Shankar Guha Niyogi and experiments of revolutionary creation

Shankar Guha Niyogi

In a popular quote from his speech “The Ballot or The Bullet” , American activist Malcolm X says “…you don’t have a revolution in which you are begging the system of exploitation to integrate you into it. Revolutions overturn systems. Revolutions destroy systems.” In abstraction, this quote only half describes what a revolution is because indeed , revolutions do destroy existing exploitative systems but they also create new systems- better pro people systems that are free from exploitation.

The full meaning of revolution, I believe, is encompassed in the simple slogan of Chhatisgarh Mukti Morcha founder Shankar Guha Niyogi -”Sangharsh aur Nirman” (Struggle and Create). Ceaseless struggle for the destruction of the exploitative society and creation for the sake of that struggle.

Niyogi was murdered by local capitalists 31 years ago today. It is important to understand why and how his existence and life was considered a threat by the powers that be. Apart from the CMM and Niyogi, the idea of “Struggle and Create” is embodied in the historical praxis of revolutionary organizations like the Black Panther Party in the USA , the FRELIMO in Mozambique and the Janathana experiment in Dandakaranya. They simultaneously combine and execute on ground Che Guevara’s ideas ‘On Revolutionary Medicine’ , Paulo Friere’s ideas on ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’ and Mao’s ideas of Cultural Revolution.

These attempts, although practiced in varyingly different material conditions, do have certain parallels. They are not reformist to attain integration in the existing systems, but revolutionary to serve as living illustrations of a society devoid of exploitation and serve to motivate individuals to engage in the fight for change. BPP Leader Huey Newton, said “We recognized that in order to bring the people to the level of consciousness where they would seize the time, it would be necessary to serve their interests in survival by developing programs which would help them to meet their daily needs…these programs satisfy the deep needs of the community but they are not solutions to our problem. That is why we call them survival programs, meaning survival pending revolution.”

The phrase “survival pending revolution” states directly that the ultimate aim of such praxis is revolution. Instead of a philanthrophistic NGOist facade of giving temporary relief to the oppressed masses, the BPP and Niyogi alike, aimed to intensify popular political struggle. The programs by the Janathana Sarkar in Dandakaranya and by FRELIMO in Mozambique (before it became DEMSOC) and even the Communist Party of Phillipines are different from the BPP and CMM as their creation is executed in liberated areas only.

The latter can be compared to the functioning of Mao Tse Tung’s praxis in Yan’an after the Long March which served as the inspiration for all these experiments. In liberated Yan’an a new type of educational system was created. Among these schools were the Anti-Japanese Military and Political University, the Lu Xun Academy of the Arts, the Northwest Public School, the Central Party School, the Academy of Marxism-Leninism, the Women’s University, Yan’an University, and the Academy of the Nationality. Revolutionary medical aid was practiced by the likes of Norman Bethune, Doc Ma Haide and Dwarkanath Kotnis.

Norman Bethune said “Medicine, as we are practising it, is a luxury trade. We are selling bread at the price of jewels. … Let us take the profit, the private economic profit, out of medicine, and purify our profession of rapacious individualism … Let us say to the people not ‘How much have you got?’ but ‘How best can we serve you?'”

The task of creation is not limited to the fields of medicine and education. In the case of the Black Panther Party – The Free Breakfast for Schoolchildren Program was the Black Panther Party’s earliest and most well-known survival initiative. For every child who participated in the programme, a complimentary, hot, and nutritionally sound breakfast was supplied. This programme had hundreds of breakfast sessions around the nation by 1969. A senior white government official was forced to remark that “the Panthers are feeding more kids than we are” because the Black Panther organisation was providing food for so many kids. This effectively exemplifies one manner the Panthers campaigned for social change. They made poor neighbourhoods’ plight public and established the Free Food Program as a means of assisting the neighbourhood. In addition to feeding kids so they wouldn’t arrive at school hungry, they also gave meals to Blacks and other minorities that needed this kind of support. In accordance with the Free Food Program, “bags of fresh goods containing products such as eggs, canned fruit, vegetables, poultry, milk, potatoes, rice, bread, cereal, and so forth” were made available.The program depended almost entirely on donations from grocery store owners and wholesale food dealers. So the Panthers visited many grocery store managers and owners to explain the purpose of The Free Food Program. They showed the managers how their contribution would benefit the overall survival of the community. Another program that was important was the free Sickle Cell Anemia Research Foundation Program created in 1971. This was an important program because sickle cell anemia was “a deadly blood disease that affects primarily Black Americans.” Therefore, some African Americans would perish as a result of this illness since they would be unaware that they had sickle cell anaemia. Numerous African Americans used this method to determine whether they had the illness, and the foundation worked to discover a treatment for them. Eight volunteers were needed for this initiative in order for it to function. Although it was challenging, African American medical students would volunteer and make an effort to support their neighbourhood. The Free Shoe and Clothing Program was another initiative that greatly benefited the populace.

Shankar Guha Niyogi, created the Shaheed Hospital in Dalli Rajahara “demonstrating how healthcare can be delivered in a new society using new modes of treatment, health education, new ways of running an organization, and in connection with social movements.” Six Primary Schools in addition to an Adult Literacy School were also run by the CMM. Naya Anjor (light of dawn) focussed on dissemination of new Democratic culture among the masses. Movements were organised to combat alcoholism. An environmental project “Apne Jangal ko Pahchano” raised awareness and presented a forest policy countering the oppressive Forest Departments. The health project included raising awareness on a multitude of diseases including TB and Sickle Cell Anaemia.

Veteran Jharkhand Based Marxist AK Roy lauded Shankar Guha Neogi and said that he presented the alternative to the masses stuck between the incompetent Public Sector and the exploitative Private Sector in the form of the Mazdoor Sector. In today’s Neoliberal era, the ruling class seeks to transfer the control of economic factors from the public sector to the private sector. Howsoever, in the semi feudal , semi colonial Indian state, the public sector riddled with corruption and incompetence remains ‘public’ just in name. Ceaseless efforts must be made to strengthen the Mazdoor sector.

The united front of the Vanguard must prioritise the task of revolutionary creation to intensify the revolutionary people’s movement and get involved with the day to day struggles of the masses. Shankar Guha Neogi in an interview in 1981 to Pankaj Sharma, states that he was a staunch Marxist Leninist. He denounced the CPI and CPIM and said that their leaders did not represent the people. He disagreed with the policies of the erstwhile CPIML, which in its rebellious frenzy had erroneously denounced trade unionism completely. He says that the question of armed struggle can only be put forward to a conscious mass considering the material conditions of the time. His life was one dedicated to creating class consciousness among the masses.

Shankar Guha Niyogi was killed in cold blood by those whose supremacy was challenged by his ideas. Deputy Chairman Fred Hampton of the Black Panther Party, who actively led the survival programs was assassinated by the Feds of USA. Mondlane and Machel, who led the FRELIMO before it’s subsequent ideological degradation faced similar fates. Mondlane was assassinated whereas Machel died in a suspicious plane crash. The list of leaders and cadres who died for the cause of the Janathana Sarkar is endless.

In recent times, Mazdoor Sangathan Samiti, a Jharkhand based trade union experimented with Shramjivi Haspatal in Madhuban but the union was banned on false charges and the Hospital was sealed. After a 4 year long court case, the ban was lifted by the Jharkhand High Court earlier this year – however the Hospital is still sealed. Activists from Cultural Group Kabir Kala Manch who also run initiatives like Basti ki Pathshala have also been targeted by the State.

Such targeting by the State and by the Capitalists are indicative of the revolutionary potential of such experiments.

Another group that deserves a mention is HOWL (How Ought We Live) Group , experimenting with revolutionary creation in the remote village of Shukrawasa in Madhya Pradesh deserves applaud , attention and support. More can be known about them through the documentary ‘Shuru Kare Ek Nayi Daud’ on YouTube.

The question on the path for a revolution in India can be understood by assessing the revolutionary polemics of the 1960s but the tasks of the united front , the tasks of revolutionary mass organizations – which were not properly discussed back then as well- must be reassessed to include revolutionary creation throughout the country and not just in pockets.

Satyam S is an independent left activist and industrial worker from Jamshedpur, Jharkhand

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