March 26, 2008

An Inside Look at Maoist Strategy in India, Part 1

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[Fire on the Mountain herewith continues a weeklong series of in-depth interviews with revolutionaries from the Indian subcontinent. This long look at the state of the struggle in India will appear in two parts, today and tomorrow. FotM is again indebted to the comrades of the Norwegian revolutionary socialist party Rødt [Red!] who conducted this interview for their theoretical magazine, also called Rødt, and to Johan Petter Andresen, who granted permission to use this interview. It was conducted in early December (in English), when Saibaba visited Oslo and spoke at the memorial service for Tron Øgrim.

And we're not done yet! Another Norwegian comrade has given us the notes from a second interview with Hisila Yami of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) which covers different terrain from the one published here a few days back. After some polishing to make it more accessible to those who haven't been able to follow the struggle in Nepal as closely as they might like, it will appear here, probably this coming weekend.]

An interview with G.N. Saibaba.

Saibaba is 40 years old. He was born in Andhra Pradesh, a Southern state in India. He lives in Delhi now. He is the Deputy Secretary of the Revolutionary Democratic Front (RDF), an All Indian Federation of Revolutionary People’s Organisations.

Red!: If someone said to you that the Maoist movement in India is a marginal movement that is mainly operating in very backward, lowly populated areas, and it has been doing so for over thirty-five years without getting anywhere, what would be your answer?

Saibaba: The Maoist movement in India is not confined to the backward areas. It’s a vast movement, and includes the "developed" areas. Maoists work both in the countryside and the cities. The government says that the Maoists are active in 15 out of 28 states. And these include the major states. The Union Home Ministry says that 167 districts out total 600 districts in the country are covered by Maoists. This is a little less than 1/3 of India.

The Maoists in India follow the New Democratic Revolutionary method proved successful in China under the leadership of Mao. This method follows that the revolutionary movement must put priority on working in the areas where the state is weak. The Maoists work in the backward regions to smash the local reactionaries’ power and establish people’s power. They build revolutionary mass bases in these backward areas. This doesn’t mean that they don’t also work in the cities. In fact, in the Congress of the CPI (Maoist) held in January/February 2007, they decided to increase their work in the urban areas. They have produced a new document concerning work in the urban areas that analyses the work done in the last thirty years. This document sets out a strategy for developing the work in the urban areas.

The backward regions in the country are essentially semi-feudal and there is not much capitalistic development. The Maoist Party selected these areas for guerrilla warfare. The armed struggle is considered as the main form of struggle. In order to develop the main form of struggle the Maoists concentrate their work in the backward areas. The struggle in urban areas is secondary and complimentary. The work of the party among the working class in the urban areas helps develop proletarian leadership for the struggle in the backward areas.

At the same time the Maoists participate in developing a huge movement in the urban areas among the intelligentsia, students, women and the middle classes. Maoist cadres and leaders who have been working in the urban areas also are arrested, harassed and killed.

Maoists also work among the coal miners in a big way. There are vast coal mines in many regions in India. You can see, the Maoists work in many industrial areas all over the country, though their concentration of work proceeds from the rural areas.

In fact the CPI (Maoist) leads the single largest mass movement in India. The Central and local governments’ response is an indicator to the vastness of the movement. The Central Government has formed a Coordination Centre together with 14 state governments. They are cooperating to mobilise security forces and to gather intelligence about the movements of the Maoists. They have armed a huge military network. They have monthly meetings of this Centre. A large number of military forces are engaged against the Maoist movement. This also indicates the strength of the Maoist movement.

The Naxalbari uprising in 1967 that beckoned in the new revolutionary wave ended with splits into many groups. The splitting up of revolutionary communist forces lasted from 1972 to 1997. It is only after 1997 that the revolutionary communists started uniting. Two major parties who were waging armed struggle united in 1998 and the final unity took place in 2004 when the CPI (Maoist) was formed with the merger of MCCI and CPI (People’s War). Because of the splits the movement couldn’t grow faster before 2004.

(See note 1, to be posted with Part 2 of this interview. for a closer history of the splits and unification process of the Communist Movement between 1970 and 2004.)

Red!: How do the Maoists respond to accusations of being dogmatists, and not being willing to learn from the defeats of socialism in the 20th century?

Saibaba: The Maoists are creatively and in a genuine way implementing the Marxist principles to the concrete conditions of India. They don’t blindly copy from China or Russia. At the same time they are aware that the socialist projects in China and Russia were defeated by the capitalist roaders. They apply Marxism-Leninism-Maoism in a practical way for India. If one calls carrying armed struggle dogmatism, then one is moving away from class struggle in an impoverished country like India. Armed peasant struggle is the basic struggle, because 70% of the masses have been forced to remain with and depend on agriculture and backward relations of production. In such a situation where a vast majority don’t have a public democratic space, they will not be able to fight the fascistic ruling classes without arms. But armed struggle is also being waged creatively and practically. Armed struggle doesn’t mean the annihilation of the class enemy. Armed struggle is a form of class struggle where the oppressed classes assert their power and organise themselves by taking away power from the feudal and pro-imperialist comprador capitalists.

Armed struggle under the leadership of Maoists also means re-appropriation of the sources of livelihood by the wretched of the earth from the dominant and powerful classes. It also means building alternative institutions the people’s power. So in this way the armed struggle is redefined and practiced with Bolshevik spirit of giving all power to the soviets. Without armed struggle no resistance can be built in countries like India and the resistance that has been built up in the previous years cannot be retained. The armed actions against the state forces and feudal forces are carried out to protect the movement and in self-defence and self-assertion of the exploited classes.

The Maoists believe that the demise of socialist construction in Russia and China was mainly due to the revisionist line that developed within the respective Communist Parties of those countries. The capitalist-roaders in Russia and China captured power back from the working class because those parties could not guard against the infiltration of the bourgeoisie into the proletarian parties. The failure of the socialist projects have taught important lessons to the international proletariat in carrying forward the class struggle against the bourgeoisie in various countries and the monopoly bourgeoisie at the international level. In no country in the world has class struggle succeeded without armed struggle.

Red!: How many soldiers do the Maoists have approximately?

Saibaba: The Indian Government says 28,000, but the number may be much higher. The areas of their influence look much wider than what the Government estimations indicate. Also there is a vast people’s militia working at the village level. The militia is basic and primary in relation to the People’s Liberation Army as per the strategy of the CPI (Maoist).

Red!: Have there been any peace talks between the Maoists and the authorities anywhere?

Saibaba: There were peace talks in 2004. The Government of Andhra Pradesh invited the Maoists for peace negotiations. The Maoist Party always maintains that they are never averse to political negotiations with their opponents on the issues of people’s struggles, but no negotiations are possible on their central political line in terms of strategy. One round of peace talks were conducted in Hyderabad for about a month. This was facilitated and supported by the prominent intellectuals of the region. The Maoists said in the negotiations that if the government was willing to solve the problems of the people for which they had been fighting in the last thirty five years, they would welcome the change. They discussed the basic problems of the people. A ceasefire agreement was signed by both sides before the political negotiations began. The government said that they wanted to close the first phase of the negotiations and also said that it would implement the agreed upon points. And the Maoist leaders who negotiated went back underground. They waited for the implementation of the agreed points. The Government violated the ceasefire, started hostilities on the Maoists and killed several hundred Maoists, including leading cadres. This process revealed before the eyes the people how the reactionary rulers are not ready to solve the problems of the people.

Red! : Do the Maoists have any base areas?

Saibaba: The People’s War has not reached to the level of base areas yet. But it has almost reached this level in several places. In these areas where base areas are under construction, people’s governments at local level are functioning. The People’s governments are functioning in several hundred villages.

Red!: There is news that the Central and State Governments launched attacks against the Maoist positions in Andhra Pradesh, and that they have been driven out of most of the areas. Doesn’t this show that when the ruling classes want to, they can defeat the Maoists militarily, and that it is only a question of tactics from the enemy’s part, when it decides to smash the Maoists?

Saibaba: In the last decade more than two thousand Maoist cadres have been brutally murdered in Andhra Pradesh. There was a concentrated attack particularly after the peace negotiations. When the Maoists saw that they were facing larger losses of forces, they retreated from certain areas, and deployed them in other areas. There is a temporary setback in some areas in Andhra Pradesh for the Maoist movement, but they are trying to revive these areas. The Central and State governments use vigilante groups in a huge way to infiltrate the Maoist areas and smash them. The vigilante groups worked more effectively for the governments in breaking the Maoist resistance in some areas of Andhra Pradesh.

The movement is not merely a military movement. It is a political movement involving the masses. So the Maoists are not facing and confronting the Indian military forces just militarily but more politically so they have a vast mass base. It is not possible for the government to smash the movement because of massive popular support. The temporary setbacks are not uncommon in revolutionary movements. But the mature revolutionary movements could recover from such setbacks quickly from time to time.

Red!: Are there any revolutionary forces that are trying another strategy than protracted people’s war in India?

Saibaba: Yes, for example CPI (ML) New Democracy and a few other CPI (ML) groups. Ahead of the Lok Sabha elections (elections to the Union legislature i.e. the Parliament) in 2004, CPI(ML) Red Flag and a few other CPI (ML) groups took the initiative to form a united front of revolutionary communists basically to fight elections.

The Maoists consider them to be the right deviationists but not revisionist. They are progressive, but not on the right revolutionary path as per the Maoists. But Maoists are not averse to work with them in mass work.

Red!: India is a big country. In some areas there are civil wars, in other areas there is not much unrest. At the same time most parties are regional, not national. Are there revolutionary organisations in all the states of India?

Saibaba: The unrest is everywhere. Take for example Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. These two areas are poverty-stricken areas. But there is not a single revolutionary party exists in these regions. The unrest takes place in these regions many shapes. Sometimes mass militant movements arise. But the major problem is that the revolutionary subjective forces are not working there. These are two large states, but there is no history of revolutionary communist parties in these areas, mostly NGOs work in these areas. They are often foreign funded. But the objective situation is very much ripe for armed struggle in these areas as well. It is simply the question of spread of revolutionary forces to these regions that is awaited.

Red!: What is the percentage of people living in the cities? How many of these have employment?

Saibaba: 30 percent of Indian population live in urban and semi-urban areas and 70 percent in the countryside. Overall, about 77% of the people live on Rs. 20/- a day i.e. half a US dollar a day on an average. Unemployment is rampant in every part of India.

Red!: Officially India is growing at a GDP growth-rate of almost 10%. You contest this figure. Why?

Saibaba: At the moment the growth rate is around 9% as per the Government’s declaration. Only 0.5% percent of the workforce, which is engaged in the service-sector, is contributing 55% to the GDP. And 70% of the workforce, which is in the rural agriculture sector, is contributing with only 19% to the GDP. And 3% of the work force is engaged in the manufacturing sector. These figures from the government tell us that the vast majority of the people’s share in the GDP is very minute. Right now the growth rate figures are based to a large degree on speculative capital, which includes foreign investment. So the growth rate is both illusive and fragile. The calculations for the growth rate are also based on falsehoods. If these figures indicate anything, we understand that the top 10% is amassing the wealth with crudest exploitative methods.

Red!: In the Philippines there is a combination of People’s War and at the same time the party supports people’s parties that stand for elections, in Nepal the Maoists stood for elections to parliament in 1993, then they boycotted the elections and started a people’s war, and now they are in parliament. Isn’t it possible to combine people’s war and parliamentary work in such a vast and diverse country as India?

Saibaba: The history of the development of the Communist Movement in India in the last 40 years shows us that those Communist Revolutionary Parties that did not choose the strategy of People’s War, but chose the theory of people’s resistance first, before the initiation of People’s War or that chose to combine people’s resistance and parliamentary politics, gradually slipped into either right deviationist or neo-revisionist path.

People’s War is the main strategy, whereas standing for elections of the Parliament is a tactical question. The Maoists are not in principle against the elections, but doing this must facilitate the strategy of People’s War. The Maoists consider the question of participation in Parliamentary elections as part of the tactics which has a strategic importance. So they don’t see any immediate possibility of participating in elections. The Parliamentary institutions are highly discredited ones among the people in India. In the imagination of people at large, if one is participating in elections one is the enemy of the people who comes to rob them. The Maoists boycott elections and concentrate on building alternative people’s power and people’s institutions. In India the Maoists have no immediate plans of using this tactic.

Red!: Isn’t it possible to develop both legal struggle and underground struggle in the cities and larger urban areas, also including working in the Parliamentary organisations?

Saibaba: The Maoists do work in the urban areas among the working classes and the middle classes. This has secondary importance in relation to the main strategy of the revolutionary line. The primary importance is to develop the armed struggle in the villages among the peasants as the main force, and with the working class ideology in the leadership. This means not just the physical workers but those of the people who acquired the proletarian ideology and without property of their own. Maoists do combine legal and the illegal struggles as far as the struggles create space to operate and basically understand that more and more militant struggles create this space. Whatever there is any democratic space, it’s being used to the maximum extent possible. But the ruling classes don’t allow the use of legal means and different institutions of democracy always. Participating in elections is not the only way to participate in legal and urban spaces. Even boycotting elections is a highly political activity, which is another way of participating politically within the given democratic space that exists in India.

First of all, the Maoists are concentrating on gaining power for the people to build people’s democratic revolutionary institutions. When this is achieved in large areas, they will get more space in the urban centres.

Red!: Is employment growing?

Saibaba: The employment rate is not growing, it is standing still. But the real employment rate has declined very much, for several reasons. The economic surveys tell us that one million small industries were closed in the last few years, and this made a huge loss of jobs. Then land being acquired from the farmers is also responsible for unemployment. The small peasants and landless peasants have lost their jobs in a big way.

Only IT-industry and some service industry are growing. But these are sectors where a miniscule number of people are employed. Employment in manufacture sector is on decline. The government doesn’t show these figures. The independent intelligentsia produce alternative figures on both the growth rate and unemployment. There is a huge controversy about the official figures about employment situation in India. On the whole, there is a decline in the employment growth rate, side by side there is decline in real wages of workers.

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