Thursday, April 15, 2010
Arundhati Roy and the Maoists posted by Richard SeymourI see that Arundhati Roy is to be investigated by police in Chhattisgarh over her "links" with Maoist insurgents, who recently killed seventy-six Indian paramilitaries. This is a backlash by the BJP-controlled state in response to an article that she wrote for Outlook magazine, which detailed her encounters with Maoist insurgents in Dantewada, central India, where the ambush was staged. The Maoists are among the forces resisting the capitalist takeover of rural India and growing in influence due in part to the failures of the Left Front in West Bengal and to state repression meted out to the communities they operate in - though they are far from alone. In a sympathetic piece, Roy argues that the Maoists are being forced into violence by the state, pushed into a situation where strategies of non-violence are guaranteed to fail. Watch her interview on Indian television here (wherein she castigates the "empty condemnation industry", something we are all very familiar with):
The recent attack in Dantedawa targeted members of the Central Reserve Police Force, a state paramilitary outfit that forms the sharp edge of its counterinsurgency operations. A new wing of the CRPF, known as the Combat Battalions for Resolute Action (CoBRA), was created two years ago to lead the fight against the Naxals. But their actions, in a campaign that has become known as "Operation Green Hunt", are also aimed at activists and forest workers, where there are movements to assert popular control of the forest resources. The Indian state has also been using various acts of draconian legislation to attack activists among the rural poor and label them 'gangsters'. The Adivasis are subject to torture and rape in Indian state prisons. The war is unnecessary. I think the Maoists are serious when they say they are prepared for talks. Their statement after the Dantedawa attack repeats the point that they are prepared for negotiations, but if negotiations are not available then more attacks will follow. If they ultimately believe that armed insurrection is the route to emancipation, it does not mean that they are unwilling to resolve this battle through discussions.
However, it does not follow from this that the Maoists are behaving in a responsible, politically appropriate fashion. Their tendency to impose themselves as the 'vanguard' of popular movements, by force if necessary, gives the state an opportunity to go on a war footing. In this way, popular resistance to the acts of enclosure by the state, by mining companies and so on, can be repressed. The Indian journal Liberation has a four part analysis of the Maoists, which critically engages with their politics here, here, here and here. The analysis concludes:
While resisting the Operation Green Hunt, progressive democratic forces must also question and reject the Maoists’ exclusive emphasis on armed actions. The neo-liberal policies and especially the corporate plunder of our precious natural and human resources have generated tremendous amount of mass resentment across the country. Whether it is the rural poor’s struggle for land, wages and survival or outburst of farmers’ anger against corporate acquisition of agricultural land or distress sale of agricultural produce, student unrest against commercialization and privatization of education or struggle of dalits, adivasis and women for dignity and equality, the demand for separate states or for withdrawal of draconian laws, the country is witnessing powerful mass struggles in almost all states. The Maoists have no policy of participating in or advancing these struggles except by armed means.
While not disregarding the ultimate role of force as the midwife of any fundamental or radical social change, the political nature and grammar of the struggle of contending classes in modern society must be recognized. To put an end to the political hegemony of the ruling classes, the working people must assert themselves as an alternative and independent political force – they must develop an alternative discourse of people’s power against the power and domination of capital. And this can be achieved only through wide-ranging initiatives and assertion of the people. There can be no shortcuts, no bypasses. Will the Indian Maoists ever realize this?
Today Left politics in India is poised for a new turn. The CPI(M)-led politics of ‘Marxist’ elitism and bourgeois respectability which revolves around compromise and capitulation vis-à-vis the ruling classes has all but collapsed on the soil of Bengal. Naturally, its projection on the all-India plane is also in for a serious crisis. The Left ground today can only be reclaimed through powerful struggles and initiatives in the democratic arena. For a resurgence of the Left we need a new realignment, a new model of fighting unity based on mass struggles. It remains to be seen how and to what extent this new situation is grasped, in theory and practice, by different Left trends in the country. And the future alone will tell us whether the Maoists too will come out of their orbit of one-dimensional theory and practice to reposition themselves as a constituent or participant in this new realignment of the Left.
And Roy's approach to the issue has stimulated some debate among socialists (see here, here, and here). In general, the criticism is that she is naive about the politics of the Maoists and thus uncritically celebrates their resistance without recognising the limitations of their outlook and methods, and the damage they can do the popular movements that Roy supports. Nevertheless, whatever the weaknesses of Roy's approach, she has used her celebrity to champion the oppressed, to lay into the Hindutva reactionaries, attack the Gandhian pieties of the liberal bourgeoisie which relies on the right-wing and the state do its dirty work, and force these issues into the capitalist media.