Whither Maoists?

April 28, 2010

By Saroj Giri (Guest Contributor, Sanhati)


Congress heavy-weight Digvijay Singh’s attack on the pro-corporate and hawkish Home Minister Chidambaram’s approach to the ‘Maoist problem’ seems to strengthen civil society initiatives calling for talks and dialogue. However in declaring that the Maoists are not really against corporate interests and are integrated in business as usual at the local level, Singh revealed attempts at a liberal-left appropriation of Maoists, in order to settle scores with the Chidambaram faction. If Operation Civil Society is the name for such an appropriation, then this might prove as dangerous for Maoists as Operation Green Hunt. This means that unless they are able to advance the (class) struggle into new areas and new classes, it might be difficult for their ‘correct line’ to stop them from going the way of the Nepali Maoists. Physical liquidation of the Andhra model might be replaced by democratic liquidation.


“The sheen of Maoist political ideology seems to be wearing off… do we have an instance where Maoists have stopped mining operations in affected areas or have taken up the cause of the tribals for higher wages or better living and working conditions for them? If they have done so sometimes, the issue has been resolved amicably after some deal was struck.”
– Digvijay Singh criticizing Chidambaram’s hawkish approach to Maoists.

They are no enemies… We must talk to our Naxal (Maoist) friends
– Congress leader Keshava Rao in the Rajya Sabha.

The recent guerrilla action killing 76 CRPF jawans seems to show that the Maoists are not only here to stay but can also hit back and unnerve the state machinery. Its fall-out seems even graver now that dissensions within the Congress on the Maoist question are out in the open. A Congress heavy-weight like Digvijay Singh publicly taking on another heavy-weight the Home Minister, perhaps with the tacit consent of Sonia and Rahul Gandh, is not a trivial matter. If they want, Maoists thus have good reasons now to gleefully applaud themselves for inciting ‘contradictions within the ruling classes’. But is there need for a serious concern here?

Indeed the Maoists today seem to stand on the cusp of a major transformation in terms of their strengths and capacities, as they have over the past two years catapulted onto the national scene like never before. So far they had only a more spectacular presence, portrayed as engaging in dramatic acts of kidnapping, blocking the Rajdhani Express or carrying out armed actions, jailbreaks and so on. Similarly, the Prime Minister portrayed the Maoists in dramatic, spectacular, almost hysterical, terms as the largest internal security threat in the country.

However, with Digvijay Singh’s recent article, ‘Re-think counter-Maoist strategy’, attacking Chidambaram and his pro-corporate ‘law and order’ approach, there are signs that a more cool-headed and concrete appraisal of the Maoist phenomenon is taking place in the ruling circles. That is, it will be terribly mistaken to regard this as just a Singh versus Chidambaram spat – for sure, that is all that might be visible to those like us outside the charmed circles of power, but there are indications that much is happening.

What is emerging is such a ‘realist’ thinking: now that the Maoists do not seem to be fizzling out anytime soon, nor getting decimated by Operation Green Hunt or military actions, they might be as well be engaged with, if not accepted, as a stakeholder of power, at least as a structure of command, control and power which the dominant ruling classes must reckon with. Such a ‘sane’ appraisal of the Maoist presence seems clear from Singh’s piece. Further, Congress leader K Keshava Rao announces in the Rajya Sabha, post-CRPF massacre, that Naxals are no enemies and we must talk to “our Naxal friends”. What is needed is a ‘political process’: thus former Chief Minister of Chattisgarh Ajit Jogi points out in support of Singh that “there are three aspects to the Maoist problem: the socio-economic, the law and order side and the political process”. It is important to note that ‘political process’ is the new addition to this discourse.

This is already in addition to Mani Shankar Aiyar’s extremely vocal statements against the hawkish approach and ‘1000 per cent’ support to Singh’s article. Further, Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi seem to be tacitly even if ambiguously supporting these voices. The two Gandhis have either avoided saying anything much on the Maoists or have pointed out lack of development and just government policies as the real problem – what also seems in line with the Congress’s aam admi approach.

With this soft stance towards Maoists emerging from within the ruling party, the possibility of talks increases. But what can also be expected is the machinations and maneuvers of all kinds of vested interests taking a progressive, liberal-left stance in favour of talks and dialogue with the government. To start with, one must notice that Singh’s appraisal of the Maoists is not just the vintage socio-economic approach pitted against the law and order approach attributed to Chidambaram. Crucially, Singh claims that the Maoists are not really against corporate interests and it is in portraying such a less-than-revolutionary face of the Maoists that he is able to challenge the need and rationale of Operation Green Hunt against them and argue for talks instead.

The aam admi faction seems to portray, fashion, appropriate Maoists in ways that allow them to take on the hawkish faction – a mere ruling class game, at one level. But is there a tacit suggestion here that talks can materialise under pain of, one way or the other, rendering Maoists less-than-revolutionary? If the Maoists are really serious about talks should they then strike a tacit deal, ‘a gentleman’s agreement’ with the pro-talk, aam admi faction within the Congress? Flipping the question around, is this faction piggy-riding on the Maoists to settle their scores with the hawkish faction? In any case, at a slight stretch, it seems not utterly futile to ask: is Operation Civil Society silently at work scripting what could be a ‘democratic liquidation’ of the Maoists? It is an ungrateful question but also an ungrateful task, my task here, exploring it.

The political terrain

Marking the present politico-ideological terrain is of course the fact that Singh’s views echo Congress’s, as in Sonia and Rahul Gandhi’s ‘progressive’ aam admi agenda of reaching out to the poor. Also Singh’s opposition to Chidambaram’s line would find approval among a large section of what the media has termed the jholawalas, lefties and NGOs. Chidambaram, on the other hand, is presented as alienating the Congress from the aam admi and instead playing along with hawkish upper middle class jingoism who are all for a strong state and free rein to corporate interests. We cannot then overlook this terrain constituted by the contention between the two factions within the Congress mobilising different social bases, ‘the masses and the classes’, for their political power. Thus, the same Congress-led government see-saws between the pro-corporate Special Economic Zone Act and the ‘pro-people’ Employment Guarantee Act: carrot-and-stick policy.

The internal composition and particular configuration of the social basis of political power within the ruling Congress today is to a very large extent determined by this contention and tension between the two factions. It is within this context of the murky waters of interests and counter-interests, the machinations of power blocs, played out currently as corporate vs. aam admi approaches, that the Maoist comes to be cognized by those in power. However the corporate versus aam admi divide cuts across parties beyond the Congress and then gets translated state-wise in regional Maoist-affected contexts in slightly changed idioms. Recent Lok Sabha debates were marked by every party accusing the other of colluding with the Maoists: Singh himself wrote BJP is colluding, BJP says Congress colluded in Andhra, Mamata of course saying Maoists are same as CPIM, CPIM in turn accusing Trinamool of colluding, Shibu Soren and Nitish Kumar too colluding and apparently unwilling to implement Operation Green Hunt so on. Muddling waters further Arun Jaitley insinuates that Mamata Banerjee and Mani Shankar Aiyar are ‘half-Maoists’ and ‘consultants to insurgents’ sitting in the House. It is as though all these parties have to displace their own hidden illegality onto the Maoists, to be able to present themselves as constitutional, legal and legitimate in the first place!

Factional enframing of the Maoists

That is, the conflict and competition between these two factions within the ruling bloc means that the Maoist gets portrayed in different ways by each of them. Now the first kind of enframing coming from Chidambaram faction that the Maoists are out to violently overthrow the India state, and are against the very idea of India, is clearly applauded by large sections of the upper middle classes. The BJP fully backs this up and so do large sections within the Congress. Arun Jaitley was overly shrill in the Lok Sabha calling upon the Congress to rally behind the Home Minister and his hard approach towards the Maoists. What is it about the Maoists that allows such a hawkish approach to be adopted by a large section of the ruling classes? And here we know that this shows that the Maoists are indeed true to their political ideology, leading the struggle for a ‘violent’ overthrow of the Indian state and the establishment of communism. This means that the Maoists are indeed to a large extent on the path of protracted people’s war – testified therefore by the Indian’s state antagonistic and repressive actions against them. Or, for the more skeptical, they are at least arraigned against corporate interests and waging some kind of a struggle, perhaps a class struggle.

While then this first enframing follows from Maoist revolutionary politics, the second seems to offer a different picture – of Maoists who have lost the sheen of their political ideology. The second enframing is of course the left-liberal one propounded by Singh, Mani Shankar Aiyar and in fact large sections of liberal civil society and democratic rights groups. And here we have Singh himself in his article.

He makes three points. One, he challenges the narrow approach of the Home Minister, who “is treating it purely as a law and order problem without taking into consideration the issues that affect the tribals”, issues of “governance and livelihood” and instead “converting the serene and calm environment of Bastar into a battlefield”. Interestingly, another Congress leader Amaresh Mishra, close to Singh, had written elsewhere how “the Congress’s reformist agenda however was not liked by a powerful lobby of upstart corporate interests”, clearly pointing fingers at the Chidambaram lobby. Second, Singh presents an ambiguous picture of the Maoist approach towards corporates, and towards mining and other activities. There is no “instance where Maoists have stopped mining operations in affected areas”. And if at all the Maoists raised issues of wage increase for tribals or better living conditions, “the issue has been resolved amicably after some deal was struck”. Third, Singh calls for focusing primary attention on the plight of the tribals on issues related to governance and development, land and resources, and the need for benign policies in order to undercut the Maoist base.

While the contention between these two corporate factions in the Congress is evident, what is interesting is how this contention not only centres around working out the right approach in countering the Maoists but also offers a new appraisal of the latter. This new liberal-left appraisal does not just say that Maoists cannot be treated as a law and order problem and must be treated as primarily if not exclusively a socio-economic problem – implement PESA, Forest Rights Act and so on. It says something more and this is new: it says that the Maoists are not against corporate interests and in fact are quite well integrated in the local economy and business as usual wherever they are strong. “The sheen of their political ideology seems to be wearing off” as they facilitate business as usual. Thus “traders, forest contractors, industrialists and mining companies carrying on their business without a problem, in fact, quite merrily, in the Naxalite dominated areas. The Maoists, simply, are collecting protection fees.” In fact, after the massacre of CRPF jawans, when you would imagine that corporates are going to run for their lives from Maoist areas, Tata Steel MD H. M. Nerurkar calmly tells this about their steel venture in Chattisgarh: “We are not dropping the project on account of the naxal problem.”

Now there are two aspects to this issue of Maoists not being seen by sections within the ruling circles to be as radical as the ideological claims they make. One is of course the actual activities of the Maoists and their relationship with corporates in the different areas they are strong in. This is one which needs empirical verification which we cannot do here. The other aspect is the imperatives of the ruling parties that drive them to view Maoists as such, as fulfilling a particular role and function which is in consonance with the internal needs of the particular faction – and the liberal-left faction cannot present itself as going soft on a force which is openly against corporate capital. Thus here the liberal-left faction enframes the Maoist as not inimical to the overall corporate interests and business, except for the tax and levies they charge.

Liberal-left allied to corporate capital

What we see is that the liberal-left approach cannot of course break from the dominant order of corporates and big capital. So it somehow has to present the case of tribal upliftment and addressing socio-economic issues without antagonizing corporate capital. Thus it cannot advocate adopting a socio-economic approach to the Maoist problem, in the face of the ongoing corporate-backed military strategy of Chidambaram, without assuring that Maoists are not against corporates as such and that they arise out of the issue of alienation of tribals from their land and resources.

Now such a liberal-left approach aligned finally with big capital is nothing new. Right since the days of so-called Nehruvian socialism large sections of the left, often including the CPI and later the CPIM, have played second fiddle or openly facilitated the depredations of capital in the country. Post-liberalisation of course we see the CPIM at the vanguard of implementing some of the most aggressive policies of capital and the state. On the other hand, it can be argued that NREGA and a host of other social policies including the Forest Rights Act were all designed to contain social discontent and cushion the effects of market globalization as much as to garner votes through populist policies.

What is new then about this liberal-left in the light of the strong Maoist presence, as also of so many other movements against corporate plunder today, is that the ‘social discontent’ which pro-poor policies are trying to ‘ameliorate’ or ‘contain’ has now taken a distinct form, gone out of hand and getting articulated as a political force, as in fact counter-veiling power. Since now this power, the Maoists, do not seem to be petering out soon or decimated whenever the powers that be so desire, they are now being cognized by the liberal-left as a force to be engaged with. In cognizing the Maoists as such, it is imperative on the liberal-left to portray and appropriate them in ways that suit its own interests – hence as not inimical to corporate interests. Earlier, the Expert Committee on Left Wing Extremism of the Planning Commission too carried on such an approach of trying to enframe Maoists as some kind of less-than-revolutionary, radical social democrats (ok sometimes with a gun!) out there to seek justice. But then this means that there is here also a veiled suggestion to the Maoists as to what they should do if they want to endear themselves to the pro-talk, liberal-left faction, how they should in fact dilute their political ideology and so on. Will this have any impact on the Maoists, leading them to act as less-than-revolutionary?

Revolutionary movements at the service of reformist ones?

Thus if rendering the Maoists less-than-revolutionary is the hidden basis on which the talks and dialogue are to take place then one must raise certain questions about Operation Civil Society. Do scrapping Chidambaram’s hawkish policy and then talks and dialogue only mean the possibility of democratic liquidation of the Maoists, wearing off of their political ideology and so on? Do those opposing Operation Green Hunt do so thinking, as it seems Rahul Gandhi and Digvijay Singh and Mani Shankar Aiyar do, that Maoists dilute their political ideology in practice and can definitely be contained through socially oriented policies – and in turn be made the reason why more such policies be brought about, strengthening thereby the left-wing of capital and the state.

The more Operation Green Hunt fails to decimate the Maoists and the more Maoists are able to expand and proliferate, the more assertive the liberal-left is going to get, proffering their approach and solution. No wonder Singh’s article comes after the massacre of the CRPF jawans, when it seemed like Operation Green Hunt is not taking off. The Maoist presence and Chidambaram’s failure to eliminate it will clearly bring cheers to the liberal-left and allow them great leverage within the corridors of power. If this happens of course this might mean a larger realignment within the ruling bloc in favour of more people-oriented policies and applying some restraint on private capital and economic reforms – thanks to the Maoist presence!

On the other hand, objectively speaking the Indian state and ruling classes have lost touch with vast masses of people, particulary adivasis so that Maoists came to be the only credible force, to fill up what CPI leader from Bastar Manish Kunjam called a ‘political vacuum’ (Frontline, April 24 – May 7, 2010). Now apart from the subjective intentions of the Maoists the point is that objectively speaking big capital and the state in India today might look to the Maoists as facilitating this mediation between the tribals and the corporates – unless big capital is willing to go for an all out extermination of the tribals and capture the land and resources. This is the context in which we must understand ruling class parties accusing each other of being soft on the Maoists to secure electoral victories in Maoist areas – the Congress is supposed to be soft on Maoists to secure electoral gains in states like Chattisgarh with a BJP government. This only means that one way or another these parties are forced to deal with the fact that the Maoists are the only credible force with mass support in certain areas of sharp struggle against corporate capital.

Thus in terms of the internal composition of the ruling bloc today there is a possibility of talks and dialogue between the Maoists and the government, in fact of reconciliation too. However as we saw the enframing horizon within which such dialogue and reconciliation is envisioned clearly means co-opting the Maoist challenge in order to revive and refuel the old Nehruvian left ideals in the times of corporate globalization. No wonder arch-Nehruvian Aiyar declared his ‘one thousand percent’ support to Singh’s critique of Chidambaram. Social movements and civil society groups too have become more vocal demanding proper implementation of PESA, Panchayats, gram sabhas, different progressive Acts.

What is interesting and a paradox if you like, is that the Maoist movement far from rekindling a radical left or Marxist imagination consonant with the Naxalbari legacy, has instead fuelled and activated generally welfarist, left-of-centre sections – and in fact increased their bargaining power vis-à-vis those favouring corporate capital and a strong state. Is Maoist revolutionary subjectivity at the service of reformist movements? Prachanda’s promised fusion between people’s war and peoples movement in Nepal too turned out to be people’s war sacrificed towards a broad and vague peoples movement to the advantage of otherwise popularly hated, mainstream political parties. Bhoodan movement and the Gandhian movement itself got a new lease of life after Independence when it presented itself as a response or ‘humane solution’ to the Telegana armed uprising. This question of the subsumption of radical, revolutionary, ‘violent’ movements into infusing life and legitimacy in the existing order, with the ‘official left’ playing the intermediary, comprador role has to posed again today. Perhaps it is a problem of articulation, perhaps it is more substantive than that, or perhaps it is a sign of the overall logic of society, state and politics today – this needs more understanding.

Coming back to the present situation: the Maoists physically are not doing too bad confronting the military heat of Operation Green Hunt and the hawks within the Home Ministry; but what they seem not yet fully aware of is this ideological streamlining and sequestration of their subjectivity, twisted to rejuvenate the progressive ideals of the self-same Constitution and the progressive legislation ‘the sham of Indian democracy’ has churned out in no small quantities. If they realize, Maoists are today reeling under both Operation Green Hunt and Operation Civil Society! There is a however a tendency among the Maoists to be a bit too jubilant whenever civil society hotshots shower recognition and praise on them.

Now whether Maoists, in the face of conciliatory gestures and proposals from the liberal-left, will slowly come to some kind of an understanding with the Indian state or it will continue with its revolutionary aim and objective of New Democratic Revolution is a question we cannot settle here. What we can do is reflect on this model of armed struggle inflected and refracted in and through contradictions within the ruling circles and the calls and possibilities for talks and dialogue through some kind of civil society intervention and mediation. This way we can perhaps see that the ability of sections of the ruling classes to enframe the Maoists in ways that help reconfigure and renew the legitimacy of dominant power, might be a fall-out of a particular way of doing armed struggle.

Armed struggle ‘model’?

At the risk of oversimplification, let me outline the realist (definitely not the Marxist) account of armed struggle of the Maoists.
As pointed out by several writers, Maoists started work in areas where the Indian state is weakest or hardly has any presence as in Dandakaranya, where there exists intense exploitation and oppression by agents of the state like Forest Department officials or by private contractors and traders. Maoists then, what has been narrated better by other writers, took up struggle for wage increase, higher prices for forest produce from traders, against women’s oppression and landlordism and so on.

In most cases Maoists soon gain a lot of popularity. They become a major power network there, running people’s courts, collecting taxes, levies on local contractors and traders. In any case, the Maoists soon gain real power on the ground, which becomes counter-power to the dominant order. They are able to challenge the armed might of the state too. Once this is achieved, the key point is whether this power allows Maoists to further radicalize the struggle and eventually build up towards a total replacement of the existing state order and society. Or, with this not happening, whether it starts negotiating with the already established dominant state order. Of course there are no binaries like that – for negotiations can be a step towards intensifying the struggle through strategic retreat. In any case, no matter what the objective, Indian Maoists are, as of today, keen to negotiate or go for talks and do not seem to be able to take the movement to a higher level. And this seems to be following on the features of a traditional armed struggle model.

In this model, the state response is of course to initially overlook them, if they have not become a credible threat yet to the ruling order, to business as usual and the authority of the state and parliamentary political process. The same was the case when the Maoists launched their people’s war in 1996 in Nepal: they were totally marginal to national politics. In fact this was the approach of the Indian state till recently. But then once they start being seen as a threat and also expanding, there are two kinds of responses. To physically eliminate them, particularly if the ruling order is not itself split from within and is internally cohesive in its approach. Or, as we saw with the liberal-left approach, to simultaneously befriend them if the internal dissensions within the ruling bloc mean that this threat can be used to buttress the claims of this one faction against the other faction.

In this realist account of the model of armed struggle, then, the rebels first establish themselves as a major power network (as a revolutionary force); the state and established order then try to dislodge them; if they cant, then there is a tendency to accommodate them; talks and negotiations begin, figuring out possible outcomes and compromise positions. But even though Maoists have emerged as a structure of power, not easily dislodged, the government today is not readily willing to negotiate and is putting strong conditionalities like ‘abjure violence’ and so on. This has of course to do with corporate capital’s strong linkages with the state. Companies like Vedanta, Arcelor Mittal, Tata Steel, Essar are openly and brazenly promoted by the Indian state.

More importantly, the government today feels that it does not lose its democratic legitimacy in making ‘war on its own people’. And that has to do with the upper middle class support base which is cheering on Chidambaram to go ahead and finish off the Maoists. Calls for using maximum force to finish off the ‘anti-national’ Maoists, egging on Chidambaram to go on no-holds barred, were on full display in the aftermath of the killing of 76 security personnel in Dantewada. On this count, negotiations are still not so much on the cards for the Indian state.

The other reason is also of course that precisely due to such a nature of the upper middle classes and intense corporate hegemony even among the lower classes, radical resistance among urban workers is extremely sporadic and falls short of acquiring a critical mass. And if they are unable to expand, Maoists might be more willing to go for talks and negotiations as a way out of being restricted in limited areas or expanding in sociologically homogeneous areas (forest areas, or among adivasis only) – thereby reinforcing the armed struggle model. It is the confidence and continued legitimacy of the state and its policies among the upper middle classes that allows it to ignore the Maoists as a legitimate force even when Digvijay paints them as not so dangerous, well integrated in business as usual, collecting taxes from local traders, contractors and businesses and so on.

Generalising the struggle or perpetuating power?

The key question for the Maoists is this: how can they transcend the traditional armed struggle model and go ahead with their political goals, intensifying the class struggle and so on? Are the janatam sarkar and the revolutionary peasant committees headed towards an alternative political power or are they only excellent but interim ways of organizing production and consumption at the local level only?

Thus it seems clear that if the Maoists are not able to expand their struggle in new areas, new classes and precipitate a larger crisis for the Indian state, the traditional armed struggle model would invariably set limits on it. Talks and dialogue in themselves are neither good nor bad: what is important is the larger dynamic of the struggle, of the ability to generalize the struggle and precipitate a wider crisis for the state – something much more pertinent given that the present government does not really derive legitimacy from the masses in Dantewada or Lalgarh but from the urban middle classes. From what one can see, Maoists seem to be pinning much hope on the initiatives by the intelligentsia and urban civil society groups, rather than mobilizing masses in urban areas, drawing thereby a line of generalization to the ‘base struggle’ in Dantewada, Lalgarh and elsewhere.

In Nepal, even after the Maoists spread to almost 70 per cent of the country, they still could not figure out how to expand to urban areas, particularly among the middle classes. It was only after they entered into the Nov 2005 12-point agreement with the seven political parties that they started expanding in urban areas – but that was only after they suspended their people’s war. So the question: how does one expand the people’s war among urban workers and the middle class? While Indian Maoists have more or less rightly critiqued the Nepali Maoists, they do not seem to have answers to such questions, to the real problems that the path of protracted people’s war encounters. The choice is between generalizing the struggle or eventually getting suckered in the flows of capital and state power.

After all, if the Maoists are not dynamically expanding in new areas, among new classes and winning new allies (for example the nationality movements and anti-caste struggles), there is always a chance that their present revolutionary base areas would get enmeshed in the larger circulation of quantities and masses which is global capitalism today – liberated zones can start wilting from within. Of course this might sound a bit too pessimistic today when the movement exudes a lot of revolutionary energy if not dynamism. Hence we can put it this way: Maoists today seem poised between either generalizing the struggle, advancing the class struggle to new heights, or lapsing into dominant, constituted, ossified (local) power, albeit rendering the dominant system progressive and humane in the process. Without an advancing class struggle, civil society initiatives, if taken a bit too seriously, for all their good intentions, cannot but push Maoists towards the latter, now also buttressed by liberal-left voices within the ruling party.

The liberal-left or civil society opposition to Operation Green Hunt and towards talks and dialogue is a double-edged sword as it tends to piggy-ride on the Maoist movement to establish its own agenda vis-à-vis the dominant neoliberal Chidambaram lobby – best exemplified in the catch-all expression ‘peace with justice’. Thus for example the choice offered between Operation Green Hunt or the (liberal-left) socio-economic approach, through effective implementation of PESA/Forest Rights Act and so on, is a false choice. While the possibility of a physical liquidation of the Andhra model remains, a new threat of democratic liquidation too can become a possibility. Unless Maoists are able to break their dalliance with civil society and advance their struggle to newer classes and urban areas, they might badly succumb.

Invisible hand

Lastly, let us come back to the attempted liberal-left appropriation of Maoists, against the hawkish pro-corporate faction, particularly in Singh’s article. While this is ‘ruling class contradiction’, we must not however fail to point out that, from a revolutionary standpoint, there is a truth contained in Singh’s assertion that Maoists are violent and do threaten the state but are not against business as usual, not against corporate interests. Indeed, Maoist politics is marked by the juxtaposition of a highly revolutionary, antagonistic relationship towards the state and its apparatus, including its political process of legitimization (boycott elections), with a highly ambiguous relationship to private trade and business at the local level. This is of course the difficult question of state versus capital, of state versus commodity production – where state is easily located and identified while capital and commodity production are diffuse, decentred and cannot be a target for revolutionary action. It is easier to confront the state and target it as a structure of oppression than be able to see how the market, private trade and exchange ‘spontaneously’ produces inequalities of power and wealth. The invisible hand of the market is sometimes far more instrumental in forestalling revolutions than the visible hand of the state.

Surely, the Maoists need to get a grasp of this problem, which has historically existed right since the days of Lenin when after capture of state power the Bolsheviks swung between War Communism (banning private trade and money) and the New Economic Policy (allowing a quantum of private trade and free market) in 1919-21. The Cultural Revolution in turn showed us that the old state and old classes might go but the existing conditions of production, in particular the wage system and the operation of the law of value (the capitalist market) in turn ‘spontaneously’ generates a new bourgeoisie, well… as Mao pointed out, from within the Communist Party.

Undoubtedly, Maoist practice particularly the experience of the janatam sarkars must be one way or another encountering this problem and must have tried to address it. The Maoists of course cannot shy away from actively relating to the trade and business (including looting banks) in areas under their control. However, to view it as only a local practical exigency (we all need money, don’t we?) and not relating it to the course of the overall revolutionary process can prove dangerous.


4 Responses to “Whither Maoists?”

  1. Sukla Sen Says:
    May 1st, 2010 at 01:50

    It is pretty much interesting how of all persons, Digvijay Singh, a high-level Congress functionary, has been packaged and presented as a public face of the much despised “liberal-left” to launch a tirade against the “Operation Civil Society”(!). Clearly implying that the civil society is as much engaged in anti-Maoist Operation as the State is, even if “by other means”, and thereby serving the interests of “corporate capital”. (Obviously the only the Maoists have the divinely ordained monopoly right to oppose corporate capital, everybody else claiming such a mantle is a pretender or worse.)
    This is of a piece with the recent vituperative diatribes of Gautam Navlakha and Sumanta Banerjee against the proposed Peace March in Chhattisgarh to be undertaken by well-known peace and democratic rights activists.

    The obvious Maoist dilemma is that on the one hand, given the heat, it has t to sue for peace, and for that they need the services of the “civil society” – “the useful idiots”; on the other, it finds the ideology of “peace”, and its proponents, even more subversive and dangerous than the Operation Green Hunt itself undertaken by a repressive State.

    The State and the Maoists both hate “peace” and peace-activists.

    It is in this specific context the following excerpt from the Economic and Political Weekly, April 24 2010 , lead editorial becomes highly relevant.

    The CPI (Maoist) claims that it has been forced to take up the gun because over the past four decades central and state governments have violently suppressed the Naxalite movement whenever it has been able to organise the poor. Suppression by the State is a fact but this is an erroneous explanation, for the gun is central to the Maoist politics of waging an armed struggle to overthrow the State. The constant use of violence to protect and expand influence has inevitably begun to define of the character of the party. The result is that the CPI (Maoist) now has more of a militarised identity than a political one. Naturally, the violence of the Maoists increasingly mimics the violence of the State. Even if there can be no symmetry between the two, the consequences of the CPI (Maoist)’s militarised form of functioning are many. It is horrifying that the CPI (Maoist) now has little qualms in even justifying murderous retribution in its fight against the State (see unedited interview of Azad, CPI (Maoist) spokesperson, with The Hindu). This is unacceptable coming from a political formation that claims to want to build a new and just society.

    Ultimately, what is at test in the conflict is not the politics and violence of the CPI (Maoist) but the very institution of Indian democracy. For wherever the CPI (Maoist) has built up some influence it has done so because the fault lines in Indian democracy have made people in some of the most deprived regions of the country deeply resentful of the State. It is the organs of the State that are now in the dock for their cumulative failure to respect and guarantee the rights of all Indians. The Indian state is so enamoured of its (perceived) status as an economic and political power on the international stage that it does not see what is happening on its periphery. The adivasi anger is only one of many, albeit small, fires burning in the country. (It is somewhat strange that even as Hindutva continues bit by bit to undo the basic tenets of the Constitution, it is the CPI (Maoist) which is seen as posing the “greatest ever internal security challenge” to the State.)

    (The complete text is available at .)

    One may also like to look up ‘Towards A New World: Via Maoist Insurgency?’ at .

  2. Santanu Chacraverti Says:
    May 1st, 2010 at 06:34

    In connection to the contention that Maoists often strike deals with corporates, Saroj Giri writes:

    “This is one which needs empirical verification which we cannot do here.”

    A careful scrutiny of this claim however is extremely pertinent to developing an understanding of the Maoist phenomenon. Is the author or anyone else in a position to undertake such a scrutiny? I look forward to a discussion of this aspect.

  3. Kuntok K Says:
    May 1st, 2010 at 15:33

    On the one hand, the corporates backed by the state at the same time protected by the Maoists, on the other, the Maoists up in arms both against the corporates and the state, the fact deflated by a quasi-counterfactual of “state versus capital” – this write-up, through all its confusions, clearly and symptomatically reflects the fragility of the desubstantiated Indian civil society. This is what is the most dangerous aspect of the entire story. And this aspect is well-articulated in one of the above paranoiac responses – “The State and the Maoists both hate “peace” and peace-activists.”

  4. Sukla Sen Says:
    May 2nd, 2010 at 06:39


    (The complete text is available at .)
    One may also like to look up ‘Towards A New World: Via Maoist Insurgency?’ at .

    To be read as:

    The complete text is available at: http://www.facebook.com/sukla.sen?v=app_2347471856&ref=profile#!/note.php?note_id=10150182731145437.)

    One may also like to look up ‘Towards A New World: Via Maoist Insurgency?’ at: http://www.facebook.com/sukla.sen?v=app_2347471856&ref=profile#!/note.php?note_id=318738120436.

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