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India After Naxalbari: Unfinished History

On some peremptory ‘critiques’ of India’s Maoist movement

Originally published: Frontier Weekly (Vol. 53, No. 22-25, Nov 29 - Dec 26, 2020)

To leave error unrefuted is to encourage intellectual immorality. —Marx

My 2018 book India after Naxalbari: Unfinished History (Monthly Review Press / Aakar Books) devotes three out of its ten chapters to the Naxalite/Maoist movement. In the three chapters on that movement, to keep within the overall word-limit I had set for the book, I edited out about 10,000 words of important matter. My intention was not to pen a comprehensive account of the Naxalite/Maoist movement in India, but to throw light on a trend within it that is part of a longer thread of Indian history going back in time to the many peasant-including tribal-peasant-insurgencies in colonial India. At the end of chapter 7 of India after Naxalbari, penned at the time when the Maoist movement was completing 50 years since its birth, I wrote:

…fifty years have gone by, and the costs [borne by the oppressed and the exploited]… of going without a revolution are accumulating at an atrocious rate, including the tragedies of the victims of Hindutvavadi (deriving from a militant political Hinduism) semi-fascist politics, backed by a ‘secular state’ that has gone ‘rotten at the heart’.

Social revolutions, however, are not matters of choice or preference; they spring from the very internal contradictions and social tensions of the capitalist-imperialist system. Tragically, so far, they have not succeeded in doing away with the very system that breeds them. The classes that hold wealth, privilege and power have managed-by all available means, including counter revolution—to preserve their monopoly over wealth, power, and privilege.

The Liberal ‘Critique’

In sharp contrast, liberal-reformist intellectuals hold that nothing had to happen the way it did, and what will likely happen depends on the choices “we” ultimately make from among those in “our” liberal “cookbook”. Revolutions are very costly in terms of human lives and suffering, and so “we” are shocked that “you” radicals even consider them as options. And so “we” have to express “our” rejection and condemnation. It is best to reform the system, the liberals say, to rid it of its imperfections.

I think the liberal-reformist view is not only both ahistorical and in effect assigns volition only to influential elites, i.e., the “we” who decide, and the “cookbooks” of “choice” drawn up by them, but fails to take account of the danger, in particular contexts and situations, of political counterrevolutions that can overthrow liberal-political democracy, and thereby cast aside their “cookbooks” of choice and scuttle their decision-making power.

With this setting out of the radical and liberal positions on revolutions, let us look at a liberal line of reasoning on India’s Maoist movement, this from a prominent Indian liberal-intellectual voice, that of Ramachandra Guha, in his essay, “Adivasis, Naxalites and Indian Democracy” that appeared in the Economic & Political Weekly (42, no. 32, August 11, 2007, pp. 3305-3312). Guha’s account, based on questionable premises and facts, places much less emphasis than mine on structural factors in explaining the Maoist insurgency and the Indian state’s counterinsurgency. It assumes that even in the areas where the Maoists have been politically actively engaged over a decade or more, they do not enjoy popular support among the oppressed Adivasis. The latter’s aims, and political inclinations, are supposed to be wholly at odds with that of the Maoists. So, in the low-intensity war between the Indian state forces and the Maoists, his argument is that these oppressed people have been caught in-between the two antagonists, indeed, sandwiched between “Maoist extremism” and a state that treats them with contempt and condescension, and harassed by both. Of course, Guha acknowledges the fact that “the Maoists live among, and in the same state of penury as, the tribals, is unquestionable.… However, in [their] larger endeavour (the capture of power in Delhi through a process of armed struggle) the tribals are a steppingstone, or, as some would say, merely cannon fodder” (p. 3309). Hence, Guha would consider the “notion of witness”—also found in the best tradition of non-violent resistance—by which the Maoists win over the oppressed to joining their movement,as irrelevant. “Notion of witness” is a practice wherein committed revolutionaries, by force of example, engage in a pedagogy with the oppressed, together learning about the oppression and its causes. As a result of this reflection, there is a realization of the need for engagement in the struggle for liberation, a collective fight for freedom and justice.

Guha’s account from the field is presumably based on testimonies of oppressed persons, but he fails to take account of the fact that when the Maoists are not around, the oppressed must pretend to be neutral or even pro-state in order to survive. In fact, some of them might say just what they think the liberal researcher wants to hear. Indeed, in order to hear what he or she wants to hear, the liberal researcher often looks out for deserters who complain that they did not voluntarily take part; that they were pressurised to collaborate with the Maoists. Moreover, the liberal researcher tends to remain oblivious of the fact that the presence of state repression places severe limits on the value of the testimonies she/he gathers. Instead, there is a tendency to take the testimonies at face value. Resolutely opposed to communism and to revolution, and believing that the violence of the oppressed is never necessary, liberal analysis, like that of Guha’s, blames the Maoists for provoking and bringing on state, and state-sponsored vigilante, violence, although, rightly, Guha is opposed to state-sponsorship of vigilante forces.

Unlike Guha, I think that the oppressed people’s participation in the Maoist movement is mostly voluntary, though it may also, albeit to a lesser extent, stem from desperation, but all such participation stems from their deprivation, racial or caste discrimination, the deep inequalities they are confronted with, and repression. In the areas in which the Maoists have been politically engaged for a decade or more, they are socially embedded in the oppressed communities there, whether of the Adivasis or of the oppressed castes/Dalits. In my book, I consult anthropological research-that of Alpa Shah and Juhi Tyagi (India after Naxalbari, pp. 251-53)—on India’s Maoists and the communities they are politically engaged with, which stresses the close and even “intimate” link between the revolutionaries and the local people, transcending barriers of class and caste in treating the latter with respect and dignity as equals. Like the local people, and human beings, more generally, who love and hate, who think and argue, and then make moral choices, so also the Maoist revolutionaries, and when there is an impulse to love in human relationships alongside the impulse to closely analyse, a spirit integral to communism as conceived of in the writings of Marx, the seeds of a radically different political culture may indeed be in the making.

Considering the Maoists as wholly separate from the people in the areas in which they have been practising their politics for a decade or more, as Ramachandra Guha does, is misleading. These oppressed people are real human beings, with families and loved ones, forced to live wretched lives, but still with hopes for the future. Many of them have consciously made up their minds about uncompromisingly defying the government, this after assessing the grave risks of supporting or joining hands with the Maoists.

Towards the latter part his essay, Guha asks, so what should the Indian state, if it is to maintain its democratic credentials, do to “fight the rise of Maoist extremism in the tribal areas?” In 2007, Guha is critical of the state: “[I]instead of efficient police action (my emphasis), we have the outsourcing of law and order, as in the Salwa Judum campaign in Chhattisgarh, where the state government has set up a vigilante army that runs a parallel administration in the region” (p. 3310) “Efficient police action” in the form of Operation Green Hunt did actually unfold from September 2009 onwards, but with private vigilante forces sponsored by the Indian state-the latter not part of what Guha wanted. The government, however, disregarded the advice about refraining from the deployment of private vigilante forces alongside its “efficient police action” in the form of Operation Green Hunt, which has a joint command to coordinate, the counter insurgency operations of the central security forces with the police forces of the affected States.

Towards the end of his essay, Guha opines: “From the longer-term perspective of the historian the Maoist dream might be seen not as a fantasy but as a nightmare” (p. 3311). Citing a recent book—Comrades!: A World History of Communism (2007)—of the University of Oxford, Russian history professor Robert Service, Guha suggests that “revolutionary communism [in the twentieth century] has claimed even more human lives than fascism and the extreme ideologies of the right” (p. 3311). An obsession with numbers, indeed, a numbers mania—how many died at the hands of the despicable Communists, never mind the lies that go into the making of those numbers, only to claim that Communism was more repressive and cruel than fascism! Professor Robert Service, an anti-communist, right-wing liberal, is known not merely for advancing the positions taken by the Totalitarian School of Soviet historiography but going one better on that school. Comrades!: A World History of Communism is not an historical account but a polemic, and an extension of the contempt, scorn, denigration and condemnation that he has heaped upon Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin in his books, now stretched out in this book to include Communist leaders in other parts of the world. Sadly, Comrades! does not prove the claims Service makes.

A good liberal historian like Guha should have judged the book by the basic standards of historical scholarship, or even of good polemic, before citing such an unreliable piece of work as a reference. I am not an historian like my friend Ram Guha, but from the historians I have come to admire, especially Moshe Lewin, E P Thompson, and Ranajit Guha, I think that good history writing involves the historian trying his/her best to get a feel of the spirit of the times he/she is researching, getting a sense of the intellectual and the emotional in the thought of the dramatis personae, and focusing on those ideas of the period (one is researching) that seem to have lived on. Besides, of course, engaging in and being open to constant verification and placing of one’s facts in relation to other related facts, and having empathy in order to be objective, knowing full well that the supercilious gaze will not lead to any real understanding.

From my studies, I have learned that the violence of a revolution or a peasant insurgency must be seen as depending upon—alongside other factors—the level and intensity of violence of the counterrevolution or the counter insurgency. Without an effective mass movement on the side of the revolution or peasant insurgency, there is little chance of defeating the counterrevolution or the counterinsurgency, which, invariably, is backed financially and militarily by the reactionary regime in power, and politically and ideologically by the forces of liberalism too. Like Ranajit Guha in Elementary Aspects of Peasant Insurgency in Colonial India (1983), we too must not let our accounts of the contemporary Maoist movement be undermined or prejudiced by what the counterinsurgency says about the insurgency.

Ramachandra Guha may have been disappointed that “efficient police action”, as in Operation Green Hunt, has been accompanied by the deployment of vigilante forces, but that is in keeping with the counterinsurgency’s strategy & tactics. Predicated upon a symbiotic relation of the Maoist guerrillas with the people and knowing that the Maoist forces can never militarily overpower the state forces, the protracted people’s war principally seeks the political (rather than the military) defeat of its enemies. The counterinsurgency has been engaging in Low Intensity Warfare (LIW), hoping to distort and pervert this logic so that the revolution turns against itself. Predicated upon a symbiotic relation of the guerrillas with the people and knowing that it can never militarily overpower the state forces, the PPW principally seeks the political (rather than the military) defeat of its enemies. The counterinsurgency has been engaging in LIW, hoping to distort and pervert this logic so that the revolution turns against itself.

‘Doctrine for Sub-Conventional Operations’

The Integrated Headquarters of the Ministry of Defence (Army)’s Doctrine for Sub Conventional Operations (Shimla: Headquarters Army Training Command, December 2006)-hereinafter, the Doctrine—is the generally accepted guide of the union and state governments’ armed police forces in their LIW with the Maoists. In sub-conventional military operations, the Doctrine admits that the distinction between “front and rear…combatant and non-com-batant…(and) strategic and tactical levels” is blurred. It stipulates that the counterinsurgency has to “transform the will and attitudes of the people” who support the insurgency so that they ultimately realise that “fighting the government is a ‘no win’ situation”, and therefore, “distancing” themselves “from the terrorists is in their own interest and the only plausible course of action” (p. 9 and p. 21).

In the actual conduct of sub-conventional operations, civilians in the war zone who support or are suspected of supporting the insurgents have been targeted to ensure that they distanced themselves from the insurgents. As for those who join the insurgency, according to the Doctrine, they are to be subjected to both “attrition warfare” and “manoeuvre warfare”, through the former, they are to be “eliminated”, while with the latter, their apprehension or surrender is sought to be enabled, failing which, they too are to be “eliminated” (pp. 21-22). However, unlike the United States’ counterinsurgency operations outside its borders, Indian counterinsurgency operations have generally not taken recourse to air bombings, missile attacks and the deployment of helicopter gunships. But, as Gautam Navlakha explains in his book War and Politics: Understanding Revolutionary Politics (Kolkata: Setu Prakashani, 2014), in not exercising such options, the counterinsurgency has compensated with heavy deployment of ground troops aimed at “area domination” (pp. 81-82).

Soldiers of the security forces fighting in a war against an external enemy are generally looked upon by the public as saviours, but as part of the counterinsurgency, they may be at the receiving end of public hostility (or, as the Doctrine euphemistically puts it, they face “lack of support from the population”). Such antipathy “desensitizes” and renders them more prone to committing war crimes. But, since the “regular forces” have been subject to “restrictive rules of engagement,” local persons have been deployed as “irregulars” with none of these restrictions, and therefore with no limits to the barbarity unshackled by war. As it is, the Doctrine believes that the “weaker side,” i.e., the insurgency, is “characterized by irrationality, indiscrimination, unpredictability and ruthlessly destructive behaviour.” Indeed, it claims that all “contemporary insurgency movements” have “scant regard for the security of civilians which the traditional insurgent or guerrilla of the yesteryears showed.” (the Doctrine, p.1 and p.6).

The above-mentioned pretext that the insurgency has been barbaric has provided the “irregulars” deployed in southern Chhattisgarh, as SPOs or Koya Commandos, with a carte blanche to engage in molestation, rape, destruction, extortion, looting, and massacres directed against civilians who support the insurgency. The “irregulars” have been allowed to violate with impunity many of the so-called “Ten Commandments” promulgated for the “regular forces” and laid out in the Doctrine (p.66). The state and its forces have denied involvement and even passed such incidents off as part of internecine conflict within the Naxalite movement itself. A state of impunity has thus existed (and exists) in the sub-conventional operations to crush the Maoist movement (Navlakha, pp.83-84). For instance, according to Navlakha (p. 84 and endnote 67 on pp. 163-64) and Nandini Sundar (The Burning Forest: India’s War in Bastar, p. 200), one of the most prominent “irregulars,” Kartam Surya, a Special Police Officer (SPO) and a Koya commando, was considered a “Chhattisgarh hero” by the counterinsurgency for his ability to “‘instill fear in the ultras for his ruthlessness.'” Surya commanded his own “Surya gang” and amassed considerable wealth through extortion and other illegal means. Wanted by the law as an alleged rapist and killer, he lived under police protection in a police camp until his death in a Maoist ambush in 2012.

Be that as it may, the Doctrine is a holy cow which liberals generally refrain from questioning. But shouldn’t they, especially in the light of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and Protocol II of 1977 relating to non-international armed conflict, even though the Indian state is not a signatory of the two 1977 Protocols?

The Peremptory ‘Marxist’ View

The hallmarks of a good liberal intellectual are imparting the truth without fear or favour, with a sense of authentic history; inculcation of the scientific method; and a questioning and critical attitude toward the world. The good radical intellectual, besides having all these attributes, understands history as mainly class struggle; the scientific method as involving the search for the truth from constant empirical verification and practice, and with the application of “materialist dialectics”; and, a recognition that the point of having a critical understanding of the world around us is to change it for the better. As radicals, all our claims to have a superior scientific method in the form of materialist dialectics will be of little use if we do not, in the first place, respect the need for learning the truth from constant empirical verification and from practice. Some radicals, theoretical Marxists, forgetful of constant empirical verification, insist on using the word praxis in place of practice. I have never used the term praxis but understand it as the formulation of theory that emerges mainly from practice and the study of practice. In that sense, like Marx, surely Mao too was a practitioner of praxis.

In a recent paper, “Naxalbari and the Specters of Marx: A Contemporary Reflection on the Maoist Movement in India” in the academic journal Critique (Vol. 48, No. 1, 2020, pp. 51-75), Murzban Jal, a professor of philosophy and Director at the Centre for Educational Studies, Indian Institute of Education, Pune, reviews my book, India after Naxalbari. The book, however, does not seem to interest him, evident from his careless attention to it. Rather, he is bent upon denigrating the Indian Maoist movement. In his view, “left adventurism that degenerates into ‘anarcho-terrorism’ is actually helping the state move in a more rightwards direction” (p. 51). The “mindless violence” (p. 61) of the Maoists, the “‘alchemists of the revolution'” (p. 66), is likened to fascist brutality, which is one of a piece of the “same type of brutality by the Maoists” (p. 73). The Maoist movement is called “an infantile rebellion-the rebellion of the child against the trauma-causing father” (p.58, emphasis in the original), the “father” being the “Indian nation state” that has “noted that the infant suffering from infantile disorder needs to be disciplined” (p. 68). One symptom of the “‘infantile disorder'” is supposed to be refusing to “engage in parliamentary politics (p. 65, p.66). The “infantile rebellion” since Naxalbari is a “tragicomedy” (p.65).

And “Maoism”, it “violates the very fundamentals of revolutionary Marxism” (p. 67). The Maoists represent “‘primitiveness’ in the communist movement”; their “terrorist methods led by their phantasmagorical People’s Liberation Army” and their ‘amateurship methods’ lead “thinking comrades” to call the Maoist phenomenon a “‘a disease'” (p. 72). The “idea of communism of the Indian Maoists” is “‘a crude and thoughtless communism'” (p. 72). “Human freedom, the central part of Marxism, is completely absent in the Maoist framework”; what the Indian Maoists are peddling is a “‘duplicate communism'” (p. 72).

Jal takes it upon himself to condemning “Stalinism and Maoism” and denigrating the Indian Maoist movement in a verbal assault and defamatory diatribe on it that not merely is deeply prejudiced, sweeping and extreme, full of distortion and slanders, and snide denunciatory assertions, but crudely misleading. Dr. Jal even imagines that he knows what has been going on in the heads of the Maoists, for he has diagnosed the “disease” that afflicts them! Constant empirical verification be damned! But there must be many references to feign a scientific approach.

Not taking care to conscientiously go over the material in cited references, and then on that basis to claim to have proof of allegations from this material, for instance, about Stalin’s “complicit hand in the mass murder (my emphasis) of Chinese Communist Party workers on 12 April 1927″ (Jal, p. 56, as also fn 7), indicates a motive to denigrate Stalin.A long Stalin quote in the footnote simply points to Stalin’s utterly naïve expectations from an alliance with a thoroughly unscrupulous and conditional associate, the Kuomintang led by Chiang Kai-shek, unlike before March 1925 when the Kuomintang was led by Sun Yat-sen. Temporary, conditional alliances, even with unscrupulous parties in order to utilize a conflict of interests among one’s adversaries, is an accepted tactic, but there is always the risk of things going badly wrong. Jal seems to lack understanding of the reality of politics at the ground level. He just finds the right words and quotations from Karl Marx and V I Lenin to tarnish the integrity and reputation of India’s Maoists. His narrative of violence and terror of the “alchemists of revolution” serves to criminalise the history of Maoist insurgency.

Susan Ram’s review of my book, in Counterfire, November 1, 2019 at, is interesting, for, unlike Jal’s review, Ram engages critically with what I have written. In her view, I fail to get to grips with the problems and consequences of the Maoist insurgent strategy, namely, those flowing from the strategy of protracted people’s war (PPW), the “Stalinism” of the Naxalites, and their “conspiratorial tendencies. “According to Ram, the PPW strategy, a “‘wholesale borrowing'” from China’s Maoists, results in “self-imposed isolation from India’s organised industrial working class and from the millions more who toil, unorganised, in sweatshops, factories and mines,” and non-participation in parliamentary politics. The “Stalinism” of the Party is the root cause of all that is wrong with the movement. Further, there is the strong predisposition of the Naxalites, “alchemists of revolution,” to “conspiratorial tendencies [akin to those] of the Blanquist-Jacobin tradition,” the latter “insight,” of course, referencing Marx!

The decision to take on the Indian state, not merely the rural exploiters of the people, in the mid-1980s, Susan Ram argues, has led to state repression and state ‘development’ activity, which “have served to rein in the movement significantly and reduce its mobilising capacity.” The question of why the movement has witnessed a “persistence of revolutionary mobilization” (the question I ask in my book) even after fifty years have gone by then comes up. Susan Ram discounts one of the reasons that I have focussed upon, drawing on the insights, mentioned above, of social anthropologists and my own observations in the field. She insists that “The durability of Indian Maoism may lie elsewhere: in stubborn, unrelenting adherence to its founding principles, irrespective of the costs.” She goes on: This is “a dead-end political tendency fated for failure… [The] ‘alchemists of revolution’ are out there still, muttering their particular incantations (my emphasis) as they trudge doggedly on.” She cites numbers from what she calls “reliable data,” of those killed, 13,000, with civilians making “up more than half of those killed,” but she does not reveal the source of the data or the period or the years over which this count of the dead has been arrived at!

Body Count Mania

I can understand the obsession with the body count, but, at the least, we owe the dead the truth. So I would like to say some things about the count of the dead arrived at by South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), in their “Fatalities in Left-wing Extremism, 2005-2019,” which I accessed on July 2, 2019 at I do this because this is a constant source of reference which journalists, academics, and self-styled “security analysts” use. This data and a larger data base on “terrorism and low intensity warfare in South Asia.” is managed by the “non-profit, non-governmental,” New Delhi-based Institute for Conflict Management (ICM), the brainchild of K P S Gill (1934-2017), its founder and president, who was a prominent practitioner of ruthless, lawless counterinsurgency on behalf of the executive of the Indian state.

The SATP’s data must therefore not be taken at face value. As per that data on the “Fatalities in Left-wing Extremism” over the period 2005-18 (over the last 14 years), out of a total of 8063 deaths, 3166 (39.3%) were of “civilians,” 1999 (24.8%) of “security force personnel,” and 2898 (35.9%) of “left-wing extremists/CPI-Maoists.” I think that the figure of “left-wing extremist/CPI-Maoist” fatalities is exaggerated by the inclusion of killings of civilian supporters of the Maoists by the security forces who classify the dead civilians as “left-wing extremists.” Moreover, it is not clear whether the killings of “irregulars” (e.g. SPOs, Koya Commandos, etc.) by Maoist guerrillas have been included as security force personnel or civilian deaths. Most likely, Maoist killings of “informers,” “irregulars” and private vigilante force personnel have been taken as civilian deaths, whereas they are “combatants” on behalf of the state forces. And the many of the killings classified as civilian deaths may likely have been committed by security force personnel, “irregulars” or private vigilantes but these are, usually, implicitly attributed to the Maoist guerrillas. Of course, the Maoist guerrillas’ major asset is the sympathy and support, active and passive, of the local populations of the oppressed in the countryside. So, drawing on the old-fashioned Nazi approach, the counterinsurgency has been treating many of these civilians as potential guerrillas.

Frankly, in the absence of a truth commission, it is almost impossible to get to the veracity of the number of killings of combatants and non-combatants by each side, insurgents, and counterinsurgents. But, from the investigations of the various civil liberties and democratic rights’ organisations over the years, and as a democratic rights’ activist, I think that my proposition made in my book that killing has not been the principal modality of the Maoist insurgency is fair-minded and open to reason. As a socialist inspired by Marx, constant empirical verification is important for me.

Conspiratorial and Antidemocratic Tendencies?

Let me then come to Susan Ram’s contention about the “fateful decision” in 1985 of the “alchemists of revolution” to “target the Indian state directly.” She is ignorant of many things about the movement but feigns superior knowledge. “[F]ateful decision” by whom? I recall that in the mid-1980s there were five Naxalite parties—CPI(ML) (People’s War), CPI(ML) (Liberation), CPI(ML) (Party Unity), Maoist Communist Centre, and a CPI(ML) led by “Ramachandran”—which official Intelligence considered a significant threat to India’s “democratic order.” Let me then assume that Susan Ram is referring to CPI(ML)(People’s War). In chapter 4, “Naxalite! ‘Spring Thunder,’ Phase II,” of my book, I argue, with detailed evidence, that when the rural exploiters and oppressors could not with their private vigilante outfits and the local armed police deal with peasant resistance to their exploitation and oppression, the state reorganised its repressive apparatus, within a couple of years, the Andhra Pradesh Special Intelligence Bureau and the Greyhounds, the latter, a deadly commando unit, got into the act, and together with the state armed police and the central security forces, came down heavily on the peasant resistance in order to re-establish ruling class and state domination over the exploited and the oppressed.

As regards the alleged “conspiratorial tendencies” of the Naxalites/Maoists, the “alchemists of revolution”, there is a century-long record of anti-communist persecution in the form of a series of conspiracy cases, from the first of this kind, known as the Peshawar Conspiracy Cases (1921-23), to the present ongoing Bhima-Koregaon Conspiracy Case. Like the “Indian Political Intelligence, Intelligence Bureau, Criminal Investigation Department, and Scotland Yard” agents of the British Raj, and the present “National Intelligence” agents of the Modi Raj, it is, indeed, pathetic that Marxist intellectuals, Murzban Jal and Susan Ram,too draw the public’s attention to the “conspiratorial”manoeuvres of the resistance, and this, sans proper evidence!

And, contrary to what Susan Ram claims, I do deal with the “problems and consequences of the Maoist insurgent strategy”, this especially on pages 41, 249-250, and 253-255. Further, as part of my “immanent critique”—one that takes account of the principles and the presumptions underlying the Maoist view as my criteria for critiquing their position and actions-I suggest a three-class alliance, one which leaves out the so-called national bourgeoisie, a significant socialist orientation in the New Democratic stage itself, and a multi-dimensional approach to the “Peasant Question,” all this in chapter 10 of my book, wherein I reimagine New Democracy in the 21st century. A New Democratic Programme is necessary, not because India is semi-feudal, which it is not, but in order to resolve the many peasant questions. Immanent critique was an integral part of Marx’s method. Instead of repeatedly mechanically quoting Marx (and Lenin) to claim, in a peremptory manner, a superior understanding of the Maoist movement over the last five decades or more, Marxists like Jal and Ram will do well if they practised Marx’s Marxism—the method of materialist dialectics alongside constant empirical verification;with a realism that interprets truth as some kind of concurrence with what is the case; and, correction when experience and evidence suggests; and, always striving for improvement.

The writings of Marx & Engels and Lenin can be a useful guide to how socialists like me might look at Maoist tactics, and possibly relate as intellectuals to what has been going on. I am reminded of Marx and Engels’ approach to the Fenians (the Irish Republican Brotherhood) in the 1860s. They were totally in support of the Fenian cause, the emancipation of Ireland, even though they were critical of the Fenian leadership and the specific tactics that were practised.

I also at times reflect over Vera Zasulich’s attempt to assassinate the hated, brutal governor of Moscow in 1878, and the massive public sympathy for her, so much so that at her trial she was acquitted by the jury, and Marx never chose to condemn such violence.

Lenin, in contrast, was very critical about revolutionary terror tactics, but he was positively inclined towards guerrilla operations in particular contexts and situations (“Fighting Guerrilla Operations, Draft Resolutions for the Unity Congress of the RSDLP, A Tactical Platform for the Unity Congress of the RSDLP”, 1906, in V I Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 10, at Murzban Jal could have referred to such relevant aspects from Marx & Engels, and Lenin’s works. But, of course, Lenin’s 1920 piece, “Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder”,is most useful in critiquing the adventurist tactical line adopted by the CPI(M-L) in its initial phase. Lenin’s account, although he does not mention this, reminds me of the impatient radical youth of the KPD in Germany in 1919, after the break up with the social-democrats, disregarding what was required to be done in order to bridge the political gap between themselves and the majority of the workers.


Frankly, even as Jal goes hammer and tongs against “Maoism” and “Stalinism,” the reader fails to get his understanding of these isms. I have laid out my understanding of both in my November 2009 essay, “What is Maoism?” at So, I will not repeat what I have written, but from what I have, on Stalinism, in that essay, I implicitly endorsed Moshe Lewin’s “anti-anti-Communist” historio-graphy. Like Lewin, I too am critical of Stalin and Stalinism, but, and again, like Lewin, I am against the over-Stalinization of Soviet history, and am not comfortable with the extending of Stalinism beyond the Stalin period, “backwards and forwards” in Soviet history, which I think does not serve the purpose of historical inquiry (Moshe Lewin, The Soviet Century, 2005, p. 322). In my view, this warning also applies to social-scientific inquiry of Communism in India, or elsewhere.

I do, however, think that the notion of Stalinism, if not personal to Stalin, might be an appropriate name for a political culture in communist parties and movements, which is characterized by antidemo-cratic tendencies. Susan Ram references a 2010 essay by the scholar Jairus Banaji to assert that the Maoist party is a top-down outfit; “the bulk of party decisions are ‘taken and implemented over the heads of people but justified in the name of the people.'” I read Banaji’s 2010 article, “The Ironies of Indian Maoism,” when it first appeared, and as far as I can remember he does not refer to the underground and banned party’s actual experience as regards its decision making,its Constitution and accepted rules and procedures based on that constitution; its general framework to assure civility among party members; the primacy of its Party Congress over all the elected bodies; its Central Committee; its other committees, from the regional down to the village levels; its many mass organisations and their units right down to the village level; its Janathana Sarkars (“People’s Governments” in the guerrilla bases) and their political structures, conduct, behaviour, and performance. Banaji owes it to his readers to provide evidence. This is not to say that antidemocratic tendencies do not exist; they do, and I have provided some evidence in my book.

Judge? Never

Lastly, my approach and perspective as regards the Maoist movement, whose struggles I have considered important and extraordinary. Unlike what the peremptory “Marxists” claim, I think that the poor and landless, including the tribal, peasantry have been engaging in the political struggle and guerrilla operations with a political rationality and a capacity of independent thought of their own. The “Marxists” seem to choose to forget that guerrilla warfare will not last even for a few months, let alone decades, if it does not have the sympathy and support, active and passive, of the local population. Some of my radical-intellectual friends, after reading my book, have told me that in the light of my immanent critique of the movement, my hope in this movement is unwarranted. My reply has been that I don’t think it is up to me as a socialist inspired by Marx to judge a movement in which the oppressed and the exploited are in an armed struggle where there is mass poverty, misery, degradation, and little hope, and in the process the leadership either makes big mistakes, or errs in its assessment of the situation. A revolution never comes easy. Revolutionary success takes a hell of a lot of thinking, studying, educating, hard work ,organising, solidarity, struggle, and combining practice with theory, and comes with many more setbacks than we might expect.

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