‘Maoism’, State and the Communist Movement in India
Commentators have romanticised, eulogised and demonised 'Maoism' in many superficial ways; the point however is to appropriately assess this important trend and develop a correct political approach to it.
In the first part we showed that the Central as well as State governments are using the state-Maoist confrontation as a pretext to suppress people’s struggles on basic issues and crush the resistance against the state-sponsored corporate plunder of the country’s resources; from the standpoint of this broader movement we then started an investigation into the theory and practice of ‘Maoism’ in India. Let us move ahead.
Maoist Boycott: Participation by Other Means
Lenin opposed “passive rejection, abstention, evasion of elections” and advocated “active boycott... as a declaration of open war against the old regime, a direct attack upon it”, immediately adding, “unless there is a broad revolutionary upswing, unless there is no mass unrest which overflows, as it were, the bounds of the old illegality, there can be no question of the boycott succeeding.”i
Really, there is no question of the boycott tactic succeeding -- in a Leninist sense -- in conditions generally obtaining in present-day India. But our clever friends have found a way to claim success. They want us to believe that the passive abstention of a large section of the people from elections shows that their boycott slogan is correct, conveniently forgetting that people who do not go to the polling booths are not generally involved in any “broad revolutionary upswing”. Going by their logic, the weapon of boycott would seem to be more successful in those advanced capitalist countries where polling percentages are even lower!
However, to themselves they concede that the importance of Parliament and State legislatures as the seat of political power cannot be wished away and that they too have a stake in which party forms government. So they cannot avoid taking part in electoral politics. But they do so in their own distorted ways: indirectly, secretively, conspiratorially, usually by supporting one reactionary party against some narrowly conceived “main enemy” -- another reactionary or “revisionist” party.
This tactic-turned-strategy was most ‘successfully’ implemented in Andhra Pradesh in the 2004 assembly elections. They enforced one-sided boycott on TDP and BJP while canvassing in favour of Congress candidates and the ‘success’ lay in the fact that Chandrababu Naidu, whom they had earlier tried to eliminate by pure ‘Maoist’ means, was now removed from power by parliamentary means and a friendly Congress government installed. It is another matter though that after some apparent progress in the talks that ensued, the friend suddenly turned hostile and launched a repressive campaign even more ferocious than that of Chandrababu Naidu.
In Bihar, during the Laloo era Maoists were widely known as “RJD during the day and Maoists by night”. In many places they used to mobilise votes and manage booths in favour of RJD candidates while trying to damage the prospects of rival contestants, ML nominees in particular. Acting in collusion with the then ruling RJD and the local police administration, they attacked the CPI (ML) office at Paliganj, Bihar, in August 2004 -- barely 6 months before the February 2005 assembly elections -- killing five comrades in their sleep at the dead of night and officially justified the killings.
In Jharkhand, where the erstwhile MCC already had a long and nasty record of killing our comrades, CPI (Maoist) squads allowed themselves to be utilised by the ruling BJP and the notorious SP of Giridih in gunning down comrade Mahendra Singh during election campaign in January 2005.
Such examples in their stronger areas have been replicated even in West Bengal in a somewhat different manner as demanded by the very different conditions obtaining there. They have had clandestine local level deals with both the CPI(M) and the Trinamool Congress (mostly with the latter) in different areas at different times to suit their own convenience. In many CPI(M) strongholds including Nandigram and other areas they used their firepower to clear the ground for the entry of TMC; subsequently too, they have trained their guns mainly on CPI(M) cadres. The Maoists have even gone beyond this to express their open preference for Mamata Banerjee in no uncertain terms. In September this year Kolkata’s Ananda Bazaar Patrika and some other dailies published Politburo member Kishenjee’s detailed views on why he thought Mamata Banerjee was the fittest person to replace Budhhadev Bhattacharya as the Chief Minister. In recent months Ms Banerjee, now that her purpose has been served and she finds herself within striking distance from the coveted seat of power in West Bengal, has started distancing herself from Maoists; but that only proves her cunning – not any principled position on the part of CPI (Maoist).
Even if we set aside the aspect of secretive, indirect participation, abstention from politics – particularly from participation in elections – always boils down to subordination of the working people to bourgeois politics and constitutes a basic feature of anarchism. This is so because you just cannot cut yourself off from crosscurrents of dominant politics of the day, which can only be bourgeois politics in present conditions. And this subordination can happen in either of two ways: when the masses are left to the mercy of bourgeois electoral propaganda alone (since the ‘revolutionary party’ is absent from the scene) or when the latter, rather than fielding its own candidates and contesting independently, supports parties like RJD or Congress with an eye to some temporary gains for itself. The Maoists are masters of both methods.
The utter Maoist indifference to the task of combating bourgeois politics with revolutionary politics, especially in the arena of elections, can also be seen in the emerging phenomenon of ‘ex-Maoists’ joining the electoral fray in Jharkhand. It started initially as Maoists contesting the polls as independent candidates before Kameshwar Baitha, an erstwhile commander contested on BSP ticket from Palamau LS (SC) seat in a by-poll in 2006. Baitha finished second in that election and in 2009 he contested as a Congress-backed JMM nominee and won the polls. The Assembly polls in November-December 2009 saw a whole contingent of Maoist leaders contesting the polls in the state, most notably in the Palamau region, and almost all of them are JMM nominees. In the 2009 LS election we had put up a former Maoist leader from the Chatra LS constituency, but by the time of Assembly election we found him migrating to the RJD!
The CPI(M) too caters to the same subordination of the working class to bourgeois politics by means of all sorts of pacts with the latter, but they do so often with a different set of logic, like defeating the ‘main enemy’ and securing a few seats in the process, whereas Maoists want quid-pro-quo with dominant local leaders/major state parties/state governments. Subordination to bourgeois politics thus expresses itself both as social democratic parliamentary cretinism and anarchist “boycottism” (to borrow once again from Lenin, who said ‘left’ phrase mongers reduced the politics of Bolshevism to this narrow concept),with the CPI(M) taking pride in having the longest-running state government or the biggest contingent of left MPs (never mind the recent reversals) and the CPI (Maoist) complimenting itself for upholding what is commonly perceived as one of the most distinct hallmarks of pure, unadulterated Naxalism.
But this is a patently superficial and one-sided perception. Depending on assessment of situation, Charu Mazumdar advocated utilization of elections for the sake of revolutionary advance and he called for a boycott when that assessment changed radically. In the penultimate article of his celebrated Eight Documents written less than six months before the Naxalbari uprising he asked revolutionary communists “to take advantage of these elections to propagate our politics… the politics of New Democratic Revolution… of worker-peasant unity under working class leadership, of armed struggle …”ii
After the first UF government was formed, he wrote: "communists may join an alternative government with only one purpose – to create conditions for launching movements, and not to protect or uphold constitutional obligations. But if, instead of advancing along this path, calls for struggle are given on one hand and on the other the owning classes are assured that they have nothing to fear, the whole perspective of the struggle gets lost. The target of struggle itself gets blurred. This line inevitably leads to the path of class collaboration.”iii Clearly, he was not against participation in an alternative government on principle; his debate was on how to utilise such government for the advancement of class struggle.
It was only before the mid-term elections that was held after the implosion of the first UF government, that CM advanced the slogan of boycott. In late 1968, with the CPI(M) spreading constitutional illusions under the slogan of another UF government and communist revolutionaries longing for a direct assault on the state in a context of rapid upswing of revolutionary peasant movement, the question of choice of the path of struggle assumed decisive importance. The latter, much like Russian Bolsheviks in 1905, felt it necessary to fight constitutional illusions “with the utmost demonstrativeness. And that meant refusing to take part, abstaining oneself and holding the people back, issuing a call for an assault on the old regime instead of working within the framework of an institution set up by that regime.” iv On behalf of AICCR, CM wrote:
“In the present era when imperialism is heading towards total collapse, revolutionary struggle in every country has taken the form of armed struggle; Soviet revisionism, unable to retain its mask of socialism, has been forced to adopt imperialist tactics; world revolution has entered a new higher phase; and socialism is marching irrepressibly forward to victory … the slogans ‘boycott elections’ and ‘establish rural bases and create areas of armed struggle’ … remain valid for the entire era.”v
Boycott elections and build base areas/areas of arms struggle – this integrated call was clearly premised on the assumed existence of a whole era of worldwide revolutionary upswing and rapid advance of socialism. This arguably proved to be a case of overestimation, but the lesson that must be learnt here is that the tactic of boycott is premised on the assessment of situation and employed not negatively but as a positive weapon so as to lead the people along a more direct course of action towards seizure of power. But to delink the boycott tactic from these basic conditions or to imagine that such conditions obtain permanently in a country like India is a clear travesty of Marxism-Leninism, or Maoism if you will. Ostrich like, our Maoist friends bury their heads in the sands of the past because they lack the political courage to wield the difficult weapon of parliamentary struggle and continue to play with the great Leninist tactic of boycott.
This does not mean that communists should opt for the polar opposite – the parliamentary path. It is entirely possible and absolutely imperative to keep up the revolutionary spirit and uphold the revolutionary perspective even while participating in elections and waging parliamentary battles, as Lenin observed after the failure of the first Russian Revolution of 1905: “since the accursed counter-revolution has driven us into this accursed pigsty [the Duma – AS], we shall work there too for the benefit of the revolution, without whining, but also without boasting.”[i]
It is in this spirit that true heirs to the legacy of undivided CPI(ML) has been developing a principled policy framework for parliamentary struggle: (a) take parliamentary forms of struggle as supplementary and subservient to extra-parliamentary forms, (b) participate in elections for the basic purpose of organizing powerful political campaigns with a view to projecting alternative policies in different spheres and heightening the political assertion of the working people as an independent force, (c) measure success mainly by our ability to integrate our election campaign with the basic movement of the people and raise the level of popular mobilization (d) where elected, raise the voice of popular movements within these bodies (from panchayats up to the parliament) and play the role of revolutionary democratic opposition vis-à-vis higher authorities, (e) reserve the boycott tactics for exceptional circumstances marked by, inter alia, an unmistakable upswing in revolutionary struggle.
Left Sectarian Concept of Mass Organisations and Mass Movements
Right from comrade Kanai Chatterjee in late 1960s through comrade Seetaramaiya in early 1980s to the present leadership of CPI(Maoist), this stream has repeatedly stressed the importance of mass organizations and criticized the undivided CPI(ML) for neglecting these. The MCC for example, organized the Nari Mukti Sangh, the Revolutionary Peasants Committee etc in late 1970s; but these never developed beyond being rather decorative appendages to the parent body, observing a few commemorative days like the International women’s Day, Workers’ Day or November Revolution Day etc. The CPI(ML) PW made a more promising start by developing powerful mass movements under banners like the Rayathu Kuli Sangham (an organization of the rural poor), the Radical Students Union and so on. Through these it developed a broad mass base and a strong cadre force, but the good practice was aborted before long. As K Balagopal later pointed out, in the face of repression they underwent a political shift that would prove fatal. They made armed squads “the focal point of the activity” instead of “exposing the anti-poor bias of the government and extend[ing] their mass activity to a point that would have given their aspiration for state power a solid mass base”. One consequence of this was “The people for their part have come to look up to the squads as a substitute for their own struggle for justice. This has, on the one hand, created more enemies – victims of revolutionary arbitrariness – than they need have made, and, on the other, corrupted the masses into receivers of justice rather than fighters for it.”vi
The theoretical foundation of such lapse into anarchism is to be found in the Maoist document “Strategy and Tactics”. It talks of a wide array of mass organizations from “strictly underground revolutionary mass organizations” to “legal democratic organizations” to “cover organizations”, but only from a narrow militarist standpoint:
“While recognising the importance of mass organisations and mass struggles, we have to also keep in mind that in the revolution as a whole, it is war or armed struggle against state, that will be the main form of struggle and the army the main form of organisation. … from the very beginning, our orientation, perspective and the method of building mass organisations and mass struggles should be to serve the war directly or indirectly.”
Well, perhaps such perception would be valid in pre-revolutionary China, but superimposing it on present Indian conditions betrays an obsession with war, i.e., partisan armed action against the state and/or the ruling party isolated from the natural objective course of peasant struggle and other popular movements. This has been most glaringly borne out in Lalgarh.
The CPI(Maoist) admits that the people’s movement in Lalgarh was a spontaneous one and the party “played the role of a catalyst.” [Ganapathy’s interview in Open magazine, October 2009.] Ganapathy also said “The people of Lalgarh had even boycotted the recent Lok Sabha polls, thereby unequivocally demonstrating their anger and frustration with all the reactionary ruling class parties.”
This second claim is a naked lie. The adivasis, like people in Nandigram, were eager to vote, but without letting the hated police in their villages. So on their behalf the People’s Committee proposed that booths must be set up outside the villages where police boycott was still on. The government had to concede this demand and the people voted en masse, with the authorities providing free transport.
And what was this “role of catalyst”?
Like peasants in Singur and Nandigram who rose in arms against state-sponsored corporate land grab, adivasis in Lalgarh revolted against police atrocities demanding apology from and punishment for guilty officials. As in Nandigram, tens of thousands of women and men with their traditional weapons actively created their own liberated zone of sorts, very different from Maoist guerrilla zones that exist on the strength of firearms of guerrilla squads. It is this mass dimension that placed Lalgarh in the proud category of Singur and Nandigram and earned for it great support from all corners of India and abroad. What Maoists managed to do was to take over the reins of the movement from the People’s Committee against Police Atrocities (PCPA) and mark it with typical Maoist features like serial killings, often with barbaric features such as murdering a teacher in front of schoolchildren, leaving the body of a slain CPI(M) cadre rot under the sun for days together; and so on. In the process, much of the movement’s broad democratic appeal was lost and its distinct political voice muted, while the state government found what it was looking for: a pretext for launching the crackdown. The valiant adivasi masses are still carrying on their struggle against the state-centre joint para-military campaign, but unless the movement can free itself from the Maoist stereotype and find its independent political voice, we are afraid it stands the risk of being eventually subsumed by the ruling class agenda, whether in the name of “restoration of law and order” or “delivering development and good governance”.
Destroying the spontaneous dynamism of the masses in the name of armed struggle goes against Mao’s revolutionary mass line and constitutes the root cause why Maoists can never build real broad mass organizations; Lalgarh proves this once again.
Maoist Modus Operandi
Of late, we are hearing a lot about Maoist development work. For example, in Dandakaranya region of Chhattisgarh they have helped the poor build irrigation tanks and wells. Such work has been compared to Gandhian constructive work/work of “good NGOs” and bestowed with generous praise from well-meaning reformist quarters and official circles (see "Report of an Expert Group to the Planning Commission", April 2008). However, this particular strand cannot be judged separately from Maoist praxis as a whole, and surely the main thrust or USP (unique selling point) of Maoist politics is not grassroots development work but sensational actions -- the kidnappings, political killings, raids on police stations, destruction of soft targets like unguarded railway stations and tracks and so on. This brand of politics runs, and can only run, on a vast network of extortion economics. Huge levy or tax is regularly collected from all kinds of sources in their areas of operation: from contractors and brick kiln owners to tendu leaves merchants and other industrialists and businessmen, from illegal forest product dealers and coal and iron ore miners to corporate houses and bureaucrats. With manifold increase in flow of funds into rural areas for various development schemes, Maoists now find it convenient to share a slice of this development cake too. The dependence on big amounts of money runs contrary to the cardinal revolutionary principle of reliance on the people, a key tenet in the example set by the CPC under Mao’s leadership in the course of the victorious Chinese revolution.
Even if the big amounts gathered through extortion is sought to be legitimized as ‘tax’, the problem is, by paying ‘tax’ the vested interests earn a license to loot and exploit, and a patron-client relation often develops between them and the ‘tax’ collector, and the masses are inevitably discouraged, even restricted, from launching movements against the exploiters. Maoist sensationalism thus flourishes at the cost of class struggle and adds to their coercive power and ‘authority’. In the past, clashes between MCC, PWG and PU were a routine affair; even now internecine clashes among squads belonging to the unified party are occasionally reported, especially from Jharkhand and Bihar. It is such pecuniary interests again which prompts them to try and obstruct the entry of other Left parties in what they consider their fiefdoms. Our party has had a bitter experience of this sectarian exclusiveness – of direct engagement with Maoists. In the next part of this article we would like to share this experience with our readers.
Maoism or Anarcho-militarism?
The outline sketch of India’s Maoism attempted above leads us to characterize it as a negation of Marxism-Leninism, a caricature of Mao Zedong Thought, and a deviation from the revolutionary legacy of CPI(ML) – as anarcho-militarism. We believe this characterisation traces so-called “Maoism” back to its basic ideological roots (anarchism) and at the same time brings out its most important specific feature or manifestation (militarism).
Anarchism, broadly defined as a political philosophy encompassing theories and attitudes which consider the state or compulsory government to be unnecessary and/or undesirable, has been in existence within and without the arena of working class movement for a very long time. The most influential proponent of anarchism within the International Working Men's Association (First International) was Russia's Bakunin. He held that abolition of the bourgeois state was the immediate task, which the workers were to carry out not by forming a workers’ party, not by political struggle, but by ‘direct action’. In the words of Engels, “... since for Bakunin the state is the main evil, nothing must be done which can keep the state... alive. Hence complete abstention from all politics. To commit a political act, especially to take part in an election, would be a betrayal of principle....” (Engels to Theodor Cuno, 24 January 1872)
After the historic defeat it suffered at the hands of Marx and Engels in the First International, it was no longer possible for anarchism to reappear as a wing of the working-class movement in its pristine countenance. But in newer forms it continued to resurface again and again as a disruptive trend that negates or neglects the role of protracted mass political work as a condition for the attainment of a revolutionary goal.
“Anarchism is bourgeois individualism in reverse…. Anarchism is a product of despair. [It is the] psychology of the unsettled intellectual or the vagabond and not of the proletarian … Failure to understand the class struggle of the proletariat. Absurd negation of politics in bourgeois society. …Failure to understand the role of the organisation and the education of the workers. …Panaceas consisting of one-sided, disconnected means. …Subordination of the working class to bourgeois politics in the guise of negation of politics.” -- Lenin, Anarchism and Socialism, Collected Works, volume 5
In Russia for example, anarcho-syndicalists rejected “petty work”, especially the utilisation of the parliamentary platform, and held that workers could capture factories and seize power through trade unions without a disciplined proletarian party. Other ultra-left trends also got mixed up with anarchism to produce various shades of “petty bourgeois semi-anarchist (or dilettante-anarchist) revolutionism” and Lenin summed up the experience of his lifelong struggle against such trends in 'Left-Wing' Communism -- An Infantile Disorder. One of the most concise descriptions of anarchism is to be found in his theses contrasting anarchism against Marxism (see box).
In China as in Russia, the Communist Party found itself engaged in a continuous “struggle on two fronts” -- against both right and ‘left’ opportunism or in other words against “rightist pessimism” and “left impetuosity”. In the article On Correcting Mistaken Ideas in the Party Mao writes about “various non-proletarian ideas”, the first and foremost being “the purely militarist viewpoint”. This viewpoint, says he, “regard[s] military affairs and politics as opposed to each other and refuse to recognize that military affairs are only one means of accomplishing political tasks. Some even say, ‘if you are good militarily, you are good politically; if you are not good militarily, you cannot be any good politically’ -- this is to go a step further and give military affairs a leading position over politics....
“The sources of the purely military viewpoint are... a low political level... the mentality of mercenaries... overconfidence in military strength and absence of confidence in the strength of the masses of the people...” (emphases added; notice the similarity with our ‘Maoists’)
Mao also takes note of alien ideas like “subjectivism”, “disregard of organisational discipline”, “the ideology of roving rebel bands” and “remnants of putschism”. The most important manifestation of putschism, he says, is “blind action regardless of subjective and objective conditions”, adding that “in its social origins, putschism is a combination of lumpen-proletarian and petty bourgeois ideology.”
This is how, in different ways in different climes and times, “petty bourgeois revolutionism, which smacks of anarchism, or borrows something from the latter” (Lenin in Left-Wing Communism) tends to get mixed up with other alien tendencies and crop up “in somewhat new forms, in a hitherto unfamiliar garb or surroundings” (ibid), posing ever newer challenges to revolutionary Marxism. In the peculiar historical and social setting of our country, anarchism has evolved with a pronounced militarist overtone, compelling us to call them anarcho-militarists.
This characterization does not in the least deny that the CPI(Maoist) strikes a chord of sympathy and support among a section of students and intellectuals with revolutionary leanings. As Engels pointed out, anarchist propaganda “sounds extremely radical and is so simple that it can be learnt by heart in five minutes; that is why the Bakuninist theory has speedily found favour in Italy and Spain among young lawyers, doctors, and other doctrinaires. But the mass of workers will never allow itself to be persuaded...”vii This is true for the Indian working class also. However, Maoism has a wide support base among some most marginalized sections, especially adivasis, among whom they have been working with great persistence over a long time. In their main areas of work they sometimes mobilize hundreds or a few thousands of people in their militant programs. For all this, they remain anarchists -- in their abstention from mainstream politics, i.e. capitulation to bourgeois politics, especially during election times; aloofness from the available democratic space and fetishization of the underground; refusal to form/work in democratically functioning mass organisations; terrorist actions, including attempts on the lives of Chief Ministers, which take us back to the early phase of revolutionary terrorism in India’s freedom movement.
This is about the general political content of anarchism. As for the concrete manifestation in the form of militarism, it appears and reappears, in the full glare of media publicity, as a series of sensational military actions and, in theory, as feudal-bourgeois warmongering in reverse, as an exclusively militarist understanding and articulation of the whole gamut of strategy and tactics, as a doctrine of subordination of everything to a war in permanence.
Overall, the most crucial characteristics noted by Lenin in the boxed quotation should be easily discernible to anyone familiar with Indian Maoists: individualistic work style of dalams and federative nature of the organization (much like anarcho-syndicalism, where sections of workers and their trade unions worked under separate controls) with state and regional units operating autonomously in matters of extortions, executions etc, leading to frequent cases of “mistakes” admitted later by top leaders (as in the case of Francis Indwar murder in Jharkhand and attacks on polling officials in Chhattisgarh); reckless actions causing unnecessary inconvenience, even death, to common people ; acts of heroism frequently interspersed with cases of surrender and betrayals leading to arrests of senior leaders (like Kobad Ghandy) and major losses caused by adventurism (as in Andhra Pradesh); the exclusive panacea of squad actions -- which they use not only to settle scores with class enemies and the state but also to settle political debates with communist revolutionaries (recall numerous cases of murderous attacks on our comrades, including one on the house of comrade Nagbhusan Patnaik)and so on. These features unmistakably bring out the class character of anarchism: despair and desperation of “a petty bourgeois driven to frenzy by the horrors of capitalism” (Lenin in Left-Wing Communism).
But did not the CPI(Maoist) evolve from within the revolutionary communist movement? Yes it did, and only through a process crystallized into the present shape of fully fledged anarcho-militarism trend. The course of this evolution we plan to discuss in the last part of this article.
i Against Boycott, Lenin, collected works, volume 13
ii This theoretical direction corresponds to what he did in practice when he contested the 1963 by- election from Siliguri constituency as a CPI candidate, he used the occasion to forcefully propagate the politics of armed struggle and to condemn the Indian government as aggresor against China, thus going directly against the party line. He was defeated, scoring only some 3000 and odd votes. Let us have a victory procession, he said, for it is a big achievement that so many people have voted for armed struggle and against the frenzy of chauvinism. The procession was duly organised.
iii "Lessons of the Elections and the Responsibility of the True Marxist Leninists", dated 3rd April' 67
iv Against boycott, Lenin, collected works, volume 13
v “Boycott Elections!” International Significance of the Slogan ( Liberation, December 1968)
vi Maoist Movement in Andhra Pradesh, EPW, July 22, 2006, emphasis added
vii Letter to Theodor Cuno (24 January 1872)
viii The lack of concern for people’s lives stood out in an interview of Politburo Member Bimal with Mint (22 June, 2009):
Mint: A lot of civilians might die in the crossfire. Wouldn’t you be morally responsible for those killed?
Bimal: In a war, there are no civilians – there are people either on your side or against you.