K Murali (Ajith) and K.P Sethunath in conversation. (Part 3)
Part 3: A broad alliance of struggles
Question: How one would intervene in the situation as a political task is indeed a challenge, what I mean is, when Dalits and other similar sections are being assimilated in Savarnaism and that is being just manifested in electoral politics, what would be the form of an alternative
political practise ?
K.M: Basically at the political level and the mass level what is needed are such mass agitations and mobilisations, that itself is the most important thing . What I pointed out earlier is that this assimilation you indicate is something that is impossible, it is something temporary or a superficial matter. The Congress under Gandhi’s leadership the Brahmanism was able to bring the eradication of untouchability and such similar things in its programme. For some time that had its influence, but without much delay it dissipated and in the 60s we saw the Dalit Panther movement coming up. So what I am indicating is that there is a limit to which they can be assimilated. Basically it expels or isolates or excludes these sections of people and so far as these excluded sections of people are concerned there is no other way for them other than that of struggle and agitation. One sees that those who have been educated among them are gaining a better recognition of the issue . Unlike the past in Northern India there is now a large section of youth who are gaining recognition of their situation, that is not just in Keralam or such states. Then there is the impetus given by the aggressive Brahmanism of the Sangh Parivar, the positions of the Sangh Parivar. For example, just the other day there was a news item in the Indian Express. It was about how those who have been accused of attacking some people, who they claimed to be involved in selling beef and all that, in Jharkhand. These people have been acquitted because there is no evidence against them. The Indian Express had studied some 53 cases and they understood that the majority of these cases had ended up in acquittal because of the lack of proof or because the charge sheet itself has not been fully filed . Now, these accused who have been acquitted are all activists of the Bajarang Dal, that is RSS people. On the one hand, they do this and on the other hand they claim that all those in India are Hindus and that they stand for assimilating everybody. That is what Mohan Bhagwat is saying. But however much he speaks, however much he craves this, this polarisation is inevitable. So the first thing is that there is a limit to assimilation. And the second thing is that in order to face up to it, apart from other basic methods, the masses have to be mobilised on a large scale. The potential for that has increased today. Because people are seeing, realising, the looming danger of a countrywide fascist attack, a fascist crackdown. This is not simply a matter of the religious minorities or of the dalits. They have started to lay their hands on the rights gained by workers by slashing down workers rights by amending labour laws. They have started to take steps to eliminate whatever rights have been gained by the workers through struggles. And this is happening at a very large scale. Because they know that in the present situation large scale agitations are going to come up. In my opinion, the crackdown that we saw in Kashmir is not simply related to the Kashmir question. They are trying to send a message through that action. They are trying to give the message that by relying upon the brute strength of the state, with the silent
permission of the courts, they will do whatever they want to do here and there is nobody who can challenge it. This is a message for other parts of the country, for other sections of people. Therefore, the people are also realising that human rights and all that does not have much
value here . This is being recognised by different classes. And as a result of that unification is taking place at a different level. This definitely demands a conscious intervention.
Q. All these developments indicate the absolute necessity of a very conscious and clear political intervention.The possibility of such a practice would be a united front in which different sections of people unite. But to what extent is such a united front practically possible? Or in
what sense, or in what way, initiative will be taken for that ?
K.M: A united front is certainly practicable. But such united fronts need not necessarily be sustained over a long time. They may arise in relation to a particular issue. They may exist for some time and then they may dissolve themselves. There are many reasons for that. Not
only that, there will be people who join these united front who are interested in parliamentary politics, there will be those who are not interested in that. And therefore, when an election comes, naturally this would lead to a disintegration of that unity, such problems can come up. But even then, there’s always the possibility for such united fronts. And that is taking place, that is getting formed in different places, at different times. Even in Keralam too you can see this at various places. For example, all these anti-fascist forums or committees and the various marches and all the struggles that are taking place under their leaderships. Many forces are getting united in that. What I indicated earlier is an important limitation, a serious limitation, being faced by the revolutionary forces in that they are being oppressed and they are facing ban. This ban exists even on the matter of mass activity. False cases are being charged against people who are suspected to have some link with them. And as a result of that, the possibility for this revolutionary force to directly get involved in these mass
activities is very much limited. If you try to do that, then it will immediately invite suppression. They are intervening indirectly. And the results of that indirect intervention can be seen.
Q. The fascist threat is now a very concrete presence. Perhaps rather than saying fascist threat it will be more correct to say fascist steps, actions. Other than saying that our opportunities are limited or that the opportunities, possibilities, favourable in front of the revolutionary forces are limited and keeping quiet the issue is that of taking initiative and finding out how one can get out of the situation. Because this is now a very concrete necessity. So, in what sense can this be dealt with ?
K.M: I don’t think that the situation is one where that force is limiting itself. What I pointed out is that it is intervening in many forms. And it is precisely keeping in mind this reality of its intervening in many ways that the state has gone for large scale arrests of human rights
activists and their imprisonment. The Elgar Parishad case has come up in that context only because they doubt that this force is behind this Elgar Parishad. How is it possible that all these nearly 200 organisations got united in Maharashtra? It’s a unity that has never been seen before. The only Maoist contact which could be seen among those forces is a matter of one or two individuals. But then how did such a big unity take place? So, the state doubts that the revolutionary forces have made some intervention. Whatever that might be, there is a reality
that is existing here, a material context that has developed here. It is a material context which allows these forces to unite, which demands that they unite. Someone takes the initiative. And it takes form. You know that the Savarna forces attacked this. But what is more important than that is the Bandh that took place throughout Maharashtra in response to it. The dalits’ call for a bandh became a totally unexpected success. Even in such far off remote places like Gadchiroli it was implemented. So the Bandh was successful. Thousands and thousands of youth came out on the streets. All of this has frightened the ruling classes like anything and that is why they have gone for such large scale arrests. When that took place, many of the forces withdrew saying they were not related to it. That is something natural. Whenever suppression comes, there will be forces who vacillate, withdraw. But no matter what, this material situation exists here and attempts to intervene in this material situation and push it in a certain direction are also taking place. What I pointed out is that these attempts
are taking place in an indirect manner.
Q. The anti fascist fronts or alternate political movements present in Keralam have the stand that they will not unite with any party that includes violence in its political activity.
K.M: Yes, this was there earlier too.
Q. In these circumstances, non-state political violence is treated on the same level as state violence or equated with it. The issue is posed in terms of a binary violence/non-violence. In this situation how will a united front be possible?
K.M: Whatever may be the way in which this issue of violence and non-violence is formulated, though the stand is taken that their problem is with violence, essentially it reveals a reformist view. What I am pointing out is that a material situation cutting through that reformism is
taking form here. Whatever someone or the other might say, tomorrow they or their ranks will be forced to take it up. That is certain. Because the attack that is coming from the opposite side is of that nature. Moreover, it is inevitable that people will become aware of this
attack and understand that it has to be confronted with violence. Therefore I consider this situation you mentioned as a transient case of reformism. These sort of things were seen earlier too. They are not new.
Q. The issue goes beyond this binary of violence/non-violence. Violence brings up some ethical issues. I am talking about state violence. If we look at the political history of the world, over the past 50 or 70 years, one can see state violence of an unprecedented type, never seen
before that. Violence that could be termed as genocide has taken place. One can see this in Indonesia and South American countries. How can we face up to this type of a state? Can we practice a liberatory politics by reacting violently to it? Because we would only be able to
communicate with a person who understands this politics you are talking about or who responds to it in a creative manner. In a space where such communication does not take place how will we do it?
K.M: Exploitative states have never entered into debate with revolutionary forces. This is something we can see right from the times of Spartacus. They were crucified. There was no question of communicating with them. That was so because it is a question of two classes.
Either this class will finish off that one, or the opposite will happen. There is no question of communication or debate. The second point is that of this massacre of the masses. If we look at it from a historical perspective can we say that it is something new? Something that
actually took place only after the 2 nd World War? New methods to isolate and suppress the masses, interning them in concentration camps and so on, have been introduced. Apart from that these large scale massacres have been taking place all along. Take the case of the
suppression of the Waziris by the British colonialists. Weren’t they using aerial bombing? Weren’t they being attacked by their air force?They did the same thing during the Quit India movement too. Debating with Gandhi was not the main thing for the British. The main thing
was that of suppressing people who rebelled against them. They have never hesitated to employ violent methods to the maximum for this. They have not hesitated to carry out massacres. Further, when we speak about the armed struggle waged by a revolutionary force
against a state it is never the case that this armed force will grow and grow, become big and then swallow the state. That is not how it happens. That state will collapse. Cracks will develop within it. This force that is propping it up, its army, police and so on, aren’t they the
common masses. They will rebel and break away. Speaking historically this is what happened everywhere. Whether the Russian revolution, the Chinese revolution or the Vietnamese revolution, wherever revolutions took place they won final victory when the states they were
confronting got caught in the grip of widespread internal crisis and the forces propping them up broke away. So it won’t be the case of having to confront and finish off this state altogether.
Q. What I am pointing out is that the violence carried out by states today is being informed with lessons learnt from those revolutions. Propaganda infrastructure and annihilation aimed at total isolation from the masses are being used. How far can this sort of an apparatus be
resisted with arms? The experiences of the past 50 years are not encouraging. In Latin America movements like the FARC in Columbia, the NPA in the Philippines, Shining Path of Peru, Naxalbari in India, all of them have the record of facing military suppression. Counter-
revolutionary suppression is being carried out in a systematic, scientific way. In this sort of a situation shouldn’t one think about the possibility of an alternate political practice? As was pointed out by the Civil Liberties Committee leader of Andhra Pradesh, Balagopal, those
killed were the best products of those societies. Who is there to replace them? Whole leaderships are being finished off.
K.M: Yes it’s true that Balagopal had made such an observation. But after that so many more new people have come up in that society. They have taken up leadership responsibilities. This is inevitable. The development of these new people to leadership is related to a material context. To say that the people of the ‛70s were super-intelligent, super-revolutionary, that quality and calibre is not seen after that, is meaningless. They took up the particularities of that period. When it was repressed new forces came up. The new are coming with a new awareness. So this is a historical necessity. Then about the movements you mentioned, among them the People’s War under the leadership of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the People’s War led by the CPI (Maoist) in India, these are the two People’s Wars initiated in the 1967-70 period and continuing even today. They have persisted. As far as the Philippines is concerned, there is the direct intervention of American imperialism, the state has always received all sorts of military aid from the US. Unlike what has been faced by the revolutionary forces here, they had to face helicopter attacks and a lot of stuff like that. They have succeeded in overcoming this and persisting. They have also succeeded in extending. According to the latest reports, they had succeeded in spreading out to all the islands of the Philippines. That is a country of more than 700 islands. That is what I knew 4 or 5 years back, they must have extended further by now. There is suppression in India. At one point the state had claimed that the Maoist movement had been completely wiped out from Andhra. But now once again they themselves are admitting in the newspapers that CPI (Maoist) squads are active in the northern parts of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. Similarly, there has been an extension in the trijuncture of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Jharkhand, that took place after 2015. That is we must recollect that this development took place after 10 years of Operation Green Hunt. It took place at a time when there were CRPF, BSF camps every 5 kilometres. So what I am saying is that this growth and development is taking place at a new level. They cannot block it. This is what we should pay attention to. We must register the stability and persistence it displays.
Q. In view of new technology and surveillance methods how far is this concept of People’s War practical? Using Google Map and similar things the state is able to gather exact details about a person or area quite quickly. Or else the spread from one area to another is blocked, a sort of a tying down.
K.M: No, that’s what I explained. I just pointed out that they haven’t been able to tie them down. Despite mobilising such a huge force and deploying CRPF, BSF camps every three or four kilometres they couldn’t do it. More than 10000 troops have been added after the first Modi
government came to power. Despite that this extension took place after that, during 2015-2018. So the facts show that they are not able to tie them down. This is something they themselves admit. Besides that, what is a People’s War? A war carried out by relying on the
masses is known as People’s War. This is not something dependent on the technological capacity of the enemy. New methods will have to be devised to face up to the new problems posed by that technology. But then that is not something new. New obstacles caused by this technology have come up in every period. For example, when British imperialism used helicopters and planes against the Waziri’s guerilla war wasn’t that new technology? Till then they were confronting a ground based enemy. Now it is coming from the skies and bombing.
Initially quite a few of them must have been killed. Then they will adapt to it. They will seek out methods to face up to this. What was the method adopted by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army to protect themselves from the aerial attacks of US planes during the Korean
war? They would station people on top of far away mountains and they would signal. That signal would be quickly transmitted from one to another. So the challenges posed by technology were always present. During the Vietnam war the US had developed technology to locate Viet Cong fighters and bomb them by the smell of their urine. But finally who lost that war? Weren’t they the ones who lost?
Q. This brings us to the issue of the condition of a cult of violence. That eliminates the ethics put forward by a liberatory politics. Or it gets totally lost in this process of violence. In Sri Lanka the LTTE had acquired a capability equal to the Sri Lankan army. But one cannot ignore the criticism that it got transformed into a purely military machine.
K.M: The LTTE was not a Maoist force. It had nationalist positions. Moreover, there were many issues with its organisational setup and its views. The status it gave to Prabhakaran’s leadership and such things. For example its policy that those captured should commit suicide.
No communist party has ever demanded of its fighters that they should commit suicide. The communist party teaches its ranks to face up to the enemy while in prison. Not to commit suicide as soon as they are caught. That is the communist party or a revolutionary party adopts this approach precisely because it values human life. The violence carried out by a communist party has always upheld an ethical ideal. Because it employs violence to create a new society. What type of ethics will that society need, what type of ethics is it trying to generate? That must certainly be a part of the war, of the People’s War it is leading, its army and all the activities it carries out among the masses it mobilises. Take for example Mao’s famous Three and Eight Principles. What can be done, what must not be done. The directions on behaving with masses. All of this reflects that. We can see so many examples of this in the history of the Russian and Chinese revolutions. It can also be seen in our own experiences. Then about what is characterised as a cult of violence, we must remember that violence is an inseparable part of life. When we say that we are living peacefully, there are no issues, no fighting, the reality is that we are living right in the midst of violence. The ruling classes that exist here, their exploitation, their caste oppression, women’s oppression, male chauvinism, aren’t all of these incidences of violence? What sense does it make to say that violence takes place only when someone gets hit?So this violence is something that is there throughout society. It is present in every pore of it. There is no society here that is free from it. That is impossible. Should we confront it and try to eliminate it or should we try to live by conforming to it? That is the question before us. When it is said that you are introducing the
politics of violence here, that’s not what is needed and so on, the violence that is actually present here is covered up. That was the biggest fraud of Gandhi’s non-violence. Because the violence that exists throughout society is covered up.That was not solely a matter of British domination.
The Socialist Societies
Q. We must now take up the topic of communist practice, of communist experience. Particularly the Soviet and Chinese experiences. Looking back today, even while it’s true that a lot of problems faced by the masses were resolved, they have an utterly disappointing record. What
are the prospects of taking the communist project forward today, its possibility, remaining within those models?
K.M: First of all I totally disagree with the opinion that they were utterly disappointing. It’s actually the opposite. I’m not just asserting this. The accounts of Russia and China in those days, the period when they stood firmly on a revolutionary path, about the changes that took
place in people’s lives, not just getting a lot of comforts but the changes that took place in their values, all that demonstrated the creation of a new society. It demonstrated the creation of a new society and new values never before seen in this world. Take the numerous books
that are now coming out on the Cultural Revolution and so on, they give very clear examples of how the Cultural Revolution transformed people’s lives, how it raised them to a new level, to a new level of social consciousness. Yes, there were problems. Mistakes took place. But to
characterise them as utterly disappointing, ignoring the gains they achieved, in my view that would be an absolutely erroneous approach.
continued in Part 4…
Youtube link to the interview: