Public statement from Arundhati Roy after the attack on her house


A mob of about a hundred people arrived at my house at 11 this morning (Sunday, October 31, 2010.) They broke through the gate and vandalized property. They shouted slogans against me for my views on Kashmir, and threatened to teach me a lesson. The OB Vans of NDTV, Times Now and News 24 were already in place ostensibly to cover the event live. TV reports say that the mob consisted largely of members of the BJP’s Mahila Morcha (Women’s wing). After they left, the police advised us to let them know if in future we saw any OB vans hanging around the neighborhood because they said that was an indication that a mob was on its way. In June this year, after a false report in the papers by Press Trust of India (PTI) two men on motorcycles tried to stone the windows of my home. They too were accompanied by TV cameramen.

What is the nature of the agreement between these sections of the media and mobs and criminals in search of spectacle? Does the media which positions itself at the “scene” in advance have a guarantee that the attacks and demonstrations will be non-violent? What happens if there is criminal trespass (as there was today) or even something worse? Does the media then become accessory to the crime? This question is important, given that some TV channels and newspapers are in the process of brazenly inciting mob anger against me. In the race for sensationalism the line between reporting news and manufacturing news is becoming blurred. So what if a few people have to be sacrificed at the altar of TRP ratings? The Government has indicated that it does not intend to go ahead with the charges of sedition against me and the other speakers at a recent seminar on Azadi for Kashmir. So the task of punishing me for my views seems to have been taken on by right wing storm troopers. The Bajrang Dal and the RSS have openly announced that they are going to “fix” me with all the means at their disposal including filing cases against me all over the country. The whole country has seen what they are capable of doing, the extent to which they are capable of going. So, while the Government is showing a degree of maturity, are sections of the media and the infrastructure of democracy being rented out to those who believe in mob justice? I can understand that the BJP’s Mahila Morcha is using me to distract attention the from the senior RSS activist Indresh Kumar who has recently been named in the CBI charge-sheet for the bomb blast in Ajmer Sharif in which several people were killed and many injured. But why are sections of the mainstream media doing the same? Is a writer with unpopular views more dangerous than a suspect in a bomb blast? Or is it a question of ideological alignment?

Arundhati Roy
October 31, 2010

Rupganj revisited

On Saturday, October 23, at least 50 people were injured when the local police and members of the Rapid Action Battalion (some are alleging that it was the Bangladeshi army) opened fire on some 7000 villagers who were protesting the government’s decision to acquire some 5,000 bighas of land (about 1650 acres) for an army housing project. The villagers charge that they are being pressured into selling their land by the Bangladeshi army at a fraction of the price (locals say that 1 bigha of land is worth between 7 and 8 million Takas, while they are being forced to sell for 1.4-1.5 million Takas). When land officials were asked why the sale prices of land were so low on the official documents, they said that landowners chronically underreport prices so that they don’t have to pay taxes (essentially accusing the locals of fraud and absolving the army of any meddling). Locals point to the presence of temporary Army housing camps at Purbagram, Musuri and Ichhapura as evidence that the army is in need of housing and has been using those camps as a launching ground for its coercive activities in Rupganj. New reports indicate that the army actually set up a makeshift office to monitor land sales in the area. The army claims that local brokers were responsible for the coercive land sales, though it’s likely they were told that they would be rewarded for delivering land quickly. It’s also likely that local lending agencies and banks were also being used to pressure locals, as a few papers have reported that lenders were out on the streets looking to collect on loans.

A map of the Army Housing Scheme (AHS):

What the map clearly shows is that Army’s plan will require a wholesale displacement of the people who live in the area of the proposed project. And since many people have been living in their homes for generations, it’s unlikely that they are going to sell their homes easily or cheaply. Moreover, land is scarce in Bangladesh, a country with one of the highest population densities in the world (the army is trying to set up similar housing schemes all over the country). As a result, the conflict is clearly being driven by the army’s attempt at using force to acquire land that locals are unwilling to part with. Almost every local official has said that the army has thoroughly mishandled the project.

In the aftermath of the protest, the police produced warrants for some 3000 to 4000 men (another report says that it’s closer to 8000 but I’m using the conservative figure), prompting the locals to go into hiding in the swamps nearby. Many reports concluded that all men, except for the elderly and the young, had evacuated the villages in fear of police reprisal. On Sunday and Monday, all the shops were closed and many of the roads were deserted. Widespread panic about the police and the army also meant that children were not sent to school.

Part of the reason that locals are so terrified has to do with their actions in the immediate aftermath. One protester, Mostafa Jamal Haider (another paper calls him Mustafa Jamal Uddin), who was shot by the police, was hurriedly buried, while his family was given only a few moments with him before they were prevented from witnessing the burial rites. Mostafa’s father, Rafiq, told the Daily Star: “When the funeral of my son wasn’t in my hands, how can I expect punishment to his killers? They are very influential people.” Another report indicates that the Rapid Action Battalion forced young children to wash away the blood from the scene of the protest; one young boy, Shanto, who was forced to do this at gunpoint was thoroughly traumatized. Two protesters who were shot were quickly spirited away by the RAB. A few protesters are still missing.

The Bangladeshi National Party and Awami League have been using the Rupganj issue to level attacks at one another, each accusing the other of inciting the villagers to violence. While the BNP is demanding a “fair probe” into the incident, the Awami League is arguing that Khaleda Zia is out for revenge against the Bangladeshi military because it evicted her from her home. Incidentally, what this demonstrates is the new alignment of political players in Bangladesh, with the Awami League cozying up with the military and the BNP trying to position itself as the populist force (though clumsily – it’s quite likely that local BNP players were involved in stoking up the protests, but they clearly weren’t responsible for the conflict itself). As it currently stands, Sheikh Hasina has given the army a green light to continue with its development plans, but is asking them to scale it down to a quarter of the original plan. This will only delay and transfer the fight for land to another place and time.

At the heart of the issue seems to be something different: the economic interests of the Bangladeshi army. The BBC did an extensive expose of the Bangladeshi army’s attempts at acquiring industry, land, and commercial enterprises throughout Bangladesh in an attempt to expand its influence and grow its capital. It’s using the Pakistani army as a model for its own development; and just like the Pakistani army, it’s driving its own economic enterprises through the various “welfare” organizations (these are something like pension schemes for retirees and their families) that it controls. Ayesha Siddiqa still has the best critique of the Pakistani military’s financial holdings in Military, Inc.

Arundhati Roy’s public statement about the prospect of being arrested


I write this from Srinagar, Kashmir. This morning’s papers say that I may be arrested on charges of sedition for what I have said at recent public meetings on Kashmir. I said what millions of people here say every day. I said what I, as well as other commentators have written and said for years. Anybody who cares to read the transcripts of my speeches will see that they were fundamentally a call for justice. I spoke about justice for the people of Kashmir who live under one of the most brutal military occupations in the world; for Kashmiri Pandits who live out the tragedy of having been driven out of their homeland; for Dalit soldiers killed in Kashmir whose graves I visited on garbage heaps in their villages in Cuddalore; for the Indian poor who pay the price of this occupation in material ways and who are now learning to live in the terror of what is becoming a police state.

Yesterday I traveled to Shopian, the apple-town in South Kashmir which had remained closed for 47 days last year in protest against the brutal rape and murder of Asiya and Nilofer, the young women whose bodies were found in a shallow stream near their homes and whose murderers have still not been brought to justice. I met Shakeel, who is Nilofer’s husband and Asiya’s brother. We sat in a circle of people crazed with grief and anger who had lost hope that they would ever get insaf-justice-from India, and now believed that Azadi-freedom-was their only hope. I met young stone pelters who had been shot through their eyes. I traveled with a young man who told me how three of his friends, teenagers in Anantnag district, had been taken into custody and had their finger-nails pulled out as punishment for throwing stones.

In the papers some have accused me of giving ‘hate-speeches’, of wanting India to break up. On the contrary, what I say comes from love and pride. It comes from not wanting people to be killed, raped, imprisoned or have their finger-nails pulled out in order to force them to say they are Indians. It comes from wanting to live in a society that is striving to be a just one. Pity the nation that has to silence its writers for speaking their minds. Pity the nation that needs to jail those who ask for justice, while communal killers, mass murderers, corporate scamsters, looters, rapists, and those who prey on the poorest of the poor, roam free.

Arundhati Roy
October 26 2010

Jairus Banaji responds

(The following is from Jairus Banaji, in response to my post a few days ago about his piece in the International Socialism Journal).

thanks for these comments, newredindian. Here are some responses, advanced in a spirit of friendly debate.

“how one might be able to move the Maoists towards better political ideas/strategies”. This seems perfectly utopian if by Maoists you mean the groups currently engaged in the armed struggle that has emerged in states like Chhattisgarh, Orisssa and Jharkhand. These of course are led chiefly by the CPI (Maoist) which is the product of a long evolution (of decades of political survival and expansion) and far from open to debate in the sense of being willing to rethink their perspectives in any serious way. Indeed, there is no political force on the left that is more conservative in this sense than the armed struggle current within Indian Naxalism. On the other hand, if by “Maoists” you mean a whole collection of groups and individuals that either simply sympathize with the former or represent groupings of their own distinct from the former and often opposed to them, then those of course can be influenced by debates such as this discussion piece (in ISJ) represents.

“the histories of Maoism in India are nothing if not histories of aggressive, spirited debate”; I’m not sure what you mean by this; ‘debate’ is the last word I’d associate with the Naxals; what are you referring to? The history of the Naxalites has been one of repeated splits, mutual denunciation and the very opposite of anything resembling a culture of debate as such. Indeed, by the 1990s the different groups began to kill each others’ cadre in a big way, for example, the repeated targeting of C.P. Reddy cadre by the PWG in Telangana, the more recent example of Liberation being targeted by CPI (Maoist), and so on. This is just wrong.

“while not all Adivasis support the Naxalites, a good many do”. Quite right, and this in two senses: first, that the bulk of the CPI (Maoist) cadre are tribal youth (just as outside the tribal areas they were mainly Dalits), second, in the more diffused sense that the violence of the state machinery and the terrible oppression of tribals at the hands of forest contractors and officials and caste Hindus who have illegally usurped their lands (these processes have been going on for decades) has created widespread support for the PWG (mainly), much of which is both sustained by the continuing brutality of the state or para-state agencies like the Salwa judum and simultaneously, more recently, being lost by the violence of the Maoists themselves, their authoritarianism and methods of control, their failure to create wider support in areas that were once their strongholds, etc. These points have been made most tellingly by others who have seen the movement at close quarters, e.g. Balagopal, Bela Bhatia, Nandini Sundar and scarcely need to be labored. The most powerful critique on these lines was the piece that Santosh Rana published in Kafila, one of the few ‘concrete analyses’ of a popular struggle the Maoists intervened in to take over and destroy. I presume you know who Santosh Rana is and why therefore such an analysis is so significant.

The more general point here is that the distinction between the Maoists and self-managing adivasi struggles and movements is fundamental, even if repeatedly elided or ignored (e.g. in Roy, except more recently where we are told about the ‘tense dance’ between them).

“the best position that a left has if it wants to be taken seriously both by the Adivasis and by the rest of the exploited in India is to begin with a critique of the state”. That goes without saying. There are numerous critiques of the Indian state on India’s left, defined both by common themes and by differences of emphasis and analysis, and at different levels of abstraction so to speak. These debates go back to the seventies if not earlier. Almost no part of the party left in India saw a socialist revolution as the goal towards which political work should be directed, since all of them subscribed to the two-stage line and fought for something that neither Marx nor Lenin would have understood let alone supported and agitated for. If humanity is oppressed by capitalism, both worldwide through its integration across national borders, and in countries like India (or China for that matter) in forms peculiar to those countries (cf. the continuing dominance of ‘family business’ in Indian industry in contrast, say, to the widespread influence exercised by institutional investors in the Anglo-American markets; this defines a completely different ‘style’ of capitalism for India and has profound implications both for the nexus between state and capital (Reliance runs India) and for the way the media is organized, controlled and comprehensively dominated by those groups), then a socialist movement, a movement for socialist emancipation is what Marxists, anarchists, radical Gandhians and every other section of the left should be consciously striving to create and to build; and the strategies and areas of work and forms of intervention appropriate to that revolutionary goal will also be completely different, it should mean, to start with, a clear focus on the mass of workers in this country, organized and unorganized, industrial and non-industrial, and on the need to organize the bulk of them who remain a defenceless mass of migrant workers, casual laborers, and so on, bereft of the protection extended to organized workers; a focus also on encouraging cultures of self-organization and debate among them (workers might be organized into unions and even combative within them, but have reactionary ideas of a communal and nationalist type propagated among them by parties of the far right; alas, the biggest unions in Maharashtra today are those of the BMS and MNS). Marx allowed for social revolutions breaking out in what he called ‘backward forms’ (see the excerpt in Anderson, Marx at the Margins, p.148) and that at best is what a reformed Maoist movement in India might throw up, though even that seems completely unlikely since the tribal areas have become a political ghetto, and should they ever spread into the urban areas, then armed struggle will simply mean even cruder forms of terrorism than the kinds of violence that characterize the armed struggle in the forests and plains areas.

“Naxlism emerges in the wake of the decline of anti-Stalinist revolutionary politics in India as the orphan of those political parties”; ?? What histories of the Indian left have you been reading? On the contrary, the ‘anti-revisionist’ positions taken by the CPI(M) during and after its split from the CPI had a lot to do with the emergence of a dissident left within its own ranks.

“there is no anti-Stalinist revolutionary left in India that has anything to offer the Adivasis”; this is typical of the kind of misinformation that is widespread on the left internationally because they are so obsessed with one type of movement in the tribal districts. It can be countered in two different ways. First, in Chhattisgarh, today a Maoist stronghold, the CPI created and continues to have a substantial base, even a mass base. What the recent escalation of conflict has meant for those cadres can best be answered by fearless young reporters like Javed Iqbal who actually know the reality on the ground better than at least some non-resident Trotskyists who think a smattering grasp of Indian politics entitles them to an endless stream of weighty pronouncements on these issues. The CPI does of course stem from a Stalinist tradition but no one today would want to say it is a ‘Stalinist’ party in the more conventional sense. The second counter-example: the numerous movements of resistance and struggle that are being led by non-party formations such as the PCAPA before that was hijacked by the CPI (Maoist) (see Rana’s analysis; also that by the Sarkars). These movements are certainly part of a radical left in India but have nothing to do with its Stalinist past or those parties in India today that are more strictly Stalinist in nature. You have a strangely vanguardist view of what constitutes a “revolutionary left”; anything not organized in the party form is almost by definition not part of it. This is an essentially sectarian view of the socialist movement, one that Marx never identified with, and a whole layer of the left in this country has always rejected as unviable (the country is saturated with parties, and the left is no exception). The point relates to the primacy of a focus on workers and on what we should mean by working-class politics and culture.

“This seems hopelessly muddled to me”, on my comments about the murderous war between CPI (Marxist) cadre and the Maoists. I remember a famous piece by Prabhat Patnaik that sought to justify the violence of the CPI(M) cadre in areas of the Bengal countryside that had become flash points of confrontation between villagers, the party, and extraneous political elements like Mamata and others by calling it “revolutionary” violence. That seems to be what you’re doing here, except the positions are reversed. So who does one believe? You’ve missed the point of what Balagopal was driving at and why he felt the need to break with the APCLC and form a separate human rights platform. Violence breeds cultures of violence. The LTTE had degenerated into an ethno-fascist movement already by the eighties. It proceeded single-mindedly to wipe out every other form of Tamil political movement/opposition. Does that mean one supports the Sinhala supremacists who currently run Sri Lanka and the war crimes they committed in exterminating the LTTE and many more besides? Obviously not. The same sense of nuance has to work here in discussing the conflict in Bengal. There is frankly little to choose from between a left that uses the machinery of state repression to put down all movements of opposition, including the Maoists, and a left that systematically targets CPI(M) cadre while it aligns itself with reactionary politicians like Mamata Banerjee.

“the Naxalites are vicious and undemocratic”; you start by summarizing my position in this way (I’d hardly use words like ‘vicious’) but then, surprisingly, end by saying that I am correct about this: “About this, there can be little dispute.” You then ask “under what conditions do we imagine that this internal political culture can be changed?” My response to this would be that the only substantial internal political critique that has ever emerged from the Naxal movement is the one that came from Balagopal over the 1990s and 2000s. That is why his work is so significant. His last paper on the Andhra Maoists has been published only in its original Telugu version and one desperately hopes there will be a chance to upload the English translation soon. It is the only critique that has emerged from inside the movement.

“the Naxalites have been able to win support amongst the Adivasis not because they are demagogues and authoritarians (even though they are) but because they have been heroic, they have delivered real gains, they protect and defend villages from unimaginable atrocities, and because they do so in the spirit of a democratic transformation of the hinterland”; yes and no; on delivering “real gains” I’d support the comments of Manmohan Kumar on facebook; they have delivered much less in practice than they’d like the world to believe. Nandini Sundar’s piece in EPW 22/7/2006 is a much more balanced assessment of how things have panned out in their strongholds in Bastar than the piece Arundhati published in Outlook in March.

“the utter lack of an alternative revolutionary politics in India” ; and where, pray, does this exist? In the US where you live? In Britain where the Trotskyist groups are at least marginally present? Why on earth should India be isolated for lacking a revolutionary politics when we know that this can only emerge from masses of people, from an organized working-class that manages its own political culture and is able to influence much wider sectors of struggle, as it has done, momentarily, in countries like France in the post-war period. No revolutionary movement in any meaningful sense of the term can emerge or exist when the class itself is in a state of contraction, when workers are losing jobs and factories closing down, when unions are being destroyed and civil liberties rapidly dismantled. The premise of any revolutionary movement that is to have a hope of succeeding is an expanding labor force, workers who draw confidence and combativity from their workplace situations, a level of political culture among those workers that is anti-racist, anti-militarist and anti-capitalist; etc, etc. Where exactly does any of this exist? Indeed, there is more democratic churning in India today than I can see in many advanced capitalist countries, even if much of this doesn’t attract the headlines that spectacular armed struggle movements certainly do.


Villagers vs. Bangladeshi army

It’s pretty hard to know exactly what’s happening (partly because I’m in the US trying to figure out what’s going on on the other side of the planet) in Bangladesh, but the last few days I’ve been struck by a pretty spectacular fight of villagers protesting against army acquisition of their lands on the cheap.

Here’s what I’ve been able to gather from the various news reports. The Bangladeshi army is attempting to acquire some 5,000 bighas of land (a Bangladeshi bigha = 1600 square yards) for an army housing project in Narayanganj.

In response, villagers organized under two unions (Kayetpara and Rupganj unions) protested the army’s maneuver to coerce people into selling their land on the cheap to the army. The army has set up provisional housing in nearby villages and has been sending agents to pressure locals into selling their land for a fraction of their market value and preventing the locals from registering their land (which would offer them some limited legal protections against coercion). At least one report reveals inconsistencies in the Army’s claims that it is working by the books: the state minister of housing claims that the developers have not followed proper procedures, which include seeking the approval of local officials and submitting layouts of the development.

Some 7000 demonstrators came out to block the road to the proposed housing project by constructing a barricade. After a stand-off of several hours, the police and the Rapid Action Battalion were sent in to tear down the barricade and remove the protesters. They lobbed tear gas and charged the protesters with batons. 10 of the protesters were shot with live ammunition, 50 others were wounded. Law enforcement officials deny firing on the protesters (which makes one wonder how they were shot); several eyewitnesses have the police firing upwards of 150 rounds.

Almost immediately after, protesters descended on one of the provisional army housing camps at Musuri and set it on fire. Military personnel there had to be evacuated by helicopter.

The Bangladeshi Army has been predictably dumbfounded, as they claim that they have had several reasonable discussions with the locals to let them know that the housing plan is “completely run by the personal fund of the army members” and there was no attempt by the army to coerce people into selling their land. In the Army’s mind, the protesters were egged on by outside agitators who have been spreading “hostile and fearful” rumors. The ruling Awami League saw this as an opportunity to blame its primary rival, the Bangladeshi National Party, and its leader, Khaleda Zia, insinuating that the real reason for the protests is a recent ruling by the Bangladeshi Supreme Court asking her to vacate her cantonment home. This of course allows the Awami League the ability to play the victim and repeat its pleas for calm, all the while ensuring that the Army’s plans move forward apace. Incidentally, some villagers have identified the Awami League’s Golam Dastagir Gazi as instrumental in helping the Army purchase land on the cheap.

More on Naxalites

Kunal Chattopadhyay has a really great piece on the development of Naxalism and strategies for theoretical engagement with them here.

A few notable lines from the piece:

The assumption that only the most exploited were revolutionary, meant the exclusion of the organised workers, those having a little better pay or working conditions. This of course ignored the reality that they had obtained those slight gains because of militant struggles, not because the ruling class was buying them up through bribes.

Another passage on how Maoism actually helped refocus attention on class struggle in India:

The party documents, the writings of several outstanding leaders of this current, or the party papers, like Deshabrati (Bangla), Liberation, all showed a refreshing return to the concept of class struggle. Ever since the dismissal of the 1957 Kerala government, the underlying content of the inner-party debate in the CPI was whether the “progressive bourgeoisie” were in the Congress or in the bourgeois opposition parties, and who should be the allies in the bid to form governments. This has of course been the recurrent debate in the mainstream Stalinist left all the way to the present. Prakash Karat’s Third Front was an attempt to patch together a bloc of regional forces, in opposition to the line advocated by others, such as Sobhanlal Datta Gupta in Mainstream.[14] Stripping aside the veil of theory and polish, the Maoists of the 1960s revealed that debate for the opportunistic struggle for loaves and fishes by bureaucratic leaders that it really was. And by raising the slogan, “Never forget class struggle”, they made class struggle a reality, in a way it had not been for a considerable period.

And  how Maoists have been responsible for empowering women:

Neither the party, nor its struggles, were often gendered. At the same time, the Maoist movement did provide an impetus for many young women as well as men.[28] As Kalpana Sen points out, the inspiration provided by the movement was immense. Till the mid-sixties, in most women’s colleges, there were no directly elected unions. Girls nominated by the authorities ran the unions. The militant student-youth movement of the mid to late 1960s changed that picture. Women also took part in the ideological struggles around the Naxalbari peasant struggles. They fought in the jails, put up red flag, and confronted the jailers. Moreover, the path of Naxalbari meant challenging existing values in a way that the mainstream left had not been doing for a long time. Among these was a rebellion against domestic discipline and conservatism. That so many young women came to the new party was because, in Sen’s words, “the opportunity to breathe in free air”.[29] Failure to identify patriarchy as a distinct enemy to be combated may have limited the endeavours of these cadres. But the call to immediately join the revolution was something that enabled them to overcome in practice many of the constraints of patriarchy.

Finally, an excellent critique of Maoist political theory:

The major problem that the legacy of the original path of Naxalbari left was however its rejection of the rality of bourgeois democracy and the need to work out a new strategy to fight for revolution in a country where a bourgeois democracy does exist. An idealisation of bourgeois democracy does no good. It is a very restricted democracy. Yet even that, by providing certain apparent alternatives, keeps a grip on masses. Secondly, the legacy of Stalinism, its distorted democratic centralism where the leadership has too little accountability to the party ranks, also has been a major problem. Moreover, the legacy of Stalinism has meant a legacy of the two-stage theory of revolution and popular frontism, or alliances with bourgeois partners, as revealed by the Trinamool-supporting Naxalites of 2009. Finally, if workers who demand democracy, or party members who form tendencies over ideological conflicts, are immediately branded capitalist roaders, or thrown out of the party, then one will forever split into two, two will never unite into one. Not “revolutionary authority”, but workers democracy is the answer here. But in order to carry this task to the end, to turn to revolutionary Marxism, one has to subject the path of Naxalbari to a more thoroughgoing critique, without giving up its revolutionary inspiration.

Naxalites and critique

The International Socialism Journal has published a very interesting piece by Jairus Banaji about the political “ironies” of Naxalism/Maoism in India.  This is a follow-up to a position that Banaji was developing earlier in response to Arundhati Roy’s now famous piece, “Walking with the comrades.”

It’s a very good history of Maoism, but I think it makes some strategic errors that prevent it from escaping the pattern of sectarian political debate of the left in India or from thinking about how one might be able to move the Maoists towards better political ideas/strategies.  One gets the sense, in much of the left critiques of Naxalism/Maoism that these are revolutionaries with hopelessly backwards ideas and dogmas (despite the fact that the histories of Maoism in India are nothing if not histories of aggressive, spirited debate).

As someone who critically supports the Naxalites against the Indian state, I find some of Banaji’s positions a little hard to swallow.  The most crucial part of the article are the four positions that he identifies that one can take with respect to the Naxalites.

Position/Alibi #1: Naxalite=Adivasi

Responses, critical or otherwise, from the left can be classified broadly into four categories. Maoists and Maoist sympathisers abstract from the profound deformities of the movement to engage in solidarity with it at any cost. They posit an almost mystical identity between the Maoists and “the people” and do precisely what Balagopal advised democratic circles not to do, namely use the poverty and general backwardness of the tribal areas as an excuse for not engaging with the CPI (Maoist) politically.

Now, I’m in no position to adjudicate this debate about how much or how little the Naxalites represent the Adivasis, but I suspect, like all ethnic groups, that there are serious divisions amongst the Adivasis and that while not all Adivasis support the Naxalites, a good many do (largely because the Naxalites have delivered some important reforms/changes for them).  I think that Banaji is right to call for a political engagement with the Maoists, but this has to be done under the heavy sign of the Indian state which is waging a fairly serious war against the Adivasis (and it doesn’t really care if kills the Naxalites amongst them or not).  It seems to me that after watching what the Sri Lankan state did to the LTTE, the best position that a left has if it wants to be taken seriously both by the Adivasis and by the rest of the exploited in India is to begin with a critique of the state and then engage with a strategic/theoretical debate with the Maoists about how best to do that.

The primary problem, though (and it’s one that Banaji recognizes but doesn’t put this critique in its context) is that there is no anti-Stalinist revolutionary left in India that has anything to offer the Adivasis.  For instance, if there were massive (or even substantial) working class, anti-Stalinist parties there would be a way to engage with the Maoists and offer them something tactical-theoretical.  Without that, a critique of the Maoists, while important, can’t really produce a change in their theoretical positions, their tactics, their understanding of the “comprador bourgeoisie”, etc.  In fact, Naxlism emerges in the wake of the decline of anti-Stalinist revolutionary politics in India as the orphan of those political parties.

Similarly, the civil society left that “romanticizes” the Naxalites (and this I think is something of a caricature … they used to do that in the 70s and 80s — there’s no mass abandoning of college classrooms for the forests happening now) does so because it sees the primary problem as the state and has no alternative to which it can hitch its wagon.  I’m not saying we shouldn’t critique the Maoists — every anti-Stalinist should.  But sometimes it feels like going after David instead of Goliath.

Position #2: the CPI(M)’s strategy of using state repression to defend its “leftist” position

A second line of response has been the CPI (Marxist)’s savage repression of all popular movements that challenge their own agendas for the state of West Bengal, using the machinery of the state to crush both the Maoists and much wider layers of the population (again largely tribal) they see as sympathising with them or opposing their own policies. Thus, whereas the CPI (Maoist) sabotaged a struggle like the one in Lalgarh by infiltrating the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities and eliminating all political rivals, the CPI (Marxist) fell back on its own vigilante groups and on state counterinsurgency forces to quell the movement there. Both parties (and large parts of the state apparatus, of course) have an interest in branding what began as and was for months a democratic popular upsurge as “Maoist”. And, of course, the two “Marxist” parties have been slaughtering each other’s cadre.

This seems hopelessly muddled to me.  I won’t defend political murder, but there has to be a difference between the CPI(M)’s violence (with all of the backing of the state) and the violence of the CPI(Maoist) (which doesn’t have the same infrastructure or monopoly on violence that the state does).

Position #3: the Naxalites are vicious and undemocratic

Sharply different from both the above has been the civil liberties critique that was largely represented in the writings of the late Balagopal through most of the 1990s down to his death in 2009. Balagopal’s critique recorded features that displayed an unmitigated authoritarianism on the part of a movement he had been closely associated with, features he saw as undermining its sources of support. He referred to the “ruthlessness” of the party (the PWG) that had evolved by the early 1990s, to the calculated use of terror as a political instrument, the “medieval forms of violence” that characterised the so-called People’s Courts, the lack of possibility of any opposition to the party “so long as the police are taken care of”, the “new” culture that had “permeated the Naxalite organisations” as they recruited large numbers of new cadres “more attracted by its weapons than its politics”, and the “recognisable deterioration of quality” this had brought with it. More substantially, he saw the movement in Andhra culminating in “stagnation” by the 2000s and forced to sidestep the crisis by expanding into new territory, failing to consolidate a second generation of support. And finally, there were clear elements of a critique of the substitutionism of a vanguard struggle where most decisions were “taken and implemented over the heads of the people but justified in the name of the people”, a politics that had simply “corrupted the masses into receivers of justice rather than fighters for it”.

About this, there can be little dispute.  But there are two questions that one wants to pose.  First, under what conditions do we imagine that this internal political culture can be changed and second, do we really believe that the Adivasis are uncritical dupes of irrelevant theoretical positions and anti-charismatic leaders?  It seems to me that the Naxalites have been able to win support amongst the Adivasis not because they are demagogues and authoritarians (even though they are) but because they have been heroic, they have delivered real gains, they protect and defend villages from unimaginable atrocities, and because they do so in the spirit of a democratic transformation of the hinterland.  Adivasis (like all oppressed people) are not idiots: they’re actually capable of making tough decisions for themselves (and it bears underlining that some have left the Naxalites at extraordinary personal costs).  If there were a better option (a working class movement that could challenge the state and either take attention away from the forests or offer real support to the Adivasis), I suspect that it would be quite difficult for them not to re-evaluate their theoretical/political allegiances.

Position #4: (the non-existent position) Anti-Stalinist Marxism from below

A fourth sort of response would have to come from Marxists who have never identified with any of the Stalinist political traditions in India and do not see revolutionary movements developing in a class vacuum, in complete isolation from industrial workers and the more organised groups of wage earners and employees in the economy at large. The bulk of the Indian labour force remains unorganised into unions, and it is stupefying to imagine that a revolution against capitalism can succeed while the mass of the workers are in a state of near-complete atomisation. The impoverished notions of democracy that either reduce it to a battle for electoral supremacy or dismiss it as a fraud, the failure to encourage and develop a culture of working class organisation and debate, to encourage forms of intervention that contest capitalism in concrete ways, and build a movement that can address the widest possible range of issues starting from the desperate struggle for survival of the millions of landless in India, are all part of the legacy of a left that was moribund intellectually and deeply conservative in its culture.

And about this, Banaji is totally right — but here’s where I think I differ from him.  This has to be the starting point of understanding the rise of Naxalism (not simply one of many approaches to critiquing the politics of the movement).  Without a meaningful anti-Stalinist revolutionary political formation, the two real ideologies that oppressed peoples fall into are liberalism and narodism (Maoism-Naxalism should be seen as part of this tradition, I think).  The reason for the splits away from the CPI(M) and into Naxalism have to do with the utter lack of an alternative revolutionary politics in India (the Stalinists have been pretty ruthless to the Trotskyists).  That’s why people who were aggravated with the parliamentary politics of the various Stalinist parties took their cue from Mao (the only theoretical tool they really had) and picked up the gun and went to the jungle.  And it has to be said (for all of their contradictory theoretical positions), they have embarrassed the hell out of the Indian state.

In the Russian Revolution, what shifted the peasants over to the side of the working class was the organization of massive revolutionary political formations in the working class (and not simply a critique of the political theories of the Narodniks).  Critiquing narodnism was important as a way for the urban revolutionaries to cut their teeth about what kinds of politics could make and lead a revolution, but even Lenin defended the Narodniks against the state (while disagreeing with their strategies for making a revolution).  I imagine that Banaji is interested in building an anti-Stalinist left in India; one of the things that anti-Stalinist left will need to learn is how to engage with the Naxalites and the people that they are pulling towards them.

Incidentally, a similar position to mine was taken up earlier by another blogger, Pratyush Chandra, here.