November Revolution, Naxalbari, and the Fight against Fascism

Arindam Sen

(The article is based on a presentation at a study class held at Vijaywada on 15 August 2017.)

Comrades, 2017 marks the centenary of the epoch-making November Revolution (NR) and the 50th anniversary of the great Naxalbari uprising and we have assembled here today to rearm ourselves with the spirit of the two historical breakthroughs in the ongoing struggle against saffron fascism.

Historically there has always been an intense animosity between fascism and communism. Hitler saw communists as his political bête noire and eventually it was the power of communism in alliance with other anti-fascist forces that crushed him. At a much smaller scale perhaps, we the revolutionary communists in India are on a similar mission today: to arrest, in cooperation with genuine democratic forces of our country, the marauding march of Modi’s men. In this context, let us look back on NR and Naxalbari – the two great great sources of inspiration and guidance.

November Revolution: No Longer Relevant?

A hundred years have elapsed since the revolution, and the international situation has changed drastically. The most tangible direct result of NR – the Soviet Union – is no more. Then why should anyone celebrate the centenary of a trial that apparently failed?

Well we should, because NR entailed the most radical rupture with evils of the past and the simultaneous initiation of an international Long March to communism, the future of humankind. As the toiling masses, the ultimate source of all material and cultural wealth and progress, threw off the yokes of oppression and exploitation, their limitless creative faculties were unfettered and in a very short period of time they negotiated a considerable distance in that direction. Was that not a marvelous achievement ever to be cherished and emulated?

Because NR demonstrated, for the first time and for the whole world to behold, that socialism is not just a noble idea but a realisable project. Who can forget the Soviet Union’s spectacular all-round progress and achievements ranging from, say, hoisting the red flag atop the Reichstag in May 1945 to sending the first human being to outer space in April 1961? Or that NR provided a great impetus to the national liberation movements and communist movements all over the world?

However, in the absence of any prior experience and under the pressure of enormous internal difficulties and external hostilities, the communist party did commit major mistakes. A strong state, being the organ of dictatorship of the proletariat, was needed and built up, but only at the cost of serious bureaucratic degeneration and damage to socialist democracy, and consequent loss of popular enthusiasm and support for the new dispensation. To make matters worse, the Soviet Union allowed itself to be trapped in an unequal arms race with the NATO powers and began to show a delirious urge to emerge as the other superpower vying with the US for world hegemony. This led to an unsustainable diversion of material and human resources from the real productive sectors to the military sector and to stagnation and decline in the economy. The drift and the rot continued, and finally the superpower caved in under its own weight.

Well, this was indeed a tragic turn of events and we have to learn our lessons. But remember, such things do happen. Every new socio-political system so far – capitalism for example – has established itself on a relatively firm footing only in course of a very long process involving failures, partial successes, reversals and detours. In the specific case of socialism, Lenin observed that “only by a series of attempts – each of which, taken by itself, will be one-sided and suffer from certain inconsistencies – will compete socialism be created by the revolutionary co-operation of the proletarians of all countries”. Later, Mao Zedong further elaborated on this viewpoint and said,”… a fairly long period of time is needed to decide “who will win” in the struggle between socialism and capitalism. Several decades won’t do it; success requires anywhere from one to several centuries.”

So that is the way the international battle for socialism unfolds. The centenary of NR should be a good occasion for us once again to study, appreciate and learn from the theoretical soundness, political dynamism, tactical flexibility, courage of conviction and revolutionary mass line of Russian communists, which made November possible. We must also learn from the gaps that remained in the first major endeavour of building socialism, so that we can do a better job when our turn comes. At the same time, we should call out to the masses to prepare for new Novembers across the globe. Indeed, now that global capitalism, afflicted with multiple crises and threatened by dangerous levels of inequality, is visibly decaying and the populist far right/fascist forces — represented by the likes of Donald Trump, Le Pen, Recep Erdogan and of course, Narendra Modi – are raising their ugly faces almost everywhere, there is an urgent need (and enough scope) for mobilising the people for communism (rather than the tried-and-failed middle paths like social democracy or left-of-centre formations) as the only real alternative. And that is the task communists of the world must pursue with full vigour in the centenary year of November Revolution.

The Legacy of Naxalbari and the Challenge before Us

Comrades, you all know about the Spring Thunder of May 1967 and the birth of our party on 22 April 1969. But these were no sudden developments. Naxalbari and CPI (ML) emerged in a particular situation of revolutionary crisis in the heat of class struggle and in course of a prolonged battle between the reformist and revolutionary streams of communist movement in India. Comrade Charu Mazumdar drew attention to this rootedness of CPI (ML) in the best traditions of the Indian Left when he wrote in October 1969:

“We must always remember that the revolutionary people of India repeatedly participated in the communist movement, fought, made immense sacrifices and laid down their lives. We are the inheritors of the glorious tradition which the heroic martyrs of Punnapra-Vayalar, the heroic fighters of Telangana and the fighting peasants and workers of every province of India established by sacrificing innumerable lives; we must be true to them and carry forward their tradition. The heroes of Kayyur went to the gallows with the name of the Communist Party on their lips: it is that Communist Party which we represent. This Party has become today’s Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist).”

So the heritage of Naxalbari is basically, essentially, a heritage of revolutionary class struggle. But comrades, did Naxalbari fight only for peasants’ and workers’ emancipation from feudal stranglehold and wage slavery? No, it also fought for complete national liberation from semi-colonial bondage. In that sense, our heritage must be traced back to the golden era of freedom struggle – to the legacy of 1857 and the Gadar movement for example, the legacy of martyrs like Bhagat Singh, Asfaqullah, Alluri Seetharama Raju and other revolutionary patriots. Theirs was a people-first patriotism – a great heritage and our most potent counterpoint to the saffron brigade’s anti-people nationalist chauvinism.

Saffron Pseudo-Nationalism versus People-First Patriotism

Now, what is the difference between the two? Saffron nationalism is nationalism of the rulers, by the rulers, for the rulers. The nationalism peddled by the ruling BJP and its cohorts is state-centric or statist. In the name of building a great and prosperous nation they actually work for a draconian state that is brutally repressive on citizens, belligerent or domineering towards neighbours and submissive to imperialist powers. In recent months and years we have seen a lot of muscle flexing by the state, which purports to instil a sense of false pride among the citizens and suppress the growing popular resistance against the government’s anti-people policies and measures. Then there are the non-state actors – the Sanghi counterparts of Nazi Brownshirts – who try and terrorise people into accepting their national chauvinism and anti-Muslim, anti-Dalit, Brahmanical, patriarchal, parochial mindset.

As opposed to this Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan brand of nationalism, we communists cherish and promote a patriotic feeling that has the ordinary people – their welfare, happiness and all-round progress – at the centre and shares none of the parochial attitudes mentioned above.

Does people-first patriotism contradict the communist principle of proletarian internationalism? In no way .Mao Zedong said we communists should be both patriots and internationalists; we may add that our internationalism must begin at home.

Does it go against the Marxist doctrine of class struggle? Certainly not. Rather it embodies the fine cultural/spiritual dimension of class struggle — of the working people’s struggle for emancipation from exploitation and oppression by both domestic and foreign class enemies — and helps intensify and sustain that struggle. Our progressive/communist art and literature is replete with fine creations that reflect this people-first patriotism. One particular song which comes to my mind is the one that ends with these bold words of conviction:

The beloved motherland will be free –

That day is not far today!

See, our country is great,

Its people are great,

India will belong to its people!

Our country does not belong to us, we must fight to reclaim her from the usurpers, the Indian ruling clique and imperialists – such is the noble pledge taken here.

You will also find glimpses of this patriotism in the works of our political leaders. I would like to draw your attention to comrade VM’s “India of My Dreams”. Here we see how a Marxist, a materialist, works up in his realistic imagination the image of a new India, where the masses are finally unshackled from all economic, social, political and cultural bondage and, thus liberated, our beloved motherland soars high in the community of nations. And this is the India, VM adds in conclusion, we are actually fighting for in all our day-to-day work.

So comrades, as we fight the menace of fascism in the arena of class struggle, in the field of mass movements on various issues, let us boldly confront the pseudo-nationalism of the powers that be with our noble vision of people-first patriotism. The Communist Party and the people of Soviet Union fought against and defeated Hitler under the banner “Defend the Socialist Fatherland”. We are fighting to free our very own India from the clutches of corporate-communal fascism. Yesterday, as you know, we organized a national protest against the massacre of children in a Gorakhpur hospital. Today, on the 70th Independence Day, let us take a pledge that we shall do all we can to intensify the struggle for complete independence of India, for the real liberation of the people of our country and, to that end, all of us shall fight in the front ranks of people’s resistance against Modi-Amit-Yogi Raj on all fronts. This is the central task to be taken up in the forthcoming 10th Party Congress and it is on this note that I conclude my introduction to today’s discussion. 