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‘Our’ Violence Versus ‘Their’ Violence

May 12, 2009

The first three phases of the 200 Lok Sabha elections have passed off peacefully. When we say peacefully, we do not take into account the killings of poll officials and police personnel involved in election related work by the Maoists. The Maoists gave a poll boycott call in areas where they thought they are strong but were not heeded by the people. Even many tribals of Lalgadh in Bengal decided to risk their lives to exercise their hard earned right to vote defying the Maoist boycott call. Unable to convince the masses, the Maoists have resorted to the old strategy of ambushing poll parties and burning and demolishing of public properties to register their presence. Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Maharashtra, Bihar and Bengal have been witness to violence by armed groups of Maoists. Interestingly, we have not seen any statement by them owning up to these acts.

We have also come across news of CPM cadre being killed in Bengal for defying the diktat of the Maoists to leave the party. They are trying to consolidate their position in Bengal taking advantage of the anger and frustration of the people against the arrogant and violent CPM party machinery. None of us who have been very vocal against the violence of the CPM in Singur and Nandigram have opened our mouth on the killings by the Maoists. Last year in Bihar and Jharkhand , members of the CPI and JD(U) were killed for their crime of being in the wrong parties. And yet no word of condemnation from us who find every single act of state violence repugnant! Do we see natural justice taking its rightful course in the killings of the CPM cadre?

Recently in town to address a gathering on the Sri Lankan crisis, Varvara Rao, the overground ideologue of the Maoists tried very hard to justify the violent methods used by the LTTE. He has been consistently justifying the violent attacks by the Maoists in India by calling them acts of resistance. Were the recent killings of the poll officials also acts of resistance? Resistance against the assault of parliamentary democracy? Varavara Rao seems to think so. He is also not very disturbed by the killings of innocent people by the revolutionaries. When asked about such killings by Tehelka last year he trivialized them by asserting that these were matters of details.

Varavara Rao could have as well used the term ‘collateral damage’ in his defense of the killings of innocent people by the Maoists, invented by the Americans to justify the killings of civilians in Iraq and Afganistan . He seems to suggest that this is an inevitable price the masses have to pay when they are passing through a phase of class struggle. This utter lack of remorse on the killing of people is reminiscent of the tough Stalinist era which saw lakhs of lives disappearing in the maze of the continuum of revolutions. Or one can go back even further to the times of Lenin who was condemned by none less than Maxim Gorky for encouraging the so called proletariat violence after the Bolshevik revolution in Russia. He wrote on November 7(20), 1917 in Novaya Zhizn, No.174:

Lenin, Trotsky , and their companions are have already become poisoned with filthy venom of power , and this is evidenced by their shameful attitude toward freedom of speech, the individual, and the sum total of those rights for the triumph of which democracy struggled. ……on this road Lenin and his associates consider it possible to commit all kinds of crimes , such as the slaughter outside

St. Petersburg, the destruction of Moscow, and the abolition of freedom of speech and the senseless arrests.” He further asks, “ Does not Lenin’s government, as the Romanov government did, seize and drag off to prison all those who think differently?”

It was the courage and honesty of a true writer which enabled Gorky to speak in the face of ‘revolution’. We, however, seem to think differently. We let the crimes committed by the revolutionaries pass off. Last year when there was a move to issue a statement condemning such violence , there were efforts to dissuade people from signing it by asking questions like by doing so would we not be ‘equating people’s violence with the state violence?’ and that how do we know that these killings were committed by Maoists and ‘not the state forces themselves to discredit them’? While the first question involves a theoretical position , one cannot miss the clever opportunism behind the second question which seeks to fudge facts when they are not comfortable.

Fudging of facts is not something unique to the bourgeoisie. Some months back a leaflet was printed as part of the campaign seeking release of Binayak Sen, who is jail charged by the state of allegedly providing logistic support to the Maoists . His crime was that as a human right activist he thought it right to meet and help an ailing, old Maoist leader Narayan Sanyal . But does Binayak support violent means and killings in the name of the ‘people’? He has, very categorically said several times that killings cannot be condoned whatever be the justification. Now this assertion about violence having no justification, explicitly mentioned in the above mentioned leaflet, was deleted by one of the campaign members. That the deletion of this sentence was a conscious act of political editing was proved when it was justified by a seemingly innocent question, “ Are not we by writing such sentences trying to distance ourselves from certain forms of struggle which could be violent?” The sentence was also thought to be an unnecessary detail. The person responsible for this editing forgot that he was in fact censoring a fact, a fact very crucial to Binayak’s case , a fact about Binayak’s political stand and he was imposing his own political stand not only on whole of the Free Binayak Campaign but also on Binayak who is contesting the false charge by the state that he subscribes to a violent political ideology. Incidentally, it is also interesting that the Maoists have not thought it necessary to contradict the false claim by the state that Binayak is part of their organizational structure. Are they relishing this expansion of their influence zone?

Whenever there are attempts to question ‘revolutionary violence’, there are counter attempts to abort them. We have heard arguments like, is it so necessary to give so much importance to such sporadic acts? By doing so would not we be diverting the attention of the people from the regular acts of state violence ? Do not we realize that by doing so we would be falling in the trap of the state which, through a complicit media is trying to magnify this violence? After all, in a vast country like India how many incidents take place? Do they merit such serious attention?

Strangely, these arguments have been employed by all apologists of violence. The state says that cases of violation of human rights are negligible as compared to its expanse, the CPM in its defense claims that violence was restricted to very small areas of Nandigram and it was unfair to draw conclusions about the politics of CPM on that basis and we have heard the RSS and BJP pleading innocence by claiming that 2002 massacre was limited to very small pockets of Gujarat and the criticism of RSS and BJP was disproportionate to what had actually happened.

That Varavara Rao, a poet, justifies killing should not surprise us. Violence has since times immemorial seduced poets and artists. But there are also writers like Gorky who , condemning the summary trials and killings of the petty bourgeoisie and noblemen in the name of revolution pleaded , more than 90 years back, when the revolution was exploding, “ Murder and violence are the arguments of despotism, they are base arguments and they are powerless , for to violate somebody else’s will or to kill a man does not mean and can never mean killing an idea…” One should conclude by repeating the question he put before his country people, or perhaps all of us, “ … the most dreadful enemy of freedom and justice is …our stupidity, our cruelty, and all the chaos which has been cultivated in our souls by the monarchy’s shameless oppression, by its cynical cruelty.

Are we capable of understanding this?”

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Garga Chatterjee permalink
    May 14, 2009 11:48 PM

    Attacks by CPM on Trinamul or Trinamul on CPM or CPM on CPI(Maoist) and vice versa are to be looked at very critically.While it is true that the violence of the state or all pervading quasi-state organizations like the CPM in Bengal or BJP-RSS in various pockets are on a daily basis – often murderous but many a times, violent in every other way, one should not hide away from condemning so-called “revolutionary violence” – while who is a combatant in a civil-war like situation is debatable, certain examples where state civil servants have been attacked by CPI(Maoist),who by no stretch of imagination are combatants.Such action are to be condemned vehemently – sandwitched between an armed and violent state and an insurgency of this nature, the participatory democratic space ( not necessarily the voting procedure, etc) of the people diminishes, in addition to, deligitimizing the “morality” of resistances – an understated but important part of movements.CPI(Maoist) may be straight jacketed by their specific creed of anti-parliamentarism but people to pay the price for deeds to hold aloft their creed banner is unacceptable.The violent state has its own set of creeds – with greater “collateral damage”.

  2. May 18, 2009 8:44 PM

    In the late 1950s in Britain, Alasdair MacIntyre broke with the Communist Party, but then wrote this piece about the dilemma’s involved in building a new left. ‘Notes from a Moral Wilderness’ became one of the most famous texts in what was to become ‘the new left’. With all the very real differences in situation it might therefore be a useful contribution to discussion:

    Part 1

    http://www.amielandmelburn.org.uk/collections/nr/07_90.pdf

    Part 2

    http://www.amielandmelburn.org.uk/collections/nr/08_89.pdf

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