By Michael Lebowitz
March 2014 — Monthly Review — It is now one year since the unfortunate death of Hugo Chávez on March 5, 2013. Shortly after, the editors of Monthly Review quoted a letter from István Mészáros to John Bellamy Foster which described Chávez as “one of the greatest historical figures of our time” and “a deeply insightful revolutionary intellect” (“Notes from the Editors” in the May 2013 Monthly Review). Whether Chávez will be remembered over time this way, however, depends significantly on whether we build upon the foundations he began.
As important as his vision and his deep understanding of the necessary path (so clearly demonstrated by his focus upon communal councils as the basis of a new socialist state—“the most vital revolutionary achievement in these years,” as the editors indicated) was Chávez’s ability to communicate both vision and theory in a clear and simple way to the masses. As demonstrated by Chávez’s articulation of the concept of “the elementary triangle of socialism,” that is what revolutionaries must learn to do.
Following Marta Harnecker’s long interview with Chávez (later published as Understanding the Venezuelan Revolution by Monthly Review Press), he asked her to come to Venezuela in 2003 to serve as his advisor and explained that he wanted someone around him who would not hesitate to criticize him. And that’s how we ended up in Venezuela. At the beginning of 2004, I became an adviser to the Minister of the Social Economy and, during that year, Marta and I became convinced that it would be important to create a center which could bring together foreign advisors who supported the Bolivarian Revolution. Accordingly, she proposed to Chávez that an institute be established for this purpose; he agreed, and, after we assembled people and found a home for the Institute (ultimately in the Ministry of Higher Education), the Centro Internacional Miranda (CIM) was formed in early 2006.
Since it was clear that Chávez would be re-elected in December and would be thinking seriously about directions for the new mandate, those of us involved in CIM decided to prepare a series of papers proposing initiatives which we felt could advance the process of building socialism in Venezuela. Although several of us engaged in these discussions, ultimately only three of the CIM directors (Marta Harnecker, Haiman El Troudi, and I) completed papers for transmission to Chávez in early December. In what follows, I include an excerpt from one paper I prepared plus a second paper subsequently developed in response to Chávez’s reaction to the first.1
Everyone understands that it is impossible to achieve the vision of socialism for the twenty-first century in one giant leap forward. It is not simply a matter of changing property ownership. This is the easiest part of building the new world. Far more difficult is changing productive relations, social relations in general, and attitudes and ideas.
China Brief Volume: 14 Issue: 1
January 9, 2014
By: David Cohen
Chinese President Xi Jinping honored the 120th anniversary of Mao Zedong’s birth on December 26, using the occasion to speak at length about the significance of the founder of the People’s Republic in Chinese and Party history (Xinhua, December 26). The speech was generally laudatory but made brief references to his “mistakes”: launching the Cultural Revolution and, in a possible reference to the Great Leap Forward, “simply copying Leninist theory and imitating the experience of Russia’s October Revolution, causing grave harm to the Chinese Revolution.” However, Xi quoted Deng Xiaoping’s verdict on the legacy of Mao to argue that his failures came second to his achievements: uniting the Chinese nation and achieving its independence, solving “difficult problems about the relationship of the Party and the people,” and establishing the “basic socialist system.”
The speech is Xi’s most detailed effort yet to explain the legacy of Mao, and it demonstrates two important aspects of his vision for China: first, that his alternating evocations of Mao and Deng do not represent vacillation, but an effort to reconcile the “two undeniables” of Chinese politics. As Xi put it in the speech, deploying a slogan: “Without Reform and Opening, there could be no China today; if we abandon this path, China can have no tomorrow” (for more on the speech, see “Xi invokes Mao’s image to boost his own authority” in this issue of China Brief).
Second, the speech—and, even more, its explication in the Party’s ideological journals—suggest strongly that Xi’s vision of China’s future has been shaped by the group of academics known as the “New Left.” The group is associated with nostalgia for Mao and especially with Bo Xilai’s experiments in Chongqing—making the resurgence of the New Left’s ideas after Bo’s downfall all the more interesting. In attempting to understand his plans for China’s future, his borrowings from Mao should be read not as ersatz efforts to justify policy, but as belonging to an established discussion about the future of China’s social and political systems.
The New Left—a controversial name rejected by many of the academics to whom it is applied—emerged in the 1990s as a criticism of unfettered capitalism, and emerged as a major player in the Hu Jintao-era debates about the idea of a “China model.” Essays such as Wang Hui’s (Tsinghua University) “Contemporary Chinese Thought and the Question of Modernity” expressed reservations about the dislocations of rapid economic change, while Pan Wei’s (Peking University) “Toward a Consultative Rule of Law Regime in China” examined Hong Kong and Shanghai to envision a future without Western-style democracy (Tianya, Issue 5, 1997; Journal of Contemporary China, Volume 12, Issue 34, 2003).
While the movement contains a great deal of ideological diversity—including some adherents sympathetic to forms of representative democracy—it is generally defined by an effort to challenge the account of the Reform and Opening Era as one of salvation from failed policies. Rather, they argue, the legacies of Mao and Deng are complementary: where Mao provided equality and a strong, “spiritual” version of Chinese identify, Deng and his successors created a powerful economic base at the cost of social and spiritual dislocation. They deploy Marxist dialectics to argue for a reconciliation, describing Mao and Deng as a thesis and antithesis in need of synthesis. In a particularly ambitious version of this story, Wang Shaoguang’s 2010 article on “Socialism 3.0,” the author observes that Mao’s rule and the period of Reform and Opening initiated by Deng had each lasted for 30 years—inviting China’s leaders to declare a new era uniting the two (for more on this, see “Socialism 3.0 in China,” The Diplomat, April 25, 2011; original article republished in English in China 3.0, European Council on Foreign Relations 2012).
While this school of thought was closely associated with Bo Xilai’s policies in Chongqing—Wang proposed them as a model for the next stage of socialism in China, while the distinguished New Left academic Cui Zhiyuan joined Bo’s government as an official—the careers of its proponents do not seem to have been adversely affected by his downfall, in contrast to the recent firings of liberal intellectuals associated with Charter 08, such as Peking University Professor Xia Yeliang (South China Morning Post, October 20).
Explanations of Xi’s speech in Party ideological journals, and of his earlier mentions of the “two undeniables,” reflect this account of Party history. A November 8 article in People’s Daily, signed by the CCP Central Committee Party History Research Department, provided a guide to help readers “Correctly Deal With Both Historical Periods Before and After Reform and Opening,” a theme that has been heavily emphasized in the last weeks as journals such as Qiushi (Seeking Truth) and Hongqi (Red Flag) have published articles on Xi’s speech, covering the historical appraisal of Mao, a “30-year Vision for China’s future” (an interview with Pan Wei), and “The China Road and the Chinese Communist Party” (Qiushi, December 9, 2013; January 1).
Xi’s New Year’s address to the nation likewise played upon themes drawn from New Left literature, with the title “Making a More Just and Equal Society” (Xinhua, December 31, 2013).
The ideas of the New Left are visible not only in Xi’s rhetoric but in his political efforts—his emphasis on national confidence and the unique historical circumstances of the “China Dream” and his combining economic reform with Maoist rectification. Looking at Pan Wei’s 2003 article may even help to understand the conundrum of the rise of “rule of law” rhetoric coming at the same time as a crackdown on advocacy of “constitutional government.”
If Xi is using New Left theory as a political guide, the current ideological crackdown is unlikely to be lessened, and indeed we may expect to see greater efforts at mass participation. Democratic political reform and large-scale privatization of state-owned industries will likely remain off the table. However, a certain set of long-promised reforms, targeting social inequality, corruption, and the privileges enjoyed by the Communist elite and state businesses, may play a central role in Xi’s plans for the future.
Chairman Mao Zedong (L) signs a copy of his Little Red Book for Sidney Rittenberg (R) in Beijing, 1966. (Sidney Rittenberg)
By Matt Schiavenza
From 1944, when the 23-year-old Sidney Rittenberg first arrived in China with the U.S. Army, to his departure 35 years later, no other foreign national played as important a role in the country. A Chinese linguist and Communist sympathizer, Rittenberg served as a friend, confidante, translator, and journalist for the Communist Party leadership after first encountering them at their Yan’an base in 1946. During the first three decades of P.R.C. history, Rittenberg enjoyed remarkable influence in a country largely closed off to the outside world. However, his high profile came at a grave cost: He was imprisoned twice and held in solitary confinement for a total of 16 years.
Now 92, Rittenberg remains a sharp observer of contemporary China, commenting often about the country that has defined his personal and professional life. A genial man with an easy laugh, Rittenberg betrays little bitterness about his years in China, which he wrote about in his memoir The Man Who Stayed Behind, and has continued to visit since his return to the U.S. In a wide-ranging phone conversation with me last month, Rittenberg recounted his personal memories of Chairman Mao Zedong, born 120 years ago today, and why he believes that, through forging an early alliance with the Chinese leader, the United States might have avoided both the Korean and Vietnam wars. Our interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
When did you actually first meet Chairman Mao in person?
It was October 20-something in 1946. I’d just come over land to Yan’an [the Communist Party home base in Shaanxi Province] from Inner Mongolia, and after arriving, I was immediately taken to the weekly dance in the Party headquarters building. When we opened the door to go in, Mao was dancing in the middle of the floor. He saw me and stopped dancing, and after I shook his hand he said, “We’d like to welcome an American comrade to join in our work.” Then, he took me over by the side of the hall and sat me down on a chair, and immediately said that he wanted to invite me to his place and spend a day or two just talking about America. The interesting thing here is—and this is confirmed by Li Zhishui, the doctor who wrote the book on Mao’s personal life—America was the only foreign country that really fascinated and interested him and was one he greatly admired. He would invite left-wing Americans to his place and sit and chat. To my knowledge, he didn’t invite foreign experts of any other nationality—just the Americans.
Why do you think he had such a fascination with America and Americans?
Mao’s modern education began when he went to high school in Changsha, the provincial capital of Hunan Province. There, he had a very enlightened liberal teacher, one whose daughter he actually married, who taught him about Rousseau, Franklin, Jefferson, and so on, and those first foreign thinkers really interested him. In fact, Mao related somewhere that he once thought Jeffersonian democracy was the future for China. Eventually, he came to believe that foreign backers would not permit China to evolve into a Western-style democracy, and that’s when he turned to Lenin.
What were your impressions of him? What was he like? Was he as charismatic as people say?
He was only charismatic because of the strength of his mind and his ability to put complicated political thinking into very colorful, popular language—which is a talent that seems to be totally lost in China these days. But, you know, he was no Fidel Castro. He was no orator. He didn’t keep people spell-bound—he was a rather slow and bumbling speaker. But the way he analyzed things was fascinating. And he was always careful to make it very simple, to put things in popular terms, not like the mind-numbing stuff that began coming out later.
You know, it was interesting: When you sat and talked with him, he was laid back. He talked as though everything was just a casual conversation and very humorous. Anyone who was talking with him in my experience would be constantly in stitches laughing, and he’d laugh too. So he gave the impression of a kind of sage from the backwoods, who was a great analyzer and a great talker. Nothing threatening at all, nothing tough.
What was the relationship like between Mao and [Chinese premier] Zhou Enlai? Was Zhou more sophisticated and more urbane? Did they balance each other well?
They were totally different. Zhou was a very gregarious, urbane person, an organizational genius who could do two or three different things at the same time without getting mixed up. In the early 1930s, Zhou had led the attack on Mao as one of the students Stalin had sent back from Moscow to run the Chinese Communist Party. But after the near-obliteration of the Red Army—when they took its remnants and started the Long March— Zhou decided that Mao had been right about the strategy and tactics of guerrilla warfare and dropped his opposition and made up his mind that from now on, he was going to follow Mao—and he did. He acted as Mao’s chief of staff: Whatever the leading team decided, Zhou would be in charge of executing the decision. He was an organizational genius, no question about it. Everyone respected him and looked up to him.
Was Deng Xiaoping a major figure in the Party by this time, or did he emerge later?
Deng only emerged later, really. He came to prominence in the Chinese Civil War, when he was the number one political commissar of the great field armies that wiped out or captured most of Chiang Kai-Shek’s elite troops. He was a little man who carried out Mao’s strategic concepts. Mao would send him a document on how to wage the campaign strategically, and Deng was in charge of making sure it was carried out. You know, one of Deng’s great advantages politically—and it probably saved his life in the Cultural Revolution—was that in the 1930s, he was persecuted for supporting Mao against Stalin’s people. Mao never forgot that. So, in the Cultural Revolution, Liu Shaoqi was enemy number one, and Deng was enemy number two. But unlike Liu, who was hounded to death, Deng was protected by Mao.
How did you earn the trust of these men in the 1940s?
[Laughs] Well, you know—that’s a curious question. I’m a kind of open, direct guy, and I think they understood that I was telling them the truth, whatever I said, as I saw it. I was working with the UN relief program and doing famine relief work in the Communist area that was under the command of Li Xiannian, who later became president of the P.R.C., and Wang Zhen, who later became vice president. I was able to give them some important information about the American decision to allow Chiang Kai-Shek to wipe out Communist troops in that area. At the time, the local leaders, Li Xiannian and his colleagues, were in dispute about the intentions of General Marshall and the American role in the Chinese civil war. Some people, including the then-political commissar, felt that the Nationalists would not be allowed to attack them and wipe the Communists, who were outnumbered four or five to one in that area, out. Others believe that Marshall would let them be killed.
I got a very clear statement from General Marshall’s attache, General Henry Byroade, that the Americans were definitely going to let the Nationalists attack and annihilate these 60-70,000 Communist troops in that area. I took that information to the local commanders, Li Xiannian and so on, it proved to be right, and they totally escaped from encirclement. And when they came back to Yan’an, they thanked me and told me how correct my information had been. And in his memoirs, Li recalls this story and my role, which he exaggerates—my role wasn’t probably the decisive factor, but it was helpful. And then, these two commanders, who were both Central Committee members, Li Xiannian and Wang Jian, became my two sponsors in joining the Chinese Communist Party.
And was this in 1946, as well?
1946. It was all in 1946.
What were the circumstances of your arrest in the 1940s? How did you run into trouble with Mao? And did Mao personally play a role in your arrest or was it someone beneath him?
No, no, no. Nobody could have touched me, or any other foreigner, without the personal approval of Mao. Couldn’t be done. What happened was, the story came out some years ago. Stalin’s foreign trade minister and one of his old Bolshevik allies, Anastas Mikoyan, otherwise known as the “Armenian rug salesman,” made a secret trip to China in 1949, I think in January. He went to
the mountains where Mao and we all were, about 100 miles from Beijing, and held a series of talks with Mao, giving him Stalin’s opinion of what was going on in China. Among the documents that he brought was a personal message from Stalin to Mao, saying that they had identified me as a member of an American spy ring, the queen bee of which was Anna Louise Strong, a friend of mine, whom they had arrested in Moscow. Stalin had her deported and recommended that the Chinese arrest me as well. Of course, they never sent any evidence because there wasn’t any.
And how long were you in prison at that time?
Six years. The first year was in total darkness. It was not good.
Did you think you’d be in prison indefinitely?
Well, I’ll tell you, not this time. That was the second time (from 1967-1977). Because after the horrible first year in darkness, the warden suddenly came and told me that they understood that I was telling the truth. They understood who I was, and that I should forget about all the accusations that were hurled at me. So he gave me two choices. I’d been hollering all along that if they were going to keep me here, let me at least read and study and make some use of my time. He said “we can’t let you go until your case is cleared up,” which I knew meant while Stalin was alive. The other option, he said, was that I could just go back to America and forget about China for the rest of my life. If I wanted to go back, they’d send me back.
But that was not an option for me. I didn’t even think about it. My health was totally broken down. I was in shambles, just trying to get back to normal life. And besides, I didn’t want to go back with this cloud over me. What was I going to do? So I said I’ll stay and study. And I did that for five more years.
And what was it like to be released? How did that happen?
[Laughs] One day, the chief keeper unlocked my little cell and came in and said, “Come with me. Someone wants to talk to you.” So I went outside and into the main prison corridor and he unlocked a little door that I had never seen open and led me in. And there was a man whom later I learned was the first leader of the Chinese version of the CIA, the state security ministry. At that time, he was a bureau chief at the ministry of public security, which was internal.
Anyway, they had a chair there. I sat down and I knew immediately something big was happening because you don’t sit counter-revolutionaries down. He then issued a formal apology in the name of the central government, and said: “We were wrong. You’re a good man. We mistreated you, we misunderstood you. We’ll do everything possible to make it up to you.” After that, we went through the process of picking jobs that I wanted to do. He said, “Well, if you want to go back to America, we’ll send you back and we’ll give you enough money to start up whatever you want to do. If you want to travel in Europe, we’ll send you to Europe. If you want to stay in China, we’ll give you a villa in the south. You won’t have to work.” And of course, that was the funny thing, because what you want most when you’re locked up in solitary is the chance to do something, to work. So anyway, I told him, I said I want to go back to doing what I was doing on the day I was arrested.
What was that?
I was working at the Xinhua news agency, correcting English, teaching a little journalism, and doing some writing and some pinch hit announcing. But mainly just helping the Chinese journalists who were working in English just straighten their stuff out.
In 1955 when you were released from prison, did your relatives and friends think you were crazy for wanting to stay in China? Did they petition for you to come back?
They knew nothing about it. They had no idea. My brother-in-law was a flying Colonel in the Marine Corps and he stuck his neck out in the McCarthy days to get the government to figure out where I was, what happened. But they were only able to find out that I was somewhere in prison. They didn’t know where or why or what. So when I got out, they still knew nothing about me. They didn’t know what was going on.
When did they learn that you were released from prison?
As far as I know, the first time they got word was when Israel Epstein, who was working in the foreign languages press in Beijing, went to America and met my niece. He told her the story and then my niece got in touch with me, and then my sister, and so on. Oh, my goodness, but by then, that was after my second arrest. By then, it was 1977. In between, they didn’t know anything about me, and I didn’t try to contact them because in those days it was tricky for an American to be in touch with, you know, “Red China,” quote, unquote. It wouldn’t have been good for them.
Was there any criticism of Mao in the mid-50s? Was there a sense of euphoria in China at this time? When did his so-called abusive power begin, in your mind?
I think there was a fundamental change that began as he was coming into power. He gave a speech in 1949 just before the proclamation of the P.R.C. on the people’s democratic dictatorship. Previously, he said that the government of the new China would preside over a pluralistic economy. He even once said, “China doesn’t suffer from too much capitalism; it suffers from too little.” So when the new regime took power, they’d develop socialism, collective economy, private capitalism, individual artisans; six different forms of economy, altogether.
But in this 1949 speech, he shifted his emphasis to one-party dictatorship. I remember feeling aggravated at the time because I thought if the U.S. had played its cards better, maybe he wouldn’t have gone that far. We may have been able to influence the kind of government that finally formed in China. In 1946, I translated a message from Mao to the United States saying that in five years, the Communists planned to be in power in China and wanted to have normal relations with the United States by then. They knew Americans supported Chiang Kai-Shek, but that once Mao took power, that would be over.
Mao cited two reasons why he wanted normal relations. The first one was that China was in shambles: They’d been fighting wars for over a century and everything needed to be rebuilt. They needed a major input of capital. And the only country in the world, after World War II, that had that kind of money was the United States. So China want to get construction loans from the U.S. Mao added that the Chinese were not asking for a handout. They had gold and they could pay at the ongoing rates of international interest. So that was point one, which was not surprising to me.
But point two really bowled me over. He said after the Communists came to power, they didn’t want to be unilaterally dependent on the Soviet Union. They wanted to have good relations with both East and West. Mao said, of course, the Soviets were China’s comrades. "We’re all Communists, but there are many of their viewpoints that we do not share, and we have our own way of looking at things. And we don’t want to be shut off from you, from America, and dependent on them."
I think if America had taken those remarks seriously, it could’ve been different. I even think that we may not have had to fight the wars in Korea and Vietnam. But we totally ignored it.
And was that just because of the McCarthyist spirit in the U.S., the fear of a Red China?
Yeah. It was not just McCarthy, it was people like Dean Rusk—Secretary of State [under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson], undoubtedly a man of strong principle, a good man, but very, very ideological, and, in my view, bigoted. In Rusk’s view, a Communist was a Communist was a Communist. The differences between the Chinese and the Russians were not that important.
After your first arrest from prison, how did you get involved again with Chairman Mao? How long did that process take?
Actually, I didn’t sit down and talk with him again until 1963, when I had been working for two years on the translations of his works into English. Four Americans plus Israel Epstein, who was stateless, met with Mao to discuss some questions of translation, which turned into a long talk about everything under the sun, and then dinner. And then I saw him every year after that until my arrest in 1967.
What were the circumstances of your second arrest? They were very different from the first, is that right?
Very different. My wife and I were supporting young people who were trying to dismantle the dictatorship of the proletariat and establish a kind of town hall democracy in China. And I was making speeches in support of them all over the place. And, well, Mao lost his sense of humor about it and put me back in prison.
And you were imprisoned for how many years this time?
And solitary again?
But this was better than the first time because I knew why I was there, you know. The first time, I had no idea what I was doing there. There was this terrible hurt, this feeling of being misunderstood. But the second time, I was not being misunderstood, so it was different.
You were in prison until 1977—how did you learn about the death of Chairman Mao in ‘76?
I had the People’s Daily in prison so I had the news.
And what did you feel when Mao died? Were you relieved? Were you delighted? Were you sad? It must’ve been complicated.
No, no—I still thought he was a revolutionary leader that had answers to the world’s problems. I thought his death was this terrible loss … but you know, here’s the thing, Matt. It was very strange. When Zhou Enlai died, in January that year, I was distraught. I thought he’d been a very dear, very warm and caring friend on a personal level. And I felt like I’d lost my father almost, I really, literally sat in prison, you know, and just cried and cried.
When Mao died, intellectually, I felt that this was much more important. A much greater tragedy, this was the leader, with a capital L, who had been lost to the world. But I didn’t have a single tear. And I remember thinking to myself at the time: why is this? What’s going on? And I didn’t have the answer.
I think my emotional intelligence, if there is such a thing, was smarter than my intellect at that point. Intellectually, I mourned him, but emotionally, I didn’t.
You moved back to the United States in 1980. What prompted that decision? Did you think you were through with China? Was it exhaustion?
No, no, not at all. When I was in the Army class at Stanford in 1943, I had this idea of learning to be a bridge-builder between Americans and Chinese. If I had both languages and both cultures, I could help these two peoples understand each other and to learn to work together. So by 1980, I decided there was nothing more that I could do on the Chinese end, and I needed to go back and work from the American end. What brought it about was my disgust at the corruption that was already rampant. It wasn’t yet like it is today, but it was already very much in evidence.
I was disgusted by the fact that Deng Xiaoping, after bragging to Robert Novak about the Democracy Wall, about how the government allowed people to put up posters and express their opinion and criticize freely and so on, he shut it down once he consolidated his power. He suppressed the Democracy Wall. We had lots of young democratic activists coming to our home every weekend and we had a kind of forum discussion, and we were living at the Friendship Hotel, where most foreign experts lived, and when they came in to the hotel compound, they had to register their names. So once Deng began suppressing democratic opinion, these people were all going to be in danger. I didn’t feel that my wife and I would be in danger because they weren’t going to fool with us anymore, but I thought these kids were going to be in danger.
But mainly, I was just disgusted by the shutting down of democratic activity and the corruption, and I just said to Yulin you know, it’s time to go to America and off we went.
I imagine that when you arrived in America after 35 years, the culture shock must have been incredible.
It was such fun! When I got back, the op-ed editor of the New York Times asked me to write a piece on July 4th on how it felt to come back after being away 14 years longer than Rip Van Winkle. And I did. And you know, we got a terrific welcome from the press. I was on the Today Show the day after we got back. And, unfortunately, Tom Brokaw wasn’t there that day, so it wasn’t a great program. But, then, the next day, Linda Charlton of the New York Times wrote a feature that took up the whole of page 2. And the headline was something like: "Native Son Returns to Tell His Folks About His In-Laws." And they had a picture of Yulin and myself. Then, everything was coming up roses. That week, I was invited to go to Washington and was formally received by the assistant Secretary of State for Asia, who was Richard Holbrooke. I spent two days talking with the guys on the China desk at the State Department. Everyone was very courteous and friendly. Nobody tried to put me on the spot or ask embarrassing questions. And I felt right at home. I felt great.
It was around this time that Deng Xiaoping made his famous assessment of Mao, saying that Mao was 70 percent correct and 30 percent incorrect. How do you feel about that?
I don’t buy that. I think of it more as before and after. I think Mao was a great leader up to coming to power in 1949, and maybe for three or four years afterwards, when they carried out these great social reforms in China. You know, the eight-hour day, jobs for all the intellectuals, and eliminating opium, eliminating prostitution, equality before the law for women; just ordinary social reforms, which really were a transformation in the China of that day.
It started going bad around 1955. Initially, he encouraged the set up of co-ops, which worked very well. Farm production went way up. It was based on continued private ownership of the land, but the farmers helped each other to till the land. The harvest yield was distributed 60 percent in terms of how much land one had, 40 percent in terms of how much work one put in, or different proportions like that.
But then, Mao got overexcited and got into his build-Rome-in-a-single-day mode. They went from the co-ops to collective farms, so the farmers who had got their own land after centuries of hunger now lost their land to the collective. But being good Chinese patriots, most of them didn’t complain about it. They went along, but farm production, per capita, never went up again until the Deng Xiaoping reforms, when the land was de-collectivized. So that’s when it all really started going bad, really. So, in other words, what I’m saying is I think of it more in terms of Mao before power and after power, rather than a particular ratio.
Do you think there was something personal that changed him? Did he get drunk with power, to use the cliche?
I do. I do think that. In 1968, I think it was, he was up at the Tiananmen gate with Edgar Snow. I was in prison then, but I read about it. He told Snow that China was mostly a peasant country and needed an emperor figure. He was endorsing the kind of adulation and emperor-worship that was going on with him at the center. I think he consciously did get drunk.
It’s strange, Matt, because before coming to power, he wrote and talked constantly about the dangers of the arrogance of power. I remember in 1944, before I got to China, he had reprinted a little pamphlet about a peasant uprising in the Ming dynasty, where the peasant leaders drove the emperor out of Xi’an and assumed the throne. But as soon as they got into power, they became drunk with power and corrupt. And they lost power very quickly. The emperor brought his armies back and chased them away. Mao ordered every functionary in the party to study the pamphlet as a guard against being corrupted by power later on. And he kept constantly preaching this kind of sermon, and yet he was corrupted by power worse than most people.
Jung Chang in her biography of Mao in 2006 argued that he was a megalomaniac who was after more than just power of China—that he wanted world power. What do you think about that idea?
Well, first of all, in my personal opinion, I think that whole book is pretty much garbage. It’s a terribly one-sided—well not really one-sided, but a lot of it is just fiction. You know, like the story she tells about the Long March being a conspiracy hatched by Chiang Kai-Shek and Stalin, working together. It’s ridiculous. Anyway.
Did Mao want to be a more consequential figure than just the President of China? That was one of her arguments.
No, I think that’s nonsense. You know, Mao, he had two sides. One, he was a great military strategist and tactician. I could cite endless examples of brilliant strategies that most people wouldn’t even dream of. But the other side of him was that he was a terrific individualist, and sort of an anarchical populist. I remember after the border war between China and India in 1962, Marshall Chen Yi, who was also foreign minister, came back from the Himalayas and he brought a big cobra back with him. And he invited my wife and I to come eat the snake with him. And I remember asking him, playing devil’s advocate, I said look: the Indians were beaten, you’re at the peak of the Himalayas, you could have swept down, and in 200 hundred miles, you’d be in Calcutta. So why did you turn back?
He looked at me like I was crazy. He said: Lord, we have so many problems managing China, you think we want to have to manage India? I don’t think Mao or anybody else was really interested in anything but China.
If Mao were alive today, what would he think about China’s progress? What would he think about the country? I mean, I know it’s impossible to answer in a way, but would he be satisfied? Would he be disappointed? Is today’s China what he had in mind, in a strange way?
I think it’s a two-sided thing. I’ve thought quite a lot about this, actually. He would be very proud to see the strength of the economy and the change in the world position of China. He’d be thrilled at that. On the other hand, he’d be really disgusted at the breakdown of morality and values. And I think he would be very happy with the way Xi Jinping is starting out by trying to restore some of the old values. But, at the same time, I don’t think he would be happy about the added emphasis now, after the recent Third Plenum meeting, on letting market forces decide things and getting the government increasingly out of economic management. That was certainly against his fundamental views. Of course, he might have changed.
Does it surprise you that Mao is still the face on all the Chinese banknotes, that his portrait is still at Tiananmen, that he is still revered in China?
No, not at all, because the young people that are growing up now, including young Party members, have no idea really who he was and what he wrote and what he did. All they know is he’s sort of the George Washington figure. He was the founder of the country, the unifier of the people, and so on. And that’s all they know. And I wouldn’t expect that to change in the near future.
By Heiko Khoo
China.org.cn, November 17, 2013
The Third Plenary Session of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee reiterated that China remains "at the primary stage of socialism." The fundamental economic principle remains unswerving adherence to the dominant role of public ownership in the economy. However, markets are to be allotted "a decisive role" in the allocation of goods and resources.
How is this to be understood in a world-historical context? Marx and Engels believed that socialist revolutions would begin in the most advanced capitalist countries: France, Germany and England. They thought that most important enterprises and means of production would be taken into public ownership; and the combined technical, scientific, and material wealth of these nations would provide the basis for a society of abundance. Socialism would end the fundamental class antagonism in society — between the workers and capitalists — laying the basis for harmonious social relations and a world of plenty for all. Consequently, the state — as an instrument for repression — would be replaced by popular participation and control, and begin to wither away.
However, socialist revolutions in the 20th century broke out in countries where capitalism was not fully developed, such as Russia, China, Cuba and Ethiopia. In Eastern Europe, revolutions came about as a consequence of the victory of the Soviet Union in the Second World War. The fundamental task for socialist governments was to try to catch up with advanced capitalism, in order to establish the material foundations for a socialist society. Experience revealed the tortuous contradictions inherent in this task.
The struggle to develop the state economy required inequality, i.e. that some get rich first. But if some are richer than others, the state becomes a defender of this inequity. The need to protect the revolution against invasion also required military and industrial might, but this focus came at the expense of the living standards of the masses. Such contradictory pressures gave rise to a new bureaucratic state apparatus, which emerged spontaneously and automatically in these societies. Therefore, in the eyes of the world, this system appeared to be the inevitable form of socialism.
Nevertheless, the economies of the socialist camp probably could have caught up with the USA, between 1960 and 1980, had they functioned as a unified and combined economic system. But instead of concentrating on planning the commanding heights of their economies — they tried to plan every tiny detail of production and consumer demand. This inevitably failed. The complexity, subtlety and flexibility of human activity, always confounds bureaucratic decision-making. Bureaucratic planning displays its greatest advantages where the systems concerned can be easily modelled and commanded within a constrained set of variables. China avoided collapse after 1989 by combining state ownership, of fewer, but more powerful state enterprises, with various subordinate forms of private ownership.
The rate of urbanisation forecast for the next 15 years will see China’s cities and towns swell by over 250 million. The new urbanites will be predominantly working class — producers by hand or by brain. The ever-increasing social weight of the working class will profoundly transform China’s class relations. They will hold fiercely egalitarian sentiments, will distain corruption, and will constitute the mainstay of the All China Federation of Trade Unions and the Communist party. The new working classes will inevitably take their socialist constitutional and legal rights more and more seriously and demand that officials work honestly to serve the workers they are supposed to represent. One can draw some analogies to the way workers in Europe demanded democratic representation and greater rights at the turn of the 20th century. But there will also be similarities to the position of workers in Europe in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
For example, since 2003 labour shortages in China have led to rapid wage rises and increasing worker militancy. Over the next decades the balance of forces between capital and labour will shift so decisively in favour of the working class that their demands will appear to sweep the board. The state will be able to introduce a universal welfare with: free healthcare; free education; low cost housing for the people; and a dignified pension system for all — like that in Britain, Germany, France or Sweden between the 1950s and 1970s. Workers will also consistently be able to win above inflation wage rises. This will give impetus to invigorate and democratise the trade unions, and breathe real life into China’s workers’ congress democratic management system. Indeed, when China’s Premier Li Kejiang spoke to the All China Federation of Trade Union’s 16th Congress last week he said: "We should promote democratic management in companies and fully exploit the role of workers’ congresses." The realization of democratic management of enterprises by the workers is ultimately one of the defining characteristics of socialist as distinct from bureaucratic and capitalist management systems.
The theory of the primary stage of socialism adopted by the CPC in 1987 projected it would last for 100 years from 1949. By 2049 workers will constitute a crushing majority of China’s population. They will be highly skilled and educated, and will be connected with workers around the world. China will be the richest country in the world and its workers will have high per capita incomes. If, at that time, the workers democratically control production and are the real masters of the state; and if society is based on egalitarian principles — then socialism will surely conquer the world.
The author is a columnist with China.org.cn. For more information please visit:
Posted on December 29, 2012 by Socialism and Democracy Online
Does size matter?
The basic contradiction is this: in the very heartland of what is often referred to as the “world’s largest democracy” there is also occurring the “world’s largest revolution.” Revolutionary forces, led by the Communist Party of India (Maoist) and its military wing, the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army,1 have an active presence in at least a third of the country, and dominate major and shifting swaths of territory, with control over several key regions where they have established their main liberated areas. Their goal is to overthrow the entire Indian political, economic and social system, and to replace it with a radical transformation of the class structure and new forms of popular democratization and development. They are raising an alternative vision for society, one that challenges bourgeois political and economic norms that are dominant across the global capitalist system led by the United States. Within this imperialist structure, India is viewed as a rising star of international capitalism for its rapid economic growth, largely driven by foreign investment, and its adherence to Western style democratic practices. But it is these very aspects of its society that are leaving hundreds of millions of Indians in ever greater poverty and despair, fueling their revolutionary upsurge and demands for new forms of democracy and development. The success of the Maoist revolution would not only transform India itself, therefore, but deliver a critical blow to the entire structure of imperialist capitalism, and to the political methods now used to maintain its global hold.
The issue of scale is relevant here. The constant references, at home and abroad, to the democratic processes in India as “large” are part of the justification offered, even by some on the left, for maintaining its current system. The size and the viability of its political institutions are seen as being closely linked. As the vice-chancellor of Delhi University put it in a poster urging participation in the parliamentary elections of 2009, “The largest democracy of the world is going to the polls to choose its representatives. Wider voter participation will strengthen democracy in India and will make it more vibrant.” But why does size matter? Is the issue of democracy in India and elsewhere in the world today primarily one of quantity or quality? In the United States, the democratic ideal is often the Greek city state or the small New England town where every citizen could participate directly in choosing leaders and making the decisions that affect them. But in a country of over one billion people such as India, is it important that democracy is “large”? In one sense, yes. The system of democratic parliamentarism, inherited from British colonialism, was the primary instrument used after Independence in 1947 to stitch together a modern national state out of many disparate elements. The sprawling nation, covering an entire subcontinent, and deeply divided by class, caste, ethnicity, religion and language, still depends largely on this political structure to keep its centrifugal forces from flying apart. Democracy is the critical national “glue.” But by the same token, the breakdown of the current Indian parliamentary democratic process, the approach of its historical limits, and above all its growing inability to meet the needs of hundreds of millions, bursts the bonds of bourgeois political practices inherited from the colonial past, and threatens the fragile unity of the nation and the “ungluing” of its social order.
Under such critical circumstances, the demand arises all the more insistently for an alternative system of national organization, and for forms of democracy adequate to this new historic stage. It is this path of revolution, linked to the democratic upsurge of the oppressed, that the CPI (Maoist) is now taking. Led by these self-defined “Maoists,” significant areas of India are today in armed revolt against the state. Here again the question of scale is relevant. Though hardly unique—there are revolutionary forces guided largely by Maoist principles in Nepal, the Philippines, and other countries as well—the Indian struggle is the most widespread such movement in the world, both in the extent of its territorial reach and the size of the population where it is active. A so-called “Red Corridor” at least partly under control of Maoists, now stretches some 750 by 300 miles through much of eastern and central India, while regions under their influence extend even further south and into more isolated pockets elsewhere.2 Up to 20,000 fighters in the PLGA, plus Maoist militia “estimated by several intelligence analysts at over 50,000,” with supporting political and cultural cadre, are active in 20 of 28 states, and one-third of the administrative districts.3 With the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist)—which is independent from its Indian counterpart—now struggling internally to define its direction and a new role in national political power, after a decade-long guerrilla war, the territory where the forces of revolution are actively engaged reaches virtually unbroken from the Chinese border in Tibet deep into the south of the subcontinent. Success by the Maoists in India would constitute the largest revolutionary victory since the 1949 triumph of the Communists in China. Like that revolution, it would “shake the world.”
Whether the Maoist leadership will be accepted by a large enough majority to succeed, is now the central issue of Indian society. So serious is the challenge, that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of the Congress Party-led coalition government has declared the Maoists “the greatest internal security threat to the country since Independence”—surpassing even longstanding regional insurgencies in Kashmir and the Northeast. The relation of the present Indian parliamentary system to the forces of revolution, and their alternative visions of democracy, reverberates at the core of the national dilemma today, and the consequences of how it is dealt with will largely determine the outcome of the current struggle. But the implications of this revolutionary expansion are much broader, extending far beyond the borders of India itself. The growth of the popular basis for revolution and the reaction to it under the specific Indian historical conditions pose a fundamental challenge to Western forms of democracy handed down from the earliest stages of bourgeois society, especially when these were adopted or imposed under the conditions of colonialism and neocolonialism. The upsurge of Maoist revolutionaries in India is testing the very limits of existing democratic practices to solve the contradictions of late imperialist capitalism, especially in the global South. The outcome could have profound ramifications not only across south Asia, but also for China itself—the original home of “Maoism”—and for the worldwide imperial structure under the domination of the United States. The rising up of millions of exploited and oppressed Indians under the leadership of Maoists would threaten the very foundations of the international capitalist system, and realign the working classes across the entire globe. As the recent profound economic crisis initiated by the United States, which spread worldwide, has demonstrated, the ability of the “great democracies” of capitalism to manage their global empire is now rapidly approaching its historic limits. The decisive historical break, the passing of the revolutionary torch, may come at any time and place. Is India at such a turning point?
Naxalbari and the rise of Maoist-led insurgency
The current upsurge in revolutionary activity under the leadership of Maoists is only the latest phase of a struggle that began more than 40 years ago in the district of Naxalbari, in northern West Bengal state. There, in 1967, led by Communist Party of India (Marxist)4 cadre, who hoped to follow the Chinese example of peasant revolution under Mao, the rural population rose up in arms against the landlords and money lenders, who mercilessly exploited them, and confronted the forces of the state which served as the protector of their oppressors. From these origins the Maoists in India have long been known as “Naxalites,” though both terms cover a broad range of revolutionary activism. Naxalbari fundamentally altered the political landscape of the Indian “Left” in ways that are still felt today. Coming just when the Sino-Soviet split was escalating, as the Cultural Revolution in China was reaching its early peak, and only a year before the worldwide revolutionary surge of 1968, the Naxalite explosion was a major dividing line in leftist politics in India, releasing new forces of bottom up activism and the resort to violence, and for the first time linking the demands of the peasantry to a struggle for state power. Though there had been many instances of armed insurrection before—from the 1855-56 uprising of Santal adivasis or indigenous people led by Siddhu and Kanhu, to the First War of Independence in 1857-58 by sepoy troops and popular forces revolting against the British East India Company, to the 1910 tribal rebellion in the Bastar area of present day Chhattisgarh, to attacks on the colonial establishment for which 23 year old Bhagat Singh and other young rebels were hanged for murder in 1931, to the peasant uprising led by the Communist Party of India in the Telengana region of what is now Andhra Pradesh in the 1940s, and a similar revolt in the same region under Maoist leadership in the early 1960s—it was Naxalbari “that put the Indian peasantry on the revolutionary map of the world.”6 Revolution, utilizing violence, was now an open goal, after the long dominance of nonviolence in the nationalist movement that led to Independence from Britain in 1947. The pattern of revolutionary Maoism and the state response to it were set there, and have continued in largely similar form until today.
The Naxalbari uprising created peasant guerrilla groups that overthrew the local landlords, and resisted the counterattacks of police sent to protect them. The goal was to start an agrarian revolution, one that would seize political as well as economic power.
Soon after the first incident in the last week of May 1967, the leaders of the Naxalbari unit of the CPI(M) declared the area a ‘liberated zone’ where police and government officials would not be allowed to enter, and armed squads were formed to defend the area. Village committees were established to take over the administration of schools and other public activities, and they performed the function of judicial bodies. Raids were organized on the houses of rich peasants, their stocks of hoarded rice were confiscated, and the mortgage and loan documents in their possession were destroyed.6
The rebellion in Naxalbari itself was brutally crushed within a few months, by a coalition government in which the parent CPI (M) was a leading partner—though it initially helped to restrain the police and later got those arrested released—and before the Maoists could consolidate their guerrilla operations into a secure base area. Yet in a pattern that was to be repeated over and over again down to the present time, the struggle that they had launched spread rapidly, largely because of the vicious response with which it met.
The 1967 movement grew beyond everyone’s expectations, mainly because of the reaction to the massive crackdown by the state … [which] resulted in the movement spreading to other areas of Bengal and Bihar, and into cities, primarily Calcutta [now Kolkata], where it became a straight ‘state versus the revolutionaries’ battle. Soon it crossed the class barrier and consumed intellectuals and students, even those with no background or interest in communist principles.7
Naxalism spread further northwest into Uttar Pradesh, and even as far as Punjab, and south into Andhra Pradesh, and to distant Kerala on the coast. By 1969, those Maoist revolutionaries favoring armed struggle split from the CPI (M) to form the CPI (Marxist-Leninist). For the first time in India, those advocating revolutionary class conflict had a national ideological and organizational center. Yet from the start, there were many opposing trends, factions, and divisions in the ranks of the Maoists, and they coexisted and competed with other political and social movements, such as Gandhianism and parliamentary Marxist groups, all of which tendencies have continued down to today.
Wherever possible, the Naxalites began to carve out base areas linked to popular struggles. Especially in Andhra Pradesh, in the old Telengana revolutionary center and in the coastal tribal area of Srikakulam, small liberated zones held out from the late 1960s to 1970s, before being overwhelmed by a massive police operation, with the arrest, torture or killing not only of Maoist leaders and cadre, but of thousands who had participated in the movement, as well as many who were only suspected of involvement or simply lived in the area. Adopting methods earlier used by the British in Malaysia, and the United States in Vietnam, state police and paramilitaries carried out mass displacement of the local population, creating “strategic hamlets” meant to isolate the Naxalites from their popular base, separating the “fish” from the “sea” in which they “swam.” Maoist forces in Andhra Pradesh and its capital Hyderabad were largely wiped out. In Kolkata as well, the Naxalite intellectuals and university students who had launched a campaign of urban violence, in part to draw the police and military away from the rebellious rural areas, lost their initial foothold as the first phase of uprising was met everywhere in the 1970s with massive state repression. Thousands of youth had “joined the Naxalbari and Srikakulam tribals and peasants. They were abducted, imprisoned, tortured, killed, and Indian English added a new meaning to the verb ‘encountered’ after the faked ‘encounter’ killings”8—the summary execution of those detained for “trying to escape” or on other trumped up excuses, such as “throw down” weapons planted on their dead bodies. Many thousand died, including hundreds in the cities, while across India, 30,000 Maoists and their supporters were jailed—under such harsh conditions and brutal treatment that it drew international protests—putting an end to the initial Naxalbari revolutionary upsurge.
But in the aftermath, as was to occur again and again in the coming decades, the Maoist cadre who survived went underground or dispersed into new areas. Especially those who had gained experience in Andhra Pradesh spread north and west into what are today Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra. Driven from the cities, and even from most of the agrarian countryside, they concentrated mainly in the vast belt of forest, much of it nearly inaccessible, that stretches through these states. There they based themselves even more than earlier among the adivasis or tribal peoples, dalits or“untouchables,” and other lower castes, the most oppressed segments of Indian society. Learning from the inability to protect their strongholds in the urban centers and main farming areas in the plains, the Maoist cadre adopted a strategy of guerrilla warfare deep inside the forests. There they showed that they were willing to live, struggle and die alongside the people, and to help them fight local tyrants, exploitative traders, abusive police, and oppressive government agencies, especially the forest administrators.
For the next quarter century, the Naxalite movement waxed and waned, suffering from external suppression, but also internal divisions—over the methods and targets of violence, participation in electoral bodies, the role of mass organization, and factionalism. Parties and groups, some based mainly in certain states or regions, formed and fractured, keeping the flame of Naxalbari alive, but without the guidance of a single central body. The response of the government also varied over both time and geography. While the basic instinct of the state was always to react with massive suppression, some efforts to ameliorate the conditions of the poorest and most oppressed were also sporadically tried. In West Bengal especially, after major labor unrest in the mid-1970s, and the 21-month long national state of emergency declared by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1975, the CPI (M) held power from 1977 until May 2011 and in the earlier years instituted a quite substantial program of land reform, which gave some relief to millions of farmers, and strengthened bottom up democratic rights within village panchayat governments—though the new electoral processes also gave the party increased political domination over them. In Kerala too, Communist parties held office off and on over decades, introducing partial steps in redistribution, resulting not only in economic advances for the poor, but broader social gains such as a high literacy rate. Such reforms further undercut the Maoist appeal.
The ever renewing base for revolutionary struggle
The Naxalite movement, including its armed wing, never died out completely, however. From the late 1970s through the 1990s, it continued to reappear in various forms and different regions, most notably the Peoples War Group in Andhra Pradesh and the Maoist Communist Center in Bihar, which organized among the poor peasantry, the lowest or “scheduled” castes and the adivasis, and continued to carry out violent attacks. The very viciousness of the suppression campaigns, extending into post-Independence India the racist and caste-driven brutalities of the British colonial era, though constantly setting back the forces of revolution, at the same time renewed them with an ever longer list of heroes and martyrs, and an ever deeper well of popular grievances and resentments that the Maoists could draw on. Police, paramilitaries and state-sponsored vigilante groups employed murder, beatings, torture, looting, and the burning of houses and even entire villages, unleashing a veritable “reign of terror.” Sexual abuse, long a weapon of the upper castes against those under them—an “untouchable” woman becomes “touchable” when she is raped, as one dalit speaker put it—is so routine in these drives, that they are more redolent at times of the horrors of Sudan or the Congo than of a modern democracy. Many of the policing methods hark back to British colonial times, like lathi charges, the ubiquitous and brutal wielding of long cane batons to disperse and beat protestors. Other specialties, though hardly unique to India, are “mysterious” deaths in prison of uncounted numbers—Charu Mazumdar, the Communist leader at Naxalbari, died in 1972 after just 12 days in jail, under still disputed circumstances—and especially widespread use of the “fake encounter killings.” As early as the first anti-Naxalite campaign, such atrocities drew widespread condemnation not only from many Indians, but from international human rights groups and world renowned progressives, such as Noam Chomsky and Simone de Beauvoir.
While these suppression drives have the “unintended consequence” of constantly replenishing the subjective wellspring of the forces of revolution, raising popular anger at the state and the determination to fight on among Maoist cadre, and especially adivasi, dalit, peasant and worker activistswho suffer the heaviest blows, what renews their main objective foundation is the ever more dire conditions in which hundreds of millions live. The image of the new “Shining India,” with its high tech centers and young urban rich—living in gated housing and partying all night in five-star hotels, symbols of a booming economy competing with China for global superstar status—belies the immensity of the deep impoverishment of the majority of its population. This vast polarization is rapidly becoming more extreme. In 2009, India had 52 billionaires, up from “just” 27 the year before, and less than 10 at the start of the decade. The richest, Mukesh Ambani, has built a 27-story home, which by some press accounts cost a billion dollars, for his five-person family, in Mumbai, a city where most people live in slums. The combined net worth of the 100 wealthiest individuals has reached $276 billion, according to the Forbes’ India Rich List, equal to a quarter of GDP. The top decile owns 53%of wealth, the bottom one 0.2%. The number of poor has grown drastically.9 Though some 200 million or more—a number greater than the entire population of most nations—may share to some degree in the “shining” aspects of India, this still leaves what is not far short of a billion others excluded and now barely able to survive. More than 800 million, or some 77% of the population, live on just 20 rupees or less per day, equivalent to under $0.50, and almost 230 million receive less than half that.10 Released in 2010, “a United Nations report revealed that there are more poor people in just eight Indian states than in all the 26 countries of sub-Saharan Africa, with the large state of Madhya Pradesh comparable in intensity of deprivation to war-ravaged Congo.”11
This vast poverty is concentrated in the rural areas. Close to 75% of all Indians still live in the countryside, four-fifths of them engaged in agriculture. Based on 2002-03 government survey data, the average amount of land owned or operated per farm dropped continuously since the 1960s, losing over half of its size since the early 1970s, to 1 hectare—2.5 acres—or less.12 Despite sporadic efforts at reform, varying greatly over time and between states, lands remain highly and unequally concentrated. While the great zamindar estates of the colonial era, with their brutal and exploitative intermediary agents, were largely broken up, by the early 1970s, they were replaced in many areas by semi-feudal landlord-tenant relations, and in some cases, especially in Punjab and other states where the Green Revolution led to a high percentage of larger and more capitalistic modern farms, a small kulak class arose.13 Powerful landlords have for decades found ways to evade limits on their holdings, and to subvert the rights of sharecroppers and laborers, including by use of strong-arm tactics.14 By 2003, 80% of farmers, up from 66% forty years earlier, were marginal—landless, land poor or tenants—with an average of only 0.21 hectares or just over 0.5 acres, often little more than enough for their houses.15 Those “effectively” lacking land rose from 44% in 1960-61 to 60% in 2002-03, and thosewithout any lands are almost 300 million, outnumbering the entire middle class.These poorest farms have only 6% of all cultivable land, a proportion that is virtually unchanged or even a little less favorable than fifty years ago.16 Most of these are subsistence farmers, barely scratching out a meager survival, and selling only a minor part of their crops, if any, in the market. Above them the other marginal, small and semi-medium farms, some 36% of the total, have around 60% of all farmland, while medium and large farmers, or 4%, control around 34%.17 These larger farmsare the only ones fully engaged in capitalist marketing and labor relations, able to share in the wealth of the “new” India.
Grim as it is, this picture does not convey the extremes of impoverishment and exploitation that result from geographical variation and the discriminatory effects of caste. Those without any land or only enough for homesteads are close to 50% or more of rural households in Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Bihar and several other states, and are concentrated in the dalit, adivasi and Muslim communities.18 Nationwide, 80% of dalits live in rural areas, and 86% are effectivelylandless. In Punjab, where they are 29% of the population—the highest proportion in any state—and are the main hired labor force, fully 95% have no land of their own to farm.19 These heavily discriminatory relations are being exacerbated by pressures on the entire farming sector. Nationwide, the economic role of farms is declining, with agriculture now accounting for a mere 17% of GDP, down from 39% in 1980. In the same period the share of national labor engaged in farming dropped from 68 to 60%, but it still grew in absolute numbers. An ever expanding rural population therefore shares in a decreasing portion of GDP, and especially on the marginal farms, income per person has also been falling. The average return for the vast majority of those farming is now only around 30 to 50 rupees per day, or from $0.66 to just over $1.20 But these averages include all types and sizes of farms, and for hundreds of millions, even this meager income is lacking. Their ability to survive is rapidly being lost as pressure mounts to compete in a global capitalist market for which they lack resources. Imports, such as fruits from the United States and elsewhere in Asia, and the mass output of large, mechanized and heavily subsidized farms in the rich countries, especially in cotton, have devastated many Indians struggling to survive on small plots, particularly as they have been pushed to alter their production from subsistence crops to those mainly for sale or export, making them ever more dependent on marketing.21 Rural processing and small industries are also failing due to import competition, especially from China, leaving farmers unable to supplement their household income.
Cultivation alone is therefore no longer enough to support the majority of farm families, leading to indebtedness, and the necessity to hire out as labor. Tens of millions have moved to the cities, where the vast majority find only insecure sources of income and irregular housing. Slum dwellers more than doubled from 1981 to 2001—a rate almost two and a half times faster than overall population growth in India—increasing from 28 to 62 million, and generating an impoverished urban underclass equal in number to all of Great Britain. A government commission estimated that the number will rise to over 93 million in 2011. Another study found that 62% of Mumbai residents now live in slum conditions.22 In recent years, drives to clear the slums have left growing numbers of poor urban dwellers homeless, and the sight of laborers and even whole families living on sidewalks or along railroad tracks, or on any open land where there is space to pitch a tent or build a shack, is common. Such governmental policies thereby exacerbate poverty, as the “development” model of the state compounds the failure to meet basic social needs like housing, education, health, sanitation and electrification.23 Not until 2010 was a law passed guaranteeing free schooling for all Indian children. Ratios of students to the often poorly trained teachers in public schools are high and growing, and in the villages, those who can afford it now commonly turn to private academies instead. Illiteracy remains almost 25%, concentrated in the rural areas, according to 2011 census data. For women, the national rate is still around 35%. Health care expenditures are only 1% of GDP, and 70 to 80% of that is private and largely unaffordable for the poor. The rural population especially suffers.24 In 2006, India ranked 138 in the world in medical expenses per capita, at $86, just below Afghanistan, Haiti and Rwanda. The young suffer most. Of newborns worldwide who die in the first four weeks of life, one-third are Indian.25 Some 40% of the population, or 480 million, mainly in the rural areas, are still unconnected to the electric grid.26 This too varies greatly by region. In Bihar, 80% of villages have no electricity.
Hunger and malnutrition are also rampant across most of the country. In 12 out of 14 states south of Punjab, 20 to 30% suffer from inadequate food, a rate considered to be “alarming,” while Madhya Pradesh falls into the “extremely alarming” category of over 30%.27 Even in cities, a third of the population is chronically hungry. The condition of young children is especially dire, with 42.5% of those below the age of five underweight—nearly half the world total—worse than the rate found in much of Sub-Saharan Africa. Adivasis and the lower castes have the highest hunger rates. Over 50% and 60%, respectively, of their young children are underweight.28 While India has not had a major famine since Independence, it suffers instead from a continuous “semi-famine,” that kills millions year in and year out.29 These already severe conditions have only become worse as India has turned sharply toward neoliberal “globalization” over the past two decades. A growing “scissors” between the rising costs of farm inputs and falling prices for their products have driven farmers ever deeper into debt. At the same time, rural health care and education suffer from growing neglect, as neoliberalism demands cutbacks in public funding, and its replacement—if at all—by high cost private services. This decline of the governmental sector has had a dire environmental impact as well, compounding the pollution and loss of natural resources resulting from detrimental practices and unregulated growth in the past. Such conditions have spread even to Punjab, where the “green revolution” had made it the “breadbasket” of India, but where indebtedness, falling water tables, and the poisoning of the land with herbicides, pesticides and artificial fertilizers have led to the ruin of many farms. One result has been over 200,000 suicides by Indian farmers, including many Punjabis, in the past two decades, the majority of them due to desperation over unrepayable debts.30
This widening crisis in much of rural India, and the never-ending exploitations of class, caste and ethnicity, have meant that revolutionary forces can always find new areas for bases, no matter how many times they may have been defeated or driven out of their earlier strongholds. This continual resurgence of the Naxalites is sometimes compared to an octopus or a hydra-like creature, or even to the demon king Ravana in the Ramayana, whose arms or heads can be cut off, only to grow out again. But it may be more useful to think of the Naxalite movement as a kind of sponge, which is constantly being squeezed and reshaped, parts of which may even at times dry up and harden completely, but which regains its shape and even expands again, especially when watered—all too often quite literally—with the blood of the poor and the oppressed. It is out of this constant renewal, and the deepening impact of neoliberalism and “globalization,” that pressure grew for the reunification of the revolutionary forces, as both subjective and objective conditions for unity ripened. In 2004, Peoples War and the Maoist Communist Center overcame their factional differences—which at their worst had even led to armed clashes between the contending groups—to form the CPI (Maoist). For the first time since the early 1970s, the Maoists had a national center, and on a larger scale than ever, equal to the task of confronting the all-India state on its own terms, and with its People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army, which far exceeds in effectiveness the scattered and poorly armed and trained forces that four decades ago grew out of the uprising at Naxalbari.
“The capitalists and the communists”
Nevertheless, the rise of the CPI (Maoist) to its leading revolutionary position today is the outcome of specific conditions over the past several years, and its ability to take advantage of the openings provided by these new developments. In part this is due to its flexibility. With well trained cadre, a battle-hardened guerrilla army, and a mobility that has, in large part, been forced upon it by constant suppression campaigns, the party has developed the kind of “have guns, will travel” capability that allows it to quickly seize opportunities that the system of oppression opens up before it. This was seen in 2005, when Maoists were once again largely driven from their bases in Andhra Pradesh, with heavy losses, yet not only quickly regrouped, but reached a new peak of national mobilization. This ability to convert setbacks into gains, to seize openings that constantly arise for expansion, is not simply the result of flexible and mobile organization, however. Over the last three decades, the Maoists have “seeded” the vast forest regions and other parts of the interior hinterland with dedicated cadre, who have helped to stimulate and lead resistance struggles by those who have suffered from centuries-long oppression and exploitation. These communities rise up over and over again when conditions become unbearable. This deep and dialectical tie between the Maoist revolutionaries and popular forces is the primary reason why the struggle continues to flare repeatedly, and to spread across the country, often at the very point when the movement has suffered setbacks.
Because it is deeply embedded in local communities and sensitive to the changing conditions there, the CPI (Maoist) is in a position to grasp new threats, and help to lead the opposition to them. Such is the case with Special Economic Zones. The Indian SEZs are different from those familiar from China—a few large areas in the coastal regions, with multiple export oriented factories. While some zones of this kind exist in India, its SEZs and similar projects under contractual Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) are generally smaller, more scattered, and set up for a specific enterprise or economic sector, most commonly auto, steel, mining, forest products, electronics, pharmaceutical or utility plants. Because only part of the land has to be used for production, many zones also engage in real estate development, such asshopping malls, luxury housing and golf courses.31 The first SEZ policy was drafted in 2000, but the major explosion of zones followed passage of a new law in 2005, with 462 being approved before the middle of 2008, a number now approaching 600—though only 100 plus are operational. Dubbed “Special Exploitation Zones” by activists, they are treated by the government as “public service utilities,” allowing them to offer exemptions from tax, tariff, environmental and labor regulations, including even the right to strike. States compete for the “privilege” of making such concessions and opening their territory for SEZs, turning them over to the largest multinational corporations, both Indian and foreign. Though claiming to bring jobs to poor areas, in practice most SEZ enterprises are capital intensive and hire few local workers.32 Driving thousands off the land and undermining local communities, they are generally devastating as well to the natural surroundings in the area, compounding economic ruin with environmental damage by polluting forests, fields and water systems.33 SEZs represent the latest peak of the Indian drive for a neoliberal globalized “development” form, with concessions to private capital, attraction of foreign corporate investors, casualization of labor, suppression of trade unions, and avoidance of ecological restraints. Many of these seizures are carried out under the Colonial Land Acquisition Act of 1894, as amended in 1984 to allow the public takeover of land for privatized exploitation, once again demonstrating the roots of post-Independence India in its British past. One result is to radically undermine any earlier land reform campaigns or strengthening of democratic control by local panchayat governments.34
As is common elsewhere around the globe—the Amazon in Brazil and Ecuador, rainforests of Indonesia, or Native American reservations in the US West—many of the open lands and natural resources needed for capitalist “development” lie on the territories of indigenous peoples, which in India means primarily within the forestlands of adivasis. As a result, though limited by the opposition of the population and lack of infrastructure, it is in the tribal forest belt that the drive for SEZs and MOUs has been most devastating economically, environmentally, and socially, resting on the racist assumption that the people there are too backward and powerless to resist. But the current taking of their homelands is nothing new. Going back well before colonial times, adivasis have a long history of resistance and rebellion, and even the British were never able to conquer them. In recent decades, under the post-Independence government, thousands of mainly adivasi communities have been uprooted for construction of massive dams, such as those on the Narmada River in Gujarat and Rajasthan, leading to large anti-displacement struggles, many lasting decades and attracting support from progressives such as Arundhati Roy. This history should have served as a warning to those pushing for SEZ/MOU expansion.35 In addition, unlike construction of dams, which could at least claim to benefit the general public with power supplies or irrigation, SEZs and MOUs involve seizure of enormous tracts to be turned over to corporate enterprises, whose only aim is profits. Additional lands are taken by governments for publicly provided infrastructure such as roads, and water and electricity are provided by the state to aid these projects. The recipients of this governmental largesse read like the Fortune Global 500. Resistance to them means directly confronting neoliberal “globalization,” with the most marginalized and poorest sectors of Indian society at the forefront of the struggle.
In facilitating such investors, the ruling political parties of India have confirmed the charge by the Maoists that they have lost whatever claim they might have once had to being representatives of the nation or its states as a whole, much less the vast majority of the people, or even the domestic capitalist class. They have instead become “comprador bureaucratic bourgeoisie”—what Latin Americans call vendepatria, those who sell their native land—acting in the interests of “imperial globalization.” Especially since the turn to neoliberal policies after 1991, this “is a commentary on the so-called ‘development’ model introduced by the Indian ruling classes and their political representatives who had sold out our country’s resources by hoodwinking people and also by drowning their resistance in pools of blood.”36 The last decade has seen an explosion of investment from abroad, subordinating India to outside forces.
Right now Indian economy is a foreign capital sponsored economy. Foreign Institutional Investment as well as Foreign Direct Investment together are rising rapidly from 5861 million US dollar to 51167 million US dollar between 2001-02 and 2009-10 fiscal. Between April-September, 2010, FII and FDI together increased by 29,137 million US dollar. Over this period of nine years and a half (9½), foreign investment grew ten fold. At present, more than a quarter of capital working in India is foreign capital. This ever growing basket of foreign capital acts as the catalyst spurring the Indian actors to dance to the tune set by the global players which is euphemistically called growth and development.37
Such an influx has been attracted, in turn, only by converting India into a new-style colony of capitalist imperialism. Today it is global capital to which a leading portion of the ruling classes has pledged their colonial-like servitude, in return for a large payoff.
‘Globalization’ is forcing middle India to colonize her own people. This is nothing new. It happened under British rule too. Since the days of Siraj-ud-daula [a Bengali ruler, defeated by the East India Company, and then murdered, in 1757], the various Nawabs and Rajas, a section of the Indian elite has steadfastly stood by the imperialists, helped them run Empires, and made a buck for themselves.38
As a result, multinational corporations today create their own restricted preserves, just as the British once did. These are extraterritorial zones from which both the people of India and the legal reach of the government are now largely excluded. “Enclave development, once a mainstay of the colonial state, has made a glorious come back in contemporary Indian economic policy.”39 Each SEZ, in particular, results in “the formation of a ‘foreign country within the country’, where no civil laws or industrial laws of the country will be applicable.”40 This “foreignness” is even given formal recognition under the law.41
By seizing the land of India and turning it over to the multinationals, the ruling parties serve as gendarmes for global capital, whether homegrown or brought in from abroad, and give a dominant role in setting Indian economic policies to imperial finance and trade bodies. “There is no longer an industrial, propertied, elite in India, therefore, that is interested in joining ranks with middle India to renegotiate power with imperialists. Instead all negotiations will happen henceforth in the UN, the WTO, the G8 summits, and the World Economic Forums.”42 This recolonization extends to the countryside as well, enforced by those imperialist institutions that facilitate penetration by multinationals.
The structural adjustment programme and WTO trade regime in the decade of the 90s, have brought about a new crisis of rural livelihoods. The new economic regime, in a way, has taken us back to the colonial era, where the process of surplus accumulation and utilisation is once again to be mediated by metropolitan capital.
The state withdrew from its earlier declared role of intervening in the market processes to protect economic space of domestic producers and among them that of small producers and weaker sections. The elaborate structure of controls on domestic and international trade and on investment has been dismantled rapidly…. The multinationals and big domestic units are now allowed to enter into these activities.43
Import controls were taken down and trade policies liberalized, with the result that “prices of all primary commodities (including wheat and rice) have fallen dramatically since mid 90s.” The resulting loss of the value of their crops has been devastating for small producers. But this penetration goes even further. “Agribusiness is fast acquiring control on the input and output flows of the farm sector with the acquiescence of Indian state,” and contract farming, in which corporations provide everything needed to grow a crop, and decide what is produced and the price paid for it, has spread into the rural areas, subordinating them to imperialist capital.44
As a result, with government backing, Indian farms and forests alike are falling victim to forces beyond national control, returning them to a kind of pre-Independence status. The willingness to use even those laws and repressive methods that have their origin under British rule, and to rely on a ponderous and corrupt bureaucracy inherited from that time—“an imperial edifice built on feudal foundations”45—only reinforces the sense of continuity between these “old” and “new” forms of colonialization, and the loss of sovereignty to outside powers, just as India proclaims its new “shining” image. The choice of adivasi forest lands, in particular, as easy targets for the contracting of SEZs and MOUs, builds on the historic suppression of tribal communities.46 It is a prime example of what the Maoists term the “semi-feudal, semi-colonial” character of Indian society, undermining the democratic exercise of governmental power.
India may be the world’s largest democracy, but it remains dogged by the twin legacies of feudalism and colonialism, which have meant that citizens are treated like subjects. Officials who are meant to serve them often act more like feudal lords than representatives of the people.47
Under this dual legacy, global capital is invited in to exploit the lands and labor of some of the most oppressed peoples to be found anywhere in the world, those who have for centuries suffered from both exclusion and abuse under its caste, class, ethnic and gender systems. In this way, many of the most powerful multinationals unite with feudalistic remnants in the expansion of the SEZs, which now stretch across India, promoted by virtually every political party that holds office, regardless of its ideological orientation.48
But it is in West Bengal that this has yielded its most ironic and dramatic results, for there seizure of lands and close collaboration with global capitalists has been carried out under the “Left Front” state government led by the CPI (M). Though ostensibly still “communist,” and holding the longstanding loyalty of many of its leftist members, including in its national trade union, this parliamentary party has long since degenerated after thirty years in office in a fashion similar to that of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional in Mexico, which held a virtual political monopoly for decades, enforced with strong-arm efficiency. As with the PRI, despite progressive aspects to its historic record, and social programs that are still more liberal at times than those of its more bourgeois rivals, whatever more radical tendencies the CPI (M) once had were long ago “institutionalized” into a complex mixture of compromised ideology, corrupted political power, and crony patronage—a pattern found not only in West Bengal, but in Kerala and other centers of its power. Especially on the local level, all of this is held in place by the often brutal repression of those who oppose its rule, using not only state police, but party cadre, and thugs and goons, known as harmads—a name that derives from the Portuguese pirates or armadas,dating back to Mughal times in the feudal era. Some CPI (M) leaders have even embraced neoliberal “globalization,” and become ardent admirers of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), with which they have held meetings. Just as the CCP has generated decades of explosive economic growth through introducing capitalist “reforms” and “opening to the world,” inviting in foreign investors and “globalizing” trade, so the CPI (M) has adopted a similar approach, becoming among the most aggressive of state leaderships in promoting SEZs, despite widespread criticism from its own ranks. Now it has plans to take tens of thousands of acres of land and lease them for manufacturing and mining operations and real estate projects, potentially forcing up to 2.5 million people from their homes to make way for multinational corporations, both homegrown and foreign.49 The result is a cynical political and economic alliance. As one leftist in China put it in condemning similar policies there, “the capitalists and the communists” have joined together to exploit the working classes and oppressed peoples.
Singur, Nandigram, Lalgarh
But resistance to these abuses is mounting. For hundreds of millions of farmers, and thousands of adivasi communities, land is the indispensable basis for the survival of their very lives and their cultural heritage. They are not just determined, but compelled, to fight, and even die for it. The more that the state and multinational corporations try to steal their lands, the greater their resistance, and the more ready their willingness to turn to revolutionaries to help protect them. In the past five years, three explosive conflicts have erupted in West Bengal over attempts to impose SEZs on areas populated primarily by the poorest and most marginalized sectors of society. These efforts ignited a firestorm of popular rebellion, fed by decades-long grievances over the brutality and corruption with which their communities have been treated, as well as the failure to provide their areas with even the most basic infrastructure, like roads and irrigation projects, locally controlled economic programs, and social services, such as health care and education. These widening revolts had as their goals not only to block the imposition of the SEZs, therefore, but to demand environmentally sound development and long denied societal supports. They also called for the new forms of popular democratic control needed to implement such changes. But they were instead met once again with massive state repression. This, in turn, only opened the door for the advancement of Maoist forces.
The first eruption came in Singur, 40 miles west of Kolkata, when CPI (M) Chief Minister of the state, Buddhadeb Bhattachary, announced in May, 2006, that some 1,000 acres of especially fertile farmland would be seized by the government and leased to Tata Motors—a branch of what was long the preeminent multinational corporation in India, owned by its leading capitalist family, which now gets 70% of its revenues from abroad. This SEZ would have destroyed 11 villages and robbed some 1,000 small farmers, and thousands more of their tenants and farm laborers, of the lands they worked, undermining the entire local economy. Overall, some 20,000 were affected—compared to an estimate of just 1,000 employees that the new auto plant would hire—losing not only their livelihoods, but traditional cultural and religious venues, and educational and social centers.50 The launching of this SEZ was nontransparent and undemocratic, with local communities not even consulted, and the state government later admitting that some land had been seized forcibly without legal consent. Those losing their farms were offered inadequate payments, while the landless were left with no compensation at all. Women, in most cases not holding title to family land, were especially hard hit. Villages closest to the proposed plant suffered the most, after Tata built a fence that cut off day laborers from nearby fields, with devastating economic and environmental effects. In reaction, a highly unusual class alliance of landowners and sharecroppers, supported even by their landless workers, refused to accept compensation. Led by a locally formed resistance committee, mass protests erupted, one having 15,000 participants, with women especially active in the leadership. Protesters blockaded roads, surrounded party offices, and militantly, at times violently, blocked those working for Tata. State police and paramilitaries guarded the SEZ property and brutally attacked demonstrators, resulting in dead and injured. CPI (M) cadre and harmads joined in, even raping and murdering one young woman leader.51
But the Singur villagers were not without allies. The opposition Trinamool, a split off from the national Congress party, used the opportunity to mount a local drive against the ruling CPI (M), while in Kolkata, there were large demonstrations, and a wide coalition of civic groups and intelligentsia joined in supporting the struggle. In the end, Tata could not withstand the public pressure, and abandoned the plant. But the land remained in state hands, still fenced off from local communities, many of them left permanently ruined. The Trinamool also reversed its position, after it joined the national ruling coalition, and agreed to new projects for “developing” the SEZ, thereby revealing the opportunism of its earlier opposition. The success at Singur in turning back the Tatas was therefore hollow and short lived, since it left only an unresolved land dispute and devastated adivasi region in its wake, and it is generally viewed as a defeat. It signaled, nevertheless, that a popular uprising backed by urban supporters could force a powerful alliance of the West Bengal state and a leading multinational to back down, even if only temporarily. It also raised the specter of a strengthening of the power of the CPI (Maoist), which helped to provide support for the struggle in Singur, as did other leftist parties.
This role was even more critical in the next clash, at Nandigram, a CPI (M) stronghold southwest of Kolkata, where in early 2007 the Left Front again tried to impose an SEZ, this time seizing over 10,000 acres for a chemical hub to be built by the Salim Group, the largest conglomerate in Indonesia—partly financed by Dow Chemical, owner of Union Carbide, which in 1984 caused thousands of deaths with the release of toxic gases at its Bhopal plant, an open sore that still haunts India. To clear the land for this project, some 100,000 villagers were to be displaced, wiping out entire communities, with scores of schools and religious centers demolished. But the people of Nandigram, mostly Muslims and lower-caste Hindus, drew on a long history of prior struggle. In the anti-colonial movement of the early 1940s, they freed the area of British control and set up their own regional government for almost two years. Later they again took part in at times violent Communist-led struggles, in which women played a leading role, for reduction in rents and to demand development projects and services. Now these small farmers, garment workers, laborers, fishers and shop owners rose up again. As at Singur, a Committee Against Eviction from the Land was formed, bringing together representatives from Muslim organizations, Naxalite factions, the Trinamool, and even defecting cadre from CPI (M), who put defense of their lands and communities ahead of party loyalty. When security forces, backed as usual by harmads, responded to protests with gunfire and the murder of three committee members, the entire region erupted. Several attackers and a CPI (M) informer were killed, police vans and party offices burned and roads blocked, and the Left Front administration driven out of the area for three months. The government retaliated by mobilizing thousands of heavily armed security personnel, and party cadre and goons, to reclaim the area. They were met by 10,000 protesters, with Hindu and Muslim women in the lead. Though unarmed, on the advice of political party leaders, they were attacked with live ammunition. In the massacre that ensued, at least 14 were killed and 70 wounded—later reports put the toll much higher—and the entire region was subjected to a reign of state and CPI (M) terror, brutality and rape.
The shock was felt not only in West Bengal, but nationally. Large protests were held in Kolkata and other cities, and the name of the CPI (M) was indelibly stained with blood. But the people of Nandigram, far from being intimidated, fought back with an even greater ferocity than before. Armed with whatever primitive weapons they had at hand, some 20,000 villagers drove the CPI (M) cadre and harmads from the area once again. Faced with a total boycott of the police, who were denied even food by the local community, the security forces fell back, restrained by widespread public revulsion at their murderous behavior. For nine months, until November 2007, Nandigram was again in the hands of the people, and the Left Front was forced to cancel its plans for the SEZ. In place of its authority, local communities set up an alternative administration, taking over governmental functions and putting them under popular control. Women organized their own movement, overcoming objections from their husbands to their activism, and extending the struggle to such issues as domestic violence and the closing of liquor stores. But attacks and a blockade of the area continued, and with elections looming, the Left Front was determined to bring the region back under its control. On November 5, CPI (M) cadre and harmads, backed by mercenaries from neighboring states and a range of security forces, launched a massive attack, killing dozens, burning and looting villages, taking hundreds prisoner, carrying out mass rapes and molestations, and driving 10,000-15,000 villagers into refugee camps, the forests or out of the area altogether.52
Once again, however, these actions were met with great public outrage, and by massive protests in Kolkata. Despite the deaths and pillage that they had suffered, those resisting in Nandigram inspired others. The movement spread, strengthening activists struggling against SEZs and forced displacement elsewhere, who began to link up across state lines and to organize nationally. But though tens of thousands had taken part in the Nandigram mobilization, their bottom up organizing under an ostensibly “nonpartisan” resistance committee had been partly undermined by power struggles and factional fights among the political parties involved.53 Just as at Singur, therefore, the normal workings of the parliamentary party system proved inadequate, and the greater the attack on the people—who learned a bitter lesson in trying to confront the state with little or no arms—the more they turned for help to revolutionary forces. The CPI (Maoist) sent its cadre to assist Nandigram, and many of those forced out of the region sought shelter 30 miles to the west, where its guerrilla army had a strong base. From this a key lesson was learned. Dependence on parliamentary processes and parties, even including leftist ones, had only led to losses and weakness, while the resistance of the people with traditional weapons, however brave, was inadequate to provide protection. The Maoists, in contrast, offered both an alliance not resting on legislative politics, and the armed forces to back it up.54
This new understanding carried over to the third mass uprising. At Salboni in the western part of the state, the Jindal Group, an Indian multinational with operations in Indonesia and Bolivia, was granted 4,500 acres of land for a massive steel plant, which threatened once again to displace adivasi forest communities. When Maoist guerrillas bombed the car caravan carrying Chief Minister Bhattachary as he returned from having inaugurated this SEZ in November 2008—he only narrowly escaped—the Left Front government once again retaliated with its usual massive indiscriminate violence against the neighboring region of Lalgarh, which it suspected of complicity in the attack. But after a long history of discrimination, corruption, brutality and lack of social services, this proved to be the last straw for the members of this tribal community. As in Singur and Nandigram before them, the villagers of Lalgarh rose up in rebellion. The name of the organization that they formed, People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA; sometimes PCPA), said it all. Yet learning from the negative lessons at Singur and Nandigram, and to avoid the internal divisions and factionalism that weakened those movements, the Lalgarh PCAPA was open to anyone, but only if they joined as individuals, not as members of political parties.
Instead, the CPI (Maoist), whose cadre had for decades organized in the region against the oppressive landlords and forest department officials, and whose guerrilla army was active there, moved to the forefront. One villager in the Lalgarh area explained to a group of visiting students the reasons for rejection of the parliamentary parties and their methods of control, and the turn to the Maoists as an alternative to support their struggle.
“Earlier, this area was a Jharkhand Party and Left-front dominated belt. They did not do anything for the betterment of this backward region. We talked to the Maoists and told them about our problems. They have mass support in the region as they are fighting with and for the poorest of the poor … Earlier the CPI (M) used to control everything through the weapon of fear. But our movement has made us free from fear. The Maoists actively support the movement that we are waging. The people here have come to realize very well by now that they cannot come out of their misery if they keep supporting the parliamentary parties. All these parties are of the same kind and they all bring only misery to us.”55
At first, the PCAPA only demanded an apology from the authorities for the brutality of their earlier attack. But a turning point came in June 2009, when after several days of protests, a rally against the arrest and reported rape of adivasi women was again attacked by harmads at Dharampur. “The rallyists couldn’t resist this attack and dispersed, but then a Maoist squad arrived and started a gun battle with the CPI (M) cadres, which continued till late in the night. With their superior firepower, the Maoists gunned down at least nine of the CPI (M) attackers.”56 The next day, 10,000-20,000 adivasis again protested at various locations, seized control of Dharampur and Lalgarh and, with a squad of CPI (Maoist) fighters offering protection, burnt down the CPI (M) offices, killed some of its members, and dismantled the palatial home of the most hated of its local party tyrants, Anuj Pandey. From then on, the uprising of the adivasis and the armed support of the Maoists reached a new and higher level of fusion.
A “Hunan” but not yet a “Yan’an”
The breadth and depth of the popular explosion at Lalgarh, nevertheless, caught even the most hardened revolutionary Maoists by surprise. “It has emerged as a new model of mass movement in the country,” as Ganapathi, General Secretary of the CPI (Maoist) put it. In this it closely parallels the experience of the Chinese Communists eighty years earlier. When in spring of 1927, Mao went high into the mountains of his native Hunan province, he was amazed to find that a revolutionary peasant struggle was already underway, assisted by Communists who had been working in the region. The uprising of the Hunanese peasantry provided the spark that led to the shift by the party later that year to rural bases, following the murderous purge of urban Communists by Chiang Kai-shek. The Red Army founded by Mao and Zhu De set up its first stronghold in the mountain fastnessof Jinggangshan in the Hunan-Jiangxi border region, a model for the peasant revolution and guerrilla warfare that, after more than two decades of struggle, would lead to nationwide victory in 1949. From the beginning, the Indian Maoists hoped to repeat this process. At the founding of the CPI (Marxist-Leninist) in 1969, they even declared “Naxalbari—the Chingkang mountain [Jinggangshan] of India.”57 There were many parallels between the early uprisings in Hunan and West Bengal. But from the start, there were also significant differences. Naxalbari never achieved even the limited security of Jinggangshan, and it did not lead to a permanent and relatively unified armed force like the Red Army in China. As a result, the Maoists in India have found themselves repeating the experience of a “Hunan” over and over, as the centers of the movement shifted from one area to another in response to popular struggles, and it is only recently that they formed a People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army like that of Mao and Zhu.
Lalgarh, some forty years after Naxalbari, is only the latest such linking up of Maoist armed forces and mass revolt. Its nature, however, carries greater significance than most uprisings over the past four decades. Lalgarh is sometimes referred to as the “second Naxalbari,” because of the way in which it combines popular uprising and the Maoist revolution. But there are critical differences. At Naxalbari, “Being uneducated and poor, the tribals depended on the Communists to lead their struggles against wealthy vested interests.”58 Well into the 1970s and beyond, the movement was led largely by middle class activists. But the West Bengal rebellions have altered this relationship, as popular forces themselves took the lead. At Lalgarh, this progression reached a new level. Just as Mao was astonished by the depth and breadth of the peasant rebellion that he “discovered” in 1927, from which he learned critical lessons, so Indian Maoists have drawn new insights from the unanticipated and explosive nature of the latest uprising. As Ganapathi puts it:
Yes, our party too has a lot to learn from the masses of Lalgarh. Their upsurge was beyond our expectations. In fact, it was the common people, with the assistance of advanced elements influenced by revolutionary politics, who played a crucial role in the formulation of tactics. They formed their own organisation, put forth their charter of demands, worked out various novel forms of struggle, and stood steadfast in the struggle despite the brutal attacks by the police and the social-fascist Harmad gangs.59
But is Lalgarh a new Indian “Hunan,” opening a further stage in the Maoist revolutionary struggle? How closely do the popular uprisings in West Bengal resemble the earlier ones of the peasants in China? Is the strategy of Chinese Communists in the 1920s still viable for Indian Maoists in the 2010s? To what extent has the CPI (Maoist) been able to lead the entire left, as the CCP was able to do? In what ways are the conditions faced by the revolutionary forces in India and China parallel or different? Since CPI (Maoist) still models itself on the Chinese revolution, and especially on the strategy of “surrounding the cities from the countryside,” it is necessary to analyze the degree to which it has done so successfully, the effectiveness of its current practices and its prospects for the future.
The peasant revolution that Mao found in Hunan and the Lalgarh uprising are surprisingly similar, even at times down to their smallest details. The Hunanese peasants organized their own associations, which seized power from landlords and moneylenders and their agents. Villagers “crowned” local tyrants with tall paper hats and paraded them publicly, and in the case of the worst abusers, confronted them with mass demonstrations, took over their homes, stripped them of their wealth, and imprisoned or even executed them. Peasants formed militias, armed mainly with traditional spears—soon to be backed by the Red Army—to replace private armies of the landlords. The peasant associations suppressed the political and judicial authorities of the landlord class. In its place, the local administration was taken over by a joint council of the county magistrate and the revolutionary mass organizations. Peasant associations assumed the handling of disputes, including even domestic ones. They also reduced rents and interest, formed buying and credit cooperatives, and forced wealthy landlords to repair roads and embankments. For the largely illiterate peasantry, education became a top priority, with new schools opened not only for children, but for adults. Villagers also took up social issues, challenging the old repressive clan and religious structures. Women formed their own associations, to combat the “masculine authority of husbands,” abuse by men, and denial of an equal right to participate in all areas of society, including peasant association meetings. “Bad habits” such as drugs, gambling and carousing were suppressed. As Mao concluded, “the forces of rural democracy have risen to overthrow the forces of rural feudalism.”60
In similar fashion, the PCAPA in Lalgarh organized mass protests, some in the tens of thousands, and took power from the CPI (M) cadre and harmads, who have assumed the powers and privileges of local rulers. As in Hunan, the most abusive tyrants are sometimes draped with shoes before parading them through the villages. Some had their houses burned, were driven from the area, or were even killed. The adivasis protect their communities with traditional weapons, such as bows and arrows, knives, and even red chili powder. As the PCAPA has put it, “To defend ourselves from the CPM backed terrorists and murderers, we had to form the militia. Without it, we would not have been able to protect the lives of our friends and supporters and we would not have been able to continue our resistance.”61 As in China, the Lalgarh militia was increasingly backed up by better armed Communist guerrilla forces, those of the CPI (Maoist). Though existing civil administration offices were left in place, demands were made that they submit to popular control, and give up their dependence on the state security forces, which were blockaded and boycotted. In place of notoriously corrupt and CPI (M) dominated courts, PCAPA committees directly resolved disputes and administered justice, with input from the entire community. They also began guaranteeing a minimal amount of land to poor farmers. The PCAPA largely bypassed the old conservative religious organizations, and combated superstitions like witch-hunting, in their place promoting indigenous pride in long suppressed tribal languages and culture. Women, who suffer most from humiliation and abuse, took the lead from the beginning, especially in mass protests and the parading of local tyrants. They formed their own wing of the PCAPA to combat official mistreatment, domestic violence, pornography, alcoholism and gambling. Village committees are required to be 50% female, and higher ones 30%, a similar proportion to that guaranteed women on local governing bodies in West Bengal.62
In Lalgarh, as in Hunan, therefore, “the forces of rural democracy have risen to overthrow the forces of rural feudalism.” It was the people themselves who opened this new era in their long struggle. Rejecting the “large” democracy of Indian parliamentary politics, the adivasi communities created a revolutionary “small” democratic process, one that rests directly on the village population, not on corrupt or opportunistic parties. Each PCAPA committee is democratically chosen by all the people, with similar bodies at the higher levels. Decisions are brought before a general assembly for ratification. This new form of democracy was critical for the success and spread of the movement. By June, 2009, the entire Jungalmahal region, of which Lalgarh is part, was inflamed with its bottom up spirit, and some 1,100 villages were involved in the struggle. As in China, they found their main support from revolutionaries under Maoist leadership, who offered them organizational assistance and the backing of a modern force of dedicated guerrilla fighters. Their popular opposition to parliamentary parties was also given impetus by the CPI (Maoist), which spurns the legislative process as an undemocratic betrayal of the oppressed. In the 2009 elections to the lower house of Parliament, it encouraged, at times forcefully, a boycott, and the PCAPA refused to allow the setting up of polling booths if accompanied by security forces. While others in the community took part in the voting, and state officials demanded a normal ballot that they were prepared to impose by force,
Eventually … only 12% polling took place in Lalgarh. The people clearly expressed their resentment against all parliamentary political parties to us. They said that they were completely disillusioned by electoral politics, where pre-poll promises melt into thin air as soon as the votes were over. “No elected representative ever visits our villages except during elections,” said the villagers of Sindurpur … “We are now making our own regime.”63
The boycott was largely effective, therefore, but further widened an already deep split within the left, between those still committed to a parliamentary approach and the forces of a revolutionary “new democracy.” While debate continues over the 2009 election and the Maoist role in it, there are now two competing models of an Indian democratic system.
Similarly, on the economic and social plane, a new program of “participatory development,” encouraged by the Maoists, took on projects long neglected by the Left Front, such as road repairs, “people’s health camps”—assisted by medical personnel from Kolkata—schools, tube wells, dams, irrigation and environmental improvements, using only local resources, collective efforts, and voluntary inputs of money and labor. In this way, parallel with newer democratic processes, the Lalgarh movement put into practice an alternative developmental policy, resting primarily on their own communities. It has also demanded waiver of rents, provision of cultivable land to all the poor, protection of the forests, and the planting of indigenous trees.64 With Maoist backing, villagers were able to force a doubling of wages paid for the collection of tendu leaves used in making tobacco filled bidi, a major source of local income, often controlled by abusive and corrupt traders. Such activities refute the charge that the CPI (Maoist) is limited to armed struggle—though its guerrilla army is the guarantor of its ability to carry out these other areas of its work. Instead, the upsurge in popular democratic participation has been extended beyond political power into the closely interrelated realms of economic, cultural and social matters. “With the setting up of the PCPA, the adivasis had been running their own affairs, and even taking up much-needed developmental work, a whiff of functioning democracy in the middle of the hoax that goes by the name of democratic governance in large parts of India.”65 This popular alternative system now poses the greatest threat to the ruling political parties and exploitative classes that they represent. As a local journalist, Amitava Rath, put it, “The rebels have started carrying out some development work as if they are already running a state within a state.”66
In Lalgarh, faced with this new alliance of popular power and the CPI (Maoist), the West Bengal authorities fell back, though only temporarily. Pressure not to commit another “Nandigram” restrained their initial response. But by June, 2009, in part to enforce the parliamentary elections, they launched a counterattack, this time using not only their own fully militarized police powers and CPI (M) party elements, but units of the national security forces as well. This battle still rages fiercely today. Yet despite massive repression, “the rebels are still present.”67 Having shown that the adivasis are willing to die rather than return to the old order, the PCAPA continues to exercise its newfound autonomy, and to pursue its own revolutionary program, backed up by CPI (Maoist) and its guerrilla army. Regardless of the outcome, a turning point has therefore been reached. In Lalgarh, the merging of popular rebellion and Maoist revolutionary forces has raised the struggle to new heights, moving it to center stage. In this sense it is a new Indian “Hunan,” that holds the prospect of repeating the Chinese “model.” Yet in one sense, the experience in India stands the one in China on its head. The revolutionary peasant uprising in Hunan came near the beginning of the Chinese Communist struggle. In India, by contrast, there have been several peasant rebellions in the years since Independence, and Lalgarh itself comes at the end of what is already 40 years of experience in making Maoist revolution.
There are further significant differences. The Indian Maoists have still not been able to secure a longterm liberation base area like the one the Communists in China managed to establish. Even the Chinese revolutionaries could only hold on to their initial southern soviets for a few years. But, after being driven out by the forces under Chiang Kai-shek, they undertook the Long March, finally finding a longlasting stronghold in Yan’an in Shaanxi province from 1935-47. The Indian Maoists have also held and lost many bases over the decades, always hoping that they too could achieve a similar relative security as the Chinese Communists. As early as 1969, Charu Mazumdar expressed the conviction that the struggle in the Srikakulam region of Andhra Pradesh showed “that India will create her own Yenan [Yan’an] in the near future.” Other Maoists even hoped that that revolutionary area itself could become such a stronghold.68 But it was not to be. The Maoists have been driven more than once from their bases in Andhra Pradesh, and the closest that they have come to gaining longterm security is in the deep forest region of Dandakaranya in Chhattisgarh, and in similar parts of Jarkhand and Orissa that they have held, in varying degrees, for decades. But the isolation of these forests, where even now the Maoist guerrillas must be frequently on the move, is a far cry from the small Chinese city of Yan’an, with its cave dwellings offering protection from bombing, and its ability to provide the Red Army with a relatively safe base area. The Indian Maoists have not been able to establish the same kind of center for their operations. In this sense, they have had their “Hunan,” but they have not yet found their “Yan’an.”
This has further consequences. Yan’an was not just a physical refuge that the Chinese Communists held for over a decade, which they were able to defend against both Chiang Kai-shek and the Japanese, and from which they were able to launch their own offensive operations and expand the areas which were under their control. It was also a magnet for progressive and left forces from throughout China. Many intellectuals, artists and professionals, in particular, found their way to Yan’an, to join the revolution and provide it with much needed skills, such as medical care, as well as cultural resources. This allowed it to become a symbol and reality of the “other China” that the Communists were beginning to build, even in the midst of war, an alternate center of national authority. In contrast, though Indian Maoists have been able to set up some relatively secure forest “safe havens,” their inability to establish and hold a single longterm base like the Chinese, means that they have been on the strategic defensive up until now, and have no central alternative stronghold to which supporters can rally. Though some doctors, intellectuals, artists and others have joined the revolutionaries in the forests, their numbers are limited.
The Maoists may be able to hold their forest bases, therefore, and even expand out from them, but so far they have not been able to establish a semipermanent national pole of the ”other India.” Their ability to do so is further complicated by the divisive nature of Indian society, where many still identify more closely with their region, language, culture, ethnicity, caste or religion, than with the nation as a whole. This too is a legacy of the British, who forced together disparate areas, but never completed their integration—before splitting Pakistan off altogether. To mold a new revolutionary unity out of such a divided social order is a profound challenge to the Indian Maoists—a more difficult task than the Communists faced in the less splintered society of China, despite its regional differences and semi-colonial enclaves. They are also confronted—unlike the Chinese Communists—with a parliamentary democracy. This system, with its multiple parties and political centers, national and regional, reflects and reinforces the diversity of Indian society, but—partly for this very reason—holds the allegiance of many in the population, who still see it as the best route to express the goals of their communities, and share in the power needed to reach them. Such contradictions and divisions have impact within the Maoist revolutionary forces as well, limiting their efforts to reach national unity and demonstrate an alternative development model. This in turn has restricted their ability to expand their appeal beyond their forest bases, kept them largely isolated from many in the cities, and raised doubts about their capacity to overcome the Indian state.
Sandwiches and chapatis, vegetarian and non-vegetarian
The barriers to revolution, therefore, are both physical and social. The CPI (Maoist) has so far failed, with important exceptions, to win over to their side much of the rest of the Indian left and the mainly urban progressive intellectual and professional stratum. The effect of this holding back by leftists and progressives is stark, lending at least passive, and at times active, support to the status quo, in the name of “democracy.”
Perhaps we can put it this way: fortunately for the state today, the poorest of the poor who have been organised by the Maoists in the different parts of the country have not come up with a movement good enough for the middle classes or the urban democratic left to join, as in Bengal in the first half of the 1970s or during some phases of the struggle in Andhra Pradesh. This time around, one might say, the poorest of the poor have failed the urban middle class left, which is wedded to “democracy”; they have betrayed the cause of “democracy” by going ahead with the undemocratic Maoists! How else can we understand the fact that large sections of the non-Maoist radical left refuse to join the raging struggle, instead posing as “civil society”, trying to instill the due process of law and bring “peace”, that is, when they are not busy point out the faults of the “uncivil” Maoists.69
The CPI (Maoist) is of course anathema to most of the ruling parties and wealthy classes, but criticisms of its methods and doubts about its prospects are widely shared among the intelligentsia and in leftist circles. Even these critics commonly express admiration for the dedication and courage of its cadre and fighters, and it is not unusual to hear them say, “if I were younger, or more willing to take risks, or less tied down to family or career, I might join them.” Many of those who criticize the revolutionary Maoists are themselves also lifelong activists who courageously struggled for radical social change, often at great personal sacrifice, including long years of hardship and imprisonment. Not a few of them go back in their activism to Naxalbari itself. So attention must be paid to their critiques.
The list varies, but among the most common themes are that the CPI (Maoist) wants to put in place a one-party state, a classic “dictatorship of the proletariat,” and that in the areas under its control, it excludes and even suppresses all other parties. Many object to what they see as a violation of the multiparty system, and fear that a Maoist victory would mean the end to all forms of civil liberties and political freedom. Some also hold the view that India is not, as Maoists claim, a semi-feudal, semi-colonial nation, but rather a modern capitalist economy that, while highly exploitative, is that of a fully independent state, with a parliamentary democracy in which even most of the poor still believe. Others note that the Indian working class is undergoing rapid changes, in which casual and unorganized forms of labor are already dominant, undermining the basis for a “classical” proletarian-led revolution. A closely related critique is that the Maoist forces are isolated in the forests and unable to expand beyond their primarily tribal base. In this view, the main agricultural population in the plains, and especially urban workers, remain largely beyond their reach and ability to organize. Others hold that the CPI (Maoist) is not so much a national force, as a collection of semi-autonomous regional units, and that its liberated zones are relatively unstable, and unable to carry out development projects or provide civil services, while at the same time obstructing those of the state. That leads, from this viewpoint, to excessive reliance on military force and violence, and to overly adventuristic actions. Some even note that the Indian party lacks a single dominant and charismatic revolutionary leader, such as Mao Zedong, around whom to rally. Overall, for many such critics, the state and military in India are simply too powerful to confront, much less overcome, with the guerrilla strategy that the Maoists have been forced to adopt. For both substantive reasons, therefore, and the tendency to want “to go with the winner,” many progressives and leftists hold back from, or even oppose, the CPI (Maoist).
Of all the critiques leveled at the party and its actions, however, the most damning and ubiquitous is the “sandwich” theory. Over and over again, critics of the CPI (Maoist) claim that it lacks broad popular support, and instead, through its violent attacks, places the poor and oppressed in the “middle” between its revolutionary guerrillas and the state. This theory takes various forms. To some, adivasis are seen as a passive population, who are caught and crushed between two larger forces beyond their control. For others, tribal uprisings, such as in Lalgarh, are an expression of the “purity of the people,” a kind of “noble savage” role, while the “unprincipled and opportunistic” Maoists are viewed as having stripped them of the ability to serve as their own subjective political actors.70 Still others assert that the goals of the adivasis are limited to only practical demands for improvement of their situation, and that they are not interested in seizing state power. In the most extreme version, these critics assert that the mass demonstrations in the CPI (Maoist) areas are based on coercion by the party, that it indiscriminately kills any who oppose it, and that its attacks serve only to bring down repression by the state. In any case, the claim is made that the majority of the population are the main sufferers, while “It is the duty of middle India, according to the ‘sandwich theory’, to ‘rescue’ the hapless Adivasis and rural poor from the armed combatants.”71 Clinging to such “apparent neutrality” and similar reasoning, many of those who supported struggles in Singur and Nandigram are much more hesitant to rally for Lalgarh, with its closer ties to Maoists.72
But there is an alternative view of this relation. Until now, according to such a standpoint, the adivasis and other oppressed communities have for long been crushed under the heavy power of the state, and the brutal exploitation and abuse of upper castes and classes, as in a “sandwich” with only one piece of bread on the top. Viewed in this way, Maoists have finally provided the “bottom slice,” the ability to resist and fight back
In the yesteryears there were no Maoists. No political intervention from outside. And yet autonomous revolts got defeated in no time though all these movements created social mobility and consciousness for the next phase of rebellion. The violent past helped them raise their sights. This time tribals revolted against the attacks on their livelihoods, and objective condition was such that Maoist intervention was logical to sustain resistance against the mighty state and fill up the subjective vacuum. Had not the Maoists intervened, the struggle for survival could have been crushed much earlier. The Maoist presence is delaying the victory of armed forces over a community that has nothing to lose other than shame and drudgery. In many cases tribals themselves invited the naxalites….73
Earlier adivasi revolts were beaten down, in other words, regardless of any “sandwich.”
Now those who rebel against oppression at least have a base to rest on and to help defend them, an improvement even if they are in the “middle.” Calls on the Maoists to “leave the people alone,” in their “natural” condition, just serve to weaken them once again in the face of their oppressors, and to abandon them virtually disarmed against those in power. There is a special irony here. When Mazumdar called for the peasants to “annihilate” the landlords and moneylenders who oppressed them—a much disputed policy even within the Naxalite movement—he at first insisted that they use only their own conventional weapons, “choppers, spears, javelins and sickles,” not guns, which would lessen the self-initiation and immediacy of their revolt, and make them reliant on others for arms.74 Now, in a strange echo of the Naxalbari leader, some who oppose the CPI (Maoist) suggest that reliance on its guerrilla army for support ruins the “purity” of the adivasis, who should confront a powerful modern state alone with their bows, arrows and knives. Yet whether it is a Maoist policy in 1970 or an anti-Maoist one in 2010, this kind of “primitivist” approach is inadequate. The oppressed and impoverished of India, like those everywhere, have the right to fight “by any means necessary,” to arm themselves with the most effective weapons available, and to choose those allies who offer them the greatest support and the best ability to resist the enemy, as they and they alone determine.
But the issue runs deeper, raising fundamental questions about the very nature of revolution itself. In every revolutionary or liberation struggle, it is the oppressed who suffer the most. They are always, in varying degrees, caught between those who are actively leading the rebellion, and those who are suppressing it. Leaders of a revolution commonly seek to exclude those who do not follow their particular approach, of whom there are always a goodly number, due to class and other divisions, and try to monopolize the means of struggle, as the only “true path” to ultimate victory. There are inevitably, therefore, contradictions between organized liberation forces and “the people.” This is as true of nonviolent as of violent ones. The Gandhian movement for independence adhered strictly to his commitment to nonviolence, but many who were not directly active, as well as those who were, still ended up “caught in the middle,” with the massive repression that it brought down on nonparticipants and protestors alike, the suspending of civil liberties, the brutal suppression of labor, and so on. Early on, Gandhi halted his campaign to insist that those who advocated or took part in violent actions be excluded, demanding a total monopoly over the methods used, while the Congress Party too assumed dominance, a role that lasted long after 1947. Together, they worked to suppress all alternate strategies, especially any attempts at armed revolution. In so doing, they ensured that the struggle would be limited principally to national liberation, rather than social transformation—despite the efforts of the Mahatma on behalf of “untouchables,” who he called harijans or “children of god,” and the agitation in some areas, notably Bengal, on behalf of the poor and landless peasants—and that in place of working class internationalism, the communal rift between Hindus and Muslims was given the space and time to flourish, helped along by the intentional policies of the British to exacerbate and exploit such divisions.
When victory was finally achieved, over a million died and millions more were displaced—a much greater loss of life and dislocation than anything so far associated with Indian Maoists—during the Partition into India and Pakistan that Gandhi was unable to prevent. Were they too caught in a “sandwich,” between the Independence struggle and the dying gasp of the divide-and-conquer British colonial state? The nonviolence of the Gandhian movement did not prevent violence, therefore, but only postponed and redirected it. Violent conflict, both organized and spontaneous, continuously broke out. All along, many were ready to take up arms, and to carry on a revolutionary struggle against class and caste inequality, a pent up demand that is again resurfacing, in popular uprisings and the Maoist led guerrillas. Regardless of the character of the movement, therefore, the “sandwich” theory, the “suffering of the innocents,” and the “exclusionary” actions of leaders—who are invariably labeled as “bandits,” “fakirs,” or “terrorists,” as Chinese Communists, Gandhi, or Indian Maoists were in turn—are always used by those in power to argue against rebellion, and to confuse its supporters. The same attacks are heard over and over again in an attempt to delegitimize such movements—those who opposed South African Apartheid, for example, by organizing divestment and boycott campaigns, were constantly warned that it was Black people that they were hurting most.
The masses of the oppressed themselves, however, are not fooled. They know that they will suffer if they rebel, and they make a carefully weighed calculation, whether it is better to leave their oppression in place and refuse to rise up against it, or to pay the short-term price, always extremely high, that any revolution inevitably brings. When they finally “vote with their feet” and choose their revolutionary leadership, it is not from naiveté. It is rather out of the decision that they would rather take their losses now—which are in any case ongoing under those who rule, exploit and abuse them—than to hold off for another day and hope for a better future. So too at Lalgarh, where
All the villagers that we met were aware of the impending attack by the state. But they did not appear to us to be scared. “We have been scared for too long. We have seen the worst of atrocities. It was only after we started the fight that we finally got independence. We cannot go back on this now. We must fight on to defend our independence.”75
It is evident that increasing numbers of the poor and oppressed in India are now making that choice. They have decided to pay the revolutionary price, whatever the cost.
From this standpoint, it is not the majority of the people, but rather progressives and the left, including much of the stratum of the “articulate” and “influential” members of society, who are feeling caught in a “sandwich” today. “Thus, it is middle India that is ‘sandwiched’ and feels beleaguered by the combatants.”76 The uprising of the adivasi and other oppressed parts of the population, increasingly linked to the Maoist revolutionaries, presents them with the old challenge: Which side are you on?77 As Mao had made clear in Hunan, the choices are to try to block the way forward of the revolutionary movement, to stand on the side and criticize it, or to embrace and help to lead it. The question before progressives and the left, he noted, was whether to say “it is terrible” or “it is fine.” The same choice now lies before those in India committed to radical change. In this sense, the image of a “sandwich” may not be the most appropriate. After all, “sandwiches”—named for an English earl—are, like parliamentary democracy, a British colonial import. It may be more relevant, therefore, to think of the Indian left as a kind of chapati, the ubiquitous flatbread that seems to go with virtually any dish, mild or spicy, vegetarian or non-vegetarian. Leftists and progressives in India have similarly adopted an almost unlimited variety of positions and approaches: parliamentary and non-parliamentary, Marxist and Gandhian, violent and nonviolent. By some counts, there are over 30 Indian Communist parties alone—almost half of them Naxalite—big and small, national and regional.78 Many of them are even further divided into factions, and their differences and disputes often go back for decades. They are not so much caught in the middle, as spread all over the political map, each pursuing their own separate methods of struggle and ideal visions of an Indian future. But they are now being confronted with a fundamentally new era, in which the democratic system as inherited from the British, despite its “Indianization,” is increasingly unable to meet the needs of growing millions, who are rising in rebellion. This development is challenging all the old approaches, regardless of their character. For those on the left, the choice is to continue each on their own path, or grasp the opportunity for a new revolutionary unity.
A fourth stage?
There is nothing intrinsically unique in the challenges facing the CPI (Maoist), either in the history of revolutions or in the record of the liberation struggle in India. The contradictions that it faces—difficulty in uniting the disparate elements of Indian society, strong resistance to raising up the most oppressed castes and communities, entrenched regional power brokers and economic interests—closely resemble the ones confronting previous movements, both violent and nonviolent. Nevertheless, there are aspects to carrying out revolution under the specific conditions in India in the current era that must be addressed in order to be successful. The CPI (Maoist) and its supporters are the first to admit that they face a very difficult path and that they do not have all the answers. In part these difficulties derive from their historic allegiance to the Chinese revolutionary experience, which at most can provide only a partial guideline for the struggle in 21st- century India. But this dialectic—following in the footsteps of earlier revolutionaries, while having to find newer ways forward at the same time—generates its own creative tension. Though the CPI (Maoist) adheres to the “model” of the revolution led by Mao in China, it is also adopting, both by necessity and design, and even perhaps at times in spite of itself, its own new adaptive approaches. These have less to do, in the first instance, with Chinese “Maoism,” than with the social movements and participatory democratic practices that began in the 1960s-70s, but were not consolidated globally until later decades, well into the post-Mao era. Also shaping the Indian Maoists are the experiences, both positive and negative, of the “first wave” of socialist revolutions, as well as the most recent forms of “globalization,” which have altered the terrain on which attempts to build a new social order now take place. The CPI (Maoist) may adhere to its declared path of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, in other words, but may simultaneously be opening up a new “fourth stage” in that progression, one that is more closely geared to the 21st century.
In this process, the very weaknesses to which its critics point may, in dialectical fashion, prove to be strengths, better fitting the party and its guerrilla army for this era. Take, for example, their limited ability to set up semi-permanent liberated zones—despite the relative safe havens in Dandakaranya and elsewhere. This is a limitation to which the CPI (Maoist) itself points, and that it strives to overcome. But both the Indian setting and the current stage of revolution globally put this in new perspective. When Mao, in 1928, asked “Why Is It That Red Political Power Can Exist in China?,”76 he answered his own question by pointing to the weakness of the national government, the control of warlords over many areas, the interventions of competing imperialists, and the resulting lack of security for the state, especially in often mountainous provincial border regions. Though there were other factors, these weaknesses allowed the Communists to find space in the fractures between the central government and warlord forces—who often fought among themselves—and to set up a few tenuous early bases along the borders of provinces. In India, though there are also sometimes rivalries between states and tensions with New Delhi, overall the ruling class and its military are much more unified. While the Indian Maoists can take advantage of the interstate border regions, where coordination among security forces is at times weaker, it is more the deep forest cover than divisions in the political structure that has allowed them to establish their main bases there. But though it has thereby proven harder to set up liberated zones in India than was the case in China, the possibility of a general revolutionary uprising may be greater. Indian “Red Political Power” exists less at the physical boundaries of the states, than at the points of social fracture—of class, caste, ethnicity and religion—which are found almost everywhere across the country, and keep shifting and reemerging over and over, in ever new forms.
This divergence between Indian and Chinese conditions, and the opportunities that it opens up, was recognized early on. Mazumdar saw these differences as offering a distinct advantage to Maoists in India. Discussing the Andhra Pradesh campaign, he
declared that the Indian revolutionaries were better placed than the Chinese in their years of struggle. Whereas the Chinese PLA was encircled by enemy troops from time to time “every corner of India is like a volcano, the armed struggle in Srikakulam cannot remain confined within that region only. And this struggle is spreading and will spread very fast into different areas of the country, thereby making encirclement by the enemy impossible.”80
This proved overly, even wildly optimistic, an inclination among Maoists in India to prematurely predict success that is all too common going as far back as Naxalbari. The Indian Maoist guerrilla forces have hardly been “better placed” than the Chinese, and they too have found themselves many times encircled and driven on, like the Red Army. Mazumdar was nevertheless pointing to a significant aspect of the revolution in India, its tendency to break out like “volcanoes” over and over again in widely scattered areas, and the inability of the state authorities, despite repeated encirclement drives, to wipe it out. In an age when military force can be quickly shifted from area to area, and any individual leader picked off with a drone attack directed from a computer thousands of miles away, decentralized organization over widely dispersed regions may offer a strategic advantage.
To fully seize this potential, Maoist forces will be required, as forty years ago, to develop that uniquely “Indian” revolutionary path, which has been implicit from the start, a unity of struggle that rests on simultaneous uprisings in a wide range of geographic and social settings. “The ‘solution’ then lies in the intensification of the ‘problem’—that is, not one but two, three, many Dantewadas, Lalgarhs all over the country.”81
The CPI (Maoist) is especially well prepared to take advantage of these interstices in the societal structure, because it has absorbed so well certain new ideas and practices of the past fifty years. In China, though the Long March passed through areas dominated by minority nationalities, contact with such peoples was sporadic and often conflictual. It would have been very hard for the Chinese Communists to set up their bases mainly in such regions. But from as far back as Naxalbari, Indian Maoists based themselves largely in tribal areas: an early flowering of the global struggle by indigenous people for equality and an end to their abuse, exploitation, and ecological ravaging. By doing so, Maoism in India was positioned from the start to rise in parallel with two closely related branches of the new wave of social movements—the rights of “first nations” and environmentalism—that have only grown in significance and geographical reach since the 1960s-70s, signaling a further stage in the world revolutionary upsurge. 82 It was only by aligning its aims with such struggles that the CPI (Maoist) could receive such a welcome and establish its main strongholds in adivasi regions. Its recent resurgence in turn has resulted in part from movements for indigenous rights and ecological protection reaching historic limits in the face of massive resistance by the state, opening a path for alternate leadership by Maoist forces. Similarly, women have from the beginning played a leading role in the regions in which Indian Maoists are active, not only in mass movements, but increasingly as cadre and fighters, and even as commanders in the guerrilla forces. The CPI (Maoist) claims that 30% of its members are female. “According to openly available facts in some areas women constitute 40-50% of their cadres and leaders.”83 Here too, though full equality has certainly not yet been achieved, Indian Maoists have drawn lessons both from the traditionally more equal gender relations found within indigenous communities and from the modern women’s liberation movement, to adopt policies that go far beyond the practices of the Chinese revolution, which despite great advances for its time, had remained almost entirely male dominated, not only at the top, but throughout the entire chain of command. These are critical “leaps forward” not only for India, but for revolutionary forces globally.
If the subjective attitudes embraced by the CPI (Maoist) are conducive to a new era in the world revolution, objective conditions similarly align it with more recent global trends. The close reliance on tribal areas as their primary base of guerrilla operations has meant that from the beginning Indian Maoists, whatever their declared allegiances, have also been helping to lead an indigenous rebellion that has roots going back to before even the colonial era, and that varies from both the “classic” Russian urban proletarian and the Chinese peasant-based revolutionary “models.” The strength of this approach should not be underrated. Adivasis may only constitute just over 8% of the Indian population, but this still means that they number some 90 million. In Chhattisgarh they are almost 40%, in Jharkhand more than 25%. Together with dalits, who are around twice as numerous, they make up approximately one-quarter of all Indians, and provide most of the rank and file of the Maoist guerrilla army. The CPI (Maoist) therefore draws on an enormous mass base, with the potential for rapid expansion. Nevertheless, how far it can extend its mobilization beyond its forest strongholds and the most marginalized segments of the population remains a critical unknown. This is not just a matter of its going on the offensive, but of being able even to hold on to the gains it has already made. As Kishenji, the head of its operations in the East, put it, “Without expansion, we can’t retain our existing bases.”84
But expanding may require rethinking aspects of their strategic theory. While there is strong evidence for the thesis that many Indian feudal and colonial elements persist today, applied in an overly simplistic form, such an analysis will fail to adequately account for the present situation. India in 2011 is not the same society as it was at the time of Independence in 1947, or of Naxalbari twenty years later, much less a copy of China more than eighty years ago, to which Mao applied the “semi-feudal, semi-colonial” label. In recent decades, modern capitalist relationships have penetrated, at an accelerating rate, much more directly and deeply, not only into urban centers, but into the rural areas as well. The result has been highly uneven development, producing new contradictions in economic conditions and the structure of the working classes, and rapid growth of very large intermediate strata. These newer class forces are not so easily accounted for within the older “semi-feudal, semi-colonial” analysis with which Indian Maoism began and to which it still clings.
For the Maoists to appeal to those segments of the working and middle classes that they must mobilize in order to put together a successful revolutionary alliance may require, therefore, an adjustment of their initial analysis of the nature of society in India, and a sharper attention to its capitalistic aspects today. This, in turn, may mean not only raising the need for the democratic transformation of political relations and development policies, but beginning to focus more on the goal of the overthrow of capitalism, and their plans for implementing a socialist revolution. The CPI (Maoist) recognizes these historic transformations and changing patterns, and is engaged in its own internal debate over the newer capitalistic elements of the current situation in the country, and the revolutionary road that fits those uniquely Indian conditions that are emerging in the present neoliberal era of “globalization.”85 Facing the necessity to expand further beyond their present forest strongholds, the party points out that it has previously shown an ability to carry out work in both the plains and cities, until being overwhelmed by state repression. Though they are weak in those areas now, the deepening neoliberal onslaught and the worsening effects of subordination to the global economy mean that objective conditions may be laying the foundation for a new wave of Maoist advances into the main agricultural regions and metropolitan centers. The ability of the party to make such adjustments in order to reach the “critical mass” needed to take power nationally is the most difficult of the longterm challenges that it faces today.
The challenge and opportunity of neoliberal “globalization”
There are already indications of such an opening in both the rural and urban areas, as the situation deteriorates for hundreds of millions of those left out of the new “Shining India.” In the countryside, the globalized “free market,” backed by the state, is creating its own “sandwich” effect, which is destroying the ability to survive for the vast majority of the farming population. The “scissors” that opened up between the cost of inputs and the price paid for crops—much of it driven by increasing multinational control over production and markets—keeps widening, and “today the farmer is being mercilessly crushed between two stones of the Mill, that is, High Cost and Low Income…. Our political establishment is keeping studied silence about this monstrous genocide.”86 In general, these farmers have not turned to the CPI (Maoist) for support, but the potential is there and growing, because of the failure of the parliamentary parties to meet their needs. Faced with declining incomes and the loss of agricultural lands to “development,” the very inability to survive requires them to seek new allies, driving them toward convergence with the Maoist revolutionaries, even if up until now they have used different means. As one leader of a farmer association in several northern states put it, “Where we are active the Maoists are not, and vice versa, but our goals are the same.” As rural conditions worsen, it might take only a single small flame, the outbreak of a Lalgarh type uprising somewhere in the vast Indian plains, to provide an opening for Maoists to help light and lead a “prairie fire” of insurrections.
Such a “crossing over” of the rural population to a more radical perspective has begun to affect even some of those associated with Gandhian methods of struggle, such as participants in the Bhoodan Andolan movement. Initiated in the 1950s by Acharya Vinoba Bhave to encourage wealthy farmers to donate lands to those without them, this drive is increasingly frustrated by governmental foot-dragging and promises not kept. As a result, “even the old diehard flag-bearers of his civil campaign for the distribution of land among the landless donated by big landholders have now begun to speak in the language of Maoists.” At a 2010 conference in Patna, Bihar, a senior Bhoodan volunteer
narrated that when he went to the Maoist-affected East Champaran district to meet people, who had been given Bhoodan land to know if they got the actual possession land, [he] found that they had become Maoists…. Another senior Bhoodan volunteer, Amarnath Bhai, appealed to the Bhoodan farmers to not come to Patna … “Instead, gherao [surround] the office of the CO. Paralyse its functioning. Tell them to redress your grievances and don’t quit till it is solved,” he said, adding: “Bhoodan farmers believe in peaceful means. But the system and the bureaucracy are pushing them into the Maoist fold.”87
Because land reform—whether carried out by state governments or non-state actors such as Bhoodan Andolan—has been sporadic and uneven, lack of it remains a central issue in many regions. Especially open to Maoist organization may be the hundreds of millions of landless farmworkers, such as Punjabi dalits who face both class exploitation and caste discrimination on the larger capitalist farms. Already in Bihar, dalit Musahars have taken possession of fallow government land, with Maoist support.88 Still, the relation of caste and class poses many complex challenges for the CPI (Maoist), affecting both its internal organization and its work with dalits and other oppressed communities, whose leaders often have their own political agendas, pursued through electoral and other means.
Such complexities are compounded by the shifting nature of the labor force. M.S. Swaminathan, often credited with the Green Revolution in India, noted in 2006 that a recent national survey “revealed 40% of our farmers would like to quit farming if they have an option. Unfortunately, there is little option for them except to move to urban slums.”89 Increasing numbers of rural poor are choosing this alternate route to escape from both class exploitation and caste oppression. Instead of directly confronting the monopolistic power of landlords and moneylenders, and domination of the upper castes, many of the impoverished and exploited in the countryside now migrate to the cities, not only to seek better economic conditions, but to in effect “bypass” the old struggles over land, rendering partially obsolete earlier organizing approaches taken by the left. Growing numbers of adivasis are even leaving traditional forest occupations to seek “outside” work. Though urbanization, especially when it leads to slums, does not end the harsh conditions of the poor, for dalits and other oppressed groups, the anonymity and social jumbling of life in the cities can mean a lessening of the feudal discrimination of caste and a chance for new educational and occupational opportunities, in a modern capitalist setting. Some low caste Nadars, for example, using access to urban schooling, have even become wealthy entrepreneurs in high tech industries in Chennai (in Tamil Nadu in the southeast), reflecting a weakening of the feudal social bonds there, and a reshuffling of the class structure that held it in place.90
At the same time, growing numbers of middle-class youth are becoming partly or fully proletarianized. Many of the young and educated are taking jobs in call centers and other outsourced sectors, where they can earn quick money, though this may come at the cost of abandoning, at least temporarily, pursuit of the professional careers for which they were training. These newer service industries are also beginning to penetrate even into suburban areas, going directly to villages around major high tech cities such as Bangalore and Hyderabad, to find their workers. Such a growing interpenetration of the rural and urban workforces, and other changes brought by “globalization,” alter the character of both the economy and society of India. As it has elsewhere historically, this process is realigning the working classes, generating tens of millions of laborers in the cities who still have close ties to the countryside, and creating new strata of urbanized workers and even of the rural poor who are more educated and globally networked. To reach these newer parts of the labor force may require an altered strategy for the revolutionary route to national power, confronting the current configuration of capitalism in India in all of its complexity. For this, the mix of class, caste and religion in the makeup of those rebelling in Nandigram, with their ties both to rural areas and to the industrial sectors of Kolkata, may serve as a recent example. One consequence of neoliberal “globalization,” therefore, is a potentially expanded base for revolutionary organizing. To mobilize such newer workers, however, may require a partial reframing of the analysis by the Maoists, and a refocusing and reorientation of their approach to the cities to meet the new conditions there.
This process seems already to have begun. In a lengthy document adopted in 2004, the CPI (Maoist) carefully analyzed the situation in the cities, and outlined their program there, including underground operations that may well be more advanced than is apparent, and for security reasons are likely unknown even to their closest supporters.91 Here again, the impact of the neoliberal era of “globalization” creates both challenges and opportunities. The declining conditions and role of the “organized” sector in India—a term that has both economic and laborforce implications, and which now covers only about 7% of the national workforce—undermines the “classical” proletarian revolutionary base. Even in manufacturing, only about 20% of workers today have regular longterm jobs, commonly with limited benefits and union representation. Their power is further undermined by divisions among unions, generally organized along party lines, and with several competing labor bodies often found in a single workplace. An all too common prevalance among these better off workers is a “labor aristocracy” mentality, looking down upon, and even working against advancement of their less favored coworkers. Partly for these reasons, and because they tended to view trade unions as “reformist” or “economist,” parts of the Maoist movement neglected, or at times even opposed, work within the organized sector. Still, the Maoists were long active among heavily exploited miners, and in certain unions, such as that of Andhra Pradesh teachers. While these ties were weakened by state repression, the loss of urban bases, and virtual “deindustrialization” of old manufacturing centers like Kolkata, this organizing is being revived. Maoist strategy now emphasizes tying together rural and industrial issues, as in a 2009 one-day strike at factories in three eastern states, which also affected mines and highways, to protest rising prices and police atrocities in villages.92
So too, in place of the old organized workforce, there is now a massive migration of workers from the countryside, and the growth of temporary jobs without benefits in the cities, where tens of millions survive on only a few months of labor each year, when they can even get it. The number and proportion of women in this workforce has been rapidly increasing. This is creating a potential mass base of highly exploited laborers who may be open to the revolutionary appeal of the Maoists, if they can be reached. There are indications that the CPI (Maoist) has begun to make such linkages, even in states where it formerly had little presence. For example, “The Red forces are likely to have penetrated not just the tribal areas of South Gujarat”—a state until recently largely free of Maoist activity—“but they seem to be striking roots in simmering discontent among the diamond and power-loom workers … trying to recruit the workers of the unorganised sector.”93 In some small towns near Hyderabad and other major cities, the Maoists are already present, exerting a quiet but effective local control. They also have followers among the non-tribal farmers and in peasant organizations, helping them to struggle against corrupt landlords.94 While their role is not yet as obvious in cities, this may be deceptive. Maoist
sympathizers, on account of many being underground in urban India, as well as in several front organizations, are a shadowy army of as yet inestimable numbers. In July 2006, former home minister of Karnataka M. Mallikarjun Kharge announced in the state assembly that members of 5,000 families in Bangalore alone were in one way or another involved in Naxal activities—as fronts, for active propaganda, or in providing shelter and logistics. During my research for the book, a Maoist intellectual in Hyderabad would tell me smilingly, “You would be surprised to know where all we have friends.”95
As the condition of the vast majority of agricultural laborers and urban workers continues to decline, the convergence of the interests of all the poor and oppressed will also grow.
Here too, therefore, the very elements that seem to constitute weaknesses for the CPI (Maoist) may, in a contradictory manner, prove to be strengths. Under the impact of neoliberal “globalization,” the more skilled and privileged workers in India, like their peers across the globe, are finding that they cannot hold onto their own jobs and benefits without changing their attitudes toward the unorganized and those less well off—recent outreach by U.S. unions to the immigrant workforce, and to labor unions in Mexico and China, is a similar example. Even many of the children of organized workers, who once had hopes of moving into middle-class professions, are instead ending up in the informal areas of the economy. As a result, Indian union leaders have in at least a few recent cases begun to take more interest in organizing laborers in the less protected sectors, advancing their rights and breaking down old workplace divisions. The very disintegration of what remains of the “classic” proletariat in India, therefore, while in some ways weakening its revolutionary potential, is ironically producing a greater unification among the working classes, as the conditions of farm laborers, migrants to the cities, the remnants of the organized sector, the growing mass of unorganized urban workers, and tens of millions in the slums draw closer together. The result is a convergence of the struggles of laborers in the countryside and the cities. In a further example of this tendency, a New Trade Union Initiative, formally chartered in 2006, brings together workers from both the organized and unorganized, and the urban and rural sectors, in a nonpartisan organization. The NTUI is led by those who reject Maoist methods. But this creation of “one big union” reflects a growing demand to supersede existing labor bodies with their all too common partisan party affiliations and self-serving agendas, in favor of a much wider unity of the working classes. Such changes too converge with the CPI (Maoist) approach, which bypasses parliamentary parties and focuses on the mobilization of all the unrepresented.
Recent Maoist organizing and media work extends even beyond such sectors, to tap a broader range of discontent, especially in the cities, where soaring inflation for basic foodstuffs is threatening the survival of millions, and a host of growing crises impact virtually all residents regardless of class position. “The various issues Maoists have recently spoken about include price rise; industrial pollution; coal theft; daily working hours and wages in factories; hike in education fees and municipal taxes; protection of national wealth and corruption in the political system and bureaucracy.”96 An effective Maoist appeal can likely be made to many of the tens of millions of slum dwellers, who in some areas in Mumbai, already have their own neighborhood organizations, to fight “urban cleansing” and other abuses. But even many middle-class urbanites now face some of the same negative economic and environmental conditions, as “development” polarizes the class structure and helps bring on such catastrophes as the massive flooding which swept that city in 2005, due in part to antiquated sewage systems and the destruction of the mangrove forests that had offered a natural barrier. The CPI (Maoist) is also attracting students and other youth in the cities, who are confronting growing difficulties with the rising cost and privatizing of education, and the lack of jobs. Despite often draconian efforts by state and university authorities to suppress leftist activists on campuses and promote rightwing rivals, limiting the pool of educated recruits the Maoists can draw on, their influence continues to spread among progressive student bodies and faculty. Similarly, the party recently helped to form a mass organization of revolutionary artists and writers in its strongholds, to develop and promote a “people’s art and literature,” with the goal to “destroy feudal and imperialist culture and develop a new democratic culture.” This cultural work, with women often taking the lead, is a key part of the popular struggles.97 In each of these areas, the CPI (Maoist) is addressing new needs that are relevant not only to India itself, but to the current stage of neoliberal “globalization” worldwide. Nevertheless, they face a difficult challenge in finding ways to bring tribals and peasants, organized and informal workers, slum dwellers and elements of the middle class, into a broadly based rural/urban alliance.
A New Democracy
It is in the struggle for participatory democracy and development, however, that the CPI (Maoist) has exhibited most clearly its ability to learn new lessons for this era. The question of democratic practices lies at the heart of the global movement for newer forms of social organization that has arisen since the 1960s, as well as the critique of the first wave of socialist revolutions, which reached their historic limit in large part due to their inability to institute methods of popular control over the instruments of state power. This issue is especially central to any revolutionary struggle in India, since it already has an ostensible democracy—unlike China at the time of its revolution—that can only be successfully superseded by a new and more adequate form of democratic organization, which more fully represents the vast majority. This in turn raises the question of the nature of the parliamentary system. While Indian society traditionally had forms of local self-government in village panchayats—instruments of upper caste domination, though after Independence they became more representative elected bodies98—its parliamentary system arose neither organically from these older roots, nor from popular struggles and bourgeois revolutions, as in England, France or the United States. Instead, legislatures were initially introduced into India as one more means of colonial control which, like the bureaucracy, were meant to help coopt opposition in the upper and middle classes, by allowing a limited participation in the British administration. As such, they were an imported form of modernization, overlaying and allied with a still mainly feudal society. All parliamentary parties today, including leftist and even Naxalite ones, share in this colonialist legacy, and as such lend further legitimacy to the existing political system, which taints them with its corrupt practices and renders them increasingly irrelevant.
The fundamental argument of the CPI (Maoist) is that this inherited “democracy,” manipulated and backed up by an equally colonial-derived bureaucracy and armed forces, has failed hundreds of millions of people, especially among the lowest classes and castes, and oppressed communities. Though the formalities of this parliamentarism remain, its base is still primarily feudalistic, hollowed out by corruption and opportunism. It not only cannot meet the political or economic needs of the close to one billion poor Indians who suffer at the bottom of society, but serves as a primary instrument of their oppression. Since Independence, this parliamentary system has largely degenerated into a six decade long “dynastic democracy” under the Nehru/Gandhian reign of the Congress Party, now entering its fourth generation—with the rise of Rahul Gandhi, son, grandson, and great grandson of former prime ministers. There are similar familial centers of power in many states—such as the Patnaiks in Orissa, who for long traded office holding among their competing members—closely linked on the national and in most cases regional level to corporate or landholding interests. For example, the Reddy brothers of Karnataka
are the country’s most powerful mining bosses at a time when illegal mining has become a national scandal, amid accusations that billions of dollars of publicly owned materials have been stolen, often by people holding public office….
The Reddys … have transformed themselves in less than a decade from obscure activists for the Hindu nationalist Bharatya Janata Party, or B.J.P., into political bosses who directly or indirectly control three state ministries and dominate local government in the Bellary district, which holds the state’s richest iron ore deposits.99
As a historian in this state (which includes Bangalore, the high tech center of the “new India”) puts it, “They are more or less uncrowned kings in their district. There is a level of brazenness that even by the standards of Indian politics is new.” But they are just the tip of the iceberg of similar scandals in at least five states, with politicians “enriching themselves or their friends,” such as by extorting bribes in exchange for mining permits.100
In this sense, despite a parliamentary patina, Indian society remains semi-feudal, with party leaders and cadre, linked to national and regional business elites, playing a role not unlike that of the “Nawabs and Rajas,” and the locally powerful zamindars, who once controlled vast lands and exploited the masses, growing fabulously wealthy in the process.101 Even where the hold of the older parties has been partially broken, power is increasingly organized along caste or religious lines, and focused around a single strong leader, who all too often shares in the enriching opportunities of office, as in the mainly dalit based political insurgency led by Mayawati that governs in Uttar Pradesh. In this, despite a modern capitalist overlay, they repeat the old patterns, with “the emergence of so many regional satraps under the banner of the oppressed. In reality they run their fiefdoms as princely states of old British days.” The “caste-lords of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh” are just as prone to abuse their power and ignore the needs of the vast majority as those in other states.102 Nationally, BJP, with its often violent religion driven “Hindutva” ideology, is the main rival of Congress, with which it alternates power and shares in the spoils. Corruption is endemic.103 A telecom rights scandal that broke in 2010 may have cost the treasury billions, and forced a Congress minister from office, but such practices extend down to the local level, where party bosses and government officials often use control of programs like the guarantee of 100 days of work annually to every rural household to favor relatives and friends, forcing others to pay bribes. As a result, national policies are inadequately or unevenly applied. The debilitating struggle among parties, and corrupt pursuit of narrow interests reaches far beyond the political realm to pervade virtually every institution—government bureaucracy, judicial system, university campuses, trade unions, and even the media, which have taken to printing “news” paid for by corporate interests—warping the ability of all such bodies to play a positive role in addressing the growing social crisis. These institutions also serve as “transmission lines” at times, helping to link semicolonial subservience to multinational investors with feudalistic exploitation on the local level. Taken together, they render the present democratic system of parliamentary parties, and the instruments of civil society, largely impotent in meeting the needs of the vast majority.
In their place, the CPI (Maoist) calls for a stage of New Democracy, to replace the current system of parliamentarism, as the first step toward a socialist society. In the initial phase, this would be based on four classes—workers, peasants, petty bourgeoisie, and those national bourgeois elements who are opposed to and suffer from the comprador nature of the Indian economy—with a worker-peasant alliance under the leadership of the proletariat at its core. Ongoing Maoist united front efforts lay the basis for such a New Democratic state. Its goals would be to end feudal exploitation through a thorough land reform and by breaking the hold of moneylenders, protect equality for dalits, other lower castes, tribals, religious minorities and women, and give oppressed nationalities—as in Kashmir and the Northeast—full rights to autonomy or succession. It would have the ability to suppress all exploiters of the people, expropriate capitalist property,prevent corrupt grabbing of land and natural resources, and promote a culture of the working class and oppressed communities. Such a state would deprive the old ruling classes and their political representatives of power, instead instituting participatory political and economic forms for those who are exploited and suppressed under the present system of parliamentary parties, allowing those most directly impacted to share in decision-making on all issues that affect them. In the areas where it has been able to implement its policies, notably Dandakaranya, the CPI (Maoist) has set up Revolutionary People’s Committees, which, with the party, carry out all administrative tasks of governance (including people’s courts), “tax” big business and the wealthy, and promote collective farming and development, land distribution, housing, education and literacy. New Democracy is already being put into practice on the political and economic fronts, therefore, based on mass organizations of the people. It is this form of revolutionary power, resting on local and regional popular forces, that will be extended and institutionalized nationally.104
While the full nature of the state that emerges from this revolution, including its political forms and rights, remains to be determined, Lalgarh and similar areas of bottom up rebellion show that the creative democracy of the people is still emerging, and the CPI (Maoist) is learning from these and other experiences. For adivasis as well as others, this movement is liberating their ability to participate in civil society and share in governing themselves as part of the national polity for the first time. Far from suppressing such newly claimed freedoms, CPI (Maoist) is helping to expand their reach. The idea that the party and its armed forces are simply imposing their rule in their areas of control flies in the face of the history of guerrilla fighters, who are never able to survive long without the willing support of large numbers of people, especially in conditions where they are daily hounded by a very powerful state. Such an interpretation, in which the leading role that Maoist forces enjoy is attributed primarily to coercion, goes against eyewitness accounts of those who have been able to visit the liberated zones as well. As one reporter noted, in Lalgarh and the surrounding area, the Maoists “are organizing regular meetings with villagers … at times even at stone-throw distances from police stations, outposts and temporary camps,” to which those attending could easily appeal for help if they felt that they were being coerced.105
Statements of members of the popular mass organizations also contradict the “outside coercion” thesis. Both the Lalgarh PCAPA and the CPI (Maoist) insist on their autonomy from each other, with the party declaring that the local people are in the lead. Maoists and popular forces are nevertheless intermixed. As Chhatradhar Mahato, the main leader of the PCAPA described relations between his organization and CPI (Maoist),
See, the Maoists have major influence and base among the people of this region. No one can question that. But this Committee has nothing to do with them. There are members of the committee who indeed are Maoists or sympathize with them, but then there are members and sympathizers of other political parties too. The Maoists have never tried to intervene or interrupt our activities. Rather, they wholeheartedly support this movement.106
So too, a student delegation there found that “the leaders or activists of the CPI (Maoist) that we met were all local people and not ‘outsiders from Jharkhand or elsewhere’ as media propagates…. They never once claimed that they are the main force behind this movement. ‘It is the people who are fighting, and we are fighting with them.’”107 The guerrilla army also recruits mainly from among younger villagers and those who are already involved in armed resistance. In this way the line between the Maoists and local fighters, and violent and nonviolent means of struggle, become blurred, and the two arms of the movement, popular uprising and organized revolutionary forces, are intertwined. Some Lalgarh adivasis speak openly about these ties, while others are more circumspect about the relation, not only to protect the independence of the PCAPA, or out of their own ambivalent feelings, but also because of the schizophrenic approach taken by the state toward the relation of the CPI (Maoist) and the tribal communities. On the one hand, it treats the adivasi peoples as manipulated innocents, while at the same time labeling any who dare to rise up as implacable Maoists, an enemy to be destroyed. Either way, they deny the adivasis a role as autonomous political actors in their own right.108
There are, nevertheless, unavoidable contradictions and conflicts that arise from trying to carry out a revolution in the midst of a system that still operates nominally as a multiparty parliamentary democracy. The struggle is inevitably a bloody one, especially given the brutality of the state. It is hard to maintain “business as usual” in the midst of a revolutionary war, and not only bourgeois political parties, and NGOs, but what Bernard D’Mello calls the “Establishment Left,” and even other Maoist factions, are unable to operate in their accustomed manner in the zones of conflict. Many resent these limits, and consider them “undemocratic.” The CPI (Maoist) is highly disciplined, but living and battling as it does under the often isolated conditions of guerrilla warfare, in the face of mass suppression, where cadre and fighters who are captured are routinely tortured and executed, and suffer widespread rape and other atrocities, it is easy to see any who do not lend support as opponents or even traitors. Maoists have rejected the idea, first insisted on by Mazumdar, that they must “annihilate” all their enemies, physically liquidating not only security forces, but class oppressors, government officials, and anyone else who stood in the way of the revolution. Yet acts of intimidation or coercion, and misplaced or excessive use of violence at times take place, captured security forces have on occasion met with a harsh fate, including even their deaths, and some civilians have been attacked, while others are wounded or killed in firefights, or by mines or bombs. While the CPI (Maoist) admits and apologizes for some such “mistakes” and instances of “collateral damage,” these incidents do alienate potential supporters of the party, while serving as a ready excuse for those already inclined to oppose it. Still the Maoists insist that virtually all civilian targets are only the most notorious local tyrants and abusive officials, or those who give information or other support to the authorities, and that at times they even act as a restraint on villagers who want to mete out summary execution on their tormentors.
Such incidents, in any event, do not, and indeed could not, represent the strategic policy of the CPI (Maoist), and should not be twisted into absurd accusations. The claim, for example, that 20,000 adivasis, armed with their own traditional weapons, who for months have driven out the security forces of a powerful modern state, can be forced against their will to attend a rally or protest by a relative handful of Maoist guerrillas, defies logic as well as the historic record of such movements, which always depend on wide popular support. “The Maoists cannot influence the events in tribal belts simply by showing gunpowder. It’s a life-and-death question of thousands of tribal families that keeps the Maoist campaign going despite periodic setbacks.”109 Similarly with the Maoists imposing a boycott of legislative elections. A statement by adivasi women in Dandakaranya (DK) belies this.
KAMS [Krantikari Adivasi Mahila Sangathan/Revolutionary Adivasi Women’s Organization] gives full support to the DK revolutionary movement which is carried on with the following aims – ‘Land to the tiller’, ‘Forest to the adivasis’, ‘State Power to the oppressed people’, ‘Women’s Liberation’. We work shoulder to shoulder with our fraternal mass organizations in the armed struggle and political propaganda against the exploitative government and its army. We participate in the election boycott actively with the aim of establishing people’s power as an alternative to the parliamentary politics in which we have lost confidence. The ruling classes who could not tolerate this are perpetuating brutal violence on the adivasi women.110
Any woman activist who can make such a statement is not a passive pawn in the hands of anyone. Even if, as is likely, KAMS is a Maoist front, with 30 years work and 100,000 members, it is representative of the prominent role taken by adivasi women and the clear nature of their demands.111
This activism penetrates into every area of life, a critical new aspect of democracy. “Women now hold meetings independently,” and challenge all the old centers of power, such as tribal elder authority, or their abusive and humilating treatment by non-adivasis.
With the understanding gained in this process the women now know that men must become part of housework and child rearing. They know that woman too go out for organizational work like the man. If only one can leave the house, they know that it is necessary to discuss democratically and decide who has to go. Earlier the women were not allowed into the places where the harvest was stored. Now this tradition is not seen. The fight for wearing blouses was a turning point in women’s lives. In the areas where the Revolutionary People’s Committees were formed, the men have been democratized and they now understand that they have to discuss with their wives before doing anything that involve both. Readers are aware that land pattas [ownership documents] are issued by the RPCs [Revolutionary People’s Committees] in the name of both men and women in the newly occupied lands.112
Many “are becoming professional revolutionaries,” ready to go wherever needed, and “even question the discrimination they face in guerilla life in order to gain their rights”—an indication that despite advances, women still confront limitations on their role in the revolutionary movement and issues with their treatment by men in the party and army hierarchy. Still, in virtually every such area, the CPI (Maoist) is turning its contradictions and weaknesses into new strengths.113 Even the absence of a single “great leader” within the party has a democratizing effect, working against the rise of cultish excesses, and emphasizing the guiding role of the people themselves, who do not need dependence on charismatic national personages in order to carry on their struggles. United front work with other parties, NGOs, intellectuals and students plays a similar role.
The CPI (Maoist) nevertheless has a long way to go to show that it has sufficient leadership depth, strategic understanding, tactical flexibility, democratic credentials and programmatic solutions to meet the needs of hundreds of millions in the working classes and oppressed communities, and to convince a significant enough portion of progressives and leftists that is has the capability to lead the nation into the future. Without this broader social base, it will be very difficult for its forces to develop their role sufficiently to move beyond their present defensive stage into one of more equal strategic balance with the Indian state, much less to go on the offensive and achieve national power. Yet as the “large” democracy of India proves itself ever more ineffective and corrupt, and is shown to be an instrument in the exploitation of the people, it is the very resistance of the Maoists to “playing by the rules” that increases their attractiveness to the marginalized, and drives growing numbers of the disaffected in their direction.
This “erosion of democratic spaces” must be hailed as an achievement of the Maoist intervention, to the extent that it undermines democracy as an instrument of rule for the state and the ruling order…
So now, the message from Dantewada is that the democratic game is over—instead of lamenting over the loss of democracy, the erosion of democratic spaces, it is precisely this end of the democratic game that is the most laudable achiement of the Maoist movement. It is the poor saying that “democracy” only seeks/extracts our mandate for your well-entrenched power. We do not want to be exploited and given a democratic voice, we refuse to be drawn into mandating our own exploitation…. It is the poor saying that it is not just the undemocratic nature of capitalism we have problems with, but with capitalism as such, with, in fact, democratic capitalism.114
What is at stake here is not just the nature of the state, but the character of the capitalist system that it upholds. The two are no longer separable, either in practice or in the minds of millions of the exploited. A revolutionary New Democracy confronts both, demanding an end not only to exploitation, but to the bourgeois political system that is enforcing it.
Nepal and China
The relationship of the CPI (Maoist) to other parties and factions, including those that share its general political orientation, remains unclear, not only for the present, but in terms of the kind of state that it proposes to establish after a revolutionary victory. Many among leftists in general, and even in opposing wings of the Maoist movement, express deep concern that a one-party system is planned, and that it will assume dictatorial power. Some cite their past clashes with the CPI (Maoist) as the basis for fears that their current political rights and civil liberties will be suppressed by a revolutionary state in the future. One of the consequences of such concerns is that some on the Indian left look north to the Nepalese for an example of “good” Maoists as an alternative to their own “bad” ones.
In Nepal, the main Maoist party carried out a decade-long revolution, based on a Chinese model, in which “the countryside” successfully “surrounded the city” of Kathmandu, the capital. Here the immediate goal was to end the reign of the royal family, with its ties to rural landholders who brutally exploited the peasantry—a more clearcut case of “feudal” society than is found in India today—and to institute a new stage of democratic politics. In an ironic twist, however, the United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), instead of pushing the revolution through toward complete victory over not only feudalism, but the bourgeoisie as well, opted at the critical moment to turn themselves into a parliamentary party and to place their guerrilla forces under UN supervision, including depositing their arms in depots. In the political morass that followed, the UCPN (Maoist) emerged as the top winner in national elections, but has been unable to consolidate its power within the government, write a new constitution, or assert civilian control over the military, and it has largely abandoned the struggle for revolutionary transformation of the countryside.
In the eyes of some Maoists in India as well as other countries, Prachanda, the primary leader in Nepal, is therefore seen as a “revisionist.” He is also viewed as an example of the danger of putting too much power in the hands of a single charismatic personality—though he continues to be challenged by other leaders and members of the Nepalese Maoist party who want to return to a more revolutionary road. Despite such dissension, for some Indian leftists the “flexibility” and “reasonableness” of the Maoists in Nepal forms an attractive alternative, even if that approach has so far failed to show its ability to succeed in permanently transforming the society along socialist lines, or even in resisting the rise of remnant feudal powers, as well as bourgeois parties, in government and the military. This seems less important to many leftists in India, however, than the example of Maoists being willing to adopt a multiparty system that is closer to its own parliamentarism. Such a “nonviolent” ending to the Nepalese revolution holds out the promise to some on the Indian left that the CPI (Maoist) too might eventually be “tamed” and “domesticated.” The outcome of the struggle in both nations, however, is still very much in doubt, and neither can yet claim that they have found the “correct” road to the implementing of Maoist revolution. Each country—Nepal a small landlocked nation of 27 million, India a subcontinent with 1.1 billion—must, in any event, find its own path, based on local history and conditions. Yet Maoist movements in the two countries will inevitably be linked. Nepalese Maoists cite as one reason for their collaboration with bourgeois parties and attempted integration into the national armed forces, the need to confront interference, and even a military threat, from India. But the Indian government is a main supporter of the reactionary army in Nepal, and has its hands full dealing with its own Maoist and regional uprisings. The Maoists in both countries, therefore, face a common opponent in the state of India. They have issued joint statements in the past, and despite their current differences and tensions, still treat each other with comradely respect. A victory by the revolutionary Maoist forces in either nation would provide a strategic “rear” for the other.
The position of the Chinese toward the two movements is similarly complicated. The attitude of the Communist party and state in China is that Mao is a unique historic figure, a kind of “national brand,” which should not be taken over by other countries. This is especially so since the current Chinese leaders regard him primarily as a great nationalist, while downplaying or even suppressing his role as a revolutionary socialist. Though they have tried to tap into his legacy in order to legitimize their own rule, the last thing that they want for China is another “Maoist” revolution, and this in turn shapes their attitude toward those following his line abroad. The CCP leadership has no desire to see revolutionary Maoists in other countries setting a “bad example” for the Chinese people.
Like some among the Indian left, therefore, they prefer the Nepalese Maoist approach.
Beijing has not so far recognised the CPI (Maoists) as a Communist Party. The official Xinhua news agency reports call the Indian Maoists only as ‘left wing rebels’. To discern likely future trends in this respect, Nepal’s example could be relevant. In China’s eyes, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists) (CPN-Maoists) was an ‘anti-government rebel’ group ‘misusing’ Mao’s name, but once the latter under the leadership of Prachanda was able to capture power shifting to a parliamentary road, the CCP did not hesitate to set up party level contacts with it. The CPN (Maoists) Chairman has been received in China as a party leader in October 2009; the CCP’s International Department has started interacting with the CPN (Maoists) and Chinese party delegates attended the 8th Convention of the latter held at Butwal in February 2009.115
Though the authorities in Beijing have no use for bourgeois parliamentarism for China, they prefer alliances with capitalists to any new threat from a revolutionary working class. If the occasion arises, therefore, they may well adopt a similar relation to the CPI (Maoist) that they have toward the Nepalese party, especially given their apparent doubts about the chances for the success of armed revolution in India, and their lack of support for foreign Communist movements. “While nothing definite can be said on this account, the Chinese appear to be receptive to the idea of Indian Maoists choosing a parliamentary path to come to power as their Nepalese counter-parts did.”116
Strategic considerations enter in here as well. China and India fought a brief but bitter border war in 1962. They continue to have competing claims to territories along their borders, especially in the Kashmir region. As the two “rising powers” in Asia, they are in competition for both regional dominance and economic opportunities, including in Nepal. Each sees in the other the threat of being encircled. India eyes historic support for Pakistan by the Chinese, and their growing naval power, with access to ports in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and other nations on its borders as limiting its ability to expand its hold over its own “neighborhood,” while for China, closer Indian ties with the United States, including nuclear ones, seem part of a plot of imperial “containment” that includes military links to Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. Tibetan refugees in Nepal, and the Dalai Lama, with his “government in exile” in Dharamsala in India, complicate their relations even further. At the same time, there have been recent efforts to reach détente in Indian-Chinese interactions. The attitude of China is therefore ambivalent. It almost certainly wants to avoid another war with India, which would have a devastating effect on its economic position globally. But keeping the Indians off-balance with a bit of meddling does not seem beyond the realm of possibility. By the same token, the Chinese provide India with a convenient scapegoat for its growing internal problems.
Instead of addressing the root causes of the Maoist uprising, Indian government has started a blame game against China, alleging for supplying arms to these insurgents…. Recently, Home Secretary of the Indian Union, G.K. Pillai accused that China was “a big supplier of small arms to the Maoists…the Chinese are big smugglers.”117
Some have even accused the Chinese of training guerrilla fighters for India, and claims have been made that they similarly help the Nepalese Maoists. Such official support seems highly unlikely in light of the overall position of China. But there may be some smuggling of weapons in all directions across the relatively porous borderlands in the Himalayan regions of Tibet, Nepal and India.118 Indian and Nepalese guerrillas may also at times have crossed the border for refuge or aid.
The attitude of the Chinese left toward these South Asian revolutions has been similarly hesitant. Initially, leftists in China seemed to be more interested in events in Nepal than in India, in this respect partially paralleling the official governmental position. This may have reflected both the proximity of the revolution by Nepalese Maoists to the Chinese border in Tibet, and to their success in gaining a leading role in national power. However, as the Maoist revolutionaries in India have surged, and as the gap between the approaches taken there and in Nepal has widened, attitudes in China also seem to have shifted. The leading pro-Mao websites run by Chinese today are now paying much more attention to the Indian revolution, and lending their support to Maoists there as well as in Nepal. In part this follows a growing revival of “Maoism” in China itself. Though still a small leftist element, there has been a recent upsurge in the ranks of those, both within the Communist Party and in the larger society, who have called for a return to the policies of the Mao era, and who are increasingly engaged in studying and propagating ideas from that time. There have even been initial attempts to form a Maoist Communist Party in China. These efforts reflect the view of many workers and peasants, especially among the older generation, who still have memories of the socialist society under Mao, and contrast it with the “get rich” ideology and corruption of the current capitalistic system. The potential therefore exists, though so far almost entirely unrealized, for the working classes and oppressed communities of China and India to form an alliance, and to find new ways to apply the lessons of the Maoist era to the current situation in both countries. For now, however, the Chinese left is largely unorganized and lacks a unified program, and it is the Indian Maoists who seem to be leading the way forward into the next stage.
The Green and the Red
The government in India has no intention of allowing this to happen, and in its attempt to suppress the Maoist movement, it has relied almost entirely on the security
apparatus. This in turn raises issues about the role that has been played historically by the Indian armed forces. The modern military in India was developed as an arm of the colonial Raj, with “native” soldiers under British officers, to be used for both domestic control and foreign service. These Indian troops were employed as an imperial gendarme wherever Britain ruled or fought. It was, for example, “the First Regiment of Sikhs and Seventh Rajputs … followed by the First Bengal Lancers” who led the way through the gate in Beijing in 1900 for the eight multinational imperialist armies that put down the Boxer Rebellion. They later shared, albeit as junior partners, in the looting and raping of the city.119 It was also colonial Gurkha and Baluchi troops who killed hundreds of unarmed civilians in the 1919 Amritsar Massacre, the worst such incident during the Independence struggle. From the start, therefore, putting down popular uprisings, whether at home or abroad, in service to the ruling forces of global capital, was a key role of the military in India, and the brutal and corrupt practices of that earlier time too often still persist today. Despite its role as a national armed force, therefore, especially in the wars with Pakistan, and with Islamist groups based there, its more continuous function has been to combat internal disorder. This has been most notable in its decades-long attempt to suppress those in Kashmir struggling for autonomy, succession or absorption into the Pakistani nation, as well as similar movements in certain Northeast states. These campaigns of the Indian military have been carried out with the greatest brutality, amid constant reports of torture, rape and extrajudicial killings. With the national armed forces setting such a “model,” it is not surprising, therefore, that less well trained and disciplined police and paramilitaries at the state level—including elite special forces such as the Greyhounds in Andhra Pradesh and Cobras in Bihar—many of them recruited from among the poorest, least educated and in some cases “lumpen” elements, should act in ways that are even more atrocious and out of control. Their actions are backed up by a legal system and judiciary that is in service to the ruling powers, and heavily riddled with corruption.
As with the Indian military, all of these instruments of repression have colonialist origins. The government of India openly brags about inheriting the British apparatus that it still employs against not only violent rebellion, but peaceful dissent, as today in Delhi.
Section 144, an old nineteenth-century law that bans the gathering of more than five people—who have “a common object which is unlawful”—in a public place, has been clamped on the city. The law was passed by the British in 1861 to prevent a repeat of the 1857 Mutiny. It was meant to be an emergency measure, but has become a permanent fixture in many parts of India. Perhaps it was in gratitude for laws like these, that our Prime Minister, while accepting an honorary degree from Oxford, thanked the British for bequeathing us such a rich legacy: “Our judiciary, our legal system, our bureaucracy and our police are all great institutions, derived from British-Indian administration and they have served the country well.”120
This entire apparatus of governmental power—the security, administrative and judicial branches—has been mobilized to put an end to both the Maoists and popular uprisings, and as in colonial times, the purpose is to keep India open to global capitalist exploitation. The latest manifestation of this effort is Operation Green Hunt (OGH), a massive and nationally coordinated drive, launched in 2009, to use not only the police, but the military as well, to crush the centers of Maoist power and adivasi rebellion, especially in the forested regions of the “Red Corridor,” so that their natural resources can be exploited by multinationals. This connection is direct. The main architect of OGH is Home Minister P.C. Chidambaram, at one time a lawyer for Enron, and former member of the board of directors of Vedanta, the British mining multinational, which is trying to open a bauxite mine in Orissa. So too, as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declared in Parliament in June, 2009, by way of endorsing a policy of “zero tolerance” in the battle against the Maoists, or “terrorists” as he called them, “If left-wing extremism continues to flourish in parts which have natural resources of minerals and other precious things, the climate for investment would certainly be affected.” This was, as Arundhati Roy has called it, “a furtive declaration of war.” A vast array of national and state security forces was mobilized shortly thereafter to enforce this multinational looting of the mineral wealth, forests and other “precious things” that India has in such overflowing abundance—but which does not include the people who inhabit these valuable territories. So far, those mobilized include “the Army, the Police, the Central Reserve Police Force, the Border Security Force, the Central Industrial Security Force, the Pradeshik Armed Constabulary, the Indo Tibetan Border Police, the Eastern Frontier Rifles—as well as the Scorpions, Greyhounds and Cobras––to crush the misguided insurrections that are erupting in our mineral-rich areas.” Even the Air Force has been brought in, to help penetrate the forest strongholds.121
Altogether, some 200,000 security forces have been deployed in Operation Green Hunt. The vast scale of this operation, however, reflects the failure of earlier military and judicial suppression efforts, which despite, or because of, their draconian nature, had only served to further stimulate both popular opposition to the government and rapid Maoist advances. The most destructive of these campaigns was in Chhattisgarh, the heartland of guerrilla operations by the Maoists. In 2005 the Salwa Judum, a village-based militia as well as a corps of Special Police Officers, were recruited from among adivasis who were opposed to Maoist activities in the region, intimidated into joining by the authorities, or just desperate for any kind of job in economically depressed tribal communities. These locally recruited vigilantes and security forces were armed by the state, but funded in part by mining companies and liquor cartels as a kind of private army to protect their interests. The name Salwa Judum literally means “Purification Hunt,” though the government has translated it as “Campaign for Peace.” It employs methods long familiar from the war in Vietnam, with almost 650 communities destroyed, thousands of adivasis killed, 300,000 displaced, and 50,000 forced into “strategic hamlet” concentration camps, cut off from their livelihoods in the forests, and suffering from abysmal sanitary and health conditions.
The attacks are of the utmost brutality, including “scorched earth” tactics, cutting off of food supplies to villages, and the murder, torture and rape of resisters. As early as 2006, a report by a female fact-finding team on atrocities committed by the Salwa Judum listed some thirty instances of gang rapes, many followed by sexual mutilation and/or murder, often involving multiple victims in a single attack. Rape was “used as a weapon to send the message to rebellious women that their place belongs inside their homes,” and that they should not take part in any resistance movements. Some of those driven into the refugee camps were forced to provide sexual “comfort” to police—not unlike the use of Korean and other women by Japanese troops during World War II. Even many children were recruited into the Salwa Judum, and compelled to take part in its brutalities.122
Like all such officially sponsored civil conflicts, pitting one part of a community against the other, the ravages of this adivasi militia provoked a harsh response from those who resisted it, including Maoist guerrillas. In this bloody and brutal war, both sides at times used coercive measures, and many who had no direct part were caught between the two forces. So out of control was the Salwa Judum, however, that it alienated not only those whom it directly oppressed, but many in the wider national community, including even political authorities. Despite its early gains, it gradually lost its hold, especially under relentless and ever more successful attacks by the Maoist guerrillas, and though it still operates, in time most of its camps were closed. This did not stop neighboring states, however, from setting up similar groups. Still, by 2009, it had become clear that such regional efforts would not defeat the guerrilla army, which had gained support fighting the Salwa Judum, was able to mount attacks in some cases with hundreds of fighters, and in at least one area had even graduated to battalion sized forces. A coordinated campaign on the national level was therefore deemed necessary. It was this that led to Operation Green Hunt, which has adopted and expanded upon the draconian methods used by the state police and militias, provoking a sharp Maoist response. Across its operational region, “security forces have occupied hundreds of schools, according to the Ministry of Education.” Like medical centers, which have also been taken over, these are often the only substantial buildings in the villages. The Maoists have destroyed some 80 schools and on occasion even health facilities, in order to deny their use as bases for attacks on tribal communities by these security forces.123
Raw military power exercised by the state has been increasingly supplemented by judicial attacks. In June, 2009, at the same time that it sent paramilitaries to help in the suppression of the Lalgarh uprising, the national government labeled the CPI (Maoist) as a “terrorist” organization, allowing for the arrest not only of its members, but of any “sympathizers.” Even the West Bengal CPI (M) declined to follow suit with a similar declaration on the state level, arguing instead that the underlying causes of the rebellion needed addressing. Nevertheless, the equating of the Maoist revolutionaries with such targets of the US-led “War on Terror” as Al Qaeda and Hamas, in effect has turned one-third of India into a “free fire zone” like Afghanistan or Gaza. The Indian leadership knew very well who their allies were in making such a declaration. Both the United States and Israel are supplying India with sophisticated intelligence, high tech weapons and training, confirming once more the allegiance of its comprador ruling class to the most reactionary of the global imperialist forces.124 Even those seeking to keep track of what the government is doing are treated as potential or real enemies. A virtually total closing off to outside observers and journalists of the Operation Green Hunt area means that information about the campaign is very sparse and sketchy. In spite of this, enough reports have emerged to make clear that the Indian state has launched a massive war, not only against the CPI (Maoist), but on all popular resistance to its plans for the region.
Adivasi communities have borne the overwhelming brunt of these attacks, which have followed the usual pattern of wholesale destruction of villages, accompanied by the torture, rape and killing of any daring to resist, who are invariably labelled as “Maoists,” even if they are unarmed or unaffiliated with revolutionary forces.125
Tribal activists in Malkangiri Asia Times Online spoke to say they are not Maoist as they are working overground and engage in mass politics instead of armed struggle. But this is a difference that the police do not or rather do not want to see. Police have apparently told them that when the paramilitary forces reach their village, tribals and Maoists will be treated similarly.126
Following the Salwa Judum model, adivasis are being recruited or coerced into state-sponsored vigilante groups and to serve as informants. In the face of this onslaught, the CPI (Maoist) and its guerrilla forces have suffered heavy losses, with many fighters, cadre and even top leaders captured or killed, but as has happened so many times before, wanton attacks by the state only serve to spread the range and intensity of revolutionary operations. At the very height of Operation Green Hunt, Maoists in April 2010 were able to carry out their most spectacular attack on the security forces ever, wiping out an entire company, some 76 members, of the Central Reserve Police Force, in Dantewada. But this was only the largest of several successful recent operations. Together with popular movements, they have also cut roads being built to facilitate military operations and SEZ development, and disrupted rail lines and other government services, sending a signal that there will be no normality while the war against them rages. Many areas, like Lalgarh, are caught in a bloody seesaw, with the state claiming to retake them, only to see new or even larger attacks by Maoists or the local population. At the same time, the savagery of the OGH is driving adivasis into the Maoist camp, as in Narayanpatna, Orissa, where,
The police and paramilitary forces have stepped up operations to hunt down activists of the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha (CMAS), a tribal rights organization active in the area.
The CMAS activists have retreated deep into the forests, where they are said to be regrouping. “The hunt for CMAS activists and the intimidation of tribals by the police has forced tribals to seek refuge in the surrounding forests, which are Maoist hideouts,” a senior official in Koraput told Asia Times Online. “By their actions, the police are pushing the tribals to turn Maoist.”
This is the case not just in Narayanpatna but also across villages and towns in India’s tribal areas in Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Bengal and Andhra Pradesh. Police atrocities against tribals are fueling support for the Maoists.127
Even in the midst of Operation Green Hunt there have been major successes by the tribal anti-displacement movement in resisting SEZs—notably in Orissa, delaying the mining venture of Vedanta and a steel mill of South Korean POSCO, and similar outcomes in several states—with CPI (Maoist) support, or the backing of other left parties or factions.
As a result, both Maoist and popular forces are expanding and ever more closely fused.
Exhausting the remedies
This mounting resistance is spreading confusion, fear and division in the ranks of government officials and security forces, from national leaders to those on the ground.128 Among the most divisive issues are whether to follow a “scorched earth” policy, or to combine military suppression with new attempts at “development” in the adivasi areas—the West Bengal government has made limited and sporadic such efforts, but these are widely rejected as too little and too late by rebellious communities. A similar division is whether and under what conditions to agree to negotiations with the Maoists, for which a government minister had even already been assigned, and proposals for which had been advanced by various progressive individuals and groups. But this possibility received a likely near fatal setback in July 2010, when Cherukuri Rajkumar, known as Azad, a top leader and spokesperson for the CPI (Maoist), was captured and “encounter murdered,” along with journalist H.C. Pandey, at the very time when he was known to be its chief emissary preparing for such talks. These actions reveal the deepening treachery and cross purposes at work within the political and security establishments. Similarly, Railway Minister and Trinamool leader Mamata Banerjee organized a rally in Lalgarh in August 2010 that included Maoist supporters, a move attacked by other parties. A month later,
Alleging that armed cadre would not be allowed to help the CPI(M) [Marxist] win the ensuing assembly elections, she said, “This government is of supari [contract] killers, by the supari killers and for the supari killers” … She claimed that the killers were being paid Rs 1 lakh [100,000, or over $2,000] for each killing.129
Though Mamata—as she is known—is distrusted by the CPI (Maoist) as an opportunistic politician, her open attack on the West Bengal Left Front suppression drive, and her condemnation of the killing of Azad, weakened state authority and lent weight to the popular united front.130 Such sharpening of political divisions is paralleled by growing disarray in the security establishment, which knows it is not winning this war. There are reports of widening disagreements over current strategy and tactics, which many see as counterproductive. Some poorly paid and motivated state forces, with no training in counterinsurgency, are even doing anything to avoid combat with Maoist guerrillas. For their part, many civilians refuse to travel on buses with police, afraid of being caught in an attack, leaving security personnel as ever more isolated objects of popular distrust.
If political and military powers are divided over how to deal with CPI (Maoist), the degree of confusion and dissension among leftists and progressives is hardly less. Operation Green Hunt has only served to exacerbate already existing divisions, with some blaming the Maoists for having provoked such a violent crackdown, while others try to play a “neutral” role, and a few identify more openly with the revolutionaries. The very scale and intensity of the reign of state terror unleashed, however, is narrowing the field in which anyone not offering unquestioning support to that campaign can operate. In Dandakaranya, the harassing and beating of fact-finding teams and journalists trying to enter the area, and the arrest of those putting up posters opposing OGH, are only a few of the repressive measures taken. One of the most stunning attacks was on Himanshu Kumar, an avowedly Gandhian activist who had run Vanvasi Chetna Ashram in the area for almost two decades, helping to provide education and medical care to the adivasis and assisting them in standing up for their rights, while also working together with national and international NGOs and governmental agencies. In the months leading up to OGH, however, his protests of the security measures led him to be accused of being a “Naxal,” and the Salwa Judum began to harass him. As he later put it,
The villages were being attacked; the houses were being torched; and women were being raped. The fear of such attacks forced the people to side with the Naxals and join hands with them. Gradually the number of Naxalites started swelling. This led us to conclude that the movement actually resulted in escalating the Naxalite activities. We brought this to the notice of the government. This led some local leaders to oppose us.131
In May 2009, state security forces bulldozed his ashram and detained some of those who were working and visiting there, later blocking his attempts to find legal redress. “Finally he has had to leave Chhattisgarh convinced that the existing democratic institutions there are merely a sham … Anyone not with the State (read also Salwa Judum) runs the risk of being branded a naxalite sympathizer. As a result space for any dissent against the State and the middle ground for civil society to function is eroding very fast.”132
In this way, nonviolent, “neutral” and parliamentary remedies are rapidly being exhausted and discredited. Even Gandhians like Kumar are being forced to reevaluate their former approaches to bringing about social change, and the adequacy of exclusively pacifist means. Driven from Chhattisgarh, he became a leader in the anti-OGH campaign, and at a 2010 conference, following a trip to Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra, “said the situation was explosive everywhere. There were many Dantewadas in the making due to anti-people policies of the rulers,” which rob the poor of land and natural resources.
This situation has to be changed. Quoting Gandhi & Vinoba Bhave, he said that if injustice and inequity persists in the society, violence is inevitable, because the victims of injustice & inequity cannot be expected to take the things lying down; they will definitely revolt to change the system, to assert their rights. He said injustice must not be tolerated. It should be resisted at all costs. Non-violence should never become an excuse to run away from the fight against injustice.133
The development model of the government, he summarized, “has become synonymous with depriving the poor of their livelihood resources” and this “will inevitably breed violence.” Like Kumar, no one expressing such ideas is free from the threat that they will be declared a “Maoist” and become subjected to state repression. An Unlawful Activities Prevention Act in 2008 allows anyone accused just of contact with the Maoists to be imprisoned without bail for 180 days and tried before a secret court, even on the word of unidentified witnesses. Growing numbers are being falsely labeled as having Maoist ties and are jailed, tortured or even killed.134 In the most notorious such incident, Binayak Sen, the internationally honored “doctor to the poor” in Chhattisgarh, who treated any who needed medical help, was initially arrested in May 2007, accused of acting as a courier for the CPI (Maoist), convicted in December 2010 along with alleged party ideologue Narayan Sanyal and Kolkata businessman Piyush Guha of sedition, and sentenced to life imprisonment, provoking widespread outrage and protests.135
Threat of similar punishment for seditious acts is being held over Arundhati Roy, already under attack after having written favorably about Maoist areas that she visited, and stating publicly that Kashmir is not an integral part of India. Mass popular protests flared up in that disputed state in 2010, with over 100 nonviolent demonstrators killed by security forces, leading to widespread expressions of outrage and public events in India and abroad. The CPI (Maoist) is increasingly active in support of the Kashmiri Azadi or Freedom struggle, calling a nationwide protest strike and throwing forces into aiding the rebellion, leading to their being further labeled as “terrorists.” In Maharashtra, dalit activist and editor Sudhir Dhawale was similarly accused of supporting terrorism for supposedly having contacts with Maoists, and across India all those fighting in any form for the poor and oppressed are being targeted. Even activists far from conflict areas or only addressing urban conditions have been attacked. In Patna, “Associate professor at Jamia Millia Islamia, Rahul Ramagundam, was assaulted, abused and branded a Naxalite by Bihar police for daring to ask the cops why the hutments belonging to Musahars—among the most backward of Scheduled Castes—were being demolished.”136 As a result, leftists and progressives in the cities, where protests are increasingly banned or attacked, are being robbed of their civil liberties, and forced to confront the necessity to unite with all of those, including popular forces and Maoists, who are resisting. In Delhi and elsewhere events have been held against Operation Green Hunt, with those under attack from across India sharing the stage with intellectuals. The Indian state is in this way creating the potential basis for the very unity that it most fears, the linking up of rural oppressed, urban poor and middle class, tribals, regional separatists, and leftist and progressives, in a national revolutionary front that challenges state power.
Dare to struggle, but dare to win?
Revolutions are strange creatures. Though they usually stretch over years or even decades, they are capable of making quantum leaps. Sometimes the initial triggering event can be relatively small and unexpected. When conditions have fully ripened, a prison stormed, a peaceful protest shot into, a single act of self-immolation can be enough to light the fire. But even decades-long revolutions that seem stalled or on the defensive can, in only a short time, completely reverse their situations. In 1947, Chiang Kai-shek, free to turn his attention once more to crushing the Communists after Japan surrendered, was finally able to drive them from their Yan’an stronghold. Yet just two years later, Mao stood atop Tiananmen in Beijing, to proclaim the People’s Republic of China, sealing the Communist triumph, while the Generalissimo fled to Taiwan. This dialectic helps to explain why, virtually until the last moment, with the revolutionaries already at the gates, neither Louis XVI, Tsar Nicholas II, the Guomindang generals or Hosni Mubarak could imagine that their enormous power would vanish overnight, ending their rule or even their lives. Sitting in the urban comfort of Delhi, Mumbai or Kolkata, the Indian Maoist revolution too seems very far away, and it is almost impossible to imagine it triumphing any time soon, if at all. Certainly it seems highly unlikely that a guerrilla army will march into the main cities of India in the near future. But there is more than one way for revolutions to triumph, and some now unseen combination of Maoist adivasi and dalit fighters, peasant rebels, and urban uprisings could overwhelm the Indian state. Here too, even relatively small events might signal the start of a new revolutionary level. Nor are violent and nonviolent means divided by some impenetrable wall. They can be complementary and mutually reinforcing, and used together in ever more creative combinations, even in the same locality, as part of a Maoist-backed popular struggle—as Lalgarh has already demonstrated so well.137
If the rural and urban working classes and the oppressed communities of India rise up in their hundreds of millions, no force will be able to prevent them ending the current political and economic system. But their path will be much easier if significant numbers of left and progressive intellectuals and professionals decide to lend the Maoist revolution their active participation or support. Many may choose to do so, but for the moment most apparently prefer to stand apart not only from the Indian state, but from the Maoists as well, readily finding fault with both sides. But by the same token, it may be all too easy to forget that “a curse on both your houses” leaves tens of millions homeless. The number of those in India without a roof over their heads is put by census data and NGOs at 65-78 million, including well over 10 million children, many of them on their own, living and begging on the streets.138 Government and NGO estimates of child labor run from 20 to 50 million. Even construction of facilities in New Delhi for the 2010 Commonwealth Games—another colonial remnant—reflected the vast polarization between “Shining India” and the brutal poverty in which hundreds of millions live and work. This project—marked by overruns, delays and corruption—displaced thousands of local residents, many of whom had nowhere else to go. As a consequence, “Homeless people are living outside the main stadium.”139 The $6 billion Games price tag contrasted with the exploitative treatment of the construction workers. Many laborers were “paid way below the minimum wage” and lived in “sub-human” conditions. In the rush to complete the facilities on time, even child workers were brought in to help.
India’s children are working hard for as little as $3 a day on the construction site for the Commonwealth Games Stadium.
Promises of extra bonuses such as money, bread and milk and an extra meal are made to parents who bring in their children to work on the site and for this, they work twelve hour shifts.
The children struggle to move baskets filled with rubble while their parents work nearby, while other youngsters struggle to pick up shovels that are as tall if not taller than their slightly built bodies, helping with the building of the drainage system in front of the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.140
Such are the measures of the poverty, exploitation and abuse so many suffer from today. How long will they be asked to wait to radically alter their condition—10, 20, 50 years?
If there is a chance that revolutionary action now could put an end to their torment, who is to say that it should not occur, regardless of the inevitable risks involved, or that those who are in a position to help should hang back, always waiting for another day? There is a fundamental issue here. As Mao noted, following upon Lenin, it is necessary not only to “dare to struggle,” but to “dare to win.”141 This may seem at first like a strange injunction, since presumably anyone who struggles also wants to be victorious. But “winning” requires a different kind of determination and courage. It is commonly in the last moments before defeat that ancien regimes adopt the most brutal methods to preserve their dying hold on power, and to confront that danger means having to leave the comfort zones of daily routines, even for many fighting on the side of the people. It requires a special will and drive to push through to revolutionary victory, with all of its unknowns and challenges, to face up to the task of fulfilling hopes raised, to create a new world out of the ashes of the old. In India as across the globe, there are legions of progressives and leftists who show the greatest bravery in struggling to “confront” the existing system, even at cost of their lives, and many have made lasting contributions to organizing the poor and oppressed and helping to relieve their suffering. But the determination and courage to see the struggle all the way to completion, to the overthrow of the imperial system of capitalism and its feudalist remnants, which are destroying not only the lives of billions, but the very sustainability of viable human life on the earth today, is much more rare. The CPI (Maoist) has demonstrated that it has the “daring” to complete this task.
It may not succeed. The Indian system has shown its ability for decades, if not for centuries, to absorb any number of crises and challenges. It may do so again, relying on a strange mix of the colonial concept of “Mother India” and English “muddling through.” But history may not look kindly on those who let a revolutionary moment pass. For the CPI (Maoist), the hardest task may be finding a way to broaden its appeal to others, and to show sufficient strategic and tactical flexibility to fit the situation in India today, and achieve the unity needed for victory in the revolution. For those who are in a position to help, the challenge will be to get beyond their own critiques and grievances, and join in a unified struggle, for the sake of the oppressed. A revolution is not, as Mao noted, like a dinner party or writing an essay. It is an act of massive and violent social upheaval. But only such a revolutionary struggle will bring about the transformations that free hundreds of millions for a new start in life. It will not be quick and easy to carry out such a deep and lasting change. Indian Maoism is already more than 40 years old. The CPI (Maoist) has a strategy of “protracted war” and says that it is prepared to fight decades longer if necessary. Yet compared to its main competitors—Gandhianism, parliamentarism, and the plethora of old left parties and factions—it is the “new kid in town,” the youngest of them all. Gandhian methods have been practiced now in India for almost a century, parliamentary politics has had over sixty years ruling the nation, and the “establishment” or “orthodox” left goes back well before Independence, including holding or sharing of power in certain states for decades. Yet none of them has managed to put an end to the suffering of hundreds of millions from brutal poverty and exploitation. In this sense, the goals of CPI (Maoist) are the one solution that has not yet been given a practical trial.
Despite its image in much of the world as the home of pacifistic religions and Gandhian satyagraha, India is a land of widespread and continuous turmoil and violence, even apart from the clash between Maoists and the state. From separatist struggles to periodic explosions of communal hatred, the murder of party rivals, brutality of caste oppression, farmer suicides, female trafficking, bride burning and “honor” killing, clashes with police during labor strikes and campus protests, and acts of vigilante justice, Indian media are filled with a daily drumbeat of violent social and political conflict. Perhaps it is the very depth and intractability of the enforced suppression historically of the poor classes, excluded castes, and indigenous tribes, that has always made the attempt to use nonviolence to ameliorate or escape from this system so appealing. But the question in India is not and never has been whether there will be violence and disorder. The issue is what kind of conflicts, and whether they serve any longterm redeeming purpose. Today the clashes, despite changing forms, seem to have an almost endlessly revolving karmic quality. The revolution undertaken by CPI (Maoist) and its guerrilla army holds out the promise of breaking this cycle of wasteful and destructive violence by transforming the underlying inequalities and social injustices of class, caste, ethnicity, religion and gender. Others, both leftist and Gandhian, have alternate visions of a nonviolent path to a radically different society, of bottom up democracy, and the “withering away” of the state. But they have been unable to show in practice how the exploitative economic system and the statist militarism that upholds it can be restrained or undermined to allow emergence of their utopian new worlds. Do they believe that the state will give up its power without a fight? On the contrary, brutal exercise of its authority to enforce exploitation only grows.
That is why the central goal of the Maoists is to claim state power, and transform it into an instrument of the poor and oppressed, through a revolutionary overthrow. To succeed, CPI (Maoist) must in effect help lead the forging of a new nation founded on a set of alternative principles, bringing about greater unity by strengthening the democratic rights and participatory power of its disparate elements. This would be a difficult goal under any conditions. It is extraordinarily hard against a powerful state using massive force and unrestrained brutality to prevent it. Yet the CPI (Maoist) and its guerrilla army exhibit outstanding dedication and courage, and as the conditions of hundreds of millions worsen, and alienation from the current system of “large” democracy grows, they are showing the forces of popular struggle an alternate path to revolutionary transformation and democratic unity. The entire world will be profoundly affected by the outcome. The choice is a stark one. Either “Shining India” will rise ever higher in the ranks of nations, grasping for everything it can get from imperial capitalism, before plunging ever deeper into the economic, political and environmental maelstrom which that system is preparing for the world. Or the Indian people will choose an opposite path, rising up against brutal exploitation and ever greater polarization, and helping to lead all of humanity into a new era, one of equality in the economy and society, and ecological viability and preservation.
The impact of which direction India moves can hardly be exaggerated. As the United States loses its imperial grasp, and the bourgeois democratic system fails to meet the needs of the vast majority of people not only in the global South, but even in the rich Western nations as well, the Maoist revolution is confronting issues that have worldwide relevance. Success in the revolutionary struggle in India would resonate far beyond its own borders. With over one billion people, soon to be the most populous nation on earth, its shift out of the column of countries locked in the destructive clutches of neoliberal “globalization,” and onto the list of those nations moving instead toward self-reliance and independence, and a full flowering of the popular forces of participatory democracy and development, would expand the power of the working classes and further the liberation of oppressed communities across the entire world. The imperial system led by the United States, along with its allies and agents, including the Indian comprador elements, will do everything in its power to prevent this change from happening. Its ability to keep such a revolutionary transformation from succeeding will be determined not only by the struggle of the people of India itself, but by the attention and support that that they receive from across the globe. This is a contest in which the working classes and oppressed peoples of the whole world have a big stake. It will affect their economic, social and environmental conditions for decades to come, and the prospects as well for their own future revolutions.
* I would like to thank Swapna Banerjee-Guha, Saroj Giri, and two US activists with the International Campaign Against War on the People of India (ICAWPI) www.icawpi.org, for reviewing earlier drafts and offering valuable comments and suggestions. As always, any remaining errors of fact or analysis remain myresponsibility alone.
1. These are commonly shortened in India to CPI (Maoist) and the PLGA, which will be used in this article.
2. See map. The term “Red Corridor” is not used by the CPI (Maoist) or PLGA, but is employed by both the security forces and media. The areas shown are only approximate, and tend to be outdated and exaggerated to emphasize the “threat” from Maoists. They do, however, indicate the general range of Maoist operations.
3. Sudeep Chakravarti, Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country (New Delhi: Penguin Group, 2008), 4; “Maoist insurgents in India,” The Economist (UK), 7/22/10, www.economist.com/node/16650478.
4. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) is commonly shortened to CPI (M)—which will be used in this article—or just to CPM. This is not to be confused with the abbreviated designation of the CPI (Maoist).
5. Hari P. Sharma, “The Green Revolution in India: Prelude to a Red One?” in Kathleen Gough and Hari P. Sharma, eds., Imperialism and Revolution in South Asia (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1973), 96.
6. Biplap Dasgupta, The Naxalite Movement (Bombay: Allied Publishers, 1974), 8.
7. Chakravarti, Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country (note 3), 85.
8. Radha D’Souza, “‘Sandwich Theory’ and Operation Green Hunt,” Sanhati, 12/15/09, http://sanhati.com/excerpted/2003/.
9. People’s March, Vol. 11, No. 4, 7-9/10, 21,
www.bannedthought.net/India/peoplesmarch/PM2010-04.pdf; New York Times, 10/29/10, A1; BBC News, 1/22/07.
10. “Nearly 80 pct of India lives on half dollar a day,” Reuters, 8/10/07; People’s March (note 9).
11. Panked Mishra, “Games India Isn’t Ready to Play, New York Times, 10/3/10, Week in Review, 9.
12. Amit Basole and Deepankar Basu, Relations of Production and Modes of Surplus Extraction in India: An Aggregate Study (Amherst: University of Massachusetts, Economics Department working paper, 2009), www.umass.edu/economics/publications/2009-12.pdf, 77 Table A1.
13. Hari P. Sharma, “The Green Revolution in India: Prelude to a Red One?” (note 5), 89f.
14. Tenantry has declined in recent decades, with an increase in hired labor, undermining certain semi-feudal aspects of the rural economy that persisted even after breakup of the zamindar estates. However, the newer and more capitalistic relations are often accompanied by usurious debt and their own forms of bondage, coercion and other types of “unfree” labor, still enforced by such feudalistic social institutions as caste. Basole and Basu, Relations of Production and Modes of Surplus Extraction in India (note 12), 15-20.
15. Ibid., 7, 9 Table 3, 77 Table A2.
16. Ibid., 14, 80 Table A5.
17. Ibid., 9 Chart 3, 77 Table A2.
18. Ibid., 15 Table 5.
19. “Problems of Dalits in India,” Dalit News from Kerala, 8/26/10,
“Advocating the Rights of the Marginalised for Justice and Equality,” Dalit Solidarity, http://www.dalitsolidarity.org/, accessed 6/6/11; “Extent of Landlessness,” National Federation for Dalit Land Rights Movements (NFDLRMs),
20. Basole and Basu, Relations of Production and Modes of Surplus Extraction (note 12), 6 Table 1, 22 Table 7.
21. Chakravarti, Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country (note 3), 283-85; P. Sainath, “Neo-Liberal Terrorism in India: The Largest Wave of Suicides in History,” www.counterpunch.org, 2/12/09.
22. “Indian Slum Population Doubles in Two Decades,” The Times, www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/asia/article1805596.ece, 5/18/07; “India’s slum population to be over 93 million in 2011,” Thaindian News, 9/3/10; New York Times, 10/29/10, A9.
23. Only a little over one-third of Indians have access to private toilets or latrines. Ravi Nessman, “Land of few toilets, many cell phones,” Associated Press, Santa Cruz (California) Sentinel, 11/1/10, B6.
26. Vikas Bajaj, “India’s Woes Reflected in Bid to Restart Old Plant,” New York Times, 3/23/10.
 Food and calorie intake in farm families dropped by some one-fifth from 1991 to 2005. P. Sainath, “Neo-Liberal Terrorism in India” (note 21).
30. The growing use of genetically modified seeds, controlled and often required by multinationals such as Monsanto, has had devastating economic and environmental effects, especially among cotton growers in parts of Maharashtra. Ibid.; “‘Every 30 Minutes’: Crushed by Debt and Neoliberal Reforms, Indian Farmers Commit Suicide at Staggering Rate,” www.democracynow.org, 5/11/11; Suvojit Bagchi, “Punjabi suicides cast shadow on polls,” BBC News, 4/12/09, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/7992327.stm.
31. Sriram Ananthanarayanan, “New Mechanisms of Imperialism in India: The Special Economic Zones,” Socialism and Democracy, 46 (Vol. 22, No. 1) March, 2008, 41.
32. “Some estimates show that there will be only one job created for every four taken away.” Ibid., 51.
33. Swapna Banerjee-Guha, “Contradictions of Enclave Development in Contemporary Times: Special Economic Zones in India,” Human geography, Vol. 2(1), 2009; Dave Pugh, “One Year Later: Nandigram and the Struggle against Forced Displacement in India,” ILPS Info Bureau, International League of Peoples’ Struggles, 3/30/09.
34. Abhijit Guha, “Missing the Wood for the Trees – A paper on land acquisition, past and present,” Frontier, www.sanhati.com/articles/317/.
35. For the effect of Maoist revolutionary activity and popular struggles in limiting the spread of SEZs, see Partho Sarathi Ray, “Political Geography of Special Economic Zones in India—and Mass Resistance,” Sanhati, http://revolutionaryfrontlines.wordpress.com/2010/10/28/political-geography-of-special-economic-zones-in-india-and-mass-resistance/. This website has many articles on the Indian revolution.
36. Amit Bhattacharya, “Singur to Lalgarh Via Nandigram: Rising Flames of People’s Anger against Displacement, Destitution and State Terror,” Published by K.N. Pandit on behalf of Visthapan Virodhi Jan Vikas Andolan [People’s Movement against Displacement and for Development], Ranchi,Jharkhand, April 2009, 9-10.
37. “India in Motion,” Frontier, Vol. 43, No. 34, 3/7-13/11, http://frontierweekly.com/.
38. D’Souza, “‘Sandwich Theory’ and Operation Green Hunt” (note 8).
39. Swapna Banerjee-Guha, “Contradictions of ‘development’ in contemporary India,” 2/7/11, www.opendemocracy.net/.
40. Bhattacharya, “Singur to Lalgarh Via Nandigram” (note 36).
41. “Besides the Act states that an SEZ will be ‘a designated duty free enclave to be treated as foreign territory for trade operations …’ Thus SEZs, particularly with respect to trade operations and fiscal/labour laws, are quite literally foreign territory, the outputs of which are not going to really benefit Indian industry.” Ananthanarayanan, “New Mechanisms of Imperialism in India” (note 31), 45.
42. D’Souza, “‘Sandwich Theory’ and Operation Green Hunt,” (note 8).
43. Jaya Mahta, “Changing Agrarian Structure in Indian Economy,” 4/04, www.revolutionarydemocracy.org/rdv10n1/agrarian.htm.
45. Lydia Polgreen, “Right-to-Know Law Gives India’s Poor a Lever,” New York Times, 6/29/10, A1.
46. Banerjee-Guha, “Contradictions of Enclave Development” (note 33).
47. Lydia Polgreen, “Information Law Empowers Indians, but Some Pay Terrible Price,” New York Times, 1/23/11, A1.
48. “But the important point to note here is not simply that such practices continue to exist, but that they have become the base on which the economic accumulation process rests. In other words, capitalism in India, especially in its most recent globally integrated variant, has used past and current modes of social discrimination and exclusion to its own benefit, to facilitate the extraction of surplus and ensure greater flexibility and bargaining to employers when dealing with workers.” Jayati Ghosh, “India: The Growth-Discrimination Nexus,” MRZine, 6/5/11, http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/2011/ghosh060511.html.
49. Pugh, “One Year Later” (note 33).
50. Speak Out!, www.panap.net/uploads/media/online_version.pdf, 10/06.
51. “Singur: Losses Beyond Compensation,” Manthan Samayiki, Kolkata, undated; Pugh, “One Year Later” (note 33).
52. “Nandigram: Brutal Bloodbath Unleashed by CPM,” The South Asian, www.thesouthasian.org/archives/2007/nandigram_brutal_bloodbath_unl.html, 11/11/07; Pugh, “One Year Later” (note 33).
53. “People’s Resistance of Nandigram: A Report,” Manthan Samayiki, Kolkata, 12/12/07.
54. “It was mainly their armed resistance that enabled the people of Nandigram to stand up to the challenge of their enemies.” Bhattacharya, “Singur to Lalgarh Via Nandigram” (note 36), 32.
55. “State Repression & People’s Resistance: Experiences from the Lalgarh Movement,” Democratic Students’ Union, Jawaharlal Nehru University Unit, Delhi, August, 2009, 29.
56. Partho Sarathi Ray, “Lalgarh: an analysis of the media’s war hysteria,” Sanhati, posted on Radical Notes, 6/24/09, http://radicalnotes.com/journal/2009/06/24/lalgrah-an-analysis-of-the-media%E2%80%99s-war-hysteria/.
57. Sankar Ghosh, The Naxalite Movement: A Maoist Experiment (Calcutta: Mother India Press, 1974), 61.
58. Dasgupta, The Naxalite Movement (note 6), 3.
59. Open, 10/17/09, posted on http://southasiarev.wordpress.com/2009/10/16/new-ganapathi-interview-on-the-views-of-the-cpi-maoist/.
60. Mao Zedong, “Report on an Investigation of the Peasant Movement in Hunan,” March, 1927, Selected Works of Mao Tse-Tung, Vol. 1 (Peking: People’s Publishing House, 1960), 27.
61. “The report on burgeoning oppression and repression in Lalgarh to the delegates of State Human Rights Commission by People’s Committee against Police Atrocities,” 9/12/09.
62. “State Repression & People’s Resistance” (note 55).
63. Ibid., 46.
64. Ibid., 13; Bhattacharyya, “Singur to Lalgarh via Nandigram” (note 36), 22-23, 38.
65. Ray, “Lalgarh: an analysis of the media’s war hysteria” (note 56).
66. As quoted in “Maoist insurgents in India,” The Economist (note 3).
68. Ghosh, The Naxalite Movement (note 57), 46, 72.
69. Saroj Giri, “Maoists and the Poor: Against Democracy?” Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. XLIV, No. 49, 12/5/09.
70. Partho Sarathi Ray, “The People of Jangalmahal Have Stood Up,” Sanhati, January 11, 2010, www.marxistupdate.blogspot.com/2010/01/people-of-jangalmahal-have-stood-up.html.
71. D’Souza, “‘Sandwich Theory’ and Operation Green Hunt” (note 8).
72. The Lalgarh PCAPA protested this holding back of support for its struggle due to claims that it lacked autonomy from Maoists. “We shall not be able to decipher if you have been influenced by the State’s false publicity, but a rift has no doubt been created between us. It is even being said in Kolkata that the Maoists are polluting the character of a mass rebellion at Lalgarh. We are being straightforward in our clarification – No, it is not so. The rebellion at Jangalmahal, has primarily remained a mass rebellion at all its important junctures. We shall request you to never forget this.” Letter From Peoples’ Committee Against Police Atrocities to Association for Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR) and Lalgarh Mancha, 3/27/10.
73. “Politics of Polarisation,” Frontier, Vol. 43 No. 12-15, 10/3-30/10.
74. Ghosh, The Naxalite Movement (note 57), xi; Dasgupta, The Naxalite Movement (note 6), 45.
75. “State Repression & People’s Resistance” (note 55), 28.
76. D’Souza, “‘Sandwich Theory’ and Operation Green Hunt” (note 8).
77. Giri, “Maoists and the Poor: Against Democracy?” (note 69).
78. http://list-naxal.blogspot.com/, posted 9/07.
79. Selected Works of Mao Tse-Tung, Vol. 1 (Peking: People’s Publishing House, 1960), 63-72.
80. Dasgupta, The Naxalite Movement (note 6), 62.
81. Giri, “Maoists and the Poor: Against Democracy?” (note 69).
82. “Finally, despite their relative isolation, the adivasi communities are very conscious of their modern rights not only in the local Indian context, but of the rights of indigenous communities as a global phenomenon and movement. This awareness also reinforces the justness of their cause.” Prasenjit Duara, “The Chinese Revolution and Insurgent Maoism in India: A Spatial Analysis,” Economic & Political Weekly, April 30, 2011. Vol. XLVI, No. 18, p. 33.
83. “Interview of GN Saibaba, vice-president of the Revolutionary Democratic Front of India,” Geraldina Collotti, Il Manifesto, 5/12/10 (www.icawpi.org). Many of the young women cadre and fighters in the party and PLGA joined the revolution to escape from forced or abusive marriages, or after sexual attacks on themselves or female relatives, and are unlikely to have any children with them in the forest. However, those who do can take advantage of the popular organizations of the adivasi movement set up with Maoist support. These include special groups for children and women.
84. “Guns and Poses,” Hindustan Times, 1/21/10.
85. Alpa Shah, “Interview with Gopalji, Spokesperson of the Special Area Committee of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) in a Forest in Jharkhand, Eastern India”, http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/2010/shah130510.html.
86. B.D. Sharma, “A Tale of Two Nations,” National Campaign for the Eradication of Inequality, Sahyog Pustak Kuteer, New Delhi, n.d., 12.
87. Abhay Singh, “Bhoodan farmers ready to emulate Maoists,” Times of India, 12/10/10, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/patna/Bhoodan-farmers-ready-to-emulate-Maoists/articleshow/5320491.cms.
88. Rita Khanna, “A Primer on India’s Maoists: Who Are They and What Do They Want,” Radical Notes, 11/19/09, posted on http//revolutionaryfrontlines.wordpress.com.
89. Chakravarti, Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country (note 3), 185.
90. Lydia Polgreen, “New Business Class Rises in Ashes of South India’s Caste System,” New York Times, 9/11/10, A4.
91. “Our Work in Urban Areas,” 2004, http://southasiarev.wordpress.com/2010/01/26/cpi-maoist-document-on-work-in-urban-areas/.
92. Many unions are active in the anti-SEZ struggles, and strikes are now common both among the organized and more informal ranks of workers, many of whom live in rural areas or continue to have close ties there.
93. “Red terror in Gujarat?” DNA India, 1/22/10.
94. Some are put off by the use of violence, though in certain areas, “pseudo-Naxalite” gangs also operate which, while unaffiliated with Maoist revolutionary forces, may be confused with and discredit them.
95. Chakravarti, Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country (note 3), 4.
96. “Guns and Poses,” Hindustan Times, 1/21/10.
97. “Interview with the In-Charge of Danda-karanya CNM: Comrade Lenj,” People’s March:Voice of the Indian Revolution, Vol 7, No. 7, 8-10/06, http://www.bannedthought.net/india/PeoplesMarch/PM1999-2006/archives/2006/Aug2k6/Interview.htm.
98. The panchayat “turned from a body of upper caste personal rule into an extended arm of state and party management.” “Working Paper: Current Crisis Regime and Impact on Class Struggle in India,” GurgaonWorkersNews no.9/16, 2/09, febhttp://gurgaonworkersnews.wordpress.com/gurgaonworkersnews-no916/.
99. New York Times, 8/19/10, A1, A10.
100. Quoted, ibid.
101. “We are now in 2010, but in most parts of the country, we are behaving as though we are in 1610 or something.” “Army: A Prescription for Civil War,” Interview with E.N. Ramohan, former Director General of the Border Security Force, Frontier, Vol. 43, No. 4, 8/8-14/10, http://www.frontierweekly.com/pdf-files/vol-43-4/civilwar-43-4.pdf.
102. “Voices of Conscience,” Frontier, 8/8-14/10, http://www.frontierweekly.com/.
103. “Every MoU has a Swiss bank account attached.” “Army: A Prescription for Civil War” (note 101).According to a recent study, India as of 2008 was losing almost $20 billion per year in illicit capital outflow. Since Independence the equivalent of almost half a trillion in current US dollars has been lost, equal to over twice the national debt. Some 68% of this outflow has occurred just in the last 20 years, since neoliberal deregulation was introduced in 1991. Monique Perry Danziger, “New Report Finds Illicit Capital Flight out of India US $462 Billion,” Global Financial Integrity, 11/17/10, http://www.gfip.org/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=347.
104. Alpa Shah, “Interview with Gopalji” (note 85).
105. Bhattacharyya, “Singur to Lalgarh via Nandigram” (note 36); see also Arundhati Roy, “Walking with the Comrades,” www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/news/world/22-walking-with-the-comrades-aj-07, 10/21/10; “State Repression & People’s Resistance” (note 53), 30.
106. “State Repression & People’s Resistance” (note 55), 30.
108. Giri, “Maoists and the Poor: Against Democracy?” (note 69).
109. “Politics of Polarisation,” Frontier, Vol. 43 No. 12-15, 10/3-30/10.
110. Krantikari Adivasi Mahila Sangathan – Dandakaranya, “Militant adivasi women in Lalgarh, West Bengal – An appeal by KAMS to fraternal mass organizations, progressive democratic women, intellectuals,students and all democrats,” http://indianvanguard.wordpress.com/2010/04/29/appeal-from-women-of-dandakaranya-against-the-state%E2%80%99s-military-offensive/, October, 2009, posted April 29, 2010.
111. Interview of GN Saibaba (note 83).
112. “Women’s movement in Dandakaranya – Half of struggle and half of sky: An interview with a member of the Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee: Comrade Maina,” People’s March, Special Issue, 3/8/06, in “Salwa Judum and Violence on Women in Dantewara, Chhattisgarh: Report of a Fact-Finding by an All India Women’s Team,” Committee Against Violence Against Women, 12/06, 41.
113. The top leaders of CPI (Maoist) and PLGA remain almost entirely male. While the party and army are encouraging an end to adivasi practices restrictive of women, and their advance into leadership positions, this is a gradual process. A similar development of leaders is occurring in regard to caste and ethnicity, but this advancement of women, dalits, and adivasis is hindered by the loss in struggle of many younger cadre. Alpa Shah, “Interview with Gopalji” (note 85).
114. Giri, “Maoists and the Poor: Against Democracy?” (note 69).
115. D.S. Rajan, “Is China Sympathetic to the Communist Party of India (Maoists)?” South Asia Analysis Group, Paper No. 3757, http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/%5Cpapers38%5Cpaper3757.html, 4/11/10.
117. Sajjad Saukat, “India Blames China for Maoist Uprising,” 11/17/08, www.markthetruth.com/china/202-india-blames-china-for-maoist-uprising.html).
118. Rajan, “Is China Sympathetic to the Communist Party of India (Maoists)?” (note 115).
119. Diana Preston, The Boxer Rebellion (New York: Berkley Books, 2000), 238, 283-295.
120. Arundhati Roy, “The Trickledown Revolution,” Dawn.com, 9/11/10.
122. “Salwa Judum and Violence on Women in Dantewara, Chhattisgarh: Report of a Fact-Finding by an All India Women’s Team,” Committee Against Violence Against Women, 12/2006.
123. Jyoti Thottam, “India’s Scourge,” Time Magazine, 11/1/10, www.revolutionaryfrontlines.wordpress.com; Chakravarti, Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country (note 3), 313f.
124. “Israel defence ties grow,” The Telegraph, Calcutta, 2/22/09.
125. An incomplete list of OGH killings from late 2009 to mid-2011 in Dandakaranya alone has almost 200 names. In June, 2011, under the guise of a “training base,” the army moved troops for the first time to that region. http://www.bannedthought.net/India/CPI-Maoist-Docs/index.htm. This website is a source for original documents and statements by the CPI (Maoist), as well as news and analytical articles.
126. Sudha Ramachandran, “India Drives Tribals into Maoist Arms,” Asia Times, 1/16/10, http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/LA16Df03.html.
128. “Maoist insurgents in India,” The Economist (note 3).
129. Times of India, “Mamata gives seven days to WB government to wind up ‘armed camps,’” 9/18/10.
130. Her limited support of popular uprisings was one factor in Mamata and the Trinamool led alliance with Congress winning a nearly 5 to 1 victory over CPI (M) and its allies in West Bengal state elections in April and May of 2011. That party also lost, though just narrowly, in Kerala. While the end of the 34 year rule of the West Bengal Left Front is significant, it is likely to have little impact on parliamentary party practices. “There is nothing more unrealistic than the idea of having something radically different that would come anywhere near being in the interests of the vast majority of people under new dispensations in Kerala and Bengal. But there needs to be air for people to breathe, room for them to disagree and tolerance for them to come to truths that ground reality reveals in its normal way…. What was decisive in Bengal polls was not ideology, not promise to keep old promises, but masses in motion fighting for free expression and an atmosphere free of terror and fear.” Frontier, Vol. 43, No. 45, May 22-28, 2011, http://frontierweekly.com/.
131. “Demolition of an Ashram Run by Gandhian Activists: Fact-Finding Report of Demolition of Vanvasi Chetna Ashram, Dantewada, Chhattisgarh, 29 May–1 June 2009,” People’s Union for Civil Liberties—Raipur, Chhattisgarh, 7/09, www.pucl.org/Topics/Industries-envirn-resettlement/2009/Dantewada_report.pdf.
134. “The Jharkhand government has launched a new operation in the state, which can be called the ‘Operation NGO Hunt’. In a latest discovery, the Jharkhand Police have found 1300 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as sympathisers of the Naxalites though nobody knows the ‘parameters’ of ‘sympathiser’. However, the way state is behaving with these organizations, it is very clear that anyone who raises questions against the violation of the rights of the people residing in the Red Corridor is a sympathiser of the Naxalites. In fact, these NGOs, Human Rights Groups and Mass Organizations are empowering the villagers, mobilizing them and fighting to protect their constitutional rights in the Red Corridor but the state is determined to suppress them.” Gladson Dungdung, “The Operation NGO Hunt In Jharkhand,” 11/4/2010, www.countercurrents.org, http://countercurrents.org/dungdung041110.htm.
135. After an extensive campaign for his release, both within India and internationally, Binayak Sen was granted bail in April 2011. Piyush Guha was similarly freed on bond about a month later. Narayan Sanyal remained in jail, and charges against all three continued to be pressed by the state as of June 2011.
136. Pranava K. Chaudhary, “Bihar cops thrash Jamia professor, brand him ‘Naxal,’” The Times of India, 12/26/09.
137. Giri, “Maoists and the Poor: Against Democracy?” (note 69).
138. “Street-side story,” India Together, 6/4/08, http://www.indiatogether.org/2008/jun/pov-homeless.htm; “Homeless people in India,” 2/9/09, lawyerjourno, http://www.lawyerjourno.com/2009/02/homeless-people-in-india.htm; Andrew Strickler, “India’s Railway Children,” The Christian Science Monitor, 8/4/04, http://www.csmonitor.com/2004/0804/p11s01-wosc.html.
139. “India Tries to Save Troubled Sports Event,” New York Times, 9/23/10, A14.
140. “Commonwealth Stadium Built Using Child Labor,” patyanews.com, http://www.pattayadailynews.com/en/2010/09/22/commonwealth-stadium-built-using-child-labour/, 9/22/10.
141. Giri, “Maoists and the Poor: Against Democracy?” (note 69); V.I. Lenin, “Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution: Conclusion. Dare We Win?” 6-7/1905; Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung (Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1968) Chap. 7.
By W. I. ROBINSON
University of California, Santa Barbara, CA, USA
ABSTRACT This article analyzes and theorizes the global crisis from the perspective of global capitalism theory. The crisis is unprecedented, given its magnitude, its global reach, the extent of ecological degradation and social deterioration, and the scale of the means of violence. If we are to avert disastrous outcomes, we must understand the nature of the new global capitalism as well as its crisis. The system-wide crisis will not be a repeat of earlier such episodes of crisis in the 1930s and the 1970s precisely because world capitalism is fundamentally different in the early twenty-first century. Among the qualitative shifts in the global system this article highlights are: (1) the rise of truly transnational capital and the integration of every country into a new globalized production and financial system; (2) the appearance of a transnational capitalist class; (3) the rise of transnational state apparatuses; (4) and the appearance of novel relations of inequality and domination in global society. The current crisis shares several aspects with earlier structural crises of the 1970s and the 1930s but also several features unique to the present: (1) the system is fast reaching the ecological limits of its reproduction; (2) the unprecedented magnitude of the means of violence and social control, as well as the concentrated control over the means of global communications and the production and circulation of symbols; (3) limits to the extensive and intensive expansion of capitalism; (4) the rise of a vast surplus population inhabiting a ‘planet of slums’; (5) the disjuncture between a globalizing economy and a nation-state based system of political authority. The discussion draws on theories of over-accumulation and legitimization crises. It shows how in the face of stagnation pressures, the system turned to three mechanisms at the turn of the century to sustain the global economy: militarized accumulation, frenzied worldwide financial speculation, and the raiding and sacking of public budgets. The article discusses how diverse social and political forces are responding to the crisis, explores alternative scenarios for the future, and warns of the danger of a ‘twenty-first century fascism’. Finally, the article examines the role of organic intellectuals in public interpretations of the crisis and possible solutions.
Correspondence Address: William I. Robinson, Department of Sociology, University of California Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA 93106 – 9430, USA. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, # 2013 Taylor & Francis
I have been writing about world capitalism since the 1980s, about globalization since the early1990s, and about the notion of a transnational capitalist class (TCC) and transnational state (TNS) apparatuses since the late 1990s, as part of a broader collective research agenda in what some of us have referred to as the global capitalism school (see, inter alia, Robinson, 1996a, 1996b, 1998, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008; Robinson and Harris, 2000). This work has put me in touch with a network of friends and colleagues also researching these matters, among them Leslie Sklair, Bill Carroll, Jerry Harris, and Georgina Murray. My thoughts on globalization have congealed over the past decade into a more synthetic theory of global capitalism as a new epoch in the ongoing and open-ended evolution of world capitalism, characterized by novel articulations of transnational social power, as laid out most explicitly in Robinson (2004) and Robinson (2008, ch. 1). Here I want to place the matter of such social power in the context of the global crisis. The fact is, our world is burning; we are facing a global crisis of unprecedented scale and proportions. In my view our very survival is at risk. The most urgent task of any intellectual who considers him/herself organic is to address this crisis—in our intellectual production and in our social activity.
This crisis, I reiterate, is unprecedented, given its magnitude, its global reach, the extent of ecological degradation and social deterioration, and the scale of the means of violence. We truly face a crisis of humanity. The stakes have never been higher. We have entered a period of great upheavals, momentous changes, and uncertainties, fraught with dangers if also opportunities. We now confront the growing threat of ecological collapse and of what I refer to as twenty-first century fascism as one of several political responses to crisis. If we are to avert such outcomes we must understand both the nature of the new global capitalism and the nature of its crisis. I aspire here to analyze and theorize the global crisis from the perspective of global capitalism theory. This perspective offers a powerful explanatory framework for making sense of the crisis. Following Marx, we want to focus on the internal dynamics of capitalism to understand the crisis, and following the global capitalism perspective we should look for how capitalism has qualitatively evolved in recent decades. The system-wide crisis we face will not be a repeat of earlier such episodes in the 1930s or 1970s precisely because world capitalism is fundamentally different in the early twenty-first century.
How specifically, is world capitalism different now than during previous episodes of crisis? There have been several qualitative shifts in capitalism that I have highlighted elsewhere (see, inter alia, the works referenced above) that here we can summarize as follows:
(1) The rise of truly transnational capital and the integration of every country into a new globalized production and financial system. This represents a transition from a world economy, in which countries and regions were linked to each other via trade and financial flows in an integrated international market, to a global economy, characterized by global circuits of accumulation, that is, transnational production and a single globally integrated financial system. This is a new global economic structure.
(2) The appearance of a new TCC, a class group embedded in new global circuits of accumulation rather than national circuits. As a class group the TCC has drawn in contingents from most countries around the world, North and South, and has attempted to position itself as a global ruling class. This TCC represents the hegemonic fraction of capital on a world scale.
(3) The rise of TNS apparatuses, loose networks composed of supranational political and economic institutions and of national state apparatuses that have been penetrated and transformed by transnational forces. The TNS functions to organize the conditions for transnational accumulation and through which the TCC attempts to organize and institutionally exercise its class power.
(4) The appearance of novel relations of inequality, domination, and exploitation in global society, including an increasing importance of transnational social and class inequalities relative to North – South inequalities that are geographically or territorially conceived.
I have been focusing in recent years on the occurrence and significance of accumulation and legitimization crises in the global system. It is clear that the collapse of the global financial system in 2008, what some called the Great Recession, was merely the straw that broke the camel’s back. This is not a cyclical but a structural crisis, a ‘restructuring crisis’, such as we experienced in the 1970s and before that in the 1930s (and even before that, in the 1870s). Cyclical crises are recurrent to capitalism about once every 10 years and involve recessions that act as self-correcting mechanisms without any major restructuring of the system. The recessions of the early 1980s, the early 1990s, and of 2001 were cyclical crises. Structural crises reflect deeper contradictions that can only be resolved by a major restructuring of the system. The crisis of the 1970s was a structural crisis that was resolved through capitalist globalization. And prior to that, the 1930s was a structural crisis that was resolved through the creation of a new model of Fordist – Keynesian or redistributive capitalism. This twenty-first century crisis has the potential to develop into a systemic crisis. A systemic crisis involves the replacement of a system by an entirely new system or by an outright collapse. A structural crisis opens up the possibility for a systemic crisis. But if it actually snowballs into a systemic crisis—in this case, if it gives way either to capitalism being superseded or to a breakdown of global civilization—is not predetermined and depends entirely on the response of social and political forces to the crisis and on historical contingencies that are not easy to forecast. This is a historic moment of extreme uncertainty, in which collective responses to the crisis from distinct social and class forces are in great flux.
The twenty-first century global crisis shares a number of aspects with earlier structural crises of the world economy of the 1970s and the 1930s, but there are also several features unique to the present. One is that the system is fast reaching the ecological limits of its reproduction. The world capitalist system is a truly global system and the transformations in natural systems brought about by human activity have now begun, in the words of ecologist Peter Vitousek, to ‘alter the structure and function of Earth as a system’ (as cited in Foster et al., 2010, p. 35). The ecological holocaust underway cannot be underestimated: peak oil, climate change, the extinction of species, the collapse of centralized agricultural systems in several regions of the world, and so on. According to leading environmental scientists, there are nine ‘planetary boundaries’ crucial to maintaining an earth system environment in which humans can exist, four of which are experiencing at this time the onset of irreversible environmental degradation and three of which (climate change, the nitrogen cycle, and biodiversity loss) are at ‘tipping points’, meaning that these processes have already crossed their planetary boundaries (see Foster et al., 2010, p. 14).
Another is that the magnitude of the means of violence and social control is unprecedented, as is the concentration of the means of global communication and symbolic production in the hands of a very few powerful groups. Computerized wars, drones, bunker-buster bombs, global surveillance, biometrics, data mining systems, star wars, and so forth have changed the face of warfare. Warfare has become normalized and sanitized for those not directly at the receiving end of armed aggression in this age of warfare as spectacle and asymmetric warfare, in which one side has overwhelming superior strength and the also the ability to control public perceptions of conflicts. At the same time, we have arrived at the panoptical surveillance society and the age of thought control by those who control global flows of communication and symbolic pro- duction (for discussion on these matters, see, inter alia Barkawi, 2005; Gilliom and Monahan, 2012; Graham, 2010; Hirst, 2011; Mattelart, 2010).
A third is that capitalism is reaching apparent limits to its extensive expansion. There are no longer any new territories of significance that can be integrated into world capitalism, de-ruralization is now well advanced, and the commodification of the countryside and of pre- and non- capitalist spaces has intensified, that is, converted in hot-house fashion into spaces of capital, so that intensive expansion is reaching depths never before seen. Capitalism must continually expand or collapse. How or where will it now expand?
A fourth is the rise of a vast surplus population inhabiting, to use the phrase coined by Mike Davis (2007), a ‘planet of slums’, dispossessed yet locked out of the productive economy, thrown into the margins, and subject to sophisticated systems of social control and to destruction—to a mortal cycle of dispossession – exploitation – exclusion. Proletarianization worldwide has accelerated through new waves of primitive accumulation as billions of people have been dispossessed and thrown into the global labor market. The global wage labor force doubled from some 1.5 billion in 1980 to some 3 billion in 2006 (Freeman, 2005). Yet those uprooted and dispossessed have not been absorbed into formal employment. The International Labor Organization (ILO, 1997) reported that at the end of century one-third of the world’s economically active population was unemployed—that is, idle labor, or what Davis terms the ‘outcast proletariat’ found in the world’s megacities; by the late 1990s, as Davis points out, for the first time in human history the urban population of the earth outnumbered the rural population. Fifth, there is a disjuncture between a globalizing economy and a nation-state based system of political authority. TNS apparatuses are incipient and have not been able to play the role of what social scientists refer to as a ‘hegemon’, or a leading nation-state that has enough power and authority to organize and stabilize the system (Robinson, 2004, 2007, 2008).
Development of the Crisis
Let us review how the crisis has developed and what it tells us about global capitalism and global society.
Emergent transnational capital underwent a major expansion in the 1980s and 1990s, involving: hyper-accumulation through new technologies such as computerization and informatics; neoliberal policies; and new modalities of mobilizing and exploiting the global labor force, including the flexibilization and casualization of labor and a massive new round of primitive accumulation, displacing hundreds of millions of people, especially in the Third World country- side, who became internal and international migrants. But hyper-accumulation was followed by renewed stagnation in the late 1990s as the system faced a new round of crisis. Sharp social polarization and escalating inequalities worldwide fueled the chronic problem of over-accumulation of capital. The concentration of the planet’s wealth in the hands of a few and the accelerated impoverishment and dispossession of the majority has been extreme under capitalist globalization.1 This pauperization of broad majorities has meant that transnational capital cannot find productive outlets to unload the enormous amounts of surplus it has accumulated; ceteris paribus, global output has expanded as the global market has contracted. By the twenty-first century the TCC turned to several mechanisms to sustain global accumulation in the face of over-accumulation.
What were these mechanisms? One is militarized accumulation. Making wars and undertaking interventions unleash cycles of destruction and reconstruction, and generate enormous profits for an ever-expanding military – prison – industrial – security – financial complex. We are now living in a global war economy that goes beyond such ‘hot’ wars as in Iraq and Afghanistan. A second is the raiding and sacking of public budgets. The TCC uses its financial powers to take control of state finances and to impose further austerity on the working majority. It employs its structural power to attempt to accelerate the dismantling of what remains of the social wage and welfare states. And a third is frenzied worldwide financial speculation. This involves turning the global economy into a giant casino. The TCC has unloaded trillions of dollars into speculation in housing and real estate markets, food, energy, and other global commodities markets, into bond markets worldwide (that is, public budgets and state finances), and into every imaginable
‘derivative’, ranging from hedge funds to swaps, futures markets, collateralized debt obligations, asset pyramiding, and Ponzi schemes. The extent of such speculation in fictitious value defies logic and the imagination: in 2006 financial markets were trading more in a month than the annual gross domestic product of the entire world (Graham, 2010, p. 4)!
Elsewhere I have discussed at some length how these three mechanisms have played them- selves out since the turn of the twenty-first century (see, inter alia, Robinson, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, forthcoming; Robinson and Barrera, 2012). The key questions I want to
pose here are: Where is this crisis headed? What are the possible outcomes? What does all this tell us about global capitalism and also about the prospects for confronting global capitalism?
How has the TCC responded to the crisis, both in terms of its direct class interests, and in pol- itical terms, that is, in terms of its relationship to political processes at the national and transna- tional levels? In fact, the TCC has used the crisis to pursue its class interests aggressively. Historically, dominant groups attempt to transfer the cost of crisis onto the mass of popular and working classes and in turn these classes resist such attempts. This appears to be the global political moment. Transnational capital and its political agents have attempted to resolve the structural crisis by effecting a vast shift in the balance of class and social forces worldwide in its favor, in an effort to deepen many times over and to consummate the ‘neoliberal counterrevolution’ that began in the 1980s. Here, ‘resolved’ does not mean that things get better for the mass of humanity but that there is a resumption of sustained accumulation. Europe and the United States now face the same neoliberal policies that have been imposed on the Global South since the 1980s.
While transnational capital’s offensive against the global working class dates back to the crisis of the 1970s and has grown in intensity ever since, the 2008 financial collapse and the ‘Great Recession’ that followed was, in several respects, a major turning point. The multi-billionaire Warren Buffett, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, and one of the richest men in the world, famously stated in 2006 that ‘There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning’ (as cited in Carroll, 2010, p. 1). In fact, the global crisis provided the TCC with an opportunity to intensify this war. As the crisis spread it generated conditions worldwide for new rounds of massive austerity, including a greater flexibilization of labor, slashing the social wage, speed-ups, and so on. The crisis allowed the money mandarins of global capitalism and their political agents to squeeze more value out of labor—directly, through more intensified exploitation, and indirectly, through state finances. Social and political conflict escalated around the world in the wake of 2008, including repeated rounds of national strikes and mass mobilizations in the European Union, uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East, and so on.
Although TNS apparatuses failed to intervene to impose regulations on global finance capital they did intervene to impose the costs of devalorization on global labor. Crises, moreover, provide capital with the opportunity to accelerate the process of forcing greater productivity out of fewer workers. According to one press report, the largest employers in the United States, for instance, ‘have emerged from the economy’s harrowing downturn loaded with cash thanks to deep cost-cutting that helped drive unemployment into double digits. . . . and [resulted in] huge gains in worker productivity’ (Petruno, 2010, p. A1).
Apart from the massive devalorizations of 2007 and 2008, the crisis has therefore involved less a devalorization of capital than a further transfer of wealth from labor to transnational capital and has set the stage for a new round of deep austerity. The crisis has in part been dis- placed to state budgets—bailouts, austerity, deficits, etc.—yet this needs to be seen in terms of class relations. The bailouts of transnational capital represent in themselves a transfer of the devaluation of capital onto labor. The budgetary and fiscal crises that supposedly justify spend- ing cuts and austerity are a matter of political decisions; they are contrived, literally. They are a consequence of the unwillingness or inability of states to challenge capital and their disposition to transfer the burden of the crisis to working and popular classes. Mass unemployment, foreclo- sures, the further erosion of social wages, wage cuts, furloughs, the increased exploitation of part-time workers, reduced work hours, informalization, and mounting debt peonage—including capital’s claim to the future wages of workers through public debt—are some of capital’s trans- fer mechanisms. Unless there is effective resistance, global capital is likely to make permanent the further flexibilization of labor and other concessions it is wringing out of workers through the crisis.
It seems clear that transnational finance capital was able to privately appropriate state bailouts and turn them into super profits. In 2009 Wall Street reported a resumption of massive profits, even in the midst of severe recession and low levels of consumption, a decline in productive investment, and a sharp rise in unemployment. By 2010 global corporations were registering record profits and corporate income escalated. After suffering losses in 2008, the top 25 hedge-fund managers were paid, on average, more than $1 billion each in 2009, eclipsing the record they had set in pre-recession 2007 (Freeland, 2011, p. 4). The Dow Jones, which had dropped from 14,000 to 6,500 in late 2008 and early 2009, rose to 13,000 in early 2012. In the United States, corporate profits in 2011 hit their highest level since 1950. Between 2008 and 2011, 88% of national income growth in the United States went to corporate profits while just 1% went to wages. In comparison, in the recovery from the 2000 – 2001 recession, 15% of income growth went to wages and salaries while 53% went to corporate profits, and in the recovery that began in 1991 50% of the growth in national income went to wages and salaries while corporate profits actually fell by 1% (Greenhouse, 2011). According to Federal Reserve data from late 2010, companies in the United States held $1.8 trillion in cash, more than it had at any time since 1956 (at adjusted prices) in uninvested cash—a powerful indicator of the persistence of over-accumulation (as cited in Parenti, 2011, pp. 228 – 9).
Here I want to comment further on a new structural feature of global capitalism, the rise of‘surplus humanity’, a mass of hundreds of millions, if not billions, of people who constitute a group distinct from the earlier ‘reserve army of labor’ about which Marx wrote. This rise of such a mass has major implications for political projects, both hegemonic and counter-hegemo- nic. As I have noted, the process of achieving greater productivity with fewer workers has accel- erated under globalization. The newfound mobility of transnational capital and new forms of spatial organization has allowed it to break free from earlier nation-state constraints to unbridled accumulation—that is, the power and ability of working and popular classes to impose those constraints within the bounds of the nation-state. Spatial reorganization helps transnational capital to break the power of territorially bound labor and to impose new sets of capital – labor relations based on fragmentation, flexibilization, intense discipline regimes, and the cheap- ening of labor, together with new forms of social control and reproduction. This is combined with a massive new round of primitive accumulation and displacement that has given rise to a global army of superfluous labor, to the marginalization of some one-third of humanity that has been dispossessed from the means of production, locked out of productive participation in the global economy, dehumanized, and subject to new forms of social control and repression—what I referred to earlier as a mortal cycle of dispossession – exploitation – exclusion. Iwill come back momentarily to the matter of surplus humanity.
Responses to the Crisis
Apart from the TCC, how have social and political forces worldwide responded to the crisis? Clearly, the crisis is resulting in a rapid political polarization of global society. Both left- and right-wing forces appear to be insurgent. There are three identifiable responses that are in dispute:
The first is reformism from above aimed at stabilizing the system, at saving it from itself and
from more radical responses from below. Transnational reformist-oriented elites have proposed regulating global financial markets, state stimulus programs, fomenting a shift from speculation to productive accumulation, and limited redistributive measures. Elites such as George Soros, Jeffrey Sacks, and Joseph Stiglitz, as well as representatives from the international financial institutions and some governments are now guided less by neoclassical than institutional econ- omics and pursue a ‘global neo-Keynesianism’.2 Nonetheless, in the years following the 2008 collapse it seems that these reformers have been unable, or unwilling, to prevail over the power of transnational finance capital. Moreover, such powerful transnational capitalists as Warren Buffett and Carlos Slim have advanced reformist – redistributive discourses, but their eagerness to take advantage of the crisis to make profits prevents them from playing a significant reformist role.
A second response is popular, grassroots, and leftist resistance from below. This resistance appears to be insurgent in the wake of 2008 yet spread very unevenly across countries and regions. Reflecting this insurgency are: mass uprisings in EU countries in the wake of the sover- eign debt crisis and the imposition of draconian new austerity programs; uprising in North Africa and the Middle East; the turn to the left in Latin America; the revival of labor militancy in the United States and the Occupy Movement; a major escalation of strike activity in China; and so on (on the global revolts, see inter alia Mason, 2012; and on Latin America in particular, see Robinson, 2008).
A third response is twenty-first century fascism. The ultra-right is an insurgent force in many countries. In Latin America, a neo-fascist right is present in Colombia, Honduras, and Mexico. In the EU and the United States, such groups as the Tea Party, Christian fundamentalism, skin- heads, the anti-immigrant movement, and so on are on the rise. My fear is that if reformism from above fails and popular and leftist forces are not able to seize the initiative then the road may become open for a twenty-first century fascism. The proto-fascist right seeks to fuse reactionary political power with transnational capital and to organize a mass base among historically privileged sectors of the global working class—such as white workers in the North and middle layers in the South—that are now experiencing heightened insecurity and the specter of downward mobility. The proto-fascist response has involved militarism, extreme masculinization, racism, the search for scapegoats (such as immigrant workers and Muslims in the United States and Europe), and mystifying ideologies, often involving race/ culture supremacy and xenophobia, embracing an idealized and mythical past, as well as racist mobilization against scapegoats. We should recall that fascism is a particular response to capitalist crisis, one that seeks to contain any challenge to crisis that may come from subordinate groups (for further discussion, see Robinson and Barrera, 2012, and Robinson, forthcoming, ch. 5).
It is in this regard that we must now return to the matter of surplus humanity. What has taken place through capitalist globalization is the severing of the logic of accumulation from that of social reproduction. Central to the story of global capitalism and crisis, as well as to the specter of neo-fascism, is the mass of humanity that has been expropriated from the means of survival yet also expelled from capitalist production as global supernumeraries or surplus labor, relegated to scraping by in a ‘planet of slums’ and subject to all-pervasive and ever- more sophisticated and repressive social control systems. From the vantage point of dominant groups, the challenge is: how to contain the mass of supernumeraries, the marginalized, and the resistance of downwardly mobile majorities?
We are witnessing transitions from social welfare to social control states. The need for dominant groups around the world to assure widespread, organized, mass social control of the world’s surplus population of rebellious forces from below gives a powerful impulse to a project of twenty-first century global fascism. Simply put, the immense structural inequalities of the global political economy cannot easily be contained through consensual mechanisms of social control, that is, through hegemonic domination.
There is an explosive growth of social inequality and intensified crises of survival for billions of people around the world. This involves the breakdown of the social fabric at the same time as the state’s ability to function as a ‘factor of cohesion’ (Poulantzas, 1968) within the social order breaks down to the extent that capitalism has globalized and the logic of accumulation or com- modification penetrates every aspect of social life—the ‘life world’ itself. As a result, ‘cohesion’ requires more and more social control in the face of the collapse of the social fabric.
The inability of national states to meet the contradictory functions of accumulation and legit- imization means that economic crisis intensifies the problem of legitimization for dominant groups, so that accumulation crises appear as spiraling political crises; ‘governability’ becomes more and more elusive. States resort to a host of mechanisms of coercive exclusion, among them: legal changes to criminalize the excluded—often racialized—and to subject them to mass incarceration and the punitive whip of prison – industrial complexes; repressive anti-immigrant legislation; manipulation of space in new ways so that both gated communities and slums are controlled by armies of private security guards and technologically advanced sur- veillance systems; ubiquitous, often para-militarized policing; mobilization of the culture indus- tries and state ideological apparatuses to dehumanize victims of global capitalism as dangerous, depraved, and culturally degenerate; ideological campaigns aimed at seduction and passivity through petty consumption and a flight into fantasy. This last aspect is crucial: the culture of global capitalism attempts to seduce the excluded and to channel their frustrated aspirations into petty consumption and fantasy as an alternative to placing political demands on the system through collective mobilization.
All this provides fertile bases for projects of twenty-first century fascism. Images of what such a political project would involve span from: the late 2008/early 2009 Israeli invasion of Gaza and its ongoing ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians; the scapegoating and criminalization of immigrant workers in the United States, Europe, Australia, and many other countries; genocide in the Congo; the spread of neo-Nazis and skinheads in Europe; the UN/US occupation of Haiti and the Indian occupation of Kashmir; the trashing of Somalia; and the explosive spread of the Tea Party and far-right Christian fundamentalism in the United States.
With regard to the TCC, I believe we can identify three sectors of capital in particular that stand out as most aggressive in pursuing accumulation strategies that make them most prone to supporting or even promoting neo-fascist political arrangements. These are: speculative finance capital; the military – industrial – prison – security complex; the extractive and energy complexes. Capital accumulation in the military – industrial – security complex, for instance, depends on never-ending conflicts and wars, including the declared wars ‘on crime’, ‘on drugs’, and ‘on terrorism’, and the undeclared wars on immigrants and on gangs (and poor, dark-skinned, and working class youth more generally), among others, as well as more generally on the militarization of social control. Financial accumulation requires ever greater austerity that is hard, if not impossible, to impose through consensual mechanisms.
If the imperative of social control gives a powerful impetus to the militarization of global capitalism, this militarization has another key function, that of sustaining global accumulation in the face of stagnation. Militarization as response to the crisis of global capitalism achieves the simultaneous objectives of social control and repression and of coercively opening up opportu- nities for capital accumulation worldwide, either on the heels of military force or through the state’s contracting out to transnational corporate capital the production and execution of social control and warfare. The examples abound: the invasion and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan; the transnational intervention in Libya’s internal conflict; the above-mentioned wars on drugs, terrorism, and immigrants; mass incarceration, including in prisons and detention centers constructed and often run by private corporations; the building of border walls (in Pales- tine, between the US and Mexico, in green zones in Iraq and elsewhere, between South Africa and several of its northern neighbors, and so on). Hence the generation of conflicts and the repression of social movements and vulnerable populations around the world becomes an accumulation strategy independent of any political objectives. This type of permanent global warfare involves both low and high-intensity wars, ‘humanitarian missions’, ‘drug interdiction operations’, ‘anti-crime sweeps’, and so on.
The US state as the most powerful component of the TNS has mobilized vast resources and political pressures, taking advantage of the dollar’s role as the global currency and therefore of the extraordinary power of the US Treasury, to absorb surpluses and sustain global accumulation by militarizing that accumulation and creating a global war economy under the pretext of a ‘war on terror’ and a ‘war on drugs’ (note also that wars accelerate the turnover time of the circuit of militarized accumulation).3 In sheer monetary terms, the escalation of US state military spending in the wake of September 11, 2001 is stunning (Table 1).
Table 1. US military spending, 1997 – 2012 ($billions, 2005)
A twenty-first century fascism would not look like twentieth century fascism. Among other things, the ability of dominant groups to control and manipulate space and to exercise unprecedented control over the mass media, the means of communication and the production of symbols, images, and messages means that repression can be more selective and also organized ‘juridi- cally’ so that, for example, mass ‘legal’ incarceration takes the place of concentration camps. Such caging removes surplus labor from society and turns that surplus labor into a source of ongoing profits (see, inter alia, Alexander, 2010; Gilmore, 2007). The ideological and policing processes involved in the mass warehousing of ethnically oppressed groups and the poor have the effect of displacing social anxieties over crisis, economic destabilization, and downward mobility into the population targeted for marginalization, police repression, and caging.4 In this regard, vast new powers of cultural hegemony open up novel possibilities for atomizing and channeling grievances and frustrated aspirations into escapism and consumerist fantasies. Fashion and entertainment industries market anything that can be converted into a commodity. With this comes depoliticization at best, if not the ability to channel fear into flight rather than fight-back. The ideology of twenty-first century fascism often rests on irrationality; the promise to deliver security and restore stability is emotive, not rational. Twenty-first century fascism is a project that does not—and need not—distinguish between the truth and the lie.
Interpreting the Crisis
In conclusion, barring the overthrow of capitalism, any resolution of the crisis from the vantage point of the vast majority must involve a global redistribution downward of income. This, in turn, would have to involve establishing a measure of state intervention, regulation, and redis- tributive capacities that state elites, so far, have been unable or unwilling to undertake. It would mean reining in transnational finance capital—the most globalized and most globally mobile fraction of capital. We see here the contradiction between globalized capital and a nation-state based system of political authority. We see the structural power this disjuncture gives to the TCC, especially to transnational finance capital, as well as the obdurate penetration of national state apparatuses that the TCC has achieved in pursuit of its interests. In the United States, let us recall, corporations are legally considered ‘people’ and can now provide unlimited funding to political parties and campaigns. As never before, economic power translates into political control, or the power to determine political outcomes.
The most enlightened among transnationally oriented political and economic elites have been clamoring for TNS apparatuses with a transnational regulatory and interventionist capacity as a requisite for restabilizing the system. It remains to be seen if such efforts will come to fruition. Even if they do, it is unlikely, in my view, that a global capitalism ‘with a human face’ is possible—indeed, an oxymoron. A transnational neo-Keynesianism can do little to resolve the ecological holocaust. The reformist interpretation of the crisis as resulting from a lack of institutional regu- lation together with the unfortunate greed of the wealthy ignores, as it must if it is to remain true to its defense of capitalism, the contradictions of accumulation that generate the underlying causes of the crisis. Yet this reformist interpretation which is quite compatible with global capitalism may become hegemonic in the absence of an alternative anti-systemic interpretation put forward by organic intellectuals identified with the global popular and working classes and their interests.
Now from the viewpoint of those from below, the objective is not merely a project of redistribution within the prevailing global power structure and socioeconomic system; it is to redistribute power downward and transform the system. What type of a transformation? In my view, any transformative project would need to place democratic socialism back on the agenda. It would require new forms of production, collective laboring, and consumption that is in harmony with nature. We would want to—and must—develop new modalities of political organization in which the grassroots base and social movements are empowered to exercise democratic control from below. And any emancipatory project must involve building cultures of solidarity and transnational resistance.
Times of crisis open up space for collective agency and for contingency to influence the course of history in ways that are not possible in times of relative stability, and in ways that are less predictable than in such times. How the masses of people understand the nature of global crisis becomes itself a critical battleground in the struggle for alternative futures. Hence crucial to any struggle in global society to resist the war unleashed against the global working and popular classes is putting forward a coherent explanation of the crisis and of possible solutions from a working class, leftist, ecological, and democratic socialist-oriented perspective.
This is where organic intellectuals and socially committed scholars come in. In my view, and in conclusion, the only viable solution to the crisis of global capitalism is a massive redistribution of wealth and power downward to the poor majority of humanity along the lines of a twenty- first century democratic socialism, in which humanity is no longer at war with itself and with nature. Otherwise, humanity may be headed for what Chew (2007) has termed a new dark age.
This article is based on a keynote speech delivered at the International Conference on ‘Global Capitalism and Transnational Class Formation’, jointly sponsored by the Global Studies Center of the Czech Academy of Sciences, the Global Studies Association North American branch, and the globalization research unit of the International Studies Association, September 16 – 19, 2011, Prague. The ideas on global crisis developed here can be found in further detail in Robinson (2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, forthcoming), and Robinson and Barrera (2012). I would like to thank Globalizations special issue editor Jason Struna and two anonymous reviewers for their suggestions.
1 One of the most notorious outcomes of globalization is an alarming widening of the gap between the global haves and have-nots, as, among countless studies, the annual Human Development reports of the United Nations Development Program show (UNDP, 1992 – 2011). The annual World Wealth Report published by Merrill Lynch and Capgemini identifies what it terms High-Net-Worth Individuals, or HNWIs, those people who have more than $1 million in free cash, not including property and pensions. The 2011 report identified some 10 million of these HNWIs in 2010, concentrated in North America, Europe, and Japan, but with the most rapid growth among the group taking place in Asia-Pacific, Latin America, Eastern Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. The collective wealth of the HNWIs surpassed $42 trillion in that year, well over double of what it was 10 years earlier, and 10% higher than the previous year (Merrill Lynch and Capgemini, 2011). Beyond the growth of the superrich, however, is social polarization between some 20% of humanity that has been able to enjoy the fruits of the global cornucopia and some 80% that has experienced downward mobility and heightened insecurity and lies outside what McMichael (2007) refers to as ‘global consumer networks’.
2 On such reformist, institutionalist, and neo-Keynesian thinking, see inter alia, Soros (1998), Stiglitz (2003), and
Sacks (2006). These three are neither anti-capitalist nor anti-globalization; they speak of a capitalist globalization ‘with a human face’.
3 I cannot here expand on the matters of militarization and intervention as accumulation or on the role of the US state, but see inter alia, Robinson (2007, 2012, and forthcoming, esp. chs 3 and 5).
4 On these themes, the modern classic 1970s’ study by Stuart Hall and his colleagues, Policing the Crisis (1978) still bears remarkable pertinence.
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William I. Robinson is professor of sociology, global and international studies, and Latin American and Iberian studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara. His latest book, Global Capitalism, Global Crisis, will be published by Cambridge University Press in 2014.
By Cheng Enfu
Chinese Academy of Social Sciences
Nowadays the political and economic development in Socialist China cannot be separated from ideological and theoretical development, and is reflected by or contained in the following seven currents of social theories:
2. Democratic socialism
3. New leftism
5. Eclectic Marxism
6. Traditional Marxism
7. Innovative Marxism
Here the phrase “social currents” is a neutral term, of which Marxism is one type.
Chinese neo-liberalism has three policy suggestions:
First, it insists on deregulating and liberalizing the economy, including finance, trade, and investment, which means that private monopolies and oligarchs have freedom to control economy, media, education and politics both at home and abroad. If possible, public actions should be replaced with private ones without government interference. Neo-liberalists also suggest the government be small and weak in order to prevent its interference. While agreeing with the notion of small government, I argue here that the small one should be strong on governing functions, with support from a strong People’s Congress. For instance, the high number of government and Party ministries should be reduced into several larger ministries, which I have argued for two decades. The neo-liberalists maintain that government should have small number of staff, simple structure, and little role, only in order to have the monopolies play a greater part.
Secondly, neo-liberalism insists on privatization. It calls for privatizing reform of the existing public sectors on the basis that privatization is the foundation for good functioning of the market system and that private enterprises are the most efficient ones. The representative of this notion, Professor Zhang Weiying, former dean of Guanghua School of Administration at Beijing University, argues that land, enterprises, schools, postal services, mines, public facilities and transportation should all be privatized.
Thirdly, the neo-liberalists insist on the individualization of the welfare system. They oppose the establishment of the welfare state
and the increase of people’s welfare. This is the common feature of neo-liberalism both at home and abroad, but has not been clearly summarized by academics in both contexts. In China, neo-liberalism is also against such laws as the minimum wage and employment contracts. Those who subscribe to neo-liberalism and the “Washington Consensus” are few in number, but are gaining more and more influence.
2. Democratic Socialism
“Democratic socialism” in China contains the following assertions:
First, it denies Marxism as the only guiding theory. It supports the diversity of worldviews and guiding theories, i.e., the diversity of socialism in terms of its constitution and theoretical sources. It regards Bernstein’s revisionism and Keynes’ economics as its sources and components. Numerous currents and ideas are combined into one in the name of diversification and democracy of thinking, which in fact only constitute a kind of vegetable stew.
Secondly, in terms of the political system, it defends multi-party competition and government rotation. It claims that, as an interest group, the Communist Party of China (CPC) has its own special interests and is unable to avoid corruption as the only possible party in power.
Thirdly, in terms of the economic system, “democratic socialism” argues that socialism can be realized without transforming capitalist private ownership of the means of production because the ownership structure of the means of production is not the measurement of social essence. It suggests a mixed economic system combining state-owned, private and other enterprises, and a distribution system based on capital within the framework of private ownership. In terms of the ultimate goal, it considers communism as utopian. In China, the representatives of democratic socialism include Professor Xin Ziling and Pr ofessor Xie Tao, with Yanhuangchunqiu (China Digital Times) as their journal.
3. New Leftism
New leftism is composed of a loose group of intellectuals who have attracted the public attentio n through publishing articles on journals or websites so as to influence the Chinese political process. Most of them have the experience of studying abroad. Some of them still live overseas. Wuyouzhixiang (www.wyzxsx.com) is their major theoretical platform. Its founder, Han Deqiang holds a PhD in Marxism, but is not a Marxist, for he is opposed to the labour theory of value and historical materialism, even though he supports public ownership and critiques neo-liberalism.
In contrast with neo-liberalism, new leftism has the following three characteristics:
First, it calls for a powerful government which dominates during market reforms. This idea was reflected in The Report of Chinese State Power written by Wang Shaoguang and Hu Angang in 1993. The report triggered the tax reform of January 1994 which separated local taxes from state taxes. The reform has had a far-reaching influence over Chinese society since then. In this respect, neo-liberalists argue that state must release its power in order to promote the market economy.
Secondly, new-leftists criticize capitalist globalization, and argue that it has resulted in the wide extension of capitalism in China. Social problems in China have their root outside China, i.e., globalization, international capital, and market economy. Neo-liberalists would insist on the internal cause in this respect, and that the solution to the social problems should be further marketization, especially neo-liberalist reforms in both political and economic terms.
Thirdly, new-leftism argues that marketization reforms have resulted in the widening gap between the rich and the poor. It emphasizes economic equality, not economic growth at any cost. It considers the total rejection of the Marxist and communist idea of redistribution as ruthless and immoral. In the view of neo-liberalists, income inequality does not result from markets, but from corruption and tradeoffs between power and money — fundamentally it is the result of a dictatorship.
Although new-leftists try their best to stand on the side of the workers, their criticism and policy suggestions cannot be realized in reality. However, some of their discussions did have positive influence in Chinese society. For instance, Professor Cui Zhiyuan, who received his PhD in political science in USA, has employed game theory and mathematical method of economics to demonstrate, through the case study of Nanjie Village, why collectively-owned enterprises are more efficient.
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By Sean Ahern
Via Substance News, August 28, 2013
“I ask indulgence for only one assumption, namely that while some people may desire to be masters, all persons are born equally unwilling and unsuited to be slaves.” –The Invention of the White Race (I, 1).
BOOK REVIEW: Review of The Invention of the White Race, Volume I: Racial Oppression and Social Control and Volume II: The Origin of Racial Oppression in Anglo America by Theodore William Allen (1994, 1997, New Expanded Edition, Verso 2012)
The "White Race" was invented by colonial slave owners in order to thwart the alliance between British, Scottish and Irish and African indentured servants. The first big division say black skin as dooming a man to lifetime servitude, while "White" servants could be "free" after usually 21 years. As the centuries passed, the privileges of white working people, meager as they were, were often enough to head off any alliances against slavery — or later, in the South especially, against industrial and then finance capitalism.
Theodore W. Allen’s ‘The Invention of the White Race’ (2 Vols., I: Racial Oppression and Social Control and II: The Origin of Racial Oppression in Anglo-America), has been recognized by increasing numbers of scholars and activists as a seminal work since it was first published by Verso Books in the 1990s. The second edition offers a number of entry points and is designed to attract a broader audience. It features an expanded index, an internal study guide, a selected bibliography and a biographical sketch of the author all prepared by Jeffrey B. Perry, Allen’s literary executor and author of the acclaimed Hubert Harrison The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918, and editor of A Hubert Harrison Reader. The Invention of the White Race is a scrupulously documented, fairly argued, and profoundly radical history. Given the central place that race occupies in the corporate assault on public education and teacher unions, it will be of particular interest to readers of Substance, educators, students and working people interested in understanding the role of white supremacism and the white identity in the defeat of popular movements in our nation’s history. It contains the root of a general theory of United States history and the basis for a revolution in US labor history and in social history. Students of African American history, political economy, Irish American history, gender studies and colonial history will find in Allen’s work much of interest to recommend. For those considering the projected impact of demographic change in the 21st century, The Invention offers a lens through which to assess how the “white race” was invented and reinvented in the past and the ways in which ruling class-interests may seek to adjust, adapt or reinvent it in the present. After 300 years of functioning as a ruling class social control buffer, the US bourgeoisie will not, in this writer’s opinion, willingly abandon its tried and trusted guardian, the so called “white race.”
Genesis of the thesis
Theodore Allen.Allen’s view of the history of class struggle in the U.S. was radically altered by his reading of W.E.B. Du Bois’s Black Reconstruction in the early1960′s. Dubois described Black Reconstruction as a “normal working class movement, successful to an unusual degree, despite all disappointments and failures.” Its final defeat was due to “the race philosophy” of white supremacy, which made labor-unity or labor class-consciousness impossible. Together with Esther Kusic, to whom the Invention is dedicated, Allen developed a new approach that placed the struggle against white supremacy and the white skin privilege system at the center of a strategy for proletarian revolution in the US.
Two quotations from Black Reconstruction identify key sparks of insight that eventually led Allen to write The Invention of the White Race:
“The south, after the war [Civil War], presented the greatest opportunity for a real national labor movement which the nation ever saw or is likely to see for many decades. Yet the labor movement, with but few exceptions, never realized the situation. It never had the intelligence or knowledge, as a whole, to see in black slavery and reconstruction, the kernel and meaning of the labor movement in the United States.” [emphasis added]
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Translated by Enda Brophy,
Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 2011.
194pp., $69.50 HB.
Reviewed by Dave Mesing
Marx & Philosophy Review of Books
July 26, 2013 – After the death of neoliberal politics, Gigi Roggero argues, contemporary capitalism finds itself in a state of crisis in which the possibility exists for an autonomous organization of labor against capitalist command. When put this way, Roggero’s argument sounds too utopian for a context in which academic laborers face increasing precariousness, anxiety and pressure, at the same time as a decrease in compensation, influence and control. However, Roggero’s opening salvo that neoliberalism is finished is not a naïve profession of faith in the prospects for the struggle against capital; he is critically attuned to the possibilities and limits of the contemporary conjuncture. In positing the death of neoliberalism at the outset of his study, Roggero does not mean that specific instances of neoliberal politics or its effects no longer exist. Instead, he argues that a fundamental point of analysis necessary for an accurate understanding of the current political situation in both Europe and North America is that neoliberalism is no longer able to constitute itself as a coherent system.
Roggero refers to this situation as a double crisis: both the global economy and the western university are in trouble. For Roggero, crisis is no longer a stage in an economic cycle, but rather the contemporary form of capitalist accumulation, and the university is undergoing a similar crisis which he claims is intimately connected to the economic crisis. This is because Roggero takes his point of departure from the fact that ‘it is impossible to understand the transformations of the university if they are not connected to the transformations of labor and production.’ (3) In order to explore the commonalities between the crisis in capitalism and the crisis in the university, Roggero reads the conflicts within the university in terms of class struggle, power relations and production. He argues that the production and management of knowledge is central to contemporary relations of production, but notes that this thesis does not mean that there is an alternative between intellectual and manual labor, or that manual labor is disappearing.
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