Breaking the taboo of ‘non-violence’

In modern times, the violence of the underclass is always sought to be isolated by the rulers of every country by condemning its violation of the existing constitution. In India, a whole argument of some intrinsically non- violent tradition is added. Non-violence is wielded by the Indian ruling classes to isolate and crush militant agitations. It is posed as a dividing line between legitimate protest and illegal ones.

Anybody can protest as much as they want but they must never be violent — so goes the official sermon. It is another matter that even the tamest of protests like a dharna is often brutally attacked by the police. Violence, the right to employ it, is constitutionally reserved for the repressive instruments of the Indian state. Anyone else getting violent is not only ‘taking law into their hands’; they are violating the ‘traditions’ of the country. This, of course, is observed more in the breach by the members of the ruling classes — by feudal lords who do as they wish against the peasants, by the comprador capitalists who seek to resolve labour issues by killing off workers’ leaders.
The privileging of non-violence, making it THE ultimate test of legitimacy, is a common attribute of all parliamentary parties in India. They make it a point to proclaim their adherence to it, just as much as they criticise the violence of their opponents. This is another case of ‘inside-out, outside-in’. All of these parties maintain gangs specially charged with the task of violent suppression of opposition. Intimidation of voters is a norm in electoral practice. The main parties of the ruling classes, the Congress and the RSS spawned BJP, have the notorious record of orchestrating and leading pogroms in which thousands were killed — Sikhs by the Congress in 1984 and Muslims by RSS outfits in 2002. This is of course apart from the communal killings that have been a regular, annual, feature. Yet everything is claimed to be all so very non-violent and secular!
This hypocrisy is blatant. It is known to all who read papers or watch news. The way the law works, setting free the rich despite evidence of horrible crimes, is also well known. Yet intellectual opinion in this country usually brackets all of it as ‘aberrations’. Wrong no doubt, but not the norm. Their world is still cosily framed by that fairy tale where India blooms as a land of non-violence from ancient times — Buddha, Ashoka and, of course, the indubitable Gandhi, who was all of that and more. They will thus get upset by violent acts of the rulers. They accept the legitimacy of the victims’ protests. They may even condemn and protest on their own. But everything must be peaceful.
“Violence”, they say, “must not, cannot, be answered by violence.” Yet history tells another tale. Buddha, Ashoka, and Gandhi had always taken care to provide for exceptions to this golden law; exceptions carefully reserved for the exclusive use of the rulers. Budaha, to give an illuminating example, refused entry to serving soldiers of the Magadh army in his Sangham, after being convinced by King Bimbisara of the need for an armed force devoted to the protection of the non-armed population. But that part of this ancient land’s tradition is always excised in public rendering. Many intellectuals and opinion makers are more ‘advanced’.
They internalise this practice in private thinking. Their mental construct of a blessed state of pure non-violence is thus given the weight of reality. However farcical, the nonsense of non-violence is quite lethal. Its suffocating burden presses heavy. Every act of violent reaction by the people to the violence of the rulers is met with an equivocal condemnatory statement that ‘violence from either side is unacceptable’.
This not only fails to differentiate between the rulers and the ruled. It conceals the violence of reactionary social values and practices, the violence suffered by the oppressed and exploited during every minute of living out their lives. Where such bland equivocation is accepted as a suitable stance, opposition to the violent acts of the people’s war is inevitable, even among those who generally stand with the people. One of the major contributions of the protracted people’s war to social thinking in India is its subversion of the creed of non-violence, its assault on this Gandhian hypocrisy. The sustained violence of the people’s war and its spread over several decades has no doubt been central to this.
The people’s war in India delivers the powerful message that revolutionary violence is necessary and good for the people and the country. It demonstrates the creative capacity of revolutionary war. It is the realisation, in Indian conditions, of Mao Tsetung’s words, “… having guns…we can create… cadres, create schools, create culture, create mass movements.” This revolutionary war was welcomed and supported by the oppressed and exploited because it liberated them from a host of reactionary forces and their henchmen. The constructive power of revolutionary violence was something material, seen in their lives.
But this by itself was not sufficient to take its message to the level of debunking Gandhian non-violence myths. A complement from the opposite end, the increasingly evident futility of its methods, was also needed. This came through the failures of a series of popular struggles that made non-violence the cornerstone of strategy and tactics. For all the countrywide mobilisation and broader awareness of the destructiveness and injustice of the policies carried out in the name of development achieved by these struggles, the harsh reality of being defenceless in the face of the repressive organs of the state, including the judiciary seen as the last resort for justice, was inescapable.
The sharp contrast became clearer as the rulers and their imperialist mentors aggressively pushed on with their anti- people, anti-country policies. Opposed to the helplessness of non- violent protest the creativity of violence stood out; not any violence, but its application for revolutionary aims, in a revolutionary manner. Led by a Maoist party guided by the ideology of the proletariat, Marxism-Leninism-Maoism (MLM), it enables the masses to create a new state and society, by destroying the old. This is concretised today in the emergent centres of people’s power, the Revolutionary People’s Committees. The revolutionary war enables the masses to defend their lands and resources from the rapacious plunder of imperialist and Indian corporates.
It breaks the shackles of patriarchy, casteism and ethnic oppression, allowing women, dalits and adivasis to stand up and join the front ranks of the great saga of liberation. The oppressed are taking their destiny into their own hands, arms in hand. Growing realisation engendered by this contrast was waiting for a catalyst. It came in the form of the Indian state’s declaration of its ‘war on people’, through Operation Green Hunt. Within a short period a whole range of progressive public opinion rallied against it.
It saw through the UPA government’s justifications for stepping up repression. The well catalogued atrocities of the Salwa Judum, which preceded Green Hunt, and the countrywide and international campaign against it, had already prepared the ground. But the state’s ‘war on people’ brought up a wholly new dimension. It galvanised a section of intellectuals and opinion makers to go beyond the defence of human rights and squarely face up to the question of violence. The mood of that time can be judged by the sway of poetic sentiment, away from a poet’s personal conviction of non-violence towards an acknowledgment of the ludicrous futility of Gandhi’s ‘peace-stick’ in facing up to state violence.
This period is a defining moment in Indian politics. Violence was liberated from stigma. Its validity, or otherwise, would now be debated on its merits — violence for whom, for what aim. Violence could no longer be the ultimate shame-word, the silencer of opposition, as in “but how can you justify violence?” Its denial had to be argued out. The new quality of the times was well seen in the wake of the Mukaram battle where 76 state forces were wiped out by the PLGA. Sensing an opening, the Indian rulers and their ideological apparatuses went on an offensive, trying to corner the critics of its ‘war on people’ and force them to come out with condemnations.
Some kneeled over, but quite a few refused to back off. If anything, the attack allowed some among them to elaborate on the need to recast the whole ‘non-violence/violence’ debate and take it away from its hypocritically moralist frame. Though couched in such terms this turn actually denotes an emerging polarisation in Indian politics. It signifies the countrywide political impact of the people’s war. This is as yet still to be clearly defined. Its various aspects and their implications are yet to be revealed. Nevertheless, it has definitely come into being and is sustaining. Many strands of opposition have gone into its making.
Quite a number of them are stoutly opposed to the very idea of communism, let alone a violent revolution to realise it. Another section believes Marxism to be outdated. Despite this, all unite in opposing the ‘war on people’; all agree that the war led by a Maoist party has been the most effective in obstructing the rapacious plunder of the rulers and their foreign rulers. Apart from this, there is of course a large section who broadly sympathise with the people’s war, all the more so because its main force come from the most oppressed adivasis. But what needs to be understood, explained, are the factors that push the former, the formal opponents of Marxism, to a broad unity against the Indian state.
They are rooted in objective developments, the rapid working out of the destructive and plundering dynamics of imperialist globalisation inaugurated in the early 1990s. While everything done in the name of development since 1947 had their ultimate impulses in imperialist neocolonial policies, it was carefully packaged in ‘national’ terms, as the building of a self-reliant India. With the advent of globalisation, and its privatisation and liberalisation, that has been done away with. Now development is judged in terms of foreign capital invested and integration with the world market. National interests are posed as the gaining of recognition as a major international player, even when that calls for becoming more subservient to imperialism and opening up all of the country to its plunder and exploitation.
This naked push of imperialist, comprador interests, the blatant sell out of resources, the soaring levels of corruption that accompanies it and the wholesale attack on people to realise it has aroused broad opposition. No matter what the views on communism and all that, the role of the people’s war as the solid force blocking the plans of the rulers is too obvious to ignore. That is the broad sentiment which draws this array of forces to join up in resisting the Indian state’s ‘war on people’. Within it there is a small but vocal and significant section that goes beyond this. It realises, at least in a broad manner, that the defence of resources and livelihood of the people, of a distinct way of life by the adivasis, is possible precisely because an armed struggle to create a new society and its political power is being waged.
The new in Indian politics is located here. This is what gives the broad resistance stubbornness, continuity, despite its amorphous nature. What is indicated is the possibility of a deeper and broader polarisation, to go beyond a vague recognition of the central role of the revolutionary struggle for a new political power, towards a conscious acceptance that this is the only way out for this country. The realisation of that potential crucially depends on the successful advance of the protracted people’s war and an even more forceful and categorical projection of the new state and society it is building. It demands a deeper grasp of this revolutionary war as a total war, and its propagation of it as such. This is a total assault on the existing system and its political power, aimed at its complete destruction, in each and every sphere of social life. Therefore it must necessarily be merciless in execution. However that does not mean brutality or pre-empt concern for human rights.
This needs elaboration, particularly since this issue is quite live among a segment of people, who potentially form an important part of the support base of the people’s war. To begin with we must be clear that the issue is not human rights in general, but of addressing it in the specific context of a revolutionary civil war. Every war, operating on the basic principle of ‘preserve oneself and destroy the enemy’, involves the destruction of human life on a pretty large scale. Pacifists denounce war precisely for this reason. However good intentioned their concern for human life may be, their position amounts to discounting the enormous devastation of human life that takes place as part of the normal, day-to-day, functioning of an exploitative system.
Their opposition reduces to advising the people to cope up with their misery or, at best, to seek reforms but never liberation. The views of those who wish to conceive human rights as intrinsically given by some eternal human values also share in this. They will expand the concept of human rights beyond constitutional rights to include the right to livelihood and such other social aspects. But, by deriving this from some absolute human values standing above time, and given by human existence as such, they deny the historical construction of the very concept of humanity and its close relation to the class struggles that have propelled humanity’s advance. This ends up in opposing revolutionary violence, the ultimate weapon of class struggle.
The communist party organises and leads an armed revolution with the conscious and declared aim of overturning the exploitative system. While doing this it does not ignore the cost in human lives. It understands this as an inevitable price humanity must pay to end wars once and forever. Mao Tsetung explained it thus, “War, this monster of mutual slaughter among men, will be finally eliminated by the progress of human society, and in the not too distant future too. But there is only one way to eliminate it and that is to oppose war with war, to oppose counter-revolutionary war with revolutionary war, to oppose national counter-revolutionary war with national revolutionary war, and to oppose counter-revolutionary class war with revolutionary class war. . . . When human society advances to the point where classes and states are eliminated, there will be no more wars, counter-revolutionary or revolutionary, unjust or just; that will be the era of perpetual peace for mankind. Our study of the laws of revolutionary war springs from the desire to eliminate all wars; herein lies the distinction between us Communists and all the exploiting classes.”
This distinction means that the class approach of the proletariat on war is, and must be, totally different from those of exploiting classes. The wars waged by these classes serve the purpose of establishing one or the other form of exploitation. But the force which it mobilises and deploys is overwhelmingly composed of the exploited. Therefore the true aim of the war it wages must be concealed and it must be legitimised through deceit. The compulsions faced by the proletariat in waging its war are diametrically opposed to this. The success of its war cannot be judged solely in terms of the defeat of the enemy. That success must lay the grounds, generate values, for advancing towards a classless society which will end all war. Its war aims must be transparent and it must make the force it mobilises as conscious of them as possible. This is all the more necessary because it must wage the war as part of a self-transformatory process.
Marx and Engels pointed out, “Both for the production on a mass scale of this communist consciousness, and for the success of the cause itself, the alternation of men on a mass scale is necessary, an alteration which can only take place in a practical movement, a revolution; this revolution is necessary, therefore, not only because the ruling class cannot be overthrown in any other way, but also because the class overthrowing it can only in a revolution succeed in ridding itself of all the muck of ages and become fitted to found society anew.”
Drawing on this guidance and the experiences of China’s revolutionary war, Mao wrote, “Revolutionary war is an antitoxin which not only eliminates the enemy’s poison but also purges us of our own filth. Every just, revolutionary war is endowed with tremendous power, which can transform many things or clear the way for their transformation.” It follows that the way the proletariat and its allies wage a war must necessarily be different from that of the exploited classes. This is well expressed in the Three and Eight rules formulated by Mao Tsetung for the Chinese Red Army and followed by all People’s Armies — obey orders in all your actions; don’t take a single needle or piece of thread from the masses; turn in everything captured; speak politely; pay fairly for what you buy; return everything you borrow; pay for anything you damage; do not hit or swear at people; do not damage crops; do not take liberties with women; do not ill-treat captives. These guidelines regulate the relations of the People’s Army with the people and with the captured troops of the enemy.
They are not some tactical measures adopted for public relations, like Civic Action Programmes implemented by the Indian state as part of its US inspired Low Intensity Conflict (LIC) strategy. The disciplinary guidelines followed by the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA) are not a ‘winning hearts and minds’ programme. The proletariat is not out to ‘win the hearts and minds’ of the masses. Rather it needs to make them conscious of the reasons for the horrors of their lives and the need to join the people’s war to destroy the social system responsible for it. The guidelines laid down by Mao flow from a profound ideological conviction that the war must be waged in a manner conducive to the world emancipatory mission of the proletariat. It must be guided by values commiserate with that mission. The people’s war must promote and instil them.
The CPI (Maoist) trains its membership, the combatants of combatants and the masses and the PLGA and cadre of the Revolutionary People’s Committees and revolutionary mass organisations in this approach. It does not condone torture of captured enemy troops. The party does not rule out execution of captured enemy troops or covert agents found when they are guilty of grave crimes against the people. These are war crimes and they must be punished firmly as a deterring measure for the protection of the people. But it does not condone their execution, except in the case of those who have committed grave crimes like rape. In case where punishment is called for that is done following the due process of trial and verdict by a people’s court.
Even the case of people recruited by the enemy to infiltrate the revolutionary movement or spy on it and have caused great harm, protection of sick and wounded it puts them up for trial before the masses and abides by their verdict. Where possible this is done after political exposure. But that can’t be made a die hard rule, especially in the case of enemy spies. Quick and sudden action will be necessary at times. If the question is of the validity of such a process, of the right of the party and the revolutionary masses it leads to arrest, try and punish such people, the answer is quite simple — it is as valid and legitimate as the right of the people to revolt, breaking the laws of an exploiting state and building a new society in that process. And if the question is, what if mistakes are made, the answer is quite straight forward — yes grievous mistakes can happen. All effort must be made to avoid them. But this cannot be made a reason to abjure the right of the revolutionary party to take preemptive protection action.
As Mao put it, a revolution is not a tea party. The PLGA pays attention not to cause harm to the masses while carrying out military actions. Now, it is not the case that the approach of the party is fully imbibed or followed to the letter. Aberrations happen due to wrong thinking. Unforseen losses are also possible. This is a grievous matter seen self-critically and a topic of continuous political education. When such mistakes happen the party makes it a point to publicly admit it and apologises. But any observer of the people’s war as opposed to the ‘war on the people’ carried out by the Indian state will surely admit that the PLGA’s record in this is incomparably far superior to that of the Indian forces whose very mode of operation intrinsically encourages rape, torture and murder of captured combatants and the masses and the destruction of their means of livelihood.
The brutality of reactionary armies the world over, particularly when they are engaged in suppressing revolutionary movements, stands in stark opposition to the various treaties adopted by their states governing the conduct of wars. The various Geneva Conventions and additional Protocols are the most prominent ones among such treaties. They provide for the protection of sick and wounded ,insist that prisoners of war and prohibit the murder, torture, hostage-taking, and extra-judicial sentencing and executions of civilians. Protocol I extends the law relating to protections of victims of armed conflicts to situations where people are fighting in the exercise of their right of self- determination against colonial domination, foreign occupation, or racist regimes. Protocol II extends protection to victims of internal conflicts in which an armed opposition controls enough territory to enable it to carry out sustained military operations.
The US has refused to ratify these Protocols precisely because they offer protection to those waging national liberation wars or revolutionary wars. The Indian state too has not ratified them. Even in the case of countries that have ratified all the Geneva Conventions and Protocols they have violated them with impunity when it suited them. In the ongoing imperialist invasion and occupation of Afghanistan the US declared those captured by it as ‘unlawful combatants’ and denied them the rights supposed to be guaranteed by the Geneva Conventions.
The victors of reactionary wars make it a point to prosecute and punish the vanquished of war crimes, as defined by such treaties. They of course cover up the crimes committed by their troops and their own culpability. The illegal detention of thousands of Japanese-Americans in concentration camps in the US, the aerial bombing of protesting masses in Medinipur (Paschim Banga) and Wasiristan during the 1942 Quit India movement by the British, carpet bombing of civilian areas in German cities by Allied air forces, or the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the US despite knowing that Japan is on the verge of surrendering are no less crimes against humanity than those committed by the Germans, Italians or Japanese states during the 2nd world war. But they were never put on trial for war crimes. This blatant misuse of such treaties is repeatedly seen, all the way up till the ongoing trial of Serbian leaders in the International Court of Justice at the Hague.
This hypocritical record is inherent in the reactionary nature of the wars waged by the exploiting classes. Compared to this the approach of the Maoist forces, as defined by Mao Tsetung’s ‘Three and Eight’ rules is qualitatively superior precisely due to the class outlook guiding them. In the current situation in India where an armed revolution is facing an armed counter- revolution the best criteria for measuring respect for the rights of prisoners of war and non-combatants are these guidelines. The Geneva Conventions and Protocols can be of use to expose the Indian state’s violation of accepted international norms, even if they are nominal. But the demand to make them the yardstick of conducting the revolutionary war would be a step back from the heights of awareness achieved on this matter by Maoism.
Some friends of the revolution hold the view that a declaration of adherence to the Geneva Conventions by the CPI (Maoist) would be to its advantage. It is presumed that this will help put pressure on the Indian state to ratify the Geneva Protocols and pave the way for the formal recognition of the armed struggle as a civil war. As pointed out earlier, the Maoist approach on war upheld and implemented by the party is far superior to the Geneva Protocols. Besides, is it all that necessary to take this route for bringing out the character of the people’s war as a revolutionary civil war? The state – when it chooses to imprison Maoists rather than murder them and fabricate an encounter story – charges those arrested with the crime of ‘waging war against the Indian state’. The war is thus acknowledged for the purpose of prosecution, even when it is denied a political status.
With the exception of Paschim Banga, Maoist prisoners are denied the status and rights of political prisoners despite the obvious political character of the act of ‘waging war against a state’. As for unlawful detentions, torture, disappearances and false encounters, one need not appeal to the Geneva Convention. They are illegal acts by the very provisions of Indian law. The CPI (Maoist) and all those led by it are engaged in a total war against the Indian state. Therefore, those captured (arrested) are prisoners of war. Given the political character of this war they should be given additional rights as political prisoners. It would be better if human rights activists and friends of the revolution focus on this demand, well within existing Indian law, rather than on adherence by the revolutionary party to the Geneva Convention.


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