The Naxalite Movement: Some Perspectives

The aim of the Naxalites is to establish a communist state in India by the capture of political power through armed struggle. They are for the establishment of a ‘people’s government’ and label the democracy currently existing in the country as ‘semi-colonial’ and ‘semi-feudal’, with the ruling classes dominated by neo-imperialists. They point out that democracy in India was not preceded by a democratic revolution, and hence is incomplete at best.

An uprising, a revolution is needed to destroy the old structures of feudal exploitation and class struggle and substitute it with a classless society, where there are no inequalities and political power is in the hands of the masses.

The Naxalites follow the more violent strand of communism, Maoism, which in turn traces itself back to Marxism-Leninism. While concurring with the basic Marxian tenet of the need to replace the old social and economic relations (characterized by owners of capital (the bourgeoisie) using the labour of the working class (proletariat) for its own profit, and where the proletariat is exploited by the bourgeoisie because of the latter’s ownership of the means of production), Lenin put forward the idea that there should be a single party which represents the interests of the masses and leads the revolution to overthrow the ruling classes. Leninism also gives the peasantry a position of importance in the revolution because it would be in the Third World countries where the large numbers of peasants would prevent capitalism from becoming a stable force. These basic tenets of Leninism, along with its core Marxian principles laid the base for the dictatorships of Stalin and Mao, marked by massive collectivization experiments where private property was snatched away and all peasant lands were forcibly clubbed together for community farming, leading to deaths in gulags (Soviet prison camps for the dissenters), famines (in China in due to the Great Leap Forward in the 1950s) etc. Following these precepts, the Indian Naxalites too claim to represent a single party with the sole aim of overthrowing the bourgeoisie state and seizing political power.

The other left groups in India do not advocate violence. The Communist Party of India (CPI), which was the parent communist party, broke into two factions after the 1962 Sino-Indian War because of differing interpretations of the War, and its varying implications, especially on the Communist movement in India. While the CPI turned revisionist, moving away from the orthodox Marxian principles and aiming to reinterpret Marxian ideology to suit the Indian situation, the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-Marxist) maintained its allegiance to Soviet and Chinese models of communism. However, it is clear that with the CPI-Marxist’s electoral victories (beginning in 1967 in Kerala and West Bengal), it slowly adapted itself to work within the Indian state, preferring to work for a communist cause within a bourgeoisie state than be powerless. They tended to focus on land reforms, reinvigoration of village-level institutions and other pro-poor measures rather than lead a revolution. In fact, the Naxalbari uprising was sought to be crushed by the very government that came to power in West Bengal in 1967, a coalition of the CPI-Marxist and the Congress.

The Naxalites in India are unwilling to enter the political arena in the country since they feel that the state structure is rotten and the Parliament itself has been designed to dupe the masses into believing in a democracy which is dominated by the upper classes. Thus they believe that only a democratic revolution would be able to set up a true democracy, a people’s democracy in the country, and they, the CPI-Maoist, are the vanguard of this revolution, as Lenin called the revolutionary party. According to Marx, an essential stage in the transformation of a bourgeoisie, capitalist state to a communist state is ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, where the ruling classes will be the workers and the peasants. This would frame policies which would end class struggle (by land redistribution, agrarian reform, promotion of small-scale factories to boost employment etc) and thus pave the way for the utopian communist state, which would effectively end the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ as all would be equal thereon. Lenin called for the revolution and the succeeding dictatorship to be led by a single party (like the Bolsheviks in the Soviet Union, and later, the Communist Party of China in China). Thus the idea of a communist party participating in a multiparty democracy as exists in India was alien to Lenin and Mao. Lenin in fact called it ‘parliamentary cretinism’ (i.e. parliamentary stupidity). Therefore, following the precepts of their leaders, the Naxalites in India have so far stayed out of the democratic system, preferring ‘war’ against the Indian state and unwilling to believe that inequalities can be eradicated in a state without a revolution.

In this context, it is interesting to reflect on how the Maoists of Nepal have actively, and successfully, managed the transition from guerilla warfare against the state (represented by the monarchy) to electoral politics. After 10 long years of ‘People’s War’, which saw the deaths of 12000 of its cadre, the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist finally entered the political arena. While the move may seem as going against the basic tenets of Mao, it was pragmatic and suited the Maoists in Nepal. Party dictatorships have the habit of disintegrating ideologically, and ultimately going against the very people they sought to protect and work in the interests of. The violence which was earlier for the people eventually cuts itself off from their interests and becomes autonomous. This hurts the actual areas of concern, like inequality, hunger, corruption etc. Thus the preference for democracy amongst the masses. Even in India, while the Naxalbari uprising occurred with the implicit consent, and even active participation of, peasants, the recent incidents of violence, such as the Jehanabad jailbreak (2005), the Chhatisgarh attack on police forces (2007) and stray incidents like blasting of train tracks, police stations etc, are increasingly disconnected with the interests of the masses. In this light, it is easy to understand the CPN-Maoist’s actions. It undertook violent measures till they had the consent of the majority, and abjured violence when the people’s interests (which were favoured by a turn from monarchy towards republican democracy) became antagonistic to further violence. Thus even as ideology calls for dictatorship, the Nepal communists were pragmatic and chose to side with the people, putting the ends on a higher pedestal than the means.

In India on the other hand, the Maoists have not yet followed this direction and continue to advocate violence. However, as these acts of armed uprising against the state become more and more alienated from people interests, the movement may lose popular support. Even as the government follows a policy of ‘no negotiation’ with the Maoists, instead of undertaking programs to stem the widening disparities which fuel support for them, the cycle of violence can only be expected to grow.

Arjun Upmanyu

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