‘Maoism’, State and the Communist Movement in India

Arindam Sen

(This is the first part of a three-part article to be continued in the next couple of issues – Ed.)
In our last number, and partly also in some previous issues, we discussed the contours of the Indian state's ongoing war on "left wing extremism", a sister project of the national-international "war on terror". From previous reports and bits of information the big picture that emerged there was that the Salwa Judum - meaning "Purification (or Peace) Hunt" in the Gondi language – which started in June 2005 as India’s most scandalous PPP (where private stands for Tata, Essar and other business interests, public stands for Chhattisgarh state government (ruled by BJP) and the union government (ruled by Congress) – see box) has since spread over the entire country in diverse forms and with greater or lesser intensity. The UPA Government’s politico-military offensive against Maoism constitutes a veritable war on the people of India, a multipronged assault on their basic democratic rights. The central as well as state governments are bent upon using the state-Maoist confrontation as a pretext to suppress people’s struggles on basic issues and crush the voice of protest and resistance against the state-sponsored corporate plunder of the country’s resources.
The growing opposition that the footfalls of emergency have evoked from wide cross-sections of the Left and democratic forces calls for a broad unity of these forces. But meaningful unity-in-action - as opposed to formal, passive unity-in-resolutions - can only be built on the basis of a critical appraisal of the issues in discourse as well as a clear understanding of our points of agreement and disagreement on these issues and on our tasks in the present situation.

Violence, Non-violence, and Negotiated Peace

As opposed to the brave fight put up by a number of journalists and authors, the role of corporate media in the current discourse has been mostly negative. Barring stray stories, it hardly takes notice at the continuous flow of piecemeal feudal, communal, mafia and police violence and the violence of starvation. And now that organised violence of the state interspersed with Maoist armed actions dominate the scene, the big media finds it convenient to harp on the hackneyed debate on violence and non-violence and end up justifying state monopoly of violence as the road to peace.
Taking a step forward, eminent intellectuals, activists and others have come up with calls for peace through dialogue. “The Citizens’ Initiative for Peace”, for example, has issued the call “Stop Offensive, Hold Unconditional Dialogue”. It has demanded that the government should first stop the offensive, and this should be reciprocated by Maoists, to facilitate a ceasefire. Amit Bhaduri and Romila Thapar on their parts have argued, “An alternative form of intervention ushered in through a multi-lateral dialogue involving all the concerned parties is not merely an option, it is imperative.”2 The idea of involving the people in any dialogue is most welcome, but to determine who are, or represent, "the people" will remain problematic. Moreover, the question of involvement of democratic bodies or other stakeholders should arise only when the talks are not supposed to be limited to the narrow confines of state-Maoist truce but covers broader social issues like land rights and development with dignity.
Starting from an opposite stance, “Concerned Citizens on “Maoist” Violence”, which includes Prabhat Patnaik, Irfan Habib, Utsa Patnaik, Amiya Kumar Bagchi and others, concentrate fire against Maoists while also criticising “acts of oppression committed by members of the exploiting classes or individuals in the state apparatus” (only individual errant members — not the ruling classes or the state as such!). On this premise they urge upon the state to “restore its presence and credibility in tribal areas whose interests it has largely been ignoring” (a social democratic endorsement of Rahul Gandhi’s comment that Maoism grows where the state fails!) and recommend dialogue “with those "Maoists" who are ready to give up the path of armed struggle”.
One might be taken aback to see renowned Marxist intellectuals conveniently forget that every state – even the so-called welfare state, which India is not - is an instrument of class dictatorship of the oppressors on the oppressed. But did not the ruling ‘Marxists’ in West Bengal rely on the repressive state apparatus to tackle movements in Singur, Nandigram, and in an earlier era, Naxalbari? Did they not, even where they were not in power, always recommend strong-arm tactics of the state to crush popular upheavals as, for instance, in the case of the Assam movement of late 1970s and early 1980s? In Punjab too, in the name of combating Khalistani terrorism, the CPI(M) went to the extent of comprehensive collaboration with the state, which eventually led to splits in the party and considerable erosion of its mass base. It is one thing to mobilise the masses against divisive and communal forces or even anarchist activities for that matter, but to wage a joint campaign in collaboration with the ruling classes is a totally different proposition. More recently, it was Buddhababu’s state terror on innocent adivasis in the wake of the Maoist landmine blast in November 2008 that triggered the latest phase of the Lalgarh movement, with the CPI(M) government then unleashing a vicious circle of escalating state repression and Maoist killings. In this context, it should not really come as a surprise that academics who are more concerned about Maoist violence than about state terror, should champion the statist logic of shock-awe-negotiate!
Under pressure from all quarters, even the fire-spitting Chidambaram has offered to negotiate "on any of their [Maoists’] concerns" -- such as forest rights or SEZ -- "provided they stop violence". Also he has reportedly agreed to attend a public hearing in Dantewada, a Maoist hotbed in Chhattisgarh’s south Bastar.3 This seems to be his way of appearing amenable to political openings and signalling a possible peace offensive, even as he spurs on the security forces. For the Indian state, which has to its credit a long record of sterilising and assimilating militant movements, negotiations and agreements with insurgent groups are nothing new. In the North East for example, armed outfits have been put on leash. In many cases they stay in designated camps with sophisticated arms and ammunitions and engage in extortions and violence on a limited scale; the quid pro quo being that in elections they must use their firepower to mobilise votes for the ruling party, namely the Congress. Of course, this has been made possible only because the demands of these groups have generally been in the nature of statehood/greater autonomy/bigger state (such as Greater Nagaland) which is not the case with Maoists.
The basic demand of the Maoists – socialism or new democracy – is not negotiable, for that entails destruction of the existing state to begin with. This is a difficulty for both sides of the proposed negotiations. And if Maoists enter into dialogue on partial/secondary demands such as land reform within the purview of existing laws, they stumble upon the second problem: they lack the mechanism of democratic organisation that would mobilise the broad masses to enforce an agreement even if one is arrived at. This was very clearly demonstrated in Andhra Pradesh, at the time their most important stronghold, where some sort of agreement was reached. The government, true to its class character, reneged on its promise. The newly formed Communist Party of India (Maoist) could do practically nothing while the government subsequently used the information it gathered and the network it developed during the dialogue days to crush the Maoists both from within and without. The Maoist claim that they were negotiating from a position of strength proved to be an empty boast.
But did not the Maoists score a resounding success in the recent case of kidnapping the Officer-in-Charge (OC) of Sankrail police station in West Bengal? In a sense, they did. It was a meticulously executed operation that attracted the maximum possible media attention, enhanced Maoist leader Kishenji’s public profile big-time and succeeded in achieving the specific demand placed. And what was that demand? Release of a group of old and innocent adivasis women, arrested in Lalgarh on absolutely false and legally untenable charges. Obviously the demand was so formulated that the government would find it easy to accept. After the give-and-take (release of the OC and the adivasis) it was business as usual between the state and the Maoists in Lalgarh. Even this much was achieved by Maoists because the state administration, working under pressure of the huge groundswell of sentiment for the visibly bhadralok OC and his family, and suffering from the indecision and weakness that characterizes any administration during a period of change of guard (in this case from Left Front rule to TMC-Congress rule) was in no position to take up the gauntlet thrown by Maoists. In fact there are reports that armed forces of the state reached very near to Kishenji’s hideout early in the day the OC was released, but retreated under orders from the top when Kishenji warned that the OC’s life would be at stake unless the forces went back. In any case, the entire episode took place under exceptional circumstances and it is very doubtful if such a feat can be repeated under other, normal circumstances.
In the light of Andhra and Bengal experiences and given the actual balance of forces between the warring parties as well as the absolutely antagonistic nature of the conflict, it would appear that a dialogue between them, if at all it takes place, would hardly provide any “solution” to the “Maoist problem”. At most it can lead to some breathing space in the confrontation that would go on after the ceasefire and continue to claim all the “collateral damages” in people’s lives and livelihood that all of us are so concerned with. However, now that the CPI (Maoist) spokesperson Azad, while refusing to lay down arms and calling the governments’ peace proposal “a propaganda ploy” has agreed to the possibility of a “ceasefire” if several conditions like stoppage of state terror and repeal of black laws are met4, the next few months will be closely watched.

Development, Democratic Space, and Beyond

Along with dialogue, development – the lack of which common sense regards as the root cause of “Naxalite/Maoist insurgency” – has figured as a major concern of pro-people forces. On this ground too, the government is in no mood to give a walkover to its detractors. In early November 2009 we saw Manmohan Singh conversing with chief ministers to wean the tribals away from the Maoists. More recently West Bengal Chief Minister Budhhadev Bhattacharya met police and administrative officials of West Medinipur district and took them to task for utter failure of the grand development plans announced soon after the initiation of para-military campaign in Jangalmahal (Lalgarh and adjoining areas).The reply he got was that nothing could move until Maoists were flushed out. The PM too had endorsed this typical bureaucratic-militarist logic in his aforesaid meeting, but at the same time he identified what he considered to be the basic fault line leading to a “dangerous” situation: "There has been a systematic failure in giving the tribals a stake in the modern economic processes that inexorably intrude into their living spaces … The alienation built over decades is now taking a dangerous turn in some parts of our country.”
How much is this concern for development worth? What are the ground realities? Conditions in tribal areas in West Bengal from Amlashol to Lalgarh are well documented; for Bastar in Chhattisgarh let us hear from a rather unexpected witness: tough cop KPS Gill.
“Politics itself is an extortion network – more so now, in the name of development and industrialisation; land acquisitions and SEZs. When you have political leaders saying that development should be part of the response mechanism, ask them what they mean by development in Chhattisgarh. How does a good road affect a man who has no transport whatsoever? Of what use is the road for a tribal with two bare feet?... We are in a great, vicious circle of violence because today development is corruption driven. …take Jharkhand, where you have a governor whose foremost achievement is corruption. I have always maintained that corruption and operations against organisations of this nature cannot go together. …I know what the police officer in charge of Bastar was doing. He was taking Rs 35,000 per man to transfer them out of Bastar. This was in the knowledge of everyone. …Property ownership is very very important, but the State can’t seem to find ways to give tribals property ownership in this huge forest.”
In this backdrop he believes that
“Operation Green Hunt is going to be a big failure. Who is the State hunting? And once an operation fails, it is a very difficult task to repeat it. This is what the American forces are facing in Afghanistan. We need to consider: do we want to be in a similar situation?”
Gill said all this in an interview to Tehelka Magazine (Vol 6, Issue 42, dated October 24, 2009). Is the recent emphasis on development an attempt to address the concerns of people like him?
The fact is, brute force and palliatives – or coercion and hegemony in Gramscian terms – have always and everywhere complemented each other in propping up oppressive regimes; only their relative proportions have changed over time and place. To look at the record of the present dispensation, the April 2008 “Report of An Expert Group to the Planning Commission” titled “Development Challenges in Extremist Affected Areas” argued that a socially responsible decentralised state could and should wean people away from the Naxalites/Maoists and provide the basis for negotiations with the Maoists. Very recently Rahul Gandhi reiterated the development angle precisely when Chidambaram was spitting venom against Maoists/Naxalites. Gullible people saw in this an inner-party contradiction, much as they loved to see a conflict between Vajpayee and Advani during the NDA regime. Far from it, from Nehru through Indira and Rajiv to Sonia-Pranab-Manmohan-Rahul, the country’s premier ruling party has mustered great skills in the art of speaking in two voices. It is in this tradition and as parts of the same game-plan that logistical arrangements for further intensification of military offensive come blended with vague (and conditional) offers for dialogue while elimination of “left-wing extremism” - an infinitely expandable category that can include workers’ struggle for trade union rights (as in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu) or landless labour’s agitation for promised homestead land (as in Mansa, Punjab) or anything else – is held out as a precondition for peace and development.
We the people of India must not allow ourselves to be duped and distracted by such clever political campaigns of the ruling classes. We must continue with our basic struggle for land and livelihood, justice and democracy, dignity and development; and as an important part of this broader movement we must now concentrate on a straight demand: Immediate end to all forms of state terror!
Up to a limit this struggle can and must be fought, as Nandita Haksar suggests, by “enlarging the democratic space within the system”.5 Even that, however, is possible only when the movement has a holistic, as different from fragmented, issue-based approach to life and politics and is informed by a clear vision of the future that we wish to hammer out of the present. In other words, there is but one way to resist the contraction of the democratic space and expand its frontiers: to build sustained movements, primarily workers’ and peasants’ struggles, which not only seek to achieve what the Indian Constitution promises us, but aim to go beyond.
And here we confront not just the forces of status quo - the ruling parties, the Indian state with all its apparatus of deception and oppression- we also stand face to face with the Maoists. We have to engage them, if only because they too claim to be working for the same goal – demolishing the existing state and ushering in real, wholesome, people’s democracy. If there is some substance in this assertion, one should actively support them. If the opposite is true, if Maoism happens to be a trend harmful to advancement of popular struggles, then our duty should be to politically combat it as such in the immediate and long term interests of the people of India. A theoretical-political assessment of Maoism thus becomes necessary at this point.

CPI (Maoist): Strategy and Tactics

To begin with, let us hear what Maoists themselves have to say about their strategy and tactics.
According to the document Strategy and Tactics,
“In the concrete conditions of semi-colonial, semi-feudal India where bourgeois democratic revolution too has not been completed and uneven social, economic and political conditions exist, the objective conditions permit the proletarian party to initiate and sustain armed struggle in the vast countryside.
“… No peaceful period of preparation for revolution is required in India, unlike in the capitalist countries where the bourgeois democratic revolutions were completed and armed insurrection is the path of revolution.”
Now, “semi-colonial, semi-feudal” – is this an immutable category with a set prescription for revolution applicable equally to pre-revolutionary China and present-day India? Don’t you see the enormous changes in Indian countryside – let alone urban areas – since Naxalbari, not to speak of the differences with China as it was some 70-80 years back?
“… No peaceful period of preparation is required”! On what ground do you base this assessment? And how do you propose to work in towns, cities and easily accessible plain areas which have strong enemy networks, and where the masses, while engaging in ‘drab everyday struggles’, is not yet ready for an armed showdown with the state? Actually you don’t know, and that is why you do not and cannot work in these areas.
In your schematic understanding, nationwide armed insurrection is prescribed for countries which have completed the democratic revolution, and the path of protracted war for countries where this revolution has not taken place and which are characterised by strong feudal survivals, uneven development etc. Now, many -- though not all -- of the latter features were present in Russia (e.g., democratic revolution was not completed before February 1917) but Bolsheviks went in for insurrection. Can’t you think of an Indian path of revolution which may have ingredients of revolutionary experiences in Russia, China and maybe other countries but based mainly on the present characteristics of Indian society and polity?
Your General Secretary says in an interview in Open magazine, October 2009, “…it is true that our movement is stronger in the forests than in the plains and urban areas. This focus is linked to our path … of protracted people’s war. … But, it is not correct to say that we have ignored the plain areas.” Good that you have a strong presence in forest areas, but would you please tell us in which “plains and urban areas” you have a “movement”? Why can’t you honestly say that your party line of singular emphasis on armed struggle does not provide any scope for such work?
In your opinion “boycott of elections, though a question of tactics,” (this is your concession to old-fashioned Leninism) “acquires the significance of strategy in the concrete conditions obtaining in India” (here you develop Leninism to the higher stage of your Maoism!). In other words, permanent boycott in a permanent revolutionary situation! It is futile to engage in serious theoretical debates with you; however we must put the historical record straight.

“The Biggest Grab of Tribal Lands after Columbus”

A civil war like situation has gripped the southern districts of Bastar, Dantewara and Bijapur in Chattisgarh. The contestants are the armed squads of tribal men and women of the erstwhile Peoples War Group now known as the Communist Party of India (Maoist) on the one side and the armed tribal fighters of the Salwa Judum created and encouraged by the government and supported by the firepower and organization of the central police forces. This open declared war will go down as the biggest land grab ever, if it plays out as per the script. The drama is being scripted by Tata Steel and Essar Steel who wanted 7 villages or thereabouts, each to mine the richest lode of iron ore available in India. There was initial resistance to land acquisition and displacement from the tribals. The state withdrew its plans under fierce resistance. ... A new approach came about with the Salwa Judum, euphemistically meaning peace hunt. Ironically the Salwa Judum was led by Mahendra Karma, elected on a Congress ticket and the Leader of the Opposition, supported whole heartedly by the BJP led government. …Behind them are the traders, contractors and miners waiting for a successful result of their strategy. The first financiers of the Salwa Judum were Tata and the Essar in the quest for “peace”. …640 villages as per official statistics were laid bare, burnt to the ground and emptied with the force of the gun and the blessings of the state. 350,000 tribals, half the total population of Dantewada district are displaced, their womenfolk raped, their daughters killed, and their youth maimed. Those who could not escape into the jungle were herded together into refugee camps run and managed by the Salwa Judum. Others continue to hide in the forest or have migrated to the nearby tribal tracts in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa. 640 villages are empty. Villages sitting on tons of iron ore are effectively de-peopled and available for the highest bidder. The latest information that is being circulated is that both Essar Steel and Tata Steel are willing to take over the empty landscape and manage the mines.” - Draft Report of “Committee on State Agrarian Relations and Unfinished Task of Land Reforms” under Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India, VOL. I1

First, Lenin showed in Left Wing Communism - An Infantile Disorder that the question of participation or boycott is in no way related to the “degree of reactionariness” (to borrow a phrase from Lenin) of a particular parliament. Incidentally, the Russian Duma, which the Tsar convened and disbanded at will and which was as a rule dominated by Black Hundreds and other reactionary elements (thanks also to the patently anti-poor curia system) was arguably much more reactionary and impotent than our parliament.
Second, Lenin showed in the above pamphlet as well as in numerous other works like Against Boycott that under normal circumstances participation is almost obligatory for communists. It should also be noted that, out of about a dozen occasions, Bolsheviks boycotted elections only twice: once correctly (1905) and on the other occasion (in 1906) it was a small tactical mistake (as Lenin reckoned later). On all other occasions, even during the high tide before November Revolution and immediately after (in the elections to Constituent Assembly), they participated.
Third, the argument that participation in elections and parliaments have led to degeneration of many parties invites the retort that espousal of armed struggle too is known to have had the same effect on many armed groups/parties in India and abroad. Blaming a particular form of struggle for degeneration betrays a very superficial way of looking at things and has nothing in common with Marxism-Leninism.
We know you are in no mood to listen to all this ‘revisionist’ logic. We also know what you actually do during election times. About that, later on.
In sum, the whole thrust of your strategy and tactics and therefore your activities is premised on the illusion that as in China during 1930s and 1940s, here too “armed revolution is confronting armed counterrevolution”. You visualise a permanent revolutionary situation. You do not know how to build approach roads to revolution, how to work patiently among the masses, taking their existing level of consciousness and activism as your point of departure and step by step raising that level through all forms of struggle, mainly extra-parliamentary but not excluding parliamentary forms, so as to gradually change the balance of class forces, which invariably gets reflected in people’s heightened consciousness and organisation, towards a mature revolutionary situation. You are ignorant of the essence of revolutionary tactics:
“Marxist tactics consist in combining the different forms of struggle, in the skilful transition from one form to another, in steadily enhancing the consciousness of the masses and extending the area of their collective action, each of which, taken separately, may be aggressive or defensive, and all of which, taken together, lead to a more intense and decisive conflict.” (Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 20, P 210)
Incapable of grasping such revolutionary dialectics of the proletariat in theory, Maoists can only indulge in petty bourgeois revolutionism in their practical activities, as we shall see in our coming instalments where we examine their genesis and modus operandi.

1 The said committee was set up in January 2008 under the chairmanship of the then Union minister for rural development. The committee submitted its report in March this year to the present Union minister for rural development, and is now available as an official publication. The quotation is from Chapter IV of the report. (see
The first armed campaign against Naxalites in this area -- the 'Jan Jagran Abhiyan' -- was started in 1991 by Mahendra Karma with the support of local traders and businessmen. After its collapse the second round, better known as Salwa Judum was started in June 2005, a day after Tata Steel signed a Rs 10,000 crore Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Chhattisgarh state government for opening a Steel plant in the Bastar region of the state.

2 “Will the mindset from the past change?” -- The Hindu, Nov 8, 2009

3 The Telegraph, November 17, 2009

4 Letter to the EPW, November 7, 2009

5 See her article in Mainstream, October 31, 2009, where she also criticises the Maoists, saying they “always increase the resistance of the class enemy by their tactics and then claim there is no democratic space in the system.”