Remembering Kishenji: “The question of power must be foregrounded”
Posted by redpines on December 8, 2011
The following is a thoughtful and moving testimony to CPI(Maoist) leader Kishenji, who was recently murdered by Indian state forces. It presents other movements, like Zapatismo, the occupy movements and the Arab Spring in rather orthodox terms, but also argues passionately in defense of armed struggle in the Indian context.
The piece originally appeared at Sanhati.
Kishanji: Not Just Another Martyr
By Saroj Giri
Kishanji is not just a fighter against oppression, a brave and courageous soul. He presided over something unique in the history of resistance movement in the country – and maybe he was not even so aware of it. Several forms of resistance seem to have come together in his leadership – synchronizing armed fighting power of the people with open rallies, processions and demonstrations. If one is really serious about democratic mass upsurges then one cannot wish away ‘strategy’, the ‘use of force’ or ‘armed resistance’; that the life-veins of mass struggle extend into the zone of armed resistance – these otherwise old Leninist lessons were restated, reasserted, renewed afresh in the life and activity of Kishanji.
It is in this sense that Kishanji in a way rehabilitated the status of both mass movements and ‘military strategy’ within the left. The left today is prone to reject anything to do with discipline and military as just some kind of right-wing, fascist obsession. Philosopher Slavoj Zizek points out that, against the ruling ideology of hedonistic permissivity, the left should “(re)appropriate discipline and the spirit of sacrifice: there is nothing inherently ‘Fascist’ about these values” (http://www.lacan.com/zizhollywood.htm). Kishanji’s contribution stands out here –raising great fear and alarm among the ruling classes who hunted him down.
This is a crucial contribution at a time when the left is suffering from ‘loss of strategy’, when mass demonstrations at Tahrir Square or the Occupy Wall Street seem to hit a dead-end, simply tiring itself out, or unable to withstand state repression. Some might say that the militant mass demonstrations in Jangalmahal ended with the Maoists ‘taking over’ in June 2009. Instead this ‘taking over’ was nothing but the much needed backbone of the mass movement, able to now express itself as an organised force with a strategy.
This is the first step towards seeking clarity about the class struggle, defining what Marx in the Communist Manifesto calls a ‘line of the march’ for the movement as a whole – apart from being able to withstand the armed might of the state. Not that the Maoists have gained major success here but they have got some of the basics right. The usual story of mass activities and rallies frittering away after the initial upsurge did not therefore repeat itself here. The mass movement continues in many new forms. In fact, a new mass women’s formation, the Nari Izzat Bachao Committee has come up even as big rallies like the August 2010 mass rally attended by Mamata and Swami Agnivesh continue – unless banned or ‘denied permission’ by the government.
Such is Kishenji’s contribution, with something original – not just some bland ‘sacrifice’ or ‘martyrdom’ which Maoists themselves so often glorify. Maoists must guard themselves from this entrenched habit of not seeing anything specific or original about its leaders and painting them all in this barren seriality of ‘yet another martyr who heroically sacrificed his life for the revolution’. Otherwise the movement will be going round in circles, will stagnate in spite of the dynamism of its concrete practice.
Perhaps we can here identify something like a ‘Jangalmahal model or path’ of the Maoist movement, which can be compared to say the ‘Chattisgarh model or path’. There are many problems with talking in terms of ‘models’. And yet the specificities of the movement in particular areas must also be grasped so that we do not club all experiences and forms as one and the same. Otherwise, we are not learning anything new, not synthesizing, not learning from practice but endlessly repeating a set formula. Kishanji stands out in this respect. We do not know whether he also made conscious formulations about the specificity of the movement in Jangalmahal model (like a Hunan report?) but his concrete practice brilliantly shines forth.
Just in the month of September, Varavara Rao, myself and comrades from Kolkata had made a ‘fact-finding’ (for want of a better term) trip to Jangalmahal. We could not meet Kishanji but witnessed the atrocities committed by security forces and the private armies (bhairav bahini). I talked to a very young adivasi comrade, deep inside a village off Jhargram town: a member of the armed squad. I asked him if he had met Kishanji. He said yes. Then he said, that he cannot follow all that Kishanji says in meetings. Then I asked him if he heard of Marxism from Kishanji (I was curious). ‘Yes Kishanji talks about Marxism, but I find it very difficult to follow’. Then I ask him what has he understood of Marxism, what is it? I think he felt cornered but after some reflection came with a reply: it is something very good but some people have spoiled and distorted it. ‘We guerillas are fighting such people’.
Those like Kishanji have taken Marxism to the masses when doing so immediately means ‘organising’, planning, strategizing, taking the struggle ahead and putting yourself in the line of fire. Kishanji’s daring is not ‘speaking truth to power’, in postmodern Zapatismo-style, but making power come out of its democratic garb exposing its lies and falsities, including its violence to which our man fell.
I find it a bit of an enigma that Kishanji never put away his gun when on camera – one can prominently see it and so he is clearly not bothered to play the democratic card of being democratic, peaceful and so on. He talks nothing about the gun, no glorifying violence and so on, as some would pathetically expect. Instead he talks about a meticulous patient fight for real democracy and power to the people (http://www.ndtv.com/video/player/news/who-is-kishenji/216926). So why is the gun so visibly present, slung on his shoulders, surrounded as he is by curious journalists in his own camp? It can only mean that he had no pretense here of liberal bourgeois leaders of being non-violent and democratic, even as they preside over huge standing armies, hidden away.
Here we are only traversing a key insight of Marxism – that the question of power must be foregrounded, hence no point playing games that there is no power in society, no class power, no armed power, it is all democracy and free competition and so on. That is why Lenin would say that socialism is not a better or true radical democracy (this would have sounded respectable and acceptable to all), but the dictatorship of the proletariat – this is far more honest that saying that there is democracy for everyone even though it is really class dictatorship. If you feel kind of uncomfortable in whole-heartedly supporting Kishanji because of his gun then you might be uncomfortable with a key insight of Marxism itself – this is the double bind he throws us in.
Kishanji was not the man of ‘its blowing in the wind’ but precisely of another Bob Dylan song. He is the man of ‘the hour when the ship comes in’, one who must have imagined that he is fighting to usher in this grand hour, perhaps even when ‘the answer might not be blowing in wind’:
For the chains of the sea
Will have busted in the night
And will be buried at the bottom of the ocean
Oh the foes will rise
With the sleep still in their eyes
And they’ll jerk from their beds and think they’re dreamin’
But they’ll pinch themselves and squeal
And know that it’s for real
The hour when the ship comes in
Then they’ll raise their hands
Sayin’ we’ll meet all your demands
But we’ll shout from the bow your days are numbered