The Naxalite Left at the Beginning of the Millennium


Subhash Gatade


Marxism, since its inception, has had many ‘deaths’ if we take into consideration the ‘obituaries’’, pronouncements or prophesising of its ''end'' in  this mortal world. Right from the band of ex-Marxists to the archreactionary type people have from time to time declared the ultimate demise of this ‘‘utopia’’. But despite all their skullduggery, Marxism has kept rising from the ashes like the legendary phoneix. It is no wonder then that a similar fate has awaited Naxalism, which arose to reestablish revolutionary essence of Marxism in the concrete conditions of post-colonial India in the late sixties.


The Naxalite movement would shortly be completing three and a half decades of its journey in India. In this connection it appeared worthwhile to take a bird’s eyeview of the goings on the movement and extrapolate its future trajectory in the 21st century.

It may be noted at this juncture that barring a few interventions, writings and books which reached the newsstands in the immediate aftermath of Naxalbari, the whole gamut of revolutionary left movement has largely remained outside the purview of Indian Marxist intellectuals of different hues all these years. It is only when gross human rights violations are noticed in the naxalite infested (as the bourgeois press calls it) areas that one observes activities on part of the partisan intelligentsia. But by and large the concerns and the experiences, programmes, strategies and tactics, interorganisational relationships have largely remained unanalysed and undiscussed among left intellectuals. Definitely no single individual can be held responsible for this, but it need be said that maintaining silence over such a big social phenomenon does not seem to be a healthy trend.


Today the revolutionary left movement loosely called the Naxalite movement presents quite a paradoxical pitcute. One notices two processes, the first one signifying its progress on practical and on a limited theoretical plane and  the other one signifying the problems since its inception which have maintained a continuity with the past.


On the one hand all evidence goes to show that the movement is on the rise, it’s influence among the poor and downtrodden is growing. Despite tremendous state repression accompanied by martyrdoms and killings, Andhra being the most strife torn state the flow of fresh cadres to its ranks is not dwindling. It is not for nothing that today it can claim to be one of the strongest revolutionary left movements in the world those only next to the Phillipines, Peru and Nepal. Fresh action plan on part of the government seeking Vietnamese or Israeli help in the counterinsurgency operations against the Naxalites are also an indicator that all the old grandiose plans about its suppression have come a cropper and the movement as a whole is growing.


On the other hand it is also true that the revolutionary left has been beset with problems which are refusing to go. If the problem of left adventurism visited it in the earlier period, today also it can’t be said with surity that the movement has got rid of this trend. Left adventurism coupled with right opportunism present the strongest non-proletarian trend within the movement.

As things stand today the revolutionary left has been marked by the presence of more than forty odd formations and the tragic phenomenon of split within split. The failure of the movement in impacting the national politics all these years barring a small period at the time of the Naxalite uprising and its essentially marginal existence on the scene appears quite natural in such a background.


Definitely this paradoxical situation need to be explained before talking about the future prognosis of the  movement. One need to delve deep into the strengths and the weaknesses of the movment and simultaneously one should also look into the whole dialectic of subjective forces and objective conditions logic to arrive at a clear understanding.


A comprehensive understanding of this paradoxical situation requires analysis at three different levels. The first and foremost can be said to be the problems encountered in the initial phase of the movement.  The second layer of analysis would comprise of the programmatic formulations adopted by the movement and its relevance in today’s conditions. The third layer of analysis should focus on the changes in the overall schema of global capital and the challenges before the socialist project in the aftermath of the reversals faced by the socialist camp.


Before delving deep into the pluses and the minuses of the movement it would be better to cast a glance at the contemporary Naxalite movement which has acquired a different look since the days of Naxalbari. Ranging from geographical shift to a new crop of leadership this new face is visible at many different levels.

The most significant change has been the plethora of formations which today claim the legacy of the Naxalite uprising. It could be said that all the attempts since the days of Naxalbari to unite the revolutionary communists under a single banner have failed. And indications are that nothing substantial will happen in the coming years. The old leadership of the movement has given way to an altogether new leadership which had its first brush with politics in the aftermath of Naxalbari. Most of the old stalwarts of the movement are either dead or not playing any significant role.


The second noticeable change has been an areawise shift in the focus of the movement. If Bengal heralded the onset of the ‘Naxalbari uprising’ adding names of Naxalbari, Debra-Gopiballabpur, Birbhum, Calcutta etc to the folklore then, today with more than two decades of rule by CPIM the revolutionary left has been relegated to the background in that state and movements in Bihar and Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh etc. have gained prominence.


A sea change is visible in the modus operandi of the movement. None of the formations owing allegiane to Naxalbari today considers building mass organisations to be a sign of ‘revisionism’, most of them at some level are engaged in what would have been considered ‘reformist work’, in the earlier phase, many of the formations have started fighting elections supposedly to expose the system, nobody now talks of red armies marching in the would be ‘Yenans’ of India.


Another notable feature is the changed composition of class forces standing or supporting the movement. If in the 60s revolutionary left could garner enough support base among the urban middle classes in general and the intellegentsia in particular especially in Bengal, leading the famous exodus of the ‘best brain of the times’ to join with the movement, down the years the whole movement has acquired a predominantly rural or tribal character where lower castes and marginal groups in social hierarchy now form the core of its support base.


A significant change is also noticeable as far as sustaining the movement in any particular area for long period is concerned. At the time of Naxalbari it was not possible to continue at the high pitch of struggle for long. The uprising in Naxalbari could continue only for around seventy two days. The ‘guerilla’ struggle which essentially got reduced to the line of ‘annihilation’ of class enemies in areas like Srikakulam, Debra-Gobiballapur, Birbhum also could not be sustained for long. Today the movements in Gadchiroli in Maharashtra, Bastar in Madhya Pradesh or Koraput in Orrissa etc. apart from the strong movements in Dandakaranya and central Bihar are witness to the change that has occured at the ground level.


Of course beneath the new look one notices quite a few things which are continuing in the same vigour and same mode. First and foremost seems to be the ideological zeal of its cadres who are committed to the cause of socialism and in a majority of cases ready to do ultimate sacrifice for this goal.

Like in late 60s it is still in a position to channelise the frustration of a large section of the thinking section of the Indian people over the failure of the independence porject. Its making a radical rupture in the early days with parliamentarism and economism which had crept into the left movement and till date its largely keeping itself aloof from the mire of electoral politics and focussing attention on raising people’s struggles in many a militant way is also worth underlining. Like in the days of the ‘spring thunder’ the focus of the movements is still on the most backward regions and terrain of India where various medieval forms of oppression still persist.


As an aside it would be worthwhile to throw light on some of the actual activities of Naxal groups which are rarely mentioned in the mainstream media and completely get ignored in the government pronouncements. These activities in fact, are one of the reasons for the continuing popularity of Naxal groups in parts of India. It need be noted that what follows is a random selection of news and reports purportedly to give an idea of the multifarious activities undertaken by various ML formations.


Vaartha, Eenadu and all other leading newspapers of A P reported in May 1996 the temple entry movement led by Progressive Organisation of People, an outfit affiliated to the revolutionary left movement, in a village called Gudipadu situated around 20 km away from Kurnool, Andhra Pradesh. According to the newspapers the local Reddys and other upper class people denied the entry to the people belonging to Madiga community, a caste coming under scheduled category, to a temple constructed on village common land. The movement that ensued which had participation of different organisations from all over the state ultimetely proved successful. It may also be told that the same organisation took up similar cases of caste apartheid or discrimination in many adjoining villages.