Marx never made any abstract statement like “Revolution is Inevitable”; On the contrary, in the Communist Manifesto prepared for the Communist League and published in 1848, Marx and Engels categorically declares: “The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win”. So, when Kobad Ghandy‘s (KG) interview with Ms Jyothi Punwani published in the 28th March, Weekly Magazine of The Hindu, (given as separate article) appears with the title ‘We can no longer keep saying revolution is inevitable’ the reader will be confused, as it is the revisionists who teach revolution is inevitable and there can be peaceful transition to socialism. As far as we know, the party he was in, the CPI(ML) People’s War (PWG) in the beginning and CPI(Maoist) also do not say so. So, we can conclude that it is a headline given by the editors.
KG belongs to the generation of comrades who joined the Naxalite movement(as the CPI(ML) movement is popularly mentioned in the mainstream media) during the objectively potential, post-Emergency years. He left his studies in UK and returned to Mumbai, organized the Vidyarthi Pragati Sanghatan (VPS), the most active student organization of Mumbai at that time, formed Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights (CPDR) with Ad. P.A. Sebastian and other friends, and by 1979 joined the PWG. For 30 years he worked with PWG, and then CPI(Maoist) before he was arrested in 2009 from Delhi. During this period probably in 1991 when K.G. Sathyamurthi, who was secretary for many years was expelled for his stand on caste question, for some time he was also separated from PWG; but soon he re-joined it. After 10 years jail life, he came out on bail in 2019. His book: Fractured Freedom: A Jail Memoir, is just published. During his days in Tihar jail he had written few articles on various topics, critically reviewing his experience, which were published in the Mainstream weekly.
Though in 1979, when I had gone to Mumbai to organize the CRC, CPI(ML), I tried to meet him, as he had gone out for some meetings, I could not. Collecting his number from PA Sebastian, I called him and had a fairly long talk with him. From that as well as from the article he had written in People’s Power, an irregular Bulletin published by Prof. Dixit, on agrarian relations in India, it was clear that he had become firm advocate of the ideological-political-organizational line of PWG by that time. Later in early 1990s, when he was ‘semi-underground’ after his brief separation from PWG, and living at Nagpur I had a long discussion with him. Then also, apart from some differences on the organizational decisions of PWG, he strongly defended its line. So, his articles in Mainstream in which he had made critical assessment of many aspects of the PWG/Maoist line (of course not mentioning its name) was a surprise, Now, in this interview he has explained his thoughts on the PWG/Maoist movement more clearly. Many of these critics were raised much earlier by others including me, of course from different view-points. As I had met him after the three round of discussions with the PWG for merger had failed, the points of differences were explained to him, including our stand that both, the right deviation in Soviet Union as well as the left adventurist Lin line in China emerged from erroneous understanding of post-Second World War imperialism which had transformed its plunder of Asian-African-Latin American countries from colonial to neo-colonial forms, ie from direct control to control through finance capital, technology transfer, market and military deals; and this plunder reaching more aggressive forms, with earlier welfare state concepts and state intervention in production through public sector, changed to neoliberal corporate policies under the dictates of IMF-WB-WTO. When I argued that the problem with most of the CR forces is their refusal to recognize the vast changes taking place as a result at international and national developments, and to develop their program and path of revolution accordingly, though we had a healthy debate, he did not commit anything. Later I came to know that he re-joined the PWG. At that time I had pointed out to him that how can anyone justify in the name of advancing revolution incidents like Kakthiya Express burning, fate of a girl who went in search of the revolutionary party, punishments like cutting away hands or legs of suspected police informers etc. Com KG had agreed with me that such practices should be stopped. Viewed in this background, I am happy that at least now he has come out with a serious critic of the practice of CPI(Maoist) and the consequences of these, both political and theoretical.
What are his main criticisms?
- Socialism all over the world has given enormous economic benefits to the people. But communist systems too have suffered setbacks; their weaknesses need to be rectified;
- No one can be happy without the necessities of life. But to talk only about the economic aspect of change isn’t enough. After some time, power and ego start affecting people in the movement. But if you have a value system integrated into your goal, you can counter these influence
- People don’t change merely with a new ideology; their subconscious thinking inculcated in childhood continues to influence them. Socialism doesn’t automatically bring forth a ‘socialist person’. You have to struggle to become one.
- With caste superiority coming ‘naturally’ to Indians, this is all the more important. I also saw it in Jharkhand’s jails. When the Naxalite inmates belonging to the Marxist Coordination Committee heard I was being brought there, they came running. The media had projected me as a top Maoist leader, and they thought that, like other Naxal leaders they knew, I’d have pots of money. When they saw I didn’t, they slunk away, refusing to help. It was a don who helped me get warm clothes in the Jharkhand winter! Some of these Naxalites were part of the jail mafia, and ran most of the lucrative wards. Jharkhand has such a heroic history of resistance to the British, starting from the 18th century. What are the Naxalites doing to their tradition?
- Indian Marxists are terribly dogmatic. They are just not willing to discuss new concepts, nor are they willing to acknowledge that communism has suffered a severe setback worldwide. It should make them think. Economic and social conditions today are so atrocious, yet there is no alternative — unlike when we were young, when communism was the rage.
- But how we go about achieving it needs to be discussed. We can no longer keep saying, ‘Revolution is inevitable’. In Andhra/ Telangana’s jails I saw that despite 40 years of the revolutionary movement there, the younger generation knew nothing about it. But all that senior leftists say is: ‘Revolution has its ups and downs, but finally it will come,’ without any analysis.
- Can we still say ‘the working class is the vanguard’? Where is the working class in India? Since the 90s, there’s only contract labour and sub-contracted labour. The workers are not on the factory floor, they are fractured. I was shocked to learn in Jharkhand that even the Railways contracts out the smallest job — say, cleaning train toilets — to 10 different contractors. An inmate told me he earned ₹10,000 from his job as a driver, but ₹30,000 from illegally selling diesel. So this worker is basically self-employed. Would such workers have a proletarian mentality? Where is the relationship between the proletariat and the capitalist? The workers are highly oppressed, but they have been socially de-proletarianised
- Islamists only wanted to convert me, talking about jannatetc! Some of them even advocated bomb blasts in public places as the solution against injustice. Muslims who may die in such blasts would be collateral damage, they said. Identity politics leads to vote bank politics and makes it easier for Hindutva parties to get the sympathy of even ‘lower-caste’ Hindus, and to target Muslims and Dalits.
- I think they soon realised I couldn’t give them much information. They knew more than I did! Basically, they also knew that more than them
When Com.KG raises these criticisms, surprisingly what is absent is a self-critical approach. When he had returned to Mumbai with the decision to join the revolutionary movement,(a great decision which the students and youth) he was 26 years old, post-graduate intellectual and must have tried to read the Great Debate of CPC against CPSU, the writings of Edgar Snow, William Hinton like friends of Chinese Revolution, Mao’s 5th volume documents, some of the literature on Cultural Revolution (brought by KS from Hong Kong and later published as 6h to 10th volume of Mao’s works, the extensive writings on IMF and World Bank projects corporatizing agriculture in Latin American countries turning them to banana republics, Thatcherism which advocated substitution of Keynesian welfare state concepts with neoliberal policies hotly debated from early 1970s in UK, the debate then going on in the Economic and Political Weekly on mode of production in Indian agriculture etc similarly he must have heard about post-modernism and its product identity politics, the debate on the failures of socialism practiced in the socialist countries including Soviet Union etc He must have read at least seen some of the voluminous reports on what was happening in China during 1976-78 period, especially available in UK.
But, still in spite of all these how he could accept the PWG line which had refused to learn anything from them and write such an article like the one he wrote for Dixit’s publication trying to argue India was still semi-feudal in 1979? Similarly, after Naxalbari Uprising, under its influence many progressive intellectuals had come forward with many friendly critics of the movement, including books which deepened the ideological struggle against further degeneration of CPI and CPI(M) to social democracy. The Dalit Panthers had come forward by 1972 from Pune calling for taking up the study of Ambedkar’s books, and the need to start caste annihilation movement as part of class struggle.
What I want to point out is that the post Emergency years in India, as well as the 1970s as a whole internationally was a vibrant period with the Vietnam war of US/ the national liberation movement in Vietnam, Laos and Kampuchea inspiring the struggling masses around the world. Almost all the questions now raised by KG now were raised then by many revolutionary streams, intellectuals of that time. The importance of analyzing the transformations taking place in forms of imperialist plunder after the War under IMF-World Bank- GATT agreements were also hotly debated topics then. Within our country, among the CR forces also such discussions were taking place. As a result of these many initiatives were also forthcoming. The first mistake committed by was that in spite of all these, he led the large number of students in VPS, many of whom were ready to become professional revolutionaries hastily to the fold of PWG. As a result, many left political work midway. Those who continued like KG became disillusioned.
The second criticism I raise against KG is that, even after so much damage is done by the Maoist line (which is nothing but Linbiaoism), in spite of raising serious criticism against it, he has not denounced it; showing that still he maintains loyalty to it. Like the petti-bourgeois intellectuals who openly or secretly support the Maoists and become directly or indirectly link with the front organisations floated by them, even after most of the Maoist movements not only in India, but in Nepal, Chile, Turkey and Philippines facing degeneration as in Nepal or disintegration in other places recognizing the consequences of the erroneous line followed by the Maoists, he is not ready to reject it, and look around and see many efforts made by the CRs like CPI(ML) Red Star to confront the issues raised by him.
As Mao has made it repeatedly clear the path of protracted people’s war pursued by the CPC was unique one developed to suit the China’s situation, which was a feudal, semi-feudal society, without any centralized government, where the communists to work within the Kuomintang army during Sun Yat Sen’s time, and after his death when the supremo Chiang started suppression of communists which reached its peak in 1927, compelling them to retreat to rural areas. But a sizable section of the army under Chu Te also joined the communists, turning the revolutionary movement in to a war between two armies! Today the concrete situation under the neoliberal/corporate offensive by the imperialists and their junior partners in power in the neo-colonially dependent countries have drastically changed. From the beginning of 1980s a number of mass uprisings, starting with anti-IMF revolts in Latin America, the Arab Spring when these mass uprisings uprooted decades-long dictatorships and oligarchies. This situation continues. Even the more than four months old siege of Delhi by tens of thousands of farmers also is part of these uprisings. If there are powerful, Bolshevik style communist parties existing in these countries they can come to their leaderships and capture power. Besides, as ecological destruction under the neoliberal loot of the nature has reached such a peak threatening an ecological catastrophe, causing the extinction of human species from the earth, the humanity is facing the challenge: either revolutionary overthrow of the imperialist system and reconstruction of the world with a much more advanced, nature friendly development perspective, or perish. In spite of such vast changes, the Maoists in Chhattisgarh organizing an attack on police and trying to continue its squad actions is only helping the corporate fascist Modi government to use them as pretexts to intensify attacks on the struggling farmers and other toiling sections. Even after grave mistakes committed like supporting an N T Rama Rao, or YSR in AP or Shibu oren in Jharkhand, or TMC in WB in 2011 after calling for ‘boycott of elections.
One important claim made by the intellectuals and NGOs supporting the Maoists is that they are preventing the corporate loot in the areas were they are present! But what is the truth? The maximum penetration of corporates took place in Jharkhand during 1990s and 2010s when the Maoists had maximum strength in the area. It is in Bastar’s Dantewada, where they have maximum presence, the ESSAR mining and exporting of the best iron ore from Balladilla is increasing every year. The practice of collecting huge amounts of levy from the forest contractors, corporates and construction companies, without any system of accountability have made the cadres and leaders corrupt as KG saw. With all respect to Anuradha whom I have meet three times at Nagpur and discussed about our practice of mass line, the Chhattisgarh adivasis developing better politics than those in Jharkhand who are led by MCC is one of the myths propagated by Arundhati Roy like authors in her “God of small things” line. Just providing uniform and gun training will not make any one self-confident. The real problem with the Maoists is that instead of pursiong the Marxist line of ‘people create history’, their line is ‘hero’s make history’ which keep followers politically backward even after 40 years of activities. At the same time, in Odisha alone from the Chika movement to Vedanta and POSCO there are many examples of militant mass movement driving away the corporates. In Chhattisgarh also through big mass movements Shivnath River’s privatization and the SEZ in Rajnathgaon were stopped. The ten nuclear power plants announced by UPA govt also did not come up because of stiff resistance by people. But the trigger happy Maoist leadership is not ready to ‘seek truth from facts’
Marxism teaches that we have to overthrow the capitalist system and advance to communism through a period of socialist transformation, during which the the hitherto ruling class ideas which are dominating the society should be thrown out and new shoots of socialist alternative models of development and democray should be developed. 150 years ago the communards of Paris were the first to practice it. This first proletarian state has given many lessons including the slogan “all power to the people”. After October Revolution, Lenin had given the call all power to the Soviets. Mao tried to take it one step forward through People’s Communes. Imperialists and their lackeys targeted them for attack, as they wanted to destroy such communist shoots to grow. So, Mao called for starting Cultural Revolution one step ahead of revolutionary movement. But for many culture meant just war songs presented by Gaddar or its imitations. There were no efforts to rectify the mistake done by the communist movement in 1930s when they refused to learn from Bhagat Singh and Ambedkar and put caste annihilation as an important part of class struggle. They may kill one or two RSS men, but will never launch a campaign to teach the dangers RSS fascism going to brimg to them. They refuse to teach that while fighting majority fundamentalism, the struggle against minority fundamentalism should not be kept away, as both are dangerous, both collaborate to prevent revolutionary advances.
A more detailed response is necessary to expose the superficiality of the observations made by KG. One can try to do it after going through his book. The problem with such half-hearted exposures of an organization and its practice, which are continued in spite of colossal mistakes is that it will not help to resolve the problems confronted by the communist movement. Lenin was ruthless in his struggle against the then Mensheviks and Narodniks, as he was convinced that without it building of a Bolshevik party capable of making revolution is not possible. But many of our friends are reluctant to do so, as many among the right opportunists, the modern day Mensheviks are our old friends; similarly how can we attack the modern day Narodniks, as many of them sacrifice their lives, or are good boys known to them. Such subjective ideas go against the interest of revolution. If KG really want to help the rectification of present mistakes, to spread the vision of revolution with a revolutionary cultural perspective, he should tell his friends still in hide outs and forests to put an end to the anarchist line and practice, and come out openly among the people, make concrete analysis of present reality, and mobilise the masses for seeking truth based on facts. The present reality, the country’s capital under siege by hundreds of thousands of farmers with the support of tens of millions of the peasantry demand such transparent action.
We can no longer keep saying revolution is inevitable: Kobad Ghandy (Interview)
MARCH 27, 2021
UPDATED: MARCH 26, 2021 15:05 IST
The activist, whose book has just been released, criticises Indian Marxists for being terribly dogmatic, and says it’s the system that has failed, not the ideology
When he was arrested in 2009, headlines screamed ‘top Maoist nabbed’. Today, he’s juggling time between interviews and podcasts, after his book recounting his journey from London to Indian jails (Fractured Freedom: A Prison Memoir) has become a bestseller. In an interview, he talks about these experiences, the setbacks suffered by communism, and the need for socialists to build a system of values beyond economic issues.
So, are you a Naxalite?
What is a Naxalite? It’s a vague term. There are many parties and groups who are called Naxalite. Some participate in elections, others work underground. Among the protesting farmers’ groups too, a few are reported to be affiliated to Marxist-Leninist groups.
I am for radical change and a socialist economic system. Capitalism has not given anything to the masses, while socialism all over the world has given enormous economic benefits to the people. But communist systems too have suffered setbacks; their weaknesses need to be rectified.
In your book you write that ‘universal happiness’ must be the goal of any movement for change. What happened to the goal of reducing inequality?
Of course, no one can be happy without the necessities of life. But to talk only about the economic aspect of change isn’t enough. After some time, power and ego start affecting people in the movement. But if you have a value system integrated into your goal, you can counter these influences. For example, I find people praising Anuradha [his late wife, Anuradha Ghandy] for her organisational capacities, not her personal qualities of straightforwardness, honesty, etc. which were equally if not more valuable for a social activist and, in fact, for any human being.
It’s true Freud came after Marx, but still I feel Marxists have ignored the importance of psychology. Just mechanically saying ‘social being determines consciousness’ doesn’t take into account the reality that people don’t change merely with a new ideology; their subconscious thinking inculcated in childhood continues to influence them. Socialism doesn’t automatically bring forth a ‘socialist person’. You have to struggle to become one.
Have you seen this lack of a value system affect those in the struggle?
Yes, and my book talks about it. With caste superiority coming ‘naturally’ to Indians, this is all the more important. I also saw it in Jharkhand’s jails. When the Naxalite inmates belonging to the Marxist Coordination Committee heard I was being brought there, they came running. The media had projected me as a top Maoist leader, and they thought that, like other Naxal leaders they knew, I’d have pots of money. When they saw I didn’t, they slunk away, refusing to help. It was a don who helped me get warm clothes in the Jharkhand winter! Some of these Naxalites were part of the jail mafia, and ran most of the lucrative wards.
Jharkhand has such a heroic history of resistance to the British, starting from the 18th century. What are the Naxalites doing to their tradition? They seem totally different from the Bastar tribals who, I heard from Anuradha, have transformed themselves through the movement to become self-confident and creative, especially the women.
I wonder how your comrades will react to this!
Indian Marxists are terribly dogmatic. They are just not willing to discuss new concepts, nor are they willing to acknowledge that communism has suffered a severe setback worldwide. It should make them think. Economic and social conditions today are so atrocious, yet there is no alternative — unlike when we were young, when communism was the rage.
Has communism failed or the people who implemented it?
The system has failed, not the ideology. History shows us that the socialist system is the most viable for the oppressed masses, while the existing system is destroying the lives not only of the poorest but now also of the middle classes. And the environment too. Only the 3,500-odd billionaires of the world are thriving.
But how we go about achieving it needs to be discussed. We can no longer keep saying, ‘Revolution is inevitable’. In Andhra/ Telangana’s jails I saw that despite 40 years of the revolutionary movement there, the younger generation knew nothing about it. But all that senior leftists say is: ‘Revolution has its ups and downs, but finally it will come,’ without any analysis.
Can we still say ‘the working class is the vanguard’? Where is the working class in India? Since the 90s, there’s only contract labour and sub-contracted labour. The workers are not on the factory floor, they are fractured. I was shocked to learn in Jharkhand that even the Railways contracts out the smallest job — say, cleaning train toilets — to 10 different contractors. An inmate told me he earned ₹10,000 from his job as a driver, but ₹30,000 from illegally selling diesel. So this worker is basically self-employed. Would such workers have a proletarian mentality?
Where is the relationship between the proletariat and the capitalist? The workers are highly oppressed, but they have been socially de-proletarianised.
Your observations on Islamists may also make you unpopular among your comrades. Identity politics is the in thing now.
I’ve written what I saw. Afzal Guru introduced me to the progressive concepts of Islam, but the Islamists only wanted to convert me, talking about jannat etc! Some of them even advocated bomb blasts in public places as the solution against injustice. Muslims who may die in such blasts would be collateral damage, they said. Identity politics leads to vote bank politics and makes it easier for Hindutva parties to get the sympathy of even ‘lower-caste’ Hindus, and to target Muslims and Dalits.
You’ve described the Nirbhaya rapist as a “vile sort.” Can you elaborate?
He would lie at the drop of a hat. I never saw anyone as manipulative and hypocritical as him, with his pujas on the one hand and his vicious outbursts against Nirbhaya’s mother on the other. Whenever he heard about her interviews, he’d say she deserved to be raped.
Physically you were not touched by the police. What restrained them?
I think they soon realised I couldn’t give them much information. They knew more than I did! Basically, they also knew that more than them, jail life would break me. Most people end up disillusioned in jail. I also did break, now and then. It’s not just the indignity of jail life, it’s the legal system too. You don’t know when you will be free or in what condition. Fortunately, I could keep myself sane through yoga and exercise, reading and writing, and Mainstream Weekly published my articles. My first phase in Tihar was very tough. I was very lucky that Afzal befriended me and cushioned the impact. He was jovial, educated; we could discuss so many things.
Jyoti Punwani is a Mumbai-based freelance journalist.