By Megnath Bhattacharya
3rd June, 2010
The Indian Maoist movement is increasingly converting itself into a ‘war on the common people’ in the last few weeks. The killing of civilians by targeting a bus in Dantewada (on May 17, 2010) followed by the murder of more than a hundred innocent passengers aboard the Gnaneswari Express (on May 28, 2010) betray the stage of ideological bankruptcy that the Maoists have reached in their ‘war against the state’. With the Maoists training their guns against the common people and not merely against the State forces as they always claim to do, a couple of important questions confront the Indian polity in general and the Left Democratic movement in particular.
First, one must examine as to why the Maoist war on the State often manifests itself as a degenerate politics of indiscriminately killing innocent civilians and what can be the future of such an anarchic movement. Secondly, the assault on civilians no doubt escalates the tension in the conflict regions many times and can possibly lead to the Indian state using the army or air force to fight the Maoists. There are already such demands and hints from several quarters of the ruling establishment in the country. Whether that would be effective in solving the insurgency problem or would be instrumental in further worsening the situation in the conflict zones is something that one has to grapple with. With the risk of large sections of the tribal population getting killed or displaced in the event of any army or air-force operation, it is more likely that the political distance between the tribal communities (who have definitely rallied behind the Maoist politics in the absence of alternative democratic movements that are required to address their genuine livelihood issues) and the State will be multiplied several times. This can give birth to future circumstances which are conducive for an even stronger insurgency movement, thereby ensuring perpetual conflict zones in the country. Related to this is then the crucial question as to what can be a plausible and democratic solution to the Maoist insurgency as well as the genuine issues of hunger, livelihood and displacement that have plagued the tribal communities for decades now.
In the first part of this brief piece, we shall explore some of the historical experience of the Chinese Revolution led by Mao-Tse-Tung that culminated in the New Democratic Revolution in 1949. It is useful to revisit the Chinese history not merely because the Indian Maoists claim to be inspired by Mao Tse-Tung’s thoughts but also due to the several struggles that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) had to continuously engage in against ‘left extremism’ during the protracted course of the revolution. In the second part, we shall try to evaluate the current political dynamics between the Indian State, currently led by right-wing neo-liberal forces, the Maoist movement and the Left Democratic forces in the country with the purpose of identifying as to what can be a truly democratic and lasting solution to the current conflict.
The Long March, Chang Kuo-tao and the ‘Left’ line
The Left adventurist line and the continuous struggles against that has been an integral part of the Chinese revolutionary history (The Morning Deluge, Vol. 1, Han Suyin, 1976) since the CCP was formed in 1921. It is useful to briefly revisit this history to comprehend the background of the crucial debate between Mao Tse-tung and Chang Kuo-tao in 1935 during the Long March; a debate that is relevant to contemporary Indian Maoism. The first occasion of left adventurist line of ‘taking the cities’ emerged in 1927 when the communist party was recuperating after their near-decimation at the hands of the Kuomintang forces under Chiang Kai-shek. This was partly as a reaction to the revisionist policies that guided the communist party during the era of Chen Tu-hsiu, the first secretary-general, wherein the leadership of all mass movements were faultily surrendered to the Kuomintang party as part of the first United Front tactics that was adopted in 1923 to resist the imperialist exploitation of China. However, the ultra-left position of solely taking over cities through armed uprisings without paying much attention to organizing the large masses of peasantry who resided under oppressive conditions (something that Mao repeatedly underscored in the long debates within the party) led to further losses and setbacks to the CCP.
The second ‘left’ line emerged later under the leadership of Li Li-san in the late twenties. By that time, the CCP had accepted in resolution that the vast mass of the Chinese peasantry had to be organized in the struggle against imperialism and their local cohorts led by Chiang Kai-Shek. However, Li Li-san was against a broad worker-peasant alliance and thought that the rise of the peasantry in the CCP leadership would be detrimental for the working class movement. He envisioned that the role of the peasantry in the revolution would be essentially subordinate to that of the working class. Based on erroneous understanding, in 1929, he propagated the idea of disbanding the organized peasantry to form small guerilla groups, which would assist in capturing the cities. The overall organization of the peasantry, thus once again got subverted due to the emergence of the second ‘left’ line under Li Li-san. Mao, on the other hand, was already involved in organizing the peasantry under programmes of land reforms and had also drafted the Hsingkuo Land Law for that purpose. He vehemently opposed the disbanding of the organized peasantry into small guerilla groups, identifying this as left adventurism that would deal lethal blows to the revolution.
The third ‘left’ line emerged under Wang Ming in 1931, where again mass mobilization of the Chinese peasantry was dubbed as a very ‘unbolshevik’ and right-wing strategy. Military action was undertaken without paying much attention to form an organized base as part of this line. This left sectarian line caused the CCP and the Chinese Red Army to lose nearly 90 percent of their strength between 1931 and 1935. In the event of this failure, the Red Army was forced to leave its base at Fukien and set out for the historic Long March, just before the Kuomintang forces overran the base.
The neglect of the peasantry by the leadership when the CCP was still young was a damaging sectarianism that plagued the party and repeatedly allowed the Kuomintang to easily defeat and annihilate its cadres between 1927 and 1935. Mao had all along vociferously argued for organizing the poor and middle peasantry behind the revolution and also include the national and petty bourgeosie in a broad alliance against imperialism. The dogmatic position of the leadership on these questions, whereby they saw the bourgeosie and the peasantry as a homogeneous reactionary force, isolated the CCP among the Chinese masses, who were otherwise already indignant in early 1930s, that the Kuomintang under Chiang Kai-shek was not challenging the Japanese imperialists.
This sectarian tendency could be observed even during the unique Long March. The struggle against the ‘Left’ line led by Mao is encapsulated in the debates between Chang Kuo-Tao (one of the founding members of the CCP) and Mao when the Long March reached Moukang, West Szechuan in July, 1935. This debate is very relevant from the point of view of the Indian Maoists who are currently engaged in guerrilla warfare, based in the tribal-populated, natural resource-rich regions of the country. This was later described by Mao as ‘one of the most difficult, searing episodes in his life, the darkest moment’ (ibid: 376) in his anti-imperialist struggle. Mao was in favour of going ahead with the Long March northwards to fight the Japanese while Chang, who commanded the Fourth Front Army, much larger than the forces under Mao, was insistent that the Red Army retire to the desolate district of Sinkiang or Tibet, form a base there and carry out guerrila attacks on the Kuomintang forces intermittently. There was no immediate need to fight the Japanese. He branded Mao as a right-wing opportunist because he talked of a broader united front of the people (including the poor and middle peasantry and the national and petty bourgeosie) to take on the Japanese imperialists forces.
Mao defeated this view within the party at Moukang and went ahead northward with the Long March. He was vehemently against pushing back the Red Army to the hinterlands. The major argument that Mao had put forward at that time was that a Red Army base cannot be established in a region where there is limited agriculture and low population density. In such a case, the Red Army will in due course turn into a bandit force as they will over-exploit the local people for their own survival. Sinkiang/Tibet were such provinces with ethnic minorities, sparse population and limited agriculture and food supplies. Rather, Mao wanted the Red Army to be closest to the masses and their agrarian base so that if needed, the army can also labour in the fields, increase agricultural production and feed and sustain themselves without putting pressure on the common people and antagonizing them. There are numerous examples of such action by the Red Army during the Chinese revolution. Mao also warned that once the Red Army is reduced to a bandit force, undergoes dilution of politics and exploits the local population, it can be easily converted into mercenaries of the ruling elites, thereby becoming tacit agents of the ruling classes. Rather, the objective of the Red Army was to continuously engage with common masses in newer and newer areas and form the broadest possible unity among the people against the imperialist forces.
This was Mao’s concept of ‘mingling among people like a fish in the water’. History bears testimony to the fact that Chang Kuo-Tao did not play any role in the Chinese revolution once he turned back from the Great Marshes, aborted the Long March and took recluse in bases far away from the centres of activity. History counts him as one who betrayed the revolution. And we are also aware of the historical result of Mao’s political line. In fact, organizing the oppresed classes of the peasantry under the banner of revolution was the critical breakthrough in Marxian theory of revolution that the CCP achieved. The organic relationship between the Red Army and the masses in the countryside was also the key to the successs of the Chinese revolution in 1949.
In the case of the contemporary Maoist movement, we can identify similar ramifications of their restricting themselves within the ‘red corridor’ for a prolonged period. The very character of the Maoist hinterland with sparse population and little agriculture compels them to finance their movement from local mining mafias or tendu leaf collection contractors. The fact that their movement in Bastar could ensure a paltry Rs. 30 per day as wage for tendu leaf collectors (while the minimum wage in the country, within the so-called oppresive bourgeois system, is no less than Rs 70 and is as high as Rs 160 in a state like Kerala) as elaborated by Nirmalangshu Mukherji (Arms Over People: Maoists in Bastar, Pragoti, 2010) is a pointer to the fact that they are constrained by their financing methods.
A movement which currently ensures no more than Rs. 30/day to workers does not come in any category of a progressive movement. They cannot afford to increase the wages in the tribal areas to more than this because that would deplete their share in the business, which runs in crores of rupees, and also jeopardize the financing of their movement. Mass-financing (mass as in basic classes and sections of the population which supports the reviolution at some stage or other) is a pre-requisite for any revolutionary movement as opposed to the money-raising that the Maoists do from the contractors and local mafia. The latter mode of financing will inevitably convert the guerillas into agents of ruling classes. This is also the reason, as some commentators have observed (Talks Only With Broader Sections, EPW, 2010), why the Maoists are observed to be taking over the exploitative structure that have historically existed in the tribal belt in their own hands and further suppressing democratic peoples' movement instead of overthrowing such a system. Examples of such fallouts of left-wing deviations can be amply found in the long history of the Chinese revolution.
The important point to be noted here is that it is not any perverted, exploitative or blood-thirsty Maoist leadership that is orchestrating this exploitation of tribals and a war on common people but it is their wrong strategy of setting up bases in the natural-resource hinterlands with limited agriculture that willy-nilly makes them do all this. The concrete situation in India is of course much different from that in China in the 1930s and 1940s. The reference to the experiences of the Long March is not to say that the Maoists should have established their 'armed struggle' base closer to where the population is, instead of the tribal belt, but to suggest that they should have established their 'revolutionary' base amongst the people.
Doing this, they would have ipso facto appreciated the worth of a democratic movement (including contesting elections), mobilising the people (tribal and non-tribals) for their emancipation and also realized the ample scope of doing revolutionary work within the current political structure in India. There may be points of time where armed resistance may be necessary to tackle class forces even on the course of this democratic revolutionary path. The Left in India already has a long experience of that during the sixties and seventies. However, three to four decades in the jungles and ensuing fatigue in their revolutionary consciousness have turned the Maoists into nothing more than a bandit force and condemned them to the wrong side of history! Their refusal to do any political work among the masses has depleted the revolutionary content of their movement. It is now in their interests of survival that they will have to maintain the conflict zones perpetually on a priority basis and give secondary importance to developmental issues and improvements in the livelihoods of the tribal population whom they claim to represent.
Tribal issues, Maoists and the Left
A concrete analysis of the Maoist movement in the tribal areas, however, reveals that the situation is more complex than just the Maoists being reduced to a bandit force, resorting to striking deals with local contractors and thereby exploiting the tribal population. The decades of neglect of tribal development and unscrupulous exploitation of natural resources in the tribal belt has been a major reason for the left-wing adventurism in the first place. The neo-liberal onslaught in recent times have further worsened the living and working conditions of the tribal population. One must not forget that many parts of the red corridor are presently also the ‘hunger hotspots’ in the country and compare poorly even with some of the Sub-Saharan African countries in terms of nutritional intakes (Indian State Hunger Index, study by IFPRI in 2008). In the absence of any democratic movement that addresses these issues, it is only natural that significant sections of the tribal population find their political voice in the infantile and anarchic movement of the Maoists. The concern, however, remains as given the erroneous political path followed by the Maoists as elaborated above, the latter are seriously handicapped in achieving any tangible developmental goals for the tribals.
The dynamics between the Indian state and the Maoist movement is also more complex than what meets the eye. In the context of West Bengal, the tacit collusion between the Trinamul Congress (TMC) and the Maoists has already been exposed before the public. The Maoist leader Kishenji had also declared Mamata Banerjee as their preferred Chief Minister of West Bengal some time back. However, it is also ambiguous whether the other right-wing political forces in the country want to tackle the Maoist insurgency in any meaningful manner. Any serious resolve to tackle the Maoist insurgency requires an immediate thrust of pro-poor developmental work in the tribal areas. This, complemented with local intelligence (which again depends on the reduction of the political distance between the tribal communities and the State due to such developmental work) and the local police force can be a way of isolating the insurgents. Importantly, pro-tribal policies have to be the primary component of any anti-maoist strategy. Sending in the army or sole dependence on various central forces has a much lesser chance of making a breakthrough in these regions as is already evident in the recent past, where CRPF forces have suffered significant casualties at the hands of the Maoists.
However, we can observe that the Central government and the ruling establishment in the country has been whipping up emotions by suggesting the calling in of the army or the airforce to battle the insurgency against the State. Unfortunately, any such measure, ignoring the under-development question, will only perpetuate conflict zones within the country, which the latter will have to grapple with for coming decades. This is exactly what the Maoists want. This is also in the interests of some sections of the ruling establishment who are more concerned about ensuring an uninterrupted exploitation of natural resources in these areas. Illegal agreements and clandestine coordinations between the mining contractors and the Maoists may very well suit the multi-national mining interests (which includes the current Home Minister, who is known to have legally represented this lobby in several cases). It may be a rewarding arrangement for their exploitative business interests. This can cause the Central government to continue paying lip-service to the under-development issue of tribals while maintaining status quo in terms of policies. In the process, the Maoists also become agencies of the ruling class in this exploitative business.
Coming to West Bengal, there is also a major political reason for the right political forces to remain lukewarm to the Maoist problem. The Maoists are currently waving the red flag to defeat the red flag! The TMC is already tacitly colluding with the Maoists to physically eliminate the Left from the tribal areas in the state. The Congress, while paying lip-service against Maoist violence, has been passively supporting this dangerous game. The game is precisely to use hot-headed, trigger-happy ultra-left extremists to annihilate and decimate the dominant communist party with the largest mass-base and then at a later point, they can turn the battle against the infantiles and wipe them out. This sounds eerily similar to the happenings in West Bengal between 1970 and 1975. However, right-wing forces tend to forget that there was also a 1977 that came after that where the mass asserted themselves with their democratic mandate.
This is where the Left has to fight back the unprincipled right-ultra-left collusion. Democracy and democratic movement is the key question which both the TMC and the Maoists have never been able to comprehend or resolve. Given the sinister games that the right is playing now in West Bengal and the country vis-à-vis the Maoist problem, it is necessary for the Left to make independent interventions in the problem. The need of the hour is to confront the Maoists in their strongholds, armed with pro-poor, pro-tribal politics and democratic principles. It is necessary to make political interventions in the tribal-dominated areas and build mass-resistance to the Maoists. This does not imply a mechanical sending in of squads into the Maoist hinterlands on part of the Left. That would be imprudent as it will not only lead to serious reverses for the Left democratic movement politically but also lead to an escalated conflict in the Maoist-dominated districts; a conflict in which on both sides, there will be innocent poor people. Such escalation of conflicts must be avoided to the maximum extent.
However, the idea of penetrating the Maoist base has to be comprehensively developed in terms of penetrating their political base. There is no alternative before the Left but to correct its past mistakes, especially in recent times, of ignoring some of the genuine livelihood issues of the tribal population. The Left forces have to pursue a twin objective of politically organizing the tribal population on their basic issues and simultaneously isolating the Maoists and building a mass resistance against the anarchic and lumpen Maoist leadership. An alternative democratic political culture which addresses the basic issues of the tribal communities is bound to weaken the stranglehold of the Maoists over them. It will also develop their apathy towards the Maoist politics of targeted murder and disruption that they have witnessed for some time now.
One has to work relentlessly to develop this alternative democratic movement and political culture in the tribal areas to defeat the sinister right-ultra-left collusion. This is easier said than done as definitely the Left will be faced with vicious armed attacks and sabotage from the Maoists in this political project. It would be a long and difficult protracted struggle but one worth pursuing not only in the interests of the backward tribal communities and of defending democracy, but also in order to sustain the broader left democratic movement and prevent a repetition of the events that ocurred in the seventies in West Bengal.
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