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Revolutionary Movements in a Post-Marxian Era

The key to revolutionary change in today's world lies beyond the traditional Marxist conceptual framework or the leadership of Marxist political parties. In India, four broad areas of protests constitute the major components of a new revolutionary strategy in the post-Marxian era - (i) movements by forest dwellers against both the state machinery and predatory commercial forces; (ii) protests by villagers against the establishment of industrial estates, big dams and nuclear plants that threaten to oust them from their lands and homes, and endanger the environment; (iii) civil society campaigns against corruption and crime; and (iv) secessionist struggles on the issue of self-determination in the north-east and Kashmir. How will a new generation of post-Marxian revolutionary theoreticians and practitioners invigorate these movements with a progressive ideological core and a comprehensive coordinated programme of socialist change?

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Revolutionary Movements in a Post-Marxian Era

Sumanta Banerjee

The key to revolutionary change in today’s world lies beyond the traditional Marxist conceptual framework or the leadership of Marxist political parties. In India, four broad areas of protests constitute the major components of a new revolutionary strategy in the post-Marxian era – (i) movements by forest dwellers against both the state machinery and predatory commercial forces; (ii) protests by villagers against the establishment of industrial estates, big dams and nuclear plants that threaten to oust them from their lands and homes, and endanger the environment; (iii) civil society campaigns against corruption and crime; and

(iv) secessionist struggles on the issue of self-determination in the north-east and Kashmir. How will a new generation of post-Marxian revolutionary theoreticians and practitioners invigorate these movements with a progressive ideological core and a comprehensive coordinated programme of socialist change?

This paper was presented – in an abridged version – at the international conference on “Marxism: Marx and Beyond”, held in Kolkata during 22-24 March 2012, under the joint auspices of the Institute of Development Studies Kolkata, and the Centre for Marxian Studies, Jadavpur University, and sponsored by the Indian Council of Philosophical Research, New Delhi.

Sumanta Banerjee (suman5ban@yahoo.com) is best known for his book In the Wake of Naxalbari: A History of the Naxalite Movement in India.

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T
o start in a lighter vein, let me recall this joke about a drunk, who is moving on all fours, on a road. He is searching for something under a lamp post. When asked by a passer-by, he tells him that he is looking for his keys. “Where did you lose your keys”, the passer-by asks him. He replies: “Over there”, pointing out into the darkness. The passer-by asks him: “But, if you’ve lost the keys over there, why are you looking for them here under the lamp post?” The drunken answers: “Because the light is so much better here under the lamp post”.

Sometimes I wonder whether we are behaving like the drunk in trying to find the key for the revolutionary transformation of our society under one single political lamp post – while the key may lie elsewhere beyond the circle of light shed by that lamp post. We perhaps believe that what is sought can be found only under the old lamp post of the traditional Marxist classics. That lamp post does indeed continue to shed light on a lot of hidden corners of the capitalist mode of production and its present nefarious form of neo-liberal globalisation. Marx was prescient in his acute analysis of the basic laws of global capitalist development, and therefore he remains relevant for those fighting to change that inequitable global order. His tools of analysis have been refined or modified by various schools of modern political scientists and s ociologists in their attempts to examine different segments of society. But is the old Marxist lamplight wide enough to i lluminate all the corners of the vast outer darkness of our present socio-economic order? Should we not increase the power of the Marxist bulb, to be able to incorporate the various upsurges of resistance against the neo-liberal order of globalisation even in the heart of the west and against the United States’ (US) global militarist ambitions in different parts of the third world, and discover the signs of a future revolutionary transformation of our society in the present outbursts of protests in different parts of India?

In other words, the key to revolutionary change in today’s world lies beyond the “sacred” circle of the old Marxist gaslit lamp post. Outside the traditional Marxist conceptual framework, or the leadership of Marxist political parties, there are a lot of new theoretical challenges and innovative forms of protest that are breaking out, and which need to be faced by Marxist ideologues and practitioners. Hitherto ignored social and political grievances of underprivileged and invisible sections of society (like demands of aboriginal people, ethnic and linguistic minorities, gender rights of women) are bursting out in sparks of resistance and lighting up the obscure corners of the vast darkness that lie outside

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the Marxist lamplight. I will come to specific instances in India in a while.

Opposed to this there has developed a parallel stream of fortune hunters among the upper and middle classes – who act as a buffer zone between the state and its business tycoon allies and multinational industrial patrons on the one hand, and the disgruntled masses on the other. This is the new generation of executives in multinational corporations, employees in the i nformation technology sector, and a host of middlemen like contractors in the booming construction business, as well as professionals like academics, medical practitioners and others in the tertiary sector who have gained from the privatisation of their occupations in the neo-liberal era of globalisation. This new generation of middle classes are ensconced under a curtain – which can be described as the “brass curtain”. Like the “iron curtain” that was stitched by the US cold war tailors around the Soviet Union, China, Cuba and other socialist states in the 20th century, to insulate their socialist experiments from the rest of the world by military intervention and trade embargoes, today again the same US-led corporatocracy is embroidering a new curtain – the garish, glitzy “brass curtain” of crass privatisation and brash consumerism to protect its e mployees within a cocoon.

Middle Class as the ‘Vanguard’?

The corruption of these newly educated sections of the middle classes brings me to another problem being faced today by Marxist practitioners – the ability or the desirability of the present middle class intellectuals to act as the “vanguard” (in the Leninist sense) in the struggle for socialist transformation. The power of the capitalist global order to seduce these infl uential members of the professional classes to its fold has robbed the Marxist movement of an enlightened intelligentsia from these classes which in the past had always invigorated it with fresh theoretical insights. The communist movement t oday, whether in India or abroad, lacks leaders possessing the intellectual calibre and practical experience of those of the past who could reconstruct their theoretical understanding of Marxism in accordance with their national needs in changing circumstances – whether Togliatti in Italy, Maurice Thorez in France, Mao in China, Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam, or P C Joshi in India, who could animate a small communist party in the 1940s with a wide scale programme of leading peasants’ movements and working class strikes, organisation of relief for the victims of the 1943 Bengal famine and 1946 communal riots, and building up of a rich cultural venue (in the shape of the Indian People’s Theatre Association and the Progressive Writers’ Association) that brought together some of the best talents from the contemporary Indian scene of arts, music, theatre and literature.

In parenthesis, let me in this connection touch upon briefl y the problematic of the “vanguardist” role of the party – in the paradigm of revolutionary strategy. In Russia in the past, the urban educated middle class intelligentsia formed the leadership of the Bolshevik Revolution. In China, the Maoist concept of leadership was based on rural-based communist organic i ntellectuals mainly from the peasantry. But both these forms of party hegemony, in the Soviet Union first and China later, led to the bureaucratisation of the communist movement (which provoked Mao to launch the Cultural Revolution to “bombard” the party headquarters in China, but which sadly enough ended up in violent chaos and factional fi ghts within the Chinese Communist Party).

Against this backdrop of the tragic historical experience of a single party hegemony in the socialist movement and postrevolutionary societies in the 20th century, participants in the present movements and agitations for socialist change in the 21st century often propose another alternative that suggests the doing away of the party altogether – harking back to the anarchist vision of a socialist movement based on (pure) spontaneous popular protests rejecting control by any political party or centre. The World Social Forum through its various congregations (including one in Hyderabad in 2003) has brought together these various voices of protest in a pluralistic ambience. These voices await synchronisation and gradation from “bilambit” to “drut” in the “raga” of Indian revolutionary transformation. This needs a new generation of creative and innovative artistes – both ideologues and practitioners – who can both bring about the revolution and create the post-revolutionary society.

There are tensions between these non-party movements and the political parties which want to intervene. A typical example is the adivasi peasants’ uprising against police atrocities in Lalgarh in West Bengal sometime ago, that was hijacked by the Communist Party of India (Maoist) (CPI(Maoist)) in its a ttempt to orient the uprising towards the tactics of guerrilla warfare as a part of its strategy of agrarian revolution to capture state power. The Maoists there (led by Koteshwar Rao, known as Kishenji, an ideologue and tactician from Andhra Pradesh), in their amoral opportunist device, backed Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress, deployed their armed squads in her favour to eliminate their rivals in the ruling CPI(Marxist), campaigned for her in the elections, and paved the way for her coming to power. Once she won the elections with their help, Mamata got rid of her Maoist comprador, by allowing the security forces to kill Kishenji (who was the most vociferous champion of Mamata Banerjee in his TV interviews on the eve of the elections). The Maoist party’s “vanguardist” role in Lalgarh thus proved to be a total disaster, and also exposed the naïve political judgment of the Maoist leadership.

In contrast with these ideologically committed, well-meaning but politically confused, and militarily ill-equipped middle class leaders of the Maoist movement, who face death in false encounters in the jungles of Chhattisgarh or Jharkhand, a new generation of middle class professionals is emerging in the I ndia’s tertiary sector. Employed in Indian and multinational corporate houses and the IT sector, they are protected by the flashy “brass curtain” of the neo-liberal global order. But like the “iron curtain” of the past, this curtain is also vulnerable to fissures, as evident from the huge wave of protests that began over the past year, from among this section of the salaried petty bourgeoisie in Greece in western Europe and Egypt

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in west Asia – and can soon reach the shores of the Indian m iddle class.

Marxian and Post-Marxian Politics

When we take into account these changing contours of antistate protest – both among the wider masses and the privileged classes – we feel the need to enlarge the circle of the light from the Marxist lamp post to cover these various segments in the hitherto neglected vast space of complex class relationships, and the complicated forms of manifestation that they are assuming. But before taking up the specific cases of anti-state movements in India that need to be incorporated in a Marxist programme of socialist transition, let me briefl y dwell upon the historical context of the political position from which Marxists are grappling with this challenge today.

To put it in a broader perspective, the protests – whether the social movements, peasants’ uprisings and working class strikes in India, or the Occupy Wall Street agitations in the US and Europe, or the Arab Spring in west Asia – are taking place in a post-Marxian political scene. This is not to suggest that there is a fragmentation of the ideological core of socialism that has sustained Marxian and post-Marxian politics. I am trying to highlight two factors that are changing the terrain of the struggle: (i) the changes in the economy brought about by a new technology ushered in by the neo-liberal global order that has changed the composition of both the industrial working class and the professional middle classes, on the one hand; and (ii) the growing self-assertion by hitherto ignored oppressed communities and sections of the population, which are being marginalised by the impact of this neo-liberal economic order, on the other. These complex developments need to be factored in by Marxist ideologues and practitioners who are involved in bringing about a socialist transformation.

It is these changes that call for post-Marxian strategy of revolutionary transformation. By using the term post-Marxian, I mean a period characterised by several important traits that signify both continuation as well as departure from the original programme and prognosis made by Karl Marx in the 19th century. It also implies the end of one phase of Marxist experimentation with revolutions and socialist reconstruction in Russia and China.

Marx’s paradigm of revolution was marked by certain i mportant preconditions – one, the movement was required to be led by the industrial proletariat of the contemporary advanced capitalist states of the west; two, in order to carry out the strategy of overthrowing the capitalist state and capturing power, the tactics that were to be adopted were primarily citybased insurrections (the model available to and appreciated by Marx, being the Paris Commune that took place during his lifetime); three, the post-revolutionary state that was to be i nstalled was designated as a form of “dictatorship of the proletariat”, as a transitional phase towards the development of a communist society; four, once the proletariat captured power in Europe, it would lead to the emancipation of the people of the colonies in Asia, Africa and America (cf Engels to Kautsky, 12 September 1882: “…the countries inhabited by a native

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p opulation which are simply subjugated, India, Algiers, the Dutch, Portuguese and Spanish possessions, must be taken over for the time being by the (European) proletariat and led as rapidly as possible towards independence”).

All these preconditions of the traditional Marxist paradigm had faced challenges in the course of the revolutionary movements and post-revolutionary construction of socialist states in both Europe and elsewhere during the last 100 years or more. The outbreak of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in a backward capitalist state, followed by seven decades of experiments in socialist reconstruction there, and the communist revolution and post-revolutionary turmoil (e g, Cultural Revolution in China), defied the trajectory of change that was d esigned by Marx. They gave rise to new problems that had escaped the attention of Marx and Engels – like issues of h uman rights, demands of nationalities, ethnic identity, environmental concerns and feminist self-assertion. To give one instance – the post-Marxian ideologues and practitioners are today facing a new challenge in the Arab world. Various layers of complex socio-economic and religious interrelationships are propelling different types of agitations there – ranging from acts of terrorism by the conservative religious Taliban and Al Qaida outfits in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and countries in west Asia and Africa on the one hand, to movements by secular groups in Tunisia, Egypt, Turkey and other parts of the Arab world on the other.

There is a need for an extremely nuanced Marxist approach to these various types of popular upsurges. Marxists also need to acknowledge that the pro-Left secular regimes (cf Baathist) in countries like Iraq under Sadaam Hussain, Libya under Gaddafi, Syria under Assad, had failed their people during the last decades. Like their socialist counterparts in the Soviet U nion and east Europe, they had also notched up atrocious records of corruption and repression of democratic opposition

– which aroused mass discontent. Although secular and propoor in some of their reforms, they carried on the feudal legacy of dynastic succession of the Arab sheikhs, by promoting their sons or nephews (cf the progeny of Sadaam and Gaddafi ). This is not peculiar to the Arab world. Even the communist ruling party in North Korea has not been able to rid itself of this feudal habit of dynastic succession. In the Arab world, in the absence of an alternative left leadership to oppose the corrupt and repressive ruling Baathist and other secular regimes, the people flocked to the Islamist fundamentalist eagles which swooped down to occupy the vacuum of political opposition.

A post-Marxian strategy of revolutionary transformation therefore should also take into account these failures of past socialist regimes, the roots of corruption and state terror that led to their fall. Yet, there is a continuity which flows from the Marxist analysis of capitalist development. We are rediscovering Marx’s relevance today when, under the neo-liberal order of globalisation, a reorganisation of the international division of labour is taking place which, as Marx pointed out in Capital, Vol I, is “suited to the requirements of the chief centres of modern industry” (which are in this case the US-dominated western economic powers, that are setting up special economic zones,

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call centres, etc, in India and other countries which form the peripheries to the “chief centres”).

Further, our present-day critique of the global environmental threat again harks back to Marx’s warning that such an ecological crisis was bound to happen because of the capitalist economic system. At the end of Chapter XV of Capital, “ Machinery and Modern Industry”, Marx wrote: “...all progress in capitalistic agriculture is a progress in the art, not only of robbing the labourer, but of robbing the soil; all progress in i ncreasing the fertility of the soil for a given time, is a progress towards ruining the lasting sources of that fertility.” Are we not observing today the saturation of the fertility of the soil in Punjab, Haryana and other areas due to the excessive and i ndiscriminate use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides in the race for progress in growth? Marx ended the chapter with the following words: “Capitalist production, therefore, develops technology, and the combining together of various processes into a social whole, only by sapping the original sources of all wealth – the soil and the labourer”.

To put it in simplistic terms therefore, Marx could get under the skin of the capitalist mode of production, and predict its future course – which capitalism as an economic system has generally followed. But his critique was limited by the conditions of the historical period in which he was writing – a period when capitalism in Europe was taking on a ruthlessly aggressive posture, concentrating on primitive accumulation of capital, exploitation of resources from its colonies, and pauperisation of its own industrial proletariat.

The tactics that Marx and Engels suggested for overthrowing this inequitable and oppressive capitalist structure was a revolutionary insurrection by the urban industrial proletariat of Europe. The immediate model was the Paris Commune. Both of them dismissed the possibilities of national minorities or the rural poor in the colonies as becoming decisive forces in the revolutionary transformation.

In fact, in 1848, Engels defended the French campaign against Bedouins in Algeria in the following words: “The struggle of the Bedouins was a hopeless one…And if we may regret that the liberty of the Bedouins of the desert has been destroyed, we must not forget that these same Bedouins were a nation of robbers….” (Northern Star, 22 January 1848).

But towards the end of their revolutionary careers, Marx and Engels possibly toyed with the idea of giving the benefi t of doubt to the parliamentary politics of the bourgeois system to bring about the radical change that they had envisaged. Engels writing in March 1895 in his Introduction to his friend’s classic work – The Class Struggles in France – analysed the changes since the 1848-50 period in these words:

With …successful utilisation of universal suffrage… an entirely new method of proletarian struggle came into operation, and this method quickly developed further…the conditions of the struggle had essentially changed. Rebellion in the old style, street fighting with barricades, which decided the issue everywhere up to 1848, was to a considerable extent obsolete….the conditions since 1848 have become far more unfavourable for civilian fighters and far more favourable for the military. In future, street fighting can therefore be victorious only if this disadvantageous situation is compensated by other factors.

Engels then claimed with confidence: “We, the ‘revolutionists’, the ‘overthrowers’ – we are thriving far better on legal methods than on illegal methods and overthrow”. This was r efuted by history, as is well known by future developments in Europe. The capitalist rulers could hijack the democratic right of universal suffrage to their advantage by buying off a section of the working class – who became the “labour aristocracy” as described by latter-day Marxists. The capitalist system could also incorporate into the vast tertiary sector of its economy large sections of the middle classes. Engels had placed hope in these sections when he wrote in his 1895 article: “…by the end of the century we shall conquer the greater part of the middle strata of society, petty bourgeois, and ….grow into decisive power…” His dream was soon to be shattered.

Thus, while the Marxian critique of capitalism in its basic analysis still remains relevant, the Marxian programme of s ocialist transformation – either through armed insurrections or through universal franchise – has suffered vicissitudes. In the last century, in Russia, China, Vietnam and Cuba the t actics of armed revolution succeeded in the capturing of power by the communists – but with mixed outcome as far as the goal of socialist transformation is concerned. The parallel alter native of attempting the transformation through universal franchise has also been tried out by Marxist political parties in Europe (at one time conceptualised as euro-communism – which failed to take off).

An Alternative Global Marxist Strategy

In the present phase of capitalism, where the system has been able to consolidate its monopoly over the global economy (with the collapse of the alternative socialist system in the S oviet Union, and the incorporation of the so-called communist state of China into that economy), Marxian ideologues and practitioners have to fashion a new set of strategy and tactics on an international scale to challenge that global monopoly. It cannot and should not be a replication of attempts to consolidate revolutionary forces that we witnessed in the 1930s under the hegemony of a single communist party (that was based in the Soviet Union) in the name of the Comintern or the Cominform in the 1940s. There cannot be a repetition of a similar hegemony that was attempted by the Chinese Communist Party in the 1960-70 period when its theoretician Lin Piao sought to impose on communist fighters in Third World countries, the tactics of encirclement of cities by villages – tactics that proved a disaster.

The alternative global Marxist strategy therefore has to be more nuanced to be sensitive to the various types of popular protests and rebellions in different parts of the world and select, incorporate or reject them according to its ideological principles. Surely the Marxists cannot support the orthodox religious and terrorist Al Qaida – just because it is killing US soldiers!

There is a need to refashion the Tricontinental strategy that was envisaged by Che Guevara in the 1960s. Che dreamed of more and more Vietnams to defeat US imperialism. That is not possible today. But his basic concept of creating and expanding more and more centres of movements against US expansionism still remains valid. Such movements are taking place

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in different parts of the world – in different forms, whether armed or non-violent, whether the Zapatista insurrection in Mexico or the parliamentary experiments in Venezuela and Bolivia.

India as a Site for Post-Marxian Experiments

But it is in India, more importantly, where the two alternatives within the Marxian framework of change have coexisted with various degrees of success and failure for several decades. Here for the first time, communists could get elected to a state legislature (in Kerala in 1957) to be able to form a government

– but to be dismissed as soon as they introduced land reforms and changes in the educational sector that threatened vested interests. Since then, it had been a long struggle for parliamentary communists to inch their way to form governments in states and operate within the limited constraints of a centrally ruled structure, but make use of the constitutional powers to bring about certain socio-economic reforms within that structure. We have to acknowledge that the Indian Constitution, notwithstanding the mendacity of the Indian state, still offers opportunities to communists to implement these reforms. For more than three decades, from 1977 to 2011, the communists ruled at a stretch in West Bengal, enjoying enough rights to bring about institutional changes to meet the basic needs of the people like healthcare, housing, education, and to introduce a governance free from corruption and criminality. But, sad to say, the communists in power in West Bengal, after the initial period of limited land reforms and efforts to involve people in decision-making at the grass-roots level (through the panchayati system and similar popular mechanisms), failed to solve these basic requirements of the citizens in their quotidian existence. They soon sank into the slimy mire of corruption and crime in the area of daily governance, and degenerated into agents of the neo-liberal global order in the area of economic reforms (cf Singur, Nandigram, Lalgarh).

Similar to the pattern followed by the communist rulers in the Soviet Union and east European countries in the period preceding their downfall, and in China today, in West Bengal also a bureaucratic hierarchy developed in the CPI(M)’s organisation, where power and privilege from the top echelons of the party flowed to the apparatchiks at the bottom, who maintained the party’s control and influence over the people through a judicious mixture of distribution of largesse and terror. The terror tactics which was predominantly resorted to by the CPI(M) during the latter days of the Left Front rule in West Bengal (in Singur, Nandigram) spelt the rout of the CPI(M) in the 2011 elections. Like the Soviet and east European party b ureaucrats and party-patronised privileged elite, who had to pay the price for their terrorisation, corruption and arrogance, and lost power at the end of the 1980s, the West Bengal CPI(M) leaders and their protégées are now biting the dust.

I think it is necessary to locate this degradation of the CPI(M) in West Bengal in the wider context of the historical record of moral degeneration of communists in power in general. Critics from the Maoist camp of the alternative strategy of armed struggle, in a simplistic manner, attribute this degradation to

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the bourgeois parliamentary system, which they feel, is bound to corrupt communists whenever they join it. But how can the Maoists gloss over the corruption of the communist rulers who came to power through armed struggles and were given a chance to build an egalitarian society under a communist revolutionary system? Whether in Stalin’s Russia or Mao’s China, they acquired notoriety for amassing wealth and terrorising their own people. There seems to be a continuity in the institutionalisation of coercion and terror in governance by communist rulers from the Soviet Union in the 1930s to Kampuchea under Pol Pot in the 1970s. On a mini-scale, we discover the same symptoms in the policies and practices of the Left Front government in West Bengal during the final decades of its r egime – in a violent manner it tried to suppress popular p rotests in Singur, Nandigram and Lalgarh against its industrial projects that threatened the livelihood and homes of the local villagers.

The basic questions that I am raising are – what social or political enzyme in our past programme of building socialism could have distorted an idealist revolutionary Stalin into a cynical brute, or brought about the mutation of a young sensitive Marxist like Pol Pot into a ruthless reprobate? How could communists make such a violent departure from the fundamental Marxist humanitarian premise of respecting the rights of individuals and enhancing their capacity to develop as perfect human beings? The roots of Marxism are embedded in the basic proposition that Karl Marx made in his Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844: “…the complete return of man to himself as a social (i e, human) being – a return accomplished consciously and embracing the entire wealth of previous development”.

In the post-Marxian strategy of revolution, there is an urgent need to restore this Marxian premise of respecting and e ncouraging the right of the individual to full development of his/her creative capacities. The communist-led governments in the past provided the basic material amenities to their people, and educated and trained them to the level from where they could serve the economic and political interests of the state. But beyond that level, they forbade them to think, or to question the state’s policies. Questioning the status quo, which is the basis of human progress, was suppressed in socialist states. Yet, Marx in his theoretical pursuits and political praxis followed the famous dictum – ‘De omnibus dubitandum’ (doubt everything). The post-Marxian revolutionaries, both in the course of their ongoing struggles and in the territories where they have come to power, have to respect and restore the democratic rights of both the participants in their struggles, and the citizens who live in these territories. To hark back to Che Guevara’s dream, communists in power, while bringing in an equitable socio-economic order, should also shape new human beings who are capable of developing their individuality.

The Present Situation in India

In the light of the above mentioned historical experiences of the communist movement in the past and the changes that are taking place in the post-Marxian era, let me come to the

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possibilities of revolutionary transformation of the current popular movements in India. I identify four broad areas of such protests in the present Indian context – (i) movements by forest dwellers and tribal people mainly in the hill areas against both the state machinery of oppressive functionaries (like forest guards), and predatory commercial forces that threaten their livelihoods (ranging from the peaceful Chipko movement opposing destruction of forests in the western Himalayas to the violent Maoist-led resistance in the f orests of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and neighbouring areas against the encroachment by corporate houses to displace them from their homelands to make way for industrial development);

(ii) protests by villagers in the plains against the establishment of industrial estates, installation of big dams and nuclear plants among others that threaten to oust them from their lands and homes, and endanger the environment; (iii) civil society campaigns by people like Anna Hazare, and citizens’ groups like “Wada Na Todo”, or those monitoring elections, which voice the grievances of common citizens against widespread corruption and crime in the political system and society in general; lastly, (iv) the most controversial area that challenges Marxist ideologues and practitioners in India – the secessionist struggles on the issue of self-determination by various dissatisfied ethnic and regional communities in the north-eastern states of Nagaland, Manipur, Assam, and in the north-western state of Kashmir. They range from armed insurrections to peaceful mass demonstrations in the streets, which reflect the popular feeling that they have had a raw deal by r emaining within the Indian Union.

It is these different explosions of protest breaking out in v arious corners of India that constitute major components of a new revolutionary strategy in the post-Marxian era. They need to be dovetailed with the traditional Marxist proposition of a worker-peasant alliance as the main propelling force for a revolutionary change. Such a proposition implies that a joint struggle by the industrial working class and the rural peasantry alone can be decisive in bringing about the change. But in a country like India, with diverse sociocultural communities, uneven levels of economic development and political consciousness, and fragmentations within the working and peasant classes, Marxist practitioners have to both honestly comprehend this reality and be patient enough to sensitise these various sections of a vast disgruntled population to the political ideology of socialism, and convince them to participate in a multi-level revolutionary endeavour with fl exible tactics to move towards a socialist transformation of Indian society.

Relating to the Present Struggles

Yet, each of the movements mentioned above has its own complexities with which Marxist ideologues and political parties often feel ill at ease. For instance, as for the first category – the struggles of forest dwellers and tribal population – should Marxists regard them as pre-capitalist forms of protest against the introduction of technology, like the Luddite rebellion in the early days of industrialisation, primitive forms of protest, which following past historical pattern, are likely to disappear against the inevitable progress of industrialisation? Or, should they be recognised in the third world context, as assertions of a strong traditional sense of sociocultural identity reinforced by protests against the modern industrial corporatocracy’s e ncroachment on their territory? How can Marxists synchronise their voices with those of the industrial working class? Besides, different groups in these movements have different approaches to social change. Some, like non-governmental

o rganisations, want to strengthen the role of local forest dwellers and tribal people in decision-making within the present structure, and make the prevailing capitalist system more humane. Some like the Maoists want to destroy the structure and strengthen the antagonistic movement against capitalism by leading these tribal populations in an armed struggle in confrontation with the state.

The Maoists in their areas of control in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Malkangiri and other pockets of resistance, have often succeeded in carrying out land reforms, and meeting the basic needs of the local villagers. But the encirclement of their pockets by the state’s security forces has led to the elimination of most of their top leadership (Azad, Kishenji and others, killed in false encounters), large-scale arrests of members of their central committee, and increasing surrender of their c adres. In the absence of any effective political guidance from the central leadership, most of the Maoist guerrilla squads are fast turning into roaming gangs of extortionists and criminals in areas like Jharkhand. This again suggests the failure of the leadership in educating the Maoist ranks in the basic ideology of Marxian socialism and humanism. Like their parliamentary counterpart – the CPI(M) – the Maoists are also facing a political crisis and a challenge to their moral credibility. In the light of their experiences of armed struggle during the last three decades or so, the Maoist leaders have to be self-critical, ask themselves whether the tactics of a protracted armed struggle (that was viable in China from the 1920s till the 1940s) can be replicated in 21st century India, and reformulate their programme for a radical change.

Let us take the second type of movements – those against big dams and industrial projects, prompted by concerns of l ocal villagers about threats to their livelihood and environment (cf the Narmada Bachao Andolan). Do the Marxist parties have a plan to incorporate their demands in their overall strategy of a socialist transformation in India? To come to the third category of protests, how should Marxists relate to the Anna Hazare type campaigns which take up burning social i ssues, but stop only at demanding the reforming of the present structure of governance without challenging the basic capitalist system that gives birth to corruption and crime? How can Marxist parties take up these quotidian problems of the citizens, try to help them in overcoming the myriad problems that they face – and in the course, politicise them to make them aware of the need for breaking down the present political structure to replace it with a socialist system? To recall Marx again – “The communists fight for the attainment of the immediate aims, for the momentary interests of the working

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class; but in the movement of the present, they also represent and take care of the future of the movement” (Communist Manifesto, 1848). In other words, the present revolutionary strategy has to be linked to the future post-revolutionary stage of reconstruction.

But more challenging for Marxists is the fourth area of protests – the secessionist movements. Most of the centres of these secessionist struggles happen to be situated in territories which border countries with which India is in a rather hostile relationship – China in the north-east, and Pakistan in the north-west. As a result, a perpetually paranoid Indian state administration had always responded to demands for autonomy by these ethnic and regional communities by denigrating them as foreign-inspired and suppressing them by military means. Indian Marxist parties – whether the parliamentary communists or the armed CPI(Maoist) – have always betrayed an ambiguous attitude towards these movements in their theorisation about nationalities. In their tactics, they have often betrayed a certain expediency – sometimes dismissing the secessionist movements from the statist point of view of protecting the Indian nation’s territorial integrity (e g, by the parliamentary communist parties), sometimes by batting for them to fight the Indian state (e g, the Indian Maoists’ support to the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and Islamist terrorist groups, their logic being “my enemy’s enemy is my friend”. So, any stick is good enough to beat the Indian state!).

The ambiguity and expediency in the policies of the Indian Marxists towards the nationalities can be traced back to the conflict among Marxist ideologues on the question of the right of self-determination of nationalities right from the days of the first socialist state in the Soviet Union. As early as 1917, Rosa Luxemburg questioned the wisdom of the new Soviet state’s grant of that right to every nationality (within the erstwhile Tsarist-ruled territory of the Russian empire) without taking into account the feudal and fascist character of the leaders of these local nationalities who could come to power by taking advantage of the right of self-determination (cf The Russian Revolution, 1917-18). On the issue of self-determination of nationalities, today also the Marxists face a dilemma. While agreeing on the principle of the right of self-determination, should they allow it to be usurped by chauvinist ethno-nationalist groups like the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka, ULFA in Assam, or religious fanatic terrorist organisations like the Hizbul in Kashmir? Drifting with the current of self-determination, should the Marxists (particularly the Maoists) be passive witnesses to the future occupation of Kashmir by a Talibantype mullacracy imposing coercive shariat laws on women among others?

Humanising Strategy and Tactics

It would be both naïve and dangerous for Marxists to celebrate all forms of resistance, just because they are anti-US. Washington’s neo-imperialist adventures in Afghanistan and west Asia have provoked popular anger, opening up space for many

Economic & Political Weekly

EPW
may 5, 2012 vol xlviI no 18

different forms of resistance. In the absence of any secular and democratic leadership, this space is being dominated by fanatic religious militant groups like the Al Qaida, and an equally dogmatic religious regime like Iran.

But to come back to the various types of anti-state movements in India – both violent and non-violent, secular and religious – the majority of their participants remain dispersed, each group tightly ensconced within the shell of their respective concerns. They need to coalesce into a single movement. And it is here where a new generation of post-Marxian revolutionary theoreticians and practitioners can invigorate them with a progressive ideological core and a comprehensive coordinated programme of socialist change. There can be debates over the methods of bringing about that change – whether through parliamentary reforms or armed struggle, or a combination of both (as experimented with in Nepal and some countries in south America). As in the past, when Indian Marxist parties drew inspiration from the Soviet Union and China as models of socialist states, at present, among Marxist circles in India (like the CPI(M) in particular), there is a lot of curiosity and expectations about the socialist experiments being carried out in Latin America. Cuba, particularly, during the last several decades, has braved US sanctions and has succeeded in bringing about basic socioeconomic reforms that have improved the health and educational standards of its people. Venezuela under Chavez has shown impressive social gains for its people, and has even inspired the concept of a Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) as a pivotal force to bring about a radical change in Latin America.

But, while raising my fist in a red salute to these experiments in socialism, I also want to keep my fingers crossed. Let us not be carried away by the immediate socio-economic successes of these regimes. There are problems like allegations about the suppression of dissident intellectuals in Cuba. In Venezuela, there are complaints about a coterie growing around Chavez (known as Chavismo) who are reaping profi ts and enjoying privileges. Is there going to be a repetition of the same pattern of bureaucratisation and corruption of the p olitical system as happened in the Soviet Union and China in the past?

Basically, it boils down to the problem of humanising the strategy and tactics of revolutionary change, and democratising the post-revolutionary reconstruction of society. Let us not reduce the problem to a simplistic debate over parliamentary or non-parliamentary methods, or tactics of violence or non-violence – an either/or approach towards the transformation of our society in a socialist direction. On this particular d ebate, let me end by quoting Rosa Luxemburg:

Legislative reform and revolution are not different methods of historic development that can be picked out at pleasure from the counter of history, just as one chooses hot or cold sausages. Legislative reform and revolution are different factors in the development of class society. They condition and complement each other, and are at the same time reciprocally exclusive, as are the north and south poles, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat (Social Reform or Revolution, 1900).

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