The Present Situation and
The Growing Relevance of Charu Mazumdar
Utilising the grotesque activities of Maoists for political attacks on Charu Mazumdar (CM) has become a commonplace in the dominant media, much like blaming Marxism-Leninism for the distortions and eventual collapse of the Soviet Union (no one would hold Ambedkar responsible for the misdeeds of Mayawati though, nor blame Lohia-Jayprakash for those of Laloo-Nitish). Intellectual representatives of class forces ranged against revolution have a motive when they portray CM as the initiator and theorist of a trail of murders – they must not only attack this or that existing organisation, but use every opportunity to discredit and demolish the man who was physically eliminated nearly forty years back, but whose spectre continues to haunt them here, there, everywhere. Also there are people on the Left who describe him as a terrorist/anarchist/left adventurist out of superficial understanding of the questions involved and in some cases because they themselves have vacillating, contradictory attitudes towards revolution.
A Homicidal Maniac?
Dilip Simeon in Seminar 607 (“Permanent Spring” March 2010) quotes selectively from what he calls the “murder manual” (a note by CM), to depict him as "a man whose sole contribution to socialism consisted in elevating homicidial mania to a political principle" and places him in the dubious company of V D Savarkar. Even Arundhati Roy (“Walking with the Comrades”,
Outlook India, March 29, 2010) holds that CM's “abrasive rhetoric fetishises violence, blood and martyrdom, and often employs a language so coarse as to be almost genocidal”. However, Roy tells us, “we cannot judge him too harshly” – if only because he founded a party that “has kept the dream of revolution real and present in India.”
There are many others who confidently declare that the CPI (Maoist) is doing exactly what CM had asked his followers to do, if only on a higher plane: annihilations on a more massive scale, more killings, more bloodshed. They say this in spite of a host of glaring differences. In the 1970s the CPI(ML) was known for annihilation of landlords, who are now conspicuous by their absence in Maoist hit lists. CM made it a point that peasant fighters of CPI(ML) would rely on locally available traditional weapons, as opposed to the Maoist penchant for sophisticated firearms and explosives. CPI(ML) used to concentrate in plain areas with sharp anti-feudal contradiction whereas Maoists operate almost exclusively in jungle zones. The CPI(ML) never attacked innocent passengers in trains and buses, which the Maoists often take as soft targets. But one must go beyond these obvious differences to understand both the historical standing of Charu Mazumdar and his continuing relevance in the present situation.
A Dialectical and Historical Approach
"In my view", wrote Vinod Mishra in the 28 July special number of Deshabrati in 1984, "CM was the first personality in the communist movement in India to declare, in most emphatic and clear-cut terms, that liberation of India can be achieved only by relying on the poor peasant masses, by rousing them in revolutionary politics and through armed guerrilla struggle. He did not stop at declaring this basic orientation. To implement it, he built up a revolutionary party and provided the most firm leadership to the overall revolutionary struggle. At a time when the Indian Communists were all but sinking in the quagmire of revisionism, it was none other than CM who voiced the Indian people's thunderous battle cry for liberation. Even his mistakes showed us the deeper meaning of being a true Communist. It is through his eyes that we dreamt of a liberated people’s democratic India -- a socialist India -- and pulsating with youthful vigour, the communist movement in our country got a new lease of life. He declared a veritable war on the revisionist line and on the deeply entrenched revisionism in every sphere of thought and work-style and made the first conscious attempt at integrating Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong thought with the concrete conditions obtaining in India.
“Since the endeavour itself was the very first of its kind, many things remained incomplete; many mistakes were committed; and most important, in the face of a revolutionary upsurge coupled with some primary successes it was forgotten that the life of a country or a nation is measured in decades -- not in years as in the case of an individual."
In the last line quoted here, VM alludes to the fond belief that our country would be liberated not later than the year 1975 -- a belief that was born of overestimation of revolutionary situation and impetuosity and helped the growth of ultra-leftist tendencies. The passage exudes a spirit of critical assimilation of our rich heritage, which comrade VM inherited from CM and which guided the party after reorganisation in correctly understanding the history of CPI(ML). Thus in "Evaluation of the past" (Political-Organisational Report, Third Party Congress, 1982) he wrote:
“Let us first deal with the question of combining armed struggle and mass struggle. The general repetition of this phrase as a panacea has no relevance for Marxists engaged in practical work. It remains a historical fact that all mass movements acquire newer forms in the course of their advance — constantly discarding the old and creating the new — and transformations as well as new alignments of new and old forms are thus observed. Our duty as communists is to take an active part in this process so as to develop suitable forms of struggle. As Lenin says, while not denying even a bit the necessity of force and terror on principle, we shall have to develop such forms of struggle in which direct participation of the masses has been assumed and this participation has been ensured.”
Proceeding from this Leninist theoretical framework, he drew attention to the specific historical setting and to what constituted the quintessential feature of CM's teachings:
“Coming out of the bounds of neo-revisionism after the heroic Naxalbari struggle, and after engaging in some two years of revolutionary practice to build mass movements, communist revolutionaries of India faced such a situation and longed for a new form of struggle. It was in this context that, in the heat of the Srikakulam struggle, ‘annihilation’ based on mass support was formulated.1 This sought to combine the beginnings of armed struggle with the step-by-step mobilisation of the masses in struggles. And it was this basic orientation in comrade Charu Mazumdar’s line, that of combining armed actions with mass struggles — with one aspect predominating at one time — which runs through his entire political line from the pre-Naxalbari days to the end of his life.”
The Founding Documents
This "basic orientation" is best encapsulated in the celebrated Eight Documents, produced at one of those rare moments in history when — as Marx had commented — taking one step in revolutionary action becomes more important than drawing up a dozen programmes. These were written between 1965 and 1967 (a) in the light of lessons of Tebhaga and Telangana uprisings (b) in the current context of an emerging revolutionary crisis in India and (c) as a purposeful intervention in the two-line struggle within the newly formed CPI(M) and more generally in the international struggle against Khruschovite revisionism. Between them they laid out the ideological foundation, programmatic orientation, political line, organisational principles and guidelines on work style required of a revolutionary Marxist-Leninist party, and thus became the prelude to Naxalbari and CPI(ML).
In the Eight Documents, it is necessary to note, CM did not call for election boycott. Rather he came out strongly in favour of utilisation of elections for the propagation of revolutionary politics. It is alleged that he stood for armed struggle and underground organisation alone, but in more than one of these articles we find him recognising all forms of struggle (he specifically mentions “mass deputation”, “movements for partial demands”, even “satyagraha”) and organisation (including TUs and Kisan Sabhas) while laying the stress on higher forms commensurate with the developing situation. Like Lenin in What Is To Be Done, CM in these documents fought against spontaneity (both economism and anarchism) to uphold the party’s conscious vanguard role and highlighted the importance of a well-knit organisation of professional revolutionaries.
Below we reproduce some excerpts from two articles written in 1967 and 1968, where he developed his revolutionary line in the form of a comprehensive critique of the official CPI(M) line.
In "Carry Forward the Peasant Struggle by Fighting Revisionism" (the eighth document, April ‘67) CM writes:
“...we have adopted the programme of a people's democratic revolution and the task of that revolution is to carry out land reforms in the interest of the peasants. Land reform in the peasant's interest is possible only when we are able to put an end to the sway of feudal classes over the rural areas. To do this, we shall have to seize land from the feudal classes and distribute it among the landless and poor peasants. We shall never be able to do this if our movement is confined to the limits of economism. In every area where there has been a movement for vested land it is our experience that the peasant who has got possession of vested land and secured the license is no longer active in the peasant movement. What is the reason? It is because the poor peasant's class has changed within a year--he has turned into a middle peasant. So, the economic demands of poor and landless peasants are no more his demands. Therefore, economism causes a breach in the unity of fighting peasants and makes the landless and poor peasants frustrated. Advocates of economism judge every movement by the quantity of paddy in maunds or of land in bighas that the peasant gets. Whether the peasant's fighting consciousness has increased or not, is never their yardstick. So they do not make any effort to raise the peasant's class consciousness.
“… the question naturally arises: Is there no need for peasants' mass struggle on partial demands in this era? Certainly the need is there and will be there in future also. Because India is a vast country and the peasants are also divided into many classes, so political consciousness cannot be at the same level in all areas and among all the classes. So there will always be the opportunity for and possibility of peasants' mass movement on the basis of partial demands and the Communists will always have to make full use of that opportunity. What tactics shall we adopt in conducting movements for partial demands and what shall be their objective? The basic point of our tactics is whether the broad peasant class has rallied or not, and our basic objective shall be the raising of the class consciousness of the peasants -- whether they have advanced along the path of broadbased armed struggle. Movements based on partial demands shall intensify class struggle. The political consciousness of the broad masses shall be raised. The broad peasant masses shall be roused in making sacrifices, the struggle shall spread to newer areas. The movements for partial demands may take any form but the Communists shall always propagate the necessity of higher forms of struggle among the peasant masses. ... Despite this propaganda, the peasants will possibly decide to go on mass deputations and we shall have to conduct that movement. In times of white terror the effectiveness of such mass deputation must in no way be underestimated, because these mass deputations will increasingly draw peasants into the struggle. Movements on partial demands are never to be condemned but it is a crime to conduct these movements in the manner of economism. It is a crime, moreover, to preach that movements on economic demands will automatically take the form of political struggle, because this is worshipping spontaneity….”
In “Develop Peasants’ Class Struggle through Class Analysis, Investigation and Study” (October 1968) he spelt out the revolutionary class line and work style in brief, swift strokes:
“The manner in which we have tried to develop peasant movements for all these years can be called nothing but revisionist tactics. Revisionism works in peasant movements with a view to keeping the Party’s activities open and relies for the movements on the Party leaders who belong to the intelligentsia. Consequently, they begin their movements with speeches by top leaders, by organizing peasant squads and through open propaganda campaigns. Naturally, such movements are wholly dependent upon the big leaders and, as a result, they end whenever those leaders belonging to the intelligentsia choose to withdraw them. Moreover, as the entire agitation and movement are carried out openly, the entire organization becomes helpless in the face of repression.
“The tactics of the revolutionaries for organizing peasant struggles must be entirely different from the revisionist tactics. The foremost duty of the revolutionaries is to spread and propagate the thought of Chairman Mao and to try to intensify the peasants’ class struggle. Consequently, the Party organization must organize propaganda by means of secret meetings. It may be that the peasants, acting under the influence of their old method of working, will ask for meetings and demonstrations. In such cases, the Party organization may help organize one or two such meetings or demonstrations.
But meetings and demonstrations can at no time become our main instrument of struggle. To master this revolutionary method is indeed very difficult. But this can be done if the revolutionary intellectuals start working in the underground from the very beginning. Only then will they be compelled to become dependent on the peasant revolutionaries. It must be realized that the people are not yet ready so long as the peasant revolutionaries do not take the initiative themselves. And naturally, we are not to impose our views on the peasant masses. The second deviation occurs when the peasant cadres want to do something, but the intellectual comrade attaches greater importance to the view of the most backward comrade and would have it accepted as the general opinion. This gives rise to a Right deviation.
“So, the first principle is that we must not impose anything at all against the will of the masses. If we forget this, we shall commit many deviations which may be variously termed as sectarianism, Castroism etc. To avoid this we must ceaselessly carry on political propaganda among the peasants. … Every such Party committee must have a definite area in which it will work, and must learn how to make a class analysis in that area and how to assess the wishes and thinking of each section of the population by means of investigation and study. …
“There are both an advanced section and a backward section among the revolutionary classes also. The advanced section can quickly grasp the revolutionary principles while the backward section naturally requires more time to assimilate political propaganda. That is why economic struggles against the feudal class are necessary, not only in the present, but in the future also. That is why the movement to seize the crops is necessary. The political consciousness and organization in a given area will determine the form that this struggle will assume. This struggle will naturally be directed against the feudal class, that is, against the non-cultivating landowners, that is, against the zamindar class and never against the middle peasants.
“If we do not try to develop a broad movement of the peasants and to draw the broad masses into the movement, the politics of seizure of power will naturally take a longer time to get firmly rooted in the consciousness of the peasant masses. As a result, the struggle will be dominated less and less by politics and the tendency to rely more and more on arms alone is likely to grow. ...
“Rich peasants in our country rely mainly on feudal exploitation. So, our relation with them will be mainly one of struggle. But as they are also subjected to the exploitation of the imperialist market, it is possible to unite with them at certain stages of the struggle. Apart from these rich peasants, all other peasants can be mobilized not merely as supporters but also as participants in the struggle. The poor and landless peasants, under the leadership of the working class, can build up the fighting unity of the broad peasant masses. The more rapidly such unity is achieved, the quicker will the struggle assume a revolutionary character.”
Mass Dimension and Evolution of Party Line
The emphasis on combination of all forms of struggle and broad peasant unity is very clear. But did not the CPI(ML) under CM soon stray into a one-sided emphasis on armed activities? Yes it did, and despite CM's efforts to make amends and restore a balance2, we had to pay very dearly for this very serious deviation.
Having recognised this, however, we should look deeper and take note of a couple of cardinal facts about CPI(ML) -- its past and its present.
First, in sharp contrast to the theory and practice of our present-day self-professed ‘Maoists’, “the entire revolutionary process was aimed at developing a revolutionary mass line. Propaganda of political power among the peasants: ‘peasants should be mobilised for liberating their own villages and be told that not landlords but you will become the sole authority in settling the matters of the village, the land will be yours, tanks will be yours, and, after the annihilation of landlords, the police will not be able to trace who tills whose land, and so on’ — taking up their psychology and explaining in most popular forms to rouse them, was an important contribution of Comrade Charu Mazumdar. Such propaganda was just the opposite of revisionist propaganda. Comrade Charu Mazumdar formulated ‘annihilation’ not on the basis of negating the role of masses as cowards and regarding a few vanguards as "individual heroes", but rather on the basis of immense confidence on the tremendous creative energy latent in the masses."(VM in "Evaluation of the past").
Second, the maturation of party line took a complex course in our country. “The revolutionary line could acquire full shape only in a process and the Party while beginning with rejecting the old forms of struggle, could have brought about a new realignment of new and old forms only through a process.” (Ibid)
But the said process – and this is a peculiar feature of the Indian experience, one that has been a source of much confusion and misconception -- could not be completed at one go and under the same leadership. Disrupted by an early setback that eliminated or immobilised the entire first line of leadership, it could be resumed (and gradually carried to consummation in a relative sense) only under a new generation of youthful leaders who rebuilt the party from scratch, rid it of past mistakes while preserving and developing the kernel of CM’s political philosophy, and thus usher in a new course of advancement. Failure to connect the two phases of the single process of evolution of party line leads to a distorted, compartmentalised understanding where our present policies and practices are viewed as negation of the legacy of 1970s and supported or opposed on that ground; while the Maoist modus operandi is seen as continuation of the past and praised or criticised as such. Anyone interested in the history of CPI(ML) must reject this metaphysical mindset and cultivate a dialectical and integrated understanding of the Party’s past and present.
Letting the Past Serve the Present
And this is extremely important at the present juncture -- not just as an academic exercise, but as an urgent practical-political necessity. Much like in the 1960s, the people of our country are rising in waves of struggle at local, regional and national levels, throwing up new struggling forces from the grassroots. With both the old and the new CPI(M)s – the ‘Marxists’ and the ‘Maoists’ – finding themselves in serious crisis, we are now faced with the challenging prospect and task of effecting a forward-looking realignment of genuine Left forces and bringing about a countrywide radical Left resurgence. Now is the time when we must learn afresh from our finest traditions. A systematic study of the works of Charu Mazumdar and Vinod Mishra, which undoubtedly deserve to be treated as the classics of Indian revolution, would help us immensely to do justice to the responsibility history has placed on our shoulders
1 See our recently published booklet “Green Hunt is Witch Hunt: Resist It” for more on annihilation of class enemies.
2 In “Fight against the Concrete Manifestations of Revisionism” (September 1969) he wrote: “…The influence of bourgeois ideology is also evident from the fact that we rely more on weapons than on people. ...Another manifestation of bourgeois ideology is to magnify the importance of actions while giving no importance at all to political propaganda. This is what Chairman Mao has called 'militarism'. …” And again in “Strengthen the Party Organization” (October 1971): “As the struggle