Tuesday, Oct 04, 2022

Charu Mazumdar’s Vision

The spirit—or, should I say “specter”—of one of the leaders of the original Naxalbari movement, has once again entered mainstream discourse. A reminder.

The spirit—or, should I say “specter”—of late Charu Mazumdar, one of the leaders of the original Naxalbari movement, has once again entered mainstream discourse.   

First there was a much-publicized interview with the General Secretary of CPI (Maoist) in which he remembered his “great beloved fore-founder leaders and teachers, Comrades Charu Mazumdar(CM) and Kanhai Chatterji (KC) who led an ideological and political struggle ceaselessly for a long time against revisionism and modern revisionism of Communist Party of India and CPI(Marxist)” (Ganapathi 2010). (“Kanhai Chatterjee” is a new entry in the mainstream “revolutionary” lexicon; he deserves a separate piece) 

Soon after, there was a very influential article by a prominent writer, who does significant injustice to the Maoists’ cause by not mentioning Kanhai Chatterjee. The writer describes Charu Mazumdar as a “visionary”, and the “party he founded” as keeping the “dream of revolution” alive in India: “imagine a society without that dream” (Roy 2010). Charu Mazumdar is here to stay, then, to enable us to inhabit the dream. No doubt, the said “visionary” and his party had a “problematic past”; which party with a vision doesn’t? In any case, the party has by now “evolved” out of that “problematic past”, Roy assures us. 

Finally, there is a “scholarly” summary of Charu Mazumdar’s “theses” (Times of India, 31 May). The current generation of mainstream readers are not likely to be informed about Charu Mazumdar and his vision. For them, the brief TOI article does provide a useful introduction. But, there’s more. 

It stands to reason that the political thoughts of an individual are likely to be influenced by many thinkers of the past. These influences shape the structure of the individual’s thoughts in a general way. It does not follow that the individual “owns” these influential thoughts. For example, it is a truism that, like almost any communist of his era, Charu Mazumdar subscribed to Marxism, Leninism and thoughts of Mao. These ideologies did shape his vision, but we cannot ascribe Charu Mazumdar’s authorship to these aspects of his vision. We need to distinguish, therefore, between the influenced part and the original part of Charu Mazumdar’s vision to understand which “dream” the society has been invited to inhabit. 

Thus, Charu Mazumdar subscribed to Mao’s vision that in a semi-feudal, semi-colonial condition, a society can be transformed by a protracted—primarily peasant—war to seize state power. This was one of Mao’s original contributions to revolutionary theory and practice. 

As to the application of Mao’s doctrine to the Indian condition—that is, whether the Indian condition is suitable for initiating protracted peasant war—the Communist Party of India adopted the so-called Randive line of initiating immediate armed struggle in Telengana in the 1940s. Charu Mazumdar did subscribe to this line as well in the continuing ideological struggle on this issue in the Communist Party. But “Randive’s vision” preceded Mazumdar’s by nearly two decades. Similar remarks apply to the variety of “theses” listed in the TOI article. 

So, what is original about Charu Mazumdar’s ideas that can properly be called his “vision”? Charu Mazumdar’s specific thoughts are enshrined in detail in the following paragraphs from what is often viewed as a “murder manual”. I am not denying that anarchist documents of the past might contain some of the “methods” suggested in the paragraph (see Dilip Simeon, “Permanent Spring”, Seminar 607, March 2010). But the concrete adoption of these methods, with detailed application in the Indian context to launch a protracted peasant war, was certainly Charu Mazumdar’s most original contribution—an “addition”—to Mao’s thoughts. Anyone who is appealing to Charu Mazumdar’s “vision” now either must be recommending these methods or does not know what one is talking about.  

“The method of forming a guerrilla unit has to be wholly conspiratorial. No inkling… should be given out even in the meetings of the political units of the Party. This conspiracy should be between individuals on a person-to-person basis. The petty-bourgeois intellectual comrade must take the initiative in this respect... He should approach the poor peasant who, in his opinion, has the most revolutionary potentiality, and whisper in his ears: “Don’t you think it is a good thing to finish off such and such a jotedar?” ...We should not use any kind of firearms at this stage. ‘The guerrilla unit must rely wholly on choppers, spears, javelins and sickles... The guerrillas should come from different directions pretending…to be innocent persons and gather at a previously appointed place, wait for the enemy, and, when the opportune moment comes, spring at the enemy and kill him...The middle peasant cadre and the petty-bourgeois intellectual comrades should be removed (from the guerrilla unit) if possible. When guerrilla actions become more frequent we have to gradually bring in these willing fighters. In fact, a time will come when the battle cry will be: “He who has not dipped his hand in the blood of class enemies can hardly be called a communist”. (From Simeon 2010 above, emphasis added) 

That’s his “vision”, take it or leave it, even if one feels that his “abrasive rhetoric fetishises violence, blood and martyrdom, and often employs a language so coarse as to be almost genocidal” (Roy 2010). Does it sound more like the “apologies” offered by the Maoists each time they kill civilians “mistakenly”? How do we interpret the following rhetoric? A rejection of the “annihilation campaign” or its adoption now by the “ancient people” despite the unfortunate use of coarse, genocidal language? 

“When he said that only “an annihilation campaign” could produce “the new man who will defy death and be free from all thought of self-interest”—could he have imagined that this ancient people, dancing into the night, would be the ones on whose shoulders his dreams would come to rest?” 

Charu Mazumdar’s “annihilation campaign” enshrined in his “vision” was widely applied in West Bengal and elsewhere during 1970-72. After the movement virtually died out in Bengal, it basically shifted to the forests of Andhra and Bihar (see Mukherji 2009 “Open letter ..”, 2010  “Arms Over People"). No doubt, once these methods led to the formation of “liberated zones”, the method can be discontinued to begin preparations for “guerilla war into mobile war and guerilla army into a regular army” (Ganapathi 2010). What about the new areas in which the party is trying to extend its influence? The noted commentator and a consistent champion of the Naxalite movement himself, Sumanta Bannerjee describes the scene in the Lalgarh area as follows. 

“Instead of recognising the various forms of struggles by which different sections of the oppressed people try to exhaust the available democratic opportunities, and accommodating these forms in an inclusive programme of action, the CPI(Maoist) leaders in an immature overestimation of the Indian public mood are jumping the queue of options, and prioritising armed struggle as the sole means. ... It is these militarist priorities and political expediencies that are eroding the ideological commitment of their cadres. The latter (in West Bengal today in particular) seem to be degenerating into roving gangs of paranoid revengeful killers recalling the dark days of the fratricidal warfare between the Naxalites and CPI(M) youth cadres in the 1970s.” (“Critiquing the programme of action of The Maoists”, Economic and Political Weekly, 14 November 2009, emphasis added)

As the new breed of “communists” dip their hands in the blood of suspected informers—and of corpses of security forces when the “revolutionaries” remove the weapons—a new breed of writers champion Charu Mazumdar’s vision. The “excusable” necessity of that vision is that these “communists” are no longer “petty-bourgeois intellectual comrades” but tribal children with empty stomachs. As they learn to dissect the cadavers of class enemies with precision, we are advised to live our dreams. 

Professor Nirmalangshu Mukherji teaches at Department of Philosophy, University of Delhi