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The Struggle for India's Future (Part Three of Three Part Series)

 

Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation general secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya addresses a mass rally.

 

By Paul Le Blanc 

 

[This article was inspired by a recent tour of India, in the summer of 2015.  It is the conclusion to an exploration initiated in two previous articles: “India Yesterday: Development and Revolution” and “India Today”.]

 

In two previous contributions on India, I have explored the history of its development, including the great revolution which resulted in its independence, and also the nature and problems of capitalist development in that country more or less up to the present time. What is presented here is necessarily more fragmentary and tentative, and should be seen more as notes than as any kind of complete report or finished analysis.

 

The complex realities of the Indian Left have been touched on in more than one capable and knowledgeable account.[1]  Here I shall restrict myself, for the most part, to conveying explanations from good comrades on the scene, and to describing several things that I was able to see for myself on a half-month speaking tour in June 2015.

 

Radical Socialist

 

The group Radical Socialist (RS) was primarily responsible for my visit to India, which allowed me to meet many new friends (and a few old ones), to give presentations on Leninism (still a very popular topic, it seems, among many Indian activists), and to participate in multiple conversations and discussions.  The initial explanations of the Indian Left came from several of these comrades, so I should first give a sense of the group that they belong to – which may be the smallest of those I encountered.

 

Radical Socialist is the relatively new incarnation of an earlier group that had been committed to the revolutionary Marxist politics – initially representing an effort to establish what was envisioned as a Leninist-Trotskyist party that would assume mass proportions. This effort collapsed, forcing comrades to re-think their project.  RS now sees itself as helping create preconditions that would allow for the future crystallization of a revolutionary party.  This would involve activists from a number of existing left groups (including RS), as well as activists not yet members of any revolutionary group.  Joint work where possible, combined with substantial educational efforts, and practical political struggles (in trade unions and social movements) are seen as furthering this goal.

 

The membership of RS is small – in Calcutta and West Bengal, in Gujarat, in Delhi, perhaps fifty altogether.   RS comrades have worked as organizers, advisors, and technical aides in unions numbering in the tens of thousands, and because of good, consistent work and a complete lack of sectarianism, have generated great trust, resulting considerable political influence.  This is especially the case among workers laboring in the extensive tea gardens.  RS is also seen as a positive, trustworthy force among Marxist intellectuals and among a diverse number of groups on India’s Left. 

 

RS comrades have played a central role in the creation and development of the Society for Marxist Studies (SMS), which provides a Marxist perspective on various issues having to do with theory and practice, with a target audience of activists and serious young scholars who position themselves within the broad Marxist tradition.  Central figures in the SMS include prominent Marxist academics (such as Achin Vanaik and Vivek Chibber) and seasoned practical activists.

 

Having no affiliation to any specific party or group, with a reputation for being completely open and non-sectarian, the SMS has been able to operate the Marxist School in Dehra Dun, over the past three years, which draws approximately 30 students for several days, each year, coming from different political streams spread across India – to develop themselves and also to develop contact and comradeship with others. Other commitments forced me to arrive at the School two days late.  During my initial session, when I penciled a note – “who are they?” – regarding the 30-some participants, a comrade responded: “1) students/youth referred by political parties, 2) retired people interested in Marxism, 3) Marxist-Leninists/Stalinists/Maoists exploring for a party.”  There was certainly an age and political diversity here, as well as a good number of articulate women, a significant degree of sophistication and openness. 

 

            One of the more argumentative, though also down-to-earth participants, with opinions worth listening to, was a cadre from the CPI (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation.  There were several young activists from New Socialist Initiative group – which I am told has a following especially among university-age youth – which puts out a popular magazine called Critique (in Hindi and English).  The issue I purchased has information on struggles in various parts of India, but also in the United States, Mexico, and China; its articles deal with anti-racism, gay rights, women’s rights, public art, environmental issues, and the class struggle.  One of the older participants was a seasoned and very thoughtful left-wing journalist.  Another was a gentle man, with beard and hair the color of snow and a voice that became powerful when he recited a revolutionary poem for us.  He made a point of coming up to me, sitting down, and describing to me, face-to-face, the educational work that he does among impoverished young boys in his rural area – systematically, for free: taking them seriously, helping them prepare for examinations, also helping them learn various skills, and to understand the world from the standpoint of scientific socialism.  Also impressing me most favorably were couple of outstanding young RS comrades, plus other young participants (including U.S.-Indian students, one involved with a very substantial journal on South Asia called Himāl).

 

            RS comrades explained the contours of the Indian Left roughly along the following lines. 

 

The Communist Party of India (CPI), crystallizing in the 1920s, very much under the sway of the Stalin regime in the USSR.  It played a central role in Indian politics during the colonial period and in the post-colonial period, a keystone of the labor movement, and exercising a decisive electoral role in certain areas.  Its incredible Stalinist sectarianism in the late 1920s and early 1930s was reversed by the Popular Front orientation in the later 1930s, and it gained significant influence (although it got into the habit of “looking over its shoulder” to stay aligned with the bourgeois nationalists of Congress).  Its influence was largely shattered when (under the domination of Stalinist pro-war policies) it absolutely opposed the immensely popular “Quit India” struggle initiated in 1942 by Gandhi and Congress.  Its consequent reputation as being “pro-British” was partially reversed after 1945, when it played a militant role in workers’ and peasants’ movements in the final stage of the independence struggle, and then in the early post-independence period.  Elections it won in two states, West Bengal and Kerala, were overturned by “emergency measures” of the Congress government.  Communist governments were eventually be allowed to take office in the two states after making it clear there would be no efforts to move popular struggles into collision and “final conflict” with capitalism.

 

Under the impact of the growing Sino-Soviet split, as well as military border disputes between India and China, there was, in 1964, a split in the CPI, giving rise to the Communist Party of India (Marxist) – CPI (M).  A key factor was non-ideological – growing tensions between the CPI “old guard” and newer levels of cadres associated with the mass organizations, trade unions, and parliamentary bloc. The CPI (M), in turn, underwent a split in 1967 when members more closely aligned with Maoism and the Chinese Communist Party broke away to establish the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist).  Nonetheless, the CPI (M) has become the largest party on the Indian Left.  It has profound influence in the trade unions, has significant representation in parliament, often controls the governments of two states – West Bengal in the Northeast and Kerala in the Southwest.  It enjoys considerable influence in India’s intellectual life.

 

            RS comrades, and many others on the Indian Left, emphasize that both the old CPI and the newer CPI (M) long ago ceased to revolutionary forces – utterly compromised not only by residual Stalinism but even more by a thoroughgoing reformism, interpreting “political relevance” as involving far-reaching compromises with the forces of the capitalist status quo. 

 

The Indian Maoists had largely been engaged in armed struggle against the Indian government.  Its militants are often referred to as Naxalites (referring to an area in West Bengal where they had strength).  The insurgency was repressed in the early 1970s, and the new CPI (Marxist-Leninist) soon shattered into innumerable mutually hostile factions, most of them fairly small.  Out of the fragmented milieu, however, there emerged the substantial Communist Party of India (Maoist), formed 2004, still dedicated waging “people’s war.”

 

Among the remaining fragments of the CPI (Marxist-Leninist), one of the most substantial is the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation, the name referring to the party’s newspaper.  It is focused on building mass worker and peasant struggles within the framework of legality, well to the left of the CPI and CPI (Marxist).  This orientation corresponds to that of most of the Marxist-Leninist fragments – so that all of them are commonly referred to as the “Marxist-Leninists.”  This is in contrast to those in CPI (Maoist), engaged in armed struggle, which are (because they put Maoist into their group’s name) commonly tagged “the Maoists.”  The Maoists are seen by most others on the left as irrelevant to real struggles of the workers and oppressed. Nonetheless, in terms of official “national internal threat” to Indian state, “Terrorism” and “Maoism” top the list.  Every policing, investigating, military, intelligence, surveillance or combat institution of the Indian state, whether in the central government or at province level, has an anti-Maoist unit headed by the most senior bureaucrats and technocrats.

 

The CPI (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation has a base consisting of several thousand workers and peasants, particularly in the province of Bihar in the east.  In the rest of the country it is more marginal, although it has built up a significant student following (for example, the dominant influence in the Student Union at Jawaharlal Nehru University).  Several other M-L groups have greater trade union or parliamentary strength, but are dogmatic, sectarian, less assertive, and fast declining. CPI (M-L) Liberation is seen by RS comrades as more open and dynamic, and also tending to work effectively and well with others.  Another, CPI (M-L) Red Flag was also mentioned for its somewhat positive qualities.

 

The relative strength of different segments of the Indian Left runs roughly as follows. CPI (Marxist) is larger than the CPI, but the latter has retained a larger trade union base.  Both are among the top six political parties in the country (based on parliamentary strength) and constitute a definite and long-standing political force.  The CPI (Maoist) is impossible to count, given its underground nature, but has claimed control of significant swathes of rural territory. Then there is the myriad of Marxist-Leninist groups, and then some small independent Marxist entities (including RS).

 

RS comrades feel that the best hope of drawing together cadres capable of building the hoped-for revolutionary party of the future can be found within the healthier elements in Marxist-Leninist milieu, within which there is a considerable amount of questioning, openness, and rethinking.  In practical struggles against exploitation, oppression, corruption, etc., and also in Marxist educational efforts, there seem to be growing opportunities for joint work with such elements.

 

The logic of the RS comrades’ approach seemed vindicated not only by what I saw at the Dehra Dun Marxist School.  It was also evident from the public meeting they organized in Kolkata (Calcutta).  This included a diverse number of elements from the Indian Left – from the sophisticated Marxist scholar Sobhanlal Datta Gupta, to the aging working-class militants of the Revolutionary Socialist Party (with a history going back to the 1930s) in whose spacious meeting hall we met, to the younger militants of RS and of groups associated with the M-L tradition.  

 

What I Didn’t See in Guwahati . . . and What I Did

 

Guwahati is located in the state of Assam in the country’s far northeast corner, near Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar (Burma), and Tibet.  As this geographical information suggests, Assam has an unusual ethnic and cultural diversity, distant from the Indian mainstream, with many not buying into the notion of Indian citizenship. 

 

As befits the crossroads qualities of a port city and transportation center, Guwahati embedded in rural Assam constitutes “uneven and combined development” par excellence.  We see tribal-communal characteristics, combining hunting and gathering with subsistence agriculture, and capitalist agriculture in the form of tea plantations, as well as cement and plywood production, plus portions of the state-owned oil industry.  According to one knowledgeable participant-observer, classes are still in a process of development in this fluid context, with the bourgeoisie tending to come from outside, and much of the would-be working class also going outside, in search of industrial jobs in other Indian regions.  And then, of course, there is Guahati University, founded in 1948 and bringing a dramatically different element into the mix.  Guwahati – one of the fastest growing cities in India, growing from 200,000 in 1971 to more than 1.6 million today – dramatizes the explosively complex realities. 

 

Such a context has generated innumerable and sometimes violent protests of various types, but within recent years one of the most focused elements at the protests has been a charismatic and very energetic figure named Akhil Gogoi.  He began as a student activist, veered close to a current in Maoist-oriented Marxist-Leninist movement, then pulled away to mobilize mass struggles for social and economic justice through the creation of a mass left-wing peasant organization, Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS).  Now in his mid-30s, Gogoi was recipient of the 2007 Shanmugam Manjunath Integrity Award for his relentless fight against corruption, and the 2010 Right to Information (RTI) Award by Public Cause Research Foundation (PCRF). 

 

Gogoi has earned not only awards but seemingly never-ending harassment from the authorities because of his activities. In addition to the anti-corruption struggle and his wide-ranging defense of human rights, he has been involved in building peasant cooperatives, and building a state-wide movement against construction of big dams in this ecologically sensitive region.  When authorities sought to discredit him by accusing him of ties with the CPI (Maoist), Gogoi responded: "I am a Marxist and I do believe in social transformation.  But I am not a Maoist. They don't believe in mass activities. We at KMSS are trying to organize the masses for radical change.”[2]

 

I had planned to attend a protest rally that Gogoi and his comrades were organizing against corruption (also on the anniversary of violent police repression of a 2011 demonstration).  It was anticipated that there would be as many as 20,000 in attendance.  But it was not to be.  Gogoi and one of the other key organizers were arrested, the rally was banned, and yet a massive illegal protest took place anyway.  After a moment of uncertainty, it was wisely decided that my foreign status required that I be kept far from the scene.  Afterward there were word-of-mouth accounts of clashes between the authorities and the protestors, with pictures of government vehicles in flames creeping into the news media that seemed largely silent on these developments.  Several days later, Gogoi and his comrade were released – yet three days after my departure from India there were further protests, violently attacked by the police, and Gogoi was yet again in jail. [3]

 

            Unable, while there, to connect with Gogoi and the KMSS, I was able to give a presentation, “Globalization and Struggles for Liberation: Marxist and Historical Perspectives,” at a Guahati University student/faculty meeting. The talk began with an outline of Marxism, defining capitalism and socialism, and the strategic pathway Marx sketched from one to the other.  Describing Rosa Luxemburg’s discussion of the destructiveness of the capital accumulation process, I then touched on the disagreement she had with Lenin on the national question.  While Luxemburg, as an internationalist, was inclined to reject nationalism across the board, Lenin championed struggles of the oppressed nationalities, and in doing this he linked struggles for democratic rights with struggles for socialism.  Drawing from the history of the U.S. civil rights movement of the 1960s, I noted that Martin Luther King and other socialists sought to link democratic struggles for racial justice with economic struggles to improve the quality of life of all working people.  They fought for an end to unemployment and poverty, in part with a proposal for a “Freedom Budget for All Americans,” designed to unite black and white workers in a common struggle.[4]  Pointing to growing global inequality today, I spoke of the need to learn from the past to struggle for a better future.  This means reaching out to involve more and more people in mass protests, developing programs and parties that would link effective struggles for improvements today (reforms) with struggles for a socialist democracy (revolution).  It seemed to me that this might have a resonance in India, especially in Assam, as well as in the United States. The talk was followed by an animated discussion. 

 

Comrades at Bangalore

 

Located in the southwest, Bangalore is an incredibly dynamic, relatively prosperous and modern city, embedded (as is true for Indian cities in general) within a sizeable rural area – in this case the state of Karnataka.  A two-day conference (June 24-25) was organized around presentations I was to give on Leninism and revolutionary strategy. The most prominent sponsor appears to have been Sinchana Prakashan.  This is associated with a new group which has utilized the name Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP).  It represents a split in the state of Karnataka, from CPI (Maoist).  Centrally involved in running the conference were two outstanding comrades – a man and woman who seemed to me in their forties or fifties – each with a sharp intelligence and gentle manner, highly capable organizers.

 

Upon arrival, I was overwhelmed by the sense of being embraced in a place where I belonged.  It was like being among family – dedicated revolutionaries, a mix of aging militants and younger militants, joined together to wrestle with vital questions. Yet the main talks to be given at this two-day gathering would be presented by a self-identified Trotskyist, and these were veteran Maoists, for whom Stalin’s Foundations of Leninism has been an essential text.  The comrades were drawn to Mao and Stalin because they saw these two (along with Marx, Engels, and Lenin) as symbols of genuine communism.  Their beliefs were reflected in the vibrant songs they sang.  One was written by written by Faiz Ahmad Faiz (1911-1984), a well-known Indian-Pakistani poet and Marxist:

 

we,

who sweat and toil,

we demand our share of wealth earned by our sweat!

not a mere piece of land, not a country, we demand the whole world!

 

oceans of pearls are here

and mountains of diamonds all this wealth is ours

we demand this entire treasure house..

we who sweat and toil…..

 

“This particular poem, is sung by revolutionary and progressive groups all over India,” one of the singers later wrote to me. “It is translated into almost all Indian languages. It has always been a source of inspiration for all types of activists.”  Another song said these things:

 

this life is burning like the torch of a runner.

the sky is also burning-always red

one light got extinguished, another lit up from the second a third and more…

all the steps are marching towards the goal and the moon is strolling in the garden of the clouds!

 

those who are running in this run of life,

those who tell after standing on death

life is longing for revolution!

Questions after questions are rising and demanding answers for each,

questions are rising, but there is the question of time

whether or not there is time to settle this account

life is longing for revolution!

 

that is why there is blood

that is why there is hope!

 

this life is burning like the torch of a runner.

the sky is also burning- always red

 

 

There were about 30 participants.  Perhaps related to the particular strength in India’s south of matrilineal traditions, the participation of women was substantial, vocal, and strong.  This was particularly illustrated by the diminutive and vibrant woman I mentioned earlier, whose central role in the conference was animated with a spirit of warmth, inclusiveness, and wonderful humor.  Two quite active participants in the conference happened to be RCP leaders Sirimane Nagaraj (a former postal worker with graying hair and beard, who prefers to be called by his last name) and Noor Zilfikar (a former student activist, with thick jet black hair and mustache, whose revolutionary name was Sridhar). Both have just emerged from the underground, and it is worth lingering over them before moving on.

 

Revolutionary Leaders

 

Leaders in the southern Indian state of Karnataka, of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), Nagaraj and Noor made headlines when they openly broke and then emerged from the underground.  Aljazeera’s website announced “India Maoist Group Gives Up Violence” while India’s prestigious daily The Hindu used a quote from Nagaraj as a headline – “I Will Fight for the Oppressed Classes,” elaborating that “ex-naxalite, who surrendered to the police recently, said he . . . will fight democratically for the betterment of the oppressed and suppressed classes.”  The local daily, The Deccan Herald, headlined: “After 10 years in hiding, 2 Maoists surrender: Receive grand welcome in Chikkamagaluru” (the place they turned themselves in), and concluded: “Sirimane Nagaraj’s wife Hemalatha Shenoy and daughter Mallige, along with relatives and friends, were eagerly waiting . . . since morning. After meeting and shaking hands with members of the social movements, Nagaraj gave his wife and daughter a tight embrace. Though no relative of Noor Zulfikar had come, his college-mates and associates were present in large numbers.”  The same paper, four days later, headlined the account of a press conference with “Only Socialism Can Offer Best Democracy: Sirimane Nagaraj.”[5]

 

Not long after, Noor and Nagaraj filmed a lengthy on-line video interview, allowing them to expand upon their experience and their views.[6]  As the interviewer noted, these were not simple party cadres but high-ranking figures, giving weight to their words.

 

“The aspiration that an egalitarian society should oust the ruling exploitative system, which inspired us then, is even stronger and has sunk deeper in our minds,” Nagaraj emphasized.  While speaking of the CPI (Maoist) as an entity “that had nurtured us, that had given us vigor and strength for so long,” he commented that “by 2006 we were faced with a question of whether to be true to the party or to the masses.”  In that year they began to build, with other like-minded comrades, the Revolutionary Communist Party.

 

According to Noor, the first round of inner-party struggle began in 1993, the second in 2003, and the third in 2006.  “I feel the scope of our struggle and the level of our understanding have grown at every stage.”  An initial concern was “the style of work of the leadership,” which seemed too rigid, out of touch with on-the-ground realities.  “The main aspect of the struggle was that we were not building the movement around the needs of the masses, rather we were building the movement to our whim.  The senior leadership felt we should announce a people’s war and launch an armed struggle.”  The Karnataka leadership argued that, instead, “a broad mass movement should be built on the innumerable problems bothering the masses.  That is the need of the hour. Armed struggle is not today’s need.”  By 2006 this had broadened into questions about “India’s Maoist movement as such and not simply at a state (Karnataka) level.  In several other states . . . an attempt to advance the armed struggle was made, but they all faced setbacks.”  

 

The primary problem, Noor argued, was that “the Maoist movement had failed in understanding Indian society.  It has not been able to present a program that suited the realities of this country, to find an appropriate path of struggle.”  Instead of grounding the program “on the objective realities” and “an analysis of the concerned society,” the central leaders embraced “the Chinese path, with a few amendments, of course, but basically the party is following the Chinese model.”  The result included “all these unnecessary sacrifices that were made due to the dogmatic path adopted by the Maoist party without understanding the objective conditions here,” which took the lives of slain revolutionaries away from the revolutionary movement.  “Because all such martyrs were genuine, courageous revolutionaries, they had the potential to contribute much more to the movement, and the fact that all their abilities and commitment went to waste is certainly a big loss.”  He added that “the Maoist leadership should certainly bear responsibility for this,” although the problem was not some form of duplicity but rather “their dogmatic belief that this was the only path to the revolution.”

 

            When the question was posed as to whether Maoism is still relevant, Nagaraj responded: “Maoism is the developed form of Marxism.  It is Marxism-Leninism-Maoism as we say.  Marxism as such cannot become irrelevant, because it shows what the fundamental reason for exploitation in society is and how to eradicate it.  It is left to us to adapt it in our respective countries, our respective societies.”  Noor elaborated on this.  “Making any ideology relevant or irrelevant is in the hands of the people leading the movements,” he argued.  “All pro-people ideologies are always relevant,” and here he made reference to non-Marxists as well (including Buddha and Jesus).  “They become irrelevant when we set out to implement them in a mechanical way, leaving their principles aside and insisting that the details pertaining to a particular period and context apply, as they were written, to the present period, and should be adhered to and implemented verbatim.”  He concluded: “any ideology that does not grow with time becomes irrelevant. . . . If we fail to develop Marx-Lenin-Mao’s teachings to suit our country and time, it becomes irrelevant.”  An aspect of such growth is to draw upon traditions, thinkers and experiences specific to one’s own country, and to combined these with the insights one finds in Marx or Lenin or Mao.  “The Maoist party has failed this, time and again.”    

 

Nagaraj addressed the question of their “returning to democratic” methods, insightfully linking the goals and the strategic orientation of the revolutionary movement:

 

We are really the staunchest proponents of democracy.  We are fighting to establish genuine democracy in society.  Our view is that communism embodies the highest form of democracy. . . . What is being trumpeted here as democracy is not real democracy at all.   Amdedkar [an prominent Dalit, or “untouchable,” intellectual in the radical wing of the Independence movement] himself has said, way back in 1951, that a democracy that does not involve economic and social equality is not real democracy.  We are coming into the democratic mainstream with the firm conviction that genuine democracy can be brought about through people’s movements. . . . The masses have got some measure of democratic rights as a result of their struggles, over generations and centuries, putting forward democratic aspirations. . . . The rulers are compelled to allow these democratic rights and facilities to the people.  Yet they keep trying to restrict these, while people keep striving to save them and expand them.  Our aim is to further expand what democratic opportunities and space people have by strengthening and bringing together these struggles and movements.

 

 

Noor added (again citing Amdedkar)[7] that the twin pillars of democracy are freedom and equality, that in the absence of either genuine democracy will be impossible.

 

Mutual Influence, Not Mutual Ostracism

 

RCP members whom I got to know, including these two leaders, strike me as truly admirable and highly principled revolutionaries.  Also involved was the Indian Institute of Marxist Studies, managed by CPI (M-L) Liberation. A third group is CONCERN, a campus-based student organization (within which various left supporters are active) in Bangalore’s Indian Institute of Science.  Present as well were comrades from New Socialist Initiative, circulating a 45-page manifesto.  The pamphlet’s preface caught much of the spirit I found at this gathering, also permeating other discussions I heard and participated in while in India:

 

The world is a very different place than it was a century ago or even half a century ago.  Revolutionary left has to prepare for this altogether new condition and forge a suitable strategy and a new language.  Lessons and strategies of the previous century, important as they are, will no longer suffice. . . . A revolutionary movement must proceed from actually existing conditions of the present and it must proceed towards building a future that resonates with the claims and the desires of the working people.  The Manifesto is an attempt to address this issue and confront this challenge.  We appeal to you to consider it, criticize it, and improve it. . . .[8]

 

 

On the first day I presented a talk on “The Democratic Methodology of Leninism,” followed by a slide-show presentation on revolutionary organization.  On the second day there was a substantial and more advanced slideshow presentation (broken into two parts) “The United Front and the People’s Front: Understanding Them in Historical Context.”  There was time for lengthy discussions on each day.

 

Some anticipated participants didn’t come because I was known to be a Trotskyist. The discussions were incredibly rich, with questions sometimes sharp and comments sometimes critical, related to issues of Trotsky and Stalin, and also on the degeneration of the Soviet Union, on the place of Maoism and the Chinese Revolution in the issues under discussion, etc.  In my presentations I did not ignore differences between Trotsky and Stalin, but I did not emphasize them – focusing instead on differences between Lenin, the Bolsheviks and the early Comintern on one hand and, on the other hand, what came to be Communist policies and perspectives under Stalin. And there was excellent and searching discussion on a number of matters.  But Stalin/Trotsky was a perhaps unavoidable focal-point in many questions and challenges. 

 

In responding, I said that Stalin, whatever his personal limitations, began as a dedicated and capable Bolshevik comrade who later took wrong paths (socialism in one country, the modernizing but brutal “revolution from above,” extreme authoritarianism).  I emphasized that he was transformed by circumstances and terrible pressures – especially the economic backwardness of Russia and the failure of revolutions that would have rescued revolutionary Russia.  Such circumstances yielded a bureaucratic dictatorship. Without quoting from Trotsky’s Revolution Betrayed, I employed its analysis to describe the degeneration of the Russian Revolution. Drawing from the useful analyses of Pierre Rousset, among other sources[9] (including my knowledge of some of Mao’s writings on people’s war, the bloc of four classes, etc.), I argued that the Chinese Communists led by Mao were dedicated revolutionaries regardless of their formal alignment with Stalin.  Despite giving lip-service to reformist People’s Front formulations (which after 1935 was a requirement for remaining in the world Communist movement), they actually followed a different path.  This was based on the horrific experience of 1927, when they were slaughtered by their pro-capitalist Nationalist allies, and the very obvious, ongoing desire of Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek to destroy them.  They never compromised the hegemony of the Chinese Communist Party in any alliance with bourgeois-nationalist forces, and they maintained a powerful peasant base that was never fully subordinated to capitalist interests – which prevented the Chinese Communists from being slaughtered and, instead, resulted in their victory. 

 

There was genuine interest in what I had to say, and an open approach, with serious give-and-take and a spirit of mutual influence rather than mutual ostracism.  In his concluding remarks, the strong and gentle man who was one of the key organizers of the conference said of those who stayed away that “they were the losers.”  Noting that many were startled when I referred to Stalin as a comrade, he added that “we too should see Trotsky as a comrade.”

 

Concluding Note

 

 “No existing political force can be the nucleus around which a left alternative will be built,” Achin Vanaik has reflected in a recent essay.  “This can only come about through a recomposition and realignment of existing forces, which will inevitably involve splits and fusions as well as accretions from unexpected sources.”  This is a truth that has seemed quite obvious to me in regard to the United States since I wrote Lenin and the Revolutionary Party (which forced me to wrestle with the lessons of how Russian revolutionaries actually accomplished what they accomplished). 

 

My recent experience in India lends plausibility to the validity of Vanaik’s prescription for his own country.  The very next point he makes in his essay stands as a profound challenge to revolutionaries in India as well as the United States: “What this implies is that it is not loyalty to an organization but to a program embodying principled radical positions that is important: the program makes the organization, rather than the other way around.”[10]

 

What is the program, the strategy, that can get us – not rhetorically, but actually – from the “here” of capitalism to the “there” of a socialist future?  As the theory of uneven and combined development might be expected to indicate, the comrades (in all their variety) within a relatively “backward” but incredibly dynamic India may be closer to answering that question than are we who live in the most advanced capitalist power on the planet.  Of course, nothing is guaranteed, and there is much work to be done.

 

 



 

 

[1] Among the more useful sources I have come upon are: K. Damodaran, “The Tragedy of Indian Communism,” The Stalinist Legacy, ed. by Tariq Ali (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2013), 345-373; Harkishan Singh Surjeet, March of the Communist Movement in India: An Introduction to the Documents of the History of the Communist Movement in India (Calcutta: National Book Agency, 1998); Achin Vanaik, “Agencies of Change,” The Painful Transition: Bourgeois Democracy in India (London: Verso, 1990), 177-233; Kunal Chattopadhyay and Soma Marik, “Elections and the Left in India,” International Socialist Review #65, July 2009, http://isreview.org/issue/66/elections-and-left-india (accessed 16/07/2015); Keya Bag, “Red Bengal’s Rise and Fall,” New Left Review #70, July-August 2011, 69-98;  Arundhati Roy, “Walking with the Comrades: Report from Maoist Base Areas in India’s DK Forest,” Outlook Magazine, March 19, 2010; reprinted by Kasama Project, https://mikeely.files.wordpress.com/2010/03/arundhati_roy_walking_with_the_comrades_kasama.pdf; Kunal Chattopadhyay, “The Path of Naxalbari, An Appraisal,” Radical Socialist, 20 September 2010, file:///Users/Paul/Desktop/Indian%20Left/The%20Path%20of%20Naxalbari%20-... (accessed 16/07/2015); Tithi Bhattachrya, “Maoism in the Global South,” International Socialist Review #97, January 2013, http://isreview.org/issue/87/maoism-global-south (accessed 17/07/2015); Thomas Crowley, “The Many Faces of the Indian Left,” Jacobin, May 12, 2014, https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/05/the-many-faces-of-the-indian-left/ (accessed 16/07/2015); Prasenjit Bose, “The Indian Left at a Time of Crisis,” Democratic Governance and Politics of the Left in South Asia, ed. by Subhoranjan Dasgupt (Delhi: Aakar Boos, 2015), 104-120.; Achin Vanaik, “Subcontinental Strategies,” New Left Review 70, July-August 2011, 114-201.

[2] “Who is Akhil Gogoi?” India Today, July 7, 2012, http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/rti-activist-akhil-gogoi-kmss-team-anna-menber/1/204170.html; “RTI Activist Akhil Gogoi, Arrested in Guwahati,” NDTV, June 24, 2011, http://www.ndtv.com/india-news/rti-activist-akhil-gogoi-arrested-in-guwahati-459445; Nilim Dutta, “Was Akhil Gogoi really responsible for the violence and mayhem in Guwahati June 22?” Chanakya’s Neeti, 25 June 2011, https://chanakyasneeti.wordpress.com/2011/06/25/was-akhil-gogoi-really-r... “Akhil Gogoi,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akhil_Gogoi.

[3] http://thenortheasttoday.com/assam-kmss-ultimatum-to-assam-government/; http://thenortheasttoday.com/police-high-handedness-in-guwahati-women-protesters-allegedly-molested/

[4] Paul Le Blanc and Michael Yates, A Freedom Budget for All Americans: Recapturing the Promise of the Civil Rights Movement in the Struggle for Economic Justice Today (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2013).

[5] N. Bhanutej, “India Maoist group gives up violence: breakaway Revolutionary Communist Party says violence is outdated and there is also lot to learn from Gandhian ideology,” Al Jazeera, 20 December 2013,

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2013/12/india-maoist-group-gives-up-violence-2013122065252926752.html; “After 10 years hiding 2 Maoists surrender,” Deccan Herald, 9 December 2014, http://www.deccanherald.com/content/446540/after-10-yrs-hiding-2.html; “I will fight for the oppressed classes,” The Hindu, 13 December 2014; http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/i-will-fight-for-the-oppressed-classes/article6686623.ece; Only Socialism Can Offer Best Democracy: Sirimane Nagaraj,” Deccan Herald, 13 December 2014, http://www.deccanherald.com/content/447310/only-socialism-can-offer-democracy.html (all accessed 17/07/2015).

[6] “An Interview with Noor Zulfikar and Sirimane Nagarj,” Daily Motion, 01/01/2015, http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x2dtrj4_an-interview-with-noor-zulfikar-and-sirimane-nagaraj_news (accessed 17/07/2015).

[7] “B.R. Ambedkar,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B._R._Ambedkar (accessed 17/07/2015).  Also see B.R. Ambedkar, Annihilation of Caste (London: Verso, 2014), which includes and informative introduction by Arundhati Roy.

[8] New Socialist Initiative, A World for the Workers! A Future for the World! (Delhi: Progressive Publishers, 2013), 3-4.

[9] Pierre Rousset, The Chinese Revolution: I. The Second Chinese Revolution and the Shaping of the Maoist Outlook (Amsterdam: International Institute for Research and Education, 1987) http://www.iire.org/images/stories/notebooks/proussetnr2englishfinal.pdf (accessed 17/07/2015); Pierre Rousset, The Chinese Revolution: II. Maoist Project Tested in the Struggle for Power (Amsterdam: International Institute for Research and Education, 1987) http://www.iire.org/images/stories/notebooks/pierre%20rousset%20nr3engli... (accessed 17/07/2015); Pierre Rousset, “People’s Republic of China at 60: 1925-1949 – Origins of the Chinese Revolution,” Links, http://links.org.au/node/1268 (accessed 17/07/2015); Pierre Rousset, “People’s Republic of China at 60: 1949-1969: Maoism and Popular Power,” Links, http://links.org.au/node/1269 (accessed 17/07/2015).  See also: Benjamin I. Schwartz, Chinese Communism and the Rise of Mao (New York: Harper and Row, 1967); Edgar Snow, Red Star Over China (New York: Grove Press, 1994); Nym Wales (Helen Foster Snow), Inside Red China (New York:

DaCapo Press, 1979); The Political Thought of Mao Tse-tung, ed. by Stuart R. Schram (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1969); James Pinckney Harrison, The Long March to Power: A History of the Chinese Communist Party, 1921-72 (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1972).   

[10] Vanaik, “Subcontinental Strategies,” 113.

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