Wednesday, November 13, 2013

India: Lalgarh Movement: A critical view

This article was originally published in a To a New Dawn and after reading it we took the view that the critical view taken in this article was to improve strategy of CPI Maoist in Largarth and not destroy it, so we have also decided to publish it.
  Self criticism is a vital part of revolutionary communist politics if we are to advance our revolutionary cause..
The valiant movement of Lalgarh and JangalMahal in West Bengal has encountered a serious setback, after four years of its beginning. The movement had started against police brutalities, spread like a prairie fire, with righteous rage. After the great struggle of Singur and Nandigram against the forceful land acquisition by pseudo-left government, the adivasi upsurge in Lalgarh razed the authority of the previous rulers to the ground. Many documents would provide the clear understanding about the inception of the movement, so we plead our readers to look at those documents, if they are inquisitive about the beginning of Lalgarh movement. Here, we concentrate on some political questions in brief (definitely with fraternity), which, we think, are necessary to understand the course of the revolutionary movement.

Lalgarh movement definitely is a path breaking instance in the revolutionary history of India, and particularly in India where communist revolutionaries grappled many years before finding the correct strategy and tactics in Indian continent. The historic Tebhaga and Telengana movements were eye-openers for many activists, and Naxalbari movement had changed the orientation of revolutionary movement in India, in theory and practice. That movement gave birth of CPI (ML), the first party that condemned revisionism, shunned parliamentary delusions, described India as a semi-feudal, semi-colonial country, and pledged to wedge a guerrilla war against mighty Indian state to accomplish New Democratic Revolution, where peasant and workers will fight in abreast. One could ask about the interrelation between the above mentioned history of Naxalite movement and the present Lalgarh movement. In our view, there lies a very important link, because the Lalgarh movement was steered unambiguously by CPI (Maoist), the most prominent flag bearer of Naxalite movement. So, questions concerning Lalgarh are definitely embedded with the role of Maoist involvement in that movement. The novelty of Lalgarh movement is something startling, where mass gathering and guerrilla warfare reciprocated each other, which has a little precedence in the history of Indian communist movement. Since the Lalgarh struggle is to be proudly hailed by all revolutionaries and patriots, and since the CPI (Maoist) is the undisputed vanguard party leading the Indian masses on the road to revolution, it is very important  to analyze the lessons acquired from its experience; its sacrosanct task of binding the mass and guerrillas together, to explain the current stage of Lalgarh movement, to explain the slogans and demands raised by them, and to explain the losses and declination of that movement itself.

If we follow the strategy and tactics guidelines of CPI (Maoist) and if we go through the documents of 9th Congress of that party (held in 2007 and easily available in net, see, one main task they framed was to turn guerrilla bases (6) into guerrilla zones. Lalgarh and Jangal Mahal (including the adivasi belts of West Medinipore, Bankura, Purulia) were the perspective guerrilla zone. After 2008 and till 2010, that task to turn the guerrilla zone in to base seemed to be achievable, then after 2011, waned away. The situation, at least temporarily, reverted back to the stage before 2008 or worse. According to the written documents of the CPI (Maoist), the movement seems to partially fail to achieve the projected political goal. It has not reached the next higher stage of class-struggle (according to their party document). Definitely they reviewed the period, and will publish their own views and debates. We contain some opinion about this movement, and decided to frame those briefly in this article, as a sympathiser of mass movements around the world against imperialism. We like to invoke our readers to response if they find anything irresponsible from our position.  

The beginning of Lalgarh movement was different from the other historical movements, basically different in slogans and demands. If we remember Tebhaga, Telengana or Naxalbari, the economic and political demands were in main focus, and question of land and peasant empowerment were primary area of concern. The key slogan was ‘Land to the tillers’. Even the recent movement of Singur and Nandigram, or the other movements against forceful land acquisition also focused on the land question, unlike Lalgarh movement. Lalgarh movement started with the demand of punishment of atrocious police officers, to stop state sponsored violence on adivasi population, to end heckling and arresting of civilians, in a gross, main frame was to restore dignity of adivasi society. At that time, the question of dignity was a just, popular and common demand among adivasi people of Jangal Mahal. The long history of discrimination, humiliation of adivasi people gave birth of resentment, rage and loathe against the current social system. And the Maoist party utilised the opportune situation, headed the movement towards militant direction. Maoists had been working among tribal population since 90’s. They enjoyed plentiful mass support there. With their political guidance, people of Lalgarh boycotted atrocious police and state administration, run parallel system under the banner of People’s Committee against Police Atrocities (PCAPA), and defied all the cliché ideas of social movement. The most important feature of this movement was its conscious effort to put aside the law abiding parliamentary forces. From the very beginning, Lalgarh movement was an anti-state movement, thus it was potentially a danger to the current social order. A movement of ‘honour and dignity’, a movement against police repression turned out to be a revolutionary anti-state movement. We think this is unprecedented in the left revolutionary movement in India. In 2004, in Manipur, we experienced a great mass upsurge against AFSPA. But that was a different situation. In Manipur (or in Kashmir and North East states), the question of self-determination is main course. From the point of revolutionary communism, Lalgarh movement is unique. Even without any concrete economic demand, this movement erupted like conflagration, challenged the state politically and militarily.

A movement could begin from any point; the question is how to steer it to an advanced stage, how to relate it with greater political perspective, how to frame the next slogans. We know that at the first stage of Lalgarh movement, PCAPA published charter of demands, and fourteen demands came into discussion. Naturally, all were about justice and punishment of criminal police. After three months, they added some more points, where some economic demands were introduced. For example, proper distribution of jobs through NAREGA scheme, proper health service to poor adivasi people, development in irrigation system etc. After the deployment of the murderous Joint Force, the movement entered in a new stage. The movement turned into war. At that critical point of time, PCAPA took some initiative to seize lands of CPI (Marxist) leaders who are basically landlords in new form. We got letters, video footages of the land seizure program from PCAPA.  Now the question is, was that the central program undertaken by CPI (Maoist) party? Was the slogan of ‘honour and dignity’ substituted methodically by more advanced slogans?  Whether ‘land to the tiller’ slogan was put forth?  Was that the core agenda to organise, unite and politicise the landless peasant of Jangalmahal on the eve of brutal onslaught by paramilitary force? These all are rudimentary objectivity of CPI (Maoist), as written in their documents. Every other struggle led by Maoists was based on land question. In Lalgarh, this was ignored or taken as secondary. And there lies the main weakness of that movement. The shift of focus debilitated the political potential of that movement. If we ask how many acres of land was sieged from landlords and distributed among landless, how many land related programs were undertaken, what kind of production relation dictated in the struggle areas, we think the answer will be disappointing. The large swathe of villages under control of PCAPA (in some report the number exceeds one thousand) had not experienced the much awaited radical land reform programs.  

In our view, that basic agenda of land struggle was somehow subdued. (Or somehow not emphasised).  It is unfortunate that the whole struggle was portrayed as a struggle for ‘honour and dignity’. A communist party cannot preach the struggle for ‘dignity’ only. The reiteration of the word IJJAT ER LORAI (struggle for dignity) was somehow delusive, when not accompanied by enough slogans on land reforms. It may distract the focus of the struggle and main objective. We have collected many examples of this kind of distraction in propaganda materials, documents where repeated emphasis on the issues like ‘dignity’, ‘honour’, ‘fascist CPI(Marxist)’, ‘repression by Joint Force’ etc. could be found, not the issue of land question. In a war like situation, politics commands everything. Militancy may be an integrated part, but political slogan determines the end. Lalgarh movement was surely a militant movement, but somehow less political in content, especially less political from Maoist perspective.

In many documents, CPI (Maoist) declared that they went through many upheavals. In mid-nineties, in Dandakaranya, at their strongest bastion, they faced some serious political crisis. The organization was very strong there, the cadre recruitment was unbroken, but somehow the party did not advance to the expected level for a long time.  The leadership reviewed the whole situation, and concluded that the recruitment from basic landless class was less than the petty-bourgeois background. They rectified the recruitment process and advanced the stage of movement. If we consider another instance of mass struggle, the movement of Narayanpatna which had started parallel with Lalgarh, wielded the basic of Maoism, and from the beginning put the land question in forward. That movement has not been extravagant but surely effective in long term.

The leadership of CPI (Maoist) made some serious errors while issuing public statements. First and foremost was the response after state government’s announcement of increased package for surrendered Maoist. The state secretary of CPI (Maoist) announced double amount if a police man surrenders with arms before Maoists. That was not a political call to win heart and mind of the pawns of enemy force, nor did it achieve any notable success. More complication commenced before the assembly election of West Bengal. CPI (Maoist) took a moot stand in Bengal. They did not call for boycott election, or to elect the opposition. But different leaders issued different statements. Maoist state committee member Vikram issued contradictory and erroneous statements for a long period. He asked Miss Mamata Banerjee to do some fovour for Maoists (to stall Joint Operation), and reminded her that Maoists enjoyed good control over forty two assembly seats in Jangal Mahal! He also asked the home ministry to withdraw seventy percent of Joint force as a precondition to start peace talk! Surely these statements (and others too) do not reflect the central understandings of Maoist leadership, but instead created confusion among the masses, particularly the statements made before assembly election. The problem was no other statements condemning the Vikram’s view had issued. There was definitely misunderstanding and diversity of thought among the leadership that jeopardised the movement.

Debate concerning the participation in parliamentary election is a serious issue in the communist movement of India. CPI (Maoist) decidedly took the resolution to boycott election, and announced that though the boycott is taken as tactics, in Indian perspective, the call for boycott should be reckoned as strategy. When a question of strategy is concerned, no vacillation is expected. But there were serious confusions before the assembly election of West Bengal in 2011; basically that confusion began in 2010, August. At that time, Mamata Banerjee went to a mass meeting in Lalgarh organised by TMC, and as usual chattered vague promises. That was basically the first instance of her gaining ground in Jangal Mahal. TMC used to be impotent at that region. Now, PCAPA and their supporters flooded that congregation. The young spokesperson of PCAPA, Manoj Mahato was spotted busy to organise people to the meeting. From that day, many thought that Mamata and Maoists would make an understanding before election. Others thought Maoists will clarify their position. To fight the social fascist CPI (Marxist) and brutal Joint Force, ground level understating was not improbable. If Maoists made clear that their understanding with TMC was based on movement perspective as it was in Nandigram, not an election perspective, things would be clearer. Maoists did not state any thing clearly. Moreover, different statements from different leaders on the issue of regime change intensified the confusion. In our view, ambiguity on the election issue was delusional for the struggling mass of Lalgarh.  The regime change was aspired as the end of tyranny in Jangalmahal. Maoists may not had promulgated any delusion but the he lack of clear call on the eve on election was not only an aberration from Maoist perspective; it also infused good faith of parliamentary democracy in people, cleared the inroad for virulent parliamentary parties and leaders. The regime change does not seem positive for the radical movement from any point, and again it has been proved that bit of illusion could be fatal for radical perspective in India.

Some observers pointed out that the gap between tribes and mainstream ‘Bengali’ people was one of the reasons behind the failure of the movement. It is well known that adivasis do not belong to the domain of Bengali culture. Adivasis are the ‘other’. It could be understood through historical ethnic analysis.  The rapport which the struggling mass of Singur and Nandigram enjoyed, Lalgarh did not. Now, from class perspective, this gap could be abridged by framing of political slogan. Tragically, the mass organisations and working class organisations in urban areas did not relate the Lalgarh movement with class question, but entangled them self in the impasse of ‘dignity, self-reliance, Jal-Jangal-Jamin’ etc. A workers organisation, known as ostensible supporter of Lalgarh movement, declared in a leaflet that the struggle for dignity is primary agenda for working class, not the struggle for bread, and every movement should follow the Lalgarh path! If it is true, the communist working class movement must be reviewed and re-written. How the popular vernacular could change the basics of Marxist-Leninist-Maoist outlook, that leaflet is a good example. We hardly found any economic demands for working class in their magazine. Had this leaflet been meant for areas where the main issue is the harassment or molestation of working class individual, then no doubt it would have served its purpose of uniting the working class under a common cause.  But in most working class colonies, the social issue confronting the working class is that of wage-slavery. Hence, the general line of initiating struggle by the working class should stem mainly from economic demands.

In general, we find that some fundamental teachings of Maoism were ignored to a certain extent. Firstly, the slogan of 'Jal Jangal Jamin' in practice does imply the right of the tribal community over its traditional means of production and subsistence, but it does not explicitly address  the class contradictions within the tribal community itself. Inside the tribal community too are exploiter and exploited classes. The exploiting classes collaborate with the Indian state and other exploiting classes outside of the tribal community, and ensure the oppression of the majority of tribals. So, besides raising the slogan of 'Jal, Jangal, Jamin', there is need of distinct slogan for land reforms within the tribal communities. Let us not forget that expropriating the tribal 'mukhias' and landlords was one of the key steps that led to the establishment of the Maoist guerrilla zone in Chhattisgarh. Secondly, Maoism teaches that even in a socialist society, a new class can emerge from the bureaucratic layers of the party and the state machinery. In India, where the revolution is only in its new democratic stage, such instances of bureaucratic degeneration are even more plausible. And indeed, we see that many former leaders of the PCAPA have completely abandoned revolutionary politics and joined the TMC. There is no denying that there had been some departure from the teachings of the Cultural Revolution; to educate and empower the masses so as to defeat this kind of reactionaries disguising themselves right inside the revolutionary movement.

Today, it seems unlikely that the Indian revolution shall take more than a few decades to complete its new democratic stage. But unlike the unfortunate experiences of Russia, China and more recently, Nepal, this revolution must stand strong and serve as the socialist base for the world revolution. So we find it an honourable duty to publish this comradely criticism of the Lalgarh movement, so that it may initiate more discussions and debates on some of these core questions of revolution, and on the long run help the cause of liberation of the Indian peoples.

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