Naxalbari. The turning point of Indian history

Detta tal höll Jan Myrdal – på storbildsskärm eftersom han för närvarande inte kan få visum till Indien – vid det seminarium som hölls i Kolkata den 20 juli 2017 till femtioårsminnet av Naxalbariupproret. Talet är inte främst riktat till svensk publik, men publiceras på hemsidan för att finnas sökbart och tillgängligt.

Speech at the Revisiting Naxalbari seminar, July 20 2017


For what is called the common people of India life has since the formation of class society been one of blood, sweat and toil. Centuries and millennia of misery for the overwhelming majority. So harsh is the ruling class that many like the debtridden farmers of Bihar felt forced to flee into suicide. But despite this despair that is hailed by some intellectuals in the West as the inner wisdom of India, the villages of India have all the time been hotbeds of uprising and struggle. We all know that, we can sit down and make long lists of these popular struggles.

Naxalbari was thus not a turning point in Indian history because it was a popular rising, a  revolutionary struggle but because it represented a new quality in the struggle of the Indian masses. Charu Mazumdar explained this in his article  "One Year of Naxalbari Struggle" in Liberation, June 1968:

"Full one year has passed since the peasant struggle in Naxalbari began. This struggle is different from all other peasant struggles. Where is the difference? Peasants have always struggled against various injustices and oppressions. This is the first time that the peasants have struggled not only for their partial demands but for the seizure of state power. If the Naxalbari peasant struggle has any lesson for us, it is this: militant struggles must be carried on not for land, crops etc., but for the seizure of state power. It is precisely this that gives the Naxalbari struggle its uniqueness. Peasants in different areas must prepare themselves in a manner so as to be able to render ineffective the state apparatus in their respective areas. It is in Naxalbari that this path has been adopted for the first time in the history of peasant struggles in India. In other words, the revolutionary era has been ushered in, and this is the first year of that era. It is for this reason that the revolutionaries of all countries are heartily welcoming the Naxalbari struggle."

Some of you must know this from your personal experience. For two generations now many from the middle and upper middle class students of different universities have gone to the people as the Russian Narodniks put it. Have integrated in villages and among adivasis. Not to teach - except on malaria prevention or the like - but to integrate and take part in the historical struggle for seizure of state power in order to build a new society.  This is personally a hard choice. Some have been able to stay, many have returned. Others, and quite a number have been victims of the repressive measures of the Indian state.

You know what official Indian media say about them. But during these decades I have also heard from representatives of the ruling class in India that those that have gone to the villages are the best of their generation. Of course many stay only for a time. That is normal in a class society. Charu Mazumdar explained that.

Twice, I have had the possibility of going with different Naxalites and listening to what they have to tell. I was deeply impressed by their outstanding personal and political qualities both times. They were also free of debilitating casteism. The first time was nearly forty years ago when we, I, my life companion Gun Kessle and my daughter Eva Myrdal, went with the armed squads in Andhra Pradesh. I have written about that in India Waits. The second was some years ago when the leadership of the CPI (Maoist) invited me to come to their base in the Eastern Ghats for discussions. I walked with them for sixteen days. I was deeply impressed by the outstanding level of the political and intellectual discussions and their practical work building a new state sructure. Read "Red Star over India. As the Wretched of the Earth are Rising".

You know the words Karl Marx published in the New York Daily Tribune August 8 1853:

"Indian society has no history at all, at least as we know history. What we call its history, is but the history of the successive intruders who founded their empires on the passive basis of that unresisting and unchanging society."

Indian marxists, as for instance Damodar Dharmananda Kosambi, have as marxists shown that what Marx there published was factually wrong. When his sources were bad as in this case, his conclusions were wrong. The Naxalbari struggle was one of the countless peasant struggles that shape the course of Indian history but as Charu Mazumdar pointed out, it was more than that.

"This is the first time that the peasants have struggled not only for their partial demands but for the seizure of state power."

Intellectually communists have played an important role during the last century in India. Beside me on the table as I write is a worn and insect eaten copy of the First Indian Edition of The Communist Manifest from Burmon Publishing House, 1944. 294 pages. It includes very long and important "Explanatory Notes by Prof. Ryazanov." We would 1944 have needed that in our study circles of the Young Communist League in Stckholm.

The Naxalites have inherited and are developing this intellectual tradition. As I after our discussions left the base area in the Eastern Ghats the General Secretary Ganapathy wrote down titles of works by professor H. L. Shukla for me to read to get a better understanding of the link between the many historical tribal revolts in Bastar like Bhumkal, the great tribal revolt of 1910, and today.

When you get as old as I am, ninety years, you can have seen and taken part in great social upheavals. They accomplished much and promised more. But we know what happened. The folk saying both in Europe and Asia expresses it: The fish rots from the head down. Or as the Turks say: The fish stinks first at the head.

Mao Zedong both analyzed this general political phenomenon and specifically in the great proletarian cultural revolution led a complicated and necessary struggle against it. Charu Mazumdar clearly saw that Mao Zedong showed both that the seizure of state power could lead to a new class society that then would begin rotting from the head and how this in struggle could be avoided. The Naxalite movement thus was and continues to be maoist.

It is not sectarian. Of course there are conflicts and contradictions. Mistakes and wrong policies like the annihilation line and the mistrust of mass action have been corrected. But the real importance of Naxalbari, the seizure of state power remains. Now there are overriding class conflicts that, when they are clearly seen, can form the base for a general seizure of power and a new society all over India. The harsh reaction of the ruling class in India to discussion and dissent shows that they are well aware of this. I don't need to give examples. you all know them well.

But it is not  only a question of practical class policy. The intellectual struggle, the battle of ideas is of decisive importance. We in Europe have to struggle against fake European Values and the kind of Human Rights that are used as tools for the profitable imperial destruction of societies like the Afghan, Libyan or Syrian, to name but a few. But to struggle is not to give them just a bad name but to show their intellectual hollowness.

That goes for you too.  Also in India pernicious falsehoods are spread. Hindutva is not only a phrase of Savarkar, it is a present danger. A tool not only used against religious minorities; Muslim as Christians. It can in India take on the role of the German Race in Hitlerite Germany. That the very idea of a German Race was fake was known to both liberal scientists and Communists. But none of them took on a real intellectual struggle. Until it was too late.

I don't want to end on that note but instead with the words the bamboo cutter of the Koya tribe said to us as we 1980 came down from the camp in the Eastern Ghats:

Lal salaam!  Revolutionary greetings. The world is ours.