The Naxalbari Path
Naxalbari put armed struggle onto the agenda of Indian revolution….. and since then, the Indian political scene has never remained the same. Naxalbari took place at a time when not only the Indian masses were getting disillusioned by the twenty years of fake independence, but, at a time when the entire world was in turmoil. Small countries like Vietnam, Laos and Kampuchea were striking major blows at the might of the U.S. Army; national liberation movements were surging forward in a number of underdeveloped countries; in Europe and America massive anti-imperialist demonstrations against US involvement in Vietnam merged with a violent outburst of the Black and women’s movement; the student-worker revolt in France shook the DeGaulle establishment; and, most important of all, in China, the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (in the backdrop of the Great Debate) attacked the revisionist ossification and distortions of Marxism. In the Communist arena all Parties throughout the world were compelled to take positions in the Great Debate, between the CPC (Communist Party of China) and the CPSU (Communist Party of the Soviet Union) which had been going on since Krushchev restored capitalism in the USSR in the late 1950s. Naxalbari was a product and a part of this ideological-political ferment taking place throughout the globe.
Most important, Naxalbari restored the revolutionary essence of Marxism on the Indian soil which had been distorted, corrupted and destroyed by the revisionist semantics of the CPI and the then nascent CPI (M). Naxalbari provided the answers both ideologically and practically.
ON THE QUESTION OF PROGRAMME it attacked the revisionist concepts of the CPI and CPM which saw India as basically a capitalist country with ‘feudal remnants’…….and clearly analysed India as a semi-feudal country. It also attacked the revisionist theory that the ruling bourgeoisie in India is basically national in character and that India achieved genuine independence in 1947…….. and clearly stated that the ruling bourgeoisie is comprador, Indian independence fake, and that India is a semi-colony. It outlined the stage of revolution as New Democratic, the enemies of revolution as imperialism, feudalism and comprador bureaucrat capitalism, while the friends of revolution being the workers, peasants, middle-classes and national bourgeoisie – with peasants as the main force and working class as the leading force.
ON THE QUESTION OF STRATEGY it opposed the path of ‘peaceful transition’ put forward by the CPI and CPM, and upheld the path of protracted people’s war. It clearly stated that the path to liberation lay in guerilla warfare, building a people’s army, creating liberated base areas in the countryside and gradually encircling and capturing the cities. It stated that the immediate goal was the establishment of a people’s democratic dictatorship (of the four classes) as the first step towards transition to socialism. The final goal was communism.
IN THE REALM OF TACTICS it rejected parliamentarism and called for the boycott of elections. It fought against economism, legalism and reformism in methods of work and organisation.
ON POLITICAL QUESTIONS it pin-pointed the two superpowers, US imperialism and Soviet Social imperialism, as the main enemies of the world people; it exposed the modern revisionists of the Soviet Union; it declared India as a multi-national country and supported the right of nationalities to self-determination including secession.
AND MOST IMPORTANT, IN THE REALM OF IDEOLOGY, it uncompromisingly fought against revisionism and all forms of bourgeois ideology within the working class movement and strongly upheld Marxism-Leninism-Mao ZeDong Thought as Marxism of the present day. Particularly, it established Mao’s thought as a development of Marxism-Leninism and undertook a big campaign to popularise it. This had a lasting impact, particularly on the student and youth of the country. Specifically, inspired by the on-going Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China, it responded enthusiastically to Mao’s clarion call “It is right to rebel against reaction.” It thoroughly imbued the spirit of the GPCR call to “Fight self-interest and repudiate revisionism”, by displaying a death-defying spirit of self-sacrifice, total devotion to the oppressed masses and a burning class hatred against the perpetrators of exploitation in the country. Thereby, it struck at the class-collaborationist approach of the revisionists and the pseudo-liberal approach of the intellectual Marxists and gained enormous affection from the poorest in our country.
Though later, come tactical errors and a massive offensive by the enemy led to a temporary setback, Naxalbari made an indelible impact on the revolutionary movement in the country.
While the Naxalbari movement was crushed, the politics and ideology behind the Naxalbari uprising spread throughout the country. The ‘Naxalbari Peasants Aid Committee’ (or ‘Naxalbari Krishak Sangram Sahayak Samiti’) held a conference which decided to form the ‘All India Coordination Committee of Revolutionaries of the CPI (M)’. On November 12, 13, 1967 communist revolutionaries from all over the country met and established the ‘All India Coordination Committee of Revolutionaries of the CPI (M)’ A provisional committee was formed to consolidate all revolutionaries and gradually form a revolutionary party.
The coordination committee undertook the task of propagating Marxism-Leninism-Mao ZeDong Thought; uniting all communist revolutionaries on this basis; waging an uncompromising struggle against revisionism; developing and coordinating the revolutionary struggles, specially peasant struggles of the Naxalbari type; and preparing a revolutionary programme and tactical line. In May 1968, at its second meeting held on the eve of the first anniversary of the Naxalbari uprising, the coordination committee was re-named as the ‘All India Coordination Committee of Communist Revolutionaries’ (AICCCR) with Sushital Ray Chowdhary as its convenor.
Earlier, the communist revolutionaries decided to bring out a political paper to propagate the revolutionary line. The first issue of ‘Liberation’ was brought out on November 11, 1967 with Suniti Kumar Ghosh as its editor. ‘Deshabrati’ was brought out in Bengali. At its peak the circulation of ‘Liberation’ touched 2,500 and that of ‘Deshabrati’ 40, 000.
Meanwhile Naxalbari-type struggles spread like wild-fire throughout 1968, and the struggle in Srikakulam was growing into a major uprising. Under these conditions the AICCCR in its February 8, 1969 meeting adopted the resolution to form a Party. At the plenary session meeting of the AICCCR held between April 19 to 22, 1969 the final decision was taken and on the hundredth birth anniversary of Lenin the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) was founded. A coordination committee was formed to draft the Party constitution and prepare for the Party Congress. The Party’s formation was announced by Kanu Sanyal at a mammoth May Day rally held at the Calcutta maidan.
In the process of formation of the Party the Dakshin Desh group and the APCCCR (Andhra Pradesh Coordination Committee of Communist Revolutionaries) did not join. The Dakshin Desh group felt that it was hasty to form the Party at that juncture and it also had differences with the method of formation of the Party, while the APCCCR had differences with the political line of CPI (ML). The Dakshin Desh Group went on to form the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) which is today, along with CPI (ML) Party Unity, spearheading the armed struggle in Bihar. The APCCCR continued with its right deviations, later splitting into two factions – the T.Nagireddy-D.V.Rao faction of the UCCCRI (ML), and, the C.P.Reddy faction which later merged with the revisionist Satyanarayan Singh faction of the CPI (ML) in 1975 only to split again into a number of factions.
By mid-1969 the government had moved in the para-military forces into all the struggle areas and a man-hunt was launched for the leaders of the CPI (ML). The movement went fully underground. In April 1970 the government raided the office and printing press of ‘Liberation’ and ‘Deshabrati’ which too continued from the underground. The government began its campaign of liquidating the communist revolutionaries.
On May 15, 16 1970 the Eighth Congress [in continuation of the 7th Congress held by the CPI (M)] of the CPI (ML) was held under conditions of utmost secrecy. The Congress was held on the first floor of a building in the railway colony in Garden Reach, Calcutta. On the ground floor were over fifty volunteers who had gathered to celebrate a mock wedding. Some, were family members of the delegates. The blaring loudspeaker helped drown the noise of the heated debates taking place above.
The Congress was attended by about 35 delegates from all over the country and elected a 21 member central committee representing comrades from West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Punjab, U.P, Tamilnadu, Orissa, Kashmir and Kerala with Com. Charu Mazumdar as general secretary. The nine-member politburo comprised Charu Mazumdar, Sushital Roy Chowdhary, Saroj Datta, Souren Bose (all West Bengal), Satyanarayan Singh (Bihar), Shiv Kumar Mishra (UP), Shroff (Kashmir), Appu (Tamilnadu) and the two seats allocated for A.P. were never filled.
The Prairie Fire
The cream of India’s youth and students joined, what came to be known as the Naxalbari movement. While the parliamentary politicians were busy playing the politics of power and amassing personal wealth, young revolutionaries were sacrificing everything-studies, wealth, families – to serve the oppressed masses of our country. Displaying a death-defying courage, withstanding enemy bullets and inhuman tortures, facing the their hardships of rural life, thousands of youth integrated with the landless and poor peasants and aroused them for revolution.
In Calcutta the university campuses were turning into hotbeds of revolutionary politics. During the 1967-70 period, the prestigious Presidency College and Hindu Hostel had become the nerve centre for Maoist politics. The Presidency College Students’ Consolidation emerged as an important force following their overwhelming victory in the student union elections in 1967/68. Throughout 1968 and 1969 the Maoist students wing – the Progressive Students Coordination Committee (PSCC) – captured almost all the student unions of the different institutions in and around Calcutta. The Post-Graduate students federation of Calcutta University under Maoist influence discovered the militant form of ‘Gherao’ by launching numerous such struggles against the university authorities in 1969. Later, at the call of the Party it was from these colleges that hundreds of students gave up their studies and integrated with the peasant masses. Many became martyrs in the brutal massacres of youth in 1970/71 in which thousands were killed in Calcutta.
In Andhra Pradesh it was the students of Guntur Medical College who were the first to come out in support of Naxalbari and form the Naxalbari Solidarity Committee. M. Venkataratnam and Premchand were the pioneers, translating articles from ‘Liberation’ into Telugu and distributing them amongst the communist rank and file. Chaganti Bhaskar Rao and Devineni Mallikarjunudu were the brilliant medical students who subsequently went to Srikakulam as guerilla fighters. Earlier Bhasker Rao, a gold medalist, had brought out a handwritten magazine, ‘Ranabheri’, to disseminate Peking Radio news and articles and propagate Naxalbari politics among students.
In Punjab, Bihar, UP, Tamilnadu, Kerala and even amongst the Campuses of Delhi and Bombay thousands of youth were attracted to Maoism and the politics of Naxalbari. Youth, with ideals, at last found a meaning to their lives after total disgust with the deceit, corruption, greed and unprincipled opportunism that pervaded parliamentary politics. Naxalbari symbolised to this youth a new future of justice, truth, equality, humanity and a self-respect for the downtrodden which the present society could never give . Fired with this missionary-like zeal they set out to exterminate the perpetrators of injustice, inhumanity , to eradicate the demons and ghosts who run this oppressive system, to remove the sting of the scorpions, snakes and other vile creatures who roam the corridors of power……. to execute the executioners. They sought to create a paradise on earth. They shared the on dreams of their leader, affectionately known as CM, to create a bright future where no person shall go hungry; where no one shall oppress another, where there shall be no discrimination based on caste, religion or sex; where a new socialist human being will be born in whom greed, selfishness, ego, competitiveness will be replaced by selflessness, modesty and cooperation, and where a concern for others will take precedence over concern for oneself. And it is these youth who, together with the more experienced leaders, marched forth to turn their dreams into reality, by building Naxalbari-type struggles in many parts of the country.
The period 1968 to 1967 saw the outbreak of struggles of landless and poor peasants that stormed the feudal bastions of the ruling classes.
Charu Mazumdar once said that “Srikakulam is the Yenan of India.” Though that may have been an exaggeration, it was a landmark in the history of armed struggle in our country. This hilly, forested tribal belt in the North East of Andhra Pradesh was the beacon-light that blazed the revolutionary path for communists of Andhra Pradesh.
Two school teachers had built up a mass base amongst the tribals since the late 1950s. Vempatapu Sathyanarayana (popularly known as Sathyam) the legend of Srikakulam, together with Adibhatla Kailasam were finding the militancy of their struggle coming into direct conflict with the revisionist state leadership. Forcible harvest of crops, land occupations, growing clashes with the landlords were developing into armed clashes with the police. These two teachers were soon joined by the youth leader Panchadi Krishnamurthy. Added to this, the verse and song of Subbarao Panigrahi became the vehicle of revolutionary politics. With the growing repression, the people were disarmed and panic-stricken as the state leadership was unwilling to resist.
Then came the news of Naxalbari. Sathyam and others immediately embraced the politics of Naxalbari as in it they found the answers for which they were groping, and which the state leadership [of the then CPI (M) and later APCCCR] was unwilling to provide. The tribals were now welded into an irresistible force.
The spark was triggered on 31st October 1967 when two comrades – Koranna and Manganna-were shot dead by landlords at Levidi village while way to the Girijan Sangam Conference. In reaction the girijans rose in a big way against the landlords; seizure of landlords land, property and foodgrains spread from village to village with tribals moving in groups armed with traditional weapons. This continued for six months paralysing the local police forces. But in March 1968 the government sent in a massive posse of police. The people fought back, but were faced with defeat as they were not adequately trained in guerilla methods of warfare.
It was only after coming into contact with the AICCCR that a decision was taken for squad formation and a more systematic resistance. The guerilla squads now assisted the people in the seizure of landlords’ property and annihilation of class enemies. On 25th November 1968 the agenda of armed struggle was set, when 250 tribals raided a landlord’s house, took out a procession of the hoarded foodgrains and property worth Rs. 20, 000 and burnt hundreds of documents. On 20th December 1968 at Balleruguda village 200 police were surprised in a guerilla attack by 500 villagers using stones, bows and arrows and one country-made gun. The police fled; the villagers pursued, killing two constables and one circle inspector.
In 1969 the number of functioning squads increased and so did the actions. But, in October 1969 the government sent in 12, 000 CRPF and the battle raged on for nearly six months. Major guerilla actions took place in the upper Aviri area, on the Bothili hills and near Sanjuvai, Vegulavada and Ithamanugadda. By January 1970, 120 police had been killed. But, one by one, the leaders became martyrs. Sathyam, Adibhatla Kailasam, Panchadi Krishnamurthy, Panchadi Nirmala, Bhasker Rao and Subbarao Panigrahi became part of the folk-lore of the area.
‘Deshabrati’ drew a number of students and youth towards Naxalbari politics from the towns of Suri, Rampurhat, and Bolpur. Organisers from Calcutta and Siliguri went to Birbhum in 1968 to develop the revolutionary movement. After doing some rural surveys they began to organise the villagers on issues of wages and tenancy rights. Many youth joined the movement. The next year the landlords retaliated and evicted the peasants. A militant struggle was launched against the eviction. The struggle spread like wildfire and soon engulfed the whole area.
The party’s work had spread from Bolpur and Suri to Santhal Paraganas in the west. The first attack on a class enemy was made in Dubrajpur thana in 1969 and the annihilation campaign started from the beginning of 1970. Guerilla squads came into being and about 70 class enemies covering 20 thanas were eliminated. In some cases jotedars were punished following the people’s verdicts in people’s courts. The struggles also spread to the small and medium towns of the district, like Bolpur, Hetampur, Suri, Rampurhat and Nalhati, drawing in the youth and students. The squads also formed into larger units (then called the people’s army), eliminated many tyrants, destroyed documents, confiscated their property and distributed it amongst the people. They seized guns in the villages in nine thanas of Birbhum, three thanas of Murshidabad and three thanas of Santhal Paraganas. In all over 200 guns were snatched from the landlords and police. In some areas secret Revolutionary Peasant Committees were also established. But by mid 1971, besides big contingents of the police, the government moved in the CRPF and army. With the ‘Left’ line then prevailing, the movement could not face this combined onslaught and suffered a setback.
(3) Debra-Gopiballavpur :
Many revolutionary intellectuals from Calcutta settled in Gopi-ballavpur of Midnapur district in 1968. In September 1969 a guerilla squad attacked and annihilated an oppressive landlord which had an electrifying effect in the area. Landlords fled to the towns and in November 1969 a big peasant movement began which took up the forcible harvesting of landlords’ crops. In the midst of this movement a large number of guerilla squads were formed and in early 1971 launched an attack on a police camp of the Bihar Military Police – one policeman was killed and nine rifles seized.
In neighbouring Debra a strong movement had been built in 1967 by the local CPI (M) cadres. But as the movement became militant warrants were sent for the arrest of their own party men and Jyoti Basu clamped prohibitory orders in the area. Meanwhile, two popular leaders who had joined the Maoists, influenced by the Gopiballavpur struggles set up a central guerilla unit and a number of local guerilla units. In October 1969 thousands of armed peasants, supported by the guerilla squads attacked the house of a notorious jotedar, seized the hoarded grains, the mortgaged articles and brunt the documents. This was followed by ten more actions in quick succession……
Naxalbari attracted the bulk of the CPI (M) cadres of Muzaffarpur district towards the CPI (ML). By mid-1968 land struggles began…… peasants with arms in their hands openly harvested the landlord’s’ crops. By August the ‘seizure of crops’ campaign intensified with increased clashes with the landlords and police. The government sent in big police forces which resorted to assaulting and arresting villagers, burning their huts and plundering their property. The movement spread to seven thanas of the district with attacks continuing on class enemies. Towards the end of 1968 guerilla units were set up to face the police. The masses and guerilla units successfully repulsed the police in many places and continued their attacks on landlords……..
The movement started in 11 villages in this Terai region of UP close to the Nepal border. Here landlords owned anything from 500 acres to 2000 acres with large goonda gangs. The peasants began their struggle for land in early 1968 and witnessed a big upheaval by June. Clashes between the peasants and goondas ensued with the peasants thrashing the goondas, confiscating landlord’s property and seizing arms. Police camps were established, the movement went underground and continued in the form of guerilla strikes. Many landlords fled the area………..
The spark of Naxalbari spread to most corners of the country. The epi-centre was West Bengal, with strong movements in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Punjab, Tamilnadu and there were flashes of Maoist resistance in nearly all the states of India stretching from Kerala in the South to Kashmir in the North, from Maharashtra in the West to Assam in the East. The movement threw up brilliant leaders like Sushital Roy Chowdhury, Saroj Datta etc but the chief ideologue and visionary was Charu Mazumdar.
Charu Mazumdar, or more popularly known as CM, was born in a Zamindari family of Siliguri in 1918. As a school student he was influenced by the petty-bourgeois national revolutionaries and became a member of the All Bengal Students Association, affiliated to the Anusilan group. His father, a lawyer, was an active Congress freedom fighter and his mother was progressive for her times. In 1937-38 he dropped out of college and became a Congress worker organising bidi workers and others. After a few years he quit the Congress and joined the CPI, working in the peasant front. Primarily he worked amongst the Jalpaiguri peasantry and became a popular leader amongst them. When a warrant was issued for his arrest he went underground. At the outbreak of World War II the party was banned and he did secret organisational work amongst the peasantry and became a member of the CPI Jalpaiguri district committee in 1942. During the great famine of 1943, he organised the seizure of Crops in Jalpaiguri. In 1946 he participated in the Tebhaga movement and organised militant struggles of the peasants in North Bengal. This movement had a profound impact on him and shaped his vision on armed peasantry developing a revolutionary movement. Later he worked amongst the tea garden workers of Darjeeling district.
In 1948 the CPI was banned and he spent the next three years in jail. In January 1954 he married Lila Mazumdar Sengupta, a CPI cardholder from Jalpaiguri. They shifted to Siliguri, which remained the centre of his activity. His ailing father and unmarried sister lived there under severe financial constraints having lost their ancestral property. As the peasant movement receded he spent his efforts organising tea garden workers, rickshaw pullers, etc. After the Palghat Congress in 1956 his ideological differences with the party widened. Severe financial constraints added to his depressing conditions. But, the Great Debate, in the international communist movement lifted his spirits. During the Indo-China war he was again put in jail. Though he joined the CPI (M) in the split, he found the leadership dodging the key ideological questions. In 1964-65 he was sick and devoted time to studying and writing about communism and Mao’s thought. It was here that he developed his ideas which were recorded in his writings and speeches of 1965-67 – subsequently known as the ‘Historic Eight Documents’ — which formed the political-ideological basis for the emergence of the Naxalbari movement.
THE NAXALBARI UPRISING
A new dawn was breaking…………..
Throughout 1966 itself the groundwork had been laid. In 1965/66 the ‘Siliguri Group’ [(of the newly formed CPI (M)] brought out as many as six cyclostyled leaflets calling for the immediate commencement of armed revolution. One of these leaflets gave a call to initiate partisan warfare in the Terai region within six months. Throughout 1966 revolutionaries organised peasant cells in every part of Siliguri sub-division; bow and arrows, and even a few rifles were gathered and liaison established with the Nepalese Maoists active just a few miles away. In late 1966 a Revolutionary Kisan meeting was organised in Siliguri. On March 3, 1967 the seeds of struggle began to sprout………. A group of peasants surrounded a plot of land in Naxalbari region; marking the boundaries with red flags, they began harvesting the crop.
Then….. the March 18 Convention was the signal for the peasant upsurge, which engulfed the entire area for four months. The U.F. government in West Bengal sought to diffuse the movement by announcing token land reforms. The revolutionary peasants replied to the revisionist rulers by setting up peasant committees to take over the land of the jotedars. Huge processions and demonstrations were organised by Kisan committee members, many of whom were armed with lathis, spears, bows and arrows. A sea of red flags struck terror into the hearts of the landlords and the countryside reverberated with the slogan “March forward along the path of armed peasant revolution.”
The first clash was ignited when a share-cropper, Bigul Kisan, was beaten by armed agents of a local jotedar. This was followed by violent clashes and the forcible seizure of land and confiscation of food grains, by armed units of the Kisan committee. Any resistance by the landlords and their gangs was smashed and a few killed. By end May the situation reached the level of an armed peasant uprising. The CPI (M) leaders, who were now in power, first tried to pacify the leaders of the movement……having failed, Jyoti Basu, the then home minister of West Bengal, ordered in the police. On 23rd May the peasantry retaliated killing an inspector at Jharugaon village. On May 25, in Naxalbari, the police went berserk killing nine women and children. In June the struggle intensified further, particularly in the areas of Naxalbari, Kharibari and Phansidewa. Firearms and ammunition were snatched from the jotedars by raiding their houses. People’s courts were established and judgments passed. The upheaval in the villages continued till July. The tea garden workers struck work a number of times in support of the peasants. Then on July 19, a large number of para-military forces were deployed in the region. In ruthless cordon and search operations, hundreds were beaten and over one thousand arrested. Some leaders like Jangal Santal were arrested, others like Charu Mazumdar went underground, yet others like Tribheni Kanu, Sobhan, Ali Gorkha Majhi and Tilka Majhi became martyrs. A few weeks later, Charu Mazumdar wrote “Hundreds of Naxalbaris are smoldering in India……. Naxalbari has not died and will never die.”
Naxalbari gets recognition
The Communist Party of China, then the centre for world revolution, hailed the uprising. On June 28, 1967 Radio Peking broadcast : “A phase of peasants’ armed struggle led by the revolutionaries of the Indian Communist Party has been set up in the countryside in Darjeeling district of West Bengal state of India. This is the front paw of the revolutionary armed struggle launched by the Indian people……”. Within a week, the July 5th edition of People’s Daily carried an article entitled ‘Spring Thunder over India’ which said : “A peal of spring thunder has crashed over the land of India. Revolutionary peasants in Darjeeling area have risen in rebellion. Under the leadership of a revolutionary group of the Indian Communist Party, a red area of rural revolutionary armed struggle has been established in India….. The Chinese people joyfully applaud this revolutionary storm of the Indian peasants in the Darjeeling area as do all the Marxist-Leninists and revolutionary people of the world.”
Meanwhile, revolutionaries in Calcutta, who had also been running a campaign against revisionism, took up a massive campaign in support of the Naxalbari uprising. The walls of college streets were plastered with posters saying : “Murderer Ajoy Mukherjee (the Chief minister) must resign.” The revolutionaries [still within the CPI (M)] held a meeting in Ram Mohan Library Hall in Calcutta and formed the ‘Naxalbari Peasants Struggle Aid Committee’, which was to become the nucleus of the Party of the future.
Simultaneous to the police action, the CPI (M) expelled a large number of their members. Sushital Roy Chowdhary, a member of the West Bengal state committee and editor of their Bengali party organ was expelled. So were other leading members like Ashim Chatterjee, Parimal Das Gupta, Asit Sen, Suniti Kumar Ghosh, Saroj Datta and Mahadev Mukherjee. The Darjeeling district committee and Siliguri sub-divisional committee were dissolved.
The spark of Naxalbari set aflame the fires of revolution in Srikakulam, Birbhum, Debra-Gopiballavpur, Mushahari and Lakhimpur-Kheri. The states of West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Punjab, U.P and Tamil Nadu saw a big spurt in Naxalbari-inspired struggles and Maoist formations sprouted in nearly every state of India.