Tag Archives: Maoism

Journalism of a type.

IMG_2774Some may think the quality of – ehem – journalism about the Maoist struggles in India is somewhat lacking in style. Others may think that this over-worked topic really pushed a writer to find a unique angle, a way in to the jungle that is the Naxalite narrative tradition (of demonization and ‘counter). But I warn over hasty readers that a subtle use of dialectics (here to be distinguished from literary ping pong) is often hard to discern. OK OK, in this one its really just ping pong, and certainly not of a type sourced in Yenan. How could so many neat reversals (contradictions to be handled?) be crammed into the one piece? And I am only quoting the first few paragraphs, see the whole thing here for the amazing unfolding truths.

This excerpt is from Dawn.com – ( I have no details as to who they are – they say they are my ‘window on news analysis and features on Pakistan, South Asia and the world’ – fab.).

Want to hate Maoists? Start calling them Taliban.

Jawed Naqvi 
Monday, 12 Oct, 200

IN the mosquito-infested inaccessible forests of Chhattisgarh, Maoist guerrillas often carry an insect repellent cream called Odomos. God help you if the security forces hunting the guerrillas — now for the first time with the help of helicopter-borne commandos — ever catch you with a tube.

Other than that there is little to distinguish a Maoist from an ordinary tribal or a Dalit, the two major communities that form the bulwark of their revolt straddling 20 Indian states.

Very little is made known about the Maoists except that they are a bloody-minded lot. The gap in information about their worldview can be partly ascribed to their cultivated aloofness from, and suspicion of, the mainstream Indian media. Otherwise too it has become a risky proposition for journalists to venture to assess them objectively.

The rest of the piece goes on to survey such wildly varied themes as poverty, water, kidnappings, the views of the PM, and of [confused] chief ministers, the BJP, the Business Standard, the Taliban, beheadings, including that of the Norwegian tourist in Kashmir more than ten years ago, Roman crucifixion and the marital peccadilloes of Henry VIII. It really does deserve to be read as abstracted (dialectic?) poetics. And in the last paragraph, the killer punch that assures this journalist his Pulitzer is the phrase: ‘Shoring up the chorus of unrelated idioms are the security forces…’ As I said, read the rest here.

OR, you can find better writing on Naxalites here and maybe here.

Godard “British Sounds” pt 1

UntitledYou can find Jean-Luc Godard’s “British Sounds” in all its glory on You Tube now. It is worth watching all the way through (6 parts) – from the ‘petroleum of pop music’ and excerpts from the great Shiela Rowbothom to the “gestapo of the humanist university” (they mean LSE). ‘No end to class struggle’ in the centre of the jack. All Godard’s great themes are here – the pan across the line of cars (weekday this time, not ‘weekend’) through to militant Maoist students concocting a twisted sympathy for the devil (Lennon not Lenin) and more. Thanks for the reminder to Iain Sinclair and his great rambling Hackney(ed) dossier (if you haven’t got it yet, get it – and read Sukhdev’s review of Sinclair’s book here). As Sukhdev says: “here’s another reason why Sinclair is such an important writer: he offers readers the critical tools for looking anew at wherever it is that they live.”

The Very Idea of Communism.

draftprog-2tI am posting here this Open Letter from Raymond Lotta of the Revolutionary Communist Party USA to the attendees of the upcoming Birkbeck ‘On the Idea of Communism’ conference (see here) because I really like the critique implied in the phrase ‘back to the 18th century’ thinking. I can of course understand why the comm-fest programme could not be changed late in the day to accommodate BoB-thought. I mean, even Jean Luc Nancy seems to not have a formal place: in the program he just seems to be ‘in attendance’ – I hope he gets a chair to sit on, or maybe he has his own TV show and will do a roving reporter thing?? People have complained that its too expensive – 100 quid for a spot in a 900 seat hall, you do the math – but I think its a bargain just to be able to hear all these pundits, and to see letters like this appear as well. If we could just knock over a few of the big banks… [oops, the boards of directors of the banks already did that for themselves - 1.5 million a year ain't a bad salary - gnnng]


13-15 Dear Colleagues, The convocation of an international conference on the Idea of Communism is certainly salutary.

The world cries out for revolution. It would only make sense that Bob Avakian’s new synthesis be part of a major discussion of the idea of communism. But thus far, a presentation about this new synthesis has been unacceptably excluded from the program of the conference.

Communism is at a crossroads.

In the face of the reversals of the revolutions in the Soviet Union and China, we have seen a range of political-ideological responses that tend to fall into three broad currents:

First, there are those who religiously cling to the experience and theory of the first wave of socialist revolution of the 20th century—not summing up problems and shortcomings, not moving forward, but circling the wagons.

Second, there are those who ignore or dismiss real scientific analysis of the contradictions of the socialist transition. They look for inspiration and orientation even further back into the past–to the 18th century and the proclaimed democratic and egalitarian ideals and social models of the bourgeois epoch. One has to ask what it signifies that at a conference ostensibly addressing the “idea of communism,” Rousseau, Kant, and Jefferson are defining reference points. Where does that take you in the world, and didn’t Marx (and Marxism) effect a rupture with all that already? The only difference is that now this is being labeled communism.

Third, there is what Bob Avakian has been doing. He is not only the leader of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, which has its sights set on the revolutionary seizure of power and the radical transformation of society, but also a visionary theorist. He has been acting on the understanding that communist revolution is the only way out of this madness and horror, and taking up the challenge of forging the path forward and further developing Marxism as a living and critical revolutionary science–so that communists are indeed a vanguard of the future, not a residue of the past. This involves a more scientific and visionary sense of communism, a reenvisioned model of socialist society and exercise of leadership, and related issues of epistemology and ethics.

For Avakian, there is both continuity with the first wave of socialist revolution in the 20th century, whose high water mark was the Cultural Revolution, and rupture with wrong conceptions and methodology. This includes continuation of Mao’s ruptures with Stalin but also, in some respects, rupture beyond the ways that Mao himself was influenced, though secondarily, by the dominant mode of thinking within the communist movement under the leadership of Stalin. Avakian’s writings and talks can be accessed at BobAvakian.net.

Given that the Idea of Communism conference is very much within this “back to the 18th century” framework, it would be highly important that a presentation representing Bob Avakian’s new synthesis be heard at this conference. It would also be highly important that other theorizations be interrogated and contested from this standpoint.

Again, the world cries out for revolution and the emancipation of humanity. What is the actual content of communism? What is the necessary theoretical framework for going forward? It is in this spirit of gaining clarity that I call on the conference organizers to include a talk on Bob Avakian’s new synthesis as part the formal program. I would be quite willing to give such a presentation. I also call on speakers and participants to bring their influence to bear.

For a new world,

Raymond Lotta

Critique as Ideology: The Dissident Left and Maoists in India

A seminar organised by the Xenos Research Group, Department of Sociology, with the collaboration of the Centre for Postcolonial Studies, Department of Politics

The first of two talks on communalism, secularism and the Left in India by Saroj Giri, Xenos Visiting Fellow. (See also Thursday 13 November 2008).

Event Information

Location: Room 307, Richard Hoggart Building
Cost: Free – all are welcome
Time: 12 November 2008, 18:00 - 19:30

Eyeballs on the Rats

I played guitar (somewhere between competent and bad) in the 1970s. King Rat, a band of mates I rehearsed a bit with, took their name from the 1962 James Clavell novel about the wartime Prison Camp called Changi in Singapore (now name of the airport). (They eventually went on to Metal rock god fame as the Bengal Tigers, I went to work with Maoists in West Bengal). King Rat was also the name of the 1998 debut novel by China Miéville, and is also an up and coming band in the present day (see here). Cavell however, it seems, took the name King Rat from the pantomime “Dick Whittington“, which references rats as carriers of the plague.

Lets sing:

“Ring a ring a Rosie

A Pocket full of posie

a-tissue, a-tissue

We all fall down”.

- and they still sometimes say Pantomime is just for kids right. I got my eye on them (and the first pic for this post – above – is a picture of my eyeball, kindly provided by the optometrist who did my recent Glaucoma test – I think it looks not totally dissimilar, at least in colour, to the cover of Miéville’s book – and only one of these is guaranteed free of myopia/glaucoma). My sister – the older of the two – visited Kolkata while I was there and the first line of her diary records the fact that there were rats as big as cats in the dormitory I was staying in. Actually, I thought the 8 rupee dorm (it was 1988 by then) was pretty luxurious for the price. The bathrooms were a shooting gallery most days, there was a few crazies (the Mother T god-botherers, and a guy who lost it in room 2 I’ll never forget – the first death I saw up close). Some of this is documented in The Rumour of Calcutta, but a lot of it is not – it will go in the T8 file to be explained later.

Sagarmatha (सगरमाथा)

Nepal election count as of 16 April 2008:

Seats won
CPN (Maoists)
Nepali Congress
Sadhbhawana (Mahato)

These results were taken from here

And verified here

Nepal turning red via ballots not bullets?

prachanda1.jpgComrade Prachanda addressing a mass rally in Backtapur, outside Kathmandu, on March 12. Nepal’s general election is on 10th of April and is more important than the cobra-mongoose death embrace that is the election most people seem presently obsessed about (Zizek, Kellner, the entire media, everyone except the residents of Florida who already know their result).

Oh, and did you hear there was an election in Malaysia where the opposition made massive gains despite the usual vote-tampering shenanigans (as illustrated on opposition blogs, for example by seat-winner Eli Wong – check here).

In the meantime, this picture of Prachanda says a lot about the moment of transition from feudal monarchy to modern Maoist state. Remains to be seen how the Maoists will fare, and exactly what modern Nepal will look like, but it has to be better than the Nepal that Michael Palin found so charming in his traveller’s trip (see here or here).

(pic nicked from APW – thanks)

armed struggle

Reading Hari Kunzru’s novel ‘My Revolutions’ and hearing him at Migrating University at Goldsmiths this weekend, tempts me to try and work out how I want to talk about struggles today (its not the 60s anymore). This is with the aim to offer a critique of how armed struggle in various theatres of the world is currently represented in the media, in the press, in books (like Hari’s, but assessing other novelistic imaginings as well) and in academic discussion, which so often seems to lose its way. Some first steps here might open up something, but I am not sure. More when I get back from the Maoism in India soiree in Preston no doubt.

Or maybe I shouldn’t even try. I see clearly that the trouble with academic discussions about revolutionary politics (aside from promoting the Open Book project insufficiently well) is not so much that any comment can only be part of a discussion, a talking shop, a glorified coffee chat, but rather that there is a necessary level of abstraction to anything that might be said by anyone at all. Involvement would suggest a certain reticence to discuss, discussion would suggest a requisite lack of involvement, or a recklessness from which everyone should steer well clear.

The first step of this is not some twisted version of William James’ problems of getting at the idea of a mystical state, but it is close to that where he says: ‘One must have musical ears to know the value of a symphony; one must have been in love one’s self to understand a lover’s state of mind. Lacking the heart or ear, we cannot interpret the musician or the lover justly’ (‘Varieties of Rel Exp’ Vol 16). I remember Marx swapping bibles for brandy (the word of the spirit for the spirit of life) such that I think its not too mischievous to think of the Angry Brigade type of provocation in these terms – a mystical violence which is strangely silent. Caught in a propaganda war of spin and censorship. If you can’t do, you can chit chat away to no avail. If you do, then I do not know you. This is the abstraction bound and gagged.

But I think there is another way to open up the question of armed struggle and that is in terms of adequacy, since without being able to discuss the practical requirements of violence we cannot comprehend the struggles in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, or even Ireland in any relevant way. Sure, there are so many cautions and prevarications to be routinised first. Yes, its terrible, or no its not. Its all good, its all bad – positions that Mao already demolished in ‘”It’s Terrible!” or “It’s Fine”‘ (Selected Works Vol 1 p 26). But I want to find a way to restart a discussion in terms of adequacy of opposition to state power (tanks, helicopter gunships, cluster bombs, nuclear arsenals) and the question of what would be required to defeat an organised violence that might mean enacting a counter violence that is anathema to many – anathema to those caught in exactly that comfort zone that allows, even requires, complicity with state violence unleashed elsewhere and denied.

OK, that’s a tangle already, and so far I’ve said nothing – but I have just seen the section on ‘Riff Raff’ in Selected Works and so have decided I better reread all that first. Thus yet again the televised bit is delayed…

Dear Diary – Maoist Controversies

It has been a strangely volatile and entertaining day so far. First of all Academic board – a pretty dull looking agenda, but the high points were the student intervention by Hannah that crushed a badly thought out proposal on plagiarism (well, crushed isn’t exactly the word, since skillful meeting management deflected any visible crushing, but a victory for the students union in any case) and a report from Warden Geoff (on some Gang of Four-type committee) to advise on the reform of Uni of London that will do away with some superfluous uni-wide forums that probably were once pretty significant – well, if I heard it right amongst the clatter of refurbishment works, this seems like a quiet but major major coup. But that was just my admin stand-in responsibility. The day had started off strange, but it soon got very weird indeed.

So over lunch, a call from Bill Martin who is speaking at the Mao Workshop on friday…

[the details of which are:

Dec 1 2006 - Mao CCS 1-6pm

Centre for Cultural Studies and Department of Politics at Goldsmiths presents:

Mao workshop - Friday 1st Dec - Goldsmiths 1-6pm cinema - all welcome.

Why Mao? Why Now?

Why have a conference on Maoism in a heart of 21st century post-industrial post-colonial European Capitalism? What interest would Maoism hold for an Urban Bourgeois Institution of Intellectuals in an era in which Communism has been historically 'surpassed'? Two decades after China itself began its 'De-Maoification'? And why Maoism in particular out of all forms of Marxist-Leninism? Why does Maoism continue to inspire theory and revolutionary struggle far beyond the bounds of China and Chinese Culture, beyond the divisions of East and West, North and South? This small day conference attempts to address those and other questions by looking at different currents of Maoist thought and practice in the US, France, India, China and Nepal.... all welcome]

With Bill as keynote this will be good. He wrote “Humanism and its Aftermath” and very engagingly debated with Avakian in a recent volume that’s at home on my desk (and called “Marxism and the Call of the Future” – it has an intro by Zizek, which is amusing since as I mentioned on the links page of this blog, the human-print-industry that is S/Z is writing an intro now to Mao’s “On Contradiction” essay, from Verso in January). Expect Bill in fine form – come hear him tell the Zizek tale, and of the response they wrote to his forward – such that this workshop is gonna be much much fun. But as I was explaining to him, it is causing a bit of controversy, as well as gathering some enthusiasm.

The first example of enthusiasm today (there have been many) came from an email from a guy who’d been on a road building project with the CPN-M in Nepal. He has a 30 minute video about it that we will have to find time for – our breaks are too short, maybe another day – but his perspective on my rants about the Himalayas would have been good to hear. To be continued… but not now as then an interruption by phone again.

I got a call from a journalist in India who wants to know WHY WE ARE DOING A MAO CONFERENCE IN LONDON???

In response to this, when I told him, the head of the Dept of Politics (co-sponsor of our event) said, ‘well, no one would object if you did a conference on Hitler, so why not Mao?’.

Gulp. I anticipate an interesting day on friday for sure. Co-organiser Maude said that where she’s from a conference on Hitler would also raise eyebrows. Twitch, twitch. Enthusiasm and controversy indeed.

Then, the day got even better. Raymond Lotta got in touch (I think some parts of his informative letter can be shared here):

Dear John Hutnyk,
I will be attending the “Why Mao? Why Now?” conference at Goldsmiths and staying in London through the afternoon of December 6. I am a Maoist political economist based in Chicago. I have written and edited several books, including “America in Decline,” “Mao Makes Five,” and “Maoist Economics and the Revolutionary Road to Communism.” I promote the perspectives of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, whose chairman is Bob Avakian. I wrote the preface to “Marxism and the Call of the Future” (the dialogue between Avakian and Bill Martin published by Open Court).I was hoping that after the conference—I’ll be staying in London through the afternoon of December 6–it might be possible to get together with you to talk. I have recently become familiar with your work (I am reading and very much enjoying “Bad Marxism”) and I also see from your blog that you have been reading Bob Avakian’s Memoir. It would be highly interesting for me to learn more
your work, your assessment of the radical intellectual-political scene in England, and more on your thinking about the relevance of Maoism to the 21st century. I would also like to share some of what Avakian has been speaking to in his writings and how he is enlarging the horizons of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism.

A little more about my work. My book “America in Decline” (1984) is an attempt to extend Lenin’s theorization of imperialism. I have written on issues of contemporary trends in the world economy (debt crisis in Latin America, famine in Niger, etc.) and recently done a critique of Thomas Friedman’s “The World is Flat”. I have written extensively on Mao’s approach to socialist planning (politics in command, centralization/decentralization and the “information problem,” and regulation and stability/experimentation and upheaval) and on why “market socialism” represents no alternative to capitalism.

For the last year I have been on a lecture tour entitled “Socialism Is Much Better Than Capitalism, and Communism Will Be A Far Better World.” This is part of the “Set the Record Straight” project aimed at challenging conventional wisdom about the “first wave” of socialist revolutions (the Soviet Union 1917-56 and China 1949-76)—that is, the idea that these revolutions were utter failures, utopias gone mad, etc. I talk about the great achievements, as well as the shortcomings and problems, and how Bob Avakian, building on but also going beyond these experiences, is bringing forward a radically new model of the dictatorship of the proletariat (I have attached the concluding section of my speech that deals with aspects of this new model). I have spoken at Columbia, Harvard, and Stanford here in the U.S. The idea is to “reopen” what is considered a settled debate and to stir discussion about scholars and professors and the new generation of students. It’s been very exciting and controversial (at UCLA, the sponsoring departments came under attack from reactionaries associated with David Horowitz who has been spearheading a campaign to “purge” radicals from the academy).

I have also been taking on “Mao: The Unknown Story.” I been on the radio about the book; and last month, I presented a critique of the book at a graduate seminar lecture series at the University of Chicago. Part of the reason I am coming to England is to talk with people about the prospects of a high-profile debate with Chang/Halliday—either in London or New York, or both cities. I really hope to ratchet up the level of debate. .. What is most important…I look forward to attending the “Why Mao? Why Now” conference and meeting you and others who will be there.
Yours in solidarity,
Raymond Lotta

So, all in all friday for the Mao Workshop is going to be great – Sukant worries there will be too many mad Maoists; others worry there won’t be enough, or they won’t be mad enough; still others were concerned at the idea of glorification of it all. The line up is: Alpa Shah on Naxalites (see my take on them here), Michael Dutton on China, Alberto Toscano on French theory, Sukant Chandan on the Black Panther Party. Bill Martin as keynote, and a panel at the end. Maude’s intro is going to be great (I’ve seen a draft), so I am sure all the contributions, those from speakers as well as those from the floor, will provoke. In general I am looking forward to debate debate debate.

Then next week we are going to have lunch with Raymond and hear a talk from him on tuesday evening (to be confirmed, but probably 6.30 in the cinema). Slowly we are surrounding the city, a protracted insurgency, but a lively one…

Red Salute


As well as being the 150th anniversary of what is variously called the first all-India anti colonial war, or, in the words of English revisionists, the ‘mutiny’, 2007 will also be the 40th anniversary of Naxalbari. To remind myself and to follow up on the previous post about Mahasweta Devi, I’ve extracted a couple of pages from my Critique of Exotica (2000) – Lal Salaam.

Charu Mazumdar was born in 1918, studied at Edwards College at Pabna (now Bangladesh), and joined the CPI in 1938. He had been involved in the Tebhaga revolutionary movement and was arrested in its post-1947 phase (Banerjee 1984: 320). Later he worked as an organiser amongst tea plantation workers in Darjeeling’s Siliguri area where he was born. For several years before 1967 he and other then CPI(M) comrades had been building connections amongst the Santal peasantry. It was with these people, in Naxalbari, in the Darjeeling foothills, that the uprising began which was to give its name to a range of militant struggles over the next ten years. That the Naxalbari uprising, which first consisted of seizure of lands from rich landlords, destruction of debt records for bonded labour and hounding of money-lenders from the area, was soon put down by the police, is a matter of record (Ram 1972; Sen Gupta 1972). Debate over the subsequent consequences and importance of the uprising raged. The development of a Maoist political movement, the formation of a new communist party – Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), of which Mazumdar became the General Secretary – and the extension of agrarian struggles to other parts of India, especially Andhara Pradesh and the Panjab, were a greater legacy (see Chatterjee 1997a: 92).

The Naxalbari peasantry and tribal peoples had good cause to fight. Naxalite demands addressed frustration on the part of the peasantry with the years of ‘high sounding words, grandiose plans, reforms galore’ (Rai and Prasad 1973: 458) by the Nehru administration. While green revolution farming methods had opened opportunities for the middle and landowning classes, the tribal and peasant farmers had already been dispossessed of land and so also of the opportunity to invest in the fertilisers and seeds of the green revolution advance. Thus the disjunction between landowners and peasants led to a wider dissatisfaction. An early list of Naxalite demands was reported as:

The first priority is … forcible occupation of lands belonging to big landlords … overthrow of the existing big bourgeoisie rule of the country … and the immediate withdrawal of India from the Commonwealth … so that India would range herself against American and British imperialism. (in Ghose 1971: 447–8)

The swift retaliation of the police against Naxalbari did not prevent leaders like Charu Mazumdar continuing and extending the struggle through the politicisation of other regions, of peasant, tribal and student sectors. This entailed calling on students not to let the ‘electoral politics of the revisionist parties’ divert them like an ‘obscene film’ and for them to attend to the ‘century old cry of the landless poor peasantry’ and stand by their side, moving forward ‘with arms in our hands like the guerrillas of Vietnam’ (from a leaflet entitled ‘Students and Youth: Unite with Workers and Landless Peasants, Unite, Unite with Them’, reproduced in Damas 1991: 206–8). The formation of the All-India Coordinating Committee of Communist Revolutionaries (AICCCR) and subsequently the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) in May 1969 were convoluted steps in this process. The new revolutionary party (CPI-ML) was announced by Kanu Sanyal from the rostrum of that year’s May Day rally in the large expanse of Calcutta’s Maidan park (Banerjee 1984: 131).

The extension of Maoist struggle to other areas did not proceed without internal tensions amongst the Naxalite cadres. The Andhara Naxalites, for example, did not join the new party formation because of a dispute over Mazumdar’s interpretation of Mao Zedong’s strategic principles (or MTTT: Mao Tse-Tung Thought [see Mohanty 1979]) – they were also possibly remembering the Central directive to capitulate at Telengana. It was reported that ‘the domineering attitude of the leading figures … from West Bengal alienated more and more Naxalite groups besides the Andhara Committee’ (Rai and Prasad 1973: 473). Sushital Ray Chaudhury, from the Andhara group said that ‘Mazumdar’s interpretation of the word annihilation was without doubt against Mao Tse-Tung thought’ (in Ghosh 1971: 136). The slogan of ‘annihilation of the class enemy’, celebrated in the war word khatam (see Banerjee 1984: 112; Seth 1995 [i]), was thought to have led to ‘indiscriminate killing [which] would only isolate the party from the masses by forfeiting their sympathy’ (Rai and Prasad 1973: 477). The criticism was raised that Mazumdar was not relying on the masses as Mao had prescribed, as, according to Chatterjee (himself a Birbhum Naxalite) much of the peasant support of the movement had turned into passive sympathy by the end of 1969 (Ghosh 1971: 147). Against this Mazumdar countered that ‘only after guerrilla squads had cleared an area of “class enemies” by annihilating some of them and forcing others to flee the countryside, should revolutionary peasant committees be formed’ (Rai and Prasad 1973: 475). [ii] The procedure of operating in small and secret cells was in part a necessity forced by the brutal response of the state as ‘mass actions were likely to expose the guerrilla fighters to the forces of law and order’ (Rai and Prasad 1973: 475). The move of the struggle into the urban metropolis of Calcutta after the decision of the Party in April 1970 to extend operations into industrial areas was designed to address the apparent failure of hartals (strikes) and other conventional methods of struggle which had been ‘largely blunted against organised capitalist attacks in the form of lock-out, lay-off, and closures’ (Ghosh 1971: 444). This change of programme born of ‘a certain suspicion of the communist preoccupation with trade unions’, of their ‘economism’ (Seth 1995: 493), meant increased mobilisation of student revolutionaries which necessarily complicated internal party relations. Mass action was also difficult in the city, but in the years of 1970 and 1971 more and more frequent incidents escalated the conflict with the police who, having faced a number of ‘annihilations’ themselves, adopted a ‘shoot to kill’ policy (Damas 1991: 97). In response, those students who had followed the call of the CPI(ML) to leave the city and live and work in the peasant areas, drew the anger of the police upon themselves, conspicuous as they were as students living in villages and in the apparent absence of the secretive guerrillas, they bore the brunt of the repressive reaction.

The Chinese Communist Party had welcomed the Naxalites with banner headlines in 1969 – it was the Peking Review of 14 July 1967 that declared ‘A peal of thunder has crashed over the land of India’ (reproduced in Damas 1991: 276–9). But their support for the CPI(ML) lasted only two and a half years, after which they intervened in the conflict between Mazumdar and the other leaders: ‘It was not until after Peking had indicated its serious reservations about Charu Mazumdar’s leadership and tactical line that dissent in the party began snowballing into revolt, leading to his virtual isolation before his arrest’ (Ram 1972). Mazumdar’s life came to an end on 28 July 1972 as a result of a heart attack in police custody a few days after his arrest in – he was refused adequate medical treatment and was not taken to hospital until 27 July, a mere 24 hours before his demise (Banerjee 1984: 321). In assessing the tactical line of the CPI(ML), it is of course difficult to sort out the factional squabbles and attribute cause and blame. Certainly the fragmentation of the Naxalites into several separate groups has persisted up to the present, but this factor is not a sufficient explanation of the decline of the movement. Rather, the role of the police in ‘conducting raids, tortures and indiscriminate arrests … in order to force people to make a choice in favour of the police against the Naxalites’ (Ghosh 1971: 155) was important alongside the conflict with the CPI(M). With its secret cell invisibility and displaced student cadres caught up in a factional war of attrition with other communists who should have been comrades, it is understandable that the ‘romance’ of the Naxalites faded under this pressure, as Duyker explains:

the movement was doomed because the CPI (M-L) was no match for the ruthless organised power of the state. When the cost to the [Santal] tribal community (in casualties, arrested menfolk, confiscated food supplies and disrupted cultivation) appeared too great to continue the struggle, Santal-Naxalite resistance crumbled. (Duyker 1981: 258–9)

When the movement ‘developed cracks’ the students and peasants on the fringe of the movement ‘opted for Congress because no other party could protect them from the police’ (Ghosh 1971: 129).

The role of the state in suppressing the Naxalite movement was one that extended across India, but in Bengal it was also fratricidal communist rivalries that had a hand in the slaughter. The received ‘official’ version has been distilled by Bandyopadhyay from Sumanta Banerjee’s excellent book In the Wake of Naxalbari: [iii]

With increasing help from the Centre and imported paramilitary and military forces, police retaliation against the CPI(M-L) urban guerrillas began to gain momentum from the last quarter of 1970. No mercy was shown to any CPI(M-L)cadre or supporter if caught … The CPI(M) felt threatened because of another reason. The mid-term poll was scheduled to be held in March 1971. While the CPI(M) was preparing for the elections, the CPI(M-L) urban actions were disrupting the status quo and threatening the electoral polls … To ensure smooth voting for its supporters, the CPI(M) sought to clear its strongholds of ‘Naxalite elements’ … A bloody cycle of interminable assaults and counter-assaults, murders and vendetta was initiated. The ranks of both the CPI(M) and CPI(M-L) dissipated their militancy in mutual fightings leading to the elimination of a large number of their activists, and leaving the field open to the police. (Banerjee, excerpted in Bandyopadhyay 1986: x–xi) (fn 3)[iv]

Does this story of factional strife, leadership squabble, and parliamentarist opportunism tell it how it was or is? Of course it is a partial account, and contestation by competing traditions makes any evaluation from afar difficult.[v]

[i] Charu Mazumdar proposed a liquidation of ‘the political, economic and social authority of the class enemy’ (Mazumdar 1969: 13, quoted in Seth 1995: 498), and this started:

only by liquidating the feudal classes in the countryside … this campaign for the annihilation of the class enemy can be carried out only by inspiring the poor and landless peasants with the politics of establishing the political power of the peasants in the countryside by destroying the dominant feudal classes. (Mazumdar Dec. 1969 quoted in Banerjee 1984: 112).

[ii] It is worth noting that these are interpretations of interpretations. Even to the extent that Charu Mazumdar can be considered representative of one kind of Naxalite, this has no chance but to be (mis)read through the thickets of sect and faction, and outsider commentary, that have accrued in the 30 years since the founding of the CPI(ML). This of course is the problem with all contested history – my interest here is only to note that my readings would also read in a particular and partial way, my interest being not merely to encourage informed attention to communist struggle.

[iii] This was first published in 1980 in Calcutta, but reissued in 1984 under the title: India’s Simmering Revolution: The Naxalite Uprising by Zed Books, London.

[iv] Sumanta Banerjee goes further than the excerpted passage quoted here. Referring to then Home Minister Jyoti Basu seeking assistance from the Eastern Frontier Rifles, a central force, to suppress the movement, he writes:

The party [CPI(M)] believed in controlled violence in rural areas aimed at minor goals, like wage increase for agricultural labourers or restitution of land … A certain amount of agitation, often bordering on violence, suited the CPI(M) or the other parliamentary leftist parties, as long as it was contained within limits and controlled by the leaders, and did not attack the roots of the prevailing system by trying to seize political power. Since they were members of a united front of heterogeneous classes, the CPI(M) wanted to make the peasants believe that they were carrying the flag of the revolution and were out to destroy the status quo, and the middle class believe that they were arresting the danger which threatened them, and the Centre that they were faithful to the Constitution. (Banerjee 1984: 140)

[v] For example, it is tempting to make a judgement as to the contemporary fortunes of the Basu-led CPI(M) Communists in Bengal. Mallick suggests their effort has failed, they themselves of course suggest a degree of success. Here, although the examples of communist struggle that might be cited do not always, or indeed primarily, refer to parliamentarism, it is true that a degree of electoral success, at least in terms of years in power, has long been the preserve of this section of the Communist movement in Bengal. Though it was not always so. Since 1967 CPI(M) Communists have dominated the state government for all but a few years of President’s rule (and Jyoti Basu has now been in charge for over 20 years). This context introduces specific conditions for any evaluation of struggles. Mallick writes:

The Indian Communist movement is unique in operating within the institutions of a parliamentary democracy not unlike that of the industrialised West, while trying to develop a base in conditions of extreme poverty and exploitation. India combines many of the institutions of an advanced capitalist state with cultural and economic conditions often not far removed from feudalism. (Mallick 1993: 21)

That these ‘feudal’ conditions were the main contradiction faced by activists in India is the most obvious context in which to evaluate parliamentarism. The poor, those in bonded labour, the landless peasantry, the disenfranchised labourers on tea estates, plantations, in rural agriculture and urban industry – formal and informal sectors – provides a massive constituency of a communist politics.

References are available in Critique of Exotica.

Birthday of Mao


I guess there was some sort of god-bothering festival yesterday, and as a consequence I got this really fine present (trink trink…). Actually, I am sure the giver already knew the 26th is the day of the Great Helmsman… See also Howard

Critique of Exotica

Critique of Exotica: Music, Politics and the Culture Industry

London: Pluto Press, 2000

In this innovative book, John Hutnyk questions the meaning of cultural hybridity. Using the growing popularity of Asian culture in the West as a case study, he looks at just who benefits from this intermingling of culture. /What does it mean when Madonna dons a bindi or Kula Shaker incorporate sitar music in their music? When Cherie Blair wears a sari to a public dinner? When the national dish in the UK is chicken tikka masala? Is this a celebration of multiculturalism or cultural appropriation?/Focusing on music, race and politics, Hutnyk offers a cogently theorised critique of the culture industry. He looks at artists such as Asian Dub Foundation, FunDaMental and Apache Indian to see how their music is both produced and received. He analyses ‘world’ music festivals, racist policing and the power of corporate pop stars to market exotica across the globe. Throughout, Hutnyk provides a searing critique of a world that sells exotica as race relations and visibility as redress


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