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.


3 thoughts on “Jairus Banaji responds

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    • Since my knowledge about the grand Leninist debate is rusty at best can people like me who are professional journalists get our teeth into what exactly is being debated? This is in very brief account, not original I am afraid of whatever I have seen on the ground in the tribal areas of Jharkhand and Chattisgarh: the so-called bourgeois democratic parties have failed the tribals in the last six decades. Politically they are not part of the power structure of any political party. (Brinda Karat is the spokeswoman for the CPM on tribal isues!) From Panchayat upwards no tribal occupies position of any importance in the hierarchy (can anyone suggest a ‘national level’ tribal leader even close to someone like Mayawati?). In the case of Jharkhand specifically where tribal consciousness is of a fairly high order, their various poltical formations have been split time and time again (of course there have been tribal accomplices) and leadership co-opted in various mainstream political parties only to be politically finished. In Madhya Pradesh, despite the strength of the the Gondwana Ganatantra Party – a party of Gond adivasis, the congress or the BJP never thought it fit to accomodate them within the state-party power structure. In fact in my experience atrocity against a dalit has a far wider resonance than that against an adivasi. Than of course unrestricted and unrestrained opening up of tribal tracts without any security or social safety net or any hope of getting a job in these proposed hi-tech establishments. Though tribal land has been alienated on a large scale in these states (in Jharkhand the change in demographic composition in rural areas has been sharp), nothing approximating a PCPA type of movement has emerged – after all PCPA was a response to the land acquisition policies of the West Bengal Government. The ST quota in Government jobs more often than not goes abegging since there aren’t enough educated tribals to begin with. And then there are the old stories – everyday oppression, sexual harassment, excesses of the local babus – forest and non-forest, false cases, begar, etc. The lack of penetration of Government programmes- whether health, education FPS has only fueled tribal resentment and anger. While the larger debate about violence, ideological dogmatism Maoism and its relevance etc is apposite what is the immediate way forward for the tribals? How can they deal with this mess in the absence of any leadership or voice where it matters. Unlike dalits who do have a politically aware creamy layer (Chamars), tribals have no such politically conscious leadership.

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