Back of the Book
In east-central India, nearly one hundred thousand Indian paramilitary forces are at war with thousands of Maoist guerrillas consisting primarily of tribal youth and children.
Caught in the crossfire are millions of poor tribals. Already hundreds have died in the conflict, thousands are in jail, several others have fled from homes, and malnutrition has reached sub-Saharan dimensions. What is the political meaning of these developments from the perspective of the Left? How do we appraise a formidable armed conflict in the context of a supposedly pluralist parliamentary democracy? How credible is a proclaimed resistance, which places large numbers of impoverished people in the crossfire? What options, if any, are now available to save the tribals from mounting catastrophe? This book attempts to address these questions. Since the basic thrust of the book is to articulate the urgent humanitarian cause of saving tribal lives, it is to be viewed as a political work, primarily.
About the Author
Nirmalangshu Mukherji is professor of Philosophy in Delhi University. He studies the structure of language as it relates to general properties of the human mind. He also writes on justice and human rights. His publications include The Cartesian Mind: Reflections on Language and Music, The Primacy of Grammar and December 13: Terror over Democracy. He also co-edited Noam Chomsky’s Architecture of Language.
The word tribal is used in the subtitle of this book for familiarity. The indigenous people of Indian are commonly called adivasis, ‘ancient inhabitants,’ in many Indian languages; it does not have racist tone that the English word tribal has come to acquire. Gandhi called them girijans, ‘hill people’, which is inaccurate. From now onwards, I will use the word adivasi to denote my topic.
In this work, adivasis are viewed as (Indian) citizens, period. They are not discussed in term of their ancient culture, what they worship, and other forms of ‘ethnic’ distinction. There is no separate call to ‘protect’ their unique identity or to ‘preserve’ their special habitat. The ‘sociology’ and ‘anthropology’ of adivasis are not my topics. Adivasis are discussed because they are under attack by the Indian state and an insurgent group. Their democratic rights including right to livelihood – which they share with all people independently of ethnic categories – are seriously threatened in the context of an unfolding insurgency launched by the Communist Party of India (Maoist) or CPI (Maoist).
A Moist party may be formally viewed as a communist organization that subscribes to the doctrines of Marx, Lenin and Mao Zedong (MLM). Given their loyalty to these classical doctrines, Maoist parties typically reject both (Post-Stalin) Russian and (post-Mao) Chinese from of communism. Broadly speaking, these are widely viewed as egalitarian doctrines based on the enlightened principles of justice, equality, and freedom. Even if many commentators on the Left, especially in the West, view Leninism and Maoism as regressive doctrines by now, they continue to inspire a range of struggles for a just society across the world, For example, Maoists in India seek to create a paradise on earth.. where no person shall go hungry; where no one shall oppress another, where there shall be no discrimination based on caste, religion or sex; where a new socialist human being will be born in whom greed, selfishness, ago, competitiveness will be replaced by selflessness, modesty and cooperation and where a concern for other will take precedence over concern for oneself.
In any case, the salience of MLM is not under discussion here for it is a different matter how organizations which call themselves ‘Marxist’ or ‘Maoist’ behave on the ground, and what their presence means to the impoverished people they profess to liberate. History is replete with instances in which demonic, fundamentalist, reactionary, fascist, as well as progressive forces being their career with elaborate promises for the poor and the attendant visions of a just society. The Nazi movement called itself ‘National Socialist’ and it emerged from ghettos of the poor, not from corporate headquarters. For this reason I will seldom engage theoretically with the classical doctrines themselves in this work; I will also largely ignore the intricate polemical debates around these classical doctrines that occur relentlessly in MLM party documents and journals.
Most Maoist organizations believe in an armed protracted war to seize state power to establish what Mao called a ‘new democratic’ order. In most developing countries with a large peasant population, the protracted war is supposed to be in the form of an agrarian revolution. Since the aim is to seize state power by force, most Maoist groups shun any form of electoral politics to access existing states power, although some also advocate participation in elections as a temporary tactic to reach the people. It is not surprising that when something as momentous as emergence of communist China happens in history – followed by heroic resistance put up by people of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos with direct assistance from Chinese communists – it will inspire a variety of radical minds in the world.
There are literally hundreds of Maoist organizations operating across the world. In Europe, there are Maoist forums in the Netherlands, Germany, France, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Spain, Belgium, Britain, Portugal, Serbia, Austria, Poland, Slovenia, Greece and Finland, among others. In fact, there are several Maoist groups in most countries. In Latin America, Maoist groups are Present in Colombia, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Venezuela, Equador, Dominican Republic, Peru and others, with several groups in most countries. There are Maoist groups in US, Russia, Canada, New Zealand and Japan. Many countries in Africa and West Asia, including Morocco, Turkey, Iraq and Iran have Maoist groups. Maoist groups are present in other parts of Asia as well including India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, the Philippines and Bangladesh.
The organizational strength and reach of these groups vary considerably. However, with the exception of Maoist organizations in India, Nepal, Peru, the Philippines and a few others, most of these groups appear to be small intellectual forums with insignificant penetration among people. There is little reason to believe that Maoist groups have played any noteworthy role in some of the recent and spectacular mass resistance movement in West Asia, Europe, Latin America and Africa. Even with respect to older resistance movements such as the fierce and controversial Revolutionry Armed Forces of Colombia – Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia in Spanish, FARC for short – it is questionable if it belongs to the Maoist fraternity. FARC also started out decades ago as a guerrilla movement under the banner of the Communist Party of Colombia (Marxist-Leninist), but it is unclear if ever adopted the Maoist doctrine. In fact, after nearly fifty years of operations, its adherence even to the classical Marxist doctrine has become questionable. Similar remarks apply to many armed insurgencies elsewhere.
Nonetheless, especially after the emergence of the neo-liberal are, the pot-war ‘Bretton Woods’ world order is beginning to show signs of deep crisis, forcing vast sections of populations across the world into an increasingly desperate state even in erstwhile affluent zones. In the absence of avenues for peaceful and sustained resistance movement, Maoist and other militant forces can begin to play a more prominent role in these circumstances. Perhaps this explains the impressive, though largely dormant, proliferation of Maoist groups across the world in the last two decades.
On paper, most Maoist groups advocate very similar ideology and programme of action; only a detailed examination of their practice can reveal their specific political character. Labels such as ‘Leninist’ and ‘Maoist’ ultimately get their meaning, if any, only in the concrete context of people’s lives. No doubt, in some cases, as in contemporary Nepal and the Philippines, Maoist organizations were able to organise genuine people’s movements when they learned to adjust to the vastly changed world scenario after the Chinese revolution.
For example, the Communist party of Nepal (Maoist) launched a peasant-based civil war more or less on classical Chinese lines against a ruthless monarchy and its royal army. However, as soon as the monarchy was defeated, the Maoist party there halted their armed insurgency and cooperated with rest of the political organizations, including some right-wing ones, to establish genuine republicanism based on universal franchise. In the Philippines, a Maoist movement has continued for many years with widespread support and involvement of people against a token republic that subscribes to what Noam Chomsky (2011) has characterized as ‘the Philippine model’ favoured by the US developing countries.
Chomsky points out that model is ‘in place in the Philippines’ which is ‘the one US neo-colony that is still run virtually the same way it was run one hundred years ago – same elite elements, same brutal constabulary, different names – with the US in the background, but not very far; Since these contexts leave little room for peaceful mass resistance, an armed struggle to enforce a drastic change in governance appears to be justified to that extent.
An armed struggle is no picnic for the masses. In every armed struggle mindless violence and atrocities are committed on unarmed people. This applies also to armed struggles in Nepal, the Philippines, Peru and Colombia which seem to have some salient features (Prashad, 2010). Also, armed struggles that appear to be uplifting from a distance, such as the ones led by the legendary Che Guevara in Bolivia and Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam might actually contain brutal elements that go against the very principles of resistance. Within this somber perspective, however, it seems that, in some cases, an armed struggle might actually signal a historical step forward for the concerned people.
Dark Clouds over Dandakaranya
Role of Intellectuals
Arms over people
Forms of Resistance
Quest for Peace
Appendix I: Interview with Ganapathy, General Secretary of CPI (Maoist), 2009
Appendix II: Sanhati Statement against the Government of India's Planned Military offensive in Adivasi-populated Regions
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