Communism in India finds its mainstay and support in the eastern and northeastern sections of the country. These are relatively backwards, rural, and underdeveloped for the most part, although they also contain the very populous area of Kolkata and surroundings, the state of West Bengal. The highly impoverished poor farmers and land laborers of this region as well as the proletariat of Kolkata has a strongly developed class consciousness, and as a result Communism has found a secure footing there, even in times when globally its powers are at a low ebb.
In these areas it takes on two main forms, speaking in terms of political organization. One is the party known as the Communist Party of India (Marxist). This group mostly consists of intellectuals but with a fairly broad mass base and that particularly in the more urban regions. Its policies follow a general line that is now associated with the name of Menshevism, or that of left social-democracy: it supports Marxism, but seeks to enlist the support of the progressive bourgeois, and follows a capitalist development strategy in order to build the necessary material base for socialism. It also follows a purely parliamentary politics, relying wholly on parliamentary and formal means of reform, although it must be noted that they also maintain a broad range of civil organizations, similar to the SPD in Germany in the 19th Century. They are generally the ruling party in West Bengal as well as Kerala.
Their opposites in all respects can be found in the Communist Party of India (Maoist), by all and sundry known as the Naxalites. The Naxalites are particularly strong among the poorest rural population, especially ‘untouchables’, and follow a strategy of rural rebellion against the government. Not just the central government of India itself, which is currently the national-bourgeois one of the Congress Party, but also the governments led by the abovementioned CPI (Marxist). For its efforts, it has been rewarded with a ban on the CPI (Maoist) by the central and local government1. It vigorously opposes also any election activity, since they seem to consider this mere parliamentarism and regard none of the parties to be serious in representing the interests of the rural poor. It further claims its violence, which has been significant and has involved use of underage soldiers, is self-defense against the greater violence of the Indian government and police forces.2 The truth of this seems borne out by what we know of the rural circumstances, where security forces aggression against the rural poor is widespread and no government represents the people. In fact, it is a telling fact that the current Naxalite rebellion is a revival of an earlier one, which took place in the 1960s. Then, it was brutally crushed by the Indian government. The fact of its revival (inspired by Lin Biao’s strategy of the ‘People’s War’) indicates that despite all the boasting of the capitalists about ‘growth’ and ‘improvements’ in India, the lot of the rural poor of that country, hundreds of millions strong, has improved not a bit.
What’s more, the CPI(Marxist) itself is forced by its pro-bourgeois policies to increasingly rely on liberal strategies of development, which open itself up to the criticism of abandoning the people it is supposed to support and represent. Already, it has repressed revolts of mostly ‘tribal’ Indians resisting expropriation of their land by capitalist companies and ecological destruction of their forests. It has done nothing whatever to improve the position of these marginal groups: it is said that nowhere the position of the ‘tribal’ rural poor is as bad as in West Bengal.3 The consistent policy of repression versus the movements of the rural poor has cut off any possibility of democratic improvement or pressure on the state, forcing them into using their right of self-defense by attempting to overcome the state in their areas. They may have little chance of victory in the long run, but they have organized and their movement exists, and one cannot expect more of people in such a deprived situation. Who would demand that they lie down and surrender when their land and livelihood is expropriated by capital and state forces wage war on them, speaking of them as “infesting” their own regions?4
That is not to say the Maoists are wholly right here. Aside from the impossibility of their victory, which simply means they have no chance but to seek support elsewhere if they are to win (for example among the urban poor), their anti-parliamentary strategy is wrong. Only those who have no popularity need fear the ballot box, and if the CPI (Maoist) indeed represents the rural poor, this should be no problem in a country with universal suffrage. What is more, parliamentary participation need not and should not mean that other forms of struggle and organization are given up. They are right to criticize the reformist concessions policy of the CPI (Marxist) and should continue to exert every possible means of pressure against it, but it is important that by participating in the democratic procedures they offer not only resistance and rebellion to the rural peoples, but also avenues for alliance and reform to achieve real objectives. Otherwise, in the long run the result will be one of two options. Either brutal repression of the movement once again, which sets back the cause of the rural poor another few decades; or it degrades into a phenomenon were the movement has no hope. In the latter case, the support will slowly die, and to maintain itself the armed movement will have to rely more and more on force, drug trading, and so forth to maintain its existence, and finally degrades entirely into an extortion gang with political pretenses. This phenomenon has been seen before in places like Colombia. It is right to rebel, but the only hope for the movement of the Naxalites in the longer run is by allying with the urban poor to overthrow and reject the national bourgeois of the Congress Party as well as defeating the petty bourgeois fascists of the BJP.
This however also places demands on the CPI (Marxist). It must abandon its policy of relying on capitalism to develop the poor areas, for it has never in the history of the world done such a thing on its own accord – as Marx said, capitalism is “dead labour, that vampire-like sucks on living labor, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks”.5 It can pull by its force even those the most hidden from the world’s eye out of their hiding-places and into the movement of peoples, but it cannot ever elevate them as a class. Since the CPI (Marxist) uses the name of Marx, it ought to know this. What’s more, it will also not do to opportunistically accuse its opponents of the Trinamool Party of being terrorists by supposedly aiding the Maoists, a cheap political trick which the latter reject in any case.6 Nor can the CPI (Marxist) make a hue and cry about the immoralities of the Naxalites, such as their abuse of children. Capitalism itself is abuse against children, which is a well-known phenomenon in India and other countries in that part of the world. As Marx remarked on the 19th Century United States: “A great deal of capital, which appears to-day in the United States without any certificate of birth, was yesterday, in England, the capitalised blood of children.”7 It must reject the policy of the Indian government to extort and suborn villagers into becoming police spies and auxiliaries, the so-called Salva Judum, as well as its general repression against left movements, whether in Kashmir or in Chhattisgarh, and aid all attempts to subvert and sabotage these. Finally, it must open itself up to alliance with the Naxalites, so that the urban proletariat and the poor peasantry and landless may be united in their cause. When the workers of the world unite under the banner of abolition of capital, nothing can defeat them.
1. “Bengal follows India: Maoists banned, top leader held”, Indian Express (June 23, 2009). http://www.indianexpress.com/news/bengal-follows-india-maoists-banned-top-leader-held/480286/ .->
2. “CPI-M, Trinamool two sides of same coin, says Maoist leader”, IANS Wire Service (June 17, 2009). http://www.newkerala.com/nkfullnews-1-57632.html .->
3. Mahaswata Devi, “‘Send food, not force to Lalgarh'”, The Times of India (June 23, 2009). http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/Special-Report/Send-food-not-force-to-Lalgarh/articleshow/4690223.cms .->
4. Aditya Nigam, “Maoists breed in swamps of hunger and anger”, The Times of India (June 21, 2009). http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/Special-Report/Maoists-breed-in-swamps-of-hunger-and-anger/articleshow/4681983.cms .->
5. Karl Marx, Capital Vol. I (London 1990) [London 1867], p. 342 (Ch. 10, Section 1). ->
6. “CPI-M, Trinamool two sides of same coin, says Maoist leader”, op. cit.->
7. Karl Marx, p. 920 (Ch. 31). ->
How exactly do you expect the Naxalites to embrace electoral accountability when they are a criminal organization? It’s not like they can sign up to put their names on the ballot, unless they first abandon resistance against capitalism. Which of course is exactly their reason for rejecting parliamentarism in the first place.
You will note the CPI(Maoist) was banned only recently, whereas their anti-electoral strategy dates from far before that, as far as I’ve been able to tell from the sources.