‘Maoism’, State and the Communist Movement in India
We promised to share with readers the experience of our encounter with Maoists in different parts of the country in this issue. Due to some unavoidable reasons, we are saving that for the fourth and last installment, taking up here the story of evolution of Maoist anarchism.
In part II we have seen how the historic conflict and overlap between anarchism (understood in the sense or senses in which founders of Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought encountered it in their practical work, that is in the course of organising the working people for revolution, and hence also in theory, as outlined above) and revolutionary Marxism – or more generally between petty bourgeois and proletarian revolutionisms – took different shapes in different countries. Let us now survey the Indian scene.
Genealogy of ‘Maoism’ in India
Anti-British terrorist/anarchist trends in India, like those against Tsarist autocracy in Russia, were in existence well before the foundation of Communist Party of India. Later most of these forces joined the CPI. Following a short spell of left adventurism under BT Ranadive (1948-50) and then a few years of centrist ambivalence, the party adopted a right opportunist line of parliamentary cretinism. Rebellion against this led to the formation of the CPI(M) in 1964. In the wake of the Naxalbari uprising (May 1967), revolutionaries came out in numerous groups all over the country and joined forces first in the AICCCR (May 1968) and then the CPI(ML) (April 1969). The only major group that stood apart from both was the Dakshin Desh group (so named after a Bengali magazine published by it), which became the Maoist Communist Centre in October 1969. Gradually – and after the setback of early 1970s, increasingly rapidly – it abandoned mass peasant struggles for squad activities mainly in forest and mountainous regions even as they spread beyond West Bengal. Later on certain like-minded groups joined them, such as the Punjab-based Revolutionary Communist Party and the "Second CC" in 2003, leading to the formation of Maoist Communist Centre of India (MCCI).
While this original ‘Maoist’ body remained the main vehicle of ultra left/anarchist activities, similar trends emerged within and around the CPI(ML) also. This occurred in three distinct phases: in the wake of Naxalbari; following the setback of early 1970s; and since the 1980s.
Upsurge and ‘Left-Wing’ Communism
In one of his most celebrated classics, Lenin showed how left adventurist trends emerged in course of struggle against right opportunism during the formative period of communist parties in different countries (‘Left-wing’ Communism – An Infantile Disorder) at the end of the second decade of the 20th century. He saw this as a normal teething trouble (“infantile disorder”) that could lead to catastrophic consequences unless cured in time. A similar phenomenon was to be observed in our country too during the formative years of the CPI(ML).
Charu Mazumdar (CM), the founder of CPI(ML), developed a clearly cut-out proletarian connotation or framework of agrarian revolution: build concentrated areas of anti-feudal peasant movement and extensively propagate the total politics of seizure of power; establish the leadership of landless and poor peasants – as the vehicle of proletarian leadership on peasant struggle – and rely on them rather than on party organisers from petty bourgeois background for unleashing militant peasant movement; encourage peasants to arm themselves with locally available weapons rather than sophisticated fire arms; combine different forms of struggle – mass seizure of crops, for instance – with armed attacks on class enemies and the state; and so on.[i]
CM cautioned comrades against the dangers of isolation from broad masses and the national mainstream if base areas were to be built in mountainous or forest regions and drove home the need and feasibility of developing bases in the plains. On this question, as on many others, he was keen on developing the distinct features of an Indian path of revolution. With a rapid surge in the revolutionary movement, he came to place more and more emphasis on the fight against anarchist ideas and practices such as militarism and infatuation with "actions". When students and the youth in Calcutta were celebrating the festival of revolution in their own – often adventurist – ways, CM personally met and placed before them "only one task: go among workers and landless and poor peasants – integrate, integrate and integrate with them".[ii]
“Annihilation of Class Enemies”
However, the volcanic eruption of the pent-up revolutionary energies of the toiling millions led by revolutionary communists was naturally not free from 'left' excesses (it is these – not the whole upsurge – that we have called “left-wing communism”). This found concentrated expression in what was called the line of “annihilation of class enemies”. Emerging as a new form of struggle in the heat of Srikakulam peasant movement, it sought to combine, with some success, the beginnings of armed struggle with broad mass mobilisation. In certain pockets this led to the formation of peasant squads, mass upsurges and some agrarian reform measures. The valuable experience thus gained would subsequently help build sustained armed peasant struggle in Bhojpur and neighbouring regions in central Bihar. But in many areas annihilation was wrongly conducted as a “campaign”, with a lot of indiscriminate and unnecessary killings, in the process getting isolated from peasants’ class struggle. These were serious left deviations that did tremendous harm to the people and revolution. However, factors like overestimation of the revolutionary situation, generalising the form of struggle suitable for some areas for every corner of the country out of subjective wishes, infancy of the party and impetuosity on the part of the leadership as a reaction to revisionist betrayal, prevented us from taking corrective measures and the infantile disorder grew into a fatal disease with the first CPI(ML) Congress (May 1970) declaration that "Class struggle, i.e., annihilation will solve all our problems". CM later realised that annihilation had been taken too far and tried to formulate a policy of organised retreat in the shape of a militant united front of labouring people, particularly people under the influence of Left parties, against the Congress regime [see his last article “People’s Interests Are the Only Interests of the Party” – AS]. But a planned and orderly retreat could not be organized because, first, the retreat was still supposed to be a very temporary phenomenon and secondly, because the policy and methods of retreat were not clearly formulated in terms of various forms of struggle and organisation. These tasks remained on the unfinished agenda of revolution when, with the martyrdom of CM, curtains finally came down on the first phase of the CPI(ML) movement.
Setback and Semi-Anarchism
Among the many splinter groups into which the CPI(ML) was split after the total setback of 1971-72, there emerged three distinct trends or approaches on the question of evaluating the past and charting a course for the future. The first to emerge from the underground and carve out a niche for itself in the post-emergency democratic space was the Provisional Central Committee (PCC) led by SNS – an erstwhile PB member who in the name of fighting left deviation advocated unity with rich peasants in 1970 and in 1977 worked out a deal with Charan Singh, the then union home Minister, asking Naxalite prisoners to come out of jails by signing bonds abjuring violence. The organization built up largely on the basis of this ‘tactical’ surrender soon surrendered the banner of revolutionary Marxism. As this group happily abandoned all efforts of building revolutionary peasant struggle, Kanu Sanyal, who had the honour of announcing the foundation of CPI(ML) on 1 May 1970, now declared that the party foundation itself was a mistake and to make amends, now founded the Communist Organization of India(ML). The first batch of “rectifiers” thus went down the liquidationist path.
At the opposite end of the Naxalite spectrum there were groups which stuck to the letter and forgot the spirit of the revolutionary line represented by Charu Mazumdar, refusing to recognize the change in balance of class forces or take any serious lessons from the setback. They fell back on the ‘left’ deviations, as it were, to bring back the revolutionary days simply by mimicking the past. Thus it was that petty bourgeois anarchist trends, which remained submerged in and indistinguishable from the overall upsurge, now crystallised into distinct formations like Mahadev Mukherjee’s group, the Second CC, COC (PU) (subsequently CPI(ML) Party Unity) etc. We called these groups semi-anarchist in the sense that they still had one foot back in the CPI(ML) tradition of anti-feudal struggle even as they were moving in the direction of progressively abandoning class struggle for sensational squad actions. The same was more or less true for the semi-anarchist group outside the CPI(ML) stream – the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC).
Reorganisation of CPI(ML) and the “Rectification Campaign”
Diametrically opposed to both these extremes, there was the party centre reorganized on the second anniversary of CM’s martyrdom (28 July, 1974), comprising comrades Jauhar (Subrata Dutta), Vinod Mishra and Swadesh Bhattacharya. The reorganization provided a new fillip to the armed peasant struggle, but persistence of old metaphysical ideas prevented us from formulating a comprehensive policy for developing mass movements. We suffered serious losses in different areas. In November ‘75 comrade Jauhar died fighting the enemy’s encirclement and suppression campaign in Bhojpur. Comrade Vinod Mishra then took over as the General Secretary. The Second Party Congress ( February 1976) played an important role in uniting the revolutionary forces and in keeping alive the flame of revolutionary peasant struggle in the plains of Bihar in the face of enemy offensive during the emergency. But, as the Political-Organisational Report of our Third Party Congress pointed out,
“Over this entire period of 1974-76, our main drawbacks consisted, firstly, in our failure to link up with the anti-Congress upsurge of students, youth, and all sections of people of Bihar (the leadership of this upsurge was later captured by JP and it degenerated into impotency) and secondly, in our failure, when the movement collapsed with the arrest of leaders and repression on the masses, to provide a new guideline to organise the remnant forces. Although we maintained the political line of building an anti-Congress united front and upheld our areas as models of the same, we could not link this with the actual anti-Congress mass upsurge. This so happened because we had a mechanical conception of the development of united front on the basis of what Comrade Charu Mazumdar had said and we refused to analyse the concrete way in which things were actually developing beyond that mechanical framework.” During the 1974-76 period, “heroic actions and great sacrifices notwithstanding, the line was clearly left-adventurist in character”, as comrade VM later noted.[iii]
However, things did not stand still either in the party or in the society at large. “By 1976, the dialectics of practice had clashed violently with the metaphysics in theory and, given the required conditions, the Party was poised for a major change.”[iv]The post-emergency watershed in national life saw an explosion of democratic and opposition impulses in various forms and class dimensions. If the Janata Party became its big bourgeois tribune, the CPI(ML)(Liberation) emerged as the proletarian platform while the CPI(M) came up with its new project of formation of stable governments in states and “conclaves” with parties of bourgeois opposition at the centre. The inner-party campaign that enabled us to make this historic transition has been known as the rectification movement.
This movement or campaign started with the limited purpose of correcting wrong ideas and practices concerning armed units, but quickly developed into a full-fledged onslaught on the metaphysical viewpoint of dogmatism and perfectionism. This led to great changes in the party’s political and organisational lines. Mass organisations were built up on students’, workers’, peasants’ and other fronts, later brought together under the umbrella of Indian People’s Front (launched in April 1982).
Semi-Anarchism Crystallises into Anarcho-Militarism
Meanwhile, the semi-anarchist groups were going through a long and complex process of coming together and falling apart to give rise to several short-lived and few relatively stable combinations. The CPI(ML) People’s War (PWG for short) was founded in 1980. There was a long and tortuous course of three-way unity talks among MCCI, PWG and PU, frequently interrupted by internecine clashes including a "black chapter" (as the concerned organizations called it after the merger). In 1998 the PU merged with the PWG. Then in September 2004, the two "Maoist" formations merged to form the CPI(Maoist). The long process of centralization of semi-anarchist groups around two centres – the MCCI and PWG – was thus brought to culmination. The quantitative growth and enhanced strength led to a qualitative leap too: the unified body started its solitary journey tangentially away from the CPI(ML) trajectory as an anarcho-militarist current.
In an unprincipled attempt to satisfy the cadre of the two organisations, both Charu Majumdar and Kanai Chatterjee were projected as co-founders of the new party! The two leaders who in their lifetimes consciously and resolutely avoided uniting in a single party were now posthumously compelled to do so by their followers! The post of general secretary went to PWG's comrade Ganapathy while the group agreed to drop the ML tag and with it the residual commitment to the CPI(ML) tradition, without, of course, saying it in so many words. The new organisation's ideological-political orientation came to be fully dominated by the MCC brand of Maoism.
The primary immediate task announced by the new organisation in its first press communique was to transform the existing armed squads into a full-fledged People's liberation Army (PLA) and the existing guerrilla zones into base areas. But the first task that the world actually saw it taking up was a truce with the Congress government in Andhra Pradesh, a 'tactic' that backfired before long. After losing much of their old bases in AP at the hands of the YSR government, which ironically they had helped to come to power, they concentrated their activities in relatively newer areas like Dantewada in Chhattisgarh, Koraput-Rayagada region in Orissa and the Bankura-Purulia-Medinipur belt in West Bengal.
‘Maoist’ Sect versus Revolutionary Communist Party
With their dogmatic adherence to the Chinese path, our Indian Maoists continue to negate the very essence of Mao’s method. Mao had to conduct a firm struggle against Chinese dogmatists, who despite severe losses were bent upon blindly copying the Russian model in Chinese conditions. The famous formulation of Mao on the integration of the universal truth of Marxism-Leninism with the concrete conditions of China arose only in the course of this struggle. Our ‘Maoists’ gloss over the huge differences between Indian and Chinese conditions; and by upholding and absolutising one part of Mao's teachings (political power growing out of a gun) in isolation from the other part (party, that is ideology and politics, commanding the gun), they in effect turn the whole thing upside down.
Similarly, from the rich experience of the application of Mao Zedong Thought in Telangana and Naxalbari-Srikakulam, they have isolated the armed dimension (the element of squad activities) from the mass dimension (the element of broad peasant movement). Whereas CM was no advocate of isolated and exclusive armed actions – for him the two key phrases were “integration with the landless rural poor” and “politics in command” – our Maoist friends have delinked the whole question of arms from this essential context and have thus moved beyond the purview of the CPI(ML). Perhaps this was why they found it necessary to choose new names to describe their ideology and organization.
In clear contrast to the anarcho-militarist trajectory of the Indian Maoists, our Party has boldly re-emerged as a frontline organisation of revolutionary communists, reclaiming and upholding the revolutionary legacy of now nearly nine decades of communist practice in India. Drawing on an expanding mass base and armed with a rich variety of struggles and organisations, we have effectively combated the sectarian conceptualization of “Naxalites” as a special kind of New Left current or a product of the cultural Revolution in China and repositioned the CPI(ML) in the mainstream of the Left movement in opposition to opportunists of all hues.
The wholesome development of our Party – of course this is not to forget the many weaknesses – has been based primarily on two things. First, our success in critically assimilating the lessons of the past, separating elements of petty bourgeois anarchism from proletarian revolutionary steadfastness, discarding the former and developing the latter. Second an open, honest, serious ideological struggle rather than factional manoeuvres as the key link in party building and gradually perfecting the system of democratic centralism. Over the last few decades this party culture has enabled us to protect the party from the intrusion of both rightist/liquidationist and ‘left’/anarchist ideas and move forward through a series of readjustments in political line and policies with a united and consolidated party organisation.
[i] In Fight against the Concrete Manifestations of Revisionism he wrote:
“Chairman Mao has pointed out: ‘Weapons are an important factor in war, but not the decisive factor; it is people, not things that are decisive.’ The oppressed and persecuted peasants launch their struggle against the ruling classes with bare hands or with whatever they have, but as needs arise with the development of the struggle and dictated by the compulsions of advancing the revolution, they begin snatching and seizing arms from the ruling classes. This is how people’s armed forces develop. It is impossible to wage a revolutionary war by bringing arms from the outside. This is so because, as Chairman Mao has taught us …‘The revolutionary war is a war of the masses; it can be waged only by mobilizing the masses and relying on them.’”
[ii] Notes Taken in a Meeting with Student Comrades, Collected Works of Charu Mazumdar published in Bengali by CPI(ML)(Liberation)
[iii] CPI(ML) – The Firm Defender of the Revolutionary Legacy of Indian Communists
[iv] Political-Organisational Report of the Third Party Congress of CPI(ML), which serves as the basis of the evaluation of the past in this article.
In part II (P13 in LB January) Lenin’s quote in para 2 - in place of old illegality, read old legality.