T G Jacob’s questions on people’s politics in India – Part I

Left to right T G Jacob

Was it possible, a hypothetical question, by the dominating interests in this subcontinent to press on their politics without mobilizing people since the colonial days? Not, at all.

The dominating interests always mobilized the people of this land to further politics that was of the dominating interests. People were pulled into the politics of the dominating interests. People were one of the arms and tools the dominating interests used to secure systems for exploiting people.  

But, over time, the people took initiatives with their politics, and played a major role in political developments in this subcontinent. At times, the role was determining, and, at times, setbacks followed. It’s the Left that reached the masses of the people, organized the people, strove to advance people’s politics; and the politics was for rights, for political power of the people.  

T G Jacob in Left to Right, Decline of Communism in India raises a number of questions related to people’s politics. T G Jacob, through his book, has “tried to […] look at specific ideological/ theoretical trends that are dynamically linked to practice.” (“Introduction”)

The book, as T G Jacob claims, “is an attempt to historically analyse these two divergent political-ideological streams of the Indian Left” – “parliamentary Leftists and non-parliamentary Maoist militants.” (ibid.)

A bitter statement

He makes a brief stocktaking of the Communist movement in India:

“The Communist movement in India, rather, the Indian subcontinent, is almost ninety years old, which also means that it is four generations old. The balance sheet, when we look at it today, is dismal. It has reached nowhere near its professed goal of rule by the working class in alliance with the peasantry leading to a socialist system. Instead, many of its various shades have reached a stage of becoming able custodians of the interests of the previously declared enemies of the toiling masses.” (“An approach to the Communist movement”)

His statement is bitter, but factual. One statement – many of its various shades have reached a stage of becoming able custodians of the interests of the previously declared enemies of the toiling masses – is hard to swallow for some. But, is it possible to deny the fact that T G Jacob presents? An objective analysis with a class point of view will say: Jacob’s utterance is undeniable.

Clock doesn’t work

However, the time-analogy – almost ninety years, or four generations old – demands reassessment. Ninety or hundred years or four or seven generations isn’t the measuring machine or micrometer to appraise social developments within society and economy; and developments in class struggle move neither in linear nor in circular motion; and momentum in actions by a certain class or classes doesn’t always move with same and equal speed in all phases of historical development or in certain part of a certain historical phase. Consider the revolts/revolutions of 1830 or 1840 in a number of countries/areas including Brussels, Brunswick, Warsaw, Saxony, Modena, Parma, France, Hungary, Italy, the Austrian and German lands. Or, consider the revolutions the bourgeoisie had to organize and seize political power in countries – time span of those. In countries, the bourgeoisie had to organize more than one revolution, and those periods spanned for generations. Similar is the issue of the rise of the slave-owning mode of production in place of the primitive communal mode of production, or the replacement of the slave-owning mode of production by the feudal mode of production – the time each of the systems required to gain dominance/power/control. Or, consider the time the working classes in Germany or the United States or the United Kingdom have already passed to organizing a successful charge on the bastion of capitalism/imperialism. So, the submission: advances/successes in working classes’ political struggle or struggle for political power isn’t measured only in term of a time frame.                         

His “[t]he trickledown effect to the imperialist metropolitan working class becomes by implication a valid reason why the predictions of Marx and Engels failed” (ibid.) needs re-examination, as this issue of “failure” has already been shown in a number of discussions that Marx’s statement regarding the so-called failure has been/is misinterpreted.

Different theories and practices

There’s another problem with the statement: “Both these two major ‘communist revolutions’ of the last century did not conform in any fundamental manner to the kind of revolution that was predicted by the classical theoreticians of socialism and communism. These major revolutions of the 20th century were violent, a common feature of both. They were revolutions that overthrew one ruling system to be replaced by another without having much to do with the classical formulations of socialist revolutions. Otherwise, they were different in theory and practice.”

That’s – the “did not conform” – is the creativity of Marxism-Leninism or the approach dialectical materialism follows in case of socio-economic formation. Otherwise, the revolution project would have failed in 1917-Russia and in 1949-China. Marxism-Leninism doesn’t go for dogma. While the Communist movement in India is being criticized that a “dependency syndrome has got woven into the collective communist psyche in India” (“Introduction”), then, what’s problem with the Communists in China under the leadership of Mao as they didn’t follow the path the Proletarian Revolution followed in Russia or the approach assumed correct for Germany? Were not there leaders in China who blindly followed the Russian revolutionary path, and brought debacle on the Communist Party of China (CPC)? The debacle, CPC membership reduced to four-fifths – to 10,000, pressed the CPC to a general retreat named the Long March. It was Mao who devised a line for revolution in China, and led the retreat to a victory march.

T G Jacob’s “study […] proves through a historical analysis” the way “dogmatism has played a determining role in landing the communist movement in the country to where it now is.” His observation: “In its own way the different shades of the existing communist movement — ranging from what is known as the official parliamentary left to the militant non-parliamentary left organisations, which believe in and practise the theory of the armed overthrow of the existing social and political system — all of them have been plagued by the curse of dogmatism throughout their history.” All concerned will examine the observation.

The chapter “An approach to the Communist movement” presents a brief overview of the Communist movement, from Marx to Mao, and then, Deng, with a number of critical observations. His claim – “Marxists and the so-called Marxist ideology have nothing much to do with any of the world-wide movements like environmentalism, feminism, and religio-ethnocentric movements” – demands review, as Marxists-Leninists in countries are not only getting involved with/organizing movements related to environment, women rights, etc.; they are also analyzing the issues with a scientific approach. They are pulling out the issues from narrow mechanical and bourgeois pipe dream, and presenting these with all their connections and aspects. Already there’s a huge Marxist literature on the issues.  

Role abdicated

India is the focus of the book, a case study. The second chapter – “The Communist movement in India and the Third International” – focuses on the International and origin of the Communist Party of India (CPI). His comment – “Though the policy decisions of the Comintern impacted in a negative manner on the communist movement in the country it by no means implies that the Comintern was solely responsible for the fiascos. The leadership of the CPI was equally, if not at times more, responsible. This is so because the CPI leadership as the politically most advanced contingent abdicated its responsibility of taking up a leading role in the anti-imperialist struggle in the specific concrete conditions existing [in India] […]” – can’t be brushed out. Rather, this abdication of leadership role and its consequent price are to be admitted. This chapter makes its position strong by drawing examples from Algeria, Greece and Vietnam. T G Jacob clearly states: “[T]he CPI carries the primary responsibility for uncritically working for the sectarian interests of the Soviet state and party […]” (“The Communist movement in India and the Third International”)


“Telangana and the half-baked split”, the third chapter of the book, covers the issue in the following manner: i) programmatic positions of CPI in its formative period, ii) Telangana – a ‘line struggle’ that was patched up, iii) background to the withdrawal of armed partisan struggle, and iv) political repercussions of the Telangana Uprising.

Rich with information on the issues covered the chapter concludes in the following way: “[T]he Telangana upsurge failed because of the dominant class and caste character of the leadership.” He sharpens tongue: “Pointing out technical reasons for the abject failure is nothing but intellectual imbecility and chicanery.”

He clearly states:

The Telangana struggle “was an organically evolved people’s upsurge against cultural, economic and political slavery of the toiling people in an area of hills, forests, valleys and plains. Though objective factors gave rise to many other upsurges during the same period, Telangana could develop to a higher stage the art of protest and resistance mainly because tribal communities such as the Koyas, Lambadis and Chenchus entered the fighting ranks facing the worst wrath of the military police. It was a struggle to re-establish the dignity of the vast majority of people […]”  


“The withdrawal of the Telangana struggle certainly did not mean an end to struggles of broadly similar nature in later days. This shows that the idea represented by Telangana and the objective contradictions that produced it still exist in large parts of the country, but not necessarily as a linear extension. In fact, newer and more complex contradictions have emerged in the rural plains, hinterlands and urban ghettos.”

The chapter carries more relevant information on Telangana than A History of Indian Freedom Struggle by E M S Naboodiripad.

Class war

The chapter “A full-blown split in 1967” (chapter IV) tells about the Spring Thunder Over India:

“Naxalbari was certainly not a spontaneous development. It was a planned peasant insurrection with a theoretical backing that was generated much before the actual uprising. Charu Mazumdar had already written and published his Eight Documents, which became the theoretical basis of not only Naxalbari, but all the major uprisings of the peasantry that followed it including in Srikakulam. The revolutionary nucleus in Darjeeling district in West Bengal was intensely debating these documents for two years before the actual outbreak.”

It adds on the Naxalbari Thunder:

“The uprising was taken very seriously by the central government, which already had the experience of the five-year long Telangana Uprising. The military-strategic importance of Darjeeling goes without saying. [….] The very idea of Maoists establishing power at the local level was considered a sure recipe for wider civil war in the whole region with every possibility of ushering in new power equations.”    

He points to wider implication and significance of the historic struggle:

“Naxalbari was effectively becoming a polarising point for the radical leftist political forces on an all-India level. And this was happening not only in West Bengal and other parts of India, but also in other parts of the subcontinent, especially in Nepal and Bangladesh (then East Pakistan/ East Bengal). In India, the communist movement, for the first time in its long history, faced a clear-cut programme-based split. Naxalbari heralded it and therefore its tremendous historical significance in the context of the overall leftist movement and Indian politics. This is its essential difference with Telangana. Like Telangana it was an organically evolved struggle reaching the stage of armed struggle through a process. The issues were also fundamentally the same despite a gap of two decades, but its impact was much broader and deeper. Telangana took a pretty long time to result in a half-baked split, but Naxalbari resulted in radical programmatic polarisation without much lapse of time. This owed a lot to the nature of the split itself; it was a thoroughgoing programme-based one involving distinct departures in the strategy and tactics of revolution. Telangana had not pushed things that far because the conscious elements leading it had no clear formulations concerning a radically different programme, though the uprising itself was a clear statement of a different programmatic outlook.”


“Naxalbari was a class war [….] Naxalbari was a logical culmination of the acute agrarian contradictions deeply rooted in well-defined objective parameters, and when the party that was advocating radical changes in land relations itself took the role of custodian of the backward land relations, which it was supposed to destroy, rebellion became inevitable. Because the rebellion had no serious element of compromise, it could escalate to other parts of the country where similar, not necessarily exactly the same, agrarian relations were predominant.”

A number of scholars march through the road of condemning the Naxalbari Thunder by beginning with tactical errors and a few blunders of the Naxalbari Uprising, and ignore the struggle’s historical and strategic significance, snub the struggle’s role in the perspective of the concerned people’s political development and political struggle for an exploitation-free society. It’s a treacherous approach, which T G Jacob avoids. Tactical errors/mistakes should be discussed, and even, condemned. But, strategic significance in the perspective of a people’s struggle should neither be ignored nor be snubbed.


On Srikakulam, an “arena for revolutionary peasant activity during the period 1968-71”, he writes: “The total area and population covered by this [Srikakulam] uprising was much larger than the pioneering one in Darjeeling. Unlike the Naxalbari Uprising, which lasted for only six months, the Srikakulam Uprising continued for three years during which a dual system of political power functioned. Only with the utmost ferocity of combined police and paramilitary forces representing two States and the Centre this movement could be subdued. There were widespread expectations that Srikakulam might emerge as a base area on par with Yenan of China, a higher stage of a guerrilla zone.”

T G Jacob mentions limitations and errors of these struggles, and adds:

“If Naxalbari was the pioneer of the new movement, Srikakulam brought out the overall plan of the Maoists and a more mature demonstration of what they believed in. The overall plan was nothing less than capture of political power by building up guerrilla zones from where the class enemies will be eliminated. [….] Although Charu Mazumdar visualised the liberation of the whole country during the 1970s itself, the entire process of people’s democratic revolution in classical Maoist parlance was considered as a long-drawnout one. [….] In short, this whole period of struggle was considered extremely fluid characterized by changing tactical moves according to the nature of offensive by the forces of the status quo. [….] Srikakulam, with all its differences in details, was essentially a larger edition of Naxalbari with no serious differences in political programme and strategy. The catalysing role of Naxalbari was unmistakable. Not just in Srikakulam, but in all other areas of similar class structure where agrarian rebellion was initiated by the Maoists this catalysing role was greatly influential. [….] Even while the Srikakulam Uprising was going on, other areas had opened up in Bihar, UP and West Bengal as guerrilla zones. [….] The very fact that the suppression of Naxalbari had only led to the spread of the movement was in itself sufficient reason for the state to finish off the Srikakulam Uprising by all means, and this was exactly what it did. The model of suppression that was a success in Telangana was universalised to deal with all similar peasant uprisings. While the CPI leadership had sabotaged the struggle in Telangana from within, the CPI (M) effectively played the role of active state agents in Naxalbari.”

He discusses the Bhoodan Andolon (BA), a “movement” to “inspire/encourage” big landholders to part away a part of land, led by Jayaprakash Narayan, and role of a section of revolutionary politics. The BA, originally initiated by Acharya Vinoba Bhave years ago, didn’t succeed. The militant peasants struggles/mass or squad actions in Lakhimpur-Kheri of Uttar Pradesh, Ganjam and Koraput districts of Orissa, Mayurbanj, Sundergarh, Goalpara in Assam have also been discussed; and these have been summarized as “[a]ll the struggles enumerated above, including Naxalbari and Srikakulam, had one prominent common feature. This was the agrarian nature of the rebellion. […] [T]he situation in all these areas more or less fitted the semi-feudalism thesis advanced by the leadership of Naxalbari. Only in Orissa there was any significant working class participation, but this was also geared to the promotion of anti-feudal struggle. The student participation in Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, too, was oriented towards the same end. This does not mean that the external situation was exactly the same in all these struggle areas, but the similarities were stronger than the divergences.”

The chapter also focuses on struggles in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Punjab, and in numerous other places all over the country, which were led/organized by followers of Mao-thought/the Naxalbari Thunder.

The discussions on the struggles mentioned in the chapter help grasp a wider picture of the time that has been documented in the first volume of the Naxalbari and After, A Frontier Anthology (ed. Samar Sen, Debabrata Panda and Ashish Lahiri, Kathashilpa, Calcutta [Kolkata], 1978).     


The chapter spends special attention to Kolkata in 1971 – “‘Calcutta 71’: the Urban Face of Maoism”, as it has been identified, and says:

The urban component of the movement in “the Calcutta of the early 1970s stands out as something incongruous and programmatically unanticipated.”


“By mid-1970 Calcutta had emerged as a tinder box with a large number of Maoist youth without any clear urban programme of action.”


“The urban organisational levels of the Maoists lacked the integrity of their rural counterpart which itself was crumbling. These organisational lacunae became more and more explicit in the face of infiltration into the ranks of the Maoists by organs of the state as well as lumpen elements in the course of time.”


“The composition of the Maoists in Calcutta underwent a temporary change with the involvement of workers from the industrial areas of Calcutta, Howrah and Durgapur during mid-1970. Symbolic of expropriating the capitalists they hoisted red flags on some factories, which led to widespread alarm. Potentially, such a development was viewed as a very dangerous turn and the counter actions by the combined force of West Bengal police, Central Reserve Police and Border Security Force gained momentum resulting in shootings, indiscriminate arrests and widespread torture, and well-organised, massive raids on rebel hideouts. To cut off the active rebels from any sympathetic support base, detentions and torture became sweeping. It was at this point that the Calcutta district committee of CPI (M-L) directed the Maoist youth to form guerrilla squads, launch retaliatory attacks on the police and snatch weapons from them. Thus urban guerrillas made their appearance in Calcutta. Maoist squads staged several surprise attacks on the police killing 12 policemen and injuring more than 300 within a period of a few months at the end of 1970. A sort of war situation came into being in Calcutta at the end of 1970. Gun snatching became regular news and routine education came to a standstill.”

These are tales that, instead of condemnation, still demand in-depth analysis with class point of view. Class composition, class awareness, and political maturity are basic factors that should be considered.

Did not die

The fifth chapter – “Maoism in India – The new phase” – identifies the political movement in the following way:

“A movement that works outside the Constitution, not recognising the legislative, executive, judicial and social management system as legitimate, resorting to armed violence to overthrow it is certainly an open challenge to the ruling system and its class basis. This was in essence the Naxalite movement and its political actions were clearly based on its understanding and evaluation of the class structure with its contradictory poles.” 

Then, the chapter shows the state’s position:

“The Indian state understood this not very new phenomenon in a twodimensional perspective. On the most primary level, it understood this political violence as a serious challenge to the status quo of balance/ imbalance of class forces and hence the utmost ferociousness of its counter-attacks, which were purely and simply meant to annihilate the challenge posed. [….] It was a case of war to the finish, nothing less than that. Anything could be done to eliminate those who do not swear by the Constitution and live accordingly. The situation has continued to be the same even after four decades.”

The chapter goes back to the movement, as it says: “What is notable is that as an ideological force this movement sustained and grew.”

 T G Jacob mentions, in summary form, errors/reasons behind failures of the movement during the 1967-’75 period, which have been identified by a number of participants of the movement/researchers: i) dogmatic approaches to organisation building resulting in organisational lacunae; ii) theoretical immaturity and errors; iii) over-centralisation of decision-making regarding the strategy without having a corresponding organisational structure; iv) wrong strategy imposed from above; and v) universalisation of a specific strategy discounting the grossly uneven conditions actually existing in a complex environment and a whole host of other related aspects. The author adds his observations:

“Many of these criticisms came from within the ranks of the Maoists themselves in their attempts to fathom the fiasco for the purpose of reorganising the movement; others came from professional analysts and academics. All these discussions from diverse corners made it clear that, though one or the other reason may have relatively more weight, it was the combination of a plethora of reasons that precipitated the ultimate outcome. The most conspicuous strand is the ease with which the complexity of the given social reality was reduced to a simple universalised formula on the basis of which the entire strategy was formulated and implemented. Moreover, nobody had to rack his brains to arrive at this formula. It was a pre-existing theorisation of the Chinese experience from the early 1930s to the late 1940s. Analysis of the Classes in Chinese Society, along with On Contradiction by Mao and Lin Piao’s writings on guerrilla war formed the theoretical basis of the Indian Maoists. How far these theoretical writings were applicable to the Indian situation, or how creatively they were adapted to the Indian context, continues to beg an answer. Unfortunately, none of the many analyses on the Maoist movement in India gives a comprehensively realistic answer.”

Then, he adds:

“The fact remains that the Maoist movement did not die out; this was not because there was any lack of efforts by the powerful status quo protected by the tremendous military, political and economic resources of a centralised state and State governments […] As is manifestly clear from the developments of the last many years, the Maoist movement presently covers a much larger area and involves a much larger number of people. The scale of Maoist operations have altered significantly to the advantage, though it may be temporary, of the Maoists. What this shows is that though organisationally it could be crushed in its first phase, ideologically it remained alive, and regrouping proved very much possible on even the limited ideological basis. Actually to call it ‘regrouping’ may not be correct because a different generation is now spearheading the upsurge.”

This is about the ongoing trajectory of the political movement of the people, of the exploiting classes for a radical change of the mode of production, for smashing down of tools of exploitation, for a humane world to replace a socio-economic-political system, which is not only exploitative, but has also turned irrational and irrelevant to human existence.

These observations help understand observations Suniti Kumar Ghosh, a leading politician of the radical left and editor of Liberation, organ of the CPI (M-L), makes in his Naxalbari Before and After: Reminiscences and Appraisal (New Age Publishers, New Delhi, 2009).         

T G Jacob discusses nationality, caste, environment, etc. issues in chapter six. This chapter critically, and in detail, discusses position/role of the then-CPI leadership on the nationality question. The case the chapter presents is rich with information and substantiated with documentary evidence. This is absent in a number of scholarly works.

Left to Right, Decline of Communism in India

by T.G. Jacob

First Published in July 2012

Published by Empower India Press 2/1A, Jungpura A, First Floor, Near Ram Tent House New Delhi – 110 014

Note: This is a two-part review.


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