The Peoples’ War Group and Its Criticism by the ‘Concerned Citizens’

Rajesh Tyagi

On December 1, 1999 the Special Intelligence Bureau of the Andhra Pradesh Police captured three Central Committee members of the CPI(ML) Peoples' War in Bangalore city: comrades Nalla Reddy, Y. Santosh Reddy and Seelam Naresh. The same night they were airlifted to Hyderabad, tortured and in the morning they were flown to the Koyyuru forest area where they were summarily executed in an 'encounter' overseen by H.J. Dora, the police chief of Andhra Pradesh. These assassinations were preceded by those of eight comrades of the CPI(ML) Janshakti in two incidents on the 11th and 14th November by the Warangal and Kariminagar police. The Andhra Police has a long history of assassinations of those involved in the democratic movement.

This journal condemns these extra-judicial executions and holds the Telegu Desam Party in Andhra Pradesh and the BJP government at the Centre responsible for these actions.

These developments confirm the understanding of Marx and Engels that even the most democratic bourgeois republics are nothing but the instruments by which the bourgeoisie oppresses the working class and the working masses. Lenin in his time noted that pogroms were being carried out of bolsheviks in 'democracies' such as the United States and Switzerland. Extra-judicial killings continue in the United States directed against Afro-Americans and by the U.K. against the Irish revolutionaries.

The article below rebuts the 'Open Letter to the CPIML People's War' by the Committee of Concerned Citizen which was reprinted in the previous issue of this journal.

For some time Peoples’ War Group is under ideological attack, not from its foes, but by those who had been associated with it for fairly long period of time. Intellectuals like Hargopal, Kannabiran, Narsimha Reddy, Balgopal and others, ‘In search of democratic space’ as how they term it, and in the name of a ‘Committee of Concerned Citizens’, have in fact launched a drive by way of open letters severely criticizing the politics of Peoples’ War. Recent, in this ongoing campaign, is the open letter circulated by S.R. Sankaran, attacking the tactical line of Peoples’ War, while touching some strategic aspects too.

The letter proceeds from a false pretension, as if the signatories to the letter, the ‘Concerned Citizens’, hold a social-political position over and above the two warring camps – Peoples’ War on one side and the state on the other. Pretending as if these ‘Concerned Citizens’ are conciliators, concerned only with the prevention of ongoing violence and the use of force by both the warring groups. Interestingly, all of these signatories, in one or the other way, had been associated with the activities of Peoples’ War in past years. These intellectuals, who had been identifying themselves with the revolutionary movement for decades together, have resurrected themselves in their newly acquired and self-assumed ‘neutral’ role of a conciliator between the reactionary state and the revolutionary movement. If anything is honestly demonstrated by this ‘neutralism’ it is the philistinism of these intellectuals and their backtracking from the revolutionary struggle in general. If anything can be gathered from the letter that is the total ideological-political bankruptcy of these intellectuals and their inability, not only in giving leadership to the revolutionary movement but even in following in its footsteps. This new found ‘neutralism’ of these intellectuals demonstrates a definite trend i.e. a shift in the attitude and mindset of a section of the intellectual class towards Peoples’ War and the revolution.

The Concerned Citizens are particularly sorrowful that the State has failed to respond to their demands for a humane governance. Here is what their letter says, ‘We also wish to mention that the State has failed to respond to our demands for humane governance’. So sorry, dear Concerned Citizens! We can understand your grief, but that exactly vindicates the politics of Peoples’ War and revolutionary politics in general – that for the fulfillment of demands of the people against the reactionary state, the same have necessarily to be backed by some physical force i.e. revolutionary violence. Till it remains a demand on paper i.e. devoid of any real force, the state is never going to respond to it. This simple rule, that in order to be effective, demands have to be backed by force, has been better realised in theory and translated into practice by Peoples’ War as compared to you and we will only add that anyone who could not realize this from one’s own experience, should learn it from the heroic struggle being waged by Peoples’ War and those who refuse to learn this, are mere philistines, whose demands to the state would find no other place except the dustbin, and if your appeals to the State for a ‘humane governance’ are falling on deaf ears, one can’t help except feeling sorry for you, poor Concerned Citizens!

These Concerned Citizens are cheerful that despite State violence, violence by Peoples’ War has decreased in the recent past. ‘We have noted that there has been a commendable decrease in the use of landmines and in the destruction of public property’. But in the next breath the letter says ‘We feel concerned to find a shift in the direction of your movement and the thrust seems to be more on the military objectives rather than mobilisation of people for social transformation’. After appreciating the decrease in violence by Peoples’ War, the letter expresses concern over the increasing military approach inside Peoples’ War. The letter virtually contraposes militarisation to mobilisation of people. Then they say that militarisation has its own limitation – ‘this militarisation of approach to social change has its own inherent limitations’, forgetting that without exception everything in this world has its ‘own’ limitations, except, of course, the ‘philistinism’ of our intellectuals which really knows no bounds.

Militarisation stifles the democratic expression of peoples aspirations’, the letter goes on to say. And how do you explain the great revolutionary military expeditions in Russia, China, Vietnam, Cuba etc. where the peoples’ aspirations have found direct expression in military forms of struggle? These were the most heroic and finest expressions of peoples’ aspirations in the history of mankind hitherto recorded.

The question as to whether the movement for social change would proceed in a peaceful or violent manner, as to whether the form of struggle between social forces will be Civil or Military depends primarily on the attitude of the ruling classes and cannot be decided subjectively by the revolutionaries. Thus to condemn militarisation in general, to criticise violence and the use of force in general, without making reference to given circumstances and without even taking them into account, is a philistine idea and serves the interests of no one else except the rulers themselves. It is not the militarisation of the approach towards social change but the approach to the question of the militarisation at a given moment, which should be the subject matter of debate in revolutionary circles. Instead of narrating the limitations and evils of militarisation, in general, the only question which should have been addressed by ‘concerned citizens’ is whether at a given moment, military means should be adopted or not. But the concerned citizens carry on further ‘it also aggravates violence in the society and sidetracks the question of social transformation.’ Here things have been put upside down. They even fail to understand that the military programme (militarism!) of the revolutionary movement is a key to tackle a situation at a given moment and is dictated by the given circumstances. Violence is not ‘aggravated’ by militarism, rather on the contrary revolutionary militarism is generated out of the violent politics of the classes in command of state power. It is not the militarist approach of Peoples’ War which is aggravating violence, but the politics of the rulers, who respond to all the revolutionary initiatives of people with barbarism. The so-called militarism of Peoples’ War is obviously one of the kinds of responses to it. And anyway, how is the question of social transformation sidetracked by revolutionary violence? On the contrary, is it not true that the question of social transformation is brought to focus now by peaceful and then by violent means, by the revolutionary movement. Whether our moderates like it or not but the fact is that all major social transformations (if they are worthy of this title!) have been brought about through violence. By opposing violence in general and characterising violence as a reactionary force, a hurdle to social transformation, It seems that our concerned citizens, in fact, are sidetracking the question of ‘social transformation’ and are turning their backs upon the revolutionary movement in general.

‘Revolutionary change in our view is a qualitative alteration of the existing social relations and creating new human beings who are superior in material and moral terms’ says the letter further. But again the question of any social change puts forth the question of political change, first and foremost, which is not addressed by the concerned citizens. As a matter of rule, the reactionary classes, the whole rotten lot, is interested in maintaining the status quo and never permit any social change voluntarily, rather they resist all efforts to bring about social changes through the brute strength of state power in their hands and this way any social change is made almost impossible by the might of state power. Thus political revolutions necessarily precede great social transformations and these political revolutions have hitherto involved more or less violence, full fledged military programmes and attitudes, non-peaceful adventures and all that. Opposing violence in general renders all social transformation impossible.

The degeneration of surrendered Naxalites is attributed to what they call ‘militarism’. Has there been any movement in the history of world where there was no degeneration? Rather this ‘degeneration’, this ‘surrender’, not only of militants but of intellectuals also, would certainly help to separate the wheat from the tares. These surrenders demarcate between those who oppose the wrong politics still taking part in the revolutionary politics and those who in the name of difference in opinion, abandon the struggle itself and start to speak in the language of rulers.

‘We emphasize’ the letter says further ‘that in several instances sheer physical force has come to replace the democratic methods of spreading the movement’. Only God knows what these intellectuals mean by democratic methods and how they counterpose them to the use of force. Democracy presupposes the existence of force by one section against the other. What we understand by democracy is that it is the forced imposition of will by the majority against the minority. So how the so-called ‘democratic methods’ can be replaced by the use of force, that too in several instances, is totally inconceivable to us. What you are not concerned with, concerned citizens! is that the state which is armed to the teeth is sheer physical force in itself and that it cannot be countered by anything else except physical force. Your so-called ‘democratic methods’ viz. petitioning the rulers for a ‘human governance’ are destined to meet the same fate as before. The rulers do not find it worthy even of a formal response. These meek prayers by moderates and philistines fail to evoke any response from the rulers except mockery.

‘We feel that your entire approach to the policy of targetting elected representatives needs rethinking. We consider that this practice is unwarranted and is power oriented’. These activities positively need rethinking but not in a philistine way and not because this policy is power oriented. Rather, on the contrary, because this policy of individual annihilation has no orientation to power, either in theory or practice. We want to remind the writers of the letter that all revolutionary political activities are essentially power oriented, rather attaining of power is the focal point of every political revolution without exception. So, these activities, along with many others, being conducted by the Peoples’ War need a review but not for the reason that these practices are power oriented, as the letter puts them, but on the contrary for the very reason that they have no orientation to the real power struggle. Killing of an elected representative or any other individual does not advance the cause of revolutionary struggle even an inch further and these sorts of nihilist activities are not only futile in general but under a constitutional democracy, are harmful to the cause of the entire revolutionary struggle. Such acts not only provide an opportunity to the reactionary classes who are still a thousand times more strong as compared to revolutionaries, to unleash violence against the movement but also marginalise the struggle from the mainstream and isolate heroes from the masses. This sort of petty violence, not the use but abuse of force, virtually hampers the course of mustering huge and sufficient forces to dislodge the present ruling classes. Thus the nihilist policy essentially needs a review, but on the ground that it has no orientation to the real struggle for state power.

‘People have got to play the role of mere spectators’ and ‘Naxalite movement has come to mean essentially a confrontation between the police and the Naxalites’. This is absolutely correct and we are in total agreement with the writers on this issue. This pertains to the matters of strategy. The nihilist policy of active heroes and passive people, or more solidly the nihilist illusion that the blood of revolutionaries would awaken the people in due course, has virtually reduced the politics of these groups to extremely sectarian levels where in the name of the people only a handful of heroes are there to sacrifice themselves. Thus finding no possible avenues of victory and no clear targets of struggle, a desperation, a defeatist mentality is thus slowly overpowering these groups like Peoples’ War. The harm these nihilist currents have done to the revolutionary movement all over the world is unparalleled. The policy of active heroes with passive people hampers the activation of masses for a revolutionary struggle. Vast masses are to be mobilised if a real revolution is to be carried out. It is the primary duty of the revolutionary party to accomplish this task and then to lead the masses to a decisive offensive against the ruling classes, overturning their rule and snatching away the state power from their hands. To kill individuals, that too those elected by the people, has nothing to do with revolutionary struggle. This is nihilist politics having nothing in common with revolutionary Marxism. Elected representatives, through how much bogus and fraudulent means they might have come to power, represent the majority of people, and to kill them or attack them is nothing but suicidal politics. These are desperate acts and nothing else, emerging out of a petty bourgeois peasant mentality, and are particularly harmful to the cause of revolution.

What we want to add is that primarily the real centre of power, the bureaucratic regime of the ruling classes and not the elected representatives and institutions, which are already powerless, must be the target of revolutionary offensive and secondly physical force does not mean armed force alone, it can have varied forms according to the exigencies of situation, and which form is to be selected at a given moment is a tactical issue. Masses imbued with revolutionary ideas, though unarmed, are not a lesser physical force. Thus the strategy and role of a revolutionary party is not to take armed offensive under all circumstances but to motivate the masses to become a physical force in themselves and to overturn the reaction by use of this force. It would depend upon the attitude of ruling class as to by what means – violent or peaceful – they want to be deposed by the people. This all is correct. We agree with the letter that the killing spree of Peoples’ War and like organisations against individuals and especially elected representatives is not only futile but extremely harmful from the political and strategic point of view. Given the conditions of a regime that at least is able to maintain the farce of constitutionalism, state violence is not to be answered through retaliatory armed action but through a different mode of physical force i.e. mobilisation of people against it, which can be the real and the only effective deterrent against such violence. Violence by the state essentially generates hatred in the hearts of people and this way the rulers themselves serve the cause of revolution. More and more people see through their own eyes that they are living under a barbaric regime which has no concern for human values and life, people themselves come to realize that they cannot find respite except by getting rid of reactionary rule, except by overturning them. A prime role of a revolutionary party, under the conditions of Asian democracies, is to help the people reach this conclusion as soon as possible and not in becoming a solitary warring camp in themselves, retaliating through armed action against the State violence. To this extent we are in absolute agreement with the letter. But letter goes on criticising a step further. It preaches to Peoples’ War that though they can canvass for boycott they should not use ‘physical violence’ in support of it, as they say- ‘Boycott of elections cannot be enforced by physical violence.’ Noble citizens, now completely fail to understand that for an active and successful boycott, use of force that too sheer physical force, is imperative. Because it is not sufficient that only a majority or even overwhelming majority willfully abstains from these elections, because even then the election process can be successfully accomplished by minority voting. If a real and active (and not only paper) boycott is to be carried out, it can only be done through use of force in its most crude forms and nothing else. Those who call for boycott should be able to muster such a physical force sufficient to disrupt the process of elections and should not satisfy themselves with ‘canvassing’ or a few scattered actions. Boycott supported by real and sufficient physical force is alone worthy to be termed as ‘boycott’; while passive boycott, restricted to ‘canvassing’ only, is no boycott, but is rather harmful. If Peoples’ War is not able to carry out an active boycott even after all sincere efforts, it does not mean that its tactic of implementing the boycott slogan is wrong or that it should not support the boycott call with physical force, rather on the contrary it shows that Peoples’ War has simply failed to muster enough physical force to support the call for boycott. It only shows that though the bourgeois representative institutions have become historically obsolete much earlier, yet they possess political potency even today. It shows that the vast masses of people are not disillusioned from these institutions and from present day democracy in general. Therefore, instead of making futile calls for boycott of representative institutions and elections to them, what is to be done is to expose these representative institutions and bourgeois democracy in general, to the people as farcical, powerless, futile forums for hollow and meaningless discussion etc. And this task can only be accomplished if we work with patience both from inside and outside these institutions, exposing them from all angles and thus preparing the ground for a real boycott, instead of virtually making the ‘boycott’ a mockery.

But our ‘concerned citizens’ are not against the boycott call. Their only reservation is against the use of ‘physical force and violence’. Sheer philistinism! Pure armchair ideas of moderate gentlemen. We differ from Peoples’ War on basic tactics. We say – work patiently among the people, gather ten, twenty or hundred times, greater physical force to support the call for boycott and carry out a real boycott. Don’t play with revolution in a amateur manner. Show to people with thousands of examples that the real political power vests in the ruling classes, and that the representative bodies from Parliament to the village Panchayats and the Municipal bodies in the cities, have no real power in their hands. Unless and until people realize this, we shall not be able to muster physical force for an active boycott and would continue to fail to carry out a real boycott. But the letter puts a question mark on the use of physical force itself.

This is not all. The letter further advises that the Peoples’ War should restrict itself to ‘canvassing’ for boycott as ‘This is not forbidden even by the election law.’ So, the suggestion is to restrict activity to what is not forbidden by law. Physical force must not be used as the same is forbidden by law. Great advice! Canvassing for boycott of elections is not forbidden by law, as mere canvassing, passive boycott of elections is no boycott in itself and has no effect or relevance politically. But this is the real point, that a mere call for boycott, deprived of physical force is absolutely meaningless and that is why the same is not ‘forbidden by law’. Do you suggest this meaningless exercise? Comrade intellectuals!

And the best part comes further. The letter goes on – ‘The periodical democratic process like elections, with all their limitations will enable the masses to assert and articulate their expressions to certain extent.’ This is the height now! This is exactly what our bourgeois tells the people ‘Assert yourself and articulate your expression through elections, why opt for revolution.’ And now the ‘concerned citizens’ glorify the election process as an opportunity to the people ‘to assert themselves and to articulate their expressions’. In fact these elections provide an opportunity to none but the rulers themselves to reassert the farce of democracy, while retaining the real political power completely out of the hands of elected institutions and representatives, with the bureaucratic state machine, and befool the people telling them that it is the people who ‘assert themselves and articulate their expressions’ through the election process. Peoples’ War, while correctly appreciating the farcical nature of election process, draws a wrong conclusion and takes to the simplest route–‘Boycott’. While our concerned citizens look at them as an opportunity for people ‘to assert themselves and articulate their expressions’.

While Peoples’ War takes to the ultra-left path, the concerned citizens suggest an ultra- right move. Interestingly, these people who are now taking this ultra-right position, glorifying the elections as a positive opportunity for the people, are those who one way or the other have been closely associated with the ultra-left, nihilist politics of Peoples’ War for decades. Now their ultra-right turn of 180 degrees is nothing but a logical reaction to the ultra-left policy of boycottism, which is still the official politics of Peoples’ War. Both of them are two sides of the same wrong politics.

Elections are a farce, representative institutions are bogus! This is absolutely true. But the question is not that. The question is whether the vast majority of people have come to realize this truth, and whether it has shattered its illusions about them? The answer is a simple ‘no’. The overwhelming majority of people, and first and foremost our intellectuals among them, still entertain illusions about elections and the representative institutions and look upon them as ‘an opportunity to assert themselves and to articulate their aspirations’. In its consciousness it does not negate them. Even, the insufficient participation of people in the elections is due to ignorance of politics by the masses in general and not due to the conscious negation of representative institutions or the election process by the masses. Given the circumstances the call for boycott, cannot find, and does not find, any material support from the people, and all these calls go in vain, making a mockery of boycott slogans. Revolutionary tactics for the present, thus, can’t be anything but to expose the real and bogus character of these elections and these institutions, before the people and thus to open the eyes of people to it and to win over the vast majority of people to the side of revolution not only to carry out a successful boycott of farce of elections, but also to overturn the real bureaucratic regime.

What the letter points out is that for the past decade people are not responding to the boycott call for different reasons. We say that people have never responded to such calls in this country, not for different reasons, but for a single and simple reason that the overwhelming majority of people still believes in the farce of bourgeois democracy; indisputable proof of which are you yourself, dear intellectuals! who remaining associated with the revolutionary movement for decades altogether still believe that the elections ‘enable the masses to assert and articulate their aspirations’. First and foremost the duty of revolutionaries is to wage a determined struggle against these illusions, entertained not only by the unconscious masses alone but before them by our ‘revolutionary’ intellectuals also. It is the intellectuals, who in the name of criticism, are abandoning the revolutionary struggle and turning their back upon the revolution itself, taking to the road of ‘liberalism’, while the mass of the people are slowly but surely being drawn into the revolutionary struggle by the force of circumstances. It is the intellectuals who are loitering ‘in search for democratic space’ under the conditions of the most irresponsible and unlimited bureaucratic regime, making themselves a subject of pity and mockery, while the masses are learning from their own experience that ‘democratic space’ can be created only by overturning the ruling classes and by establishing a Peoples’ Republic, either by peaceful or non-peaceful methods.

Click here to return to the April 2000 index.