Emancipatory Politics: A Critique
edited by Stephan Feuchtwang and Alpa Shah

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Emancipatory Politics: An Empirically Grounded Critique

Stephan Feuchtwang and Alpa Shah

We live in a world where capital has become ever more concentrated and predatory. A world of increasing inequality where a super-rich minority lives in shiny malls and gated communities with armed guards patrolling their borders incarcerating in reverse a vast mass of people living in slums on their doorsteps. Yet, the possibility of people coming together and mobilising to change the course of history to create a better future for all has come to seem almost implausible. In Euro-American debates, the demise of Soviet Russia in the 1990s and Maoist China’s turn to capitalism have heralded a new era where organised change for a socialist future has been discredited as virtually dead. Instead, spaces of hope have been sought in the momentary euphoria of mass awakenings against state regimes, whether it is Occupy or the Arab Spring. In much of the world the critical lens of debate about emancipatory politics has turned away from class struggle and from organised change for a socialist future to social-media-fed mobilisations of ephemeral organisation, sometimes peaceful, occasionally violent.

This volume shows that organised emancipatory politics, in part or mainly reinforced by arms, is still very much alive in a range of postcolonial states. By ‘emancipatory politics’ we mean political activities that aim to end exploitation and enhance participatory democracy through which leadership can be held to account on a daily as well as periodic basis, in the workplace and beyond. Whether it be India, Nepal, the Philippines, Peru or Columbia, long-standing armed movements aiming to seize and transform state power are still burning and working for a different future. In Euro-American debate it is easy to forget those movements – some of which have a more than forty-year history – of the Maoists in India or Nepal, FARC in Columbia, or the Communist Party of the Philippines. We focus here on movements which are still very much active as well as on movements of Marxist emancipatory change that achieved state power – the Mozambican case of Frelimo and the Sandinistas of Nicaragua – whose experiences shed an important critical light on those which are still in active struggle.

These cases have been chosen to illustrate a range of reasons for embarking on and sustaining armed struggle. Most are adaptations of Mao’s Chinese revolutionary movement and its tenets, but others also refer to other revolutionary traditions. The selection is not meant to be comprehensive, but to focus on the reasons for armed emancipatory movements and the limitations that this mobilisation and its ties to Maoist teachings have placed on their emancipatory politics.

We take these emancipatory political movements seriously as forces of change in the contemporary world, but at the same time we also provide critiques of the tenets on which their politics are based, and the means they use to achieve their goals. We two are anthropologists; but our contributors are not all anthropologists – they come from a range of disciplinary backgrounds – yet they all share the basis of our aims in their analysis of the movements, and provide well-grounded critiques that do not denigrate these emancipatory projects. They take seriously their desire for a better world as not just a worthy, but also a sane cause.

Three inter-related themes emerge from this critical engagement.

The first theme is the challenging tension between mass organisation and the party in charge of an armed force. The involvement of people through mass organisations is crucial for the expansion of any movement. When faced with the necessity to take up arms in counter-violence against a repressive state, the party’s organisation, leadership and discipline become important in maintaining the struggle. Further, the conduct of armed struggle opens its own territorial spaces of embryonic emancipation. The issue here is the two-way relation between army and party leadership, and the building of embryonic welfare and other ‘state’ organisations with people in their strongholds. The danger, which we see in varying degrees in all of these cases, is that the party (the leaders of the revolutionary struggle) substitutes itself for the base (the people who they live amidst and work for). A significant issue here is the extent to which inner party democracy allows for questioning and review of current strategy and tactics. Rethinking and critique too often stand the risk of being branded as revisionist, reformist or adventurist, of amounting to betrayal. Democratic centralism, crucial to unified leadership, can easily become an inflexible inability to accommodate different local conditions.

This tension between mass organisation and the party is a critical one and it raises the question of the relationship between democracy and emancipatory politics, our second theme. It is not just that too often autocracy replaces substantive democracy, that the party stops being accountable to the people it seeks to serve, but also the question of whether, and when, to participate in mainstream electoral politics and what the implications of doing this may be. The Indian Maoists, who boycott electoral politics, see their Nepali northern Maoist neighbours who have done so as having given up on emancipatory politics. Yet as shown by Anne de Sales in this volume, the Nepali Maoists at least succeeded – for some time – in leading previously marginalised groups who had never had a voice in the state into debates on the making of the new democratic Constitution. And, as argued by Dominique Caouette, selective participation in elections by the Communist Party of Philippines strengthened its movement.

Analysis of class, social issues and social forces is crucial to the aim of any movement of emancipatory politics as it determines the question of who is an enemy, who is a friend, and what kind of alliances are to be entertained in the struggle for emancipation. This is our third theme. As Bridget O’Laughlin points out in the context of Mozambique, it is not enough to take the ‘poetry of the future’ as the basis of emancipatory change because class relations shape the outcome of strategy, and understanding them is crucial to any politics of emancipation. When, as in the case of the Indian Maoists analysed in this volume by Bernard D’Mello, movements of emancipatory politics fail to undertake an adequate analysis, the risk is that they become isolated and outflanked by social forces they could not take into account. In these scenarios, revolutionary struggles fail to acknowledge conscious and unconscious aspirations, intentions, habits, and forms of association, organisation and joint action, all of them undergoing slow or faster change under transforming influences. This includes the changing means of forming ideas of a future, and their changing content, among those who are most exploited and oppressed. It includes their current modes of organisation – be they informal associations, or more formal organisations, of kinship, of ritual life, of electoral mobilisation, of work and of unions, and the communicative media they use and receive. It also includes their demands, whether they are for better social security and protection or for nationality and identity based claims. It is not just the ‘poetry of the future,’ but – as one of us has argued in relation to the Indian Maoists – ‘the muck of the past’ (Shah 2014) which matters to the shaping of new futures.

In sum, the following arguments run through every chapter. One is that emancipation from exploitation and for socialist democracy is a sane aim. Second is that armed defence against the most brutalising exploitation and state repression of protest is often a necessary strategy in pursuit of this aim but armed leadership has in many (but not all) instances become a politics of command removed from its bases and the organisation of the people upon whom the struggle relies and the leadership claims to represent. Third, reliance on models of class analysis and mobilisation from long gone conditions and other contexts has often led to inadequate appraisals of present conditions in particular contexts. Adequate class analysis must be the basis for the formation of alliances and assessment of conditions for working with organisations that are engaged in electoral politics, even though they may not share the same long-term aims.

This volume is entitled Emancipatory Politics because the movements examined in this book foreground the political at the expense of economic analysis. We turn to this lack of economic analysis later. But first we take up another problem that the chapters of the book address: incorporation into emancipatory politics of armed defence against extreme violence.

Violence and its Organisation

Politics is inextricably bound up with violence – whether politics is thought of as domination of people and territory or as resistance and efforts to end such domination. Any attempt to come to terms with the subject of emancipatory armed struggle must include the political programme of the armed struggle and how it aspires to form alliances that can transform state power into the capacity to emancipate the exploited and oppressed whose forces it leads, or professes to lead. Armed struggle usually starts from situations of exploitation and oppression that include the exertion of extreme violence, against which armed defence is thought to be a necessary if only a provisional and locally limited liberation.

The classic point of reference for a national as well as a class liberation are the writings of Mao on revolutionary guerrilla warfare and how it must turn into the capacity to wage a war of standing armies in order to seize state power. By the 1940s, the Chinese Communist Party, led by Mao, with its headquarters in its northern Chinese base in Yan’an consolidated the various analyses of the possibilities for a revolutionary movement of protracted war in China. It was a ‘People’s War’ to set up a state with the power of what was called ‘New Democracy’. This strategy has recently been summarised by Lin Chun:

In the Chinese Marxist conception, this revolution, led by a communist party, is defined as ‘new democratic’ because its maximum programme contained a socialist ambition. It is thus categorically distinguished from the classical bourgeois revolutions which, while having a democratic aspect, only paved the way for capitalist development. The ‘new democratic’ revolution relied on a worker-peasant alliance as well as a ‘united front’ that also included the national bourgeoisie, the progressives and patriots from intermediate social groups, and even an ‘enlightened’ gentry. The united front was seen as one of the ‘three magic weapons’ of revolutionary success, along with party construction and armed struggle.

A ‘land revolution’ in a ‘semi-colonial, semi-feudal’ society appears problematic to anyone who believes that a large proletariat is needed for any socialist transition. But they are mistaken, both empirically and conceptually, in relation to the Chinese case. In the first half of the twentieth century, China’s relatively small working class was significantly larger in size and stronger in political capacity than the weak national bourgeoisie. This asymmetry is explained by the substantial foreign presence in the Chinese economy: workers in foreign-controlled factories were a growing class, while domestic industrialists and merchants were a shrinking one, squeezed by foreign capital. The industrial working class became an independent and vital revolutionary force, taking such tremendously daring actions as the Hunan miners’ movements (1922-25), the Guangzhou-Hong Kong general strikes (1925-26) and the three Shanghai workers’ uprisings (1926-27). Even after the counterrevolutionary slaughter of 1927, despite their devastating losses, workers became the core of the red army and urban underground party work. In addition, as exemplified by the founders of Marxism themselves, the communist intellectuals were an organic component of the proletariat. ‘Petty bourgeois’ intellectuals drawn to the Chinese revolution had to temper themselves through guerrilla warfare and grassroots work. These locally specific class factors, the party, workers and sympathetic intellectuals, were what in turn made it possible to educate and organize the poor and middle peasants, who were crucial in enabling the revolution to recruit soldiers and constantly defend and expand its rural bases. (2015: 26-27)

The chapter by Bernard D’Mello takes up the application of this analysis in India, referring to the key texts of Mao. We cite Lin Chun here because of the key points she makes about the proletariat and the urban bases of the Chinese revolution. One is the counterpoint to the strategy of setting up rural bases and building from there an armed organisation that can surround the cities where, first the occupying power Japan had its centres of state power and then (after 1945) the Nationalist Guomindang government resumed its own counter-revolutionary bases. The ongoing work of underground urban organisation is vital both as a source of leaders and for the fermentation of forces that will welcome the revolutionary army. The other is the necessity of a united front, which is an alliance built to fight colonial and semi-colonial powers of capitalist concentration in the cities and in the extractive and processing industries. In other words, the Maoist rural base is part of an alliance of classes that are anti-imperialist in the two senses that Lenin had identified: the formation of monopoly and in particular finance capitalism and the support for its investments in the course of colonial expansion and the local subordination of formally independent states such as that of Tsarist Russia or, in the case of China, the Guomindang and its warlord allies responsible for the anti-socialist ‘counter-revolutionary slaughter’ of workers and their union leaders in Shanghai. The achievements of the Guomindang did include curbing but not eradication of imperialist powers, the setting up of secular government and some institutions of electoral democracy, as well as a degree of prosperity and growth for an indigenous capitalist class. But that was a limit beyond which the socialist new democracy sought to and did go, with state and collective ownership of land and the privileging of the working class and a peasantry turned into a rural working class in cooperative joint ownership of land, at least until the disaster of the Great Leap Forward and the famine in which some thirty-five million farmers died.

Following what they understand to be Mao’s tenets on guerrilla warfare, as the chapters in this book show, the partisan – the guerrilla fighting for a particular political ideology – in many parts of the world became the soldier fighting the revolutionary war against the violent oppression of the states they were in. As Gautam Navlakha’s chapter points out, Carl Schmitt (1964), had noticed that following the two World Wars, belligerent acts around the world began to assume a distinctly partisan character and that they were carried out by non-state actors. In contrast to battlefield war and regular armies, the partisan was characterised by irregular guerrilla warfare, intense political engagement, tactical versatility and speed, and was tied to an idea of homeland. Taking up this emancipatory, class-based warfare directly, Schmitt considered Mao’s revolutionary war to be a key example.

Such revolutionary war – whether it is the Maoists in India or Frelimo in Mozambique – is fought against an absolute enemy, the international class enemy, and it is therefore a war of extinction, to destroy the old social order and establish the embryos of the revolutionary order. Schmitt’s theory is based on his political theology, which is that the ultimate decision of a state, bearing the sovereignty of its laws, is the declaration of an enemy and of a state of ‘exception’ or emergency suspension of law to combat that enemy, which is either another state or a force both within and without its borders. For Schmitt, this is suspension of the normality of states which, when the Congress of Vienna (1815) ended the Napoleonic wars, had established laws of warfare – of battlefield war and civilian life in the war of regular armies in uniform – that upheld fiscal and national territorial sovereignty in Europe. In this context a new kind of war, partisan war, is necessary and legitimate if it is to overthrow a repressive dominant state order. Both sides declare the enemy within to be an object to be extinguished.

Partisans are not visible. They fight among civilians irregularly. State military strategists have, as Schmitt points out, classically declared that it is necessary to fight like a partisan to combat the partisan. Mao’s writings develop partisan armed combat into a revolutionary war. To combat it, state forces become as absolute and ruthless as the partisans. The new warfare is absolute warfare.

Schmitt’s theory, while decriminalising and legitimising the partisan war as a just war, has its limits. It does not allow us to see the problems inherent in partisan warfare. He does alert us to see the stakes: to create a new order demands the destruction of the old order and thenceforth to create conditions that eliminate the possibility of its return, which is also how Mao Zedong saw the necessity of war. Long after the partisan army and its Party had established their own state power in China it was still necessary to wage war against what he called ‘revisionism,’ an enemy within as well as without, just as the partisan was both of these for the previous state power.

Schmitt underplays the strategic calculation of revolutionary partisans and their leadership in deciding who, in any one situation, is the enemy and therefore among whom and with whom the partisan can move and form an alliance. This is one crucial element on which our book focuses. Schmitt’s limited terms suggest that partisan strategy alternates between two possibilities. In one the partisan armed forces and their leadership, the party, seek to be recognised as a legal and legitimate army for a peace negotiation that is provisional from the point of view of absolute revolutionary aims and therefore itself provisionally recognises a state or parts of a state as legitimate. In the other, it recognises no such legality and demands of itself and its forces a sacrificial fight to the death. The first is what preoccupies us. Declarations of who is the enemy and therefore who are allies either enable or isolate the revolutionary party.

Armed struggle and its small-scale realms of normative violence are ‘emancipatory’ not only in relation to the state and the vigilante or other less formally organised violence, what we call for short ‘gangs,’ against which it erects a defence. It establishes a different peace, whose (violently sanctioned) norms include institutions of welfare that had not been available to those it has now released from state and gang violence, discrimination and entrapment. But they are small in scale compared to the necessary aims of these armed struggles, which are at least as territorially broad as the states against which they are set.

To bring to such situations an organisation of armed force and its ideology carries two risks. One risk is the treatment of the subjects of violent defence as passive, from whom there is nothing to be learned except how to turn them into revolutionary forces. This was the tendency sometimes condemned by the Chinese Communist Party as ‘commandism’ but at most times was enacted by it in rectification campaigns (Dutton 2005). The other risk is to bring down upon them renewed violence from state forces and private gangs.

What is unavoidable is that release from the perpetration of licensed extra violence does require establishing a new, differently organised realm of peace and the violence that sanctions it. That does not mean that armed force is the only way to establish such a realm of liberation. Each situation is specific and requires its own politics of liberation. But, at a more general level of theorising, we have to interrogate not just the adequacy of the political programmes of armed movements, but also whether armed struggle has its own political dynamic and consequences. Our answers are based on empirical examples, including those elaborated in this book.

Gautam Navlakha and Bernard D’Mello, in addressing the internal political dynamics of armed struggle in the case of the revolutionary struggle of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), show the dangers of the dynamic of violence turning into commandism and to a diminution of the Maoist mass line, which in theory but seldom in practice is to learn from the people that the Party purports to lead. Too often the slow and painful task of mass organisation and mass mobilisation is reduced to only the military needs of the war. The result can be brutal killing of men and women, on the assumption that they have become class enemies or informers, thereby undermining their mass base and alienating potential allies.

This diminution of defensive margins is the fate of all the armed struggles described here. The main question is what potential for extension and emancipation each retains, in alliance with other political forces.

Liberation or Self-determination and Democracy

One major force of alliance for all of the movements in this book is that of religious, linguistic or ethnic minorities, some of which are struggles for self-determination coalescing around ideas of national liberation. This, as the chapters here show, is another hornet’s nest for emancipatory struggles.

Whereas in India the Maoist-inspired movement has in recent years retreated to the remote and impoverished forested hills of tribal areas, in Nepal the crucible of the movement was such territories. In both cases the revolutionary war based on class struggle meant setting up bases in impoverished areas where armed defence and its extension inevitably became involved in minority liberation struggles. The Nepali Maoists, as Ismail and Shah (2015) argue, have paid much greater attention to the relationship between class struggle and ethnicity in their struggle. Anne de Sales’ chapter here analyzes this relationship and shows how the Maoists became ethnicised by a politics of nationality and successfully incorporated these minorities. She shows how, though it was their economic marginality and not their ethnic/cultural marginalisation that incited the Kham-Magars to join the Maoist movement, over time the latter’s lack of attention to the cultural nuances of the Kham-Magars politicised their ethnic identities. After using these struggles for autonomy as a base for achieving the downfall of the monarchy, the Maoist party in Nepal entered government and established electoral politics, but then severely neglected their original mass (ethnic) base beyond acknowledging that it had already enabled their participation in national politics.

Meanwhile, the Indian Maoist-inspired emancipatory struggle lives on underground but has recently too often been turned into an ethnic movement. Another potential consequence of focussing on the military needs of their struggle above all else, as D’Mello and Shah (2013) have argued, in contrast to the Latin American revolutionary debates, is that not enough attention is being paid to the relationship between class struggle and ethnic politics, with the danger that the movement could be reduced to identity politics alone and can never expand beyond the hilly forests of tribal India.

Allying with wider forces to increase the scope of the emancipatory struggle is inextricably tied to the thorny issue of participation in electoral politics. While ensuring that inner party democracy will remain a key issue in such struggles, the degree of engagement in electoral politics is a bone of contention. Caouette describes the Philippino Maoists as having successfully immersed themselves in electoral party lists. Meanwhile, the Indian Maoists, fearing the consequences of a factionalism that strategic use of electoral politics could cause within the movement, moved participation in elections away from tactical considerations (that could vary according to context) to a strategy of avoiding it at all costs.

Perhaps they were right to do so. Party politics, to put it simply, corrupts. This is not only shown by how the Nepali Maoists were undermined once they engaged in democratic politics, but also in the case of the Sandanistas in Nicaragua. Partially inspired by Marx, Lenin and Mao but taking their primary inspiration from home-grown Latin American revolutionary traditions, after successfully taking state power in Nicaragua, the Sandanista Party found itself engaged in electoral politics. However, as Harry E. Vanden shows in his chapter here, participation in electoral politics entailed the Sandinistas losing touch with their original bases. The loss of revolutionary momentum associated with participation in electoral politics poses a real dilemma. But, as Vanden argues, mass mobilisation was as crucial as armed struggle in the overthrow of the dictatorial Somoza government, in particular through the fusion, more than just alliance, of Marxism and liberation theology and the popular church, fostering participatory democracy. Once in power the Sandinista government instituted local and class-based mass organisations of participatory democracy that made policy through a Council of State. But the Sandanista Party remained separate and kept a traditional form of democratic centralism. It ruled through a national junta in which the majority were Sandanistas. It had to maintain the organisation of armed force to fight the contras, backed by the USA. But the struggle was fatally compromised within the country when the Sandanistas, to placate Western democrats, eventually opted for a form of representative democracy in the 1984 and 1990 elections, at first winning and then losing against opposition parties. This electoral process excluded the mass organisations it had helped to foster. Thus the Sandanista Party became less revolutionary as it transformed a practice of substantive democracy and betrayed its progenitor Sandino’s inspiration. But the initial example remains for future inspiration.

The Economy and its Organisation

One of the greatest failings of the emancipatory political struggles described in this book is the inadequacy of their economic analyses and of relations between their own and surrounding economies. These might have illuminated the constraints and possibilities of the new, less exploitative forms that they fostered.

‘Socialism’ is an over-simplified term to describe the aim and its approximation in base areas. How political and economic democracy could be promoted not only within the base areas but in the rest of India is beyond the Indian Maoists, as the chapters by Bernard D’Mello and Gautam Navlakha show. D’Mello in particular highlights the inadequacy of the Indian Maoists’ economic analysis of their struggle. Despite recent sympathetic critiques that India is not semi-colonial – not even in the guerrilla zones – (see Basu and Das 2013; Shah 2013), these Maoists have stuck to the Mao-inspired Chinese formula that India is (still) semi-feudal and semi-colonial and so what is needed is a democratic revolution after a protracted revolutionary war. D’Mello argues that this analysis has disabled extension of their politics to wider parts of the country, which, as we have pointed out with the help of Lin Chun above, was always part of Chinese Communist Party practice under Mao.

There is a fascinating contrast between theory’s inadequacy to generate strategic analysis and the elasticity of dogma to accommodate changing tactics without altering strategy. For example, as one of us has argued (Shah 2013), in the contemporary guerrilla zones of the Maoists in India, despite an overall analysis of India as semi-feudal, tactically the main war of the Maoists in these areas has not been against landlords but against the Indian state.

Similarly, in the Philippines extending the revolution beyond an officially declared semi-feudal, semi-colonial struggle is much more marked than in the Indian Maoists’ case. Dominique Caouette’s chapter shows the expansion of the Philippine Communist Party beyond the Maoist formulae, enabling it to make alliances and form powerful social movements outside its base areas. The Party’s ideological leader is working from exile in Europe. This has enhanced the Philippino movement’s international experience and skill in connecting with various anti-globalisation movements, making it possible, Caouette argues, for the revolution to appear quite contemporary and yet remain Maoist at its core. This movement has also been able to maintain solidarity with the Philippine diaspora that contributes financially and organisationally to its continuing persistence. Moreover, although there was internal criticism of exactly the kind made by D’Mello and Navlakha, rectification back towards the Maoist strategic line resulted in more coherent organisation and, crucially, effective participation in electoral politics. Maoist dogma was combined with a pragmatic strategy, despite the absence of an explicit political economic analysis derived from its strategic practice.

How economic democracy could be promoted within a country as a tactic within an electoral alliance in or out of government and how to reduce poverty there within a capitalist world economy is, however, a very tricky issue for most of the movements considered here. As Bridget O’Laughlin puts it for Mozambique, Frelimo performed a dream of politics that should introduce the necessary economic magic, but instead destroyed the capacity to make economic strategy. She describes the complexity of agrarian class structures in the immediate pre- and post-independence periods, showing how Frelimo as a liberation movement addressed this complexity in its approach to production during the armed struggle and on assuming government. O’Laughlin traces various experiences in different rural areas that she engaged with, arguing that an increasingly repressive populist conception of a worker/peasant alliance looked at class relations purely as social groups that could be jurally redefined, particularly given the flight of so many settler farmers. Focusing on why state-farms under Frelimo were not able to recruit the workers they needed, this chapter provides a critical analysis of Frelimo’s characterisation of Mozambique’s political economy, showing how its agrarian projects were undermined by a lack of attention to the politics of production and especially by its inability to account for unproductive gendered labour. As she concludes, Frelimo ‘had no strategy for addressing the ways that capitalist relations of production were embedded in the organisation of work, including non-commodified work. Its strategy for markets was to limit their functioning, not to reorganise the ways they continued to matter both for the state-farms and for the livelihood of rural people. Frelimo could not recognise ongoing class struggle in its planning processes and saw resistance as…“enemy action.”’ Here both political analysis and economic strategy reinforced each other in failure.

In contrast, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (FARC-EP) has maintained its base among small-holders including coca farmers and has expanded its struggle by maintaining a much more local interpretation of Marxism and Leninism. James Brittain reviews current accounts of its history and contemporary presence. He then provides his own analysis of their strategy, namely that they have gradually developed a separate power base and economy from that of the state and its capitalist economy, a situation that Lenin described as ‘dual power,’ or, in Gramsci’s terms, a challenge to the hegemony of the ruling bloc. Based on his own visits, interviews and two recent documentary films, Brittain finds that, similarly to the Sendero areas in Peru, FARC, which raises taxes and controls processing and selling of coca, leads an economy of private small-holders, many still growing coca as their main crop, but also to some extent now diversifying into subsistence crops. He considers this to be successful preparation for eventual state power when the economy will be socialised.

How this might actually be realised in the greater economy of Columbia (or Peru) neither he nor FARC can say. But the new imperialism of financialised capitalism is an anti-political force, reducing rule to corporate executive standards and economies to the buying and selling of debt, including state finances. This new imperialism works through sub-contracting and creating dire poverty and super-exploitation on an unprecedented scale. All the more reason for emancipatory counter-violence. But this must include concerted action within a political process that extends capacities and competences for action. This places a premium on the courage to open and extend the space for thought, for listening, learning and judgement, for concerted action with others and not just fighting.


This project emerged from a workshop on ‘People’s Movements: Strategy and Tactics’ held in Oxford in June 2011. Unlike many such events, there was no ambition to publish; just a desire to learn from each other and from the movements we were discussing. But, over the two days we spent with each other, participants had the overwhelming feeling that we must publish some of the discussions. We are extremely grateful to our contributors for their enthusiasm and support of and to other participants in the workshop: David Gellner, Saroj Giri, Barbara Harriss-White, Feyzi Ismail, Steffen Jensen, George Kunnath, Savaldor Marti I Puig, Luisa Steur and Lewis Taylor. We are also grateful to George Kunnath for initially setting up the workshop; to Demeter Chanter in copy-editing the volume; and to Keith Hart’s enthusiasm to publish this collection with the Open Anthropology Cooperative Press. Many thanks finally to Justin Shaffner of OAC Press for producing our text as an online publication. Funding was received from the Economic and Social Research Council of the UK.


Basu, D. & D. Das 2013. The Maoist Movement in India: Some Political Economy Considerations. Journal of Agrarian Change 13: 3, 365-381.

D’Mello, B. & A. Shah 2013. Preface to An Anthology of José Carlos Mariátegui (trans. H. E. Vanden & M. Becker). Delhi: Cornerstone Publications.

Dutton, M. 2005. Policing Chinese Politics: A History. Durham, NC and London: Duke University Press.

Ismail, F. & A. Shah 2015. Class Struggle, the Maoists and the Indigenous Question in Nepal and India. Economic and Political Weekly.

Lin, C. 2015. The Language of Class in China. Socialist Register 51, 24-53.

Schmitt, C. 2007 [1964]. The Theory of the Partisan: Intermediate commentary on the concept of the political. New York, NY: Telos Press Publishing.

Shah, A. 2010. In the Shadows of the State: Indigenous Politics, Environmentalism and Insurgency in Jharkhand, India. Durham NC, and London: Duke University Press.

_____ 2013a. The Agrarian Question in a Maoist Guerrilla Zone: Land, Labour and Capital in the forests and hills of Jharkhand, India. Journal of Agrarian Change 13: 3, 424-450.

_____ 2013b. The Muck of the Past: Revolution and Social Transformation in Maoist India. Journal of Royal Anthropological Institute 20: 2, 337-356.

About the authors

Stephan Feuchtwang is Emeritus Professor in the Department of Anthropology, London School of Economics. His main area of research has been China. But recently he extended it to the comparative study of the transmission of great events of state violence, in China, Taiwan and Germany. This research was published in 2011 in After the Event (Berghahn Books 2011). Other recent publications include (with Wang Mingming) Grassroots Charisma: Four local leaders in China (Routledge 2001). Other related publications include ‘Remnants of revolution in China’ in Chris Hann (ed.), Postsocialism: Ideals, Ideologies and Practices in Eurasia (Routledge 2002: 196-213); ‘History and the transmission of shared loss: The Great Leap famine in China and the Luku Incident in Taiwan’ in Eric Sautede (ed.) History and Memory (Matteo Ricci Institute 2008: 163-189); ‘Recalling the Great Leap Famine and recourse to irony’ in Everett Zhang, Arthur Kleinman and Tu Weiming (eds) Governance of Life in Chinese Moral Experience; the quest for an adequate life (Routledge 2011: 47-61). His e-mail address is S.Feuchtwang@lse.ac.uk.

Alpa Shah is Reader in Anthropology at the London School of Economics and Political Science. She is the author of In the Shadows of the State: Indigenous Politics, Environmentalism and Insurgency in India (Duke University Press 2010 and in Delhi by Oxford University Press). She has researched and written extensively on the Maoist movement in India and has made radio documentaries and presentations. She has edited with Stuart Corbridge, ‘The Underbelly of the Indian Boom,’ Economy and Society, 42:3 2013; with Crispin Bates, Savage Attack: Adivasi Insurgency in India (Social Science Press 2013); with Sara Shneiderman, ‘Towards an Anthropology of Affirmative Action: the practices, policies and politics of transforming inequality in South Asia,’ Focaal, 65:3 2013; with Jens Lerche and Barbara Harriss-White, ‘Agrarian Transitions and Left Politics in India,’ Journal of Agrarian Change, 13, 2013; and with Judith Pettigrew, ‘Windows into a Revolution: Ethnographies of Maoism in India and Nepal’ (Dialectical Anthropology 2009 and Delhi: Social Science Press, 2012). Her e-mail address is A.M.Shah@lse.ac.uk.