Revolution in South Asia

An Internationalist Info Project

Arundhati Roy Among India’s Naxalbari: A Debate, Part 1

Posted by n3wday on April 18, 2010

This was originally posted on kafila.org.  H/T to J. Ramsey.

Arundhati Roy’s powerful article Walking with the Comrades touched off an intense debate within India.  To provide a snapshot, we are posting a critique and a response to Roy’s piece.

“…[A]re 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.?  Does any of this matter for her?”

Response to Arundhati Roy: Jairus Banaji

This is a guest post by JAIRUS BANAJI

Arundhati Roy’s essay “Walking with the Comrades” is a powerful indictment of the Indian state and its brutality but its political drawbacks are screamingly obvious.  Arundhati clearly believes that the Indian state is such a bastion of oppression and unrelieved brutality that there is no alternative to violent struggle or ‘protracted war’. In other words, democracy is a pure excrescence on a military apparatus that forms the true backbone of the Indian state. It is simply its ‘benign façade’. 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.?  Does any of this matter for her?

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). There is no history of the left that diverges from the romantic hagiographies of Naxalbari and its legacies, and there is, bizarrely, not even a passing reference to capitalism as the systemic source of the conversion of adivasis into wage-labourers, of the degradation of their forms of life and resources and of the dispossession of entire communities.  In Arundhati, the vision of the Communist Manifesto is reversed. There Marx brings the Communists in not to prevent the expansion of capitalism but to fight it from the standpoint of a more advanced mode of production, one grounded in the ability of masses of workers to recover control of their lives and shape the nature and meaning of production. The primitive communism in terms of which she sees and applauds the programme of the CPI (Maoist) recalls not this vision of the future but the debates around the possibility of the Russian mir (the peasant commune) forming the basis for a direct transition to communism. On that issue Marx was, as always, profoundly internationalist, speculating that ‘if the Russian Revolution becomes the signal for the proletarian revolution in the West, so that both complement each other, the present Russian common ownership of land [the mir] may serve as the starting point for a communist development’. That didn’t happen, the revolution in Russia remained isolated, it was subverted internally by the grip of a leadership every bit as vanguardist as Kishenji, and if we don’t learn from history, we cannot truly speak as the beacons of hope that Arundhati sees the Maoists as. It is not hope but false promises that will lie at the end of the revolutionary road, aside from the corpses of thousands of ‘martyrs’ and many more thousands of nameless civilians who of course had no control over ‘the’ party.

4 Responses to “Arundhati Roy Among India’s Naxalbari: A Debate, Part 1”

  1. Revolutionary J said

    Mr Banaji seems to be an expert on Marxism. Kindly enlighten us O Great Expert about the visions of Communist Manifesto. In my opinion, Marx wrote about those lines regarding the fighting between capitalism and other kind of backward societies prevailing in other parts of the world and that too in 19th century. Today, you just “announced” that the Maoists are fighting to prevail the adivasi’s in their old tribal state and as if the Maoists are fighting not for socialism, but for the return of feudalism.
    Problem with INTELLECTUALS like Mr. Banaji is that, they never ever tried to go through the pages of dialectic materialism, never to tried to apply Marxist theories in Indian context and now going to teach us what is “vision” of communist manifesto.

  2. Frank Panzarella said

    I find the comments by Mr. Banaji rather questionable. While I am no expert on India, it appears to me that Arundhati Roy was looking at the specific developments within the context of the actual local movements of maoists and the relations it has developed to the regions populations.

    I have heard her in past talks eloquently discuss the larger framework of imperialist contradictions and how they effect nations such as India. Mr. Banaji appears to be an apologist for the comprador parties who have made their peace with Imperialism and are more interested in maintaining their power over those “disorganized workers” of India. These groups are interested in benefitting from the new expansion of Indian capitalist development at the expense of India’s various tribal communities. Armed struggle in the forests is hardly romantic and his attempt to belittle these mass movements by talking about the classic development of an organized working class and its organizations seems to be an attempt to point to the tired revisionist controlled urban organizations and governments whose power is being challenged by the maoists due to their abject failure to make really substantive advances for huge segments of the population, in fact they have used brute force themselves to squelch such movements.

    No revolution is guaranteed success and no arm chair marxist formula will guarantee India a painless spiral to some marxist utopia. What seems obvious in India is that the old leftist parties whose jaded leadership were extensions of the same corrupt bureaucracies that ruled the Soviet Union have become part of the problem rather than part of the solution. The maoist groups are up against huge obstacles part of which will be developing ties to the great urban underclasses but it seems to me that these issues are not mutually exclusive. The tribal people whose history of standing up to government aggression is profound, along with a spreading mass movement being nurtured in various regions by these maoists appears to be a powerful combination. Obviously the government feels that way as they prepare a massive effort to destroy it. Does Mr. Banaji seriously think the Indian government is going to offer the Adivasis a peaceful settlement to the expropriation of lands for the new capitalist development being shoved down their throats. Where are these mass “urban worker groups” led by the old left to unite and support the Adivasis? Not only will it not happen but the comprador parties seem more concerned with protecting their own regional power and helping the government suppress the very poorest. At present who else is there fighting to protect the people?

    The world of global imperialism today is tremendously different than the time of Marx or even the early days of the russian revolution. I was fascinated by the detailed look at a developing movement and I am cautiously hopeful they will find a way to improve the lives of the most poor groups in India. Naturally we always hope such changes can happen in peaceful ways, but it appears the ruthless expropriation of lands by the Indian government will hardly give the people there such an opportunity and the power sharing schemes of the old left and their urban groups seem to be no kind of reliable ally at this point. Mr. Banaji obviously offers no other real alternative.

  3. redflags said

    Frank writes: Armed struggle in the forests is hardly romantic and his attempt to belittle these mass movements by talking about the classic development of an organized working class and its organizations seems to be an attempt to point to the tired revisionist controlled urban organizations and governments whose power is being challenged by the maoists due to their abject failure to make really substantive advances for huge segments of the population, in fact they have used brute force themselves to squelch such movements.

    That seems to be entirely on point. Left criticism of the Naxalites seems to go in two directions: Ortho-troskyist types who complain that India doesn’t have the “correct” class structure for a “workers” revolution, and therefore the revolutionaries should be opposed, and 2) outright collaboration with the capitalist state via the CPI (Marxist) and their apologists, who complain of “violence” and “terrorism” while they work with Tata and Singh.

    A new revolutionary wind is rising among the people of South Asia. Friendly advice to all concerned: Lead, Follow or Get Out of the Way.

  4. Shiva said

    India is perhaps a far more complex socio-political entity than Latin America or sub-Saharan Africa or Europe.
    Thus, to talk of the Indian revolution as a monolithic structure characteristic of a nation will be naive.
    Different strategies are likely to be needed in the wide variety of situations that exist in India.
    Arundathi Roy’s comments have to be seen in the context of the plight of the Adhivasi people and their struggle for survival, let alone their demand democratic and other rights.
    The Maoists are playing a leading role, and I am sure that they are learning through their mistakes as well.
    One has to be constructive in one’s criticism, because the state and all reactionaries are waiting to capitalise upon every word, especially from ‘progressive quarters’ denouncing the Maoists and the cause that they espouse.
    Struggles in other regions even within one state will no doubt demand different strategies. So, to denounce a strategy because it is not universal will be just as bad as hailing as universal a strategy highly suited to a context.

    I think that Marxist Leninists, despite reservations about the Maoist line of struggle, have by and large been constructive in their approach to the just cause of the people and in opposing state oppression.
    The genuine left must build on such positive features to achieve the broadest possible unity.

    I think that Mao once said: “Dogmatism is worse than excrement”.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: