Naxalbari: Now and Then
(Deshbrati, September 1990)
May 25 marks the Naxalbari Day. ...
What is the real meaning and significance of Naxalbari? Naxalbari means a mass uprising of the poor and labouring peasantry. It does not mean isolated squad actions here and there or some sensational armed exercises. Nor does it mean raising revolutionary storms over tea cups in Kolkata, Delhi or Mumbai. However much various groups may abuse us to hide their own failures, the fact remains that such mass peasant awakening on the lines of Naxalbari is going on only in Bihar and it is our Party that is leading it from the forefront.
Naxalbari symbolises the rise of a revolutionary current in national politics on the basis of such a peasant awakening. Mere fulfilment of a few local economic demands of the peasantry is no Naxalbari. All claims of building an alternative political current by building ‘red army and base areas’ in hills and jungles have proved hollow. It is not politics that is in command of those guns; on the contrary, it is a case of gun-power dictating politics.
Naxalbari did not signify an abstract victory of Marxism over revisionism, armed struggle over parliamentary path. Petty bourgeois revolutionism however understands Naxalbari precisely on such lines. This is why it believes that it is possible to resurrect Naxalbari anywhere and at any time on the basis of sheer revolutionary spirit and some fundamental principles of Marxism. It is such middle class fantasising about revolution that fuels all the anarchist activities and the consequent frustration and about-turns, instances of which lie galore in front of us.
Naxalbari had its roots in the contradictions of India’s rural society. Behind it lay a long history of peasant struggles, the legacy of tebhaga and Telengana, the long and tortuous contention between two opposing tactical lines in the Indian communist movement. All this had culminated in the Naxalbari uprising in a particular political situation. If we want to comprehend Naxalbari, we will have to grasp all this.
Whether democratic revolution would be accomplished through an uprising of the labouring peasantry or the fighting initiative and energy of the peasant masses would be reined in for the sake of a united front with some section of the bourgeoisie – this was the essential conflict between the two opposing tactical lines and it had been going on for quite a long time. The battle reached its climax in the particular political juncture of 1967, with the United Front government then in power seeking to suppress the rising wave of peasant struggles and revolutionaries led by Comrade Charu Mazumdar pushing ahead with the movement.
It was neither possible nor proper for Naxalbari to make a compromise or beat a retreat. It had begun to blaze a new revolutionary trail. The first revolutionary campaigns in history are always known for their insistence on a thorough settlement of scores and this is why they are able to create a new history. Tactical adjustments and retreats are all reserved for future revolutionary attempts. In spite of being one of the key leaders of Naxalbari, Comrade Kanu Sanyal could not grasp this revolutionary historical essence of Naxalbari. History has therefore ordained him to remain a leader in the locality of Naxalbari, for all his attempts he has failed to become a leader of the trail blazed by Naxalbari.
Just as history does not exactly repeat itself, no great movement can be resurrected in its old form. Those days (in the early and mid 1970s – ed.) we used to suffer from a lot of metaphysics; for years did we continue to try unsuccessfully to overcome the setback and revive the movement by sticking to old forms and methods!
No movement ever grows in a linear fashion. Just as it is important to march ahead and hit hard at the right moment, it is also necessary to learn to take two steps back and regroup one’s forces. Every agitation, movement or war proceeds through a combination of these two aspects, and the true test of a skilful and able leadership lies in the art of effecting such combination.
To advance the democratic revolution we must grasp and develop the essence of Naxalbari – the rise of the basic, labouring peasant masses. All talks of bringing about democratic reforms in the framework of the society and the state in collaboration with this or that section of the bourgeoisie have proved to be nothing but sheer deception. This basic truth remains unaltered till date. The question is how do we carry forward the essence (of Naxalbari – ed.) through new forms of struggle and organisation in keeping with the development of the situation.
By holding aloft the banner of revolutionary democracy on the basis of a broad awakening among peasant masses, combating the ‘secular front’ line of political subservience to the bourgeoisie with our call for independent assertion of the Left and playing the role of extreme revolutionary opposition in the arena of parliamentary struggle, we are today carrying forward that very essence of Naxalbari, that old struggle between the two opposing tactical lines. ...
Conditions for the rise of another Naxalbari are maturing in West Bengal. After twelve years of Left Front rule and with the formation of a ‘friendly government’ at the Centre, the opportunism of the CPI(M)’s political line has become complete. From now on the CPI(M) leadership can only indulge in shadow-boxing in the name of struggles. ... We must now march on with full confidence and initiative.
Will the new history that we had set out to write in the 1970s with the blood of thousands of martyrs just remain a chapter of history? A tragic history marked by extraordinary heroism and sacrifice, agony and betrayal, that will only inspire poets to write poems, artists to draw pictures, and researchers to write papers? History that will continue to be ridiculed by the enemies of revolution while old revolutionaries remain content with their remembrances? No, comrades, we can never let that happen. The old familiar battle cry “Naxalbari Lal Salaam” will once again rend the air of Bengal. Today is the day to take that vow.
A Few Words on the Significance of 25 May in West Bengal
(Deshbrati, 25 May, 1993)
Every year May 25 comes back and reminds us of Naxalbari. Naxalbari was no ordinary revolt of the landless poor peasantry against landlords and sub-landlords. Naxalbari stood out precisely because of the special political significance it carried in the Indian communist movement. Naxalbari happened at a time when governance in post-independence India was faced with its first major deepening crisis, with mass unrest breaking out on a host of issues in different parts of the country and the political hegemony of the Congress being challenged by the rise of non-Congress governments in several states. Naxalbari happened in West Bengal where the mass unrest had reached its zenith and Leftists had emerged as the main force in the state’s first non-Congress government.
In this political backdrop the battle between the two paths and two tactics in the Indian communist movement crystallised as the practical confrontation between Naxalbari and the United Front government. Since then much water has flown down the Ganga and the Godavari. The peasant movement of the Naxalbari pattern has found its centre of gravity in Bihar and the movement has been steadily advancing there for the last two decades.
Revolutionary communists have drawn their lessons from a complex process of struggle, setback and reorganisation and accordingly they have discarded many old things and incorporated many new aspects. On the other hand, the Left Front government of West Bengal has stayed on in power for seventeen years in a row through peaceful coexistence with the Centre and it has managed to contain all mass dynamism and initiative within the confines of the panchayat system by invoking the slogan of so-called development.
In spite of many changes, the battle between the two paths and two tactics of the Indian communist movement is continuing unabated in the form of the contention between the peasant movement in Bihar under the leadership of revolutionary communists and the Bengal model of Left Front government under social-democratic leadership.
In history, newer generations of ruling classes have always been seen to consolidate their rule by broadening their periphery and expanding their ruling base. The British colonialists used to rule India in league with the zamindars, the Congress expanded its base by incorporating the new landlords and sub-landlords. The social-democratic rule of the CPI(M) has further broadened this base by integrating rich farmers and well-to-do layers of upper-middle peasantry. At every step of this process some of the old rulers lose their domination, but some other sections reform themselves to become integral parts of the new power structure as well.
In the 17 years of CPI(M) rule, the conflict between the class forces dominating the party apparatus and the state power and the broad masses of agricultural labourers and poor peasants has been steadily intensifying. This is also borne out by the fact that sections of the rural poor are coming closer to us in a district like Bardhaman. In the days to come, this conflict is bound to sharpen further both within and beyond the panchayat framework. A time will come when this will lead to the resurgence of Naxalbari in newer forms overcoming the limits laid down by the panchayats. The words of Comrade Charu Mazumdar will ring loud and clear in West Bengal: Naxalbari has not died, Naxalbari will never die.
Panchayat Elections, the Shame of Karanda and Left Unity
(Deshbrati, 16-30 June, 1993)
The fact that a section of the CPI(M) is coming closer to us in a key CPI(M) stronghold like Bardhaman district is no ordinary instance of people moving away from one party to another. The cracks in the CPI(M)’s mass base here are symptomatic of a certain class division. The landless poor peasants and agricultural labourers and CPI(M) activists closely associated with this base are getting increasingly alienated from the elite and affluent sections of the rural society who today command ever greater wealth and authority thanks to their domination over the party-administration-panchayat nexus. Whether this alienation of sections of the rural poor from the CPI(M) and their consequent proximity towards our organisation in certain pockets of Bardhaman is a political reflection of growing socio-economic polarisation in an agriculturally advanced district or it is symptomatic of a growing general tendency in rural Bengal at large is still not clear and the whole process demands deeper investigation and scrutiny. But what is clear is that this class differentiation took on the dimensions of a class struggle in Bardhaman and when it went on to question the CPI(M)’s hitherto unchallenged political domination in the panchayats, the dominant class interests got desperate. This is why we saw Karanda happen in Bardhaman, a heinous carnage that can only be compared to the notorious massacres of the rural poor in neighbouring Bihar. ... To preserve its political hegemony, the CPI(M) is now following the familiar Congress course of terror and intimidation....
In this complex situation many of our friends have become worried about the future of Left unity. They are apprehensive that parties like the Congress and the BJP would take advantage of the divisions among the Left and raise their ugly heads in the state. I think there is absolutely no reason for worry. The Left forces that are becoming vocal against the terror unleashed by the CPI(M) are quite aware and alert about maintaining their principled political demarcation from the Congress and the BJP.... Left unity can no longer be sustained within the old framework and on old lines – it needs a new basis. All the partners of the Left Front who have raised their independent voice have a common refrain – the CPI(M) will have to give up its big-brother arrogance. ...
But if the CPI(M) continues to impose its arrogant authority on its partners, like the later-day Soviet leadership if the CPI(M) leaders continue to feed their ranks with false and distorted information through the party’s propaganda machinery, they will only invite their own collapse much like the Soviet leadership. Lenin had once said that many communist parties that had grown arrogant and lacked the courage to make genuine self-criticism eventually disintegrated and faded away. It is an irony of history that even a mammoth party like the CPSU and the superpower ruled by it ignored this warning of Lenin and suffered the consequences. We do not know what lessons the CPI(M) leadership would draw from history, but history’s inexorable motion will continue unabated.
Naxalbari Will Answer Karanda
(excerpts from Comrade VM’s address at the march to West Bengal Assembly,
23 March 1994)
Last year I had been to Karanda to pay my homage to the five agricultural labour comrades killed by the CPI(M) (one more comrade subsequently succumbed to his injuries, raising the death toll to six - ed.). What had happened in Karanda was no isolated incident of a single village. All over the countryside the leadership of the CPI(M) has passed into the hands of a new class of rural ‘babus’ or power-lords, and agricultural labourers and poor peasants are being increasingly humiliated and terrorised. In Karanda, this took the form of a shocking carnage. And now we hear that wherever agricultural labourers and poor peasants are fighting for their demands, for their dignity and rights, these power-lords are threatening them with more Karandas. ...
Today the Left Front government is displaying signs of a growing all-out degeneration. Agricultural labourers have been burnt alive at Karanda, somewhere a headmaster is being beaten to death, somewhere a whole bargadar (sharecropper) family including women and children is being lynched, people agitating against the transfer of a doctor have to face police firing in Birbhum. We cannot but oppose this total degeneration and derailment of the Left Front government.... They had started their journey by proclaiming their government as an instrument of class struggle, now it has become an instrument of coercion, an apparatus to crush mass movements. ...
We are aware that Mamata Banerjee is trying her level best to cash in on the people’s growing resentment and anger against the Left Front government. ... She wants to eliminate everything Red from West Bengal. Let us make it clear that West Bengal is no Soviet Union or Eastern Europe. The entire ‘Left’ in West Bengal is not degenerated and obsessed with power – the revolutionary Left wing is also present in the state. At one stage it was the CPI(ML) which had grown into a big third force in West Bengal. Today with the people getting disillusioned with the Left Front, the CPI(ML) too has the potential to re-emerge in today’s changed context. The Mamata Banerjees can rest assured that they will never be able to eliminate the Red – the revolutionary Left will again come up in West Bengal and resist the forces of right reaction. ...
After Karanda we saw the CPI(M) promote Ramnarayan Goswami, one of the masterminds behind the carnage, as a big leader of the Kisan Sabha even as the main accused was made the head of a panchayat. They keep telling us that they will enact many more Karandas. Let me tell them clearly that if Karanda is repeated then Naxalbari will also happen again and the peasant movement inspired by Naxalbari will be directed against the new landlords who have usurped power and appropriated the panchayat machinery under the CPI(M)’s banner.
People’s Interest Is Party’s Interest–
We Shall Always Adhere to this Orientation of Comrade Charu Mazumdar
(Speech delivered at the CPI(ML)’s silver jubilee meeting on Shaheed Minar ground, Kolkata on 22 April, 1994)
It has now been twenty-five years since our party was founded. The declaration of the arrival of the new party was made at a public meeting held on this Shaheed Minar ground. Today after twenty-five years we have once again reassembled on this historic ground.
Our movement has had to suffer tremendous torture – no other movement in India has perhaps ever had to face such brutal repression. But history has proved that it has not been possible to eliminate the CPI(ML), the party is very much alive and kicking.
Many people might have felt that since Naxalites were divided into so many groups, they would liquidate themselves through mutual conflicts and endless debates. What repression could not accomplish would happen as a result of the multiple divisions among Naxalites. History has proved this conjecture wrong. Just as in the course of the Russian revolution Bolsheviks led by Comrade Lenin had emerged as the principal communist current and all other groups had gradually faded away, we see a similar thing happening in India. In the course of all the mutual debates and conflicts among Naxalite groups we have emerged as the biggest among all Naxalite groups, as an organised all-India party with a broad mass base. Meanwhile several groups have faded away and many more are also headed in that direction.
There were still others who probably thought that even if Naxalites were able to stage a comeback they would only repeat their mistakes and get isolated from the people. We have also proved this idea wrong. Our party has developed its line in keeping with the specific situation in India and has proved its mettle by advancing even in the midst of most adverse conditions. If the word Naxalism is used to mean empty phrase-mongering about armed revolution, armed abduction for ransom, destruction of public utilities like post offices and railway tracks, mutilation of human limbs in the name of enforcement of justice through people’s courts, massacre of ordinary poor people including women and children, then we are certainly not Naxalites. But if Naxalism stands for mobilising the rural poor and peasant masses in powerful struggles, and leading those struggles in a revolutionary direction, developing armed resistance from within revolutionary people’s movements then we are certainly Naxalites and we are the only Naxalites in India....
Only our party has consistently carried forward the legacy of Naxalism in the field of struggles. In reorganising the party we had to fight against anarchist ideas and trends and today our party has emerged as a challenge to the parliamentary opportunist forces like CPI and CPI(M) who claim to be the leaders of the Left in India. The question that has to be resolved today is who will lead the communist movement in the country – whether the leadership of the communist movement will remain in the hands of the parliamentary opportunists or a revolutionary communist party like the CPI(ML). The incidents of Karanda and Kalna show that revolutionary elements within the CPI(M) are once again getting ready to leave the CPI(M) and join the CPI(ML). Unable to stop this current through political means, the CPI(M) is resorting to the politics of terror and killings to stop the rise of the CPI(ML). But our party is determined to face this challenge politically.
(Excerpts from speech at meeting held in memory of martyr comrade Abdul Halim at Kalna, Bardhaman on 27 March, 1995)
Whether in Left-ruled West Bengal or Tripura, the people’s fundamental right to life is now coming under increasing attack. This is not my statement, this is an observation made by veteran CPI(M) polit bureau member and former Tripura chief minister Nripen Chakraborty. He says this is a sign of the degeneration and distortion suffered by the Left Front rule. West Bengal had the most horrifying first-hand experience of terror during the Congress regime in the past when the entire administration and police force had been pressed into the act. Today we are once again seeing the same thing under the CPI(M)’s dispensation. If the situation continues to deteriorate in this direction and governance becomes synonymous with terror and the police and the apparatus of the ruling party join hands to forge a repressive nexus, a coalition of terror, then the people also have a right to resist, even by taking up arms if necessary. This is a moral right of the people.
The CPI(M) today has become so arrogant that it cannot tolerate any internal dissent, any protest from within. This is the characteristic of a fascist party. We must ponder over this question. A party that had begun as a communist party is today showing such signs of fascistic degeneration. You cannot question the party leadership on matters of political line, you cannot raise your voice of protest against the corrupt practices of the leadership, against their anti-people activities. If you dare do that then you will be subjected to all kinds of slander, you will be expelled from the party. If you still carry on undeterred, then you run the risk of losing your life in a cold-blooded murder. Protest against the leadership’s high-handedness and corruption was the ‘crime’ for which our agricultural labour comrades of Karanda, and Comrade Abdul Halim have had to lay down their lives, and now comrades have been crucified at Nadanghat. I want to make it clear that our party will continue to commit this ‘crime’, even if thousands of Abdul Halim have to lay down their lives. I am firm in my belief that there will never be any dearth of Abdul Halims from among the fighting people of Bardhaman and West Bengal.
In the name of industrialisation the CPI(M) in West Bengal is today hobnobbing with domestic and foreign capitalists and big business houses. In the countryside they are now in close alliance with rich peasants and kulaks. Our party is firm in its opposition to this nexus. This is why the CPI(M) is targeting us everywhere. They know it well that the CPI(ML) is the future alternative to the CPI(M). ... The more they are trying to finish us off, the more sincere and courageous communists are coming out of the CPI(M)’s fold and rallying under the banner of the CPI(ML). ... We fervently appeal to all Left activists and sincere communists to join hands.