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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 39, New Delhi, September 14, 2019

Why Naxalism?

Sunday 15 September 2019, by Nikhil Chakravartty

FROM N.C.’S WRITINGS

This article was written by N.C. fortynine years ago as ‘Observer’ in the Political Notebook of Mainstream (May 2, 1970) during the first wave of the Naxalite movement.

The spate of terrorist violence in West Bengal has pin-pointed public attention on what has come to be known as the Naxalite problem. Many so-called specialists on communism have aired very profound views on the nature of this phenomenon and have not hesitated to deliver homilies on how to deal with it.

The Union Home Ministry’s assessment has been that the Naxalite movement finds its breeding ground in the growing agrarian unrest in the countryside. This generally reflects the opinion of the authoritative circles not only at the Centre but at the State level as well. At the same time, it would be an over-simplication of the problem if one were to trace it almost entirely to economic unrest. There are many other factors which have contributed to the growth of this wave of terrorist acts mainly on the part of the youth.

For one thing, youth unrest has become a worldwide phenomenon. While nonconformism has always been the badge of youth militancy, iconoclasm has come over mainly because of the inadequacy of the present social set-up in many parts of the world. In fact, its most aggressive manifestation could be seen in the affluence of the American society—a situation which contradicts the theory that poverty alone breeds unrest.

This world phenomenon is no doubt having its impact on India. It is no accident that Marcuse and Che Guevara in cheap paperbacks are widely circulated even in the remotest corners of Andhra—perhaps by interested quarters. However, it is pertinent to note the specific causes behind the present round of terrorist acts which have posed a serious problem for not only the authorities but practically all the parties in the country.

The origin of the Naxalbari brand of extremism has to be traced to the split in the communist movement itself. Historically speaking, the split in the Communist Party came in the wake of the Chinese attack in 1962. There was understandable reluctance on the part of many Indian Communists at that time to denounce a socialist country of aggression; at the same time, it was a recognition of the strength of the moorings of the communist movement in the Indian masses that more than half of its ranks subscribed to the national mood and refused to condone Pekings’s action. In fact that was the starting point of the split in the Indian communist movement.

The leaders of the CPM, however, have tried to explain away their decision to form the new party on the ground that the rift in the ranks of the Indian Communists was due to the long-standing tussle between their own “revolutio-nary” line and the “reformist” line of the majority of the leadership of the united Communist Party. What is to be noted, however, is the undisputed fact that at the time of the split, the present leadership of the CPM could not find fault with the stand of the Chinese Communist Party; in fact, their decision to split was hailed by Peking Radio at that time.

This way the popularisation of Mao’s line was carried on by hardened pro-Peking extremists under the aegis of the CPM itself. The CPM leadership, on its part, exploited this pseudo-revolutionary line of the pro-Peking extremists as a useful handle with which to denounce the CPI. The vulgarisation of the differences inside the ranks of the Indian Communists could be seen in the facile generalisation made by the CPM leadership that while the CPM is for revolutionary struggle, the CPI is anti-struggle and pro-bourgeois. This sort of polemics hindered any objective appraisal of the differences in the ideological outlook and the political line of the two Communist Parties.

The CPM leadership, however, did not have a peaceful time for long. Once the CPM went in to share governmental authority in the United Front Ministries of Kerala and West Bengal after the 1967 General Election, it had to face the same charge which it had glibly thrown at the CPI leadership previously: the pro-Peking extremists accused the CPM leadership of having abjured the path of revolution and gone reformist confining themselves to parliamentary politics. It is no accident that the first militant action of the extremists at Naxalbari took place within a few months of the CPM joining the United Front and coming into the Ministry in West Bengal in early 1967.

The process of internal turmoil beset the CPM until its leadership had to denounce the extremists within its ranks, followed soon after by their expulsion from the Party. In the process, the CPM leadership had to criticise the Chinese Communists faced as it was by the internal challenge of the ideological-political position of the extremists. It is significant that Peking Radio also switched its patronising applause from the CPM leadership to these extremist elements. It was interesting to watch at that time that most of the arguments, which the CPM leadership had flung against the CPI only three years before, were, in their turn, picked up by the extremists to denounce the CPM leadership itself; and these arguments covered the whole range of subjects from the character of the present government to the perspective of the revolution in future.

However, there was no thorough ideological clean-up inside the CPM itself. In fact, the ideological debate had to be postponed from month to month and the final patch-up at a plenum in Burdwan in 1968 was more negative than assertive, that is, emphasising the points of demarcation rather than the positive stand of the Party itself. This was because the CPM leadership could not afford to go in for large-scale cleansing of Party ranks for fear of being dubbed anti-revolutionary. Although a number of members were expelled, it was an open secret that a large chunk in the CPM ranks was oriented towards the politics of extremism particularly in West Bengal; and the leadership did not undertake either to reorientate them or to throw them out for fear of weakening the Party organisation.

The problem before the CPM leadership was that if they condemned the politics of extremism in a forthright and unequivocal manner, they had the apprehension that this might enhance the position of their rival party, the CPI, since it was this very issue which largely determined the course of the split and the line of propaganda of the CPM leadership at the time of the split itself.

This dichotomy in the stand of the CPM leadership vis-à-vis the politics of extremism led to contradictory postures. At some stage, the CPM leaders were found to be condemning the Naxalites as “anti-social”, and therefore, seemed to fight them mainly through police methods; on other occasions, they tried to placate the extremist trend inside their own party by the strategy of unleashing their wrath on the fellow-travelling parties within the United Front. The bid to assert one-party hegemony by means of terrorist methods—most clearly shown both in Kerala and West Bengal—was pompously defined as the manifestation of class struggle, with the result that the United Front itself was damaged, leading to the collapse of the very Ministry through which the CPM leadership wanted to dominate the politics of the State. Thus the very logic of using the terrorist methods against the United Front allies led to the discredit of the parliamentary system and thereby giving a fresh lease to the Naxalite politics.

It is in this background that one has to understand how Naxalite extremism has got a spurt significantly with the fall of the United Front Ministry in West Bengal. The fact that the United Front was reduced to a house divided against itself, and so failed to keep its promises to the masses, naturally heightened the prevailing frustration particularly among the youth. The revolutionary heroics of the Left leadership—particularly of its dominant partner, the CPM—was found to be nothing more than the bitter bickerings for office, and this must have its inevitable repercussions on the psychology of the ranks, so long fed with the pep talk of extremism. After the discredit of the United Front rule, it would not be surprising if it is found that the present spate of bomb-throwing extremism by the Naxalites in West Bengal has the sympathy, if not the active support, of a good section of the CPM ranks. So far as stocks of bombs, acid-bulbs and firearms are concerned, many parties of the United Front have testified to the magazine that the CPM has so long main-tained, a point which has never been clearly contradicted by the CPM leadership.

The Naxalite extremists, in their turn, have held the leadership of the CPM in scant respect. The bitterness of immediate confrontation led them to attack the CPM leadership most vehemently. As for the CPI, its ideological anti-thesis did not preclude a restricted amount of fraternisation at some places, such as in Andhra, where the CPI leadership actively campaigned against police persecution of the extremists under Sri Nagi Reddy’s leadership. A similar relationship in Kerala has, however, been vitiated by the murder of a Naxalite leader in police custody, an incident which has, for the present, alienated the extremist leaders from the Achutha Menon Ministry which they supported at the beginning as a rebound to their total antipathy to Sri Namboodiripad’s politics.

In discussing the Naxalite extremists, it is becoming increasingly necessary to differentiate between the different variants inside their camp. The group under Sri Charu Majumdar’s leader-ship, forming itself into the Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist), enjoys the full-throated support of Peking. The pronouncements of Sri Charu Majumdar have the ring of authenticity; he speaks as if he is the Deputy to Chairman Mao. It is this party which claims to be unleashing its brand of Cultural Revolution through the bomb terrorism. Except for some very small peasant pockets, its main base is among the urban youth of Calcutta, while among its arm-chair sympathisers can be counted some belonging to the higher income groups.

In contrast, the extremist group with the largest rural base is led by Sri Nagi Reddy in Andhra. It has its ramifications in West Bengal and other parts of the country; while the extremists in Kerala maintain their separate identity. Although all the extremist groups proclaim their allegiance to Mao’s politics, there are significant differences among them. In fact, their stress is against terrorism as practised by Sri Charu Majumdar’s leadership. (Elsewhere in this issue of Mainstream, some of these differences are noted from their authentic documents.)

Naxalite extremism has therefore to be fought in the political context in which it has grown up in Indian politics. The leadership of the CPM in West Bengal tried to dismiss it as an anti-social aberration that deserved to be put down by armed police repression, while Sri Promode Dasgupta went to the extent of damning it as a CIA outfit. While it is true that the agent provocateur usually takes a militant posture, it would be a serious mistake to treat this extremist phenomenon as a mere law-and-order problem, which can be uprooted by police methods.

The bulk of the youth which is attracted by the militant appeal of extremism possesses that grit and abandon that are the hallmarks of revolutionary politics. In fact, it was this spirit which brought most of the present generation of Communist leaders to the revolutionary path of Marxism. The reason why Naxalite extremism could still exercise considerable spell on the militant youth of today is that the Communist leaders—extending over both the parties— have never fully assessed their own militant experi-ences to draw the correct lessons from them. The Indian communist movement has had no adequate review of its role in the anti-imperialist struggle, in the ideological fight against individual terrorism of the early thirties and the sectarian adventurism of the late forties under Ranadive. There has been no appraisal of the great peasant uprising of Telangana under Communist leader-ship in the forties, not to speak of the other militant actions, such as in Kakdwip in West Bengal—all of which had a far wider dimension than the much-publicised Naxalbari adventure. In fact, the Girijan actions of today come nowhere near the Telangana revolt two decades ago.

Had this rich revolutionary experience of the past been objectively assessed, that by itself would have come in the way of thousands of youth repeating today the mistakes of yesterday. The restless Naxalite militant of today would not have looked down upon his Communist elder as a mere political operator moving in the musty corridors of parliamentary politics, but would have respected him as one whose preference for mass action today instead of terrorist, armed encounters, is a sign of his revolutionary maturity rather than of abjuring the revolutionary path. In a sense, the Indian communist movement is today paying for its sins of yesterday.

The emergence of Naxalbari extremism underlines the urgency of the communist movement itself making a concerted ideological drive against adventurist politics. This is a task which every Communist leader from Lenin onward had had to do sometime or other. The task has no doubt become complicated today by the Mao politics emanating from Peking. Nevertheless, there could be no effective answer to Naxalite extremism in this country unless and until the Communist leadership, basing itself on its own living experience of the past as also on the world revolutionary experience, achieves unity in its own ranks and by the power of its own strength as well as the effectiveness of its politics among the masses, is able to command the revolutionary allegiance of the thousands of finest youth who, attracted by the glamour of militancy, are today mistaking adventurism for revolutionary action.

(Mainstream, May 2, 1970)

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