The CPI (M) and stages of revolution

By Dipankar Basu

March 25, 2008 -- This article attempts to throw some light on the following two questions: (1) How does the classical Marxist tradition conceptualise the relationship between the two stages of revolution: democratic and the socialist? (2) Does the democratic revolution lead to deepening and widening capitalism? Is capitalism necessary to develop the productive capacity of a society?

The answer to the first question emerges from the idea of the “revolution of permanence” proposed by Marx in 1850, accepted, extended and enriched by Lenin as “uninterrupted revolution” and simultaneously developed by Trotsky as “permanent revolution”. This theoretical development was brilliantly put into practice by Lenin between the February and October revolutions in Russia in 1917. The answer to the second question emerges clearly from the debates on the national and colonial question in the Second Congress of the Third International in 1920. From this debate what emerges is the idea of the democratic revolution led by the proletariat as the start of the process of non-capitalist path of the development of the productive capacity of society, moving towards the future socialist revolution. Rather than deepening and widening capitalism, the democratic revolution under the proletariat leads society in the opposite direction, in a socialist, i.e., proletarian direction. Promoting capitalism is not necessary for the development of the productive capacity of a country.


This brief historical note has been occasioned by recent attempts to justify the championing of capitalism by a communist party – Communist Party of India (Marxist) – as the vehicle for its industrialization program in West Bengal, India. The justification, which argues for the necessity of capitalism by taking recourse to the distinction between the two stages of revolution, rests on an erroneous reading of international working class theory and practice. While it correctly posits the distinction between the two stages of social revolution, it does so mechanically, formally, and in a one-sided manner; the crucial and related question of the relationship between the two stages is not accorded the attention it deserves. That, in my opinion, is the primary source of error and leads to arguing for the necessity of “deepening and widening” capitalism as against initiating efforts to transcend it.

Such a reformist position is of course not new within the international working class movement; in fact it is strikingly similar in several crucial respects to the Menshevik position in early twentieth century Russia as also to the stance of “social democracy” that developed from Bernstenian “revisionism” in late nineteenth century Germany. This position, moreover, is decidedly not part of the Leninist tradition - the Bolshevik tradition that developed in Russia - or any revolutionary tradition within Marxism; this should be immediately obvious from the enormous theoretical and political effort that Lenin put in combating its deleterious consequences for the historical project of the Russian proletariat.

The issue of the analytical distinction between the two stages of the world-historical revolution has been accepted within the international working class movement, at least of the Marxist variety, for about 150 years. With the publication of the Communist Manifesto, this issue was more or less settled among communists. In pre-revolutionary Russia, this distinction was accepted by all streams of Marxists: the Legal Marxists, the Economists and the Social-Democrats. This distinction was never the bone of contention in the fiery debates in pre-revolutionary Russia between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks. Neither was this distinction a major point of departure in pre-revolutionary China; nor is this distinction the point of debate within the Marxist left in India. Hence, merely positing this distinction anew, a century after it was accepted by the international working class movement, is hardly sufficient for the development of a Marxist theoretical position. Attention needs to be instead focused, in my opinion, on the more important issue of correctly conceptualizing the relationship between the two stages.

It is not merely a recognition of the distinction but the conceptualization of the relationship between the two that distinguishes the various streams of the Left; that is as much true today as it has been historically. I will demonstrate, by a careful reading of the historical development of Marxist theory and practice, that it is the conceptualization of this relationship that has distinguished the revolutionary from the reformist Marxist stream at crucial historical junctures: Marx and Engels from the other socialists during the middle of the 19th century; the Legal Marxists and the Economists from the early Social-Democrats (including the young Lenin) during the last decade of the 19th century in pre-revolutionary Russia; the Mensheviks from the Bolsheviks in later years leading up to and after the October revolution; Lenin (and Trotsky) from the other Bolsheviks between the February and October revolutions.

Before beginning the main story, two clarifications are in order. First, I would like to state more precisely the sense in which the word “revolution” is used, and second, I would like to indicate the two very different senses in which the phrase “social democrat” will be used throughout this paper. Revolution, in this paper, stands for social revolution, a phenomenon which has been defined by Theda Skocpol’s in the following way:

“Social revolutions are rapid, basic transformations of a society’s state and class structures; and they are accompanied and in part carried through by class-based revolts from below… What is unique to social revolution is that basic changes in social structure and in political structure occur together in a mutually reinforcing fashion. And these changes occur through intense socio-political conflicts in which class struggles play a key role.” (Skocpol, 1979)

As Foran (2005) has argued, there are three important characteristics of a social revolution (embedded in the above definition) that needs to be always kept in mind: rapid political change, deep and lasting structural transformation of the economy and active mass participation; whenever I refer to revolution, I will mean the explosive combination of these three elements.

The second point is a terminological clarification regarding the two diametrically opposed use of the phrase “social democrat” in this paper. Social-democrat, with the all important hyphen, will refer to the Marxist revolutionaries in Russia; that is precisely how they referred to themselves and I want to stick to that terminology as well. The hyphen between “social” and “democrat” denotes the indissoluble link between the dual historical tasks of the international proletariat, a theme we will return to constantly throughout this paper. Recall that the first Marxist political party in Russia was called the Russian Social-Democratic Workers Party (RSDWP); though Lenin’s April Theses in 1917 had ended with the proposal to change the name of the RSDWP, it was only in 1918 that the party formally started using the term that Marx had preferred: communist.

Social democrat, without the hyphen, on the other hand will refer to representatives of the reformist trend in the international working class movement: Bernstein and his followers, the later Kautsky, the later Plekhanov and the Mensheviks in Russia certainly but also later day reformist socialists in Europe and Asia. Note, in passing, that social democracy has a long history, especially in Western Europe, and is marked by certain unmistakable characteristics which we can easily discern in our midst even today: legal opposition within a bourgeois parliamentary framework, willingness to ally with sundry bourgeois parties, undue and an over emphasis on the need for reforms within the system, indefinite postponement of decisive struggles, the attempt to “manage” the contradiction between labour and capital rather than to resolve it in the favour of labour, etc. The reformist and the revolutionary streams also differ markedly in their understanding of social revolution: for the reformists, revolution will emerge ready made from the womb of history by its ineluctable laws; the role of human intervention, though formally accepted, is relegated to a secondary position. For revolutionaries like Lenin and the Bolsheviks and Trotsky, on the other hand, revolution has to be first and foremost made by human intervention, mass political action riding on the tide of history.

Marx: From the Manifesto to the Communist League

In the Communist Manifesto published on the eve of a revolutionary wave in Europe in 1848, Marx and Engels had summarized the materialist understanding of historical development. The struggle between social classes was identified as the motor force of historical change, with the victorious class rapidly reorganizing the whole structure of material production accompanied by changes in the political, cultural and ideological spheres of social life. Generalizing from English and French history, Marx and Engels identified two stages in this world-historical movement: the bourgeois-democratic revolution and the proletarian-socialist revolution. The bourgeois revolution, led by the revolutionary bourgeoisie, in alliance with the oppressed peasantry, would overthrow the feudal order and usher in bourgeois capitalism. The development of capitalism would go hand in and with the growth and development (political, social, ideological and technological) of the proletariat, the grave digger of capitalism; in due time, when the productive forces of society had developed to support a higher form of social organization and when the proletariat had become mature and strong politically, it would usher in the socialist revolution and begin the process of the transcendence of class society.

Quite early on Marx had started realizing the limitations of the strict schema of the two stages of revolution (the bourgeois-democratic to be followed by the proletarian-socialist) that he had generalized from English and French history and that he, along with Engels, had so eloquently summarized in the Communist Manifesto. There are two historical reasons which, to our mind, prompted Marx to question this schema. First, the whole generalization referred to a historical period where the proletariat had not yet entered into political stage; if the proletariat were to enter the historical stage even before the completion of the bourgeois-democratic revolution that would change the historical dynamics radically. Second, there might be historical reasons because of which the bourgeoisie of a particular country is “weak” and therefore incapable of and unwilling to lead the democratic revolution to completion; and so in this case, the strict schema presented in the Communist Manifesto would again need modification. With the advantage of hindsight we can see that the modifications that would need to be worked out would specifically relate to two issues: the relationship between the two revolutions and the class-leadership in the democratic stage of the revolution.

A close reading shows that even in the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels had taken care to allow possibilities of different trajectories, than the one they had sketched, in concrete circumstances. For instance, they had explicitly referred to the potential weakness of the German bourgeoisie and therefore hinted at the possibility of the proletariat having to take the responsibility of the democratic revolution. Once the German bourgeoisie had shown it’s true colors in 1848, whereby it regrouped with feudal elements to keep the proletariat in check and thereby aborted the democratic revolution, Marx had started his decisive move away from the schema of the Manifesto. While maintaining the analytical distinction between the two stages, he drew a much closer link between them. This more nuanced position was explicitly brought to the fore in his address to the Central Committee of the Communist League in London in 1850. Drawing lessons from the recent revolutionary upsurge in Europe and looking to the future, he drew attention of the international working class to the essential continuity between the two stages of the revolution, what Lenin would later characterize as the “indissoluble link” between the two revolutions.

“While the democratic petty bourgeois wish to bring the revolution to a conclusion as quickly as possible … it is our interest and task to make the revolution permanent, until all more or less possessing classes have been forced out of their position of dominance, until the proletariat has conquered state power and the association of proletarians, not only in one country but in all the dominant countries of the world, has advanced so far that competition among proletarians of these countries has ceased and that at least the decisive productive forces are concentrated in the hands of the proletarians. For us the issue cannot be the alteration of private property but only its annihilation, not the smoothing over of class antagonisms but the abolition of classes, not the improvement of existing society but the foundation of a new one.” (Marx, 1850)

The two most crucial, and intimately related, ideas that stand out in this speech are the utmost necessity of maintaining the independence of the proletariat vis-a-vis the liberal bourgeoisie and of realizing the continuity of the two revolutions in practice. Arguing for the creation, in all situations and at all costs, of an independent party of the proletariat, Marx had exhorted the proletariat at the same time to aim for the “revolution of permanence”.

“But they [i.e., the proletariat] must do the utmost for their final victory by clarifying their minds as to what their class interests are, by taking up their position as an independent party as soon as possible, and by not allowing themselves to be seduced for a single moment by the hypocritical phrases of the democratic petty bourgeois into refraining from the independent organization of the party of the proletariat. Their battle cry must be: The Revolution of Permanence.” (Marx, 1850)

This remarkable document, in essence, foreshadows much of what emerged as Bolshevism in late nineteenth century Russia. The tight and indissoluble link between the twin tasks of the proletariat (and hence the indissoluble link between the democratic and the socialist revolutions), the utmost importance of maintaining an independent political position of the proletariat, the utter necessity of avoiding tailism in practical politics, themes that were hammered out later by the Bolsheviks in the heat of the Russian revolution are already present in Marx’s speech to the Communist League. It is clear that Lenin’s idea of an “uninterrupted revolution”, a position he stressed in his debates with the reformists in Russia, and Trotsky’s idea of a “permanent revolution” are both derived from this speech of Marx.

Note however that the formulation of the necessity of the “leadership” of the proletariat in the bourgeois-democratic revolution is still not explicitly developed by Marx. Revolutionary social-democrats in Russia, reflecting on and reacting to the specific context of the Russian revolution extended the classical Marxist framework by taking the idea of the class-independence of the proletariat, which is already there in Marx, one step further by arguing for its leadership position in the bourgeois-democratic revolution.

Legal Marxists and Economists: Early Debates in Russia

The origin of the Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik) can be traced back to a relatively little known “conference” of nine men in Minsk in March 1898. Though none of the nine men played any leading role in the subsequent revolutionary history of Russia, the conference did come out with a “manifesto of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers’ Party” as a precursor of later-day party programmes. The manifesto unequivocally accepted Marx’s historical account of the two stages of the future social revolution (as worked out by Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto): bourgeois-democratic and the proletarian-socialist revolution. More important and interesting from our viewpoint, the Minsk conference manifesto went on to argue that the Russian bourgeoisie was incapable of carrying through the bourgeois-democratic revolution to the end and thus identified the young Russian proletariat as the historical agent on whose able shoulders fell the “dual task” of both revolutions: the democratic and the socialist.

When, therefore, the second Congress - the defining congress of the Russian revolution, the birthplace of Bolshevism as a political stream - of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers’ Party (RSDWP) met in 1903 to debate on the party programme, it worked within the framework inaugurated by the conference of 1898. It started with the dual tasks of the Russian proletariat, i.e., the twin tasks of the democratic and the socialist revolution, as an axiom, as a point of departure, as a self-evident historical and political truth; there was no disagreement or debate on this point with the RSDWP. The real debate was on how to define the content of these revolutions and on how to define the relationship between the two; it was the issue of the relationship that was to rend the RSDWP into two factions, the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks. But before looking at that debate, we must spend some time studying the debates that preceded the second Congress, the debates of the young Lenin with the Legal Marxists and the Economists; a study of the early debates is interesting and useful because many of the positions of the Mensheviks were repetitions of either the Economists’ or the Legal Marxists’ discredited positions, positions against which the whole RSDWP had argued during these early years.

Before the RSDWP could consolidate the political-economic tasks of the proletariat concisely in a party programme, it had to successfully argue against three contemporary socialist trends within late-nineteenth century Russia: the Narodniks, the Legal Marxists and the Economists. The theoretical arguments against the Narodniks were largely, and successfully, carried home by Plekhanov, the Father of Russian Marxism; when Lenin did join the fray, he largely repeated Plekhanov’s arguments and marshaled empirical evidence in favour of the general Marxist point about the development of capitalism in Russia. From this he drew an important political conclusion that separated the Social-Democrats from the Narodniks forever: the proletariat and not the peasantry was to be the historical agent of social revolution in Russia. The development of capitalism in Russian agriculture was, according to Lenin, accelerating the class divisions among the peasantry; the peasantry, as a single, homogeneous social entity was rapidly disappearing and so basing a strategy of social revolution on this vanishing social entity was historic folly. The only stable social class that was emerging and strengthening itself with capitalism and whose interests were in contradiction to capitalism was the proletariat; hence, argued Lenin, the only feasible strategy of revolution could be one led by and in the long-term interests of the proletariat.

As to the other two trends, Legal Marxism and Economism, it was Lenin’s energetic intervention and crystal-clear prose that ripped apart their arguments and exposed their utter hollowness. As Lenin remarked several times later in his life, the debate with the Legal Marxists and the Economists foreshadowed the subsequent, fierce and often bitter, debates between the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks. In both debates, as also his debates with the Narodniks, what distinguished Lenin’s position from his opponents was his consistent, unwavering and uncompromising class viewpoint, the viewpoint of the emerging Russian proletariat.

Lenin’s debate with the Legal Marxists and the Economists (rather than with the Narodniks) is more relevant for our current discussion because this debate related directly to the issue of the correct understanding of the relationship between the dual tasks of the proletariat. The tidy schema of revolution worked out by Marx and Engels in the Communist manifesto was a generalization from English and French history, as we have already remarked. It distinguished analytically between the bourgeois and the socialist revolutions and stressed the historical precedence of the former to the latter. We have already seen how Marx himself modified this schema in the concrete context of nineteenth century Germany; the Legal Marxists, on the other hand, stuck to this schema in a most doctrinaire fashion (foreshadowing the whole history of social democracy and reformism) and with disastrous consequences.

Accepting the Marxist distinction between the two revolutions and the historical precedence of one over the other led the Legal Marxists to argue for the reformist path to the transcendence of capitalism. One of it’s leading proponents, Peter Struve, chastised Russian socialists for concerning themselves with fanciful and unrealizable projects of “heaven storming”; he, instead, wanted them to patiently “learn in the school of capitalism”. The echo of that Legal Marxist injunction can still be heard, via Bernstein’s “revisionism” in late-nineteenth Germany, in social democratic circles in India today! This was, of course, an abandonment of the proletarian viewpoint, as Lenin pointed out. The mistake of the Legal Marxists lay precisely in an incorrect understanding of the relationship between the dual tasks of the proletariat. The democratic revolution was not an end in itself, as the Legal Marxists tended to implicitly suggest, but was inseparably tied with it’s twin, the socialist revolution. It is not that the Legal Marxists did not accept the necessity of the socialist revolution; being Marxists, they had to accept it as later-day social democrats did. But this acceptance came with the caveat that the period separating the two revolutions was so large that in essence one could very well forget about the socialist revolution at the moment and instead engage in activities to “learn in the school of capitalism”.

Though the Economists took a different lesson from the neat schema of the Communist Manifesto as compared to the Legal Marxists, they arrived at the same practical conclusions. For the Economists, it was important to draw a sharp distinction between the economic and the political spheres. In their opinion, workers were only concerned with economic issues, issues of wage and work, that directly effected their daily lives; they were not concerned with political issues, issues of political freedom and governance and power. The political sphere, according to the Economists, was the sole preserve of intellectuals; since, moreover, the current conditions called for a bourgeois-democratic revolution, socialist struggles, i.e., struggles for the capture of state power by the proletariat, were pushed into the indefinite future. Juxtaposing a sharp distinction between the economic and the political with their reading of the schema of the Communist Manifesto led the Economists to suggest that socialists should restrict themselves “to support[ing] the economic struggle of the proletariat and to participat[ing] in liberal opposition activity”. What was ruled out was an independent political party of the working class, which axiomatically ruled out revolutionary political activity.

In an early piece on this issue in 1898, Lenin made clear the correct Marxist understanding of the matter and distinguished the social-democrats sharply from the Legal Marxists and the Economists:

“The object of the practical activities of the Social-Democrats is, as is well known, to lead the class struggle of the proletariat and to organize that struggle in both its manifestations: socialist (the fight against the capitalist class aimed at destroying the class system and organizing socialist society), and democratic (the fight against absolutism aimed at winning political liberty in Russia and democratizing the political and social system of Russia). We said as is well known. And indeed, from the very moment they appeared as a separate social-revolutionary trend, the Russian Social-Democrats have always quite definitely indicated this object of their activities, have always emphasized the dual manifestation and content of the class struggle of the proletariat and have always insisted on the inseparable connection between their socialist and democratic tasks — a connection clearly expressed in the name they have adopted.” (Lenin, Collected Works, vol. 2, p. 327)

The inseparability of the dual tasks of the proletariat derives, according to Lenin, from the following two facts: first, the proletariat can only emancipate itself fully, and thereby society, through political liberty. Hence, it supports the struggle for political liberty against absolutism and feudal oppression as its own struggle, as the political bed on which will grow the socialist struggle. This is the reason why the class conscious proletariat supports every revolutionary movement against the present social system, why it supports the struggle of progressive classes against reactionary classes and strata in general. Second, among all the classes and strata fighting for democracy, the proletariat is the only thoroughly consistent, unreserved, staunch and resolute supporter of democracy; it is the only class which is ready to take the fight for democracy to its end, to its natural culmination, to its full completion. Every other class, by its very position within the class structure of society, can only provide qualified support to the struggle for democracy; their democracy is half hearted, it always looks back, as Lenin put it. An understanding of the social-democratic party as “deriving its strength from the combination of socialist and democratic struggle into the single, indivisible class struggle of the … proletariat” remained the hallmark of Bolshevism right through the tumultuous days of the victorious October revolution.

It is this insistence on the uninterruptedness of the twin revolutions that found expression in the Bolshevik formulation of the proletariat as the leader of both the revolutions; and it is the recognition of this historical role of the proletariat that informed the refusal of the Bolsheviks to relinquish the leadership role to the bourgeoisie, to become its political “tail”. It is the same dogged insistence, so strikingly consistent, that led to the split with the Mensheviks in 1903.

Two interesting and important things emerge from these early debates. First, some of the ideas that were to dominate the subsequent debates of the Russian revolution, the ideas moreover that would separate the Bolsheviks from the Mensheviks (the revolutionaries from the reformists) and would separate Lenin (and Trotsky) from the rest of the Bolsheviks between the February and the October revolutions, were introduced within the Russian working-class movement at this juncture. It is these ideas, among others, that would be refined, deepened, enriched and applied with uncanny consistency in the subsequent history of the Russian revolution. Second, that an eclectic, half-hearted, formal and mechanical acceptance of Marxism can be combined with utterly reformist politics came to the fore with rare clarity in Russian history for the first time during these early debates. As later events demonstrated, and continues to demonstrate to this day, formal acceptance of Marxism can often be combined with reformist politics.

A closer reading of international working class history demonstrates that acceptance of Marxism alongside reformist practice is already hidden as a possibility in the formulation of the “dual tasks” of the proletariat. It must be recalled the formulation of the “dual tasks” found its way into the programme of the RSDWP in the distinction between the minimum and the maximum programmes. The minimum programme referred to the set of measures that could be implemented within, and without challenging, a bourgeois democratic setup. Following the Communist Manifesto, these included abolition of private property in land, a progressive income tax, abolition of inheritance, free education for all and other such concrete measures of bourgeois reform. The maximum programme, on the other hand, enshrined revolutionary aspirations, the overthrow of capitalism and the beginning of socialist construction. The distinction between the minimum and maximum programmes thus provided space for reformist politics by a gradual and subtle decoupling of the two programmes and shifting the emphasis on the former.

“One of the unforeseen effects of this division [between the minimum and and maximum programmes] was to attract into social-democratic parties a large body of members who by conviction or temperament were more interested in the minimum than in the maximum programme; and in countries where some of the minimum demands had in fact been realized, and others seemed likely to be realized in the future, through the process of bourgeois democracy, the parties tended more and more to relegate the demands of the maximum programme to the category of remote theoretical aims concentrate party activities on the realization of the minimum programme.” (Carr, 1952, p. 17-18, emphasis added).

Lessons of 1905: Bolsheviks and Mensheviks

Though the dispute between what later came to be known as the Bolsheviks (“the majority”) and the Mensheviks (“the minority”) during the second congress of the RSDWP in 1903 seemed to rest on an issue of party statute, i.e., what should be the qualification for party membership, later events made clear that deeper issues of theory and practice were involved. As the bitter debates following the split in the party were to make clear, the schism in the RSDWP really rested on different ways of understanding the relationship between the dual tasks of the proletariat in concrete, practical terms. This followed quite clearly from the diametrically opposite political lessons the two streams drew from the failed revolution of 1905. The difference can be most clearly seen if we organize the discussion around the following two questions: (1) relationship of the two revolutions, and (2) the role of the peasantry.

The Mensheviks adhered to the cut-and-dried formula about the strict sequence of the two revolutions that they picked up in a doctrinaire fashion from the Communist Manifesto. For the Mensheviks, the bourgeois revolution had to come first and so far the Bolsheviks were in agreement with them. The doctrinaire understanding of the Mensheviks, their intellectual sterility, came to the fore when they went on, from this correct premise, to insist that it was “only through the bourgeois revolution that capitalism could receive its full development in Russia, and, until that development occurred, the Russian proletariat could not become strong enough to initiate and carry out the socialist revolution” (Carr, 1950, p.39). In other words, the two revolutions must be separated by an indefinite period of time during which capitalism needs to develop, flourish, and display its bourgeois magic.

In effect, therefore, the Mensheviks never fully agreed with Lenin’s 1898 formulation of the “indissoluble link” between the two revolutions; in fact their position was a regression even from the position worked out by the first Congress in 1898 in Minsk. That is why they could insist on allowing capitalism in Russia to receive it’s “fullest development” and only then initiating the struggle of the proletariat for socialism. The immediate and practical implication of the Menshevik understanding was what Lenin termed political “tailism”, i.e., allowing the proletariat as-a-class to become an appendage to, a follower of, the bourgeoisie in the democratic revolutionary struggle instead of forcibly usurping the leadership position for itself.

The Menshevik position followed from an incorrect class analysis of Russian society; their chief error was to neglect the emergence of the proletariat on the historical scene and to take the cue from the Marx of the Communist League to re-work the schema of the Manifesto. Thus, on the eve of the revolution, one of their leading spokesmen could say:

“If we take a look at the arena of the struggle in Russia then what do we see? Only two forces: the tsarist autocracy and the liberal bourgeoisie, which is now organized and possesses a huge specific weight. The working mass, however, is atomized and can do nothing; as an independent force we do not exist; and thus our task consists in supporting the second force, the liberal bourgeoisie, and encouraging it and in no case intimidating it by presenting our own independent political demands.” (quoted in Zinoviev, 1923).

This is precisely where Lenin differed sharply from Menshevik class analysis and politics; Lenin’s analysis of the the 1905 revolution started in fact with the recognition of the entrance of the Russian proletariat on the historical scene. From this fact he drew the conclusion that Marx had hinted at in his speech to the Central Committee of the Communist League in 1850: the bourgeoisie was neither willing nor capable of completing the bourgeois-democratic revolution. This was both because it was weak (lacking in independent development) and because it realized that completion of the democratic revolution carried within it the danger of the proletariat’s political ascendancy. Thus, completion of the bourgeois-democratic revolution, as a prelude to the consummation of the socialist revolution, fell on the shoulders of the Russian proletariat. The tight link between the two revolutions, a position that Lenin had already worked out in 1898, was reiterated once again:

“From the democratic revolution we shall begin immediately and within the measure of our strength – the strength of the conscious and organized proletariat – to make the transition to the socialist revolution. We stand for uninterrupted revolution. We shall not stop half way” (Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 9, p. 237)

According to Lenin’s analysis, two important conditions had to be satisfied for the Russian proletariat to complete its dual historical tasks: (1) successful alliance of the proletariat and the peasantry, and (2) victorious socialist revolutions in European countries. It was on the crucial question of the alliance with the peasantry that Lenin differed sharply not only from the Mensheviks but also from Trotsky (who had otherwise worked out a position very similar to Lenin’s). For both the Mensheviks and Trotsky, the peasantry was a repository of reaction; while Trotsky arrived at this incorrect conclusion on the basis of his experience of the 1905 revolution, the Mensheviks adhered to this position out of their doctrinaire understanding of Marxism. Lenin, on the other hand, realized that though the peasantry was not revolutionary in the Narodnik sense but it’s force could still be harnessed for the revolution because at that juncture it was less interested in protecting private property than in confiscating the land-owners’ land, the dominant form of rural private property (Carr, 1950).

Thus, Lenin arrived at an elegant formulation of the role of the peasantry in the revolution. The proletariat, in alliance with the whole peasantry would complete the bourgeois-democratic revolution and overthrow feudalism, absolutism and the monarchy despite the vacillation, or even opposition, of the bourgeoisie. This would immediately lead to the next stage of the revolution, where the proletariat would have to split the peasantry along class lines, ally with the landless labourers and the poor peasantry against the rich peasants and start the transition towards socialism.

This second point, where the urban proletariat had to ally with the rural proletariat was an immensely important practical point. Between the February and October revolutions, where Lenin discerned precisely this transition from the bourgeois-democratic to the socialist stage taking place, the utmost importance of an independent organization of the rural proletariat was repeatedly indicated. For instance in the third of the Letters From Afar written on March 11(24) 1917, which discusses the issue of the proletarian militia, he says:

“The prime and most important task, and one that brooks no delay, is to set up organizations of this kind [i.e., Soviets of Workers’ Deputies] in all parts of Russia without exception, for all trades and strata of the proletarian and semi-proletarian population without exception…for the entire mass of the peasantry our Party … should especially recommend Soviets of wage-workers and Soviets of small tillers who do not sell grain, to be formed separately from the well-to-do peasants. Without this, it will be impossible … to conduct a truly proletarian policy in general…” (Lenin, 1917, in Zizek, p. 41)

In a footnote, he adds: “In rural districts a struggle will now develop for the small and, partly middle peasants. The landlords, leaning on the well-to-do peasants, will try to lead them into subordination to the bourgeoisie. Leaning on the rural wage-workers and rural poor, we must lead them into the closest alliance with the urban proletariat.” Note that in Lenin’s formulation, the idea of an “agrarian revolution” as the axis of the bourgeois-democratic revolution is not explicitly there; the experience of the Chinese revolution would be required to extend the classical Marxist framework further by explicitly theorizing the nature and complexities of the agrarian revolution in a semi-feudal, semi-colonial social formation as part of what Mao called the new democratic revolution. This constant and critical engagement with received wisdom is the hallmark of a living revolutionary tradition.

Revolution at the Gates: Between February and October 1917, and Beyond

The February 1917 revolution in Russia caught all the socialists unawares; neither had they planned for it nor had they participated in it. This was true as much of the Mensheviks as of the Bolsheviks. The revolution had given rise to a situation of “dual power”: a Provisional Government of the bourgeoisie and the landlords and a revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the workers and peasants (in the form of soldiers) in the form of the Soviets. The crucial question that again divided the revolutionaries from the reformists was a correct understanding of the relationship between the two.

For the Mensheviks, the problem was resolved in a rather straightforward manner. In keeping with their schematic reading of Marxism, they saw the task of the proletariat at the present moment to be one of supporting the bourgeoisie and helping it complete the democratic revolution; hence they argued for the Soviets supporting the Provisional Government, pushing for democratic reforms from behind rather than leading them, in short aiding in the “fullest development” of bourgeois capitalism till such time that it [capitalism] exhausted all it’s progressive possibilities and the proletariat became mature and strong enough to make the final bid for power. All the Bolshevik leaders, including Stalin, accepted the Menshevik position in essence. It was left to the political genius of Lenin to break through this reformist consensus.

Exiled in Switzerland and getting news about Russian development only through the bourgeois press, Lenin had already started developing the essentials of revolutionary understanding about the transition from the first to the second stage of the revolution; his Letters From Afar give indications of the direction of his thinking. To the complete astonishment of his followers, the first public statement that Lenin made immediately after his arrival in the Finland station in Petrograd in April 1917 was to hail the proletarian-socialist revolution and not to dish out homilies for the bourgeois-democratic revolution! When he presented his April Theses within party circles the next day, outlining a program for the transition to a socialist stage of the revolution, he was completely isolated. Bogdanov is said to have constantly interrupted his speech with shouts of “Delirium, the delirium of a madman,” and not one Bolshevik other than Kollantai spoke in favour of his plans. When it was published in the Pravda, the editorial team distanced itself from the argument by attributing it to an individual and not to the Party.

Between the February and the October revolution, Lenin applied with ferocious consistency the theory that he had developed so painstakingly in his debates with the reformist Mensheviks. Formulations of the indissoluble link between the two stages of the revolution and the associated idea of the leadership of the proletariat (in alliance with the peasantry) in the democratic revolution, which he had argued for tirelessly over the years were now about to be realized in practice. The fact that the proletariat and the peasantry (in the form of soldiers) had established an independent, revolutionary site of political power in the form of the Soviets was the crucial signal to Lenin that the bourgeois-democratic revolution had been completed and that the transition to the next stage was underway. Since there could not be two powers in the State, only one of the two – proletarian or bourgeois – would survive in the ensuing struggle that he could foresee. The task of the proletariat, therefore, was to start preparing for the overthrow of the Provisional Government and transferring all power to the Soviets, and not to stand up in support of the bourgeoisie, as the Mensheviks argued. Waiting for the “fullest development” of capitalism, as reformist doctrine suggested, was tantamount to ensuring that the Soviets got crushed by force like the Paris Commune in 1871.

Note that in Lenin’s insistence on the completion of the bourgeois-democratic stage of the revolution there is no place for the discourse of productive forces or the development of capitalism. It was not that capitalism had flourished and the productive forces had developed adequately in Russia between February and October 1917 to warrant the call for a socialist revolution; that was obviously not the case as the Bolsheviks were acutely aware. It was rather the case that the establishment of the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry was envisioned as an alternative path of development, a non-capitalist framework of social relations for the development of the productive forces. It is of course not true that the democratic revolution establishes socialism; its social and economic content remains bourgeois, but with the proletariat at the helm of affairs, a transition towards socialism is initiated, the movement is imparted an unmistakable socialist, i.e., proletarian orientation.

In the context of imperialism, questions about the character of the two revolutions, about the role of communists in them and about the question of the attitude towards capitalism in the colonial and semi-colonial countries had been discussed threadbare in the Second Congress of the Communist International in July 1920. Even though there were disagreements between Lenin, the official rapporteur on the “national and colonial question”, and M. N. Roy, who presented his own theses on the question, they came out with one striking agreement: where the working class was victorious and able to establish its political hegemony, it could lead the country (essentially the peasant masses) onto the path of socialism without the intervening capitalist stage of development. Presenting his report to the Congress on July 26, Lenin summarized this point of agreement as follows:

“… are we to consider as correct the assertion that the capitalist stage of economic development is inevitable for backward nations now on the road to emancipation and among whom a certain advance towards progress is to be seen since the war? We replied in the negative. If the victorious revolutionary proletariat conducts systematic propaganda among them, and the Soviet governments come to their aid with all the means at their disposal – in that event it will be mistaken to assume that the backward peoples must inevitably go through the capitalist stage of development… the Communist International should advance the proposition, with appropriate theoretical grounding, that with the aid of the proletariat of the advanced countries, backward countries can go over to the Soviet system and, through certain stages of development, to communism, without having to pass through the capitalist stage.” (Lenin, Collected Works, vol. 31, p. 244, emphasis added).

The essence of the democratic revolution under the leadership of the proletariat is the inauguration of a non-capitalist path of economic and social development. As Lenin points in the same report that we have just quoted from, forms of socialist organization, i.e. Soviets, can and should be formed not only in a proletarian context but also in a context marked by “peasant feudal and semi-feudal relations”. It is obvious that these institutions would impart the socialist orientation to the whole movement, would form the seeds of the future socialist society, seeds moreover nurtured, supported, defended and deepened in a still predominantly bourgeois society. To insist, as some have done recently, that the task of the proletariat during the democratic stage of the world historical revolution is to work for deepening capitalism, instead of forging a non-capitalist path of development through Soviet forms of organization, is to turn 150 years of international revolutionary working class theory and practice on its head.


The Menshevik position about the “fullest development” of capitalism being a necessary condition for the launching of the socialist struggle finds echoes in India today with the insistence on the development of the “most thorough-going and broad-based” capitalism being the precondition for initiating the socialist struggle. While it is hardly surprising that such a position finds political expression in inveterate “tailism”, what really is rather more difficult to believe is the accompanying ahistorical rhetoric of “different” capitalisms. It almost seems to have been asserted that we can choose among the different varieties of capitalisms being offered by history, limited only by our powers of imagination. Which one do you want comrade, history seems to have asked? Well, the social democrats answered, we want the one which is technologically progressive (leads to the fullest development of the productive forces) and also looks after the welfare of the workers and peasantry (through social reforms and huge expenditures in health and education and nutrition). Does the march of history and the development of the structural contradictions of global capitalism at the beginning of the twenty first century afford us the this luxury, this luxury to choose between capitalisms, between good and bad capitalisms? One is reminded of how Marx had chastised Proudhon in The Poverty of Philosophy for wanting capitalism without it’s socio-economic ills. The social democrats in India seem hell bent on committing the same mistake all over again.

[The author is associated with Sanhati (, a solidarity forum for resistance to neoliberalism in West Bengal, India.]


Carr, E. H. The Bolshevik Revolution 1917-1923, Volume One. The Macmillan Company. 1950.

———— The Bolshevik Revolution 1917-1923, Volume Two. The Macmillan Company. 1952.

Foran, J. Taking Power: On the Origins of Third World Revolutions. Cambridge University Press. 2005

Lenin, V. I. Collected Works. Fourth Edition, Progress Publishers. 1965 (various volumes).

Marx, K. Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League. March 1850, in On Revolution, The Karl Marx Library, edited and translated by Saul K. Padover. McGraw-Hill Book Company. 1971.

Skocpol, T. States and Social Revolutions: A Comparative Analysis of France, Russia and China. Cambridge University Press. 1979.

Zinoviev, G. History of the Bolshevik Party. New Park Publications. 1974 [1923].

Zizek, S. (editor), Revolution at the Gates: A Selection of Writings from February to October 1917, V. I. Lenin. Verso. 2002.

Dave Pugh: Nandigram and the Struggle against Forced Displacement in India

Posted by Mike E on April 4, 2008

farmernadigram3.jpgby Dave Pugh

In January and March 2007, tens of thousands of peasants at Nandigram in West Bengal, India rose up to defend their land. By the time their struggle abated, the peasants had stopped the plans of the Left Front government in West Bengal to build a giant chemical complex on their land, and they had driven the police and the armed cadre of the CPI (Marxist) entirely out of the Nandigram area for eight months. This struggle radically transformed the political terrain in the growing struggle against the hundreds of “Special Economic Zones” that are being planned and built from one end of India to another.

Based on legislation passed in 2005, Special Economic Zones are enclaves of new industry and infrastructure. SEZs offer hefty exemptions from taxes on profits, no tariffs, and exemptions from most labor legislation. Since SEZs are treated as “public service utilities,” strikes are illegal. SEZs are aptly called Special Exploitation Zones by Indian activists because they allow big Indian capitalists and multinational corporations to extract high rates of profit from their workers and plunder India’s natural resources. Though not yet on the same scale as the sprawling economic zones of southeast China, over 500 SEZs have been approved by the Central and State authorities. Most of them are under construction or in the process of land acquisition.

West Bengal Map
Click for full map

After plans for SEZs have been announced, farmers have resisted selling their land and peasants have refused to move. When bribery and bullying tactics have failed, the government in West Bengal and as well as other states have employed the 1894 Land Acquisition Act. This British colonial-era law allows the state to force farmers to sell their land for “public purposes” on the government’s terms.
The Role of the CPI (Marxist) in West Bengal

In West Bengal, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, is the dominant force in the Left Front government. After giving up on revolutionary struggle in the 1960s, the CPM reconfigured itself as a parliamentary party. The CPM rode the tide of militant struggle in the West Bengal countryside and Kolkata to power in the 1970s.

Today the CPM leadership is mostly composed of an upper-caste urban elite. It has been able to stay in power through instituting a land reform program in the 1980s (which it has abandoned), and through setting up a system of strong-armed patronage which reaches down into every village in West Bengal. Any who dare oppose local CPM bosses are socially boycotted, harassed over rations, fired from jobs, and thrashed or worse. In spite of the CPM’s self-proclaimed progressive credentials, workers’ wages, peasants’ incomes, health services and primary education in West Bengal (over 900,000 children are officially out of the school system and 40% of the schools have no toilets) are no better than the rest of India.

The CPM has been trying to sell the SEZs as vehicles for “pro-people industrialization” that will allegedly create the material conditions for “socialism.” The document on economic policy passed at the 18th Congress of the CPM in 2005 welcomes foreign capital which brings more advanced technology and generates employment. In fact, the industries being set up in the SEZs are extremely capital intensive and will create few jobs, almost none of which will be for the peasants dispossessed from their ancestral lands. According to a peasant who once worked on the land now occupied by an SEZ near Nandigram, “all those who left their land are selling cucumber and cleaning shit.”
Naxal Resistance
Land Grab at Singur

In West Bengal, the CPM-led government has moved to acquire 140,000 acres of land for SEZs, which will eventually uproot a total of 2.5 million peasants. The first big test of this policy came at Singur in 2006, where the government sought to acquire 997 acres of fertile multi-crop land for an auto plant for the Tatas, the largest capitalist conglomerate in India. This project threatened to displace over 20,000 people.

When the news of the land acquisition came out, farmers and peasants organized themselves in the Singur Krishi Raksha Committee. In early June 2006, over 2,000 peasants staged a demonstration at a government office with bullocks and agricultural implements. Many women carried brooms in their hands, which became the symbol of protest in Singur. In July, peasants blockaded one of the main express roads in the area. On the night of September 25, as local people gheraoed (surrounded) the government office in charge of the land grab, they were attacked by the police and CPM cadre. Dozens were injured, including many women, and one youth was beaten to death.

As popular opposition mounted, the government imposed Section 144 which prevented more than four people from moving together in Singur. When 15,000 unarmed people demonstrated on December 2, over 20,000 police and para-military forces met them with lathis (long batons), rubber bullets and tear gas. This overwhelming show of force made it possible for the Tatas to start erecting a wall along the boundary of the land grabbed by the West Bengal police on their behalf.

The CPM and the West Bengal government believed that the events at Singur would demonstrate the futility of resistance to other planned SEZs in the state. The peasants of Nandigram, on the other hand, drew very different lessons from Singur.
Naxal Resistance
Nandigram Erupts

Nandigram is a block of 38 villages located in a coastal area of East Medinipur district, 150 kilometers southwest of Kolkata. Most of the villages here have no electricity. The 440,000 villagers living in Nandigram are mainly lower-caste Hindus and Muslims. The people of Nandigram are small farmers, garment workers, laborers, fisherfolk and shop owners. They have a proud history of struggle, going back to the anti-British Quit India Movement in 1942 when they liberated the area and set up their own government for 17 months.

On December 28, 2006, the CPM representative for the Nandigram area announced that 14,000 acres of land would be acquired for a “mega chemical hub” and a ship building center. One of the investors was to be Dow Chemical, which now owns Union Carbide, a company responsible for 5,000 deaths in Bhopal, India in 1984. The developer chosen by the CPM was, ironically, the Salim group of Indonesia, whose founder was a close supporter of the Suharto military dictatorship that came to power in 1965 after massacring over one million members and supporters of the Communist Party of Indonesia.

This SEZ would have displaced 95,000 people in Nandigram. A total of 130 schools, 112 temples, 42 mosques were to be razed. Thousands of people organized themselves under the banner of Bhumi Uchhed Protirodh Committee (Committee against Eviction from the Land). The BUPC included representatives from Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind, various leftist groups, the TMC (a right-wing opposition political party) and even some local CPM cadre who were opposed to giving up their land.

On January 3, as over 3,000 villagers gathered at a meeting to discuss the land acquisition, police opened fire, wounding four people. The peasants retaliated, beating up a number of policemen and torching a police van. The peasants knew that more police would be coming, so they worked through the night barricading the roads to prevent the entry of police jeeps. For the next few days, the villagers came under attack from CPM cadre from nearby Khejuri and harmads (goons) hired by the CPM. After three members of the BUPC were murdered, the people’s resistance stiffened. Several attackers were killed and the offices of the CPM were destroyed. On January 7, the people succeeded in driving the CPM cadre and harmads out of Nandigram.

From early January until March 13, Nandigram was in the hands of the people themselves. They formed resistance groups to protect themselves from the police and the armed CPM cadre. This situation was unacceptable to the Left Front government, particularly its Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. In mid-March, the state and local authorities planned a massive military operation to take back Nandigram. The force consisted of Eastern Frontier Rifles, Central Reserve Battalions and more than 20,000 police armed with tear gas and high-powered weapons.
Naxal Resistance

A massacre ensued on March 14, 2007 in Nandigram. 10,000 unarmed villagers underestimated the ferocity with which they would be attacked. The first line of women– Hindus who were praying to a goddess to save their homes, and Muslims who were reading from the Quran–were fired at without warning with tear gas and live ammunition. The initial attack of the paramilitary and police forces was followed by CPM cadre dressed in police uniforms, who proceeded to brutalize the villagers and rape dozens of women. Leaders and members of the BUPC were particular targets. Afterwards, the authorities claimed that 14 villagers were killed on March 14th, but eyewitnesses saw many more bodies of people being dragged onto trucks and driven away for secret burials.

In the CPM’s version of these events, “the mob started hurling bombs followed by opening of fire…. Ultimately the police had to open fire in self-defense causing dispersal of the mob…. However, a number of people were injured in the police firing and it is believed that some of the agitators were also injured by the bombs they were hurling.” (from Bhattacharjee’s speech at the West Bengal Assembly on March 15th) In contrast, even the Central Bureau of Investigation team sent by the High Court in Kolkata concluded that the police firing was “unprovoked.”

Stories of police brutality, rape and murder were consistently reported by survivors at Nandigram Block Hospital, Tamluk Hospital, and the SSKM Hospital in Kolkata. One 35 year old woman said she was pinned between two sticks and gang-raped. Her husband was forced to watch as the cadres threatened to dash their six-month old baby to the ground and stamp it underfoot. A physician reported treating a woman whose uterus had been ruptured after a metal rod had been thrust into her vagina. CPM cadre barged into the hospitals and ordered doctors not to falsify medical reports (eliminating reference to gunshot wounds) and to discharge those who urgently needed medical care.

In the 48 hours following the events of March 14, the people of Nandigram regrouped and fought back. On March 16, more than 20,000 villagers, armed with sticks and iron rods, chased the CPM cadre and goons out of the area. The police and paramilitary forces were restrained because of the public outcry that the March 14 carnage caused. A state-wide bandh (strike) was called by opposition groups. Intellectuals, teachers, youth and students, Muslim groups, artists, singers and many others demonstrated and demanded the resignation of “Butcher Buddha.” Several noted intellectuals returned their Rabindra prizes (West Bengal’s highest literary award) and donated the Rs. 75,000 cash award to the Nandigram relief fund.
Naxal Resistance

Faced with defeat on the ground, the state government announced that the SEZ at Nandigram would be cancelled, though they are actively considering another site in the district.

From March 16 through early November 2007, Nandigram was back in the hands of the people. Fact finding delegations from all over India arrived to investigate. Relief supplies were brought in by caravan. Beginning in April, hundreds of college students organized “go-to-the-village” campaigns to Nandigram in order to get a first hand experience of village life and to understand what impelled the peasants to wage such a powerful struggle to defend their land.
Nandigram Women Organize

A new phase in the struggle began in July when women and girls, including many who had been molested and raped, came forward and organized the Matangini Mahila Samiti (MMS). This women’s organization drew its name from that of Matangini Hazra, who led a procession during the 1942 Quit India Movement and was shot dead. The MMS raised its voice against the SEZ, the CPM and patriarchal customs.

According to Professor Amit Bhattacharyya from Jadavpur University, who interviewed some of its members, the MMS organized large processions of women who stopped the CPM from firing from Khejuri on many occasions. It also organized people’s courts to deal with cases of theft or the beatings of wives by their husbands. The MMS successfully supported women against husbands, including some in the BUPC, who didn’t want their wives to move about freely. Another success of the women’s organization was the destruction of the liquor shops which they correctly identified as a destructive influence on the men.

Throughout the summer, the CPM cadres continuously attacked the villages. Tens of thousands of villagers spent sleepless nights resisting these attacks. The CPM also tried to isolate Nandigram by cutting off food, consumer goods, power and water supplies. Ferry services to nearby Haldia which 10,000 people from Nandigram ride daily were suspended. With local elections coming up in the spring of 2008, and worried that the people of Nandigram could become an example for the rest of rural Bengal, the CPM decided that it had to recapture Nandigram and crush the people’s struggle.
The Second Assault on Nandigram

In the fall of 2007, the CPM gathered a force of 2,000-3,000 CPM cadre from all over West Bengal, backed up by hundreds of hired mercenaries from Bihar and Jharkhand states. This force was armed and trained with AK-47s and Insas rifles. According to The Statesman, on November 1, CPM member of parliament Lakshman Seth told his troops, “The only option now is to kill or get killed. We have to fight till the last drop of blood in our bodies.”

On the morning of November 5, they attacked. The rationale given was that they were merely trying to bring back the several hundred CPM cadre who had been driven out of Nandigram in March. (The BUPC had stated repeatedly that other than 35 CPM cadre who had been involved in murders and rapes in March, all others were welcome to return to Nandigram.)

Over the next week, this attacking force killed dozens of people. Many women were dragged off and raped. The Bengali daily Dainik Statesmen ran a description of these events by Sibani Mondal, a resident of Gokulnagar village: “She was literally trembling with fear while relating the experience of 10 November. She was one of those who joined the procession led by the BUPC at 12 noon [which was] greeted by hundreds of bullets. Many people standing in the front row dropped down on the ground….There were six rickshaw-vans on which dead bodies lying on the streets were placed and taken towards Tekhali. Sibani along with about 600 others were taken to Amratola primary school in a procession with both hands placed on their heads…. There were about 100 women in that group. Some goondas with their faces covered with cloth came to us to identify those who were young. They picked up about 12 girls from them as the meat-seller picks up chicken from the basket and then vanished into the darkness. Soon afterwards, wails and cries of women were heard.”

Over 500 people, including members of the BUPC, were taken hostage and used as human shields by the attackers. Much of Sonachura and Gokulnagar villages, the epicenter of the Nandigram resistance, was looted and burned down. No members of the media, medical personnel or human rights activists were allowed inside the area by CPM cadres. All mobile towers in a radius of 36 sq. kms. were jammed so that news of the massacre could not get out.

Throughout several days of attacks on the people of Nandigram, the police were confined to their barracks. Several units of CRPF paramilitary police were sent by the central government and conveniently arrived after the CPM cadre and harmads had “recaptured” Nandigram. CPM Polit Bureau Member and West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee stated chillingly at a press conference that the people of Nandigram had been “paid back in the same coin.”

As a result of this pre-planned and savage assault, 10,000-15,000 villagers were driven out of Nandigram. Though some people have moved back to their homes, thousands are staying in relief camps set up by neighboring villages or elsewhere in the state. According to a November 24 fact-finding delegation of women’s organizations, many families were scared to return due to the threat of assault and rape by marauding groups of CPM cadre. After the Communist Party of India (Maoist) sent cadre to Nandigram to assist the villagers, a large group of them moved to an area 50 km. west of Nandigram where the Maoists have a strong base of popular support.

As news of this new massacre reached Kolkata, tens of thousands of people from all walks of life took to the streets on November 14 for three hours of silent protest. Marchers wore black badges and held placards reading “Shame on the West Bengal Government” and “Down with Killers of Innocent Villagers.” In early December, the charred bone and skull remains of people killed and burned in November were discovered. After a fact-finding visit to Nandigram, India’s chapters of Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International called for an independent judicial investigation and underlined the seriousness of the attacks on women activists by CPM cadre.

However, the CPM’s version of the struggle in Nandigram managed to convince some intellectuals abroad, including Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Tariq Ali and Walden Bello, to write a statement in The Hindu on November 22 advising critics of the CPM not to “split the Left” in the face of American imperialism. Demonstrating ignorance on the real state of affairs in Nandigram, this group wrote, “We understand that those who have been dispossessed by the violence are now being allowed back into their homes, without recrimination.”

This statement received a quick rebuke from a group of prominent Indian intellectuals including Arundhati Roy, Sumit Sarkar and others. This reply pointed to a number of glaring misconceptions in the statement and expressed disbelief that many of the signatories “share similar values” with the CPM. The reply pointed out, “Over the last decade, the policies of the Left Front government in West Bengal have become virtually indistinguishable from those of other parties committed to the neoliberal agenda.” Shortly after the reply was issued, one of the signers of the original statement, Susan George, publicly dissociated herself from it.
Two Models of Development

The unarmed and armed struggle of tens of thousands of peasants at Nandigram has placed the issue of SEZs and forced displacement at center stage in India. In neighboring Orissa, tens of thousands of adivasis (tribal people) are waging militant battles against the construction of massive steel plants and bauxite mines. A 35,000 acre SEZ is being built just outside Mumbai that will be one-third the size of that city. Indian activists estimate that various kinds of forced displacement–industrial complexes, large-scale mining projects, mega-dams, urban “beautification” projects, real estate development and the expansion of tourist-oriented national parks—will uproot upwards of 100 million people in the next decade.

In March 2007, an important national anti-displacement conference was held in Ranchi, bringing together more than one hundred organizations. Its Declaration not only analyses and opposes the imperialist model of “development” that has brought misery to tens of millions in India, but calls for an alternative model of development: “a people-centred model based on a self-reliant economy free from the imperialist yoke. The policies of development must, first and foremost, enhance the well-being of the masses and must be in their interest—not at their cost.”

The Declaration calls for (1) extracting the natural wealth of the country only to the extent that it serves the needs of the Indian people; (2) developing indigenous industry that generates employment and protects labor rights; (3) introducing land reforms with the ultimate goal of “community ownership and individual right to use,” and (4) extensive reforestation, scientific water management and topsoil regeneration. At the core of this new model of development the Declaration states: “All decisions must be made by the people themselves at the grass-root level and built upwards in a genuine form of people’s government. It is the people themselves who know best what type of development is in their interest and what is harmful. They have the inalienable right and are in the best position to decide their own future.”

Calls for International Solidarity

As a result of a meeting held in Birmingham on December 15, 2007, an Initiative Committee for a Solidarity Campaign Against Forced Displacements was formed in Britain ( Furthermore, in February 2008 the International League of Peoples’ Struggle (ILPS), an alliance of over 350 organizations from 40 countries, adopted a centrally proposed International Campaign against Forced Displacement in India.

This campaign, which is earmarked to be fully launched at the ILPS congress in June 2008, will build on the anti-displacement initiatives underway in India such as the Ranchi Conference. It will bring together campaigns and movements opposing forced displacement in other countries, expanding the sources of international support and solidarity. This is a sign that when future Nandigrams against SEZs and other forced displacements arise, they will have support from many outside India.

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Dave Pugh works with ILPS and lives in San Francisco, California. If you would like more information or want to work on this issue, please write the author at