Ideological Struggles among different Revolutionary groups and their Merger: The Indian Experience 1950s to 2004
Professor, Department of History
Let me at the outset convey my heartfelt gratitude to Dr. Nazira C. Camely of the Department of Economics, Universidade Federal Fluminense, Niteroi, Rio de Janeiro for inviting me to actively take part in the VI International Seminar on Bureaucratic Capitalism to be held during 9-14 October 2016. I am also grateful to other academicians, scholars, students and friends of other institutions and associations spread over different parts of Brasil as also those from other countries who have been kind enough to be present here today to listen to my lecture. I am very happy to be here again in the midst of you all. It is the re-strengthening of the bond among friends of different countries.
In the long history of the Indian Communist revolutionary movement spanning more than fifty years, there had been many struggles in the ideological front both within the revolutionary forces as also between the revolutionary force, on the one hand and the revisionist forces on the other. There were some common issues as also some which were not. This history can be divided into some broad phases.
In this presentation, we propose to deal first with the struggle of the revolutionary forces against the leadership of the Communist Party of India (CPI) and then against the Communist Party of India (Marxist)/CPI(M) after its birth in 1964, role in that struggle played, among others, by Charu Mazumdar, Charu Mazumdar’s ‘Eight Documents’ that formed the theoretical basis of the Naxalbari armed agrarian revolutionary struggle that began in 1967. The Naxalbari movement was preceded and followed by theoretical debates over several issues and fight against revisionism as manifested in political and cultural fields of various nature. A large number of CPI(M) leaders and cadres left the revisionist party and joined the revolutionary cause. Side by side, a new generation of revolutionary youths and students with varied ideas also joined the battle in that fluid stage. This first phase ends with the formation of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) in April 1969.
The phase from 1969 to 1972, a tumultuous period of revolutionary activism in the history of India, was also accompanied by criticism of the central Party line from within as also the Observations coming from the Communist Party of China on several issues. There were two or three trends. One trend was in favour of rectifying mistakes under the leadership of Charu Mazumdar from within on the basis of criticism and self-criticism. The second—a revisionist one–disowned all past struggles and set up a separate centre in Bihar. The third trend—an ultra-left one confined only to West Bengal—projected Charu Mazumdar as the ‘revolutionary authority’ and treated all critics of his political line as revisionists and counter-revolutionaries.
After the arrest and death of Charu Mazumdar in police lock-up in 1972, the CPI(ML) split up into many groups. Some renounced the path of armed struggle and apportioned the entire responsibility for the setback on Charu Mazumdar and ultimately went back to the revisionist parliamentary path. Some became inactive altogether. Some others—confined only to West Bengal—refused to make any self-criticism or criticism of the old line and adhered to the old ‘left’ line. The activities of this group were short-lived. Another trend, represented by people from West Bengal, Punjab, Andhra Pradesh and Bihar to start with, adhered to the path of armed agrarian revolution and sought to rectify old ‘left’ trends through re-assessment of past struggles and self-criticism. Several other groups which broadly agreed to this assessment merged among themselves and formed two parties—the CPI(ML) Party Unity based initially in West Bengal and Bihar and the CPI(ML) People’s War based initially in Andhra Pradesh. Besides these two—both of which were the products of the merger of many groups—there was another group—the Maoist Communist Centre(MCC)—later MCCI–that maintained a separate existence since its formation in October 1969—that adhered to the path of armed revolution. Two important mergers, besides others, followed—one between the CPI(ML) Party Unity and the CPI(ML) People’s War and the other between the CPI(ML) People’s War and the MCCI. Each of these mergers was preceded by ideological struggles. In this paper, we propose to discuss some of those struggles leading to mergers.
Phase: One 1950s to 1969
The Republic of India was formed after the ‘transfer of power’ in 1947 by the British raj to ‘friendly and reliable hands’. However, no social revolution preceded or followed the transfer of power. The big comprador bureaucratic bourgeoisie and the feudal class—the two main pillars of colonial rule—now became the ruling classes of India. Contrary to what many Indians dreamt of, this transfer of power did not bring about the end of imperialist control over India; rather it marked the beginning of imperialist domination over the long-suffering people of India in a new way. In the name of building an independent, self-reliant and advanced economy, the Indian ruling classes have made it more dependent on the capital and technology of imperialist countries. In the name of development and industrialization, they have helped the comprador big bourgeoisie to develop quickly, strengthened the stranglehold of imperialism over the country’s economy, politics and culture and, needless to say, have not made any basic change in the feudal relations in the countryside. In the name of non-alignment in foreign policy, the Indian ruling classes have in fact pursued a policy of bi-alignment with Anglo-American and Soviet powers. In the name of democracy and equal opportunities for all, they have trampled down the democratic rights of the people and tried to stifle the struggles of various nationalities for autonomy and self-determination. What was a colony before 1947 now became a semi-colony after the transfer of power in 1947. In place of Britain, there entered the US—the new ‘big brother’ in the imperialist world—which sought to transform Indian economy in its own image so that it serves its needs as Britain did in the past. By the mid-1960s, to cut a long story short, these policies of the Indian ruling classes matured into a deep political and economic crisis.
During those years after the transfer of power, an ideological struggle had started within the undivided Communist Party of India (CPI). The CPI leadership posed as the liberator of the Indian masses, added to the flesh and fat of the Indian ruling classes and their political representatives as led by Nehru. They were addicted to the ‘peaceful path of socialism’ and very much hostile to Mao Tse-tung Thought. In the 1951 programme of the CPI, it declared India to be a semi-colonial country with the government being one of landholders and princes and the reactionary big bourgeoisie collaborating with the British imperialists. It also talked about US control over Indian economy and advocated the ‘abolition of landlordism without any compensation’, confiscation and nationalization of all factories owned by the British in India etc. After that they adopted an ambiguous stand. In the Tactical line, they talked about armed struggle. In the election manifesto, on the other hand, they rejected the path of armed struggle and raised the slogan of achieving People’s Democracy through the ballot box. But in 1955, the earlier characterization of India was rejected and the CPI suddenly discovered the Indian State as fully independent and sovereign. The Indian big bourgeoisie that, in their assessment, appeared to be ‘reactionary’ earlier, now, as a whole, became ‘national’ and anti-imperialist. Moreover, the central committee of the CPI now advocated a parliamentary road to People’s Democracy and then to Socialism.
The CPI leadership had thus been in the process of departing from the basic principles of Marxism-Leninism and moved towards a revisionist path—a path influenced also by the stand of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union(Bolshevik) into which we would enter shortly. Such a change in policy did not go unchallenged. Radical forces emerged from the rank and file of the CPI who started criticizing the ‘revisionist’ stand of the leadership. The criticism came from the grass-root workers, middle-ranking leaders as also intellectuals. And here North Bengal played an important role. It was from then on that Charu Mazumdar, a local CPI leader came to champion radical politics and militant action—an ideology that was basically different from what had been preached by the CPI leadership. We propose to deal in some detail with the new ideas advocated by many including Charu Mazumdar that were destined to influence the future course of the history of India.
Charu Mazumdar was associated with the peasant movement right from the days of the Tebhaga movement(1946-47) covering many districts of undivided Bengal—a movement of sharecroppers demanding 2/3rds of crop yield. After the partition of India, he began work in the Terai region on the Indian side of north Bengal. He upheld the path of armed struggle as opposed to parliamentary politics and could muster a number of peasant activists many of whom were to play major roles in the Naxalbari movement, as also later under his leadership. They were Kanu Sanyal, Panchanan Sarkar, Jangal Santhal, Keshab Sarkar, Kadam Lal Mullick, Khokan Mazumdar, Mujibur Rahman, Babulal Biswakarmakar and others who worked under the banners of CPI-led peasant associations. During the same period, Suniti Kumar Ghosh, then a young college teacher in Dinajpur district, was closely associated with the Tebhaga struggle in 1946-47. Ghosh later became a member of the central committee of the CPI(ML) and edited its English organ, Liberation. Another leading personality was Sushital Roy Choudhury who became the first secretary of the WB State Committee of the CPI(ML). During the 1940s, in the Hooghly district, he built up militant struggles of the workers and peasants under CPI leadership. He was associated with the Tebhaga movement and was incarcerated like many others.
While Charu Mazumdar and others had been busy organizing the peasantry in North Bengal along radical lines, the city of Calcutta was witness to the emergence of a new breed of leftist intellectuals who expressed their radical perceptions in the realm of culture–some from the late 1930s and some later, during the IPTA(Indian People’s Theatre Association) movement of the 1940s and in the subsequent decades. The names include Saroj Datta, Sudhi Pradhan, Benoy Ghosh, Arun Mitra, Samar Sen, Swarna Kamal Bhattacharya, Subodh Ghosh, Subodh Choudhury, Sri Prasad Upadhyay and others. The Pragati Lekhak O Shilpi Sangha(Progressive Writers’ and Artists’ Association) with which many of those intellectuals were associated initiated intellectual struggles over various issues such as the role played by national and social leaders, debate on literature, 19th century Bengal Renaissance etc. Those polemical writings were rich and new in content and influenced many people. Besides intellectual and literary work, Saroj Datta was also associated with the Tebhaga movement as also strikes in the newspaper office for which he along with some other striking employees were branded as ‘communist’ and dismissed from service. Saroj Datta was the editor of Swadhinata, the organ of the Communist Party of India(CPI). Saroj Datta held that Mao Tse-tung was the true representative of Lenin and Stalin in Asia. It shows that the Chinese revolution and Mao Tse-tung had started to make an imprint on the intellectuals during those formative years.
The radical trend we are talking about had various shades of opinion. While those led by Charu Mazumdar were inclined more towards militant action, those led by Parimal Dasgupta were in favour of persistent ideological debate among the activists. It was from those times that two trends appeared within the radical circles—one Actionist, the other Debatist. The future will show that this Actionist line would be based on a theoretical foundation as given by the creator of Naxalbari himself.
An important departure from basic Marxist-Leninist line took place in February 1956 at the Twentieth Congress of the CPSU(B) headed by Khruschev. The new Soviet leadership denounced Stalin and the report formulated contained certain theses that rejected the basic tenets of the Marxist theory on the pretext of a change in the international situation. The new theses upheld peaceful existence of the capitalist and the socialist systems, peaceful competition between them, absence of contending classes and class struggle in a socialist society, peaceful transition to Socialism and the possibility of preventing war while imperialism existed. Khruschev advocated that in the new international situation, it would be possible to go over to socialism by using parliamentary means.
The CPI leadership’s wholehearted support to such theses evoked a sharp reaction from the radical elements within it. The Stalin question, more than any other, turned out to be a major issue in the inner-Party ideological struggle against ‘revisionism’. Among others, Parimal Dssgupta, Saroj Datta, Sushital Roy Choudhury, Asit Sen, Suniti Kumar Ghosh and Niranjan Bose raised the voice of criticism against ‘Khruschev revisionism’.
Meantime, in 1955 at the initiative of Charu Mazumdar, camps were organized to take political classes among tea-garden workers and peasant activists. Some areas were identified for such camps where for two days at a stretch classes were held during days and nights. Those who attended and took classes were fed by the peasants and tea-garden workers. The themes that were discussed were: a) ‘History of the Liberation Struggle in India’; b) ‘What is a Communist Party?’; c) ‘History of the Peasant Movement in India’; d) ‘What is Capitalism?’; e) ‘What is Socialism?’; f) ‘Party Programme’; g) ‘Leninism and the Agrarian Problem’; h) “Lenin’s ‘Two Tactics of Social Democracy”; i)“Lenin’s ‘What is to be done?’. Political classes for indoctrination and revolutionary activism had been a practice for a long time in radical circles in India and passed from one generation to another.
The India-China War of 1962 was a watershed in the political history of India. The period strengthened the political, economic and military grip of the USA and the USSR on India. As India’s economic crisis deepened, the CPI was also confronted with a political crisis. Most of the CPI leaders under their Chairman S. A. Dange were enamoured of Nehru’s foreign policy and his ‘socialistic pattern of society’ and lent support to the Indian government’s ‘policies of national defence and national unity’ against China during the war. Along with Dange, others such as Ranadive, Namboodiripad, Ramamurthy and Jyoti Basu, the future leaders of the CPI(M), supported the stand of the government of India.
During the war, in response to frantic calls from the government of India, America sent pilots, military aircrafts and other war material as also enormous economic aid. The Indian government gave up Assam as lost and was apprehensive that China might drop bombs on Calcutta, drop paratroopers in Delhi and then head for Madras. However, after reaching Tejpur, China declared a unilateral ceasefire and then withdrew from the disputed area of NEFA(North-East Frontier Agency). Bertrand Russell commented: “I cannot think of any other instance in which a victorious army has been halted in this way by its own government”.
The 1962 war brought about a sharp polarization within the CPI. The radicals raised the slogan in the streets of Calcutta: ‘Whenever the masses raise the demand for clothing and food, war trumpets start beating on the frontier’(Janata Jakhon-i chay Bastra o Khadya, Shimante beje othhe Juddher Badya). There were three distinct groups. The first group regarded it as a Chinese invasion. The second group regarded it as a border conflict. According to the third, it was an Indian invasion, rather than Chinese. After the unilateral Chinese declaration of ceasefire and the withdrawal of troops to the original line of control, the Nehru-led government arrested those within the CPI, who did not support their claims unequivocally, under the Preventive Detention Act(henceforth PD Act). Among those who held that it was an invasion by India, rather than by China was Charu Mazumdar, at that time a lesser known local Communist leader of North Bengal. Mazumdar was incarcerated under the PD act along with many others till their release towards the end of 1963.
By then, factional war broke out within the CPI. The condition became worse because of the discovery of three letters written by Dange in 1924 to the British-Indian government while in prison during colonial rule expressing his willingness not to commit ‘any more offences’ and even to serve as a police agent. The anti-Dange faction demanded that pending investigation, Dange should not preside at the meetings of the National Council of the CPI.
The representatives of the two factions met in Delhi on July 4, 1964. No political or ideological issues were raised; only organizational issues were discussed. What were the issues? The main question was: Which faction would have control over the Party secretariat and the Party machinery? All proposals of the anti-Dange faction were rejected. The anti-Dange faction finally proposed that they would accept Dange as the Chairman(he was proposing this at a time when their faction was accusing Dange of acting as a British government spy)if they accept their candidate, E.M.S. Namboodiripad as the general secretary. This proposal was also rejected. That led to the split and the formation of the Communist Party of India(Marxist) in 1964.
The leadership of the newly formed CPI(M) took an ideological position that was not basically different from that of the CPI. Both these factions—later condemned as ‘revisionists’ and ‘neo-revisionists’—joined hands with non-Congress elements and took part in the ministry-making process in West Bengal. Their adherence to the parliamentary path landed them in the ‘pigsty’ and they, instead of fighting against the existing system, thus became an integral part of it.
Let us begin by narrating very briefly about the place called Naxalbari and how the Naxalbari movement started. Naxalbari is the name of a village in the Darjeeling district of North Bengal. The area that went by that name covers three to four police stations lying in the foothills of the Himalayas where tea plantations abound. There Charu Mazumdar, along the path charted by Mao Tse-tung, organized the tea-plantation workers and peasants against feudal forces; they formed peasant committees and revolted against the revisionist leadership. Eight articles–known as the ‘Eight Documents’—that he wrote during 1965-67 formed the ideological basis of the Naxalbari movement. On 24 May, 1967, a large police force, under the newly-formed United Front WB government led by CPI(M), CPI, Bangla Congress and others, tried to enter a village that was waging a new struggle. The peasants resisted with bows and arrows. A police officer was hit by arrows to which he succumbed later. The other policemen went back only to return the next day, i.e, 25 May with more men. They fired on a gathering of women when the men-folk were away and killed eleven persons, including eight women and two babies. The message of the Naxalbari movement spread far and wide and raised waves of struggle—both in ideological as well as in the practical fields—throughout the country. That is how the Naxalbari movement—also known as Terai movement– began.
The Naxalbari movement, based upon the ‘Eight Documents’, solved certain crucial questions of the strategy of the Indian revolution. It upheld the Marxist theory that ‘force is the midwife of the old society pregnant with a new one’. It rejected the peaceful, parliamentary path to socialism and exposed the revisionist theory of ‘peaceful transition’ that had dominated the Indian communist movement. Secondly, guided by Mao Tse-tung Thought, Charu Mazumdar held that the Indian revolution would be a protracted one. Because of uneven development—economic, social and political—power could not be seized through urban insurrections, but only through protracted people’s war—creation of liberated bases in the countryside where objective and subjective conditions were more favourable than elsewhere and gradual expansion of them culminating in the seizure of power throughout the country. Thirdly, he also emphasized the role of the peasantry in the Indian revolution, the main content of which would be agrarian revolution, and pointed out that under the leadership of the working class the peasantry would be the main force of the revolution. He also stressed that the petty bourgeois intelligentsia could play a revolutionary role by integrating themselves with the toiling masses.
Immediately before and during the Naxalbari revolt, waves of struggle lashed West Bengal. The waves began rising early in 1966 and swelled to an unprecedented height in 1970-71 and then began to recede. Never before had West Bengal seen such tempestuous struggles and has not seen since—such storming the gates of heaven, such death-defying heroism, such sacrifice.
The year 1966 witnessed acute food scarcity everywhere, while hoarders and black-marketeers and political patrons waxed fat out of the toil and suffering of the masses. The rationing system collapsed everywhere and scarcity of food led to the spiraling of prices. Add to these the failure of land reforms—all leading to an explosive situation. What began as economic struggles turned swiftly into political. All sections of the people—workers and peasants, youth and students, office employees, teachers and others—were drawn into the struggles. Strikes and even general strikes, attacks on government offices and other property, clashes with the police and the military were regular features in Kolkata and elsewhere. Released from prison on the crest of a food movement, in February and March 1966, the CPI(M) leaders helped the Congress government to bring people’s rebellion under control. While mouthing militant slogans, they sought to divert all the accumulated anger of the people along the safe channel—the battle for the ballot box, due to take place in 1967. In early 1967, a United Front ministry comprising the CPI(M), CPI, Bangla Congress etc came to power by replacing the Congress ministry.
The food movement of 1966 in Kolkata and suburbs was a watershed that brought large sections of youth and students under the banner of Bengal Provincial Students’ Federation/BPSF—a students’ organization affiliated to the Communist Party of India(Marxist). It was a period of intellectual awakening among the middle-class intelligentsia. Several pertinent questions were raised from the students and youths. What is a revolution? Is the CPI(M) a revolutionary party? Do they deceive the people? What was the nature of the India-China War of 1962 from which the CPI got split up and the CPI(M) was born? What was the role of the CPI and the CPI(M) in the people’s struggles? Why was the CPI split up into two parties? Was it due to ideological differences, or to personal enmity or organizational reasons? What was the character of the Chinese revolution? Many of those student activists were attached to the CPI(M).
The young generation was influenced by new dramas that were being enacted by various cultural troupes. One of those creations was ‘Kallol’(Sound of the Waves) made by the actor-director, Utpal Dutt based on the background of the mutiny of the Royal Indian Navy in 1946 in Bombay. The set-design—bringing a whole warship on stage, and the stunning lighting by Tapas Sen was something never seen before. ‘Kallol’ conveyed the message that freedom won by non-violence was sham; what was real was the blood-shed by martyrs like Rani of Jhansi, Kshudiram, Bhagat Sengh, Surya Sen, Subhas Chandra Bose and his Indian National Army. The play depicted the tale of the warship Khyber, where the mutiny took place and how its sailors had shed their blood. The message was that the days of rebellion were not over; there would be more revolutionaries in the days to come who would burst into flames. In fact, the violent revelation of a repressive state shattered the conventional image of a free country and ‘Kallol’ “inspired among the students and youths a feeling that something needed to be done about a society that had failed them.
Questions such as these were discussed not only within BPSF alone. These were raised and debated among individuals as also other groups such as Chinta(Thought) as also literary forums such as Nandan, Parichay and others too. Other intellectuals such as teachers, artists, singers, dramatists, new young writers also joined. Among others who joined were workers. In those discussions, workers from the industrial zones of many districts of West Bengal also took part. Contact was established with various drama groups spread over Kolkata and other districts of West Bengal. Many old practices and ideas were questioned. Old ideas and thinking had to justify their existence before the judgement seat of reason and under the yardstick of people’s struggles or give up existence. The CPI(M) leadership were discredited; too much concentration on trade union activities was branded as ‘revisionism’. What was the class character of the Indian bourgeoisie? Was it ‘national’, or ‘comprador’? Among those who began to think in terms of a revolutionary transformation of the Indian society there were two distinct strands. One group thought in terms of a Socialist Revolution( ‘SR group’), while the other thought in terms of a People’s Democratic Revolution( ‘PDR group’) or New Democratic Revolution.
There was from then on a regular flow of Chinese publications in the Kolkata market—periodicals, Mao’s writings and other books being available in select book shops. Those publications were so popular that people literally rushed to those shops regularly to buy copies of new arrivals.
In the course of mutual exchange of ideas and discussions over several issues, the point that came up again and again was the presence of a group in north Bengal that believed in Mao Tse-tung’s ideology and the Chinese path of agrarian revolution in India. That group was a group of Maoist Communist activists who were members of the CPI(M) and were led by Charu Mazumdar. Mazumdar , even before Naxalbari, became well known as a theoretician. There was an open cultural group in Siliguri town in north Bengal known as ‘Katha O Kalam’(The Speech and the Pen) with which Charu Mazumdar himself was associated.
What was the reaction of the CPI(M) leadership towards these dissenting voices? They were very critical about the presence of an anti-Party clique within the organization and branded them as ‘extremist’, ‘ultra-revolutionary’ and later as ‘CIA agents’.
In Kolkata and elsewhere, radical students carried on ideological struggles among fellow students against the revisionist practices of the CPI and the CPI(M). Some of them brought out a magazine, ‘Chhatra Fouz’(Student Army) as their organ from about the end of 1966. They also played an important role in the food movement in West Bengal in 1966. An All India Students Committee for Struggle was formed. In Kolkata, another group of students known as ‘Presidency Consolidation’, reacting violently against some steps taken by the Presidency College authority, also emerged.
What is evident is that during that formative period of intellectual and political ferment, some type of unity in thinking had been developing among the new generation of intellectuals, youth, students and working people in Kolkata, Siliguri and elsewhere. The spark, however, was ignited not in the city, but in the village. It was the spark that was hailed as a ‘spring thunder’ by the Communist Party of China and ushered in a long, protracted and unfinished battle for the revolutionary transformation of India in the days to come.
The first phase of the Communist revolutionary movement came to an end as a result of a major setback mainly due to tactical blunders, adoption of erroneous policies and the arrest and death of Charu Mazumdar in police custody. Such mistakes helped the state agencies to crush the movement. The rejection of mass line and mass movements, over emphasis on the ‘line of annihilation of class enemies’ through the formation of small and secret guerrilla squads, the elevation of the revolutionary leader to the position of unquestioning ‘revolutionary authority’, belittling the enemy even tactically, belief in a quick victory rather than preparing the forces for a protracted people’s war, lack of knowledge in military strategizing, unquestioning faith in whatever Peking Radio aired, subjectivism, theoretical weakness and lack of dialectical approach within the party leadership, the practice of ‘left adventurism’ and slogans such as ‘China’s Chairman is our Chairman’ or ‘Make the seventies the decade of Liberation’ were some of the factors that weakened the movement. The suggestions from the Chinese leadership sent through Souren Bose, who met Chou En-lai and Kang Sheng in Peking in October 1970, popularly known as ‘Eleven Points’ were vital in the context.
In fact, discussions over some of these issues began within the party months before Charu Mazumdar’s capture and martyrdom. There were three distinct trends. The first trend, represented by Suniti Kumar Ghosh, Jagjit Singh Sohail and Sitaramaiyya, wanted to rectify mistakes under the leadership of Mazumdar from within. The second, represented by Satyanarayan Singh and some others, set up a separate centre with the state of Bihar as the base and ultimately went back to revisionist parliamentary politics. The third trend, represented by Dipak Biswas, Mahadev Mukherjee and Dilip Banerjee, projected Mazumdar as the ‘revolutionary authority’, while treating all critics of his political line as revisionists and counter-revolutionaries.
The main elements of the CPC’s ‘Suggestions’ were as follows. First, all Communist parties were equal and there should not be any leader or patriarchal party. The idea of a patriarchal party was opposed by Mao Tse-tung in 1957 when he visited Moscow and met Stalin. Thus it was not right to regard China’s Chairman as the Chairman of the CPI(ML). Second, Chou En-lai had described his experience after the setback in struggle in China in 1927, stressing that the vanguard isolated from the people could be easily suppressed by the enemy. So, a mass line based also on mass organizations and mass movements ought to be pursued. This suggestion was a criticism of the CPI(ML) line of rejection of mass organizations and mass movements(In the period following Naxalbari, Charu Mazumdar upheld the line of mass organizations and mass movements; it was sometime after the formation of the party and particularly after the CPI(ML) Party Congress held in May 1970 that the line of ‘annihilation of class enemies’ as the only form of struggle leading to the beginning of guerrilla war was emphasized and mass organizations and mass movements were rejected). Without criticism and self-criticism by the leaders and cadres, the party was sure to deviate from the correct path. Third, it was not correct to say that the united front of allied classes should be built after the seizure of power in several places. On the contrary, the building of the united front was a process. Fourth, share hardship with the masses, not get isolated from them. Make sacrifice for revolution, but not for adventurism. This was a criticism of Mazumdar’s over-emphasis on sacrifice—unnecessary sacrifices—without any consideration of the urgent need to preserve revolutionary forces also. Fifth, Kang Sheng says that your attitude towards trade unions (‘Party not to work in trade unions’) is not proper and requires review. Sixth, Kang Sheng states that your small party does not have much experience, so you cannot avoid shortcomings and mistakes in policy. He concludes by saying “We believe under the leadership of Comrade Charu Mazumdar your future is bright”.
Before the CPC’s ‘Suggestions’ reached CPI(ML) leadership, Sushital Roy Choudhury, former secretary of the West Bengal State Committee of the CPI(ML) criticized Mazumdar’s line as ‘ultra-adventurism’. Initially, he stated, the party adhered to the Maoist perspective of a protracted war; however, suddenly an idea began to be circulated that our struggle would not be that much protracted and that countrywide liberation would be achieved by the year 1975 (The reality is that for the idea of a quick victory it is improper to hold Mazumdar responsible; this perception gained ground because of an article published in the Chinese papers, ‘Renmin Ribao’ and ‘Honqui’ that predicted the worldwide victory of proletarian revolution by “the beginning of the third millennium, that is the year 2001”(See Peking Review, No. 5, 1969) . Roy Choudhury added that the annihilation of class enemies became synonymous with guerrilla warfare, importance of actions was exaggerated in the later phase and the importance of political propaganda was ignored. Another criticism came from the WB Border Regional Committee which was critical of the line of annihilation of class enemies as also party’s non-participation in working class struggles. The other criticism came from Suniti Kumar Ghosh. The setback, to him, was due to the smallness of the area, the inexperience of the revolutionary leaders and peasants, their inability to spread to wider areas and to develop an appropriate military line. He added that abandonment of mass struggles and mass organizations, identification of annihilation of class enemies with class struggle, treating revolutionary forces which were opposed to annihilation but were in favour of armed revolution as agents of imperialism and refusing to ally with them etc were some of the manifestations of ‘left’ opportunism that, according to Ghosh, proved to be the party’s undoing.
Some days before his arrest in July 1972, Mazumdar had a meeting with K. G. Satyamurthy and Abdul Rauff—leaders from Andhra Pradesh(AP). On that day, Mazumdar presented himself in a ‘self-critical mood’. He discussed with them all the details about the critical assessment of the CPI(ML) line by the CPC. He told the AP leaders that, as the CPC did not endorse the slogan ‘China’s Chairman is our Chairman’, he wished to withdraw it. He accepted most of the CPC criticism excepting one, that is, the ‘line of annihilation of class enemies’. On this point he held that he did never mean individual annihilation and that some misunderstanding had cropped up with the CPC. The change in his attitude was reflected in some of his later writings also.
Splits and Attempts at Reorganization
By then, the Central Committee of the CPI(ML) had become virtually defunct and the party units in various parts of the country were functioning in isolation from one another. Although some central committees emerged in the course of time, each of these represented only a part of the original party and operated in just two or three states. Throughout the decade of the 1970s, attempts at unification of the party were made by the various factions of CPI(ML), but due to the failure to achieve a unified understanding of past mistakes as well as due to differences in the strategy and tactics of the Indian revolution, besides different perceptions arising out of segregated practice, these attempts proved to be futile. The isolated existence and functioning of separate factions—nearly thirty–each claiming itself to be the genuine revolutionary party were considered to be the biggest hurdle to the Indian communist revolutionary movement. There were at least a dozen central committees functioning under different names. The differing political perceptions and the failure of the CR(Communist Revolutionary) groups to develop any powerful revolutionary movement only paved the way for further splintering during the 1970s despite the sincere attempts on the part of some to achieve unity among the revolutionary forces.
However, of them, three distinct trends with variations in each were clearly noticeable. The first trend was essentially a continuation of the left line based on the ‘annihilation of class enemies’ represented by the CPI(ML) Second Central Committee group led by Mahadev Mukherjee. This group made no self-criticism, had no direction for the future, made Charu Mazumdar(CM) into a god, criticized all others as ‘revisionists’ and stuck more strongly to the old tactical line that had already proved to be erroneous and self-defeating. After the death of Lin Piao of the CPC in a plane crash while fleeing to the Soviet Union in 1971 and his fall from the second top position as a revisionist, this group came to be known as the pro-CM pro-Lin group. The point that deserves mention in this connection is that in no other country outside China was there any pro-Lin Piao group than in this eastern part of India. After the arrest of most of its leaders, this group underwent some divisions. The CPI(ML) led by Jahar which had its centre in Bhojpur and some areas of Bihar(1973–74) also followed the CM line in toto; however, after the Lin Liao episode, it developed differences with the Second CC group and was known as the pro-CM, anti-Lin group. After the Emergency, the new secretary of the party, Vinod Mishra, while negating the left errors, led the party, step by step, to the extreme right. This group, known later as the CPI(ML) Liberation, revised all its earlier positions, and ended up as a parliamentary party.
The second trend consisted of those who swung to the right, i.e. the position from where they broke away, by criticizing the entire tactical line of the CPI(ML), and once again sought participation in elections. The ‘Revived Central Committee’ formed by Satyanarayan Singh of Bihar earlier in November 1972, was joined by some other leading members. These were Souren Bose, Dipak Biswas, Dilip Banerjee and Ashim Chatterjee who had been vocal about establishing the ‘revolutionary authority’ of Charu Mazumdar and were themselves instrumental in initiating the ‘left-adventurist’ line in West Bengal. This group now placed themselves in a diametrically opposite position and put the entire blame for the setback on Charu Mazumdar without admitting their own responsibility for it. This group gradually swung towards the right and ultimately disowned the strategy of agrarian revolution altogether. They were joined later by Kanu Sanyal after his release from prison.
There was a third trend. It was represented by the COC(Central Organizing Committee) which upheld the essence of the CPI(ML) line, but sought to rectify the left’s errors. The COC comprised state units from Punjab, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and Bihar. Among those who formed the COC were Jagjit Singh Sohail@Sharma from Punjab, Suniti Kumar Ghosh from West Bengal and K. Sitaramaiyya from Andhra Pradesh. The Punjab unit later merged with the Unity Organization to form the CPI(ML) Party Unity in 1978, and the Andhra Pradesh unit developed into the CPI(ML) People’s War in 1980. During that period, the Maoist Communist Centre(MCC) developed some struggles in the Aushgram and Budbud areas in the Burdwan district of West Bengal as also in parts of Bihar.
Now we will refer to the emergence of two revolutionary parties—the Communist Party of India(Marxist-Leninist) Party Unity and the Communist Party of India(Marxist-Leninist) People’s War, their assessment of past struggles, analyses of the Indian situation and their programmes. Both belonged to the original CPI(ML) stream. The third revolutionary group was the Maoist Communist Centre(MCC), later called the Maoist Communist Centre of India(MCCI) that was formed in October 1969 but did not join the CPI(ML). A brief history of this group and the process leading to its merger with the CPI(ML) People’s War in 2004 will be discussed in some detail later. The last merger is with the CPI(ML) Naxalbari that took place in 2014.
The Communist Party of India(Marxist-Leninist) Party Unity/CPI(ML)PW
The lifting of the countrywide Emergency in 1977 in a way helped in the revival of mass movements. Peasants sought to get organized against exploitation by the landlords and moneylenders, workers began to fight for their rights against their employers, office assistants took on their bosses, students agitated against the age-old educational system and, over and above all, the people in general who, in modern parlance, can be described as ‘civil society’ raised the demand for the release of political prisoners. The demand for the release of political prisoners became a key issue as thousands of political prisoners—brutally tortured and kept in solitary confinement and in abysmal conditions in the prisons of different states—had been languishing in jails for years together on charges of sedition against the state. In West Bengal alone, there were nearly 20,000 political prisoners. Despite attempts by the Janata Party-led central government to extract a written undertaking from the Naxalite prisoners to abjure violence, many prisoners detained under MISA and slapped with other cases, were released, as MISA and other cases were withdrawn. Such changes in the political scenario helped in the political regroupings among those who were in prison as also among those who were not. The formation of the CPI(ML) PU in West Bengal was the culmination of this process.
The CPI(ML) Party Unity was formed in 1978 primarily by those who belonged to the Mahadev Mukherjee group, almost all of whom were in prison and released after 1977. Those who met did so to make a summing up of the past struggles with the aim to unite the revolutionary forces on the basis of convergence of basic political and tactical lines. That basic unity was given the shape of a forum which later took the shape of a political party. It was formed in early 1978 out of the merger of the Unity Organization, a faction of the COC, CPI(ML) with one leader each from Punjab and Andhra Pradesh. The leadership felt the need to form mass organizations and organize mass movements, set up some such organizations and were active in parts of West Bengal, Bihar and Punjab.
The CPI(ML) PU brought into its fold some small groups. The first was the Communist Krantikari Sangathhan(CKS/Communist Revolutionary Organization). The CKS underwent a split; one faction was active in the Aurangabad–Palamau border region of Bihar. This group merged with the PU in 1980. There was further merger between the PU and some other small organizations. For example, the Bihar part of the CCRI(ML) and another small group of West Bengal also joined PU in 1988. In 1990, the Punjab Coordination Centre(Sangram group) merged with the PU. We do not have any documentation of the process of merger among these groups. (However, for the merger with the CPI(ML) CT(Central Team), we do have at least one.)
The programme of the PU was adopted after some time. At the beginning ‘some points’ were agreed upon. It was decided that the leading members would practice those mutually agreed upon basic points for one to two years and then think about formulating a programme. From the beginning, there was disagreement on one basic question: Was the Indian society still semi-feudal and semi-colonial as the 1970 programme maintained? Or had it undergone any change over the years? According to one view, Indian society was not semi-feudal and semi-colonial; it existed as an underdeveloped society and economy; there were only some remnants of feudalism. The Chinese model of armed struggle would not be applicable to India due to the presence of organized bureaucracy. The Indian revolution would have to go through the line of continuous upsurge throughout the country. According to the other view, India was still semi-feudal and semi-colonial, although vast changes had taken place over the years since the First (8th) Congress of the CPI(ML) was held in 1970. It accepted the necessity of forming mass organizations and initiating mass movements. It said that there should be a people’s liberation army. A revolutionary committee would have to be formed that would confiscate landlords’ lands and distribute these among the peasants. The mass organizations and mass movements would have to be guided by the politics of armed struggle. What this probably meant was that mass movements would have to be conducted under the party leadership with the need of developing armed struggle. This is a departure from the 1970 CPI(ML) line.
The CPI(ML) PU held a series of meetings with the CPI(ML) CT during 1993, if not earlier too. Views were exchanged on the questions of international situation particularly the collapse of USSR, crisis of capitalism, emergence of contending imperialist blocs, possibility of war and revolution, restoration of capitalism in China, present socio-political character of Russia and China etc. On the aspect of the overall national situation, there were discussions on issues such as the role of imperialism, nature of the big bourgeoisie, the nationality question, the caste equation and the character of different parties.
It was noted in the meeting that although there were common approaches towards the political line, differences existed over several issues. First, ‘both the sides have a common view that imperialism rules India directly(as in all semi-colonies). . Both the sides agree that compradore bureaucratic capitalism in India is not independent, (that)they serve the imperialists. PU identifies some bargaining power of the compradore bureaucratic capitalists which depend on some section of imperialists. CT does not identify this as bargaining power of the compradore bureaucratic capitalists.’
Secondly, on the nationality question, both the sides support the right of self-determination and cessation of all nationalities. However, while PU extends its support to JKLF in Kashmir and ULFA in Assam, CT does not; it rather holds the notion that the then ongoing nationality movements there are encouraged by imperialists.
There were also differences in approach towards caste reservation, with the PU supporting it and the CT opposing it. Differences were also there regarding the class character of the political parties. In the end, both sides hoped ‘to strengthen the unity effort’ and go into the next round of talks on several unresolved questions such as those relating to the ‘Indian ruling class, (the)nationality question, analysing regional parties, caste questions…on the understanding of agrarian problem and development (of) revolutionary peasant movements…’ .
During the initial period, the new leadership seemed to have the following considerations in mind. First, it was felt that the need of the hour was the building up of mass movements under the banner of mass organizations—a drastic departure from the previous party line. Thus, partial struggles over immediate issues were essential to develop political struggles and so mass organizations and mass movements became important. Secondly, the primary task before them was to forge unity among the Communist revolutionaries to carry the movement towards a higher level. That probably was the reason why it was named CPI(ML) Party Unity. Thirdly, by then the great reversal in China after Mao’s death had exerted a negative influence on the political activists in particular and the people in general everywhere. As confusion was abounding, the PU leadership, as they admitted, failed to educate the revolutionary camp.
In the second half of the 1980s, a leading member of the party put forward the view that capitalism had developed in India which put the semi-feudal nature of the Indian society in question. The questions over which debates cropped up were: 1) development of capitalism in Indian agriculture; 2) changes in class relations in the countryside; 3) class character of the left-front government in West Bengal and the impact of its reform programme; 4) how mature is the revolutionary situation in India in general and West Bengal in particular; and 5) how to unite legal and illegal, open and secret, mass struggles and armed struggles. It was admitted that because of lack of information and clear understanding, many of these questions had remained unanswered. It appears that the new leadership was still in its infancy and learning through failures and renewed struggles on a constant basis.
The peasant struggle under the PU leadership in West Bengal started in Nadia district. They had also their guerrilla zone perspective in mind. They felt that in order to keep their base in Nadia intact, they should spread the struggle to neighbouring Murshidabad and Burdwan districts, and for keeping the base at Murshidabad, the struggle should spread to Birbhum too. The CPI(ML) People’s War had the same perspective when they decided to spread their struggle from Karimnagar and Adilabad districts of Andhra Pradesh to the Dandakaranya zone embracing other states also.
The CPI(ML) PU also worked in the youth and student fronts in Kolkata and some districts as also among office workers. It addressed issues relating to the interests of the youth as also broader social and political issues such as solidarity movements in support of struggles of oppressed peasants, workers, against closure of factories, state repression and corruption in municipalities; it also organized militant solidarity movements for the opening of factories, against imperialist plunder, eviction of hawkers and against communal forces. Many of these youth and student activists later became political organizers.
Reassessment of Past Struggles and Formulation of New Policies by the CPI(ML) Party Unity
In the second conference of the CPI(ML) PU, held in April 1987, three documents were adopted. These were Party Programme, the Party Constitution and the Political–Organizational Report. It preserved the revolutionary essence of the First Congress of the CPI(ML) held in 1970, criticized and rejected its erroneous formulations and ‘further enriched our programme’. The split within the party was due to ‘our failure in practising democratic centralism in its true spirit and…sectarian organizational practices’. The questions that attracted primary attention were those on the nature of Indian independence, the characterization of the Indian big bourgeoisie and the path of Indian revolution.
In their opinion, from the political point of view, India is ‘formally independent’; but in fact ‘enmeshed in the net of financial and diplomatic dependence’. Colonial India was turned into a semi-colony after 1947 which is ‘now under the grip of neo-colonial form of exploitation’. Constitutionally, power is now in the hands of the Indian ruling classes, rather than in those of foreign imperialism. However, despite this formal independence, India is dependent economically, politically as also militarily on imperialism—all of which pave the way for neo-colonial control. Moreover, the comprador bourgeois ruling class is dependent on imperialism for its survival and growth.
Does the Indian bourgeois ruling class have a bargaining power with the two main imperialist powers such as US imperialism and Soviet social imperialism? According to PU, they do have such power as they can take advantage of the contradictions among the imperialist powers. What about the nature of the Indian bourgeoisie? The Party Programme of 1970 characterized the Indian big bourgeoisie as comprador. However, it did not talk about the national bourgeoisie. The PU recognized the existence of the small and middle bourgeoisie, and characterized them as the national bourgeoisie. This class being weak is, however, ‘incapable of giving leadership to the Democratic Revolution’. It is ‘only under the leadership of the proletariat that can play a revolutionary role’. In its analysis of the emergence of industrial capitalism in India, it betrays the influence of such seminal works as by Suniti Kumar Ghosh (See The Indian Big Bourgeoisie Its Genesis, Growth and Character).
What will be the concrete path of the revolutionary seizure of power? It recognizes the ‘necessity of building different forms of mass organizations and mass struggles on partial issues to rouse the people against the enemy so that the people’s initiative can be developed step by step for participating ultimately in the armed struggle for seizure of power’. Such a change in policy was done by most of the revolutionary organizations. How to conduct people’s war? Here the PU rejected the 1970 formulation of ‘guerrilla warfare is the only way to mobilize and apply strength of the people against the enemy’, that ‘it alone can unleash the …creative genius of the masses’. Here the PU made two changes in the interpretation of people’s war made in the previous 1970 Programme. One was that it stressed the protracted nature of the armed struggle. The other was the recognition of the unevenness of Indian situation that prevents the simultaneous development of armed struggles in all parts of rural India.
The CPI(ML) PU also addressed the validity of the slogan ‘China’s path is our path’. It states: “Our revolution will not be an exact replica of that of China”. India has her own peculiarities that make it stand apart from that of China such as the rule by a centralized political system for long, development of capitalism is more pronounced here, more concentration of working forces here than China, nationality questions, the issue of caste, the emergence of social imperialism and the strong presence of revisionist tendencies etc. Thus, according to the PU, the Indian path of revolution would have to integrate ‘the principles of China’s path with the concrete practice of Indian revolution’.
At its Second Special Conference held during 8–17 April 1997, the party addressed some other issues. We propose to deal with some of them.
On the line of Annihilation: It described the ‘line of annihilation’ as a ‘left sectarian tactical line’. The observation read as follows: “The line of annihilation elevated annihilation of class enemies to the level of the political–tactical line of the Party as the only form of struggle and as a panacea for all the problems of revolution…Other forms of organization and struggle were not only ignored, but were even sometimes condemned as revisionist…no attention was paid to the indispensible task of organizing mass movements and mass organizations…Organizationally, those who achieved success in annihilation were regarded as communist.’ As a consequence, ‘the party became more and more isolated from the people’ and ‘thus the golden opportunity provided by the mass upsurge’ was missed. As we shall see later, the CPI(ML) People’s War in its review of past struggles provided a more detailed analysis of the line of annihilation while admitting the leftist deviations of the party.
Wrong Assessments of International and National situations: These ‘wrong assessments’ mainly revolve round the character of the Historical Era, international and national situation and the subjective factors. Considering the deep-rooted crisis in the imperialist world, the PU made the assessment that a fundamental change had come about in the world and thus developed a wrong notion about the character of the Historical Era. It was thus no longer the era of imperialism and proletarian revolution that is identified with the era of Leninism, but the era of the quick and final collapse of imperialism and the world-wide victory of socialism. The proponents of this view forgot Mao’s teaching that strategically imperialism was weak, but tactically it was strong; they misunderstood it and even tactically regarded the reactionaries as ‘paper tigers’. Such wrong assessments gained strength from the report of the Ninth Congress of the Communist Party of China(CPC) which described the present era as the era of Mao Tse-tung. This led to the conclusion that in that new historical era, revolution was round the corner and that ‘protracted step-by-step subjective preparations for building a strong Red Army and a powerful united front were not necessary’. Assumptions such as these lasted for a long time and affected the Communist revolutionary camp.
On the Question of Revolutionary Authority: This issue owed its birth again to the Ninth Congress of the CPC. Vice-Chairman Lin Piao was declared the heir-apparent of Chairman Mao Tse-tung and the concept of revolutionary authority was thus born. In simple terms, authority means unquestionable authority—one who could do no mistake, one who is infallible, one whose authority could not be questioned and if done, then that would be tantamount to questioning the revolution itself. In this way, an individual was identified with revolution and revolution with an individual. Quite naturally, concepts such as this made its entry into the CPI(ML) and some leading members began to project Charu Mazumdar as the revolutionary authority of India. The person who was quite vocal in championing the issue and actually formulated this ‘thesis’ was Souren Bose.
This idea was even extended in a few places to argue that every committee must have an individual revolutionary authority. Because of such ‘metaphysical and non-Marxist concept the internal life of the Party suffered. Committee functioning, inner-Party debate…suffered and the principles of democratic centralism in Party functioning were ignored’. Later on, Mahadev Mukherjee also was projected by one section as the new revolutionary authority.
On the Question of Mass Movement and Mass organization: The PU made a comparative study with the Chinese situation since the formation of the first united front between the CPC and the KMT(Kuomintang led by Sun Yat-sen) and the Whampoa Military Academy, and held that ‘mass movement will be the main form of movement for a relatively long time. Even legal mass movement will continue to have a role for a long time.’ On the other hand, in some other areas which are ‘strategic, remote, or with a conducive terrain—armed struggle will become the main form of struggle in this period’. However, it was also pointed out that although mass organizations would be of both legal and illegal forms, ‘the direction of the mass movement should be towards the illegal and that should eventually be the main aspect of our mass movement’.
On the Nationality Question: The 1970 party programme of the CPI(ML) recognized the aspirations of different nationalities in India and their right to secession, but did not address ‘its complexity’. Actually, one should not expect to achieve everything from the beginning; analysis comes from a gain in knowledge and as a response to political needs. In 1994, the PU brought out a document explaining their stand on the nationality question, as part of the 1993 conference documents. The party held that ‘the communists should intervene’, ‘even initiate and lead nationality movements’ while linking them with class struggle.
The PU, however, made a distinction between nationality movements on the basis of their character. It stated: “While we must accept the right to secede of the nationalities as a democratic right, this does not mean that every demand of secession is thereby correct, the party must judge each case according to merits.’ Their argument is that ‘the nationality problem of most of the nationalities within India can be solved by constituting New Democratic India as a truly federal voluntary union of nationalities’. Whose demand for secession thus merits recognition? It is the demand of the Kashmiri, Naga, Manipuri and Mizo people. And whose demand needs to be resolved within the new federal structure? It is the problems of the Assamese and Punjabi nationalities that could be ‘better dealt within a federal structure’. The stand of initiating and even leading such nationality movements upheld by the PU was also the stand of the CPI(ML) People’s War. The PU adds that ‘while the party must decide its opinion on the demand of secession of a nationality on merits, this does not mean that the Party will be in favour of keeping the nationality in the Union by any sort of coercion if the people decide democratically to secede’.
The Formation of the CPI(ML) People’s War, its Policies and Guerrilla Zone Perspective
By 1972, the original CPI(ML) that led the historic Srikakulam struggle had almost disintegrated by then both at the national and state levels due to brutal state repression and internal divisions. There were then attempts at rebuilding the party or at least at coordinating the scattered struggles in different areas. The Andhra Pradesh State Committee took the lead in this direction and, by January 1974, the CPI(ML) Central Organizing Committee was formed with remaining forces of the CPI(ML) from West Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Kashmir, Punjab and Tamil Nadu. As part of the process of coordination and unity among different forces, it was decided to make a critical review of the past struggles so as to prepare a blueprint for the future.
By August 1972, the Andhra Pradesh State Committee started its political magazine in Telugu called Pilupu(The Call). This possibly was the first such magazine coming from Andhra Pradesh. Pilupu played a crucial role during that crucial period steering the movement forward in a new direction by fighting against right and ‘left’ deviations within the movement. Along with this, political study classes were held to knit the cadres on a strong ideological basis.
Of the four members of the Central Committee from Andhra Pradesh elected at the party Congress of 1970, two were killed and two were jailed. Of the three state committee members, only Kondapalli Sitaramaiyya(henceforth KS) was outside prison then. Thus the task to organize the party fell on him. In January 1974, KS attended a meeting of a reconstituted Central Organizing Committee(COC) of the CPI(ML) comprising Jagjit Singh Sohail, (elected secretary of the COC) of Punjab, Suniti Kumar Ghosh of West Bengal and Ramnath of Bihar, of whom the first two were original Central Committee members elected at the 1970 party Congress. Meanwhile, as there was no state committee in existence in Andhra Pradesh, it was decided to reconstitute a three-member committee in August 1974 comprising KS, Appalasuri, who had just escaped from prison, and Mahadevan. A Self-critical Report was prepared by the COC where it admitted sectarian mistakes of the past and suggested several corrections such as setting up of mass organizations and adhering to a mass line without leaving the armed struggle; they also decided to continue with the policy of boycotting the parliamentary path.
These attempts at political regroupings were closely tied up with attempts at mass mobilization such as of students, peasants, cultural workers, youth and workers. In 1970, the Virasam, or the Revolutionary Writers’ Association(RWA), was formed with the leading lights of the Telugu(a language)literary world. Even during the period of setback, it was the inspiring poems, short-stories and novels coming under its banner that continued to attract thousands of youth towards the politics of Naxalbari. The writers were politically uncompromising and artistically brilliant. The RWA took the initiative in forming an all-India revolutionary cultural forum in 1983 called the All-India League for Revolutionary Culture(AILRC). The Jana Natya Mandali(JNM), whose leading light was legendary Gadar, propagated revolutionary ideas through its cultural programmes of songs, dances and plays, and drew the masses towards revolutionary politics. The formation of the Radical Students Union(RSU) in October 1974 ushered in a new lease of life for the student movement. It released a manifesto in 1975 exposing the various revisionist tendencies and holding aloft the banner of a revolutionary student movement. Many of the leading figures of the CPI(ML) People’s War, including Mallejula Koteswar Rao@ Kishenji, were its founder-members. The ‘go-to-the village’ campaign initiated by the party was instrumental in integrating the students with the ongoing peasant movement. The RSU and the RYL(Radical Youth League) formed during that period were the leading groups behind such campaigns. It reminds one of the clarion call given by Charu Mazumdar to the students and youth to integrate themselves with the peasants, and get de-classed. Much work was done among the Singareni coal miners and the result was the formation of the SIKASA(Singareni Karmika Samakhya). All these developments took place in the face of state brutality of the most ferocious kind. In the early 1970s, the Rytu Coolie Sangham(RCS)—a peasants’ association– was formed to fight against feudal oppression. This period also witnessed the beginning of a strong civil liberties movement with the birth of the Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee(APCLC) in 1972.
What is, however, worth noting here is the strategy and tactics developed by the people under conditions of repression. The tactics they adopted was expansion is the main form of resistance, followed by consolidation in the areas of expansion—a clear blending of offence and defence in a dialectical way. You resist repression through expansion in new areas and consolidate your position in those areas. Thereby you ease the pressure on one area and force the enemies to disperse and shift focus to new areas. As one can see, such a policy had both political and military implications.
However, the clamping of countrywide Emergency by the Indira Gandhi-led Congress regime on 25 June 1975 gave a jolt to the movement. It was from the second half of 1977 that there was resurgence in the peasant movement, addressing not only local issues, but also those relating to the release of political prisoners, against fake encounter killings, tortures in police custody, and for removal of police camps from different areas.
The COC prepared a Self-critical Report in 1974 and another report on the tactical line called Road to Revolution in 1976. Side by side, it also made a concrete study of some villages to understand the agrarian conditions in the countryside of Andhra Pradesh. That document, later revised and enlarged was called Agrarian Revolution. It not only made a review of the history of agrarian relations in the state for centuries, but also undertook a specific study of agrarian relations in some villages of select districts and came to the conclusion that it was a semi-feudal society in general. The Self-critical Report and the Agrarian Revolution prepared a strong basis for developing militant class struggles in rural Andhra Pradesh, particularly in Telangana during 1977–80.
The CPI(ML) People’s War was formed on 22 April 1980. The formation was part of a process to reorganize an all-India centre for revolution after it went out of existence in 1972. A similar attempt was made in 1974 when the COC was formed. However, for various reasons it could not materialize and so was dissolved in May 1977. The CPI(ML) People’s War was born out of the amalgamation of the AP and Tamil Nadu state committees. A small group from Maharashtra, represented, among others, by Kobad Ghandhy, also joined. Two documents served as the basis of its formation. One was the Self-critical Review and the other was the Tactical Line. The first one was basically the same as that presented to the COC in 1975 with a few changes. The Tactical Line basically upheld the legacy of Naxalbari while rectifying the ‘left’ deviations of that period. Both the documents had been enriched by the practice of the preceding eight years.
The revolutionary forces learnt through their long experience of struggle that some basic change in perspective was the need of the hour if the revolutionary movement was to be taken on to an advanced stage. It was in 1979, before the formation of the new party, that the AP State Committee had presented a plan for the development of a military perspective for their movement which came to be known as the ‘Guerrilla Zone Perspective’. The party called for the formation of armed squads and turning the four northern Telangana plains districts—Karimnagar, Adilabad, Warangal and Khammam—into a guerrilla zone. They came to the conclusion that it was imperative to develop some work in the forest areas surrounding these regions so that the mass base created in the forests could serve as a rear area for the squads to retreat in the face of severe enemy attacks in the plains. The stage was critical and demanded a more determined and entirely new perspective. To advance, the revolutionaries had to make the necessary preparations to take on not just the landlords’ forces but also the police and paramilitary forces. Thus the need of the hour, as they felt, was the adoption not only of new forms of struggle and new methods of organization, but also of military preparation of the party. Needless to state, military preparations not only imply acquisition of weapons, but also political, organizational and military consciousness that enhance the party’s striking capacity. It is in this context that the document captioned Perspective for a Guerrilla Zone has a historical significance. The general line of developing the movement to the stage of guerrilla zone and then a ‘liberated area’ was already there in the tactical line. The Maoists came out with the concrete political, organizational and military details to take it forward in that direction.
Accordingly, in June 1980, seven squads of five to seven members each entered the forests from different directions. The work began in Gadchiroli in Maharashtra, Bastar in Madhya Pradesh(now Bastar is part of the new state of Chhattisgarh) and Koraput in Odisha under this perspective. To start with, it was an extension of the Karimnagar and Adilabad struggles. But in the long-term perspective, as that became visible in the days to come, it attained a central importance in the all-India strategy of the Maoist party. The response the squads received from the Adivasis was quick and positive, leading to the creation of a vast guerrilla zone in the Dandakaranya(DK) region—the forest belt of central India. The Maoists drew another important lesson from the experience of the first round of struggle. It was about the ability of the mass movement to sustain itself in the face of repression.
Reassessment of Past Struggles and Formulation of New Policies by the CPI(ML) People’s War
The positive contribution of the original CPI(ML), according to CPI(ML) PW, were as follows: 1. We had formulated the correct guideline for democratic revolution by analysing the main problems of the Indian revolution and reached solutions on the basis of the application of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse-tung Thought. The main elements of it are: a) Indian society is semi-colonial and semi-feudal; b) The main contradictions of Indian society are those between imperialism and social imperialism on the one hand, and Indian people on the other, between feudalism and the broad masses of the Indian people, between capital and labour, and that within the Indian ruing classes. Of these, the principal contradiction is that between feudalism and the broad masses of India.
The party established the line of armed agrarian revolution by fighting against the revisionist parliamentary line, exposed the revisionists and neo-revisionists. It identified Soviet social imperialism, US imperialism, Indian comprador bourgeoisie and feudalism as the ‘four big mountains’ and that the new democratic revolution had to be waged under the leadership of the proletariat by uniting all anti-imperialist and anti-feudal forces on the basis of the unity of the workers and peasants. This New Democratic Revolution will be propelled by Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse-tung Thought with an eye on the formation of guerrilla zones and base areas in the countryside in order to encircle the cities to achieve countrywide victory. The report also highlighted the necessity of forging unity among all the nationalities in a multi-nationality country like India by resolving all contradictions among them in a democratic manner and acknowledging their right of self-determination and right of secession. It was also held that all of them should be united against imperialism and feudalism in order to create a situation that will be conducive to their growth. (It is pertinent to point out here that unlike the CPI(ML) PU, the CPI(ML) PW does not talk about giving leadership to the struggle of nationalities). From the beginning the CPI(ML) had the perspective of capturing political power, and struggle areas such as those in Naxalbari and Srikakulam were converted into guerrilla zones at a rudimentary level. Petty bourgeois youth and students responded to the call of the party to take part in the “go-to-village campaigns” that became a practice in the later days. The party could make a deep impression on the people, got their admiration, respect and support in various ways.
In the report, the CPI(ML) PW highlighted some of the achievements of one decade of struggle. First, revisionism has been given a strong beating and its foundation les broken. Second, armed struggle has become part of Indian politics. Third, there is no debate in areas that witnessed the revolutionary storm on the need of armed struggle. On the contrary, thanks to the struggle waged by the party, a revolutionary change had taken place among the oppressed and the youth in general. Fourth, people who had their baptism through the fire of revolution are learning from their past experience and making preparations for future struggles. Fifth, in the urban areas of such states as Gujarat and Bihar, one basic feature of movements carried out under the leadership of the bourgeoisie, petty bourgeoisie and the revisionists, is that these are assuming a militant character and the people are taking steps on their own thereby disowning the leadership. This has to be seen not just as a manifestation of the countrywide revolutionary situation, but also as an outcome of the armed struggle waged by the party during the last decade. Sixth, the CPI(ML) has gained in prestige and influence throughout the country to a very large extent and opened up opportunities to spread its influence in new areas. These achievements have initiated a new phase in the Indian revolutionary movement.
The CPI(ML) PW also pinpointed the limitations the movement suffered in the first phase. Let us take up some of them, however briefly.
On the Question of Historical Era
There was the erroneous concept that this era was the ‘era of the final defeat of imperialism and the world-wide victory of Socialism’. There is no doubt that from the strategic point of view there was a change in the balance of forces in favour of Socialism; but the then leadership took that to be true also from the tactical point of view. They admitted they failed to appreciate their particular reality and took it as a call to make an all-out attack to get rid of this man-eating system. That led to the concept of quick victory, leading to subsequent defeat at the hands of the enemy. The much-quoted statement ‘By 1975, millions of the Indian people will compose the epic of liberation’, attributed to Charu Mazumdar, was the expression of such erroneous notions.
Wrong Perceptions about National and International situation
Such notions of quick victory led to the development of wrong perceptions about the national and international situation. The idea that imperialist powers confronted with the possibility of impending doom would attack China, with the Indian people as the cannon-fodder, gained currency within the CPI(ML). To thwart that possibility, armed struggle should be intensified which would also liberate India by 1975. This was criticized as ‘an un-Marxist method’. The party also failed to grasp the peculiar features of different areas, could not realize the uneven character of India’s development and so came to the conclusion that a revolutionary situation existed in every corner of the country.
Negligence towards Subjective Condition
There were two erroneous trends, according to the CPI(ML) PW. One was the idea that the revolutionary struggle should never be waged unless the people are fully prepared and a revolutionary party fully equipped to give leadership is formed. This trend was identified as a revisionist one under the garb of a true revolutionary line. According to the other trend, a revolutionary struggle can be waged and victory achieved irrespective of the subjective preparations. As this era is the era of the final defeat of the imperialist system, so struggle would have to be started at some point and that it would by itself resolve its own problems and that there is, therefore, no need to place too much stress either on unleashing the creativity of the masses or strengthening party organization.
The PW in this report provided deeper insights into the issue. It pointed out that despite such limitations, the CPI(ML) for the first time placed emphasis on basic classes and formed party units by integrating with them. This was a ‘correct attitude’; here, however, there was a lack of understanding about the importance of consciousness. Due to this limitation, it ‘identified the class hatred of the basic classes with proletarian consciousness’. Such a notion led the party to take members from the poor and landless peasantry without any consideration about their ideological development, and decisions were taken on the basis of their opinion.
Immature Slogans and Calls
The limitations mentioned so far were, according to the CPI(ML) PW, reflected in the slogans and calls given. Although theoretically the party talked about a protracted war, in reality it believed that victory would not be that long in coming. It was felt that liberated zones could be created in areas where some class enemies were annihilated, and military tactics were adopted accordingly. The party totally neglected Maoist tactics of guerrilla warfare and opted for an all-out offensive without any thought about self-defence. When the party suffered a setback in the line of annihilation, ‘what we needed was to integrate with the masses and develop the mass line’. Instead ‘we persisted more with isolated actions taking it to be the panacea for all diseases’. That led to further setbacks.
On the line of Annihilation of Class Enemies
This issue has been dealt with in detail and in a meaningful manner. In the past, the oppressed peasantry took up this line against the most hated class enemies. According to the CPI(ML) PW, ‘there was no wrong in adopting it as a form of struggle; however, our deviation lay in making it the political tactical line which was regarded as the solution for all the problems relating to class struggle’. In fact, each and every method of struggle is determined and led by a concrete political line. If it deviates from mass line, then deviation becomes inevitable. The problem is not whether class enemies would be annihilated or not, or the party would adopt other methods of struggle. On the contrary, the problem is whether the party would adopt a mass line or not. Every Marxist-Leninist party would propagate the necessity of violence—a method that would manifest itself through different methods of struggle; and annihilation of class enemies could be one of those methods. As the struggle develops, this method would turn into one method of struggle. As it develops further and engulfs the whole country and enters the stage of liberation war, this annihilation would of course be a very important method of struggle.
It states, and here the PW is historically correct, that ‘annihilation of class enemies is not the brainchild of one individual’ known to the world as Charu Mazumdar. As class struggle intensifies between the landlords and the peasants, and the feudal lords kill the peasant activists to maintain their domination over the countryside, the annihilation of class enemies was discovered as a method of counter-attack. The Self-critical Report provides us the important information—long forgotten—that the Srikakulam struggle commenced after the murder of Koranna and Manganna, who were members of a peasant association called Kishan Sabha.
Struggle and Organization: Boycott of other Forms
The CPI(ML) was right in identifying the path of armed struggle as opposed to the parliamentary path. However, ‘we failed to make any distinction between the path of armed struggle and the different forms of struggle’. As Mao pointed out, armed struggle is the main form of struggle; however, the other forms of struggle and organization such as mass struggle and mass organization are also integral parts of revolutionary war, and would remain connected with it either directly or indirectly. While fighting against the revisionist practice of depending only on legal and open mass movements and mass organizations, we landed ourselves at the other extreme, making armed struggle the only method. From that wrong notion about the forms of organization, they failed to appreciate the uneven economic development of the country and the consequent unevenness in the political consciousness of the people. That led to the conclusion that there was no need to forge links with mass movements and mass organizations based on concrete agrarian programme.
Besides this wrong notion about economic struggle, they had developed erroneous notions about organizational forms also. The form of organization is always expected to depend on the form of struggle. If the form of struggle is armed revolution or war, then form of organization will be armed squad or army. Had they thought about other forms which are complementary to armed struggle, other forms of organization would also have existed besides these. As the party adopted a negative attitude towards the other forms of struggle, the party’s attitude towards other forms of organization also was a negative one.
Attitude towards United Front, National Bourgeoisie and Rich Peasantry
It was pointed out that although the 1970 Congress acknowledged the ‘need of the formation of a united front among all anti-imperialist and anti-feudal forces with worker–peasant alliance as the basis’, the future course of events has shown that the notion about how to do it was totally erroneous. That should have started from the beginning. ‘If it is held instead that the forging of a united front is impractical unless some liberated zones are created, then it is tantamount to a rejection of the need of united front for attaining liberation.’ That, in their opinion, was a terrible mistake.
The other mistake was the lack of clarity in the 1970 Party Programme about the role of the national bourgeoisie and rich peasantry. The statement that the bourgeoisie in this country as a whole is ‘of a comprador character from the beginning’ is totally wrong. It created much confusion within the party which then was not in a position to realize the importance of a united front.
Urban Guerrilla Warfare
The military line of a protracted guerrilla war, as the report stated, is to develop revolutionary war in the countryside and create base areas there. One should avoid war in areas where enemy forces are superior. As long as the balance of power remains in favour of the enemy, one should avoid war in the urban areas and concentrate on self-defence. In the city of Kolkata, the surge of the revolutionary movement created panic among the ruling classes, and the government unleashed a reign of terror. The report points out that the enemy would always try to fight in areas where they are in an advantageous position; the revolutionary forces, on the other hand, should avoid battles in such situations.
The report also highlighted the bravery and heroic self-sacrifice of the youth and students who were influenced most by the Naxalbari, Srikakulam and movements in other areas. The influence of such movements on the workers in Kolkata, Durgapur, Coimbatore, Jamshedpur, Dhanbad and other areas was also great.
As regards iconoclasm and attacks on schools and colleges, the report is both supportive and critical. It is supportive of the attacks on images of national leaders as those figures represented a feudal and pro-imperialist culture and hence deterrent to the cause of agrarian revolution. However, it was critical as these attacks were squad-based and isolated from the masses. The report condemned attacks on school and college buildings, and destruction of property as ‘undesirable and harmful to revolution’, as it would ‘isolate us from our friends in the stage of democratic revolution’.
The report also stresses the existence of bureaucratic mentality within the leadership. It did harm to the spirit of democratic centralism and led to the erroneous trend of establishing the authority of the individual over the party. The democratic method of self-criticism and learning from practice practically became non-existent.
J) On the Question of Authority
The question of authority got importance within the party. According to the report, some people sought to establish the personal authority of Charu Mazumdar. This question was raised in the 1970 Party Congress, but was discarded after discussion. Still it arose at a later period. Such erroneous ideas are described as errors in thinking, particularly petty bourgeois method of thinking.
K) Assessment of Charu Mazumdar
The report maintains that a large number of CPI(ML) activists still carrying on clandestine revolutionary activity hold Charu Mazumdar in high esteem, for he was one of those who made a break with the past by initiating revolutionary armed struggle under the guidelines of Marxism-Leninism Mao Tse-tung Thought, dealing a blow to revisionism.
How should the party assess his contribution? The party starts with the Maoist guideline for making an assessment of an individual. No individual can be wholly correct. If an individual is 70% correct, then his contribution is recognized as great; if it is 30%, then he is not recognized as such. It was Charu Mazumdar who applied Marxism-Leninism Mao Tse-tung Thought in the Indian democratic revolution and declared that the Indian revolution would basically follow the path of China; he initiated the process for the formation of the All-India Coordination Committee of Communist Revolutionaries and the subsequent formation of the CPI(ML). It was he who, according to the report, was ‘responsible for both the positive and negative sides of the implementation of the armed agrarian revolution during the last decade’.
The report states that as one victory followed another in different parts of the country, some sort of arrogance developed in him. The unnecessary eulogistic attitude towards him as shown by some of those who surrounded him and some exaggerated reports accelerated it still further. These convinced him that it was his line and his line alone that could resolve all the problems of the Indian revolution. He was not responsive to the criticism that had been cropping up inside the party. Even if he admitted his own mistakes during personal conversations in close quarters, he was not prepared to educate the party comrades on that basis. Despite these limitations, Charu Mazumdar’s successes were primary and failures secondary. He lived the life of a revolutionary and died a revolutionary.
What is noticeable in this appraisal of Charu Mazumdar is that the CPI(ML) People’s War attributed the success in the revolutionary movement to the bright sides of Charu Mazumdar, but at the same time apportioned the failure entirely to his limitations. Here the individual alone and not the collective, is brought into the picture. Such an appraisal has something in common with the appraisal of those who apportioned the blame entirely to Mazumdar, though they at the same time sought to disown his contribution totally. Suniti Kumar Ghosh, however, puts the blame for the setback on the collective, even when he is, at some points, very critical of Charu Mazumdar.
Merger between the CPI(ML) Party Unity and the CPI(ML) People’s War
The merger–that between the PW and the PU took place in August 1998 and led to the formation of a larger body bearing the same name, the CPI(ML) People’s War. This merger was not a difficult one and the major differences between them could be sorted out rather amicably. Both the streams were the offshoots of the same CPI(ML) and both were following the same revolutionary tradition, unlike others who ultimately returned to the parliamentary path. However, although difficulty was expected to be less, it took eight years to get it materialized due to reasons into which we will enter shortly. The PW and PU maintained fraternal relations throughout till they joined hands. Each of them was usually invited as observers at the time of any conference organized by the other.
The talks for unity on the basis of agreement on ideological and international issues between the Andhra Pradesh State Committee(later PW) and the PU had been continuing for some until 1980 when the PW was formed. However, the talks failed. Even before the formation of the CPI(ML) People’s War, the Andhra Pradesh State Committee in 1979 held unity talks with the PU. But, as the Andhra Pradesh State Committee stated, ‘because of a solitary difference of opinion claiming that a CC could not be formed with just two, three states which could not be an all-India party, they did not join our Central Committee’. The question that cropped up later was the question of determining the character of China in the years following Mao’s death in 1976. The PU took more than a decade(in 1989) to come to the conclusion that China had changed her colour and that restoration of capitalism took place there, while the PW arrived at that conclusion much earlier. Thus later, at the end of the 1980s, ‘when the PU took a firm stand on the question of China, regular contacts were resumed’. Merger talks started again in 1996 after some failed attempts.
The PW insisted that as a prerequisite for unity both the parties should make a thorough evaluation of the past and prepare the Political and Organizational Reports(PORs). The PW completed it at its Special Conference of 1995, while the PU did it at its Special Conference of 1997. That was followed by the merger in August 1998 and the formation of a new party bearing the name CPI(ML) People’s War.
Formation of the Maoist Communist Centre(MCC) and its Policies
The Maoist Communist Party was formed by a group of Communist revolutionaries who were influenced by the Naxalbari movement. These revolutionaries did not join the CPI(ML) in April 1969 and instead formed themselves into a separate centre called the Maoist Communist Centre(MCC) in October 1969. It was led by Kanai Chatterjee, Amulya Sen, Chandrasekhar Das and Ardhendu Bhattacharya, to start with. They were members of the CPI(M) and formed a secret cell and circulated documents called Chinta(Thoughts).
There were six documents: a) State character of India; b) Hawkers of neo-colonialism; c) The stage of anti-imperialist and anti-feudal People’s Democratic Revolution in India; d) Agrarian Revolution: what is it and why?; e) Why are there retrenchment, unemployment and lay-offs?;and f) The Indian revolution would follow the path of China’s People’s War. These revolutionary activists published a magazine named Dakshin Desh (Southern Country). They came to be known as the DD group.
The group carried on ideological debates against revisionism through articles that came out in the magazine. Unlike other radical magazines, the DD articles were anonymous, without even pennames. One of the major articles, called ’An outline of strategic and tactical lines of the Indian revolution’, was probably written by Kanai Chatterjee. When the All-India Coordination Committee of Communist Revolutionaries (AICCCR) was formed, these forces did not join it and maintained a separate existence. After the formation of the CPI(ML) in April 1969, they formed a separate centre—the MCC in October 1969.
It appears that the MCC did not adopt any political programme after its formation. However, there are two essays that have the elements of a party programme. One is ‘The Perspectives of Indian Revolution’ and the other ‘Tactics of the Indian Revolution—the Perspectives’.
In the first document, the global situation has been analysed in the perspective of revolutionary/national liberation movements, with the imperialist forces and forces opposing imperialism confronting one another. The US imperialism and Soviet social imperialism are branded as ‘the chieftains of neo-colonialism and the fortress of international reaction’. As opposed to this camp there are ‘China, Albania and other genuine socialist countries under the leadership of the great Communist Party of China based on Marxism-Leninism, Mao Tse-tung Thought, as well as the alliance of the revolutionary peoples of the whole world around the international proletariat’. It was the time when the liberation struggles in Asia, Africa and Latin America were raging. The ‘present-day world has been divided into two camps—the international revolutionaries and the counter-revolutionaries’.
India, according to the document, is not an ‘independent’ country. On the contrary, ‘behind the signboard of ceremonial independence of India they (the imperialists) have transformed this country into their neo-colony’. The politics, internal and foreign policies, military organization as well as the culture of India are described as ‘neo-colonial in character’. Behind the curtain of ‘neutrality’ and ‘world peace’, India, it says, is really ‘acting as an instrument of imperialism’ for ‘executing the US–Soviet conspiracy of encircling and attacking great China’. What is noticeable here is that Indian society is described as ‘neo-colonial’ rather than ‘semi-colonial’.
The document also states that India remains very much a feudal country despite so much fanfare by the Congress government about the abolition of the landlord system. The culture of India, it says, is ‘semi-colonial and semi-feudal’, spread through ‘various foreign and domestic cultural institutions’. The character of the Indian State is ‘neo-colonial in character and semi-colonial and semi-feudal in form’. However, in another section called ‘Two stages of the Indian Revolution’, it states: ‘The semi-colonial and semi-feudal character of the Indian society indicates that the Indian revolution is to be completed in two stages.’ The contradiction lies in characterizing the society as ‘neo-colonial’ at one place and ‘semi-colonial’ at another.
The people’s democratic state, born out of people’s war, will nationalize all property owned by foreign capital and domestic comprador big capital without compensation, and transform them into public property. It would abolish feudalism by ‘confiscating the land of the landlords and distribute that land among the real peasants. The task of the new state in the field of culture would be to eradicate the semi-colonial and semi-feudal culture and establish a people’s democratic culture in its place. The need to fight against ‘modern revisionism’ with the ideological weapon of Marxism-Leninism and Mao Tse-tung Thought in hand is discussed in detail in the document. In this land of many nationalities, the need for a united front of all nationalities has been highlighted. The Indian revolution can be accomplished with three magic weapons. The first is a revolutionary Communist Party espousing Marxism-Leninism and Mao Tse-tung Thought. The second is the ‘People’s Army’ under the leadership of such a party. And the third is a united front of all the revolutionary classes and revolutionary groups under the leadership of such a party.
In the second article on the tactics of Indian revolution, the activists raise the question as to why should the Indian revolution should take the Chinese path, and not the Russian path. That is the path of an armed agrarian revolution in the villages where ‘the counter-revolutionary military forces are weak’, and the creation of base areas in the countryside—the weakest chains of the ruling classes—through guerrilla struggles and the encirclement of cities from the countryside. That they had started studying Mao’s military writings is evident from the statement that ‘because of insufficient development of the communications system in the rural area, the people’s army and militia in the vast rural area(will be able to) advance and retreat as needed’.
Although these two pieces do not constitute a party programme, one can make a brief comparison between these two with the programme of the CPI(ML). There are many common points in both. However, two things deserve mention. One is about the nature of the Indian society. Is it ‘neo-colonial’ as the MCC argues, or is it ‘semi-feudal and semi-colonial’ as the CPI(ML) holds? Both in the Political Resolution of the CPI(ML) adopted in April 1969 as also in the Programme of the CPI(ML) adopted at the Party Congress held in May 1970, the Indian society was described as ‘semi-feudal and semi-colonial’. There is no mention of any ‘neo-colonial’ nature. The other aspect that draws one’s attention is that the MCC document puts a lot of emphasis on the military aspect, and the strategy and tactics of Indian revolution even before the formation of a revolutionary party. The CPI(ML) documents are more organized and tightly drafted. These give the impression of being drafted by activists having more political maturity and intellectual capability.
The MCC was active in the Sundarban, Kanksa, Aushgram and Budbud as also Paschim Medinipur in West Bengal and Gaya, Dhanbad, Hazaribag and some other parts of Bihar as also in Odisha.
Merger between the CPI(ML) People’s War and the MCCI
The merger between the CPI(ML) PW and the MCCI was difficult to accomplish, a series of meetings on merger or joint movements bearing no fruit. The worst part of it was the occurrence of armed clashes between the two forces leading to loss of lives. The MCC(renamed MCCI before the merger with a small group) did not belong to the CPI(ML) stream. Although it hailed Naxalbari, it maintained a separate existence and held that the formation of the CPI(ML) was done rather hastily. They did not join the AICCCR and was very critical of the formation of the CPI(ML) on 1 May 1969. Thus even though they were in agreement on many basic ideological issues with the CPI(ML), they kept a distance from it and formed a separate revolutionary stream. Of the three, the PW and PU maintained fraternal relations throughout till they joined hands. Each of them was usually invited as observers at the time of any conference organized by the other. The PW and the MCC had the same comradely relationship at least at the top level. However, the situation, as stated earlier, was different between the PU and the MCC. The MCC complained time and again that the PU had been intruding into their areas by rejecting the decision on area division mutually agreed upon for eight to nine years since 1982, and even killed one of the MCC supporters. That led to retaliation from their side. The PU, on the other hand, complained that a large number of their activists(122 or 123) were killed by the MCC. A joint statement was issued to defuse the situation while admitting mistakes on both sides.
Process of Unity between the CPI(ML) PW and the MCC and Problems Therein
The commencement of talks leading to the second merger began in 1981, one year after the formation of the CPI(ML) PW in 1980. In October 1981, Kanai Chatterjee and Sushil Roy from the side of the MCC and Kondapalli Sitaramaiyya(henceforth KS), Prakash Master and another Central Committee member from the side of the CPI(ML)PW met. The discussion continued for seven days. On the majority of issues, both sides were in agreement. They felt that there was basis for unity between the two parties. Another date was fixed for further discussion. However, before that, KS got arrested. Then after a few months, Kanai Chatterjee died of illness. Thus the proposed meeting did not materialize. Discussions started after a long gap in 1992 with Ganapathy as the new general secretary of the CPI(ML)PW.
At that meeting, the MCC was represented by Sushil Roy, Prashant Bose@Kishan and another and the PW by Ganapathy, Azad and Koteswar Rao @ Kishanji. After a long discussion, both sides felt that there could not be any unity with so much disunity around. It was then decided that unity talks would remain suspended, and articles on the issues over which they differed would be published in the organs of both organizations with the object of carrying on further discussions.
Points of Disagreement
First, the MCC maintained that the Indian State was a semi-colonial, semi-feudal state of a neo-colonial character. PW was opposed to the ‘neo-colonial’ characterization. Second, the MCC talked about ‘neo-colonial rule, exploitation and plunder’. The PW was not in favour of keeping the word ‘rule’. Azad debated on this issue. Later on, ‘rule’ was accepted. Third, on the question of Indian expansionism, the PW held that the Indian big bourgeoisie was being utilized by imperialism. The MCC held that imperialism was the main danger and that there was no independence for the Indian big bourgeoisie. Later on, the clause ‘main domination’ was accepted. Fourth, on the question of communal organizations, the issue was which fundamentalism—Hindu or Muslim—was more dangerous. To the PW, Hindu fundamentalism was primary and Muslim fundamentalism secondary. To the MCC, Muslim fundamentalism did not lag much behind its Hindu counterpart. The MCC advocated caution so that sentiments of Muslim activists were not hurt while fighting both kinds of fundamentalism. It was decided to regard Hindu fundamentalism as the greatest danger. Fifth, on the question of the domination of semi-feudal relations in the Punjab, the erstwhile PU held that capitalist relations there had developed to such an extent as to do away with semi-feudal relations. The MCC maintained that although capitalist agriculture developed in the Punjab, production relations remained basically the same as before. The PW also accepted this formulation in the course of discussion. It was decided that after the merger, this disagreement would be resolved on the basis of field investigations. At the 2005 Congress, consensus was arrived at on the issue of semi-feudal relations.
Another round of talks for unity was held during 5–11 May 1995 where serious differences had come up on the international situation. The issues involved were as follows: 1. On the assessment of the economic and political changes which imperialism had undergone after World War II; 2. On the definition of Super Power; 3. On the question of the status of Russia today; 4. On the position of Japan and the European Union(particularly Germany) in the modern world; 5. On the role of people’s struggles in reducing the status of a Super Power to that of an Imperialist power; 6.On the Three World differentiation in the present-day world situation; 7. On the position of the American Super Power.
It was admitted in the Resolution signed by the secretaries of both the parties that despite threadbare discussions on these issues for the past two years(1993–95), serious differences still persisted. Both of them proposed the postponement of merger talks and decided ‘to continue the bilateral relations between the two parties in order to coordinate the All India mass organizations, to exchange our respective experiences and literature and to render all possible help to each other.’
The Black Phase(1993 to early 1998)
It was called ‘black’ because it witnessed fighting between the PU and the MCC, as also between the united PW(after PW’s merger with the PU in 1998) and the MCC for ‘area domination’ leading to bloodshed on both sides. And these clashes over area domination were accelerated by differences over political lines on which discussions between the two sides had been going on for years with an eye on merger.
A joint appeal was made by the top leadership to stop such in-fighting immediately, turn the existing hostile relationship into good and march forward to fight together against the ruling classes and their state machinery.
At the meeting, the MCC also proposed a solution that the issue of area domination could be settled on majority support. That implied that if more than 50% of villagers in a particular area supported a party, then that area would be left to that party and the other should withdraw. According to the MCC, the PU was not willing to take a decision on it then.
The fact is that question of division of areas on the basis of majority support was rather tricky, as both the parties would try to expand their areas of influence to new areas. One party could have a majority in one area and another could be a minority in the same area. He who enjoys the majority would try to make it absolute, while he who enjoys a minority would likewise try to expand his influence further. The MCC proposal implied that the minority party should withdraw from the area even if it was strong there and had been expecting to get majority support by making a breakthrough. Thus area division on the basis of majority support could never be a permanent solution. But infighting must stop and the united struggle against the common enemy was the need of the hour. Thus either both sides would liquidate themselves or one would liquidate the other with major losses done to itself too or join hands on one political platform. But how could the two parties, each professing to be a communist revolutionary organization, liquidate each other in a fratricidal war? I believe both sides, at least the top leadership, could understand the gravity of their implications.
The CPI(ML) People’s War stood opposed to the idea of debarring the entry of activists of one party into areas dominated by another. In a letter dated 20 July 1997 to the MCC, the PW stated: ‘We have been keeping you and PU comrades informed about the joining of certain groups/individuals in our party and also about the areas and fronts where we are working in West Bengal… Both our parties are working in Bengal–Bihar border region. More significantly, in both cases, both the parties have relations at grassroots level in some villages. In fact this is a thing to feel happy about. This is the time to give a call to our cadres in these places to take up struggles jointly and develop close relations with each other. This is a chance to closely observe each other’s working methods. Then how is it justified for you to attack us physically in these areas?’ In another part of the same letter, the PW referred to the situation in Bihar. It stated: ‘Our comrades are working in … block in Bihar. They are also working in the neighbouring … for the last one decade. You are also aware that they are in our contact from ’94 onwards and formally joined us in ’96…Your women’s campaign team has visited some of the villages in that area where we are working. None of our comrades raised any objections. They will never raise (it) also since we don’t believe in territories…We firmly believe that the people in those villages will decide on whose side they should take after observing our practice.’
In reply, the MCC, stated: ‘We are not going to encroach any other’s working area in the name of uniting the Communist revolutionaries. But from your letter it is clear that you have already taken the decision to start your party work at any place in India.’ About joint work in the same areas, the MCC stated: ‘…we understand from your letter that you have already started your work right into areas where we are working for a long time… Are you sure that you are not telling anything against us in those areas? Did you start your work by saying that PW is correct and MCC is also correct? To start your practical work you must say something against other’s ideological and political line.’
Any outside observer could feel that this was not what is expected from a revolutionary party, as it betrayed political immaturity. Should there at all be the question of saying whether this line is correct or that line is wrong. Rather, the simple thing to be stated is that this line is ours and that line is theirs. Let both lines be tested in practice and whatever comes out as correct, even if that is neither this one or the other, but a third one, both sides should accept that in the interest of revolution.
Despite efforts on both sides, there was no end to the clashes. The MCC complained to the PW that the slogan ‘wipe out the MCC’ raised by the PU had done irreparable harm to both sides. In reply, the PW stated that their Area Committee gave this slogan in response to the “wipe out PU” call pasted by MCC members on the walls. They proposed to the MCC to withdraw the ‘wipe out PU’ slogan, stop attacks on them and issue a joint statement disowning both the slogans.
In an atmosphere of mutual bitterness, allegations and counter-allegations when letters and counter-letters failed to produce desired results and the whole atmosphere among the people turned out to be one of frustration, appeals came from friends to cease hostilities and unite. There were some such appeals. We could get hold of one such open appeal in May 1997 on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the Naxalbari movement, published in the form of a leaflet with the caption ‘An Open Letter to the leaders and activists of the People’s War, MCC and Party Unity from the People supporting the Naxalbari Struggle’. Parts of the appeal read as follows:
‘We are forced to write this letter to you on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the Naxalbari struggle. Who else could we express our anguish and anger to? You are our teachers…The ruling classes felt overjoyed by crushing the Naxalbari conflagration in pools of blood. You belied their expectations by holding aloft the red flag of liberation…’ Then it referred to two texts on the failure of merger talks published by the People’s War and the MCC, and questioned the relevance of such controversy in the present stage of the Indian revolution. ‘We wonder why did you give international issues more importance to national questions during your meetings?’ The leaflet acknowledged the importance of the six questions relating to international matters over which both parties disagreed; but ‘is the organizer comrade in Dandakaranya facing the question now whether Russia is at present a big power or simply an imperialist power or whether the struggle in Bihar could not be extended further unless the question of relevance of the ‘three-world-theory’ is settled beforehand?’ It also criticized the fratricidal clashes between the PU and the MCC in Bihar. The leaflet made an appeal to resolve differences as fast as possible in the interest of the Indian revolution and unite.
Ultimately, a meeting took place either in late 1998 or early 1999. At the meeting, both sides agreed that although conditions for unity were yet to mature, such clashes should be stopped immediately. It was decided that Koteswar Rao@ Kishanji from the PW and one member from the MCC would look after the problem and take necessary steps.
Encouraged by such developments, discussions on unity started again in which Ganapati, Azad, Prashant Bose and Sushil Roy were present. There again, a proposal for talks on unity was placed. Hence, the talks started again.
After prolonged discussions spanning many days, differences were minimized and both the sides could feel that the basis of unity still remained intact. More discussions followed and the basis of differences was identified more clearly, and a proposal was made for final discussions leading to the merger of the PW and the MCC.
In that meeting the MCC maintained that they would definitely merge; but there should be discussion on the black phase that had strained mutual relationships during the last few years with self-criticism on both sides. Such self-criticism was essential to bring about unity. Later on, the Central Self-criticism meeting was held at Sarenda jungle area of Jharkhand, during the winter of 2003–04. That meeting was a historic one. Self-criticism was made from both sides and the month of August 2004 was fixed for the merger meeting in the same place.
The whole process took much longer time than expected. Groups of PW activists entered the area from different directions and the whole process took several weeks. The PW needed time to discuss the issue of merger within all their committees. That took nearly one month. Leadership from both sides were present. The whole process was complete after fifty-six days. The basis of the merger was prepared. Some documents were prepared which included: 1). Strategy and Tactics of the Indian Revolution;2) Political Resolution; 3) Party Programme; and 4) Party Constitution. There were some others also. These documents were accepted after discussion. Still some minor differences remained. These were to be discussed in the next Party Congress and resolved. The whole process culminated in the merger of the CPI(ML) PW and the MCCI and formation of a new party—the Communist Party of India(Maoist) on 21 September 2004.
A few Remarks
In its long history spanning five decades, the communist revolutionary movement in India had to proceed along a zigzag course attended by ideological struggles, struggles in the battlefield, major setbacks, splits and the attainment of new unity on a new ideological basis with the aim of taking the movement to a higher stage. In this presentation, a modest attempt has been made to give a brief account of that glorious story. This story is still an unfinished one.
Before I conclude, let me express my gratitude to all those who have assembled here to listen to this long deliberation with patience. Thanks to you all.
List of Books:
Suniti Kumar Ghosh ed, The Historic Turning-Point A ‘Liberation’ Anthology, Vols. I & II, Kolkata, 1992, 1993.
Suniti Kumar Ghosh, Naxalbari Before and After Reminiscences and Appraisal, Kolkata, 2009.
Suniti Kumar Ghosh, The Indian Bourgeoisie Its Genesis, Growth and Character, Kolkata, 1986.
Samar Sen, Debabrata Panda & Ashish Lahiri ed, Naxalbari and After A ‘Frontier’ Anthology, Vols. I & II, Calcutta, 1978.
Amit Bhattacharyya, Storming the Gates of Heaven The Maoist Movement in India A Critical Study 1972-2014, Kolkata, 2014.
30 Years of Naxalbari An Epic of Heroic Struggle and Sacrifice, Delhi, 2003.
Indian Maoists A Brief History of the CPI(Maoist) MLM Study Series-3, Kolkata, 2009.
APRSU: A Glorious Saga of Students Struggle Radical Student Movement Forges Ahead Undeterred!, Virasam, Hyderabad, 1989.
K. Balagopal, Ear To The Ground Selected Writings on Class and Caste, Delhi, 2011.
Sumanta Banerjee, Thema Book on Naxalite Poetry, Kolkata, 2009.
Pradip Basu ed, Discourses on Naxalite Movement 1967-2009, Insights into Radical Left politics, Kolkata, 2010.
Pradip Basu ed, Red on Silver Naxalites in Cinema, Kolkata, 2012.
Abhijit Das, Footprints of Foot Soldiers Experiences and Recollections of the Naxalite Movement in Eastern India, Kolkata, Delhi, 2014.
Historical and Polemical Documents of the Communist Movement in India, Vols. I & II, 1943-51 & 1964-72, 2007, 2008, Tarimela Nagi Reddy Trust, Vijaywada.
Jan Myrdal, Red Star Over India, Kolkata, 2011.
Arundhati Roy, Walking with the Comrades, Delhi, 2011.
Varavara Rao, Captive Imagination Letters from Prison, New Delhi, 2010.
N. Venugopal, Understanding Maoists Notes of a Participant Observer from Andhra Pradesh, Kolkata, Delhi, 2013.
Satnam, Jangalnama Travels in a Maoist Guerrilla Zone, Delhi, 2010.