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Books > History > The Naxalites and Their Ideology
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The Naxalites and Their Ideology
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About The Book

Deriving its name from the village Naxalbari in West Bengal, the Naxal movement has seen widespread revival in recent times. This book presents an insightful analysis of the movement by situating it within the contexts of Bengali society, strains of Indian communism, and the peasantry. Rabindra Ray, who was actively involved in the movement in the early 1970s, uses tools of sociological and philosophical analysis to understand what it means to be a Naxalite. His interpretation of Naxalism distinguishes between the movement’s ideological position and its actions. Comparing Naxal ideology to that of Nietzsche and the philosophical tradition of Nihilism, Ray vividly portrays the social and cultural heritage of Naxalism. In a new Aterword to the Third Edition, he reflects on the resurgence of Naxalism in India over the last decade.

Comprehensive and unusual, this book will appeal to all those interested in contemporary India.

 

About The Author

Rabindra Ray is Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Delhi.

Prologue

To people of good will, the revolutionary seems a well-intentioned person enough, almost one of their own. But, whatever else he or she may be, the revolutionary or the terrorist, as he or she is known nowadays, would certainly balk at being considered a person of goodwill and no different from people who try to lead correct and blameless lives. The revolutionary is a creature of postures, forever viewing himself or herself as engaged, and about matters of world-embracing import. The revolutionary is not infrequently trapped in his or her own posturing, the way out of which seem to him or her closed on grounds of principle. Inhabiting this destitute prison of his or her making, the revolutionary orients him- or herself in the light of a grand heroism, to which the run of humanity is so much material to cope with or shape. People who bring about or effect revolutions are not necessarily revolutionaries, just as revolutionaries themselves may forever be busy with the tasks of a revolution that never arrives. Such indeed is the plight of Western and Indian communist revolutionaries, wedded to a utopia of a classless society, while nevertheless either themselves occupying positions of considerable privilege or committed to the task of the elite vanguard, however humbly, who gift the deluded and enslaved masses the ideological weapons of their liberation.

Unlike terrorism, revolution is a word in very good odour—and not only among communists. There seems to be a veritable tide of rhetoric presuming the unsurpassable excellence of revolution and revolutionary perspectives and claiming revolutionary status or consequences for any and everything new. Of course, among communists and those familiar a-ñ their debates, the distinction between terrorism and revolution has been of some importance since the Bolsheviks. Indeed, where the early Naxalites viewed themselves as a breed apart, who not only preached practiced revolution, those they broke from, the communists who participated in electoral politics, considered Naxalism an adventurist politics of individual terror. The contenders have not yet revised their views of each other, though there are now Naxalites who participate in elections as well.

At the end of the phase described in this book, the effective organizations of the Naxalites were destroyed, both through the strong counter-measures of the government and the internal dissension and lack of unity among the surviving Naxalites themselves. For a relatively protracted period, the Naxalites were not in the news and no events of Naxalite violence were reported. Naxalite ideologues were however active through this period in the towns and cities, proselytizing and propagandizing, establishing countrywide and international links. I am not familiar with the issues they debated amongst themselves, but two elements of their orientation in continuing to remain Naxalites or in becoming fresh recruits to the cause are reasonably manifest—first, the belief in violent revolution as a long protracted process on the Chinese model as the only solution for India’s poor, and second, the unwillingness or inability to come to terms with the bloody history of the early period with respect to a clarity about themselves and their own motives. This externalization of what is an internal matter, this projection onto the world of what are concerns of the revolutionary’s intimate soul is a matter that has only been fomulaically advanced in this book as the distinction between literate and existential ideology, and not adequately elaborated and fleshed out. In the course of time, the Naxalites did regroup, though in several different contending factions, and most of the rural areas in which they were successful in finding some kind of support, changed.

The intellectual profile of the Naxalite movement as a whole also changed. There were two significant respects in which this change is allied to the intellectual situation within the country and the world at large. Within the country, leftists, socialists and communists had been a significant presence right through the later phases of nationalism and onwards, but the early period of Naxalism detailed in this book and the period of the emergency and the resistance to it that followed slightly later, led to a quantum jump in the respectability of such views. The post emergency period saw the hallowing of such views by parliament by the inclusion of socialism in the very constitution of the Republic to describe its nature and aspirations. This was neither a cosmetic change, nor solely an outcome of the Naxalite events, but allied to a slow drift of the changing intellectual climate of which the Naxalites themselves indeed, were a constituent element. Leftist intellectual hegemony did not go unchallenged, but no party in India, even today, is a party of the right with the defence of private property and the private rights of individuals on its agenda. In academic matters, political correctness is dictated by prevailing leftist prejudices. Such currents have not left the world at large untouched, where paradoxically, the collapse of the Soviet dictatorship and the market orientations of surviving socialist regimes, including India, have not laid the socialist ghosts, but spread their prejudices wider and deeper in the following generation. This change in the very atmosphere in which the Naxalites operate is coupled with a change in the sections of the student population who get drawn to Naxalism to the point of becoming active revolutionaries. Though the general influence of Naxalism and leftist ideas is far more powerful today than the time of the events set forth in this book, the universities and especially the apex institutions of higher education are relatively peaceful and not hotbeds of revolutionary ideology, though a consistent and steady stream of the educated young sympathizes with Naxalite perspectives, even sometimes to the point of plunging into active revolutionary activity The intellectual standards of the Naxalites were never high, but during the early period treated in this book they attracted to their fold some of the most academically accomplished. Activism of various other reform-oriented sorts has surfaced in the interim, and the universities of the country are just as actively engaged in non-academic political activity as ever they were.

As for the Naxalites themselves, they continue to be essentially and cultically wedded to violence, though it seems the pitch of bloodlust characteristic of the period of the terror in Calcutta is no longer prevalent. The Naxalites continue to pride themselves in the practice of violence, setting themselves, in their own opinion, as a breed apart. Nevertheless, some of them, while essentially so committed to the practice of violent methods, do not refrain in principle or indeed practice from peaceful parliamentary and electoral politics, and of course, as ever, are willing to utilize the efforts of all of those, however peaceful even in principle, who sympathize with them. And the ranks of these latter spreads tentacularly through society and politics into parliament itself and into the opinion-making circles in the world at large.

The Naxalite, however much committed to the welfare of the dispossessed, is a Naxalite on grounds of conviction having to do with i1ectual proclivities and dilemmas. The roots of the Naxalite phenomenon do not lie in the poverty of India’s labouring rural population, but in the psychological traumas of its urban educated young. These traumas are inextricably enmeshed in the oral and intellectual problems of the leading thought of our times. Without coming to grips with the moral and intellectual source, all activity, pro and con, is likely to prove only a sop to the inability to confront our world and ourselves with as much clarity as is possible.

It might seem contentious to argue that the Naxalite problem is primarily related to the intellectual climate of our times and principally a question of the orientations of urban educated youth, when even sections of informed police opinion incline to the view that it is a problem of the rural dispossessed, for, true enough, quite a few of those engaged in Naxalite violence in principally Bihar and Andhra now are village folk, and in the actual attempt to check or contain violence, it is they who must be contended with. But even in the period described in this book this was the case in most of the rural areas of Naxalite activity. ‘What is being argued is that the continuing organizational tenacity, its effective continuance as a threat to peace and security rests not in the labouring rural population, but in the urban educated and the respectability such views enjoy among those who consider themselves enlightened. The possibility of the recurrence of such violence on a continuing basis remains so long as the centrality of the urban educated is not understood. Indeed the very re-emergence of Naxalite activity after a period of quiescence following the events detailed in this book is living evidence of the cogency of my argument.

Without coming to terms with the ideology of the Naxalites and all that that means with regard to our own ways of thinking and participating in politics, an effective resolution of the problem posed by the Naxalites is likely to prove illusory. The collapse of Soviet Marxism or Chinese collectivism, true enough, is not a result of the Western bloc’s persuasions and dissuasions, but it is certainly related to the intellectual climate within these countries and the orientations of educated opinion, right into the Central Committees of the ruling parties and even its very apex. Bengal, after these bloody events, has never seen the resurgence of Naxalite violence. It has had a change of heart. None of the survivors of the Naxalite arm in Bengal still live by the same principles. How is this to come about elsewhere? Fortuitous events contributed to such an outcome in Bengal. If Naxalite violence is to be checked and contained in the regions where it has resurfaced, it demands the meeting of violence with violence, for which already public opinion has to be contended with, and also, more importantly, it needs the persuasion and dissuasion in urban enclaves that will prevent more young people from being led astray.

It is a wonder how a veritably full-blown philosophy of bloodthirsty murder and general mayhem can appeal to educated, sensitive people, otherwise accustomed to the most civilized of everyday behaviour, as the highest altruism by which India and indeed the world is to be redeemed. And this in the country of the Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi. True enough, the legacy of the Buddha is a distant prospect, but the more proximate example of the life and work of the Mahatma—and its astonishing practical political success!—might otherwise have given pause to such a precipitate advocacy of brutal and naked violence only if those so committed had not felt the example of the Mahatma to be only a cruel ax perpetrated on a gullible, long-suffering, population, its vaunted success a hollow hypocrisy belied by the persistent desperate destitution and oppression left untouched by the achievement of Indian independence.

The Naxalite reversal of values is only part of a far larger intellectual tendency of appeal to the highest moral principles to justify, vindicate and positively advocate what is usually considered the grossest and coarsest immorality. It seems to have become indeed, the most influential current of thought which, by a twist of subtle dialectical transformation, then accuses the highest forms of morality hitherto revered as brutally and fundamentally immoral. The Naxalite adventure originating in this general querulousness about values and of the y sense of values, in turn feeds into its stream again. It strengthens and consolidates the turn of thought to what are considered criminal recourses in the name of the very highest law and justice. It is not possible to take issue with this global pervasive drift within the space of a brief preface or even to limn adequately its more important features. Nor would it be altogether appropriate to do so for a book devoted principally to the Naxalites. In the space that remains I wish to review some of the features of socialism, become an altogether respectable doctrine and inscribed into the very constitution of the republic of indeed related to some of the events considered in this book. The collapse of Soviet socialism has disenchanted some with its perspectives, bar not to the point of a theoretical reconsideration of its principles.

Socialist and socialistically inclined ideas still enjoy great prestige in India and are indeed influential in intellectual circles all over the world. In the relatively brief period that it has been current, socialist thought has assumed a vast variety of forms, not only accidentally or occasionally at loggerheads with each other—even murderously—though all socialist creeds seem agreed in principle that rights of private property are merely a customary social convenience, not in any way essential or fundamental, and to be flouted and disrespected at will either in the public interest or in principle, as the principal obstacle to a just and equitable social order. The doctrines of socialism are relatively recent and of European provenance though I have seen booklets after the event, touting a ‘Vedic Samajwad’. True enough, disputes as to the nature of the right to private properly are hardly recent, and codified Hindu law pf fairly distant origin is divided in its opinions both about the nature of the right and the details of its governing legislations. ‘Whereas the earlier Mitaksara, more prevalent over the western and northern parts of the country, regards the right to private property and its rules as rooted in, and derived from sastra (scriptural injunctions in dharma—and thus inflexible and relatively unchangeable), the later Dayabhaga more prevalent in the eastern parts and principally Bengal, regards the right to private property and its rules as much more subject to change, and merely of laukik import, i.e. validated as custom and subject to variations of time and place. The two schools differ in their legislations and by implication their view of the rightful share of governance. But, it is worth mentioning here that the British when they came to India, to trade and then to rule, were puzzled by Hindu and Indian rules and customs of ownership, not infrequently arriving at the opinion that private property as it was known in England and Europe was not to be found in India. The subject of the nature of property in India is highly interesting and complex and I will not go further into it here, referring the reader interested in a brief overview of my opinion to my review of Hira Singh’s work on Rajputana in colonial times. Nor will I purpose further here the complexities of the issues of the intelligibility of socialism in settings other than the European and its understanding of the nature of private property. I shall take for granted the European and Europeanist elaborations, which have been employed in any case by most avowed practicing socialists, both in their rhetoric and in their policies, i.e. where they have been in a position to formulate policy The recourse has the merit of an overt intelligibility of principle, uncomplicated by the finer points of adequacy to actual practices, more in keeping with the aspects I wish to discuss here.

It bears mention with respect to the egalitarian rhetoric that underwrites the so-called socialist moralities, that for very good and cogent reasons the contention of a non-hierarchical society is a sociological absurdity. Concerning the issues of property, personal and private access to the wealth of the world seems to me not only inevitable and untranscendable but positively desirable and a natural and civilized good. The contrary contention, i.e. the socialist alternative, poses the problem of who is to decide authorized shares if personal and private acquisition is an abomination, and who is to decide the legitimate share of those who delegate to themselves the parceling out of shares. In any case, acquisition for personal gain, spiritual or material, is the inflexible principle of human conduct and no parceling out of just shares is going to prevent the vast majority of mankind from trying to improve its personal and private material position. Nor to my mind, is the principle of inheritance in any way morally corrupt. There is hardly an escape from it. It remains for the privileged to discharge the responsibilities of privilege as best they can and for those who feel they have been unjustly treated to sue for justice to such as are privileged to dispense justice.

Acquisition is necessarily and appositely personal. If the socialist contention that property is theft’ is to be taken seriously, it is worth remembering that it is disrespect for the rules of property that is customarily theft. All socialism thus criminal in itself, makes criminals of the greater majority of the population, busy acquiring gain for private and personal ends. The consequences are the criminalization of the economy and politics, i.e. the reduction of the greater part of the population to criminality, with the law and its effective enforcement leading to and actively favouring the advancement of the deliberately criminal, and the invasion of the legitimate political domain by active criminals. A spiritually, morally pure socialism can only begin—and end—with oneself and the surrender to others of what is mine, without coveting what is thine.

Indeed, the complexity of moral life is centered on the handling of the tension between mine and thine. Superior and inferior personal moralities exhibit themselves in the way in which they negotiate the difficulties of selfishness and altruism. ‘Whereas most seem agreed on the moral superiority of altruism, only those who have some thing worthy of giving can actually make a meaningful gift. Renunciation in and of itself is of little use if it does not lead to the acquisition of some higher, greater good. That is not, however, to deny the centrality of the mystery of sacrifice to the human condition, where everything is at risk, parents sacrifice routinely for their children, and the ambitious sacrifice all to the cultivation of their potential.

Social justice’ is the first value aspiration inscribed into the Indian Constitution, it underwrites later outright advocacy of socialism. To my mind, it can only be a figment of a deluded imagination of megalomaniac proportions. Social justice is not a humanly justifiable matter and all attempts at so-called social engineering are more pronounced in the achievement of unforeseen consequences, than in the solution of perceived problems for which they were purportedly invented. As to the workings of these attempts at social justice and its criminal outcomes, the first example is the first act of the newly constituted republic which led to the first Constitutional Amendment, in the very first year of its operation, and not on some minor peripheral issue but the guarantee of fundamental rights. Zemindari Abolition was set into motion to honour the promises the Congress party had made to its supporters in the struggle for independence. Such zemindars or their subordinates as evaded the law or used subterfuge have prospered and flourished. Such as respected the law were wiped out as landlords. The Maharaja of Darbhanga chose to move the courts not on the issue of the legality or justice of the Abolition itself, but on the issue of rightful compensation, claiming more than was offered to him by the Government. The Patna High Court upheld his plea and the defeated Government appealed to the Supreme Court, which also upheld the Maharaja’s plea. Not to be outdone, the Government then took the matter to Parliament, where an overwhelming Majority of the Congress and in any case an even more socialistically inclined opposition, amended the fundamental right to private property so that the government could renege on the demanded payment. One wonders what the Mahatma who is on record as also being a socialist, albeit of a pure kind, would have made of this. Land- grabbing followed the abolition of zemindari and the successive legislations on a ceiling on holdings and the consolidation of holdings. It continues even today. It favours only the more aggressively criminal, so that, as I mention in the book, the ownership of cultivable land in the country is a complete mysterious maze which one investigates only at the risk of life and limb. All this, under the threat of criminal appropriation by the government itself, either in the individual capacity of a government appointee or functionary flouting the law, or entirely legally as governmental expropriation with little or no compensation. Needless to say, the problem of adequate increased production to feed the burgeoning towns and cities was not solved by all this land reform, but by the subsidizing of agricultural production with urban surplus through the Green Revolution.

The criminalization of the countryside was followed during the events detailed in this book by the criminalization equally of urban commerce and industry by the outright adoption of socialism. In financial straits due to the tax-liability concealment and tax evasion of the larger part of the commercial population to escape the punitive tax rupture in the interests of ‘social justice’, the government seized and rationalized fourteen private Indian banks without paying a penny in compensation. The Congress Party still had an overwhelming majority in Parliament, but Indira Gandhi could not carry the party with her and the matter could not be ratified in the legislature. V.V. Gin, then President, came to Indira Gandhi’s rescue and promulgated an ordinance legalizing the acquisition. The years of avowed socialism and the continuing licensing Raj have seen criminals flourishing in every economic activity. The government seems to be busy these days trying to bring back to the legal fold all this criminal wealth. Politics itself is riddled with convicted criminals. Whether any review of the constitution will ever raise the issue of socialism is doubtful.

To the Naxalites and to a large section of similar leftist opinion, all this constitutional socialism is completely bogus. The Naxalites want blood and the murder of the propertied, except for the propertied who kowtow to them. While not so bloodthirsty, a large section of leftist and liberal opinion sympathizes with the Naxalite cause. Shades of the advocacy of violence differ considerably. At its most civilized, the Nobel Laureate, Amartya Sen advocates welfare spending by governments without thought as to how the money is going to come, when all governments in the world are deeply in debt and getting deeper into debt. Individuals, now given the opportunity, are beginning to live in a similar fashion on credit. Perhaps our children or their children’s children will need to settle the account.

The Naxalite beginnings are by now history and not a little nostalgia tinges the memory of these dread events. But the tragedy of it should not remain out of view. And whereas tragedy makes for beautiful and instructive literature, as history it can only be regretted.

Introduction

In attempting a sociological interpretation of the ideology and practice of the 'Naxalite' terrorists in West Bengal we must have recourse to the meaning of this practice for the Naxalites themselves. However, their overt ideological statements do not reveal the meaning and significance of their actions. Hence I shall seek to distinguish their 'existential ideology' from their 'literate ideology'.

It is perhaps desirable to understand. But if we can agree on what we wish to understand, we have not yet agreed on how we are to understand it. It does not help to appeal to an objective reality, for in posing the problem of how anything is to be understood we already confront the problematic character of the reality we seek to understand.

Reality never establishes itself except as an appeal to self-evidence, the unproblematic and unambiguous nature of that which presents itself and can be talked about. Objects, things, artefacts have a clarity which makes it easy for us- to use them as evidence, to point where words fail. But human reality is not itself such an external artefact, even though it is in such artefacts that it often manifests itself. Being an internality, it lacks both the definiteness and sensuousness of tangible things, even when expressed in the communicable form of language. This does not render human reality either imperceptible or incommunicable: it is of course the consciousness of this shared human reality that makes communication possible and renders it meaningful. But for the most part this reality remains as assumption, shaping the course of communication without being made explicit.

Social reality presents itself as that alien reality that confronts the individual in the pursuit of his goals, or even constitutes the condition of his existence." However, it ceases to be as obvious or as dearly defined as soon as one attempts to grasp it or render it intelligible. Simultaneously external to the individual and yet a matrix of intersubjectivity that implicates him, the nature of this social reality can only be formulated and communicated to the historicity of the society it attempts to grasp, and to the human and personal awareness that gives it its form. Such a formulation is engaged with things, with objects of human creation in space and time, with institutions, with manifestos, and with more directly tangible artefacts. It is engaged with the awareness of others, with persons-as particular individuals or as more general stereotypes. But social reality is in itself neither things nor persons. It is constituted as that fundamental abstraction that invests both it, and by contrast the sense of self, with concreteness.

Sociology, as fundamentally concerned with social and human reality, cannot escape either their relativism or their absoluteness. In delineating these realities, sociology incorporates its awareness of the questionableness of such realities in the concept of ideology. The word ideology, which supposes such an awareness, poses as its first mystery that word itself, and, as its first manifestation, 'sociology, the discipline to which it has become central.

The Naxalites

The Naxalite occupies an ambiguous niche in history. Exemplary idealist to some, he indicates to others an expression of immature disaffection that has nothing constructive to offer. In either case, he embodies the reinstatement of man as a moral agent if only because Naxalites so radically challenged the premises of established morality. This might indeed seem an untenable proposition, considering the brief flicker of the Naxalite challenge and their almost fore-ordained failure. True, there are still Naxalites around, provoking perhaps the same mixed responses that they did when they first appeared, but today they represent little beyond an insignificant irritant to those whose authority they question. Perhaps they have never in actual fact amounted to very much more than that. And yet there was a time when the word Naxalite was not just a characterization of another political tendency by the media, a casual throw-away phrase conveying broadly a belief in political violence in the interests of the dispossessed, but a word loaded with nameless fears and aspirations, stirring hopes or despair, and always strong passions. There are some of course who claim that this is still the case, though any examination of the scale and depth of contemporary Naxalite activities or expression of opinion will not bear this out." But still, even if the Naxalites do not provoke the controversy they once did and belong so clearly to the past, it is only because there are very few fresh recruits to the cause and not because the issues raised by the Naxalite revolt have been satisfactorily explored, or indeed even explicitly stated. Their failure seems to have set the seal on the questions they raised as a dead letter, and no one is perhaps more reticent to discuss these than the ex-Naxalite himself.

And yet the Naxalite revolt provokes a whole battery of vexed questions-some of them posed as such by the Naxalites themselves, others implicitly entailed in their activity, and yet others exposed in the consideration of Naxalite events in hindsight. Perhaps the questions people choose to ask are themselves more significant pointers to the nature of their involvement with the events, their standpoint and prejudices, than the answers that they finally arrive at.

To the historian the most important question is probably-how did the Naxalites arise? Or, to put it with a more mundane conventionality, what were the causes of the Naxalite outbreak? There are some, Marxists among them, who see sufficient cause for the origin of the Naxalites in the ideals they professed, and the root of the whole outbreak in the abysmal poverty of the Indian dispossessed.' And yet as others notice, Marxists among them, however significantly the discontent of poverty may be related to the Naxalite disaffection with the status quo, it is not quite this disaffection that explains their activity, for the Naxalites fought in the cause of a class other than their own. During the course of events themselves, prominent leaders of the other communist parties dismissed the Naxalites as middle-class romantics and adventurists." This obviously reopens the question of causation at a more immediate and profound level, for we are then led to the question of what it is that leads a person to rebel, and, even more generally, what the elements of a social revolution are.

The partisan on the other hand, whether he happens to be a Naxalite or not, will not see anything problematic about the Naxalites' commitment. What concerns him is rather why the Naxalites failed. This only increases the focus on the literature that the Naxalites produced, and even more particularly on disputes, both within the CPICM-L) and those between the CPICM-L) and other communists. In this undertaking it is assumed that at the root of the Naxalite failure lies an erroneous understanding of the world and an erroneous strategy that flows from this understanding; also that this understanding is found expressed in the documents and disputes of the Naxalites.? Obviously, this assumes that in politics 'truth always triumphs', i.e. people with a more correct or adequate understanding of circumstances win out in politics. However one may react to the naive optimism of such premises, the more fundamental issue that does not even come to light in such a discourse is the nature of the understanding of circumstances that the texts and disputes codify, In other words, when it is assumed that a given strategy follows from a stated evaluation, not only is the procedure questionable but it may in fact reverse the order of actual priority. To illustrate the confusion of this procedure one example will suffice: To most CPICM) activists at the time the error of the CPICM-L) formulations lay in the premise that the time was ripe for Revolution, a judgement that they see validated by the subsequent failure of the CPI(M-L). Leaving aside for the moment the responsibility of the CPI(M) itself in accomplishing this failure, in such a judgement the meaning of Revolution itself remains unexplored on account of a prejudice-that the use of the same word by the CPI(M) and the CPI(M-L) necessarily refers to the same 'thing', equally desired by both.

More generally than these specialized concerns with the origin and fate of the Naxalites, the question that arises in the mind of an observer not closely familiar with the events, or indeed concerned with them, is the question of the legitimacy of Naxalite violence and the question with which it is inextricably connected-that of the validity of their 'world- view'. Superficially the least specialized or demanding of the questions raised so far, this poses the most difficult problems, necessitating a recourse to metaphysical considerations and an attempt to establish the meaning of Naxalite discourse to the participants themselves. And, here, for the first time the paradoxes of the history of the CPI(M-L) present them- selves, the most striking of which of course is that of a party committed to agrarian mass revolution being intimately involved in the exercise of urban terror. It is indeed this observation, more than any other, which provokes my principal argument, namely that the meaning that the literature of the CPI(M-L) is apt to convey to an observer (on the purely linguistic level) is very different from the meaning it 'contained' (at an existential level) for the participants. Separated in meaning, this literate ideology and existential ideology are nevertheless related to each other and transformed into each other, if by nothing else than the activity of the Naxalites. The study of this interrelation forms the crucial concern of this book.

At the centre of the CPI(M-L) concern with theory lie certain socio- logical premises and prejudices which implicitly challenge not only the existing state of the discipline but the very premises on which it is based." In this, as a Marxist current specific to the time, the revolt of the CPI(M-L) is bound up with other 'leftist' student revolts of the late 1960s and early 1970s. As specifically student revolts these movements as a whole represent a challenge to the totality of academic disciplines and also perhaps to the philosophy of education. But it is in the attack on sociology and sociological wisdom, whether of the orthodox American variety (in the case of the Nanterre students), or the orthodox Marxist variety (in the movement as a whole generally, and particularly in the CPICM-L) in its assault upon revisionism), that the intellectual aspiration of the New Left, to give it its proper name, achieves explicit expression. In a sociological work it would be impossible not to treat this challenge with the respect it deserves.

Arching over the whole discourse of the New Left, the Naxalites, and subsequent discussion of their theory and activity, is the unformulated and relatively unmentioned question of poverty, including that of the spirit. As far as the question of material poverty is concerned-its causation and the means of its eradication-the Marxist tradition sees the cause of the poverty of the Indian masses in the 'semi-feudal, semi-colonial' character of the country, in the exploitation of these masses by a feudal ruling class. The use of these terms in Naxalite discourse is somewhat problematic and I shall comment at some length on it later, but superficially this ties them to the mainstream of Indian liberal thought, while they provide an answer that ties them to the mainstream of communist thought in India. The Naxalites have no philosophic statement on the nature of the methods for achieving their aims. Their claim to being Marxist-Leninists would seem to argue that they share with the Marxist-Leninist sensibility the accomplishment of these ends through violence and revolution, a recourse that is simultaneously desirable and inevitable. However, their divergence from this materialist teleology into an essentially spiritual awareness of the relation between means and ends presents itself in the way in which the Naxalites formulate and resolve questions pertaining to the details of their tactics.

The question of spiritual poverty, again, is not tackled explicitly by the Naxalites. Though the New Left philosopher Marcuse is concerned with it, the Naxalites cannot be shown to share this view, though certainly a view of spiritual poverty is entailed in 'dropping out' of the 'rat-race' to make Revolution.

From quite another point of view the Naxalite outburst needs to be compared with other contemporary and historical forms of terrorism, either from motives of its prevention and containment, or from a purely scholarly interest. Such comparisons highlight the Bengali focus of these events and demand consideration of the problem of whether the Naxalite revolt is rooted in the peculiarities of Bengali social life and culture.

Contents

 

  Acknowledgements vii
  Prologue ix
1 Introduction: Perspectives and Problems 1
  The Naxalites 2
  Ideology 8
  The Literature and History 16
  Significance 24
2 Ideology 25
  Difficulties in the Instrumental Understanding of Ideology 34
  Literate and Existential Ideology 39
  Assumptions and Implications of the Distinction 44
  between Literate and Existential Ideology  
  Ideology, Society and the Terrorist 45
3 Bengali Society 47
  Bhadralok 48
  Bhadralok Society and Values 52
  Classes and the Intelligentsia 63
  Structures 66
  The Economy 68
  Culture and Calcutta 72
4 The Naxalites in Perspective 74
5 The Communist Party of India (Marxist—Leninist) 109
  The Emergence of the Naxalites 111
  The Growth of the Myth and the Following 128
  The Party and Terror 142
  Suppression, Disintegration and Decline 157
6 ‘Semi-Feudal, Semi-Colonial’ 160
  The Agrarian Question 161
  Feudalism and Capitalism 162
  The Relations of Production arid Property 165
  The Peskar 169
  Property in Land 170
  Intermediaries and Intermediarism 175
  The Formula and Parliament 178
7 The Existential Ideology of the Naxalites 181
  Revisionism and its Critique 185
  The Madhyabitta 190
  Nihilism 195
  Comments on the Terrorist’s Inner Life 201
8 The Heritage 206
  Afterword 211
  Select Bibliography 227
  Index 240
     

 

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The Naxalites and Their Ideology

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2013
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About The Book

Deriving its name from the village Naxalbari in West Bengal, the Naxal movement has seen widespread revival in recent times. This book presents an insightful analysis of the movement by situating it within the contexts of Bengali society, strains of Indian communism, and the peasantry. Rabindra Ray, who was actively involved in the movement in the early 1970s, uses tools of sociological and philosophical analysis to understand what it means to be a Naxalite. His interpretation of Naxalism distinguishes between the movement’s ideological position and its actions. Comparing Naxal ideology to that of Nietzsche and the philosophical tradition of Nihilism, Ray vividly portrays the social and cultural heritage of Naxalism. In a new Aterword to the Third Edition, he reflects on the resurgence of Naxalism in India over the last decade.

Comprehensive and unusual, this book will appeal to all those interested in contemporary India.

 

About The Author

Rabindra Ray is Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Delhi.

Prologue

To people of good will, the revolutionary seems a well-intentioned person enough, almost one of their own. But, whatever else he or she may be, the revolutionary or the terrorist, as he or she is known nowadays, would certainly balk at being considered a person of goodwill and no different from people who try to lead correct and blameless lives. The revolutionary is a creature of postures, forever viewing himself or herself as engaged, and about matters of world-embracing import. The revolutionary is not infrequently trapped in his or her own posturing, the way out of which seem to him or her closed on grounds of principle. Inhabiting this destitute prison of his or her making, the revolutionary orients him- or herself in the light of a grand heroism, to which the run of humanity is so much material to cope with or shape. People who bring about or effect revolutions are not necessarily revolutionaries, just as revolutionaries themselves may forever be busy with the tasks of a revolution that never arrives. Such indeed is the plight of Western and Indian communist revolutionaries, wedded to a utopia of a classless society, while nevertheless either themselves occupying positions of considerable privilege or committed to the task of the elite vanguard, however humbly, who gift the deluded and enslaved masses the ideological weapons of their liberation.

Unlike terrorism, revolution is a word in very good odour—and not only among communists. There seems to be a veritable tide of rhetoric presuming the unsurpassable excellence of revolution and revolutionary perspectives and claiming revolutionary status or consequences for any and everything new. Of course, among communists and those familiar a-ñ their debates, the distinction between terrorism and revolution has been of some importance since the Bolsheviks. Indeed, where the early Naxalites viewed themselves as a breed apart, who not only preached practiced revolution, those they broke from, the communists who participated in electoral politics, considered Naxalism an adventurist politics of individual terror. The contenders have not yet revised their views of each other, though there are now Naxalites who participate in elections as well.

At the end of the phase described in this book, the effective organizations of the Naxalites were destroyed, both through the strong counter-measures of the government and the internal dissension and lack of unity among the surviving Naxalites themselves. For a relatively protracted period, the Naxalites were not in the news and no events of Naxalite violence were reported. Naxalite ideologues were however active through this period in the towns and cities, proselytizing and propagandizing, establishing countrywide and international links. I am not familiar with the issues they debated amongst themselves, but two elements of their orientation in continuing to remain Naxalites or in becoming fresh recruits to the cause are reasonably manifest—first, the belief in violent revolution as a long protracted process on the Chinese model as the only solution for India’s poor, and second, the unwillingness or inability to come to terms with the bloody history of the early period with respect to a clarity about themselves and their own motives. This externalization of what is an internal matter, this projection onto the world of what are concerns of the revolutionary’s intimate soul is a matter that has only been fomulaically advanced in this book as the distinction between literate and existential ideology, and not adequately elaborated and fleshed out. In the course of time, the Naxalites did regroup, though in several different contending factions, and most of the rural areas in which they were successful in finding some kind of support, changed.

The intellectual profile of the Naxalite movement as a whole also changed. There were two significant respects in which this change is allied to the intellectual situation within the country and the world at large. Within the country, leftists, socialists and communists had been a significant presence right through the later phases of nationalism and onwards, but the early period of Naxalism detailed in this book and the period of the emergency and the resistance to it that followed slightly later, led to a quantum jump in the respectability of such views. The post emergency period saw the hallowing of such views by parliament by the inclusion of socialism in the very constitution of the Republic to describe its nature and aspirations. This was neither a cosmetic change, nor solely an outcome of the Naxalite events, but allied to a slow drift of the changing intellectual climate of which the Naxalites themselves indeed, were a constituent element. Leftist intellectual hegemony did not go unchallenged, but no party in India, even today, is a party of the right with the defence of private property and the private rights of individuals on its agenda. In academic matters, political correctness is dictated by prevailing leftist prejudices. Such currents have not left the world at large untouched, where paradoxically, the collapse of the Soviet dictatorship and the market orientations of surviving socialist regimes, including India, have not laid the socialist ghosts, but spread their prejudices wider and deeper in the following generation. This change in the very atmosphere in which the Naxalites operate is coupled with a change in the sections of the student population who get drawn to Naxalism to the point of becoming active revolutionaries. Though the general influence of Naxalism and leftist ideas is far more powerful today than the time of the events set forth in this book, the universities and especially the apex institutions of higher education are relatively peaceful and not hotbeds of revolutionary ideology, though a consistent and steady stream of the educated young sympathizes with Naxalite perspectives, even sometimes to the point of plunging into active revolutionary activity The intellectual standards of the Naxalites were never high, but during the early period treated in this book they attracted to their fold some of the most academically accomplished. Activism of various other reform-oriented sorts has surfaced in the interim, and the universities of the country are just as actively engaged in non-academic political activity as ever they were.

As for the Naxalites themselves, they continue to be essentially and cultically wedded to violence, though it seems the pitch of bloodlust characteristic of the period of the terror in Calcutta is no longer prevalent. The Naxalites continue to pride themselves in the practice of violence, setting themselves, in their own opinion, as a breed apart. Nevertheless, some of them, while essentially so committed to the practice of violent methods, do not refrain in principle or indeed practice from peaceful parliamentary and electoral politics, and of course, as ever, are willing to utilize the efforts of all of those, however peaceful even in principle, who sympathize with them. And the ranks of these latter spreads tentacularly through society and politics into parliament itself and into the opinion-making circles in the world at large.

The Naxalite, however much committed to the welfare of the dispossessed, is a Naxalite on grounds of conviction having to do with i1ectual proclivities and dilemmas. The roots of the Naxalite phenomenon do not lie in the poverty of India’s labouring rural population, but in the psychological traumas of its urban educated young. These traumas are inextricably enmeshed in the oral and intellectual problems of the leading thought of our times. Without coming to grips with the moral and intellectual source, all activity, pro and con, is likely to prove only a sop to the inability to confront our world and ourselves with as much clarity as is possible.

It might seem contentious to argue that the Naxalite problem is primarily related to the intellectual climate of our times and principally a question of the orientations of urban educated youth, when even sections of informed police opinion incline to the view that it is a problem of the rural dispossessed, for, true enough, quite a few of those engaged in Naxalite violence in principally Bihar and Andhra now are village folk, and in the actual attempt to check or contain violence, it is they who must be contended with. But even in the period described in this book this was the case in most of the rural areas of Naxalite activity. ‘What is being argued is that the continuing organizational tenacity, its effective continuance as a threat to peace and security rests not in the labouring rural population, but in the urban educated and the respectability such views enjoy among those who consider themselves enlightened. The possibility of the recurrence of such violence on a continuing basis remains so long as the centrality of the urban educated is not understood. Indeed the very re-emergence of Naxalite activity after a period of quiescence following the events detailed in this book is living evidence of the cogency of my argument.

Without coming to terms with the ideology of the Naxalites and all that that means with regard to our own ways of thinking and participating in politics, an effective resolution of the problem posed by the Naxalites is likely to prove illusory. The collapse of Soviet Marxism or Chinese collectivism, true enough, is not a result of the Western bloc’s persuasions and dissuasions, but it is certainly related to the intellectual climate within these countries and the orientations of educated opinion, right into the Central Committees of the ruling parties and even its very apex. Bengal, after these bloody events, has never seen the resurgence of Naxalite violence. It has had a change of heart. None of the survivors of the Naxalite arm in Bengal still live by the same principles. How is this to come about elsewhere? Fortuitous events contributed to such an outcome in Bengal. If Naxalite violence is to be checked and contained in the regions where it has resurfaced, it demands the meeting of violence with violence, for which already public opinion has to be contended with, and also, more importantly, it needs the persuasion and dissuasion in urban enclaves that will prevent more young people from being led astray.

It is a wonder how a veritably full-blown philosophy of bloodthirsty murder and general mayhem can appeal to educated, sensitive people, otherwise accustomed to the most civilized of everyday behaviour, as the highest altruism by which India and indeed the world is to be redeemed. And this in the country of the Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi. True enough, the legacy of the Buddha is a distant prospect, but the more proximate example of the life and work of the Mahatma—and its astonishing practical political success!—might otherwise have given pause to such a precipitate advocacy of brutal and naked violence only if those so committed had not felt the example of the Mahatma to be only a cruel ax perpetrated on a gullible, long-suffering, population, its vaunted success a hollow hypocrisy belied by the persistent desperate destitution and oppression left untouched by the achievement of Indian independence.

The Naxalite reversal of values is only part of a far larger intellectual tendency of appeal to the highest moral principles to justify, vindicate and positively advocate what is usually considered the grossest and coarsest immorality. It seems to have become indeed, the most influential current of thought which, by a twist of subtle dialectical transformation, then accuses the highest forms of morality hitherto revered as brutally and fundamentally immoral. The Naxalite adventure originating in this general querulousness about values and of the y sense of values, in turn feeds into its stream again. It strengthens and consolidates the turn of thought to what are considered criminal recourses in the name of the very highest law and justice. It is not possible to take issue with this global pervasive drift within the space of a brief preface or even to limn adequately its more important features. Nor would it be altogether appropriate to do so for a book devoted principally to the Naxalites. In the space that remains I wish to review some of the features of socialism, become an altogether respectable doctrine and inscribed into the very constitution of the republic of indeed related to some of the events considered in this book. The collapse of Soviet socialism has disenchanted some with its perspectives, bar not to the point of a theoretical reconsideration of its principles.

Socialist and socialistically inclined ideas still enjoy great prestige in India and are indeed influential in intellectual circles all over the world. In the relatively brief period that it has been current, socialist thought has assumed a vast variety of forms, not only accidentally or occasionally at loggerheads with each other—even murderously—though all socialist creeds seem agreed in principle that rights of private property are merely a customary social convenience, not in any way essential or fundamental, and to be flouted and disrespected at will either in the public interest or in principle, as the principal obstacle to a just and equitable social order. The doctrines of socialism are relatively recent and of European provenance though I have seen booklets after the event, touting a ‘Vedic Samajwad’. True enough, disputes as to the nature of the right to private properly are hardly recent, and codified Hindu law pf fairly distant origin is divided in its opinions both about the nature of the right and the details of its governing legislations. ‘Whereas the earlier Mitaksara, more prevalent over the western and northern parts of the country, regards the right to private property and its rules as rooted in, and derived from sastra (scriptural injunctions in dharma—and thus inflexible and relatively unchangeable), the later Dayabhaga more prevalent in the eastern parts and principally Bengal, regards the right to private property and its rules as much more subject to change, and merely of laukik import, i.e. validated as custom and subject to variations of time and place. The two schools differ in their legislations and by implication their view of the rightful share of governance. But, it is worth mentioning here that the British when they came to India, to trade and then to rule, were puzzled by Hindu and Indian rules and customs of ownership, not infrequently arriving at the opinion that private property as it was known in England and Europe was not to be found in India. The subject of the nature of property in India is highly interesting and complex and I will not go further into it here, referring the reader interested in a brief overview of my opinion to my review of Hira Singh’s work on Rajputana in colonial times. Nor will I purpose further here the complexities of the issues of the intelligibility of socialism in settings other than the European and its understanding of the nature of private property. I shall take for granted the European and Europeanist elaborations, which have been employed in any case by most avowed practicing socialists, both in their rhetoric and in their policies, i.e. where they have been in a position to formulate policy The recourse has the merit of an overt intelligibility of principle, uncomplicated by the finer points of adequacy to actual practices, more in keeping with the aspects I wish to discuss here.

It bears mention with respect to the egalitarian rhetoric that underwrites the so-called socialist moralities, that for very good and cogent reasons the contention of a non-hierarchical society is a sociological absurdity. Concerning the issues of property, personal and private access to the wealth of the world seems to me not only inevitable and untranscendable but positively desirable and a natural and civilized good. The contrary contention, i.e. the socialist alternative, poses the problem of who is to decide authorized shares if personal and private acquisition is an abomination, and who is to decide the legitimate share of those who delegate to themselves the parceling out of shares. In any case, acquisition for personal gain, spiritual or material, is the inflexible principle of human conduct and no parceling out of just shares is going to prevent the vast majority of mankind from trying to improve its personal and private material position. Nor to my mind, is the principle of inheritance in any way morally corrupt. There is hardly an escape from it. It remains for the privileged to discharge the responsibilities of privilege as best they can and for those who feel they have been unjustly treated to sue for justice to such as are privileged to dispense justice.

Acquisition is necessarily and appositely personal. If the socialist contention that property is theft’ is to be taken seriously, it is worth remembering that it is disrespect for the rules of property that is customarily theft. All socialism thus criminal in itself, makes criminals of the greater majority of the population, busy acquiring gain for private and personal ends. The consequences are the criminalization of the economy and politics, i.e. the reduction of the greater part of the population to criminality, with the law and its effective enforcement leading to and actively favouring the advancement of the deliberately criminal, and the invasion of the legitimate political domain by active criminals. A spiritually, morally pure socialism can only begin—and end—with oneself and the surrender to others of what is mine, without coveting what is thine.

Indeed, the complexity of moral life is centered on the handling of the tension between mine and thine. Superior and inferior personal moralities exhibit themselves in the way in which they negotiate the difficulties of selfishness and altruism. ‘Whereas most seem agreed on the moral superiority of altruism, only those who have some thing worthy of giving can actually make a meaningful gift. Renunciation in and of itself is of little use if it does not lead to the acquisition of some higher, greater good. That is not, however, to deny the centrality of the mystery of sacrifice to the human condition, where everything is at risk, parents sacrifice routinely for their children, and the ambitious sacrifice all to the cultivation of their potential.

Social justice’ is the first value aspiration inscribed into the Indian Constitution, it underwrites later outright advocacy of socialism. To my mind, it can only be a figment of a deluded imagination of megalomaniac proportions. Social justice is not a humanly justifiable matter and all attempts at so-called social engineering are more pronounced in the achievement of unforeseen consequences, than in the solution of perceived problems for which they were purportedly invented. As to the workings of these attempts at social justice and its criminal outcomes, the first example is the first act of the newly constituted republic which led to the first Constitutional Amendment, in the very first year of its operation, and not on some minor peripheral issue but the guarantee of fundamental rights. Zemindari Abolition was set into motion to honour the promises the Congress party had made to its supporters in the struggle for independence. Such zemindars or their subordinates as evaded the law or used subterfuge have prospered and flourished. Such as respected the law were wiped out as landlords. The Maharaja of Darbhanga chose to move the courts not on the issue of the legality or justice of the Abolition itself, but on the issue of rightful compensation, claiming more than was offered to him by the Government. The Patna High Court upheld his plea and the defeated Government appealed to the Supreme Court, which also upheld the Maharaja’s plea. Not to be outdone, the Government then took the matter to Parliament, where an overwhelming Majority of the Congress and in any case an even more socialistically inclined opposition, amended the fundamental right to private property so that the government could renege on the demanded payment. One wonders what the Mahatma who is on record as also being a socialist, albeit of a pure kind, would have made of this. Land- grabbing followed the abolition of zemindari and the successive legislations on a ceiling on holdings and the consolidation of holdings. It continues even today. It favours only the more aggressively criminal, so that, as I mention in the book, the ownership of cultivable land in the country is a complete mysterious maze which one investigates only at the risk of life and limb. All this, under the threat of criminal appropriation by the government itself, either in the individual capacity of a government appointee or functionary flouting the law, or entirely legally as governmental expropriation with little or no compensation. Needless to say, the problem of adequate increased production to feed the burgeoning towns and cities was not solved by all this land reform, but by the subsidizing of agricultural production with urban surplus through the Green Revolution.

The criminalization of the countryside was followed during the events detailed in this book by the criminalization equally of urban commerce and industry by the outright adoption of socialism. In financial straits due to the tax-liability concealment and tax evasion of the larger part of the commercial population to escape the punitive tax rupture in the interests of ‘social justice’, the government seized and rationalized fourteen private Indian banks without paying a penny in compensation. The Congress Party still had an overwhelming majority in Parliament, but Indira Gandhi could not carry the party with her and the matter could not be ratified in the legislature. V.V. Gin, then President, came to Indira Gandhi’s rescue and promulgated an ordinance legalizing the acquisition. The years of avowed socialism and the continuing licensing Raj have seen criminals flourishing in every economic activity. The government seems to be busy these days trying to bring back to the legal fold all this criminal wealth. Politics itself is riddled with convicted criminals. Whether any review of the constitution will ever raise the issue of socialism is doubtful.

To the Naxalites and to a large section of similar leftist opinion, all this constitutional socialism is completely bogus. The Naxalites want blood and the murder of the propertied, except for the propertied who kowtow to them. While not so bloodthirsty, a large section of leftist and liberal opinion sympathizes with the Naxalite cause. Shades of the advocacy of violence differ considerably. At its most civilized, the Nobel Laureate, Amartya Sen advocates welfare spending by governments without thought as to how the money is going to come, when all governments in the world are deeply in debt and getting deeper into debt. Individuals, now given the opportunity, are beginning to live in a similar fashion on credit. Perhaps our children or their children’s children will need to settle the account.

The Naxalite beginnings are by now history and not a little nostalgia tinges the memory of these dread events. But the tragedy of it should not remain out of view. And whereas tragedy makes for beautiful and instructive literature, as history it can only be regretted.

Introduction

In attempting a sociological interpretation of the ideology and practice of the 'Naxalite' terrorists in West Bengal we must have recourse to the meaning of this practice for the Naxalites themselves. However, their overt ideological statements do not reveal the meaning and significance of their actions. Hence I shall seek to distinguish their 'existential ideology' from their 'literate ideology'.

It is perhaps desirable to understand. But if we can agree on what we wish to understand, we have not yet agreed on how we are to understand it. It does not help to appeal to an objective reality, for in posing the problem of how anything is to be understood we already confront the problematic character of the reality we seek to understand.

Reality never establishes itself except as an appeal to self-evidence, the unproblematic and unambiguous nature of that which presents itself and can be talked about. Objects, things, artefacts have a clarity which makes it easy for us- to use them as evidence, to point where words fail. But human reality is not itself such an external artefact, even though it is in such artefacts that it often manifests itself. Being an internality, it lacks both the definiteness and sensuousness of tangible things, even when expressed in the communicable form of language. This does not render human reality either imperceptible or incommunicable: it is of course the consciousness of this shared human reality that makes communication possible and renders it meaningful. But for the most part this reality remains as assumption, shaping the course of communication without being made explicit.

Social reality presents itself as that alien reality that confronts the individual in the pursuit of his goals, or even constitutes the condition of his existence." However, it ceases to be as obvious or as dearly defined as soon as one attempts to grasp it or render it intelligible. Simultaneously external to the individual and yet a matrix of intersubjectivity that implicates him, the nature of this social reality can only be formulated and communicated to the historicity of the society it attempts to grasp, and to the human and personal awareness that gives it its form. Such a formulation is engaged with things, with objects of human creation in space and time, with institutions, with manifestos, and with more directly tangible artefacts. It is engaged with the awareness of others, with persons-as particular individuals or as more general stereotypes. But social reality is in itself neither things nor persons. It is constituted as that fundamental abstraction that invests both it, and by contrast the sense of self, with concreteness.

Sociology, as fundamentally concerned with social and human reality, cannot escape either their relativism or their absoluteness. In delineating these realities, sociology incorporates its awareness of the questionableness of such realities in the concept of ideology. The word ideology, which supposes such an awareness, poses as its first mystery that word itself, and, as its first manifestation, 'sociology, the discipline to which it has become central.

The Naxalites

The Naxalite occupies an ambiguous niche in history. Exemplary idealist to some, he indicates to others an expression of immature disaffection that has nothing constructive to offer. In either case, he embodies the reinstatement of man as a moral agent if only because Naxalites so radically challenged the premises of established morality. This might indeed seem an untenable proposition, considering the brief flicker of the Naxalite challenge and their almost fore-ordained failure. True, there are still Naxalites around, provoking perhaps the same mixed responses that they did when they first appeared, but today they represent little beyond an insignificant irritant to those whose authority they question. Perhaps they have never in actual fact amounted to very much more than that. And yet there was a time when the word Naxalite was not just a characterization of another political tendency by the media, a casual throw-away phrase conveying broadly a belief in political violence in the interests of the dispossessed, but a word loaded with nameless fears and aspirations, stirring hopes or despair, and always strong passions. There are some of course who claim that this is still the case, though any examination of the scale and depth of contemporary Naxalite activities or expression of opinion will not bear this out." But still, even if the Naxalites do not provoke the controversy they once did and belong so clearly to the past, it is only because there are very few fresh recruits to the cause and not because the issues raised by the Naxalite revolt have been satisfactorily explored, or indeed even explicitly stated. Their failure seems to have set the seal on the questions they raised as a dead letter, and no one is perhaps more reticent to discuss these than the ex-Naxalite himself.

And yet the Naxalite revolt provokes a whole battery of vexed questions-some of them posed as such by the Naxalites themselves, others implicitly entailed in their activity, and yet others exposed in the consideration of Naxalite events in hindsight. Perhaps the questions people choose to ask are themselves more significant pointers to the nature of their involvement with the events, their standpoint and prejudices, than the answers that they finally arrive at.

To the historian the most important question is probably-how did the Naxalites arise? Or, to put it with a more mundane conventionality, what were the causes of the Naxalite outbreak? There are some, Marxists among them, who see sufficient cause for the origin of the Naxalites in the ideals they professed, and the root of the whole outbreak in the abysmal poverty of the Indian dispossessed.' And yet as others notice, Marxists among them, however significantly the discontent of poverty may be related to the Naxalite disaffection with the status quo, it is not quite this disaffection that explains their activity, for the Naxalites fought in the cause of a class other than their own. During the course of events themselves, prominent leaders of the other communist parties dismissed the Naxalites as middle-class romantics and adventurists." This obviously reopens the question of causation at a more immediate and profound level, for we are then led to the question of what it is that leads a person to rebel, and, even more generally, what the elements of a social revolution are.

The partisan on the other hand, whether he happens to be a Naxalite or not, will not see anything problematic about the Naxalites' commitment. What concerns him is rather why the Naxalites failed. This only increases the focus on the literature that the Naxalites produced, and even more particularly on disputes, both within the CPICM-L) and those between the CPICM-L) and other communists. In this undertaking it is assumed that at the root of the Naxalite failure lies an erroneous understanding of the world and an erroneous strategy that flows from this understanding; also that this understanding is found expressed in the documents and disputes of the Naxalites.? Obviously, this assumes that in politics 'truth always triumphs', i.e. people with a more correct or adequate understanding of circumstances win out in politics. However one may react to the naive optimism of such premises, the more fundamental issue that does not even come to light in such a discourse is the nature of the understanding of circumstances that the texts and disputes codify, In other words, when it is assumed that a given strategy follows from a stated evaluation, not only is the procedure questionable but it may in fact reverse the order of actual priority. To illustrate the confusion of this procedure one example will suffice: To most CPICM) activists at the time the error of the CPICM-L) formulations lay in the premise that the time was ripe for Revolution, a judgement that they see validated by the subsequent failure of the CPI(M-L). Leaving aside for the moment the responsibility of the CPI(M) itself in accomplishing this failure, in such a judgement the meaning of Revolution itself remains unexplored on account of a prejudice-that the use of the same word by the CPI(M) and the CPI(M-L) necessarily refers to the same 'thing', equally desired by both.

More generally than these specialized concerns with the origin and fate of the Naxalites, the question that arises in the mind of an observer not closely familiar with the events, or indeed concerned with them, is the question of the legitimacy of Naxalite violence and the question with which it is inextricably connected-that of the validity of their 'world- view'. Superficially the least specialized or demanding of the questions raised so far, this poses the most difficult problems, necessitating a recourse to metaphysical considerations and an attempt to establish the meaning of Naxalite discourse to the participants themselves. And, here, for the first time the paradoxes of the history of the CPI(M-L) present them- selves, the most striking of which of course is that of a party committed to agrarian mass revolution being intimately involved in the exercise of urban terror. It is indeed this observation, more than any other, which provokes my principal argument, namely that the meaning that the literature of the CPI(M-L) is apt to convey to an observer (on the purely linguistic level) is very different from the meaning it 'contained' (at an existential level) for the participants. Separated in meaning, this literate ideology and existential ideology are nevertheless related to each other and transformed into each other, if by nothing else than the activity of the Naxalites. The study of this interrelation forms the crucial concern of this book.

At the centre of the CPI(M-L) concern with theory lie certain socio- logical premises and prejudices which implicitly challenge not only the existing state of the discipline but the very premises on which it is based." In this, as a Marxist current specific to the time, the revolt of the CPI(M-L) is bound up with other 'leftist' student revolts of the late 1960s and early 1970s. As specifically student revolts these movements as a whole represent a challenge to the totality of academic disciplines and also perhaps to the philosophy of education. But it is in the attack on sociology and sociological wisdom, whether of the orthodox American variety (in the case of the Nanterre students), or the orthodox Marxist variety (in the movement as a whole generally, and particularly in the CPICM-L) in its assault upon revisionism), that the intellectual aspiration of the New Left, to give it its proper name, achieves explicit expression. In a sociological work it would be impossible not to treat this challenge with the respect it deserves.

Arching over the whole discourse of the New Left, the Naxalites, and subsequent discussion of their theory and activity, is the unformulated and relatively unmentioned question of poverty, including that of the spirit. As far as the question of material poverty is concerned-its causation and the means of its eradication-the Marxist tradition sees the cause of the poverty of the Indian masses in the 'semi-feudal, semi-colonial' character of the country, in the exploitation of these masses by a feudal ruling class. The use of these terms in Naxalite discourse is somewhat problematic and I shall comment at some length on it later, but superficially this ties them to the mainstream of Indian liberal thought, while they provide an answer that ties them to the mainstream of communist thought in India. The Naxalites have no philosophic statement on the nature of the methods for achieving their aims. Their claim to being Marxist-Leninists would seem to argue that they share with the Marxist-Leninist sensibility the accomplishment of these ends through violence and revolution, a recourse that is simultaneously desirable and inevitable. However, their divergence from this materialist teleology into an essentially spiritual awareness of the relation between means and ends presents itself in the way in which the Naxalites formulate and resolve questions pertaining to the details of their tactics.

The question of spiritual poverty, again, is not tackled explicitly by the Naxalites. Though the New Left philosopher Marcuse is concerned with it, the Naxalites cannot be shown to share this view, though certainly a view of spiritual poverty is entailed in 'dropping out' of the 'rat-race' to make Revolution.

From quite another point of view the Naxalite outburst needs to be compared with other contemporary and historical forms of terrorism, either from motives of its prevention and containment, or from a purely scholarly interest. Such comparisons highlight the Bengali focus of these events and demand consideration of the problem of whether the Naxalite revolt is rooted in the peculiarities of Bengali social life and culture.

Contents

 

  Acknowledgements vii
  Prologue ix
1 Introduction: Perspectives and Problems 1
  The Naxalites 2
  Ideology 8
  The Literature and History 16
  Significance 24
2 Ideology 25
  Difficulties in the Instrumental Understanding of Ideology 34
  Literate and Existential Ideology 39
  Assumptions and Implications of the Distinction 44
  between Literate and Existential Ideology  
  Ideology, Society and the Terrorist 45
3 Bengali Society 47
  Bhadralok 48
  Bhadralok Society and Values 52
  Classes and the Intelligentsia 63
  Structures 66
  The Economy 68
  Culture and Calcutta 72
4 The Naxalites in Perspective 74
5 The Communist Party of India (Marxist—Leninist) 109
  The Emergence of the Naxalites 111
  The Growth of the Myth and the Following 128
  The Party and Terror 142
  Suppression, Disintegration and Decline 157
6 ‘Semi-Feudal, Semi-Colonial’ 160
  The Agrarian Question 161
  Feudalism and Capitalism 162
  The Relations of Production arid Property 165
  The Peskar 169
  Property in Land 170
  Intermediaries and Intermediarism 175
  The Formula and Parliament 178
7 The Existential Ideology of the Naxalites 181
  Revisionism and its Critique 185
  The Madhyabitta 190
  Nihilism 195
  Comments on the Terrorist’s Inner Life 201
8 The Heritage 206
  Afterword 211
  Select Bibliography 227
  Index 240
     

 

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