Communism is a political and economic ideology envisaging classless, government-controlled society with shared ideals of equality, class-less socio-economic hierarchy and extreme anti-elitism poured over by the added salt mix of authoritarianism, anti-individualism and anti-liberalism. Communist ideology on political front is an authoritarian single party doctrine and on the economic front is a class-less anti-capitalist socialistic doctrine espousing state controlled communality centred regulatory market economy. Communism is essentially categorised by or eponymic in the names of three of its greatest leaders – who, footing at separate eras, propagated different forms of communism – Karl Marx (Marxism), Vladimir Lenin (Leninism) and Mao Zedong (Maoism).
In his Critique of the Gotha Programme (1875) Karl Marx identified two phases of communism – meant to overthrow capitalism – the first would be a transitional system in which the working class would control the government and economy yet still find it necessary to pay people on predominantly quantitative analysis; the second would be fully realised communism—a society without class divisions or government, in which the production and distribution of goods would be based upon the principle “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”
In State and Revolution (1917), Lenin asserted that socialism corresponds to Marx’s first phase of communist society and communism proper to the second. Lenin, through Bolshevik, revolutionised communism and established a governing model of it in Soviet Union. Since then, communism has been largely, if not exclusively, identified with the form of political and economic organisation developed in the Soviet Union and adopted subsequently in the People’s Republic of China and other countries ruled by communist parties. For much of the 20th century, in fact, about one-third of the world’s population lived under communist regimes. Communism launched from Lenin’s October Revolution and spread to China with Mao Zedong’s rise to power and to Cuba, with Fidel Castro’s takeover. These regimes were characterised by the rule of a single party that tolerated no opposition and little dissent. In place of a capitalist economy, in which individuals compete for profits, moreover, party leaders established a command economy in which the state controlled property and its bureaucrats determined wages, prices, and production goals. The inefficiency of these economies played a large part in the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and the remaining communist countries (excepting North Korea) are now swiftly and quietly morphing into a less communist-socialist and more ‘market socialist’ economies – as envisaged by Oscar Lange. Countries are moving away from communism in economic terms but are still holding the fast to single party regime system. 21st century has made it pellucid that Communism is clearly not the world-shaking force it was in the 20th century. Once the ideology behind one side of the Cold War, today just a handful of countries remain under communist rule.
Communism in India
Communism, as a social ideology and as a dominant national political force, did not flourish in India partly because of India’s structural uniqueness in the form of incredibly labyrinthine, heterogenous and complex society and partly because of fundamentally inhuman ‘blood thirsty’ undertakings of communists, which was unacceptable for a nation which freshly won the freedom struggle through, mostly, non-violent means. Communism was brought in India by Stalin’s representatives, both foreign and domestic. As an ideological bonsai, it was an imperfect entity, pruned by its Soviet-obsessed leaders to suit the political weather in India.
The communist insurrections in India also followed similar patterns as in Mongolia, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia or Afghanistan, who played to the tune of more famous communist resurgences in Russia and China — most involved an active agrarian population that sided with the communists, a corrupt or despotic incumbent government that lost favourability with the people, and various economic and social struggles in the aftermath of war or independence from colonial powers. India’s overall makeup since achieving independence from Great Britain in 1947 appeared to have all the makings of a country ready to turn communist—a hierarchical social organisation scheme in the caste system, huge issues with agricultural productivity relative to the demands of an exploding population, slow economic growth due to heavy allocation of resources toward defence, poverty and economic inequality within the country, and a democratic but nearly authoritarian governments under Prime Ministerships of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi. Yet despite showing all the same indicators, the communist threat in India has been limited in scope and scale, defying the very pattern that has seemed to define Asian countries’ geopolitical experiences with communism.
Despite facing structural challenges and fundamental anti-communist society, the fact that communism managed to survive in India till date was more to owe to Congress than to the ideology itself. Post independence, under the leadership of a avowed socialist prime minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, India established a socialist, public sector, labour union-oriented economic structure, which benefited the communists of the country. The same socialist economic structure was furthered exploited and regulated under his daughter Indira Gandhi’s regime as PM. India under Indira became a mercantilist licence raj nation with exceedingly socialist economic establishment which institutionalised regulation and economic conservatism.
Communism, though, did gain some traction though a militant following in India. In May 1967, an uprising led by a group of peasant leaders with strong Maoist sentiments began in Naxalbari, West Bengal. The militant “Naxalite” movement that arose was built upon the communist ideological tenets in the Historic Eight Documents written by Charu Majumdar. Majumdar and Kanu Sanyal, another leader of the Naxalite cause, founded the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), breaking away from the less radical Communist Party of India (Marxist). The Naxalite and CPI (ML) movements spread rapidly throughout West Bengal—which already had a communist state government—in the late 1960s and across the rest of the country in the 1970s. Even to this day, a “Red Corridor” along much of the eastern seaboard of India demarcates areas of heavy Naxalite influence. Clearly, the Naxalite threat – which is a militant form of communism in India – has managed to live on in India well into the 21st century .
As a political doctrine, the communism did manage to hold some forts and crack a few nuts. At times communism was thought of as a potential galloping horse waiting to surge ahead in the race for most influential ideology of the country. But as the time churned and wheels turned, it dramatically crashed, biting dust and watching the future hazing into disappearance. By 1990s, political communism was confined to few states and no national influencing power in hands. Communist parties were left as regional parties with local franchises shrunk to few states like West Bengal, Tripura and Kerala. And staying true to its violent spirit, it ruled, in those few states, through intimidation and murder. Like its Russian masters, the Indian Left, too, created icons like Jyoti Basu, EMS Namboodiripad and Manik Sarkar who became its reigning deities. It was a grotesque parody of a long dead era, with the hawkish Prakash Karat playing Stalin to Sitaram Yechury’s Gorbachev.
Most lethal blow to the already drowning ship of communism was liberalisation of Indian economy under PM Rao’s regime. It made socialism look like a old dilapidated and failed system of economic governance, which, in turn, made communism look the same. Final nail in the coffin, might, came in the form of the 2014 and 2019 general elections, where Left Parties across the country, were quashed, thrashed and eventually trashed. The situation for communist parties is grieving with Kerala being the only state left with the left. Communism in India never managed to become a force as it was in former Soviet Union, China, Vietnam, Laos, Venezuela or any other communist state. The Indian model can be both a model on how to stop communism and a model on how to defeat militant far-left. So, how did the communism never get under the Indian skin and political system as it did in other countries?
What failed communism in India?
The opiate of the masses – proletariat’s ideological obstacles to communism – prevented India from falling into the same bucket of Russia, China or Vietnam. People’s parrying of communism in India was framed on many canvases, one of them being pillorying the loony wanton blood thirsty militant communists and naxalites who had gunged the ‘red corridor’ ensconcing violence, terror and destruction. The Marichjhapi massacre – which was ordered and executed under the watch of then communist state government of West Bengal; Nandigram Massacre; the ‘Naxalite’ movement of far-leftist communist militants; the bloody legacy of Leninism, Maoism and Joseph Stalin; Soviet Union, China and Vietnam’s inhuman treatment of subjects and Radical view of communist cadre; all added in the repulsiveness of communism in India.
India is a fundamentally non-violent society, structurally different than other hotbeds of communist doctrine. Ranging from the Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist ethic of ahimsa, “nonviolence toward all living things”, to satyagraha, a form of nonviolent civil disobedience preached and practiced by Mahatma Gandhi, nonviolence clearly carries a significance in Indian society unfamiliar to most other cultures. In particular, Gandhi’s advocacy and successful implementation of satyagraha two decades earlier might have had a tremendous impact in revealing to its very brainchild—the modern Indian state—the power of nonviolent movements, thereby turning people away from the insurgency of the Naxalites and vindictive violence of communists.
Western influences and adaptations, particularly democratic form of governance, played a vital role in repulsing communism from masses. Indian democracy deliberately functioned in a anti-communist social way, promoting political adversariality and multi-party system and promoting identity neutralism and non-selectivity. To this day India traces ample western influences in society ranging from strong lingua strength of English language, industrialisation, education system, establishment and parliamentary system which promulgates liberal nationalist ideals rather than violent socialist-communist dogmas. The constitutional framers chose a system which was anti-communist in fundamental nature. Despite being socialist in economy, the properly functioning electoral democracy of the country kept communists at bay and ensured cleanliness.
Caste System which was supposed to be the obvious popularity trait of any communist revolution – the conversion hotshot to egalitarianism, cosmopolitanism and class-less socialism for harbingers of equality – however, turned out to be a major repulsive force for communist growth in India. Indian society has been defined for thousands of years by the caste system, relatively few bought into the communist message in that regard. Compared to societies less directly influenced by religion like China and Vietnam, breaking trust in India’s religious social order, which had been dominant for thousands of years, was much gordian. What’s more, India’s religious nature was quite unique in comparison to Asian countries that experienced successful communist revolutions—India was secular but deeply religious nonetheless. Meanwhile, China and Vietnam have huge irreligious or religiously unaffiliated populations, and Russia, at the time of the Russian Revolution, had considerable secular or irreligious populations. The inherently religious nature of daily life for almost all Indians likely contributed to an incompatibility of Indian society and communist appeals.
Leadership fiascos in the red front – which turned out to be a cog in the machine of communism – tremendously halted the communist growth. Indian communists lacked a dynamic, magnetically attractive, extremely influential with proclivity of causing conformity towards communism, capable of all kinds of resonating or even spuriously resonating demagoguery and flexible non-absolutist leader. Lenin, Mao, and Ho Chi Minh—albeit not necessarily paragons of administrative leadership over a country—were great rhetoricians and revolutionary leaders who facilitated the ascendancy of communism through their abilities to persuade and attract converts to the communist cause and to manage revolutionary efforts intelligently and effectively. Indian communism, on sharp contrary, lacked any kind of genuine communist leadership. There were some leaders with borrowed ideas and tactics from either their masters or from their counterparts in Russia or China. There was not a single leader with original Indian model of communism as in case of Mao for China, Castro for Cuba or Lenin for Russia. For instance Charu Majumdar, perhaps the most significant communist leader, had in particular idolised Mao’s vision and tactics, but he failed to replicate the successful nature of Mao’s revolution. His military leadership – in which he had actively advocated an “annihilation line,” ordering his followers to assassinate members of the bourgeoisie was – inadequate, as Operation Steeplechase and aggressive efforts by the West Bengal police led to the death, capture, and torture of thousands of Naxalite sympathisers.
And eventually the role of government crackdown on far-left communist militants played a significant and hard hitting blow knocking the communist dream to the ground. Government forces proved themselves as a swift efficient sabre capable of giving deep cuts into the enemy’s skin. Police crackdown was seen by the communists as tyranny of bourgeoisies on the fellow comrades. Despite Majumdar’s effort to incite a revolutionary tide in the manner of Mao in interwar China, several roadblocks prevented a successful communist takeover of India. Most explicitly, more organized and stronger government crackdown helped contain the communist threat. Some of this was pure serendipity from the standpoint of the Indian government. The 1971 Bangladesh war provided India with an opportunity of increasing military or armed presence in West Bengal. Indian government used the opportunity to call for an counter communist insurgency operation via both the army and police. Operation Steeplechase led to the death or incarceration of thousands of Naxalite sympathisers in West Bengal, dealing the movement a permanently crippling blow.
In the aftermath of the Naxalite struggle in West Bengal, other communist insurgents across the country, and particularly in the Red Corridor, have typically been contained by local police. In more recent years, that containment effort has transitioned to a more aggressive extinguishment of the communist flame. To a large extent, this evolution is attributable to a greater awareness of the guerilla nature of Naxalite warfare and a shift among local police toward a more active, confrontational form of counter-insurgency. Certainly, the humongous efforts, loaded with modern tactics and enhanced domestic counter insurgency operating abilities, of the security forces has resulted in the form of improvement in tranquility, peace and development. Compared to a peak in violence in 2010, when 1,180 casualties (including 626 civilians) were suffered, the 186 casualties in 2017 represent the containment forces’ effectiveness. Though some may feel that the long march of the last half-century to combat communism has been ineffective, India’s containment and attrition of the movement have quelled any hope of a widespread communist revolution.
Communism in India was always a failed experiment, a gangrenous dogma suffering slow death. Acting as genetically opposite of basic ‘Idea of India’ communism promulgates totalitarianism and state control along with encouraging anti-democratic behaviours. Communist states all over the world held a set of rules which was fundamentally opposite of Indian social hierarchy and undertakings. History tells us no ideology or dogma has ever been successful in flourishing in India, if it failed to resonate with the common masses. Violence and terror never got hold of Indian society, disturbances never clogged the continuous flow of growth. As so happened with the communist flame, it extinguished – gradually – by the course of time.
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