bloc' where 'Leninism (was) already tarnished by Stalinist practice' . This is however a departure from Maoist ideology, for the Indian Maoists have never openly critiqued Stalin and Stalinism. What happened in this movement, since the 1960s is that while there was mass revolutionary zeal of people that included students, workers and peasants, there was also the authoritarian Stalinist ideology of 'politics in command'. Thus one part of this movement was humanistic (that included the masses in ferment), the other part was Stalinist. One moved forwards, the other retarded this forward movement.

For D'Mello what is of prime importance is humanism that defines this movement. In fact it is this humanism that inspired students to abandon their middle class interests and work tireless in the most oppressed sections of the masses. Not only would these students soon to become leaders in this movement have to face the wrath of the state and periodically get arrested under various governments, but many would die unable to get even basic medical amenities. It is in this sense that D'Mello talks of revolutionary humanism. But alas, these comrades never read Marx's Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 where Marx links alienation in capitalist society with the advancement of mass dehumanisation. What these comrades could not do is that they could not actively link Marx's philosophy of humanism with revolutionary politics. They could not create what Erich Fromm called 'socialist humanism'. Instead, to protest dehumanisation, they took resort to mindless violence.

D'Mello besides mentioning and analysing the three phases of the movement (chapters 1, 4 and 7), he also analyzes the governance of the financial aristocrats and the 'rotten' character of India political liberalism where it was not people who rise in the defense of so-called democracy, but money. Herein D'Mello mentions how the then Prime Minister Narasimha Rao in 1993 not only survived a no-confidence motion, but literally purchased this motion by buying out ten members of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and Janata Dal. This is because-and this is of fundamental importance-the Indian state since Nehru was a 'centre of patronage'.

D'Mello does not go further. One only wishes he could have further explored this domain, especially in light of Marx's idea of the 'oriental despot' where the state appears as patron and people as clients to this despotic-patron state. Neither in the social sciences in India, nor in any of the dimensions of the Indian Marxist movement, is their even a shadow of reflection on Marx's original idea of India and the Indian state in terms of caste olicharchy and oriental despotism. Yes D'Mello does mention Arup Kumar Sen's 'Indian Mutiny (1857): Popular Revolts against British Imperialism', Suniti Kumar Ghosh's 'Marx on India', Ramakrishna Mukherjee's The Rise and Fall of the East India Company  and Hamza Alvi's article 'India: Transition to Colonial Capitalism'; but the fundamental character of Indian history and the consequent modes of production emanating governed thereon by the caste oligarchy remains hidden. This probably is the biggest error in the left movement in India that they have not read Marx seriously. There is thus no reference at all to Marx's Ethnological Notebooks. By and large it is not only the Maoists but the political left in India which is deaf to Marx's 1877 letter to the Narodnikis and the 1881 letter to Vera Zasulich  where an alternative revolutionary process is mentioned, an alternative that bypasses capitalism completely. The problem with the Indian left is that they are obsessed with the idea of unilinear historicism where the 'stages' theory is mechanically forced onto radical Indian politics. The radical left is no different from the parliamentary left, for both are caught on the past of imagined bourgeois revolutions. All of them are suck up with the old Menshevikean idea of bourgeois revolution. The conclusion is that one merely borrows from the vocabulary of Mao which is a complete disjunction from Marx's original repertoire.

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Vol. 53, No. 36, Mar 7 - 13, 2021