By Amit Bhattacharyya. The author is a Professor of History, Jadavpur University, Kolkata.
(Paper presented at the Fifteenth Conference of the APCLC held in Srikakulam, Andhra Pradesh on 12 March 2011)
I consider it to be an honour for being invited to this conference of the APCLC—one of the earliest surviving civil rights bodies in our country. It is an invitation from a body that had initiated many a struggle against state repression and boldly stood by the side of the people and sacrificed a lot in the process. I convey my heartfelt thanks to the organizers for this invitation.
On this occasion, I propose to speak on the war waged by the Indian state against its own people under the banner of ‘operation green-hunt’, people’s resistance for self-defence, debate within civil society and civil rights bodies on the question of application of violence by the resisting masses—whether violent struggles launched by the people are undemocratic and non-violent struggles are democratic.
The last section will dwell on problems encountered by the China League—the most important civil rights body in China in the early 1930s when the Communist Party of China(CPC) was faced with brutal repression and massacres perpetrated by the Kuomintang led by Chiang Kai-shek. Hundreds and thousands of political prisoners were incarcerated and the China League was alleged by the state-sponsored media and the Kuomintang to be in league with the CPC. This situation is, in my opinion, somewhat similar to the present-day situation in our country. It would be educative for the civil rights bodies of our country to study the stand taken by the China League over several important issues.
War Against the People
The people of our country for the last several years have been passing through one of the worst phases of the long history of the country. There is a marked aggressive turn in the implementation of the policies of ‘Liberalization, Privatization and Globalization’ (introduced from the early 1990s) from the early 2000s, with numerous MoUs being signed with the foreign MNCs and domestic big capital to enable them to plunder the vast natural resources of the region. It was the implementation by the Indian ruling classes and their top political representatives of the Western model of development—the Anglo-American model—that relied on Western capital and technology rather than on the country’s own resources, and in this way served the interests of American imperialism that stood at the root of all ills our people have since been suffering from. The blue-prints of India’s Five Year Plans, the need for agrarian reforms, the introduction of the ‘Green Revolution’ which had played havoc in our country and is entering its third phase now, gradual relaxation of control over the entry of foreign capital, selling out of even profit-making public enterprises at throw-away prices by the successive central governments—all these are tied up with the insatiable hunger for the maximization of profit of the international capital and domestic collaborating ruling classes and have resulted in the worst of miseries for the people.
In the recent periods, the aggressive penetration into our economy and the massive grabbing of land for private purpose in the most predatory manner in different parts of the country in order to create Special Economic Zones have led to large-scale Displacement, Destruction, Destitution and Death. Needless to state, this has contributed to the process of denuding the sub-continent that abound with rich natural resources and to the displacement of poor people—the adivasis, dalits, peasants. Giant industrial magnates both of foreign and Indian origin such as Vedanta, Posco, Jindal, Tata, Salem and others have got many MoUs signed with the central government to plunder our vast natural resources such as bauxite.
There are movements also against take-over of land for the construction of highways, power plants etc. Only recently on 28 February 2011, two persons were killed by the police and several injured while the villagers had been protesting against the setting up of thermal power plant by East Coast Energy Pvt.Ltd here at HN Peta near Kakarapalli in the Srikakulam district of Andhra Pradesh.
Hundreds and thousands of people in such states as Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Maharastra, Orissa, Jharkhand, West Bengal etc. have been thrown out of their habitats in the name of ‘development’ with the police and para-military forces in a way that beggars description. These poor people oppressed for ages did never enjoy any rights whatsoever—civil, human, democratic–nothing. They had and have always been at the receiving end. No right to life, no dignity, no freedom worth its name. They could be beaten up at will, evicted from their habitats at will, raped at will, killed at will, detained at will and driven to death at will by the feudal lords, village chiefs or police forces and the powers-that-be. The poor people of our country who die regularly in thousands from poverty and hunger under this system, are now forced to die almost daily, hourly due to eviction from their thatched houses, adjoining land and jungle covers which also form part of their age-old culture that they have created and held dear. Kalahandis and Amlasoles have become regular features in our country. The so-called ‘land of the largest democracy’ in the world has become the burial ground of the aspirations of vast sections of adivasis, dalits, Muslims and people belonging to the struggling nationalities of Kashmir, Manipur, Assam and Naga-inhabited areas.
But many people fought back in self-defence, resisted this brutal onslaught as any person was expected to do for his/her own survival, and raised the standard of rebellion, whatever the form might be. So the central and state governments are finding the policy difficult to implement. Nandigram in WB, Paradip, Narayanpatna and Niyamgiri in Odisha, Srikakulam(17 thermal power projects and 1 nuclear power plant), Jamuna Highway in UP, to name only a few, are the scenes of many a battle launched by the people. In the face of people’s opposition, the Indian state let loose a reign of terror in all parts of the country. Thousands upon thousands of people have been butchered by security forces, the Greyhounds, Cobras, Special Task Forces and Salwa Judum-like private forces; many people have been forced to disappear as has taken place in Kashmir, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal and other areas. The latest manifestation of this repressive state policy is euphemistically called ‘Operation Green-hunt’. It is not that the state has been waging war against its own people only today. When people die of hunger and malnutrition, it is also the outcome of a war against the people, even though one may not be conscious of it. The war waged by the security forces against the people is more visible and brutal, while death due to hunger is not so. In the process, hundreds and thousands of people throughout the country have been put behind bars and forced to languish in abysmal conditions.
In order to give legitimacy to their anti-people operations the ruling classes have enacted one draconian law after by trampling underfoot the basic rights of the people that the Indian constitution professes to uphold. The irony is that of the 395 Articles of the Indian constitution adopted in 1949, almost 250 Articles were taken almost verbatim from the colonial Government of India Act of 1935. All the Press and Security Acts of the colonial days remain unchanged under the new constitution. The old repressive machinery of the colonial state with its Indian Penal Code, Criminal Procedure Code, the Police Act of 1861, Defence of India Rules, Preventive Detention Acts, not to speak of the Land Acquisition Act of 1894 which empowers the central and state governments of independent India to acquire land on the plea of ‘eminent domain’, ‘public purpose’ etc. and many others were perfected by the ruling classes and thereby made newer attacks on the liberty of the people. In new India, more draconian acts were passed as if to match what the state has inherited. The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act of 1958( a continuation of the another colonial ordinance imposed in 1942, the Maintenance of Internal Security Act(MISA), TADA, POTA, PSA, Chhattisgarh Public Securities Act, and the latest UAPA(2008) are all “lawless laws” and each is followed by another sub-clause that negates the previous and is a greater attack on the liberty of the people. The Federal Investigation Agency that gives more teeth to the law-enforcing agencies is enacted to deal particularly with whom the state dubs as the ‘terrorists’ where the onus of proving one’s innocence lies with the accused. An elected government thus gets the legitimacy to act in the most violent manner against its own people.
Civil Rights Movement
The people’s struggle around Lalgarh in the Jungle Mahal area of West Bengal has thrown up a debate. It is an old debate that has come up many a time within human rights organizations and ‘civil society’ whenever radical struggles—armed or otherwise–gained in strength. The issue has been hotly debated earlier within the APCLC(Andhra Pradesh), PUCL, PUDR, APDR, BMC(WB) and recently within Lalgarh Aandolan Samhati Mancha(Lalgarh Movement Solidarity Forum), Lalgarh Mancha(Lalgarh Forum) and some other organizations. The view that comes up is that democratic struggle should be peaceful, and when it takes a violent turn and the people get armed, then it loses its democratic character. To them, ‘democracy’ is identified with order and peace, and if there is disorder and violence, then it becomes un-democratic. Actually, when the state forces resort to repression on the people, when beating with batons, killing with guns are resorted to only by the state, the civil rights activists speak out on behalf of the repressed masses; but when the repressed masses become warrior masses as they are left with no option other than this by the repressive state machinery, then they are at a loss what stand to take. The transformation of the repressed masses into warrior masses has reduced them to such a pitiable condition. They lose their power of reasoning, fail to make any distinction between state-sponsored violence and the people’s counter-measures in the interest of self-defence and survival and start criticizing people’s resistance movement also whenever it crosses their so-called democratic boundary. Needless to say, such ideas have been very carefully planted by the state propaganda machinery through media and other means and many members of the literati and civil rights activists have become victims of such well-designed campaigns.
History, however, proves otherwise. It is not the people but the state which is armed to the teeth, and it is the state again which uses all conceivable methods of violence to keep people under subjugation. Peace-loving people are thereby forced by the state to raise the banner of resistance—armed or otherwise, as the real perpetrators of violence leave behind for them no option other than that. History is replete with many such examples. If one has to denounce or criticize such movements on the ground of being ‘undemocratic’ then one has also to denounce and criticize the slave revolt of Spartacus against mighty Rome in 73 BC, the peasant revolt under Thomas Munzer in Germany in the 1520s, the revolutionary struggles in China, the armed revolutionary anti-colonial struggles in India led, among others, by Bhagat Singh, Surya Sen, Rashbehari Bose and Pingley, the Telangana armed rebellion of the late 1940s, the national liberation war in Vietnam, the present-day national resistance struggles in Afganistan and Iraq and the recent struggles led by the people against repression in Egypt, Libya and other countries. In reality, all these struggles were and are more democratic than many of the ‘democratic’ struggles. Armed or revolutionary struggle scan also be democratic and just, as they represented the genuine interests and aspirations of the people all over the world.
In the class society of today, class contradictions, conflicts and sometimes, class wars are inevitable. The ruling classes had always exploited the majority of people, killed and maimed them, perpetrated terror and, in this way, extracted the sole right, the legitimacy to perpetrate terror against the people whom they pretend to serve. Names such as the ‘Greyhound’, ‘Cobra’, ‘Scorpion’ and many other state-trained police-butchers only betray the violent character of the Indian state. Whenever, in response, the oppressed people themselves take up arms, break that state monopoly over the means of violence and ‘legitimacy’ enjoyed by the state to control masses, the ruling classes raise the bogey of law and order and utilize that legitimacy to drown people’s movement in pools of blood. If anybody calls that resistance struggle ‘terrorism’, then that ‘terrorism’ definitely is of a different character.
That reminds one of Mark Twain, the American writer. At the centenary year of the French Revolution in 1889, he wrote a novel entitled A Connecticut Yangkee at King Arthur’s Court. The Jacobin period or the period of Danton and Robespeare during the French Revolution has been branded by many as the ‘Reign of Terror’. While criticizing such a view, Mark Twain wrote:
“There were two ‘Reigns of Terror’, if we would but remember and consider it: the one wrought murder in hot passion, the other in heartless cold blood; the one lasted mere months, the other had lasted a thousand years; the one inflicted death upon ten thousand persons, the other upon a hundred millions; but our shudders are all for the ‘horrors’ of the minor Terror, the momentary terror, so to speak; whereas, what is horror of swift death by the axe compared with lifelong death from hunger, cold, insult, cruelty and heartbreak? What is swift death by lightning compared with death by slow fire at the stake? A city cemetery could contain the coffins filled by that brief Terror which we have all been diligently taught to shiver at and mourn over, but all France could hardly contain the coffins filled by that older and real Terror—that unspeakably bitter and awful Terror which none of us has been taught to see in its vastness or pity as it deserves”.
Mark Twain was not a revolutionary thinker; however, his inquisitiveness and sensitivity helped him arrive at this truth.
These facts are not unknown to the writers, historians and others who ruminate about their craft and actually keep a safe distance from the field of battle; however, whenever it comes to connecting them with the present situation, their logical mind ceases to respond, their sense of history suddenly loses its steam, and they betray their utter inability to grasp the essence of that historic struggle.
On 16 September 2009, an English daily organized a thought-provoking discussion in Kolkata with the caption ‘Surely the Maoist is not one of us’. Among those present were late K.G.Kannabiran and Prof. Hargopal from Andhra Pradesh. Most of the speakers sought the genesis of the Maoist emergence in the ‘failure of the system to deliver’. Let us quote a few lines from the report: “When a landlord takes away a villager’s wife, keeps her in his house to sexually abuse her and orders the husband to go away when he pleads with him for returning his wife to him and his two children, what is he supposed to do? Mouth platitudes about non-violence and peace? ‘Or take up arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them?’ In one such case a youth in Andhra Pradesh went straight into the jungle, organized a group of about 25,000 people, killed the landlord and ended by being Maoists”. This is part of the speech delivered by Prof. Hargopal from Andhra Pradesh, which only corroborates the view that it is the oppressive state that breeds armed resistance (The Statesman 17 September 2009).
China, the China League and India
Let us now talk about China and the China League, the most important civil rights body in China that was alleged by the Kuomintang led by Chiang Kai-shek and sections of the media to have been sympathetic towards the line of the Communist Party of China. The China League had Soong Ching Ling as its President; Soong was the wife of Sun Yat-sen who died in 1925.
What was the situation in China in the early 1930s?
The breakdown of the First United Front between the CPC and the KMT took place in 1927, when the Communists, workers and peasants were massacred in thousands by the KMT as led by Chiang Kai-shek who usurped KMT leadership after Sun Yat-sen’s death and adopted a most reactionary and brutal policy against the CPC. The CPC, by then staged the Autumn Harvest Uprising and then, under Mao Tse-tung’s and Chu Teh’s leadership, shifted to the Chingkang Mountains on the Hunan-Kiangsi bordering region in the south and set up the first guerrilla zones there. In the early 1930s, Chiang Kai-shek waged one “encirclement & suppression” campaign after another to destroy those base areas. Imperialist countries like Britain, USA, Japan and others were active in quelling Communists and had been utilizing the warlords for exercising their control over China, and in 1931, Japan had invaded China and established the puppet “Manchukuo” government in Manchuria. Those who were opposed to foreign penetration—Communists and non-Communists—were brutally tortured, executed, made to disappear, and thousands of Chinese patriots were put behind bars. All the democratic rights of the Chinese people were trampled underfoot and the political prisoners were subjected to the cruelest kinds of torture.
In our country in the year 2011, foreign control over our economy, politics, culture and society is more a reality than ever before, as the policies of subsequent central governments would testify. The country-wide land-grab movement, privatization, liberalization and globalization adopted in the name of so-called development by the ruling classes, are meant to enable imperialist powers and domestic big capitalists to plunder our natural resources and evicting millions of our adivasis, dalits and other toiling people. Joint military operations have been going on for many years with the American, Israeli and other troops. The American Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has already set up an office in New Delhi with the purpose of monitoring the activities of the ‘Terrorists’ and both USA and Israel have been offering logistical assistance to the Indian government to deal with the Maoist insurgents. Nationalities fighting for self-determination, people fighting for the creation of a new society by restructuring the existing society, those fighting for their rights over land, habitats and culture and for mere survival, have been suppressed with force of arms, tortured, raped, made to disappear, killed in fake encounters and incarcerated in thousands under cooked-up charges and forced to pass their months and years in abysmal conditions.
Here, as in China of those times, we have, despite differences in situation, penetration and domination of imperialism, on the one hand, and people’s resistance on the other. As in the Chingkang Mountains (as also during the Yenan phase), here in the Dandakaranya Maoist insurgency region also, experiments are being made for the implementation of an alternative model of development.
What was the aim of the China League? Soong Ching Ling states:
“The League is not a political party. It does not aim at leadership of the struggle for the conquest of political power. While taking this view of our work, we must understand that the questions we have to deal with are nevertheless political in nature. Our tasks as outlined in our first manifesto are:1.To fight for the liberation of political prisoners in China and to fight the system of imprisonment, torture and executions now prevailing. This League shall concern itself first of all and above all with the masses of unknown and nameless prisoners.2.To give legal counsel and other assistance to political prisoners, to arouse public opinion by investigation of prison conditions and the publication of facts in regard to the denial of civil rights in China.3. To assist in the struggle for civil rights, i.e, rights of organization, free speech, press and assembly”(See her article captioned ‘The Tasks of the China League for Civil Rights’ Shanghai December 1932 in Soong Ching Ling, Struggle for New China Foreign Languages Press, Peking 1953).
It states that even if the China League is not a political party, it deals with issues such as release of political prisoners and torture, executions of political opponents and conditions in prisons under which they are forced to live—all of which are political in nature. The League focuses primarily on ‘the unknown and nameless prisoners’; in the China of those times; these prisoners could be none other than the Communists or people sympathetic to their cause. There is another aspect here. When the League states that they would ‘fight for the liberation of political prisoners’ and ‘fight the system of imprisonment’, it means that their release should be unconditional which can come only through withdrawal of charges or declaration of general amnesty. Civil rights bodies of our country do not hold identical views on the issue of the object of primary focus and unconditional release. Only recently, there is the demand for the release from Raipur prison, Chhattisgarh state, of one single individual from all parts of the world, and not also for the others who, in the same case, have been languishing in jail for fighting for a cause.
Who are the people whose release the China League sought? Soong Ching Ling states:
“Our enemies and critics have asked us a number of questions which they thought would embarrass and silence us, such as ‘Are you going to demand the release of kidnappers?’ Our answer is: Certainly not! Kidnappers and criminal gangsters are part and parcel of the system that controls China today—a system we must fight. Such elements sit, not in the League, but in high official and semi-official positions. They do not belong to the Chinese masses, but very often are tools in the hands of the authorities in suppressing the masses”.
Who were being kidnapped and arrested? It was the anti-imperialist fighters comprising both the Communists and non-Communist patriots.
“..we are fighting the kidnapping and arrest of anti-imperialist fighters going on all over China, going on in the foreign settlements, carried out by Chinese, and foreign imperialists, and very often by their tools and gangsters”.
Kidnapping, disappearance, torture, illegal detention and arrests are regular features in our country today. The China League, unlike many civil rights bodies of India, also pledges its fight against this oppressive system. The China League also breaks away from the narrow confines of civil rights activism that has become the feature of many such bodies and broadens its political horizon. It states:
“We fight the cooperation of the Kuomintang government with the imperialists in suppressing the revolutionary government in China. This cooperation shows the corruption of the Kuomintang, shows how the interests of China are subordinated to those of imperialism and shows the ideological and political capitulationism of the Kuomintang before imperialism”.
The situation in China during the early 1930s has much in common with that in India today. There is a clear entente between the Indian ruling classes and foreign imperialism, notably American imperialism, in the political, economic and military fields with the initiation of the ‘Operation Green-hunt’, the declaration of the CPI(Maoist) as a ‘terrorist” party by the US and the subsequent banning of it and some democratic organizations which the state considers to be serving their cause and the adoption of the policy of ruthless suppression of dissent, whatever the forms might be. Is there any civil rights body in our country that has broadened its vision and seen beyond the narrow traditional confines of civil rights activism?
Soong Ching ling states:
“Democratic rights cannot be separated from the struggles shaking the world as well as China, but are, on the contrary, bound up with and part and parcel of these struggles. There is also the revolutionary necessity for these democratic rights, and for the release of all political prisoners. By revolutionary necessity, I mean the necessity for China to free itself politically and nationally. There is but one alternative to this, and that is subjection and dismemberment”.
Here the China League talks about the revolutionary necessity—a pledge that is clearly political in overtone. Do the civil bodies of our country also think that the demand for the unconditional release of political prisoners is a revolutionary necessity? Here the China League also pledges its support to the attainment of political and national freedom. Thus the movement for the realization of democratic rights and against state repression gets intertwined with the broad political struggle for the attainment of national freedom. Thus the China League becomes an integral part of the political struggle.
The China League encountered another question from its enemies which many civil rights bodies in India also face. It was about the League’s demand for the release of political prisoners who have committed acts of violence. To this Soong replied:
“We do not believe in individual terroristic acts. They can never supplant the struggle of the masses, and more often they hamper this struggle. But we know also that when all rights of the people are suppressed, individual acts of terror are more common than otherwise. Most often people who commit terroristic acts have no connection whatever with the masses of their organizations. Yet even down to today, many civilized countries have given asylum to men who have committed acts of political terror against tyrants…China has had a number of well-known cases, including that of Wang Ching-wei, who was a bomb-thrower in his revolutionary days…”
Soong is very explicit in her demand for the release of all political prisoners.
“We demand the release of all political prisoners. They are not criminals, but pioneers in the struggle for human emancipation. Most of them are imprisoned because they have exercised, or attempted to exercise, their elementary rights of free speech, assembly and organization. Our demand for their release is but a logical consequence of our demand for the realization of the civil rights of the people”.
Here she is emphasizing the noble cause for which they fought and suffered persecution in the hands of their enemies—the cause which she also held dear. It is also a question of justice. In India, there are several civil rights bodies which talk only about the legality of cases, and not about justice.
The most important issue raised in the essay by Soong Ching ling is what is faced by many civil rights bodies of our country today. “Do you advocate revolution?” It is a question on China League’s relations with the CPC. Was it an outfit of the Communist Party of China? To place it in the Indian context, the question should read as: ‘Are different civil rights and democratic bodies cover organizations of the CPI(Maoist)?”
To this question, Soong gave the following reply:
“We are not a revolutionary party. Our task is more limited. But we live in a revolutionary epoch. One-sixth of the world has already accomplished the revolution. And the masses in the old capitalist countries are gathering for the great battles. The colonial peoples must mass their strength to break the chains of imperialist domination. China, seemingly helpless today, will free itself tomorrow. The imperialist war against China is a fact. But the revolutionary situation is also a fact. Either the revolution will triumph in China, or imperialism will conquer and dismember China…Believing in the final victory of the masses in China, I am sure that the revolution will establish its own right, establish the unity, independence and integrity of China, and the right of the masses to govern themselves. And my conception of the China League for Civil Rights is that it is one of the instruments which will move us towards this goal”.
The views are crystal clear. The China League will form part of the mass revolutionary wave and move towards the revolutionary transformation of society by defeating imperialism and domestic reactionary forces.
The issues raised by the China League are very important for the civil rights bodies, the literati and the masses of India in general. One should give these issues and the discussion emanating from them a fair measure of consideration particularly because of their relevance to the Indian situation.
Thanks to everybody.