The Mass Line in India

[In reading my following comments, people should be aware that my present understanding of the complicated revolutionary movement in India is very rudimentary. Some of my assessments may be quite wrong. —S.H.]

Although the theory of the mass line was first elaborated by Mao Zedong in China, many revolutionaries around the world have recognized that this theory is of great importance in mobilizing the masses to make revolution in their own countries. Among the countries where the mass line and Maoist ideas in general have had the greatest impact is India. However, for a long time now the situation of the Maoist revolutionary movement in India has been quite complex and in flux.

The Communist Party of India (CPI) was first formed in 1925, but this party eventually went revisionist and became part of the liberal wing of the ruling class establishment. In 1964, during the Sino-Soviet ideological struggle, part of the CPI split off to form the Communist Party of India (Marxist), usually abbreviated as CPI(M), CPI-M or just CPM. But this party too soon gave up on revolution and settled in on the comfortable path of bourgeois electoral campaigns and reformism.

However, there have always been Marxist revolutionaries in India who were not willing to accept such revisionist betrayal. In 1967 some of these revolutionaries, including Charu Mazumdar, who were influenced by the success of people’s war in China and by the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution which was then underway in China, launched an armed struggle in the region around Naxalbari in a remote northern part of West Bengal. Though initially sensationally successful, this uprising was suppressed after several years of ferocious government repression. Charu Mazumdar himself was captured, tortured and murdered by the police in Calcutta in 1972.

In 1969 Charu Mazumdar and many others had formed a new party, the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), with Mazumdar as General Secretary. But with Mazumdar’s murder and the suppression of most of the guerrilla zones, the CPI (ML) splintered into many separate groups. Some of these groups have themselves splintered, sometimes merged, modified their political line, and so forth. And new revolutionary organizations have also come into existence over the years. The recent trend is for more unity, but the revolutionary forces in India are still very disunified.

Although this disunity is not of course a good thing overall, it has perhaps had one positive aspect—the encouragement of extensive experimentation with a wide variety of different revolutionary tactics and strategies. Some of the many groups that call themselves the CPI (ML) seem to be following along the exclusively electoral and reformist path of the CPI-M. The CPI (ML) Liberation is the most prominant example.

At the other end of the spectrum, there is the CPI (Maoist), which was formed in September 2004 with the merger of the two largest Indian organizations then engaged in armed warfare. One of these, the CPI (ML) People’s War group engaged in various types of armed struggle starting in 1980. The other, the Maoist Communist Centre (India), dated back to the late 1960s. In addition, there are numerous other organizations which engage to some degree in armed struggle, the most prominent of which is CPI (ML) Janashakti (Rajanna Group).

It is far from clear to me, however, that these groups which are engaged in guerrilla warfare, or other forms of armed struggle, are really carrying out genuine people’s war, as Mao explained it.

There are many other groups and individuals whose line is in between that of the CPI (ML) Liberation and the CPI (Maoist). One of these is the new party going by the old name CPI (ML), which was formed in January 2005 with the merger of the CPI (ML) Red Flag and the CPI (ML) [Sanyal group]. Another middle force is the Communist Party Reorganisation Centre of India (ML). While the CPI (ML) Liberation group is criticized for adhering to the parliamentary road to power and for reformism, the “People’s War” group and MCCI have been criticized for anarchism and giving up any serious attempts at genuine mass organization and activity.

I am too ignorant of the situation in the revolutionary movement in India to be sure at this time exactly what lines the many revolutionary organizations there are actually following, and which of those lines might be most appropriate in the overall situation in India, and in the specific situations in various states and regions. My suspicions, however, are that there is validity not only to the criticisms of the “Liberation” group, but also possibly to some of the criticisms that were directed against the “People’s War” and MCCI groups. (I am still trying to learn more about the Indian revolutionary movement to find out if those suspicions are correct.)

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So what then do these various groups have to say about the mass line? So far, I haven’t been able to discover any in-depth discussions of the theory of the mass line by any of the revolutionary groups in India. But most of the groups do refer to the term, some of them quite frequently. This means that we must try to discover what each group means by “the mass line” in how they use the term (as well as, of course, by learning about the actual revolutionary activity they are engaged in).

There do in fact seem to be quite diverse uses of the term “mass line” in India and nearby countries in south Asia. To give one extreme example, here are some comments by Rita Manchanda, a reporter for the Indian establishment magazine Frontline (Jan. 5-18, 2002), in the course of discussing the people’s war in Nepal:

“In pursuit of the mass line, the Maoists had spread from their strongholds in the mid-western hills to set up people’s governments in 13 ‘liberated’ districts such as in Sindhupalchowk... The rationale for the peremptory abandonment of the mass line and the resumption of armed struggle remains a matter of speculation among radical Left groups sympathetic to the Maoists, such as Unity and Mashal, as also the South Asian Coordination Council of Maoist groups, set up last summer.”

Thus it seems for some people in India the “mass line” means a strategy for revolution that involves mass organizing but not armed struggle! This, of course, is not in keeping with Mao’s views, or the definition of the mass line which I uphold, as the primary method of revolutionary leadership of the masses, which can and should be used to lead the masses in every sort of activity that they engage in, peaceful or otherwise.

As near as I can tell, however, many Indian revolutionaries seem to use the term “mass line” more in the general sense of a political line which involves organizing and leading the masses. Many other revolutionaries in India probably use it to mean what I call a mass perspective (i.e., viewing the masses as the makers of history, and so forth). I don’t know yet if the term “mass line” is also used in India in the way I favor, as synonymous with “from the masses, to the masses”, and thus meaning a method of revolutionary leadership of the masses.

Most of the materials below represent the views of various individuals and trends within the revolutionary movement in India, and are posted here because they refer to the mass line. These may include articles by observers regarding these various trends, some of whom may be hostile, and even hostile to the whole idea of revolution. Of course the views and opinions expressed are those of the authors.

—Scott H.

General information about the revolutionary movement in India

Articles from India referring to the mass line

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