19 April, 2013

Marx, Mao and Rajanna – Aim and Shoot



by Uddipan Mukherjee

Uday India, Vol. IV, No. 20, April 27 2013


Eric Hobsbawm, noted historian and prolific scholar, rues the fact that Dr Marx and Marxism were on a definite wane since 1980s. He devotes a separate chapter on this topic in his epic book How to Change the World. He writes:

“In a word, Marx was typecast as the inspirer of terror and gulag [concentration camps during Stalin’s regime], and communists as essentially defenders of, if not participators in, terror and the KGB [Soviet era secret service]” (p. 398 of the book)

Though the author refers to India’s Subaltern school of historiography [an attempt by a group of historians led by Ranajit Guha to re-write India’s struggle for Independence through the eyes of the tribals and the peasants], he doesn’t recognize the Maoist guerrilla movements in South Asia to be the torchbearer of the doctrinaire of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. Hobsbawm probably desires to remain a puritan and refrains from mixing Marxian ideology with its variants.

Interestingly, Ranajit Guha, in an interview to Milinda Banerjee (02 February 2010, at a place near Vienna), had showered praises on Charu Mazumdar and his then fledgling Naxal movement – albeit lamenting the organizational [in]capabilities of the erstwhile Naxals – which, according to Guha was the nemesis of the otherwise revolutionary outbreak. And when chroniclers of post-2004 era draft their books and monographs, they are somewhat mesmerized by the martinets of today’s Maoist organizations – who adhere to a strict code of conduct, with a restrained and modest lifestyle, and yet, aspire to conquer the Red Fort with their red flag, with few bought and largely stolen Avtomat Kalashnikovas and with a lot of their crude, country-made Improvised cannons and explosives.

Former BBC journalist and presently based in Chhattisgarh, Shubhranshu Choudhary describes: “He looked too old to be in charge of anything in a naxal squad. With his grey hair set in smooth waves and thick glasses in rectangular frames, he looked like an eccentric professor. The army fatigues and the casually slung Sten gun contrasted peculiarly with his face.” (p. 191 of Let’s Call Him Vasu).

Choudhary deserves applause, if not for narrating the oral history of the growth of the Maoists in the thickly forested regions of Bastar-Abujhmaad 1980 onwards, when seven squads each comprising of seven “comrades”  were unleashed by then leadership spearheaded by Kondapalli Sitarammiah [or KS as he is called by his “comrades”] to start/re-start the revolution; then at least for exhibiting the bravado of entering the Maoist den by jeopardizing his health – under the constant attack of the deadly mosquitoes.

“Only about a third of our party is armed, and at first, we used to buy all the arms we needed. But now, we purchase only 5 per cent of our arms; around 15 per cent is looted from the police, and we make 80 per cent ourselves” – claims Rajanna, the “Professorial” Naxal (p. 193 of Choudhary’s book). The veracity of such tall figures could well be challenged. However, Mr Rajanna elucidates about the making of Improvised cannons – which were a revelation, at least to this researcher, fifteen of which he boastfully claims to deliver in a day ! (p. 198)

In fact, Rajanna mocks at the capabilities of the Indian government in repairing rifles – an art which he and his ‘boys’ have mastered in less than one-fifth of the time ! (p. 200). This could very well be a part of the psychological warfare which is a veritable component of the fourth generation warfare -  a term for which we may hold American military scholars William Lind and Thomas Hammes responsible, albeit partially. A kind of warfare which bases itself on intelligence gathering, psychological coercion and emphasizes on asymmetry – far removed from the conventional war zones. It’s a war of the insurgent. And such an assumption with regard to Rajanna’s gameplan might not be completely out of the world, as in the same manuscript, Choudhary quotes the same “military man” Rajanna pontificating:

“See, intelligence is the main thing in this war. The state is deploying a Cobra [Commando Battalion for Resolute Action] force here, but it cannot do much if you don’t give it eyes. That is intelligence. The Andhra police planted many coverts in our Party, and they managed to strike at the top and hurt us gravely.” (p. 204)

Mr Rajanna, inheriting a legacy of carpentry, comes out with the expected and the normative. The loss of the top brass did ‘hurt them’. Even this researcher keeps on re-iterating in different forums, platforms and outlets that the Targeted Approach would be the best methodology against the insurgency. Very recently, Union Home Secretary too, professed similar ideas when he asked his troops to focus on Maoist leaders in their operations. (ZeeNews.com, 22 March 2013)

It is a war indeed. And it’s a war is believed not only by Muppalla Lakshmana Rao alias Ganapathy – the present General Secretary of the Maoists (who is one of the wanted by the National Investigation Agency), but even by Rajni. Satnam – an activist and writer, in his not merely a travelogue Jangalnama, tells the tale of Rajni, who is fully confident that she and her comrades will eventually gain control over Bastar, after which they will march into Delhi (p. 94, Jangalnama). Rajni and her comrades may be planning to emulate the rebellious Sepoys of 1857 in the process !?

Gun-wielding Rajnis and Rajannas by all probability gather their inspiration from those 49 guerrillas who moved into Bastar in 1980 – who by all means drew their zeal from their leader KS and Ramji aka Kishenji – who in turn might have extracted their strength from the concept of an insurrectional foco – the practical aspects of which were developed by Che Guevara and the theoretical concretization provided by the French intellectual Regis Debray. Che, in his by now legendary monograph Guerrilla Warfare writes on the thirteenth page:

“foco, [or foquismo, or a small nucleus of revolutionaries], can develop subjective conditions based on existing objective conditions.”

Actually, Guevara was trying to posit a new paradigm for revolution – something markedly contrasting with Lenin’s vanguard party thesis. Interestingly though, after the success in Cuba, Che started hailing Marx when he voiced:

“This revolution [Cuban revolution against Batista] is Marxist because it discovered by its own means the path that Marx pointed out” (p. 247, Development of a Marxist Revolution). 

So Che reverts and somewhat finds shelter under the overarching umbrella of Marxism. His foquismo fails miserably in Congo and Bolivia – he is hunted down in 1967 by the Bolivian counter-insurgents – when at a different latitude, amidst a differing culture, Mao innovates and plays around with his Cultural Revolution, under the premise of the psychotic threat perception of Marxism [or Mao-ism?] in danger from the cultural shocks of capitalism. Do we blame Gramsci for such actions and excesses of Mao? The Italian communist Gramsci, who wrote mostly from within the confines of the prison cell, was presumably the first scholar to have invoked this cultural onslaught on communism from the capitalist world.

As if the Sonus (Choudhury’s best bet as the future General Secretary of the Maoists), the Rajnis and the Rajannas of Bastar corroborate such views of Gramsci and Mao and keep on cocooning themselves from the external world by the integument of the autochthonous tribal identity. And with Anil (p. 10 of Let’s Call Him Vasu) leaving the intellectual and sometimes pseudo-intellectual horizons of Kolkata’s Presidency College – more specifically the Baker laboratories and acting as the courier of Kishenji and plunging into the real-life laboratory at Bastar – that elusive urban connection is what Sonu and Rajanna obtain – the umbilical cord which got detached – albeit unnaturally in early 1970s – and which they painstakingly strive to revive through frontal organizations and hidden arms manufacturing units in Indian cities.

It is the city and the growing conurbations where the final war would be fought – Mao too envisaged encircling cities from the countryside. Rajanna concurs: “The main war should be fought outside the jungle, in cities” (p. 202, Let’s Call Him Vasu). The jungle after all, is basically a guerrilla zone – a hideout against the agile counterinsurgent – a geographical ruse to aid hit-and-run tactics. The jungle is the beginning – not the destination. The cities were hamstrung though – both in India as well as in Latin America and Western Europe – in the early 1970s and late 1960s. Notably in Western Europe, under the philosophical tutelage of Herbert Marcuse, Althusser and Franz Fanon, radical student outburst was directed at saving the ‘depressed’ and ‘alienated’ worker from the mass of capitalist industrial set-up.

Equally radical, if not more violent and bloodthirsty, were the youth in Kolkata and its precincts during the Naxal movement in 1970. Journalist, author and activist Sumanta Banerjee eulogises them to an extent: “They were not common criminals, which the police tried to make them out, but dreamers with a violent mission, characters whom Dostoyevsky would have been proud to have created” (p. 237, In the Wake of Naxalbari). 

However, it is germane to note as Banerjee quotes then Naxal leader Sushital Ray Chowdhury: “Sentimental students were used to perform democratic and socialist revolutions simultaneously. 
Such activities as burning educational institutions, libraries, laboratories and destroying the educational system were prescribed. It is enough to say that no discussions were held in the Party’s Central Committee before these tasks were adopted” (p. 225, In the Wake of Naxalbari ).

This researcher interviewed ex-Naxals of late 1960s, belonging to both their ideological realm as well as squad action teams, who now are leading cosy lives in either government jobs or entrepreneurship in Kolkata. More or less unanimous verdict oozed out – “We committed errors. We should have taken the masses into confidence. Alienating them was a grave mistake.” Furthermore, interviews with people affected by the Naxal violence of the early 1970s in then North Calcutta brought out stories which indicate ruthlessness and immaturity on the part of the erstwhile so-called revolutionaries.

Accepting the wrong tactics and to some extent the philosophy had been echoed by other ex-Naxal leaders like Kanu Sanyal [allegedly committed suicide]. Charu Mazumdar’s annihilation line led them to nowhere. Probably, that provided them the lessons to couple Guevara’s foco theory with Mao’s protracted people’s war – a model more or less successfully applied at Bastar-Abujhmaad.

Undoubtedly, as Hobsbawm says that the political impact of Marxism is the most significant achievement of Dr Marx from the point of view of history; at least insofar as the guerrilla movements are concerned. On the other end, the concept of a nation-state which emerged from Westphalia holds itself intact till date and at least as immediately foreseeable future is concerned, doesn’t seem to be affected by the onslaught of the guerrilla battle-zones. Marx cheers for the Paris Commune, Mao didn't believe that revolution could be peaceful and effected at leisure, while Rajanna innovates with the ammunitions and targets the administration. 

The counter-insurgent firmly holds the gun and deservedly so. In the process, he fires at Rajni, Rajanna and Sonu. He keeps a strict vigil on the cities. He gathers intelligence and plants moles. He aims and shoots. Does he have any other alternative? 

[The author acknowledges Google Image for the snaps of Mao and Marx (top) respectively]

Dr Uddipan Mukherjee is an IOFS (ADMIN) Officer working under OFB, Min. of Defence [Govt. of India]. Any opinion expressed in this article is exclusively that of the author and in no way reflects the official position of the Govt. of India

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