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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 36, New Delhi, August 22, 2020

Revolution or Exile?: A Reply To A Letter To The Maoists | Murzban Jal

Friday 21 August 2020

by Murzban Jal

But an end which requires unjustifiable means is no justifiable end...
— Karl Marx, Debates on the Freedom of the Press. 

At surface reading, when the global right-wing forces have created almost unassailable hegemony, where the parliamentary left is bewildered, almost enslaved to these reactionary forces, any spark that may lead to a prairie fire seems inspiring. In this sense when the parliamentary left behaves more like government clerks, any force that seems not to be a part of the clerical regime seems attractive. And when the right-wing state considers being the sole point of reference to all violence, anyone who questions this monopoly of violence seems to offer a political alternative. It is here that one turns almost desperately to the Maoists and the ultra left to offer a real alternative. But would they really provide an alternative? Or would this movement be as despotic as the regime that they want to overthrow? Was Mao the ‘Marxist Lord of Misrule’ as Slavoj Žižek claims [1] and would the Indian Maoists continue this legacy of misrule?

While Shubhranshu Choudhary writes an “open letter to a Maoist friend” in Mainstream saying that the very “people” that the Maoists claim to defend and represent are being harmed [2] by the so-called “friends of the people” (to borrow an expression of Lenin), it must be noted that the Maoists do not represent the Indian revolution.

Without doubts, India has had a rich heritage of communist inspired movements in the last century. The Tebhaga (1946—47), Telangana (1946-1951) and Naxalite (beginning 1967) uprisings are instances of the rich heritage of revolutionary communist history. It was revolutionary spontaneity of the proletariat and peasantry fighting colonialism and landlordism along with the character of revolutionary internationalism which defined its revolutionary élan. When the communist movement took the parliamentary line which seemed to abandon the revolutionary line, it was what was once known as the “Marxism-Leninism” then becoming “Maoism” which seemed to be faithful to the revolution. But is this really the case? Is the once upon a time “Marxism-Leninism” now metamorphosized into “Maoism” be representing the Indian revolution?

A cursory glance is necessary on what Maoism in India is. It is necessary because both a historical analysis is necessary as also it is necessary to understand the origins and mechanisms of this movement. Simply reducing the movement to the question of violence will not provide a scientific explanation.

Ideologically speaking, while the Mao line in the international communist movement emerged in response to Khrushchev’s denouncement of Stalin on February 25, 1956 in the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), in India it emerged in the contradictions of Kulak capitalism and with Charu Mazamdar writing his ‘Eight Documents’ which argued for protracted class war against the Indian state. Two lines emerged in India: the parliamentary line of the CPI and the CPI(M) and the line of protracted class war against the Indian state. The former was said to be the revisionist line, the latter the revolutionary line. Maoism consequently was said to be about protracted class war. While since 1967 with the formation of the All India Coordination Committee of Communist Revolutionaries (AICCCR) leading to the creation of the Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist) on April 22, 1969 by Kanu Sanyal which then split into numerous warring factions, it was the People’s War Group (PWG) created in 1980 by Kondapalli Seetharamaiah and Kolluri Chiranjeevi which captured the imagination of the revolutionaries. What we call “Maoism” is basically the metamorphosis of the PWG to the Communist Party of India (Maoist) in 2004. Since 22 June 2009 this party has been banned as a terrorist organization under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).

While it may said that (to quote Ajay Gudavarthy) “the Maoist movement in India is as intriguing as it is predictable” [3], a scientific analysis is necessary to understand this movement and also to understand whether it may in any form be classified as a Marxist movement. After all, for long there have been serious questions raised, questioning their very politics and intentions. It was in 1985 that Prakash Karat said that the movement is built on “left-opportunism” which is “dangerous for the left movement” because of their “potential for mischief” [4]. While one could ignore this observation, more questions relating to Marxist theory are raised by Marxist scholars like Paresh Chattopadhyay [5]. One also needs to recall Jairus Banaj’s observation [6] that the entire repertoire of revolution of the Indian Maoists is a “rhetorical one” and “the Maoist grasp of theory is unbelievably primitive, a collage of abstractions that bear little relation to reality at any level (analysis or strategy)” [7] and Kunal Chattopadhyay who says that the Maoists are caught in “the shackles of Stalinist substitutionism” [8].

While there have been serious critiques of the Maoist movement in India, as have been critiques of Mao (one has to recall Raya Dunayevskaya), there have also been romantic elegies written about the Maoists. One has to recall Arundhati Roy’s essay ‘Walking with the Comrades’ [9], a very simplistic and un-Marxist article which Banaji calls “anti-Marxist, tribal revolutionary romance” [10].

While the Maoists consistently capture the imagination of the bourgeois press and the police, what is important to point out is that in no way do the Indian Maoists offer a serious alternative to capitalism. What they offer is a New Democratic Revolution led by the “bloc of four classes” which is nothing but a hash of the Menshevik line of the bourgeois revolution in pre-1917 Russia. It must be noted that it were the Mensheviks (most notably Alexander Martynov) who argued for this imagined bourgeois revolution in Russia led by the bloc of four classes. In this sense what is ironic is that the so-called “radical left” acts no different from the parliamentary left, for both are caught on the imaginary bourgeois revolutions. All of them are stuck up with the old Menshevik idea of bourgeois revolution, an idea that was taken up by Bukharin, Stalin and Kalinin in respect to the Chinese revolution. The fact that Stalin also said that Chiang-Kai-shek (the butcher of the Chinese revolution) was not the head of the bourgeois government, but headed the “government of the bloc of four classes” (“the working class, the peasantry, the urban petit-bourgeoisie and the national bourgeoisie”) [11] must be noted. What also must be noted is the following observation:

The old Menshevik tactic of 1905 to 1917, which was crushed underfoot by the march of events, is now transferred to China by the Martynov school, much the same as capitalist trade dumps its most inferior merchandise, which finds no market in the mother country, into the colonies. [12]

What we gather is that the basic tenet of Maoist ideology (in the form of the bloc of four classes) is a Menshevik ideology dumped by imperial Russia onto colonized China. After this dumping by the Mensheviks and the Stalinists onto China, it was once again recycled and dumped in India. What do we gather from this? We gather the fact that the Maoists are the born-again Mensheviks. But then why do they pose themselves as “Marxist-Leninists” when they are totally against the basic principles of Bolshevism? They pose as “Marxist-Leninists” just as Stalin, the henchman of the Bolshevik revolution, posed as a “Leninist”.

What now happens is that a critique of the Indian Maoists has taken us from an imaginary protracted people’s war deep in the jungles, to the menu made by the Mensheviks and then to the kitchen of Stalin where Stalin was preparing for the last supper for the world revolution. Marxist politics is serious politics. Reducing to rhetoric or writing about walks with comrades is simply part of the bourgeois repertoire.

In order to be scientific, one needs firstly to evoke a terrain shift. Becoming parliamentarians and discussing the heath of the Indian people in the era of Covid-19 and pleading to the representatives of Indian democracy that socialism is a better commodity than capitalism will simply not work. But then shying from mass political work and running in the jungles and taking arms against a sea of troubles will also prove fruitless. While the Indian Maoists have a clear anti-Bolshevik line of class comprise with their bloc of four classes, they also follow the Otzovists (“Recallists”) line—the line of Lunacharsky and company—whose main demand was to cease all participation in legal state establishments. The Indian Maoists are almost stubbornly against participating in open, legal work. Why? That they can never answer. They forget Lenin:

Marxism teaches the proletariat not to keep away from the bourgeois revolution, not to be indifferent to it, not to a allow the leadership of the revolution to be assumed by the bourgeoisie, but, on the contrary, to take a most energetic part in it, to fight most resolutely for consistent proletarian democracy, for carrying the revolution to its conclusion. We cannot jump out of the bourgeois-democratic boundaries of the Russian revolution, but we can vastly extend these boundaries, and within these boundaries we can and must fight for the interests of the proletariat, for its immediate needs and for the conditions that will make it possible to prepare its forces for the future complete victory. [13]

Our Maoist rebel has necessarily to be in the underground. It is here in the underground that this imagined rebel creates an aura. The rebel has left home, left the luxuries of bourgeois life to be in the underground. And it is here in the underground, that one understands the character of the “rebel” claiming to be a “professional conspirator”, who is in actuality what Marx calls the “alchemist of the revolution”. [14] And who are these rebels and professional conspirators? They are, so Marx claims, “democratic bohemians of bourgeois origin, democratic loafers and public house regulars and have as a consequence become dissolute, or characters who have emerged from the lumpenproletariat and bring all the dissolute habits of that class with them into their new way of life”. [15] The conspirator thrives not only in the underground, but on danger. In fact our rebel now in the exilic underground derives aesthetic pleasure from these forces of danger. For the Maoists it is not reason that is the motivating force, but the spectacle of danger and violence:

Such dangers constitute the real spice of the trade; the greater the insecurity, the more the conspirator hastens to seize the pleasures of the moment. [16]

The Maoist rebellion led by their People’s Liberation Army (PLA) swearing to overthrow the Indian state is in actuality like the rebellion of the 19th century Narodnikis:

These new warriors marched to battle with astonishing primitive equipment and training. In a vast number of cases they had almost no equipment and absolutely no training. They marched to war like peasants from the plough, armed only with clubs. [17]

Serious scientific work must be done which evokes the terrain shift where an epistemological break is made against the bourgeois order of things. A new alternative must be offered to the people at large. One cannot replace the terrors of the present era with the terrors of the last century. Stalinism represents the terrible counterrevolution which destroyed Marxism while speaking in his name. Maoism also spoke in the name of Marx. But internationalism was replaced with not only nationalism, but national chauvinism and national supremacy; and socialism was replaced with state capitalism. Both Stalinism and Maoism represent, at best, nationalism and state capitalism. While Stalinism is dead, Maoism lives on. And this is because Mao was himself a rebel and Maoism itself is rebellion. But what is Maoism and what does it rebel against? Maoism is Stalinism and it rebels against Stalinism.

This is the main trauma of Maoism—Stalinism in rebellion against Stalinism itself! It is only in this state of trauma that Maoism can survive. But this original trauma needs another trauma to not only survive, but to perfect itself, the trauma of the exilic underground. To cure this trauma and to catch the imagination of a nation, this exile has to be broken. But for that, the exilic figure needs to raise this figure of the rebel in exile to the state of some demi-god. This is so because when the national imagination is exhausted with the original national-god now housed in the temple made in his honour, another temple for another god can be made.


[1Slavoj Žižek, ‘The Marxist Lord of Misrule’, in Slavoj Žižek Presents Mao. On Practice and Contradiction (London: Verso, 2007).

[3Ajay Gudavarthy, ‘Democracy against Maoism, Maoism against Itself’, in Economic & Political Weekly, Vol. XIVIII, No. 7, February 16, 2013.

[4Prakash Karat, ‘Naxalism Today: At an Ideological Deadend’, in The Marxist, Vol. 3, no. 1, 1985.

[5Paresh Chattopadhyay, ‘On ‘What is Maoism?’: Some Comments’, in Economic & Political Weekly, Vol. 45, Issue No. 22, 29 May, 2010.

[6Jairus Banaji, ‘The Maoist Insurgency in India: End of the Road for Indian Stalinism?’ interviewed by Spencer A. Leonard and Sunit Singh in Platypus Review, 26, August, 2010. last seen 14 November 2019 and ‘The Ironies of Indian Maoism’, in International Socialism, October, 2010. last seen 14 November 2019.

[7Jairus Banaji, The Ironies of Indian Maoism’, in International Socialism, October, 2010.

[8Kunal Chattopadhyay, ‘The Path of Naxalbari: An Appraisal’ in Radical Socialist, September 20, 2010.

[9Arundhati Roy, ‘Walking with the Comrades’, in Outlook, 29 March, 2010. last seen 14 November 2019.

[10Jairus Banaji, ‘The Maoist Insurgency in India: End of the Road for Indian Stalinism?’ interviewed by Spencer A. Leonard and Sunit Singh in Platypus Review, 26, August, 2010.

[11This is how Mao Tse-Tung in On the People’s Democratic Dictatorship, March 1949 depicts the bloc of four classes.

[12Leon Trotsky, ‘The Chinese Revolution and the Theses of Comrade Stalin’, in The Hidden Dynamics of the Chinese Revolution. Writings and Speeches of Leon Trotsky on China (1925-1940), ed. Rajesh Tyagi (Delhi: Aakar Books 2009), p. 154.

[13V.I. Lenin, ‘Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution’, in Lenin. Selected Works (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1977), p. 78

[14Karl Marx, ‘Les Conspirateurs, Par A.Chenu, Ex-capitaine des Gardes Du Citoyen Caussidière. Les Sociétés’, in Marx. Engels. Collected Works, Vol. 10 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1978), pp. 312-3.

[15Ibid.

[16Ibid, p. 318

[17Lenin, What is to be Done? (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1978), p. 98.

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