Naxalbari is still alive. Half a century has passed, yet the struggle is as bright as the crimson sun. Naxalbari is alive in the politics of people. The politics of dominating classes with all its power, and after so many years, is still failing to ignore Naxalbari, now, name of a politics, and has failed to wipe out Naxalbari from the map of people’s struggle.
Now, the 50th anniversary of Naxalbari, is a time to pay tribute to the path-breaking struggle that began in the area on the Mechi river along the India-Nepal border, to its architects, organizers and fighters, to the martyrs, many of them were murdered in prison cells, the poor peasants, the laborers, the women, the youth, the students, the intellectuals upholding a class line and making supreme sacrifice for the cause of the exploited. On May 25, 1967, police fired upon a gathering of people, and savagely murdered 9 including 6 rural poor women and 2 children in Naxalbari area. Martyrs are many. Aamraa to voolee naai shaheed, comrade martyrs, you are alive in our memory. (From a people’s song in Baanglaa.)
Polemic on the issue – Naxalbari – is there. And, polemic will continue, will continue with much vigor – a sign of a vibrant people’s struggle in a society full with forceful impulse for change. Movement spiraling down the course of decadence doesn’t raise lively debate. But, Naxalbari, pronouncing its lively presence, is still creating forceful debates. Its main characters, many of them shot dead, still create debate. Naxalbari stirs so much hatred of a few and so much love of many – a live show of class positions.
Naxalbari is part of a people’s journey to organize a radical change of the society, of the property relations, of the position the exploited-the poor-the powerless are pressed down into. A lofty, noble, humane aim it is. It never confused the questions of position and role of the propertied classes and their political power. And, it never attempted to compromise interests of the exploited, and never appeased the exploiting classes. The sacrifice Naxalbari made is the evidence of its courageous and dignified stand it took to defend the exploited. Strategic and/or tactical errors/flaws don’t invalidate significance and contribution of Naxalbari in the political struggle people wage although efforts are there to demean the initiative by condemning only the errors/flaws. The quarter fails to look at the perspective of the initiative and the initiative’s errors/flaws – a wrong way to evaluate any political initiative.
Naxalbari unleashed people’s aspiration; inspired the exploited people to put on their agenda on the table of national politics. Never before these were done so forcefully in the subcontinent. The question of the exploited was never before raised so forcefully. The force applied to suppress the revolutionary initiative is one of the indicators to assess the force of the initiative.
“[I]t is only in that last decade [1970s] or so that the most critical questions have been asked about the new and changing regime of power in post-colonial India, and that it was the political challenge of Naxalbari, with all its theoretical naiveté and tactical ‘adventurism’, that thrust these questions upon the social consciousness of the Indian people, especially of its politically articulate and leading sections.” (Partha Chatterjee, “Introduction”, June 2, 1982, in Promode Sengupta, Naxalbari and Indian Revolution, Research India Publications, Calcutta, now, Kolkata, 1983) “[T]he term ‘Naxalaite’ (from Naxalbari) has continued to symbolize any assault upon the assumptions and institutions that hold up the established order.” (Sumanta Banerjee, In the Wake of Naxalbari, Subarnarekha, Calcutta, 1980)
Naxalbari was an indicator of the condition of the society – its economy, the classes brutally reaping benefits of the economy, failure of the dominant classes to deliver succor to the majority, the deprivations and anguish of the dominated classes, failures and hypocrisies of the dominant politics and system, failures of the dominant classes to make advancements in all areas of the society except the area of repression. Naxalbari exposed historical incapacity of the dominant classes, and put into question legitimacy of the classes’ politics – political process, responsiveness and accountability of and transparency in ruling mechanism, participation/representation of tax payers. “[T]he political challenge of Naxalbari forced the state to bare its teeth, to show its ugly face stripped of the façade of bourgeois legality, populist reformism and tolerance of dissent.” (Chatterjee, op. cit.) The state’s core, ideology and class basis were exposed by Naxalbari. These are not insignificant advancements in the political life of a people striving for a democratic political life.
“The struggle of the Terai [outer foothills of the Himalayas, the area Naxalbari is situated] peasants is an armed struggle – not for land but for state power.” (Kanu Sanyal, Report of the Peasant Movement in the Terai Region, in Samar Sen, Debabrata Panda, Ashish Lahiri, Naxalbari and After, a Frontier anthology, vol. II, Kathashilpa, Calcutta, December 1978, the report was from Liberation, November 1968) Facing challenge, the state retaliated with full force. The toll paid by Naxalbari for making the advancement shows the power and attitude of class interests opposed to the exploited.
Lessons learned from the ignition in the Terai are valuable. Shall the same mistakes be committed in future? Hopefully, no; not the same immaturity, not the same gaps within analyses, not the same simple theoretical solutions to complex social-economic-political-ideological problems, not the simple solutions to the questions of class and class alliance, mass organization and mass movement, united front, and encirclement of political power-centers of adversary classes.
Promode Sengupta, chairman, Naxalbari O Krishak Sangram Sahayak Committee [Naxalbari Peasants’ Struggle Aid Committee] writes:
“The armed rising of Naxalbari peasants was a most significant episode in India’s revolutionary movement. Naxalbari started a new era in the liberation way of the Indian masses. […] The greatest contribution of the armed peasant rising of Naxalbari is that it has unmasked the revisionist, parliamentarian leadership of the Indian Communist Parties and upheld the prime necessity for armed revolution before all.” (op. cit., part I: “Whither revolution?”, chapter 1: “Ideological struggle is necessary”)
“[T]he Naxalbari movement began as a militant peasant struggle for land, but it was gradually transformed into a political movement through struggle.” (ibid., part I, chapter 12: “The Naxalbari movement – why has not there been a correct analysis?”)
“It cannot be doubted at all that the Naxalbari fight was a heroic one, that it was advancing along the revolutionary Telengana path, that it had struck a severe blow at the vested revisionism of the last twenty years of the Communist Party, that it created great panic among the exploiting classes of India and opened up a new chapter in the Indian democratic revolution.” (ibid.)
All classes regularly experience high tide and ebb in political struggle, which reflect ever-changing class-power-position. Naxalbari had to experience the phenomena – a historical condition. Charu Majumdar, the main architect of the initiative, identified the reality:
“The armed struggle in our country has, after reaching a stage, suffered a setback. Our task at this time is to keep the Party alive. We will have to build the Party among the broad worker-peasant masses. If only we can build a politically united Party we shall be able to overcome this setback, to raise the struggle to a stage still higher than before. […] When the people of this vast country will explode, no reactionary government will be able to control it.” (“Majumdar’s last writing”, summary of a thesis, said to be his last writing, published after his death in July 1972 issue of Deshabrati, the Baanglaa organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), in Sen, Panda, Lahiri, op. cit.)
But, the Naxalbari initiative doesn’t get lost, because class struggle doesn’t die, and the initiative stands on class struggle. “The fiery-eyed, frail Charu Majumdar, a victim of cardiac asthma, who was driven to his death by police persecution – was found saying ‘No word ever dies. What we are saying today may not be accepted by the people at this moment. But our propaganda is not going in vain. Our words remain embedded among the people.’” (Banerjee, op. cit., Banerjee quotes Charu Majumdar from Naxalbarir Shikkhaa, Lessons from Naxalbari, by the North Bengal-Bihar Border Regional Committee of the CPI (M-L))
Powerful voices have uttered many times: Naxalbari has died. A shameless, self-denying author from Kolkata has depicted Jangal Shaotaal [usually spelled Santal], one of the leaders of Naxalbari, with a distorted face. Debates on fundamental questions within the initiative have been relished by a quarter.
But the fact is different. “Obituaries of the movement”, Sumanta Banerjee wrote in 1980, “have always been proved premature in their pronouncements. If the movement was contained in one part of India, and declared ‘crushed’, it soon erupted in another, sometimes a very unexpected corner of the country. Naxalbari was followed by Srikakulam; Srikakulam by Debra-Gopiballavpur; Debra-Gopiballavpur by Birbhum – and so it went on.” (op. cit.) There were Mushahari and Lakhimpur-Kheri. Three decades later, Arundhati Roy found more powerful presence of the movement: “Each time, it seemed as though the Maoists (or their previous avatars) had been not just defeated, but literally, physically exterminated. Each time, they have re-emerged, more organised, more determined and more influential than ever.” (“Walking with the comrades”, Outlook, March 29, 2010)
These observations based on reality create serious questions. How does the movement that relies on half-naked, regularly hungry, formally illiterate or semi-literate, bare feet populace gain life and strength? How does its words spread and reverberate? How does it survive, gain vitality and spread its wings like a phoenix? How does it deny dying?
It’s the reality that generates vitality of the movement. What’s the reality? The reality is full with contradictions searching for qualitative change, full with failures of the dominant system in proper handling of contradictions and in the job of making advancement of the society. The reality is dominant classes’ continued and increasing reliance on backward ideology that doesn’t carry capacity to deliver progress – a loss of legitimacy in ever increasing rate in all spheres of life. The reality is classes considered backward are trying to arm them with forward looking ideology, an ideology that doesn’t rely on and glorify medieval ideas, that doesn’t find its lifeline in backward system. This organic aspect can’t be perceived by the ideologues of the dominant system, and by activities powered by external intelligence agencies. The reality creates rationale for the initiative.
Here is the vitality of Naxalbari: A people ignored and considered ignorant by the system owned by the rich are striving to bring in a forward looking qualitative change, are striving to lay foundations for wiping out inequality and injustice from the land, are making sacrifices to create conditions for equitable and equal distribution – a humane task, a historic task, a political task. No other class in the history of the land has ever tried to tread this path – a historic responsibility to smash down a society anti-people in nature, and build up a higher stage of society. This people have shown: No social force other than this people can make social advancement. Naxalbari began breaking the path while there was, in the words of Samar Sen, editor of Kolkata based weekly Frontier, “ever-yawning gap between precept and practice since Telengana”. (“Foreword”, Sen, Panda, Lahiri, op. cit., vol. I, Kathashilpa, June 1978) This reality of exploitation-suppression-resistance doesn’t allow Naxalbari to go into oblivion.
Setbacks in physical terms or in terms of organizational and/or military power don’t deliver final verdict in the orbit of class struggle. To consider setbacks in struggle of forward looking classes as constant is a mechanical point of view of history. It, even, is an expression of an ignorant. Physical power solely has decided the course of human society in no place on the earth. Intelligence operatives only rely on physical power only, even when they try to engineer socially. History is replete with these examples. So, the reality echoes Charu Majumdar’s words pronounced in the autumn of 1967: “Naxalbari has not died and will never die.” (Banerjee, op. cit.)
Note: The present version carries last two sentences in the 4th paragraph, which have been added after completion of original version.
Farooque Chowdhury, writing from Dhaka, has not authored/edited any book in English other than Micro Credit, Myth Manufactured (ed.), The Age of Crisis and What Next, The Great Financial Crisis (ed.), and he doesn’t operate any blog/web site.