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Walking With the Maoists

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May 29 2010 12:56
Walking With the Maoists

Whether not the claim is accurate, police are reporting that Maoists in India are responsible for a train derailment which left 80 dead.

I've become increasingly interested in the rebels since Arundhati Roy, who I have respect for, lent her critical support to them.

Obviously the Maoist mantle is odious to just about everyone with a vague sense of Chinese history. But beyond this knee-jerk reaction, which I certainly share, what's your position on the Indian group? Are they, as flawed as they might be, a force for social justice?

Where might I find a non-ideological account of them?

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May 29 2010 13:09

Long debate between Indian politicos here;
http://kafila.org/2010/03/22/response-to-arundhati-roy-jairus-banaji/

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May 29 2010 15:23

derailing trains hardly makes them a force for social change. So no.

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May 29 2010 17:43
allybaba wrote:
derailing trains hardly makes them a force for social change. So no.

Wars are messy. Name your favorite revolutionary group and I have little doubt they used excessive violence at one point or another.

All of this is not to say I support the Indian Maoists even critically. I don't know enough to do so. But your analysis seems a tad simplistic.

If you read Roy's piece you'd find that the fighters she followed, at least, were not ideological automatons but rather poor peasants fighting an oppressive government attempting to evict them from their land. I can't imagine that you wouldn't resort to armed resistance in the same scenario.

Anyway, read Roy's piece. It's very interesting. According to her, "Between 1986 and 2000, the Party redistributed 300,000 acres of forestland." In addition, one of the Maoist's sub-organizations is apparently one of, if not the, largest feminist groups in all of India.

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May 29 2010 18:04

Yeah mate, but did you read the link that Ret posted up? There's some real gold in there..

Quote:
If all you had in India were forest communities and corporate predators, tribals and paramilitary forces, the government and the Maoists, her espousal of the Maoists might just cut ice. But where does the rest of India fit in? What categories do we have for them? Or are we seriously supposed to believe that the extraordinary tide of insurrection will wash over the messy landscapes of urban India and over the millions of disorganised workers in our countryside without the emergence of a powerful social agency, a broad alliance of salaried and wage-earning strata, that can contest the stranglehold of capitalism? Without mass organisations, battles for democracy, struggles for the radicalisation of culture, etc., etc.?
[...]
In Arundhati’s vision of politics the only agent of social change is a military force. There are no economic classes, no civil society, no mass organisations or conflicts which are not controlled by a party (or ‘the’ party).

So yeah, I know what you mean about allybaba's post seeming overly simplistic but that's more to do with them not elaborating their point rather than the point itself being an over-simplification. The point he (as well as the person who wrote that article) was making is: what sort of politics are clandestine military groups based on strict hierarchy attempting to seize state power capable of enacting? Is it something that could liberate? Or is it a new tyranny in the making?

I think looking at this sort of thing in history (for instance China, Vietnam and, in its nastiest instance, Cambodia) and in the present (Nepal) will show that such a strategy is a dead end. Funnily enough, I get the feeling that the Indian working class are coming to this conclusion themselves.. flick through the articles in our India tag to see what I think libcom people would see as the alternative..

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May 29 2010 18:36
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In Arundhati’s vision of politics the only agent of social change is a military force.

This is not the case whatsoever. If one reads the article its clear her support of violence is reluctant.

Quote:
The point he (as well as the person who wrote that article) was making is: what sort of politics are clandestine military groups based on strict hierarchy attempting to seize state power capable of enacting? Is it something that could liberate? Or is it a new tyranny in the making?

This, of course, is a very valid, very serious criticism which I share. On the other hand, the redistribution of 300,000 acres of property is a progressive measure. It's not black and white.

But as Howard Zinn said, you can't be neutral on a moving train. Not being for the Naxalites, even with severe reservations, feels similar to being for their oppressors.

EDIT: I guess I just think that, everything else being equal, if they didn't self identify as Maoists many on the Left would support them and that its only for fear of being ideologically "tainted" we don't presently. But again, I'm educating myself on the situation. These are my preliminary thoughts.

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May 29 2010 18:36
Hughes wrote:
Not being for the Naxalites, even with severe reservations, feels similar to being for their oppressors.

what does 'being for the Naxalites' mean? do you give them material support? or is it simply rhetorical? if it is just rhetorical, I wouldn't be so quick to claim that the critics of the naxalites are 'for the oppressors'.

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May 29 2010 18:46

You're right; its rhetorical. Though I imagine for the Left in India its not so.

Anyway, I guess what I meant was this: when it comes down to it, whose side are we on? One can't be for both simultaneously and neutrality essentially means siding with the government.

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May 29 2010 18:50
Hughes wrote:
allybaba wrote:
derailing trains hardly makes them a force for social change. So no.

Wars are messy. Name your favorite revolutionary group and I have little doubt they used excessive violence at one point or another..

Yes wars are messy but when they are deliberately targeting civilians its not exactly the most revolutionary thing they could have done and there is no excuse for that type of act and cold bloodedness. Quite simply- it is anti working class. Redistributing land sounds like a good thing- yes. But the structure they fight under and doctrine that they want to impose in that part of India will mean in the unlikely event they come to power- state socialism will come into force. And as we have seen in other places this is just going to lead to more misery in the long run.

I have heard they were calling for a four day general strike(the elite in charge or the peasants?), this is more sensible and militant in my eyes than derailing a train. I support the peasants in their fight against being ethnically cleansed to make way for capitalisms insatiable hunger to consume their lands resources although I don't support their rulers and the way they are committed to armed struggle. I hope this reply is more satisfactory than my short reply earlier.

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May 29 2010 19:05
allybaba wrote:
Hughes wrote:
allybaba wrote:
derailing trains hardly makes them a force for social change. So no.

Wars are messy. Name your favorite revolutionary group and I have little doubt they used excessive violence at one point or another..

Yes wars are messy but when they are deliberately targeting civilians its not exactly the most revolutionary thing they could have done and there is no excuse for that type of act and cold bloodedness. Quite simply- it is anti working class. Redistributing land sounds like a good thing- yes. But the structure they fight under and doctrine that they want to impose in that part of India will mean in the unlikely event they come to power- state socialism will come into force. And as we have seen in other places this is just going to lead to more misery in the long run.

I have heard they were calling for a four day general strike(the elite in charge or the peasants?), this is more sensible and militant in my eyes than derailing a train. I support the peasants in their fight against being ethnically cleansed to make way for capitalisms insatiable hunger to consume their lands resources although I don't support their rulers and the way they are committed to armed struggle. I hope this reply is more satisfactory than my short reply earlier.

Much better!

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May 29 2010 19:14
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Anyway, I guess what I meant was this: when it comes down to it, whose side are we on? One can't be for both simultaneously and neutrality essentially means siding with the government.

Hmm, this is quite a common reaction to not supporting this or that anti-imperialist or Marxist militia/party.. but it's not as simple as "who's side are you on?" (who's over-simplifying now? wink ).. I mean, I'm 'against' the American government, am I 'for' Al-Qaida? When George Bush posed this question, what was your response?

When you narrow down choices like that, what you are doing is removing the working class from the political arena. Politics becomes a battle between factions who you can either support or oppose and support for one faction means opposition for the other (and, more importantly, vice versa). This is what that quote about only understanding military force as social agent means: if you oppose this military force (India), you must support this other military force (the Naxalites). The mass action of the working class for its own interests just doesn't come into it.

And now let's say the Naxalites win. Is that a victory for the Indian working class? Or is it a victory for the Naxalites? And then we have a Naxalite government, do we support it? Or do we now turn against it because they're the new government? If the second, why do we have to go through this farce of supporting them (however critically) when we know how it will end anyway?

It's not just that we "don't like" Maoists or Maoism but that the form that their politics takes (of political parties taking control of state power 'for' the working class) is counter to what our politics are about (workers taking action to fight for their own interests). Take away the guns and who the fuck are the Naxalites? They're just the same bunch of Leninists you see selling newspapers on demonstrations..

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May 29 2010 19:35
Ed wrote:
Quote:
Anyway, I guess what I meant was this: when it comes down to it, whose side are we on? One can't be for both simultaneously and neutrality essentially means siding with the government.

Hmm, this is quite a common reaction to not supporting this or that anti-imperialist or Marxist militia/party.. but it's not as simple as "who's side are you on?" (who's over-simplifying now? wink ).. I mean, I'm 'against' the American government, am I 'for' Al-Qaida? When George Bush posed this question, what was your response?

When you narrow down choices like that, what you are doing is removing the working class from the political arena. Politics becomes a battle between factions who you can either support or oppose and support for one faction means opposition for the other (and, more importantly, vice versa). This is what that quote about only understanding military force as social agent means: if you oppose this military force (India), you must support this other military force (the Naxalites). The mass action of the working class for its own interests just doesn't come into it.

And now let's say the Naxalites win. Is that a victory for the Indian working class? Or is it a victory for the Naxalites? And then we have a Naxalite government, do we support it? Or do we now turn against it because they're the new government? If the second, why do we have to go through this farce of supporting them (however critically) when we know how it will end anyway?

It's not just that we "don't like" Maoists or Maoism but that the form that their politics takes (of political parties taking control of state power 'for' the working class) is counter to what our politics are about (workers taking action to fight for their own interests). Take away the guns and who the fuck are the Naxalites? They're just the same bunch of Leninists you see selling newspapers on demonstrations..

You present a number of difficult questions I don't know the answers to. But you're quite correct I was oversimplifying, for which I apologize.

Basically, I was fascinated by Roy's article on the Naxalites and wanted to hear others opinion on them. Because my feelings are ambiguous.

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May 29 2010 21:51

I think it really depends what your view of socialism is. If you think that it is something that can only be created by the self activity of the working class, then obviously the Maoists in India or anywhere else have nothing at all to do with it.

If you think it is something that can be imposed on the working class by gangs of peasants led by members of the 'middle class' intelligentsia then quite possibly they do have something to do with socialism.

I find it quite amazing how certain 'anarchists' drop all critical thinking as soon as somebody in the so-called 'third world' waves a gun around.

Devrim

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May 29 2010 22:07
Devrim wrote:
I think it really depends what your view of socialism is. If you think that it is something that can only be created by the self activity of the working class, then obviously the Maoists in India or anywhere else have nothing at all to do with it.

If you think it is something that can be imposed on the working class by gangs of peasants led by members of the 'middle class' intelligentsia then quite possibly they do have something to do with socialism.

I find it quite amazing how certain 'anarchists' drop all critical thinking as soon as somebody in the so-called 'third world' waves a gun around.

Devrim

Oh snap, I just got dissed.

First of all, I don't describe myself as an anarchist. My definition of socialism is a pretty commonplace, textbook one: the democratic control of the means of the production and distribution.

Second, I think real critical thinking involves not making easy, black-and-white appraisals. So yes, I think there are many, many things about the Indian Maoists that are indefensible but there are others that I've mentioned, such as the redistribution of forestland, which are.

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May 29 2010 22:11
Devrim wrote:
I think it really depends what your view of socialism is. If you think that it is something that can only be created by the self activity of the working class, then obviously the Maoists in India or anywhere else have nothing at all to do with it.

If you think it is something that can be imposed on the working class by gangs of peasants led by members of the 'middle class' intelligentsia then quite possibly they do have something to do with socialism.

I find it quite amazing how certain 'anarchists' drop all critical thinking as soon as somebody in the so-called 'third world' waves a gun around.

Devrim

Again, I don't know enough about the situation to hold an informed opinion on the Naxalites. But if I did, I know it would have to be more nuanced than this.

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May 29 2010 22:20
Hughes wrote:
Again, I don't know enough about the situation to hold an informed opinion on the Naxalites. But if I did, I know it would have to be more nuanced than this.

Yes, I am sure it would. People are generally pretty 'nuanced' when apologising for things like this.

Personally I don't think that these sort of armed gangs have anything at all to do with socialism.

Devrim

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May 29 2010 22:34
Devrim wrote:
Hughes wrote:
Again, I don't know enough about the situation to hold an informed opinion on the Naxalites. But if I did, I know it would have to be more nuanced than this.

Yes, I am sure it would. People are generally pretty 'nuanced' when apologising for things like this.

Perhaps you're right. I'd encourage you to read the Arundhati Roy article though. If what she writes is correct, these "armed gangs" are the poorest of the poor in India, men and women who are fighting a government which forcibly evicts them from their land and uses rape as a weapon. In a similar situation, I think most of us would take up weapons as well.

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May 29 2010 22:34
Hughes wrote:
You're right; its rhetorical. Though I imagine for the Left in India its not so.

Anyway, I guess what I meant was this: when it comes down to it, whose side are we on? One can't be for both simultaneously and neutrality essentially means siding with the government.

While I'm not accusing you of being a Trot, this is how Trotskyists routinely pose such scenarios in which there is a 'progressive', 'anti-imperialist', 'national liberation movement' fighting against a government that often collaborates with foreign imperialist powers. They say you can't be neutral, you must support one side or the other, and if you want to claim you're neutral, then you're really siding with the gov't.

But that type of politics is widely rejected around here. It is the politics of the lesser evil, in which one can always find one side in these struggles that is 'more progressive' or at least 'less reactionary' than the other, and is thus duty-bound to support it.

As Ed has implied in reference to the US state vs. al-Qaeda, we don't need to support either side or to pretend we are somehow 'neutral'. We are fully opposed to both sides in these conflicts. That is not neutrality. What we are for is something entirely different: working class self-activity and power, against all these other forces, that will inevitably exploit and oppress the working class should they ever achieve power.

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May 29 2010 22:36
Hughes wrote:
Oh snap, I just got dissed.

perhaps you did. example:

Hughes wrote:
there are many, many things about the Indian Maoists that are indefensible but there are others that I've mentioned, such as the redistribution of forestland, which are.

i agree that land distributed widely among people who use it for production of livelihood is a situation incomparably superior to having it concentrated in the hands of a few profitmakers. but that this should be effected by a self-appointed group of liberators with guns and who seem willing to kill the very population they claim to be helping if those people don't agree with the new dispensation (as happened in peru and nepal, and maybe now in india) has, as devrim says, little to do with socialism.

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May 29 2010 22:38
waslax wrote:
Hughes wrote:
You're right; its rhetorical. Though I imagine for the Left in India its not so.

Anyway, I guess what I meant was this: when it comes down to it, whose side are we on? One can't be for both simultaneously and neutrality essentially means siding with the government.

While I'm not accusing you of being a Trot, this is how Trotskyists routinely pose such scenarios in which there is a 'progressive', 'anti-imperialist', 'national liberation movement' fighting against a government that often collaborates with foreign imperialist powers. They say you can't be neutral, you must support one side or the other, and if you want to claim you're neutral, then you're really siding with the gov't.

As I said: "But you're quite correct I was oversimplifying, for which I apologize."

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May 29 2010 22:39
Hughes wrote:
Perhaps you're right. I'd encourage you to read the Arundhati Roy article though. If what she writes is correct, these "armed gangs" are the poorest of the poor in India, men and women who are fighting a government which forcibly evicts them from their land and uses rape as a weapon. In a similar situation, I think most of us would take up weapons as well.

Actually, I have read it. I was also in West Bengal recently for some political meetings, and spoke to a few ex-Maoists while I was there.

The Maoists do seem to have a lot of support amongst the 'poorest of the poor', but virtually none at all within the working class.

Devrim

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May 29 2010 22:43
Devrim wrote:
Hughes wrote:
Perhaps you're right. I'd encourage you to read the Arundhati Roy article though. If what she writes is correct, these "armed gangs" are the poorest of the poor in India, men and women who are fighting a government which forcibly evicts them from their land and uses rape as a weapon. In a similar situation, I think most of us would take up weapons as well.

Actually, I have read it. I was also in West Bengal recently for some political meetings, and spoke to a few ex-Maoists while I was there.

The Maoists do seem to have a lot of support amongst the 'poorest of the poor', but virtually none at all within the working class.

Devrim

What's the ratio of peasantry to proletariat in India? My guess is that its heavily weighted toward the latter, in which case one could have the unanimous support of the working class and still be far from a democratic majority.

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May 29 2010 22:49

Who said anything about a "democratic majority"?

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May 30 2010 01:06
Black Badger wrote:
Who said anything about a "democratic majority"?

Do I really have to justify political and economic democracy to you?

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May 30 2010 01:11
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If what she writes is correct, these "armed gangs" are the poorest of the poor in India, men and women who are fighting a government which forcibly evicts them from their land and uses rape as a weapon. In a similar situation, I think most of us would take up weapons as well.

Without wanting to sound like a pedant (and I will, but be patient, there is a point to be made here wink ).. the Naxalites aren't 'the poorest of the poor', their support base may come from that and their membership might mostly be made up of them but one is not synonymous with the other. The Naxalites see themselves as representing the interests of 'the poorest of the poor' and act accordingly whereas, to my mind, the poor can only represent themselves and any progress by them will have to be achieved through mass action (and there isn't a shortage of this sort of action in India, it's not something I made up in my flat). I support that, not those self-appointed leaders (of which the Naxalites are one group)..

Told you there was a purpose in my pedantry.. smile

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May 30 2010 01:43
Ed wrote:
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If what she writes is correct, these "armed gangs" are the poorest of the poor in India, men and women who are fighting a government which forcibly evicts them from their land and uses rape as a weapon. In a similar situation, I think most of us would take up weapons as well.

Without wanting to sound like a pedant (and I will, but be patient, there is a point to be made here wink ).. the Naxalites aren't 'the poorest of the poor', their support base may come from that and their membership might mostly be made up of them but one is not synonymous with the other. The Naxalites see themselves as representing the interests of 'the poorest of the poor' and act accordingly whereas, to my mind, the poor can only represent themselves and any progress by them will have to be achieved through mass action (and there isn't a shortage of this sort of action in India, it's not something I made up in my flat). I support that, not those self-appointed leaders (of which the Naxalites are one group)..

Told you there was a purpose in my pedantry.. :)

Again, I'm relying solely on what Roy has written. In her article she presents the average foot soldier, at least, as coming from the poor peasantry.

Perhaps the elections she describes were Stalinist in nature. But she strikes me as too intelligent to be so fooled. Anyhow, she writes: "Today, Dandakaranya is administered by an elaborate structure of Jantana Sarkars (peoples governments)...Each Jantana Sarkar is elected by a cluster of villages whose combined population can range from 500 to 5000...A group of Janatana Sarkars, come under an Area Committee. Three Area Committees make up a Division. There are ten Divisions in Dandakaranya."

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May 30 2010 02:05
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Again, I'm relying solely on what Roy has written. In her article she presents the average foot soldier, at least, as coming from the poor peasantry.

Nah, you're misunderstanding me.. The class background of the Naxals doesn't matter, all of them from the highest to the lowest rank could be penniless dispossessed peasants and it wouldn't change a thing. No group can seize power on behalf of the working class (whether with guns or slick electoral campaigns).. this tactic will always be a dead end and this is because socialism necessarily involves mass participation and for the working class to be in control of its own decision making bodies. It does not and cannot involve giving up power to one or another political faction..

And this is even before we start discussing whether socialism can be brought about through military force..

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May 30 2010 02:19
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Do I really have to justify political and economic democracy to you?

No of course you don't need to justify anything, but you need to be challenged on your assumptions that majority democracy is the system that best reflects the needs, desires, and goals of anarchists and anti-state communists in general, and the folks on this website in particular.

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May 30 2010 02:23
Black Badger wrote:
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Do I really have to justify political and economic democracy to you?

No of course you don't need to justify anything, but you need to be challenged on your assumptions that majority democracy is the system that best reflects the needs, desires, and goals of anarchists and anti-state communists in general, and the folks on this website in particular.

Fine. Not your desire, mine.

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May 30 2010 04:53

Just to echo Ed's caveat above, I don't want to sound pedantic, but it occurs to me that you don't really have an understanding of libertarian communist (anti)politics. I write this with no intention of malice or point scoring. If you are interested in meaningful debate it might be a good idea to get a snapshot of our politics by reading up a bit. A really good short piece by the libcom group is a nice starter. For something a bit meatier (or tofu-ier as I know you'd prefer) try this text by Gilles Dauve. It's a time investment, but even if you disagree with the conclusions, you'll be better off having read it if you plan on sticking around a bit.

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May 30 2010 05:37

"Are they, as flawed as they might be, a force for social justice?"
No, they're maoists.
Derailing trains isn't very socially just, unless they're full of cops.