Workers Vanguard No. 929
30 January 2009
The Nandigram Massacre
Left Front Governments State Repression in West Bengal
The following article is reprinted from Spartacist Canada (No. 159, Winter 2008/2009), newspaper of the Trotskyist League/Ligue Trotskyste, Canadian section of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist).
The Communist Party of Canada (CPC), long skilled in justifying working-class betrayals, has now taken up the cudgels for the capitalist government of West Bengal headed by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI[M]). Last spring the correspondent in India for the CPC’s People’s Voice, B. Prasant, claimed that the state budget of the Left Front government “prioritises the empowerment of the poor.” The government, he reported, was buying land and “handing it over to small peasants at no cost” (1-15 April 2008). The October 16-31 issue had Prasant hailing the government’s “pro-employment and pro-poor industrial policy” in Singur, a rural area not far from Kolkata (Calcutta).
“Paper will put up with anything that is written on it,” as J.V. Stalin once wrote. Schooled for decades in the program of Stalinist class collaboration and the lies it entails, the CPC should know. The truth is that for the last two years, far from giving land to peasants and “empowering” the poor, the CPI(M) has made Singur and nearby Nandigram synonymous with bloody state repression—murders, rapes, beatings, mass arrests and land seizures, all to serve the greater glory of capitalist profit.
In 2005, India loosened the regulations governing the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs), sparking a frenzied real estate boom as central and state governments invoked the 1894 Land Acquisition Act, a relic of the British imperialists enacted to smooth the forcible acquisition of land and minimize the cost. More than 500 SEZs have been approved around the country. Highly capital intensive, the SEZs employ a tiny fraction of the vast numbers they have displaced and ruined. To ensure untrammelled profits, strikes and protests are banned inside SEZs and taxation is minimal.
Quick to cash in on the SEZ craze, in December 2006 the Left Front government in West Bengal moved to create an SEZ in Singur, forcibly acquiring land there on behalf of Tata Motors, one of India’s largest capitalist conglomerates. Those who resisted were severely beaten and some 50 arrested. Reportedly led by CPI(M) spotters, houses were ransacked and haystacks burned. Later that month the charred body of a young woman activist, Tapasi Malik, 18, was found. She had been brutally raped and murdered. A full year passed before two CPI(M) workers were charged with this savage crime (Indo-Asian News Service, 7 December 2007).
Singur proved to be merely the opening act. In Nandigram, in late December 2006, villagers learned that 25,000 acres of arable land were to be taken to create an SEZ for a massive chemical industrial complex. There was an immediate outcry. On 7 January 2007, a protest organized by the Bhumi Uchched Pratirodh (Land Eviction Resistance) Committee (BUPC) was attacked as CPI(M) cadre shot bullets and hurled bombs into the village, killing at least five. Foreshadowing what was to come, CPI(M) State Secretariat member Benoy Konar railed, “But if they want to make things difficult for us, we are prepared to make life hell for them” (Nandigram: What Really Happened? ).
In the early morning of March 14, some 5-6,000 unarmed residents of Nandigram assembled in an attempt to prevent government forces from entering the area. On the other side a 2,000-strong police force and several hundred armed CPI(M) cadre, some in police uniform, launched an assault, blinding people with tear gas and then opening fire. The official count put the dead at 14, with over 200 injured. Others put the number of dead at more than 100. The true toll may never be known: a reporter for the civil rights journal Combat Law (May-June 2007) was told by villagers that cops and CPI(M) goons hauled off bodies in trucks or buried them nearby under a newly repaired road.
What is known is that this attack was planned months in advance. Women and children, who were in the forefront of the protest in the mistaken belief that this would stay the hand of the police and CPI(M) goons, bore the brunt of the onslaught. Wrenching evidence was later given at hearings in Kolkata to a “People’s Tribunal on Nandigram” organized by the All India Citizens’ Initiative. Some women were raped and there were at least five cases of “sadistic sexual assault”; several women accused policemen of “forcing rod/lathi/gunbarrel into sex organs” (“Executive Summary of the Report: People’s Tribunal on Nandigram,” 26-28 May 2007). Others were told of children being “torn apart, hurled into ponds and killed” (Combat Law, May-June 2007). Of 38 missing, eleven were children. This is the horrific reality that People’s Voice hopes to hide in its lying hosannas to the West Bengal CPI(M) government.
While covering up this massacre, People’s Voice portrays the CPI(M) as a party under siege from “elements of the reactionary right and the sectarian left” which are “using murder and mayhem” (1-15 September 2008). In reality, Nandigram has been the site of a virtual small-scale civil war as the inhabitants have faced down repeated attacks from police and CPI(M) thugs acting on behalf of the bourgeois state.
The chemical hub in Nandigram—now on hold—was to have been built by the Indonesian Salim Group, whose founder was infamous for his close ties with the Suharto regime which killed some one million Communists and their supporters in 1965-66 following a military coup. Happy to front for such butchers, the CPI(M) says it is promoting development that will better the lives of the masses and indeed be a “weapon of class struggle.” But no amount of such Marxoid mumbo jumbo can hide that this is a capitalist government in a capitalist country. No less a mouthpiece for imperialist finance capital than the London Economist pointed out in an article titled “The Capitalist Communist” that CPI(M) chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya “has embraced business with an apostate zeal
travelling the world and wooing foreign companies” (24 November 2007).
Only Workers Revolution Will Liberate the Indian Masses!
The idea that capitalist development in a country like India (or anywhere else for that matter) could be other than brutal and exploitative is a lie pushed by the bourgeoisie and their reformist frontmen. India is a country of enormous social contradictions where modern industry is grafted onto a backward society marked by profound women’s oppression as well as national, religious and caste oppression—the heritage of the pre-industrial past, reinforced and deepened by more than two centuries of British colonial rule.
Imperialist subjugation foreclosed any possibility of the Indian bourgeoisie playing the historical role of the bourgeoisies of Western Europe in liberating and developing the productive forces from feudal backwardness. The perspective for resolving the questions posed by what Bolshevik revolutionary Leon Trotsky termed “combined and uneven development” is provided by the theory and program of permanent revolution, developed by Trotsky and vindicated by the victory of the 1917 Russian Revolution (see “The Development and Extension of Leon Trotsky’s Theory of Permanent Revolution,” ICL Pamphlet ).
In a country like India where development is belated and strangled by imperialist subjugation, the weak national bourgeoisie is dependent on its imperialist masters—yesterday the British, today the U.S.—and above all fears its “own” working class. The only road to liberation for the subjugated masses lies in the successful struggle of the proletariat for state power, at the head of all the oppressed, especially the vast peasantry, under the leadership of a revolutionary workers party. An Indian workers revolution would spark a revolutionary upsurge throughout the subcontinent, from Pakistan to Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Its survival and advancement would hinge on the achievement of social revolutions in the imperialist centers: Japan, North America and West Europe.
This is emphatically not the perspective of the Indian variants of Stalinism, including Maoism. Stalinism as an ideology arose in the Soviet workers state following the defeat of the post-1917 revolutionary wave in Europe. Beginning in 1923-24 a conservative bureaucratic caste which came to be led by Stalin usurped political power from the proletariat. Among its greatest crimes against the world working class was the resurrection of a variant of the class-collaborationist Menshevik program which had been defeated and discredited in the victorious 1917 Revolution. The Stalinist dogma of “two-stage revolution,” in which the masses are tied to a mythical “progressive” bourgeoisie in a first, supposedly “democratic” stage of struggle, has brought bloody defeat to struggling workers and peasants around the world.
Over the decades, both before and after independence, the Stalinized Communist Party of India (CPI) has often given support to the bourgeois Congress Party and the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. The CPI(M), which issued from the CPI in 1964, continues this pattern of class collaboration. At the head of the Left Front, it has ruled West Bengal continuously since 1977, wielding the repressive powers of the bourgeois state in defense of private property and profit over a deeply impoverished population. At the all-India level, both CPs have continued to back Congress and its allies, including until recently the Congress-dominated United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in New Delhi. This is the political logic of the bankrupt program of “revolution by stages.” Whether labelled the “National Democratic Revolution” or the “People’s Democratic Revolution,” the masses remain brutally oppressed by capitalism and the supposed second, socialist stage never comes.
Many of those who have harboured illusions in the capacity of the CPI(M) to bring progress and a better life to the masses of West Bengal have been shaken by the atrocities in Nandigram. The months after the massacre saw a wave of resignations from the party, and heavy electoral losses in its former rural strongholds followed this year. Most of these losses were to the virulent anti-Communists of the Trinamool Congress, which has also been the main force in the BUPC-organized protests in Nandigram. In a rotten class-collaborationist alliance, this “resistance committee” is also supported by the Socialist Unity Centre of India, one of the country’s many Maoist groups.
Another group, the CPI (Maoist), also claims to provide an alternative to the Left Front’s SEZ policy. But their program of “New Democratic Revolution” and “People’s War” is no less bankrupt than that of the CPI(M) and CPI. Basing themselves on the peasantry, not the proletariat, the Maoists call for a “bloc of four classes” including with so-called “progressive” capitalists. In The State and Revolution and many other works, Lenin savaged the idea that the class interests of the bourgeoisie and proletariat were anything other than irreconcilable.
It is necessary to break with this deeply ingrained class collaborationism which has long branded India’s various Communist Parties and their offshoots. The history of the international working-class struggle against capitalist wage slavery abounds with betrayals by Stalinism, whose anti-Marxist dogma of “socialism in one country” has meant pursuit of the pipedream of “peaceful coexistence” with world imperialism and opposition to the struggle for international socialist revolution. As well as “two-stage” betrayal, it has also meant forming and supporting popular-front governments—political blocs with capitalist parties in which the politics of the working class are necessarily subordinated to those of the bourgeoisie. Too often workers have paid with their lives for the treacherous policies of their leaders.
In Indonesia this program brought the destruction of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) in 1965-66. The Chinese Maoists instructed the PKI—the largest Communist party in the capitalist world, with three million members and many times that number of supporters—to maintain at all costs a political bloc with the “anti-imperialist” regime of Sukarno, an ally of Beijing. The PKI adopted a policy of “national unity” with the Indonesian bourgeoisie and its military, even to the point of forcing workers to return to the capitalists the factories they had seized. With the workers politically lulled by the misleadership of Beijing and the PKI, the Indonesian military staged a coup led by General Suharto, ushering in the horrific bloodbath of Communists and their sympathizers. (See “Lessons of Indonesia 1965,” Spartacist [English edition] No. 55, Autumn 1999.)
A contemporary lesson in popular-front betrayal is found in South Africa. The South African Communist Party (SACP) has long backed the bourgeois-nationalist African National Congress (ANC) and participates in the capitalist ANC-led Tripartite Alliance—a nationalist popular front that came to power in 1994, signaling the end of apartheid rule. The SACP’s role in South Africa in containing proletarian struggle parallels that of the CPI(M)—both are central to the administration of the capitalist government.
Through its participation in the Tripartite Alliance, the SACP has been instrumental in suppressing the struggles of the black toilers and other oppressed, while providing ministers and provincial premiers to staff the ANC-led government and its repressive state apparatus. Our comrades in Spartacist South Africa are unique in calling to break with the Tripartite Alliance and to build a Bolshevik workers party that fights for a black-centered workers government. In contrast, the activity of the reformist left is firmly within the boundaries of the Alliance, reinforcing the political chains binding the masses to neo-apartheid capitalism.
Down With U.S.-India Pact Against China!
India is the imperialists’ favourite “emerging giant” in Asia, one whose economic growth over the past decade or so is sometimes compared with that of China. In fact, China and India are fundamentally different kinds of states and societies.
India is a capitalist regional power dominated by imperialism. Its per capita gross domestic product is barely half that of China. China’s poverty rate is less than half that of India’s and the rate of child malnutrition three-quarters less. Female adult literacy in China is 87 percent; in India it is just 48 percent. India has more hungry people than any other country in the world. All the hype by the imperialists and the Indian rulers about India’s supposed rapid-fire development is just that: hype. Even before the current global economic crisis, which is already sending India’s economy into a tailspin, the country’s per capita GDP was a minuscule six percent of that of the U.S.
China is a bureaucratically deformed workers state, and has been since the 1949 Chinese Revolution overthrew capitalist/landlord rule and ripped the world’s most populous country from the clutches of the imperialist powers. For good reason, China became a beacon for millions of oppressed toilers in Asia. Despite the bureaucratic parasitism and mismanagement of the ruling Stalinist Chinese Communist Party, the collectivization of the economy has brought enormous social gains for workers, peasants and women, not least an end to centuries of chronic starvation in the countryside.
U.S. imperialism today sees capitalist India as a strategic ally in its drive to overturn the gains of the Chinese Revolution. This fall, Washington approved a pact for the sale of nuclear technology to India. As the Financial Times (28 September 2008) noted, this opens “a new chapter in relations” between the U.S. and India that “could help counter the rise of China.” The International Communist League stands for the unconditional military defense of the Chinese deformed workers state against imperialist threats and internal counterrevolution. At the same time, we call for a proletarian political revolution to oust the nationalist, Stalinist ruling caste in Beijing and create a regime based on workers democracy and revolutionary internationalism.
Noam Chomsky, Tariq Ali et al. Rescue CPI(M)
While the Nandigram massacre wracked the left in India, the CPI(M) found voices of solidarity outside the country. Less than two weeks after yet another assault on Nandigram led by a CPI(M) militia, a statement by Noam Chomsky, Tariq Ali, Susan George, Walden Bello, Howard Zinn and various other fake-left luminaries appeared in The Hindu (22 November 2007) and elsewhere. Silent on the Left Front’s brutal state repression, the authors deplored “what appear to be unbridgeable gaps between people who share similar values” and expressed “trust that the people of Bengal will not allow their differences on some issues to tear apart the important experiments undertaken in the State (land reforms, local self-government).”
Many Indian leftists were stunned by this plea for unity between the state architects of a bloody massacre and its victims. As well, several intellectuals, including renowned writer Arundhati Roy and Bengali novelist Mahashweta Devi, issued an angry rebuttal. For our part, we were unsurprised. This is par for the course for petty-bourgeois dilettantes like Chomsky et al., many of whom have been leading publicists for the popular-frontist World Social Forums. International confabs backed by numerous capitalist governments and corporate endowments, the purpose of the Social Forums has been to ensure that those who oppose some of the depredations of capitalism do not challenge the capitalist system itself. As noted in a well-researched article in Aspects of India’s Economy (September 2003) shortly before the 2004 Social Forum in Mumbai, these gatherings are funded by the likes of the “Ford Foundation, which has closely collaborated with the US Central Intelligence Agency internationally, and in India has helped to shape the government’s policies in favour of American interests.”
An article in the online version of the British Socialist Workers Party’s (SWP) International Socialism (2 July 2007) attacked the Nandigram massacre—only to mourn the lost “unity” of the Social Forums, including in India, where the left shared a “common platform.” “After Nandigram,” they continue, “it is difficult to see where this shared space is.” According to International Socialism, the alternative to the CPI(M) is “a real democratic left, stripped of old dogmas” that breaks “from the dead past and stifling present.” Here the SWP is dishing out the same old anti-communist garbage in new pails.
In sharp contrast, the ICL fights for the communism of Lenin and Trotsky whose highest embodiment was the 1917 Russian workers revolution. In India today, alongside the massive peasantry is a small but very powerful and vibrant working class. It is this proletariat that holds the key to the future. In January 2007, and again in March, West Bengal workers carried out statewide strikes against the bloodshed at Nandigram. More recently, in August this year, a countrywide general strike against price rises, rising unemployment and falling real wages aimed at the UPA government brought West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura almost to a standstill. The burning need is to give this immense proletarian social power the necessary leadership and program through the forging of a genuinely revolutionary party, a Leninist-Trotskyist vanguard party.
Against the class collaborationism and popular-frontism endemic to the Indian left, such a party will counterpose a revolutionary program for the all-sided emancipation of the Indian masses under working-class rule—the dictatorship of the proletariat. Our Trotskyist forebears in the Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India stood firmly in this tradition. In 1942 they declared:
“The ultimate fate of the revolution in India, as in Russia, will be determined in the arena of the international revolution. Nor will India by its own forces be able to accomplish the task of making the transition to socialism. Not only the backwardness of the country, but also the international division of labor and the interdependence—produced by capitalism itself—of the different parts of world economy, demand that this task of the establishment of socialism can be accomplished only on a world scale. The victorious revolution in India, however, dealing a mortal blow to the oldest and most widespread imperialism in the world will on the one hand produce the most profound crisis in the entire capitalist world and shake world capitalism to its foundations. On the other hand it will inspire and galvanize into action millions of proletarians and colonial slaves the world over and inaugurate a new era of world revolution.”
— “The Classes of India and Their Political Roles: A Thesis of the Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India,” Fourth International, March 1942