Thursday, August 30, 2012

the future of Marxism/Maoism/Naxalism

These are extracts from a longer blogpost, written by Rahul Banerjee, that I 'd recommend you read ---- I think this blogpost offers very useful insights into Maoism/Naxalism in India, which should inform the public debate (however limited it is) on the subject, which is currently dominated by stories of violence.

Recently, I have participated in a few debates on the walls of people on Facebook on the relevance of Marxist programmes of action in the present context, especially those adopted by the armed Maoist movement in India which I categorised as being obsolete and so prompted angry responses. While the Marxist analysis of the problems and contradictions of Capitalism remains relevant, the prescriptions for action to overthrow it may not be so. I have written about this in my book Recovering the Lost Tongue at length. I thought I would lift some of that and rework it for a post in this blog.

-------- Moreover, at the peak of the capitalist economic crisis in the late nineteen twenties John Logie Baird invented the television. This set the ball rolling for carrying advertising into people's homes and bombing them with audio-visual content urging them to spend not only their present income but also their future earnings for buying goods and services. Capitalism has since ridden a continuously rising wave of consumerism to expand existing markets and open new ones by titillating the baser instincts of humans all over the world and so continued to fuel economic growth without the recurrence of similar massive demand slumps. The medium became the message.

At about the same time Antonio Gramsci, while incarcerated in prison by the Italian Fascists, began pondering over the conundrum that the oppressed masses in Germany, Italy and Spain refused to become acolytes of Marxism despite the objective conditions arising from the economic collapse being favourable for such a development and instead preferred to plump either for fascism or a capitalism rejuvenated by state sponsored demand boosting measures. He came to the conclusion that the bourgeoisie exert control over the masses not only overtly through the organs of the state but also covertly through their ideological "hegemony" over "civil society" constituted independently of the state by communitarian, cultural and religious associations. Gramsci stressed the important role of "organic" intellectuals coming up from the oppressed classes who would dispel this mesmerising hegemony of the ruling classes by formulating a liberating ideology of their own that could stand up to the dominant ideology of the latter.

However, the scope for this kind of a liberating ideology emerging has been significantly decreased through the influence of television. Television has ensured that it is the sports and film stars selling everything from soap to sanitary napkins and the evangelical preachers of all religious denominations selling divine salvation who have become the gurus of the masses and not the austere radicals, whether communists, anarchists or libertarians, who are making a pitch for a fight against the machinations of neo-colonial capital. These messages, which have been beamed worldwide through satellites, first ensured the tearing down of the iron and bamboo curtains and the collapse of "actually existing socialism". Today, the ever widening reach of television is ensuring that the masses mostly remain engaged in song and dance or vicarious enjoyment of sports instead of taking up cudgels against the ruling classes worldwide to end their misery.

At present, the colonisation of the minds of the masses all over the world resulting from the television propelled cultural imperialism of the West has pushed the meta-narrative of capitalist industrial development and its triplets of consumerism and militarism onto the centre stage of the post-modern world and with the dawn of the twenty-first century, the repositories of various kinds of post modernist "difference" like the Marxists (they have now become marginal players), Maoists and the anarcho-environmentalists are doomed to acting out peripheral micro-narratives. It is not very difficult to imagine that given the readiness among the masses to suspend their disbelief and immerse themselves in the myths being propagated through television, the chances of the Maoists bringing about a revolution in India are remote indeed. Mao had said that power flows from the barrel of a gun but in today's milieu it flows more readily from the picture tube of a television set! The spring thunder of the Maoists, therefore, holds little promise of an emancipatory drenching for those it is ostensibly fighting for. Instead, through their armed actions the Maoists have succeeded in reducing the space for democratic mass action not only for their own mass organisations but also for anarcho-environmentalist ones, which too are regarded by the police to be hand in glove with the Maoists and so are subjected to extra-legal harassment. 

The fact that industrial production processes have been automated so much that it is now possible to have very few regularised permanent workers in factories and farm out most of the work to smaller factories has robbed the working class of the power of the strike action. There are now millions of casual labourers in small groups whom it is very difficult to organise and then form into a conscious "class for itself" that would be able to fight for a revolutionary overthrow. Similar is the situation with landless peasants and marginal farmers. There is no way in which an armed movement can operate openly among the casual labourers and peasants. The net result is that the Maoists are forced to operate in densely forested remote areas which apart from having some natural resources are not very crucial to the Indian State. For a long time the Maoists treated these remote areas as their liberated zones but with time the Indian State and Capitalists felt the need to exploit the resources there and so began attacking these liberated zones in earnest. This has pushed the Maoists on to the backfoot as their overground organisations have all been banned and many leaders have been either killed or arrested. 

There are three other main problems for Marxists in general and Maoists in particular as far as bringing about revolution is concerned. 
The first is that the Indian State is much more powerful militarily than say the Russian or Chinese States were at the time of the revolutions in those countries. The armed forces and the police forces too are very well cared for by the State and so have no reason to mutiny as they did in those countries. Without the armed forces rank and file mutinying there is no way in which a rag tag band of guerrillas can overthrow the Indian State. Even in Nepal where the State and its armed forces are much weaker than in India the Maoists there after waging a long battle have had to agree to participate in a liberal democracy instead of pushing for a revolutionary overthrow. 

Secondly, armed struggle requires a huge amount of funds. Traditionally, the Marxists have sourced these funds by robbing capitalists. The Bolshevik party in Russia used to be funded by the dacoities and kidnapping carried out by Stalin in the crude oil rich Baku on the Caspian Sea in Azerbaijan. The Maoists have to extort from contractors, businessman and industrialists who have to operate in their remote strongholds. While this does provide them with some funds, they are nowhere like enough to finance a major attack on the Indian security forces and so all that the Maoists have managed is to carry out guerrilla warfare which will not get them far.

Thirdly, the compulsions of operating underground force the Maoists to run their areas through summary justice involving the killing of those they consider to be informers. They are constantly on the move so they cannot keep prisoners. Therefore, they have to execute those they consider to be informers or recalcitrants in some way or other. This alienates them from the people and in general, their so called liberated zones are actually fear filled ones. 

Finally, there is the question of what will happen post revolution even if one takes place. If a strongly centralised party does capture power by overthrowing the capitalist dispensation, then it is not then going to suddenly give up its years of centralised and undemocratic functioning as a guerrilla unit and become a bottom up decentralised democratic system. That is why there is a need to think about new methods to combat centralisation which also build up practical models for the post revolutionary dispensation. The control of resources at the moment is in the hands of the capitalists and they are doing everything possible to prevent decentralisation of this control because they know that that will mean the end of their hegemony. So how are the powerless to become powerful is the question that needs to be answered. Marxism has analysed the sources of bourgeois power and the contradictions that it faces very well but it has no answer to the question of how this power can be smashed in the present context where the bourgeois have some very powerful systems in place to prevent the creation of a revolutionary class for itself. Unless a credible plan of action for overcoming capitalism and establishing a more just dispensation is on offer there is little likelihood of a mass movement emerging from the shenanigans of the Maoists or other Marxists who remain stuck in obsolete moulds.

The American anarchist Thoreau once wrote - " If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away". This was a plaintive cry against the homogenising effects of modern industrialisation, which had begun to make themselves felt in the nineteenth century itself. Things have now become considerably more problematical for maintaining economic, social and cultural diversity in the post-modern era. The possibility of launching a concerted challenge to this all round hegemony of capitalist industrial development has diminished considerably. That is why the widespread limitation of the space for democratic dissent that the peripheral violence of the Maoists is causing is a matter of concern. It brings down the number of drummers beating a different beat from that of the votaries of centralised industrial development. Of even greater concern is the fact that the Maoist cadres are mostly from among the marginalised Dalits and Adivasis and these organic intellectuals who could have made a significant contribution to the fight for a better world are all dying an untimely death in the wild goose chase after the Indian Revolution. Lesser and lesser is the proportion of people that are opting out from the destructive march that is being orchestrated by the followers of the meta-narrative of modern industrial development. Thoreau is as lonely as ever.


  1. Marxism has always appealed to the emotional. With so much poverty all around, one gets concerned and a sense of guilt overpowers the rationale. Marxism/socialism appears to be a plausible remedy with its promise of bringing in equality eradicating poverty. But can a socialistic system of governance achieve that? With all experience of history, we can be sure that socialistic system will never succeed. But an indoctrinated Marxist will never accept this reality. Marxists are blind to the time tested principles of economic theory. You need to create wealth before you can distribute it.
    Wealth cannot be created either by labour or by capital in a vacuum. You need ideas and enterprise to create wealth. When labour and capital collaborate to organise as a firm, a wealth creating machine is established. For this wealth creating machine to sustain, you need continuous fuel of ideas. Then comes the question of sharing of the wealth so created. We do not have a better and efficient method of wealth sharing than the market mechanism with many checks and balances. The market has not been created by a capitalist. Market is a natural phenomenon which has evolved on its own and is an essential component of an economic model. The market mechanism fails only when the competition is inadequate. That’s where the state has a role- to ensure adequate competition. If sufficient competition is not there, the state must regulate the market. That is the only limited role, the state should have. Unfortunately, Marxists want the state to capture the whole spectrum of economic activities. That’s where the flaw lies. The state might be capable of arranging labour and capital but it cannot be expected to be entereprising nor can it be capable of sustaining the wealth creating machine by providing continuous supply of ideas.
    Marxists are obsessed with equality. But equality can never be achieved because it is not natural. Look around you, can you find equality anywhere? No, because no eco system with equality can be sustained for long. A rich forest would have big trees, small trees, creepers, bushes and grasses entertwined in a symbiotic system. You need species of every kind. In a well developed economy you will have rich as well as working classes.
    We should not target equality but equal opportunity. We should strive to establish an eco system where a bright young man from a poor family with a wonderful idea would find no difficulty in arranging capital to fund his idea. A child born in a poor family has more opportunities of crossing the class barrier in a capitalist system than anywhere else.
    Marxists would think that in a capitalist economy, the rich would always keep getting richer. Fortunately this does not happen. Coming generations of a rich industrialist need not be smart enough to keep supplying the wealth creating machine with fuel of ideas. That’s how corporations die and new businesses evolve.
    To me, Marxism is a historical mistake. It is a totalitarian ideology-a Marxist is always right and everybody must agree with him or else he must die. That’s how millions of lives have been lost. I am not sure if the loss of so many lives has helped in achieving equality or justice for a few. Worst oppression has been inflicted by the communists in the name of eradicating oppression. Rahul Banerjee appears to be bright and committed individual. I wish his intellectual capabilities could have been better utilized in nation building. For me, a Narayan Murty or an Arvind Kejriwal is a better role model.

  2. @Sunil Bajpai. Excellent write-up. Many people confuse today's corporate oligarchy with capitalism. People confuse bailouts (which is essentially a socialist idea) as a capitalism. People associate "Too big to fail" tagline with capitalism whereas this tagline is essentially a socialist idea. Currently capitalism is getting bad name whereas it stands for freedom and individual liberty.

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