Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Trickledown Counter-Revolution

“Walking With the Comrades,” by Arundhati Roy, 2011

Arundhati Roy is an internationally-known woman journalist and novel writer, famous for her romantic novel set in Kerala, “The God of Small Things.”  I’ve reviewed her last book of journalistic writing, “Field Notes on Democracy,” (below) and this is another in that line, except focused on the Naxalite rebellion in the forest regions in central India, involving the Communist Party (Maoist). 

As a journalist, Roy was invited in 2010 to spend time with the guerrillas.  She interviews many comrades, walks for days, her only cover a blue tarp, and doesn’t complain much.  She attends a giant rebel celebration, Bhumkal, that goes on all night, consisting of mass singing and dancing.  Later, other journalists are killed by police for covering the rebellion.  Roy's picture was flashed on TV later as a “terrorist supporter” because she did not condemn a successful Naxalite raid on a police camp.  Journalists are not allowed to enter the tribal forest zones by the government, and as Roy points out, the government may be preparing a “Sri Lankan Solution.”  That consisted of killing thousands of Sri Lankan rebels behind closed doors.

This book is the stone-cold accompaniment to Michael Klare’s “The Race for What’s Left.” (reviewed below) The reason the forest peoples of several India states – Andra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhittisgarh, Orissa, Jarkhand and West Bengal – are in armed revolt is due to the government signing ‘memorandums of understanding’ with various Indian and international mining consortiums to dig out trillions of dollars of bauxite, iron ore and other valuable minerals. (with the government getting a tiny 7% royalty.) Besides stripping the land, forests and mountains, massive dams are needed to produce the electricity to make aluminum out of bauxite. For all these reasons, the Indian neo-liberal government has undertaken to remove millions of adivasi tribal peoples who live there.  And the only way to do it is through violence.  60 million people have already been displaced. 

Roy points out that handing over the land to these corporations violates India’s own 1950 Constitution.  However, laws are made to be broken, especially when they conflict with the goals of the most powerful corporate forces in India.

In response, the forest peoples have begun to make common cause with the Maoists, who have been waging guerilla warfare since the peasant rebellion in Naxalbari in 1960.  Hundreds of thousands are now organized in militias, the “Peoples Liberation Guerilla Army,” cultural groups and women’s organizations.  The guerrilla movement is using revolutionary violence to defend the adivasi way of life - to stop the destruction of homes and lands, the rape of women, the thievery, the killing of anyone who stands up to the police, the fascist “Salwa Judum” and now more frequently, the army.  These government forces basically take orders from the mining companies.  As Roy puts it, what else can they do, call an ‘indefinite hunger strike?” 

Nor is there anyone to vote for, as the political process, as in the U.S., is completely controlled by the ‘liberal’ Congress and rightist JHP parties, both of which support the mining corporations.  Roy has a funny, capsule view of the Congress Party, which is somewhat equivalent to our “Democratic” Party.  Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul are charged with running the Congress Party’s “Department of Compassion and Charisma” while the neo-liberal Congress economist Manmohan Singh takes India towards complete corporatism behind that screen.  Another of the neo-liberal ‘coven,’ P. Chidambaram, lecturing at his alma mater, Harvard, as quoted by Roy:  “Democracy – rather the institutions of democracy – and the legacy of the socialist era have actually added to the challenge of development.”  (India used to be more state-driven, and ‘development’ is what this all is, you see.)  Does this remind anyone of anything here in the U.S.?

As the stale vacuous argument about ‘violence versus non-violence” goes, no one considers the role of defensive violence. (See our review of “Non-Violence Protects the State, below.)  Almost no one except extreme pacifists believes people do not have a right to defend themselves.  Even a radical journalist like Roy understands there can sometimes be no other choice. 

Most interesting is that 45% of the guerilla army and militia are women.  India as a whole is one of the most chauvinist societies in the world.  Many tribal Indian women live lives of quiet desperation – as one women pointed out, in her village, even on a trivial level, ‘girls are not allowed to climb trees, or they will be fined; if a woman hits a man who has hit her, she is fined one goat; women are not allowed to go hunting or get the best parts of the meat; women are not allowed to eat eggs.”  To the police, a short ‘bob’ haircut is a sure sign a woman is a Maoist, and she might be killed just for that. 

Roy is not a Maoist, and is well aware that today’s comrade can be tomorrow’s thug.  She tracks the inconsistent politics of the Maoists, while praising their toughness and resilience.  As she puts it: “ ..their doctrinal inflexibility, their reputed inability to countenance dissent, or work with other political formations, and most of all their single-minded, grim, military imagination make them too small to fill the giant pair of boots that is currently on offer.”  The Maoists represent many of the forest peoples, “‘the most militant end of a bandwidth of resistance movements fighting” … the mining cartels.”  But they have no roots among the Dalit ‘untouchables,’ the working classes in the city, farmers and the agricultural working classes outside the forests.  Roy dismisses the other Communist Parties in India, which have failed at revolution, and become in one case in West Bengal new defenders of exploitation, and calls for ‘a more vital and genuinely Left movement in India" that will encompass many movements.

What is most interesting about Roy’s reporting is that she notes that across the spectrum, from liberals to Communists, all have rejected, at least theoretically, the neo-liberal turn of the dominant Indian political caste.  And that all the rebellions happening throughout India at various levels over land, dams, water, hunger, unemployment, government repression and corruption, Hindu revanchism, imperialist edicts and the endless occupation of Kashmir might come together, sparked perhaps by more mass atrocities against the forest peoples and against the Naxalites. 
After all, it was the World Bank, the IMF, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher that instituted the reign of neo-liberalism across the world, which ‘trickled down’ to India.  So our responsibility in the U.S. is not so far away.

And I bought it at May Day Books!
Red Frog
October 21, 2012

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