(Published by Socialism and Democracy)
Does size matter?
The basic contradiction is this: in the very heartland of what is often referred to as the “world’s largest democracy” there is also occurring the “world’s largest revolution.” Revolutionary forces, led by the Communist Party of India (Maoist) and its military wing, the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army,1 have an active presence in at least a third of the country, and dominate major and shifting swaths of territory, with control over several key regions where they have established their main liberated areas. Their goal is to overthrow the entire Indian political, economic and social system, and to replace it with a radical transformation of the class structure and new forms of popular democratization and development. They are raising an alternative vision for society, one that challenges bourgeois political and economic norms that are dominant across the global capitalist system led by the United States. Within this imperialist structure, India is viewed as a rising star of international capitalism for its rapid economic growth, largely driven by foreign investment, and its adherence to Western style democratic practices. But it is these very aspects of its society that are leaving hundreds of millions of Indians in ever greater poverty and despair, fueling their revolutionary upsurge and demands for new forms of democracy and development. The success of the Maoist revolution would not only transform India itself, therefore, but deliver a critical blow to the entire structure of imperialist capitalism, and to the political methods now used to maintain its global hold.
The issue of scale is relevant here. The constant references, at home and abroad, to the democratic processes in India as “large” are part of the justification offered, even by some on the left, for maintaining its current system. The size and the viability of its political institutions are seen as being closely linked. As the vice-chancellor of Delhi University put it in a poster urging participation in the parliamentary elections of 2009, “The largest democracy of the world is going to the polls to choose its representatives. Wider voter participation will strengthen democracy in India and will make it more vibrant.” But why does size matter? Is the issue of democracy in India and elsewhere in the world today primarily one of quantity or quality? In the United States, the democratic ideal is often the Greek city state or the small New England town where every citizen could participate directly in choosing leaders and making the decisions that affect them. But in a country of over one billion people such as India, is it important that democracy is “large”? In one sense, yes. The system of democratic parliamentarism, inherited from British colonialism, was the primary instrument used after Independence in 1947 to stitch together a modern national state out of many disparate elements. The sprawling nation, covering an entire subcontinent, and deeply divided by class, caste, ethnicity, religion and language, still depends largely on this political structure to keep its centrifugal forces from flying apart. Democracy is the critical national “glue.” But by the same token, the breakdown of the current Indian parliamentary democratic process, the approach of its historical limits, and above all its growing inability to meet the needs of hundreds of millions, bursts the bonds of bourgeois political practices inherited from the colonial past, and threatens the fragile unity of the nation and the “ungluing” of its social order.
Under such critical circumstances, the demand arises all the more insistently for an alternative system of national organization, and for forms of democracy adequate to this new historic stage. It is this path of revolution, linked to the democratic upsurge of the oppressed, that the CPI (Maoist) is now taking. Led by these self-defined “Maoists,” significant areas of India are today in armed revolt against the state. Here again the question of scale is relevant. Though hardly unique—there are revolutionary forces guided largely by Maoist principles in Nepal, the Philippines, and other countries as well—the Indian struggle is the most widespread such movement in the world, both in the extent of its territorial reach and the size of the population where it is active. A so-called “Red Corridor” at least partly under control of Maoists, now stretches some 750 by 300 miles through much of eastern and central India, while regions under their influence extend even further south and into more isolated pockets elsewhere.2 Up to 20,000 fighters in the PLGA, plus Maoist militia “estimated by several intelligence analysts at over 50,000,” with supporting political and cultural cadre, are active in 20 of 28 states, and one-third of the administrative districts.3 With the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist)—which is independent from its Indian counterpart—now struggling internally to define its direction and a new role in national political power, after a decade-long guerrilla war, the territory where the forces of revolution are actively engaged reaches virtually unbroken from the Chinese border in Tibet deep into the south of the subcontinent. Success by the Maoists in India would constitute the largest revolutionary victory since the 1949 triumph of the Communists in China. Like that revolution, it would “shake the world.” Continue reading