Anarcho-environmentalism allegorised

The name Anaarkali in the present context has many meanings - Anaar symbolises the anarchism of the Bhils and kali which means flower bud in Hindi stands for their traditional environmentalism. Anaar in Hindi can also mean the fruit pomegranate which is said to be a panacea for many ills as in the Hindi idiom - "Ek anar sou bimar - One pomegranate for a hundred ill people"! - which describes a situation in which there is only one remedy available for giving to a hundred ill people and so the problem is who to give it to. Thus this name indicates that anarcho-environmentalism is the only cure for the many diseases of modern development! Similarly kali can also imply a budding anarcho-environmentalist movement. Finally according to a legend that is considered to be apocryphal by historians Anarkali was the lover of Prince Salim who was later to become the Mughal emperor Jehangir. Emperor Akbar did not approve of this romance of his son and ordered Anarkali to be bricked in alive into a wall in Lahore in Pakistan but she escaped. Allegorically this means that anarcho-environmentalists can succeed in bringing about the escape of humankind from the self-destructive love of modern development that it is enamoured of at the moment and they will do this by simultaneously supporting women's struggles for their rights.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Fifty Years of Spring Thunder

The recent attack by the Maoists deep inside the jungles of Chhattisgarh killing close to thirty Central Reserve Police Force personnel brings the spotlight back on these armed rebels in this their fiftieth year of operations. This deadly strike was a retaliatory action by the Naxalites or Indian Maoists against an offensive launched to finish them off by opening up the dense jungle areas in which they operate through the construction of a road. This daring attack against the armed might of the Indian State establishes the Maoists' ability to carry on their armed struggle despite the heavy repressive and cooptive tactics being adopted against them.
This tenacious armed struggle being waged by the Maoists to overwhelm the state apparatus and bring about a New Democratic Revolution through the armed mobilisation of the peasant masses has challenged the attempt of the Indian ruling classes to foist a counterfeit meta-narrative of socio-economic progress based on corrupt electoral politics and centralised industrial development on the Indian masses. In fact the current second phase of the Maoist movement has gained much more support among the masses and been much more of a headache for the Indian state than the resistance put up by the mass environmental movements which have emerged in the same period since the late nineteen seventies. It all began when a grassroots activist of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI(M)) in West Bengal, Charu Mazumdar, began pondering from 1965 onwards over the failure of the Indian communists, despite forty years of struggle since the formation of the Communist Party of India (CPI), in freeing the peasants from the feudal oppression of the landlords. Over a space of two years he wrote eight essays, which have since become famous as the "eight documents" that led to a section of the CPI(M) cadres breaking away and sparking off the Naxalbari movement in which peasants began seizing the produce and lands of the landlords in 1967. He analysed his own experiences beginning with the "Tebhaga" peasant movement in Bengal of the pre-independence days and the later struggles after independence all over India. In all of these struggles he found that the main reason for their failure was the inability of the communists to build up a cadre based revolutionary party capable of fighting the armed might of the state through a sustained armed struggle. He came down heavily on the Communist Party leaders for their "revisionist" approach of working within the bourgeois constitutional framework despite repeated illegal crackdowns by the Congress party after independence on the mass organisations of the party and also on the efforts to form governments through the fighting and winning of elections. He stressed the need for educating the peasant masses and giving them a taste of blood by following a policy of physical annihilation of class enemies and the police.

However Mazumdar and his Maoist comrades were themselves following the by then obsolete formulations of Mao Tse Tung for the nineteen thirties China of setting up of base areas in the villages and then laying siege to the cities and towns by surrounding them. There was no way in which this strategy could work against a much better entrenched and powerful modern bourgeois state apparatus in India. Crucially this state apparatus also had a fair amount of legitimacy in the minds of the people because of being chosen by them in the elections. The government the Maoists confronted was a leftist coalition in which the CPI(M) was a partner and had three ministers. The CPI(M) tried to reason with the rebels but when this did not work they chose the practical course of sending in the armed police and para military forces in strength to suppress the rebellion and so save its own government from falling. Thus the rebellion in the countryside was crushed within a few months in West Bengal. Nevertheless the coalition government did not survive and President's rule was imposed. The Congress government at the centre tried to use this opportunity to weed out more thoroughly what it must have considered a serious menace. A later Maoist spurt in Srikakulam district of Andhra Pradesh in 1968 too was similarly obliterated. In both instances heavy armed police repression was carried out including extra-judicial killings of peasants and activists, badly exposing the over estimation of the power and resilience of armed peasant militancy by Mazumdar.
Meanwhile the CPI(M) managed to come back to power as part of yet another coalition government in 1969 and release some of the Naxalite leaders and activists who had been jailed during President's rule. This opportunity was seized by the mostly urban activists of the Maoist movement, which had been transformed into the full fledged Communist Party of India Marxist Leninist (CPI(ML)) in 1969 with Mazumdar as its General Secretary, to compensate for the failure of the peasant insurrection by carrying on their programme of annihilation of class enemies in Kolkata, letting loose a murderous free for all in which they also targeted the CPI(M) cadre. Things soon got out of hand leading to the United Front Government being dismissed and President's rule being imposed by the Congress government at the centre. Thereafter criminal gangs and a totally lawless police were given a free hand by the Central government for wiping out the Maoists and their sympathisers. This urban terrorism and its repercussions in the form of heightened state repression resulted in alienating the CPI(ML) from the urban middle classes also which had provided it with much of its cadre and tacit support. Most of the cadre was either murdered or jailed by 1971 and with the arrest in 1972 and subsequent death in suspicious circumstances in jail of Mazumdar and the extrajudicial killing by the Police of another leader Saroj Datta, the first phase of the Maoist movement came to a sorry end.
The CPI(M) leaders in West Bengal learnt their lessons from the deep ideological and tactical challenge that this movement had posed to its supremacy among the peasant masses and the left leaning intelligentsia and students. They were also concerned about the danger that the threat of such armed struggle posed to their practice of participating in parliamentary democracy. So while using force against the Maoists, they also carried out wide ranging land reforms by identifying and redistributing ceiling surplus land during both its limited stints in power in 1967 and 1969-70. The Maoists protested vociferously against this legal land reform as it successfully weaned the peasants away from them but all to no avail as even Charu Mazumdar lost twelve acres of his ceiling surplus land for redistribution in this campaign! Later when it came to power again in 1978 after a landslide victory in the elections held after the lifting of the internal emergency the CPI(M) launched "Operation Barga" a programme for the registration of the rights of the "bargadars" or tenant farmers to the cultivation of the land of the landlords. The CPI(M) also introduced a participatory Panchayati Raj, which considerably increased the political power of the peasants in the rural areas. These measures created a ground swell of long lasting support for it that has ensured that it has been returned to power consecutively for a record six more terms. More importantly this created so much dynamism in the agricultural sector in West Bengal that the overall economic growth momentum of the state was sustained for a long time despite an initial decline in industrial growth due to the burgeoning of trade union militancy during CPI(M) rule .
However, in the rest of India there was not much of an impact of the Maoist movement towards bringing about land reforms. The deeply feudal control of the landlords over the peasants continued unabated. This was especially so in the neighbouring states of Bihar and Jharkhand, which had earlier seen the Bhoodan movement being reduced to a mockery. The subsequent Sampoorna Kranti Andolan in the mid 1970s, which had considerable peasant support too, was also crushed. This failure on the part of the Congress governments at the centre and in the states to pay serious attention to the problems of the peasantry in most parts of the country provided a fertile ground in the states of Bihar, Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh which had witnessed some armed mobilisations in the initial phase, for a rekindling of the Maoist rebellion from 1980 onwards. In the meantime during the decade of the 1970s the movement had remained alive in the form of many splintered groups scattered over the whole country. One such group the CPI(ML) Liberation began mobilising the peasants openly in Bihar and Jharkhand and also participating successfully in electoral politics. Two other groups in Bihar and Jharkhand, the CPI(ML) Party Unity and the Maoist Communist Centre opted for renewing the armed struggle. Similarly the CPI(ML) People's War Group and some other marginal groups too began the armed struggle in Andhra Pradesh.
This time round the movement began among the dalit and the adivasi peasants and with a clear-cut understanding that it would be subjected to heavy repression by the state. So right from the beginning armed squads were built up and provided with sophisticated weapons. These squads were extremely mobile and mostly stayed in the dense jungles only to essay forth to carry out armed actions and then retreat into their safety and anonymity once again. Simultaneously open mass organisations were built up among the peasants, workers, students, intellectuals and artistes, which worked towards raising the level of political consciousness of the masses and solving their immediate socio-economic problems arising from social and economic oppression. These mass organisations also provided the cadre for the armed squads and the underground party.  Moreover realising that the state forces could easily ring in an isolated armed movement like they had done earlier in Naxalbari and Srikakulam the movement spread its wings early on into the contiguous states and so now it has a vast area of influence extending from Tamil Nadu and Kerala in the south through Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Jharkhand to Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Bihar in the north. 
Thus when the going gets too hot in one place then the squads move out from there to concentrate their action on some other place where things are relatively easier and so keep the movement going. Consequently even though coordinated police action in Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal, has put a lid on Maoist activity there this has resulted in all the cadre and armed squads migrating to neighbouring states of Chattisgarh, Maharashtra and Orissa to intensify operations there. This mobility has become so crucial to their survival and effectiveness that all the major armed factions of the Naxalites patched up their ideological differences and came together to form the CPI (Maoist) in 2004. Consequently the spring thunder that first cracked in West Bengal in 1967 is still rolling ominously to the acute discomfort of the Indian ruling classes.
This ability to sustain an armed struggle against the state has earned it enough credibility among the poverty stricken youth mainly from among the dalits and adivasis and also from other sections of the masses to inspire them to sacrifice all for overthrowing a patently unjust politico-economic dispensation. The commitment to the overthrow of the bourgeois Indian state, though they themselves term it as being semi-feudal and semi-colonial, through the successful conduct of an armed New Democratic Revolution is so total in the movement that despite the killing of hundreds of its cadres in extra-judicial "encounters" after arrest and the jailing of thousands more of its cadres and supporters it continues to survive. Enough to force the Indian state to plan a coordinated higher scale armed intervention against the movement spread across all the states in which it has an influence. But there are limits to the violence that the state can resort to. While the state has been able to deploy the regular army to suppress the armed separatist movements in the peripheral areas in the Northeast, Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab, it cannot so easily do the same in the very heart of the country without affecting its combat readiness for meeting external threats, which are of a far more menacing nature. There is also the problem of the human rights violations that the army will commit on the populace in general alienating them from whichever political party decides to launch full scale military operations against the Maoists. 
However, this cycle of violence and counter violence has meant that the people in the areas of influence of the Maoists have been caught in the crossfire between them and the state forces. The exigencies of a civil war like situation have led to both sides targeting those people whom they feel to be informers and sympathisers of the enemy. The scope for democratic mass action has as a result been severely curtailed and at present all the open mass organisations of the Maoists are officially banned with their leading activists in jail. Moreover, to keep alive the false Maoist meta-narrative of the character of the Indian state being semi-feudal and semi-colonial in the face of the considerably stronger but equally false meta-narrative of modern market centred development the Maoists have had to oppose modern development and the further penetration of the market in the areas of their influence and maintain them in an undeveloped condition. All this has effectively put a brake on the spread of the Maoist struggle beyond the really remote rural areas of the country and also led to disaffection among the masses and activists in these areas in some cases with a tiredness having set in due to the endless wait for the elusive revolution resulting in surrenders of cadre. 
So fifty years after the first revolt in remote Naxalbari in West Bengal, which was then hailed as the "Spring Thunder" by the Communist Party of China, the Maoists are still at it playing out a politically obsolete side drama which has now been limited to the remote jungles of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, sustained by extortion from the industrial interests that operate there to mine natural resources like iron and coal. Historically it has had a role in highlighting the oppressive nature of the Indian state but has not had much impact in reducing oppression. Not that any other movement has had much impact in mitigating the oppressive nature of the Indian state but that just underlines the difficulty of fighting the huge power of modern capitalism which has now entered a resurgent neo-liberal phase on the strength of global outsourcing of economic activities and contractualisation of labour both physical and intellectual and near complete control of the minds of the masses through the media and academia.

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