Understanding The Thoughts of Marx, Lenin, and Mao – In The Wake of The Recent Bijapur Naxal Attack – And Where Gandhi Fits In.

Author: Himanshu Ranjan


The story begins with the birth of Karl Marx in the year 1818. When Marx attained the age of 30, he published a pamphlet titled ‘The Communist Manifesto’ with the help of his friend Friedrich Engels. When Marx was about 49 years old, he wrote his thoughts in a book called ‘Das Kapital’. These ideas were later called Marxism and mainly talk about class struggle. It sheds light on the fact that since the means of production are owned by a few, the system is designed for the exploitation of the labour class. It calls for a revolution to abolish such a system in order to replace it with a socialist mode of production, i.e., collective ownership of the means of production. In a way, it is a revolution against the capitalist mode of production that most nations have adopted. Was the revolution that Marx spoke of violent in nature? 

The Communist Manifesto is to be cited for the answer to this question:

 “The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.”

The three volumes of Das Kapital have more than two thousand pages. Volume I deals with ‘The Production Process of Capital’, Volume II describes ‘The Circulation Process of Capital’, and Volume III expresses ‘The Overall Process of Capitalist Production.’ 

To highlight an idea from Volume I – 

The rate of surplus-value is, therefore, an exact expression for the degree of exploitation of labour-power by capital, or of the labourer by the capitalist.

If another idea from ​​Volume III is to be thought upon –

From time to time the conflict of antagonistic agencies finds vent in crises. The crises are always but momentary and forcible solutions of the existing contradictions. They are violent eruptions which for a time restore the disturbed equilibrium. The contradiction, to put it in a very general way, consists in that the capitalist mode of production involves a tendency towards absolute development of the productive forces, regardless of the value and surplus-value it contains, and regardless of the social conditions under which capitalist production takes place; while, on the other hand, its aim is to preserve the value of the existing capital and promote its self-expansion to the highest limit.

Another book has been written on the basis of a letter by Karl Marx called ‘Critique of the Gotha Programme‘. Marx says in it:

Between capitalist and communist society there lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. Corresponding to this is also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.

One conclusion can be clearly drawn that the people deeply influenced by the ideas of Karl Marx not only hate the capitalist system, rather they can also resort to violence to overcome it. One reason for this is that the capitalist system becomes exploitative if profiteering is the only main objective. 

About 52 years after the birth of Marx, Vladimir Lenin was born. When Lenin reached the age of about 35, the First Russian Revolution took place in 1905. Until the year 1861, serfdom was practiced in Russia. It meant that farmers who did not have land were exploited by the landowners. The growing discontent among the peasant class coupled with a loss in the Russo-Japanese War of 1905 led to the first Russian Revolution. This led to the formation of a legislative organ called ‘The State Duma’ by Czar Nicholas II. The State Duma was often dissolved by the Czar and was not an effective legislature. However, the decision of Czar Nicholas II to take personal command of the army during the first world war led to his subsequent downfall. The February Revolution led to the end of monarchy (Romanov rule) in Russia in March 1917. A new provisional government was formed that would still keep Russia engaged in the first world war leading to the October Revolution

Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov adopted the pseudonym Lenin post-1901. His brother Alexander Ulyanov was executed as he conspired to kill Tsar Alexander III. In his defense Alexander Ulyanov had said: 

My purpose was to aid in the liberation of the unhappy Russian people. Under a system that permits no freedom of expression and crushes every attempt to work for their welfare and enlightenment by legal means, the only instrument that remains is terror. We cannot fight this regime in open battle, because it is too firmly entrenched and commands enormous powers of repression. Therefore, any individual sensitive to injustice must resort to terror. Terror is our answer to the violence of the state. It is the only way to force a despotic regime to grant political freedom to the people… There is no death more honourable than death for the common good.

The execution of his brother had a deep impact on Lenin. He was only 17 years old by then. Later, Chernyshevsky’s novel titled ‘What Is to Be Done?’ had a major impact on Lenin. Marx’s ideas also had a profound effect on him. In 1901, Lenin published a pamphlet with the same title as Chernyshevsky’s novel. Lenin writes in it: 

Class political consciousness can be brought to the workers only from without, that is, only from outside the economic struggle, from outside the sphere of relations between workers and employers. The sphere from which alone it is possible to obtain this knowledge is the sphere of relationships of all classes and strata to the state and the government, the sphere of the interrelations between all classes.” 

During the 2nd Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party held in 1903, the party split into Bolsheviks (majoritarian led by Lenin) and Mensheviks (minoritarian led by Martov). Lenin saw an opportune moment to further his cause of civil war during the chaos brought by World War I. However, he was sent to exile in Switzerland. During his exile, he published a pamphlet titled ‘Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism’. In it, Lenin argues: 

 “Capitalism has grown into a world system of colonial oppression and of the financial strangulation of the overwhelming majority of the population of the world by a handful of ‘advanced’ countries. And this “booty” is shared between two or three powerful world plunderers armed to the teeth (America, Great Britain, Japan), who are drawing the whole world into their war over the division of their booty

At another point in the pamphlet he writes: 

“Obviously, out of such enormous superprofits (since they are obtained over and above the profits which capitalists squeeze out of the workers of their “own” country) it is possible to bribe the labour leaders and the upper stratum of the labour aristocracy. And that is just what the capitalists of the “advanced” countries are doing: they are bribing them in a thousand different ways, direct and indirect, overt and covert.”

Lenin detested the provisional government formed by the bourgeois post the February Revolution. He, therefore, called for a Soviet government led by the proletarians. Thus, Lenin led the Bolshevik Revolution (October Revolution). Aided by the workers, peasants, and soldiers, Lenin’s Bolsheviks were able to overthrow the provisional government. However, they faced opposition from multiple groups aided by foreign nations. This led to the Russian Civil War. The Red Army led by Lenin was finally able to defeat the internal enemies and in that process, there were severe casualties. With the signing of the Treaty of Riga in 1921, the Polish-Soviet War also ended, thus ensuring Lenin’s victory in the civil war. 

At the end of the Russian Civil War, there was a famine in 1921-22. Russia’s economy was devastated. Lenin had already taken hold of the private property from the capitalists such as the banks, factories, and rail works without compensation. This had further aggravated the economic problem. Hence, Lenin took a departure from complete communism and introduced elements of capitalism through his New Economic Policy. This Lenin termed ‘a strategical retreat’ while the policy did work to improve Russia’s economy. However, Lenin suffered a stroke and died in 1924 after which Joseph Stalin would replace the New Economic Policy with his Five Year Plan in 1928.         

The ideas of Lenin gave birth to a political theory called Leninism. It asks for the creation of a revolutionary party that works on the principles of democratic centralism. It means a decision taken by the collective needs to be followed by all. This revolutionary party would then strive to attain the dictatorship of the proletariat. It means that the means of production would be controlled by the labour class through the political power of the state. It is necessary to obtain such a condition before achieving true communism. 

Coupled with Marx’s ideas – this new ideology was called Marxism-Leninism. An ideology that Fidel Castro and Che Guevera also adopted.   

Mao Zedong was born 23 years after Lenin was born. He belonged to a peasant family and at that time there were mostly farming families in China. He became a teacher and started reading the ideas of Karl Marx. Influenced by his thoughts and the Lenin-led Russian Civil War, Mao became a founder member of the Chinese Communist Party in 1921. Post-1927, Chiang Kai-Shek led Kuo-min Tang (KMT) party became anti-communists. Mao had to migrate to southeast China where again the KMT encircled them. Quite secretly, in 1934 Mao’s Red Army fled by starting a 4000-mile journey towards a northwestern province called Shaanxi. Though many died during the journey, the event became famous and was called the Long March. This made Mao a popular leader. Mao’s speeches and writings are quite encyclopedic. Post the Long March, in 1936 he wrote Problems of Strategy in China’s Revolutionary War. In it, he writes: 

“China’s revolutionary war, whether civil war or national war, is waged in the specific environment of China and so has its own specific circumstances and nature distinguishing it both from the war in general and from the revolutionary war in general. Therefore, besides the laws of war in general and of the revolutionary war in general, it has specific laws of its own. Unless you understand them, you will not be able to win in China’s revolutionary war.”

At another point in the same work Mao writes: 

History knows only two kinds of war, just and unjust. We support just wars and oppose unjust wars. All counter-revolutionary wars are unjust, all revolutionary wars are justWhen 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.”

Mao thoroughly believed in Karl Marx’s words “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.” Thus, Mao believed in revolutionary action. He advocated guerilla warfare. According to Mao, 

When it is not advantageous for our mainland army to meet the enemy in large-scale engagements and we, therefore, ‘send’ out commando units or guerrilla units, which employ the tactics of avoiding strength and striking at weakness, of flitting about and having no fixed position, and of subduing the enemy according to circumstances, and when we do not oppose the enemy according to the ordinary rules of tactics, this is called employing guerrilla tactics.”

Thus, Mao goes on to describe the tactics that involve guerilla warfare. He describes what precautions to take, how to do surprise attacks, how to involve the masses when to attack the enemy… as various tactics of guerilla warfare. 

From 1937-45, China and Japan went into war. Known as the second Sino-Japanese War, China was aided by the Soviet Union and the US in the war. This led to a truce between KMT and the Communists who fought the war together. However, when Japan was defeated in 1945, both the parties again went into a violent civil war. The Chinese Communist Party emerged victorious forming the People’s Republic of China. Chiang Kai-shek exiled to Taiwan where he formed the Republic of China claiming legitimacy over the People’s Republic of China in 1949. 

The massive failure of Mao was his policy called the Great Leap Forward. Forced agricultural collectivization meant the abolition of private plots. Coupled with a centrally controlled resource allocation and food distribution, and cruel treatment to farmers, it led to the Great Chinese Famine from 1959-61, in which an estimated 15-55 million people died. The industrialization efforts also didn’t work. Mao had to halt this policy immediately after. 

In the August of 1966, Mao launched the Cultural Revolution. Planned to crush his opposition and the revisionist tendencies in the communist ideology, the Red Guards killed an estimated 1.5 million people. 

Mao, a revolutionary, founder member of the Chinese Communist Party, the victorious leader of the Chinese Civil War, the People’s Republic of China’s president, with all his voluminous works and communist speeches would be remembered for his failure that led to the greatest famine in human history, and as a cruel leader who killed his opponents mercilessly. 

Despite these facts, Maoism as a political thought has succeeded to influence many. Protracted People’s War led to communist victories in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. They are active in nations like Peru, the Philippines, Turkey, Nepal, and India. Marxism-Leninism-Maoism as defined by the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) in their basic course says “Maoism is an extension and development of Marxism-Leninism applicable to the present era.”

Manabendra Nath Roy, a nationalist revolutionary founded the Mexican Communist Party and also served as a member of the executive committee of the Communist International. The Communist Party of India was founded on 17 October 1920 at Tashkent with Mohammad Shafiq as its secretary, MN Roy as the secretary of the party’s bureau, and Acharya as its Chairman. An open conference took place in Kanpur from 25-28 December 1925, where the Communist Party of India was founded in India with its headquarters in Bombay and with S.V. Ghate as its General Secretary. Inspired by the communist ideals, soon the Labour Swaraj Party, Workers and Peasants Party, emerged. The All India Trade Union Congress had been already established by then with Lala Lajpat Rai as its first president. The Meerut Conspiracy Case established the fact that the communists were now regarded as a serious threat by the Britishers. In 1936, B.R Ambedkar formed the Independent Labour Party. The All India Kisan Sabha led a peasant movement against the landlords, opposed forced labour, and demanded better prices for crops. When Germany attacked Soviet Union during WWII, the communists started to support the Allies and opposed the Quit India Movement. Later, the Communist Party recognized it as a grave mistake. The success of the Tebhaga Movement and the Telangana Rebellion could be seen as a comeback of the Communist Party. 

The Communist Party of India became revisionist but a section of people within the party wanted to apply the scientific and revolutionary tenets of Marxism-Leninism without any alteration. This led to the splitting of the party and thus Communist Party of India (Marxist) was born in 1964. Still others in the party determined of armed rebellion formed the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) in 1969. So far, the communist parties have seen major electoral success in the states of Kerala, West Bengal, and Tripura. 

Born in Siliguri in 1919, Charu Mazumdar would become the leader of the Naxalbari uprising by the peasants in 1967. He articulated the famous Historic Eight Documents that would fuel the ideology behind an armed rebellion. In that, he writes: 

“The main basis of the Indian Revolution is agrarian revolution. So, the main slogan of the political propaganda campaign will be–make the agrarian revolution successful. The extent to which we are able to propagate the program of agrarian revolution among the workers and the petty bourgeoisie and educate them in it, to that extent they will be educated in political education. Every Activist Group should discuss the class analysis among the peasantry, the propaganda of the program of agrarian revolution.”

Kanu Sanyal was another leader of the Naxalbari uprising. The fact that the naxalbari uprising happened in India’s chicken’s neck cannot be a matter of chance. The role of foreign communist states neighbouring India in fueling armed rebellion could also be a factor. Another inconvenient truth is that during the 1962 Sino-Indian war the Communist Party of India could not unanimously support the Indian side. 

Operation Steeplechase was an initiative taken by the Indira Gandhi government to curb Naxalites. It was a well-coordinated attack by the army, police, and paramilitary personnel on the Naxalites in West Bengal in which hundreds of Naxalites were killed and thousands were arrested. 

The Red Corridor is a collective term used for the districts that are severely affected by the Naxalite movement. It includes the states of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, among other states. Most of these districts are found in the region in and surrounding Dandakaranya. An Indian Express report mentions the below 30 districts as the most affected. 

StateSeverely Affected Districts 
Andhra PradeshVisakhapatnam
BiharAurangabad, Gaya, Jamui, Lakhisarai
ChhattisgarhBastar, Bijapur, Dantewada, Kanker, Kondagaon, Narayanpur, Rajanandgaon, Sukma
JharkhandBokaro, Chatra, Garhwa, Giridih, Gumla, Hazaribagh, Khunti, Latehar, Lohardaga, Palamu, Ranchi, Simdega West, Singhbhum
OdishaKoraput, Malkangiri
TelanganaBhadradri, Kothagudem

The famous merger of the CPI (ML) People’s War with MCCI led to the birth of CPI (Maoist) in 2004. Their guerilla armies also merged to form the People’s Liberation Guerilla Army (PLGA). This intensified the Moist insurgency so much so that the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in a 2006 speech had to say “It would not be an exaggeration to say that the problem of Naxalism is the single biggest internal security challenge ever faced by our country.”

The People’s Liberation Guerilla Army (PLGA) is a strategically well-trained force and its composition is well planned as depicted in the pic below. 

                                   Source: Ministry of Home Affairs

Strengthening police forces, formation of Special Task Forces, gathering intelligence, and better coordination among the states are some of the action points that the former PM Manmohan Singh had highlighted in the same speech. 

Salwa Judum was a state-sponsored tribal army that mainly trained and recruited local tribal youth to fight Naxals. It was later declared illegal by the Supreme Court. Ranvir Sena is an upper-caste-led initiative that carries out anti-Naxal operations in Bihar. Operation Green Hunt was launched in 2009 as an all-out offensive by the police and paramilitary forces to deal with Naxalites in the red corridor. 

The CPI (Maoist) was listed as a terrorist outfit under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 2009. It’s the same act that has kept Sudha Bhardwaj, an IIT Kanpur alumni, and a lawyer-activist in jail since August 2018 despite the Supreme Court suggesting that her case is good on merits.

Deprivation and alienation are also the major factors that lead to Maoist insurgencies. Hence, development and infrastructure-related works were carried out under the Integrated Action Plan. Kendriya Vidyalayas, community centers were opened. Also, the government built roads and bridges for better connectivity. 

Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, and Odisha are also mineral-rich states. In order to extract minerals, the lands belonging to the native tribes are acquired or leased to the mining companies. There is a possibility of injustice in such takeovers. There are also cases of illegal mining that act as revenue sources for the Naxals. Opium fields serve as another source of income for the Naxals. Also, there are instances where these companies pay so as to sign an unofficial peace deal with the Naxals. In such a scenario, it becomes imperative that the corporates use ethical means and understand their social responsibility. 

About an estimated 9300 civilians, 3000 security personnel, and 4000 Naxals have been killed in Naxalite insurgencies and countermeasures in the last two decades. The ideology of violence and that too to kill innocent civilians cannot be justified on any ground. Hence, counter-offensive measures by police and paramilitary forces become a necessity. 

The NDA government has formulated a National Policy Action Plan that led to a decline in Left Wing Extremists insurgency. It includes a multi-pronged strategy that involves building infrastructure such as mobile towers, bank ATMs, roads, bridges, schools as well as up-gradation of police stations located in the red corridor region. 

The recent Sukma-Bijapur attack serves as an eye opener especially in the context of the increasing inequality brought about by the pandemic. An Oxfam report states that during the pandemic the top 100 billionaires added a whopping 12.97 trillion rupees to their wealth. At the same time, the poor were forced to walk, and the middle class lost their jobs due to the lockdown. The Supreme Court lifted its ban on cryptocurrencies and the bitcoin gave 10 times returns over a year. The share market also witnesses the greatest ups and downs, Gautam Adani’s wealth has seen a whopping increase fuelled by unprecedented debts in the forms of loans and bonds. There seems collusion between the corporate and political elites – a bitter truth that was prophesied in the pamphlet of Lenin ‘Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism’

This growth in inequality during one of the most vulnerable periods of human history in a century is also a kind of violence. Therefore, it becomes a patriotic duty of the wealth gainers to invest a significant proportion of that money for the wellbeing of the common poor public, especially in the underdeveloped districts. Doing so will be called compassionate capitalism. 

If Mahatma Gandhi lived today, he would have abhorred this inequality. For he had given us his talisman, we seem to forget. He would have equally abhorred the violent means adopted by the Naxalites for he had already proved how effective a non-violent resistance could be. It is also deeply saddening that his photographs have been replaced by the photographs of Prime Minister Modi and President Kovind in most public office pics I see through the internet. To end with, I would just say, make some space for Gandhi. 


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