Part of our series to address questions posed in the Reddit sub-reddit /r/communism, our favorite sub-reddit for obvious reasons.
I have seen a lot of posts about the Maoists in India, but what are your opinions on them? and the things they are doing?
I have very mixed emotions about them, and am interested in seeing what you guys think.
Our guess would be that you are referring to the recent attacks on regional leaders of the Congress Party in India. It would be hard to tell what would be your mixed emotions about them – after all you do not explain them, but one can venture to say that one of the questions would be the violence against what appears to be unarmed civilians, including members of the families of the political and paramilitary leaders targeted.
This is a legitimate ambivalence: one of the reasons we become interested in the issues of socialism, communism, and revolution is because we feel this system is violent, and built upon violence, and thus, we want and wish for a peaceful world without violence. So we understand that.
Less legitimate, in our view, is to believe that some how violence is incompatible with socialist goals. It is not. Violence is necessary for the overthrow of the existing system in the final analysis: capitalists will not lay they arms down out of their own volition, as these arms exist not because of their own ethical or policy choices, but as a central part of their own class rule. State and Revolution, the masterwork by Lenin, lays it all out much better than we can, and its universal insights are largely applicable to the contemporary world.
Time and time again those who have sought socialism by “peaceful means” have either being murdered, forced into suicide, or jailed and tortured, or have had to abdicate socialism as a goal to become reformist administrators of capital. President Allende of Chile falls in the former, President Rousseff of Brazil falls on the later (she was a Marxist-Leninist urban guerrilla, suffered unspeakable torture in jail, became an advocate for the peaceful road to socialism, and ultimately abdicated the struggle for socialism to become a capitalist ).
India is in itself an example of this: many of the Indian states and many local governments are in fact ruled by parties and coalitions that call themselves communists and socialist, but are doing nothing but administer the existing capitalist State – more often than not in unison with the ruling class. Those who from the left oppose this, have historically suffered great repression, including a historic period in India called The Emergency – which is the direct basis to the current Maoist Protracted People’s War in India. The Indian State is a a colonial invention, ruled by a ruthless capitalist class, which contains many oppressed nationalities, and besides being divided along class lines, its also divided along ethnic, national, and caste classes – in spite of the State officially banning this. Even outside of the context of the Protracted People’s War, there exist dozens of “tribal” (oppressed nationality), ethnic separatist/national separatist, religious separatist, etc armed groups, most of which are armed because peaceful political options are not available to them, that is, they are are armed defensively or are even fascist Hindu supremacists (Saffron terror) or Islamists.
We will not attempt in this short reply to examine this whole history, but needless to say, the idea of India as a peaceful, democratic, bourgeois State, in which widespread respect of civil liberties allows for peaceful political participation is a lie. India is a cauldron of pre-capitalist social relations under capitalist modes of production, of agrarian semi-feudalism existing alongside skilled call centers, of corrupt policemen who rape and plunder villages with the sons of large landowners and then are expected to investigate themselves. If the Maoist take up arms, it is because the other options amount to abdicating the cause of revolutionary transformation, or amount to suicide. The nihilism that not taking up arms implies is hardly acceptable for a revolutionary.
The Indian Maoists are not above criticism – their pursuit of an offensive military stance under severe pressure from that State might have the features of militarist adventurism. Their relations to the rest of the Indian left can be often (although not always) sectarian and commandist – even if they are not alone in this, some of the “left” in India can be even participants in the prosecution by the State of Maoists. The experience of protracted war and the conditions of underground living have decimated their skilled political leadership, often leaving inexperience and militaristic cadre in charge – one such terrible loss was the death to malaria-related organ failure of the great Maoist proletarian feminist Anuradha Ghandy.
However, we are not in India, and we are not in the heat of that struggle – and that is a critical issue. As Maoists, we do examine the experiences of other Maoists to learn their lessons and to extract what is universal of their experience to apply them to our own. Yet we also believe that conditions faced locally by revolutionaries determine the strategies and tactics they must pursue. We are partisans, and thus stand with the Maoists against the class dictatorship of the Indian ruling class – whatever mistakes they do, are the mistakes of a new world being born, of a newborn humanity crawling before learning to walk. And this is particularly true when the facts on the ground show a murderous State implacably bent of crushing the Maoist revolt by any means necessary. As the Maoists say in their own declaration on the events, this attack comes on the heels and in retaliation for a massacre perpetrated against Maoist supporters a few weeks ago – a massacre that has not received the same wide media coverage as the Maoist counter-action – as well as other similar massacres commanded by the figures killed using the paramilitary name Salwa Judum. In a war, it is generally understood the commanders are as responsible, in fact even more responsible, than the soldiers – so the Maoist’s action is well within the generally understood rules of war.
Why is there so much coverage of the counter-offensive actions of the Maoists, but there is no coverage or little coverage of the actions of the State and the paramilitaries? It is precisely to create and generate “mixed emotions” among those who have a sense of justice and who wish for a different, more peaceful world.
Commentators on the left who criticize or have “mixed emotions” about the actions by the Maoists, should heed the words of Arundhati Roy in a recent interview:
Sagarika Ghose: But you condemn state violence and the charge against you is that you don’t condemn Naxal violence. In fact you rationalise it and are even romaticising violence. That is a charge made against you and in fact if I can read from your essay where you have written that, “I feel I want to say something about the futility of violence but what should I suggest they do? Go to court, a rally, and a hunger strike that sounds ridiculous; which party they should vote for, which democratic institution they should approach?” You seem to be saying that non-violence is futile?
Arundhati Roy: This is a strange charge on someone who has been writing about non-violence and non-violence movements for 10 years now. But what I saw when I went into the forests was this – that non-violent resistance has actually not worked; not in the ‘Narmada Bachao Andolan’ and not even in many other non-violent movements and not even in the militant movements. It has worked in some parts of the movement. But inside the forests it’s a different story because non-violence, and particularly, Gandhian non-violence in some ways needs an audience. It’s a theatre that needs an audience. But inside the forests there is no audience. When a thousand police come and surround the forest village in the middle of the night, what are they to do? How are the hungry to go on a hunger strike? How are the people with no money to boycott taxes or foreign goods or do consumer boycotts?
Puerto Rican anti-revisionist, poet, and revolutionary Juan Antonio Corretjer once said that the goal of revolutionary war is socialist peace. And this is of profound, supreme, importance when understanding revolutionary violence: it is not violence for violence’s sake, nor is it violence to perpetuate or acquire the power to rule over others. It is a war for socialist peace, a real peace – not the fake peace of capitalist coercion and fear, not the contingent peace of obedience to the rule of the rich, not the silent peace of the cemetery.
One can debate when this people’s war should be pursued, when conditions exist for it, when are the people ready for it, when is the rule of the bourgeois so intolerable that open people’s war is the only political option available. In fact, among Indian Maoists, this is indeed a debate that has been at their forefront for decades – and at times, they have put their weapons down. Maoists are not militarists – we understand that while political power grows out of the barrel of gun, it is also always true that politics are always in command. That is not say that militarism doesn’t emerge at times – but when it does it is a mistake that requires rectification, not a pillar of the ideological and political struggle.
Yet one cannot seriously debate that war is not the inevitable result of the contradiction between the exploited and oppressed, and the exploiters and oppressors, and still call oneself a revolutionary – there can be no revolution without revolutionary war. So have no mixed feelings: people’s war is righteous, even if it is not not always pretty. It is after all war, and war is hell, man.