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(DV) Leupp: 2005 -- A Year of Maoist Resurgence







2005: A Year of Maoist Resurgence
by Gary Leupp
January 24, 2006
(Revised and Expanded, Jan. 27)

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The year 2005 was a good one for the Maoist movement, the most vigorous trend within what remains of the communist movement that transformed the globe in the 20th century. Four episodes in the four countries most affected by Maoist organizations should suffice to establish that Marxism-Leninism in its Maoist form not only remains a factor in global affairs, but also is rapidly gaining in strength and significance.

(1) In Nepal, in a single 11-hour battle on August 7 against the Royal Nepali Army (RNA), guerrillas of the People’s Liberation Army, the military wing of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), killed 159 soldiers at a road construction site at Kalikot, capturing about 50 prisoners. This stunning feat followed battles with security forces resulting in 12 security forces killed on Jan. 1, 23 on Jan. 19, 14 on June 7, and 19 on June 25. Increasingly the PLA deploys hundreds of troops in confronting the police or even the RNA. Attacks on police stations, often the only bastions of state authority in the criminally neglected countryside, on banks and land offices, produce a power vacuum readily filled by the Maoists and newly recruited local cadre attracted to the party’s concrete measures to end arranged marriages, wife-beating, class and gender inequities in education, debt slavery and other “feudal” practices, caste discrimination and unchecked crime.

The CPM (Maoist) controls about 80% of the country, and makes inroads into the Katmandu Valley where one-tenth of the Nepali population lives. The Feb. 1 assumption of absolute power by the unpopular king alienated the residents of the capital, who have relentlessly defied the law to demonstrate support for democracy and increasingly, for the republic long demanded by the Maoists. Soon after their Kalikot triumph, the Maoists announced a unilateral cease-fire, which the regime did not match and indeed dismissed as a ploy. But it was popular with the mainstream opposition, and in November the “seven agitating parties” (the legal, parliamentary parties represented in the last legislature) signed a pact with the Maoists to coordinate actions against the absolutist monarchy.

CPN (Maoist) leader Prachanda declared over a year ago that the People’s War in Nepal had reached the stage of “strategic offensive” and implied that from now on, the guerrilla struggle surrounding the cities will work in tandem with an urban insurrection to bring about first a “new democracy” and later a socialist state. This is not at all a fanciful scenario, however horrifying it may seem to the rulers of India, facing their own Naxalite challenge; the rulers of China, facing social turmoil and uncomfortable with the revolutionary egalitarian legacy of the Mao they have long since repudiated; and to the rulers of the U.S. who fervently wish to believe that “communism is dead.”

(2) It was a good year for the Maoists of India too. Their most sensational achievement of 2005 was the attack by the Communist Party of India (Maoist) on the prison in Jehanabad in Bihar, 50 kilometers from the state capital of Patna, on the evening of November 12. Biking around the town around 8:30, the Maoists announced “a militant action of revolutionary character” and warned people to remain indoors. Immediately cutting power lines, they continued to make announcements through a public address system for the next two and a half hours, as they attacked police lines, the offices of the district administration, and the jail simultaneously. Using conventional rather than guerrilla military tactics, they overwhelmed the police, who simply surrendered. While freeing 341 inmates from the prison, including senior local Maoist leader Ajay Kanu, they took the opportunity to assassinate at least two leaders of an upper-caste militia. The CPI (Maoist) lost only two fighters. “It was perhaps the most audacious operation ever launched by Maoists in India,” observed one horrified journalist.


In September 2004 two large Maoist parties merged to form the CPI (Maoist) and to coordinate actions throughout West Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Andra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra states. Meanwhile, as a member of the Coordinating Committee of Maoist Parties and Organizations of South Asia (CCMPOSA) the CPI (Maoist) has developed ties with other like-minded parties, including the CPN (Maoist). On September 2, the Nepali party chairman, Prachanda and the General Secretary of the Indian party, Ganapathy, issued a joint statement confirming the long Red Corridor of armed struggle stretching from the Base Areas in Nepal up to the guerrilla zones of Andhra Pradesh. This is sometimes called the “Compact Revolutionary Zone” and its establishment terrifies the Indian status quo.

As of October 2005, the Indian Home Ministry estimated that the Maoists had “9,300 hardcore underground cadre and they hold around 6,500 regular weapons besides a large number of unlicensed country-made arms.” It declared that the sphere of influence of the “Naxalites” (Maoists) had rapidly spread during the previous 18 months from 76 districts across nine states to 118 districts in 12 states. “[T]he battle between naxalites and the state apparatus,” predicted a Frontline journalist, “will acquire more intense proportions in the days to come.”

(3) Meanwhile in the Philippines, a Maoist insurgency dating back to 1969 has revived significantly in recent years. On November 20, the New People’s Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, killed at least nine soldiers and wounded 20 in an ambush near Canilog town on Mindoro Island. In a separate attack several hours later, one policeman was killed and three wounded in Quezon province. This was the heaviest daily battle toll since June 26, 2003, when the NPA killed 16 soldiers. But between March 27 and May 15, the NPA responded to an Armed Forces of the Philippines offensive in Surigao Del Sur, designed to clear the way for logging and mining, by killing over 60 AFP troops. In 116 tactical offensives from Sept. 13 to Nov. 23, including ambushes, raids, “sparrow operations” (quick attacks in population centers), and sniping incidents, the NPA killed 128 government troops and acquired 54 high-powered firearms.

According to Pacific Strategies and Assessments, a security consultancy, NPA attacks averaged fewer than 30 per month through June, but the figure rose from July, reaching 50 or more in November and December. The Manila government acknowledged 458 soldiers killed in clashes with Maoists in 2005. The Maoist guerrillas number around 10,000 at this point, and are active throughout the archipelago. On March 29 (the NPA’s 36th anniversary), the organization reported, “The NPA has significantly increased the number of its full-time Red fighters and its automatic rifles and other high-powered weapons. It has organized and trained the people’s militia for police work or internal security in the localities and the self-defense in the mass organizations. It is now operating in more than 130 guerrilla fronts covering significant portions of nearly 70 provinces, in around 800 municipalities and more than 9,000 barrios.” With an array of legal aligned organizations, and even supporters in the Congress, the Filipino Maoists are well positioned to take advantage of the political crisis enveloping the Macapagal-Arroyo administration and the nationalist backlash occasioned by the deployment of U.S. troops in the country after 9-11.

(4) Finally, the Maoists of Peru. It was really the Communist Party of Peru (popularly known as Sendero Luminoso or the Shining Path) led by Dr. Abimael Guzman (President Gonzalo) that insisted, from the 1970s, that the “Mao Tse-tung Thought” inspiring many communists and leftwing radicals throughout the world was not merely a body of ideas applicable to the Chinese experience but a third stage of Marxist thought (after Leninism) of universal relevance. They took the term “Maoism” -- hitherto largely a derogative expression used by Soviet critics of China -- and used it to connote the Marxism appropriate to the era of capitalist restoration. Mao had emphasized that even under socialism, class struggle continues and can result in great leaps backwards as well as forwards. With this point in mind, some pro-China Marxists were able to assess and reject the restoration of capitalism in China under Deng Xiaoping, face the reality of a new period without any socialist country to serve as revolutionary headquarters, and struggle to re-establish socialism based on accumulated positive and negative historical experience. The Revolutionary Communist Party (USA) played an important role in upholding Mao’s legacy, although it lagged behind the Peruvian party in concluding that Maoism represents a third stage in the history of Marxism.

As communism was in most quarters pronounced dead, the Maoist movement in Peru spread like a prairie fire, acquiring control over maybe one-third of the country when Guzman and other members of the Central Committee were captured in September 1992. This event, despite Guzman’s heroic “speech from the cage” when presented to the press under the most humiliating circumstances, was an enormous setback to the Peruvian movement. When it was reported that Guzman had agreed to call for an end to the armed struggle (a claim that still cannot be verified since Guzman has been unable to talk to the press) a two-line struggle erupted within the party. Many, demoralized and disillusioned, renounced the People’s war. But a small component, numbering according to the mainstream press in the hundreds, persisted in the armed struggle and has occasionally shocked the Peruvian state with its audacity. In February 2001, the Maoists shot down a military helicopter in the Viscatán area, Huanta province, Ayacucho, killing a sergeant and wounding a lieutenant. Since 2002, occasional attacks on military outposts, ambushes of soldiers, temporary seizure of villages whose residents are assembled to hear political speeches, and bomb attacks on government offices have produced much talk of a “Sendero revival.”

In March 2002 Newsweek reported, “After 10 years of steady decline, the Shining Path is stirring again. An estimated 150 guerrillas lurk in the verdant hills above the Ene and Apurimac river valleys, occasionally venturing from their redoubts in search of new recruits and easy targets like Mario Ayala.” In June, the Washington Post reported that the Maoists had regrouped in the remote eastern Huallaga and Apurimac valleys, and stepped up recruitment on college campuses.” “The Shining Path,” one of its sources averred, “is at the very least maintaining its size and expanding its presence.” On July 10, 2003, Maoist guerrillas ambushed a 30-man marine patrol in Ayacucho, killing seven, including a marine captain, and wounding 10. It was the Peruvian military’s worst loss to rebels in at least four years. On December 22, 2005, the Maoists again attacked a Peruvian security forces helicopter, wounding two special operations police during a counter-insurgency operation near the town of Mazamari, 290 kilometers east of Lima. Guerrillas also ambushed a police patrol in the Huánuco region near town of Aucayacu, killing eight.

According to the Peruvian government, the Communist Party of Peru committed 151 acts of violence in 2005. The official line is that the revival of the movement is the product of an alliance with cocaine traffickers, or at least coca growers: “These sporadic attacks, when taken as a whole, represent a clear ability to use force to protect the coca-growing regions of Peru.” The Maoists’ opponents have always smeared them as narco-traffickers, so this statement is unsurprising. The point of interest is that the Peruvian state must acknowledge that the movement inaugurated by Guzman (who at his trial on November 5, 2004 faced the media’s cameras and shouted, “Glory to Marxism-Leninism-Maoism!” and “Long Live the People’s Heroes of the People’s War!”) remains alive in the twenty-first century, from the Andes to the Himalayas to the South China Sea.

Since April 2002, there has been a Bhutan Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist) rooted among the 100,000 ethnic Nepali refugees from Bhutan who reside in camps in Nepal. It has circulated leaflets throughout Bhutan demanding a republic. In June 24, 2004 Nepali security forces arrested six refugees from Bhutan on charges of involvement with the Maoist movement; the following month the Speaker of the Bhutan Assembly claimed (somewhat implausibly) that 2,000 Nepali-Bhutanese refugees in Nepal had joined the “Maoists’ Army.” In Bangladesh, as recently as January 2003, Maoists captured 20 weapons from government forces in Daulatpur of Khulna. This occasioned the anti-Maoist “Operation Clean Heart” that year, involving 10,000 soldiers and helicopters, and set back plans for a People’s War in Bangladesh. Over 200 activists have been murdered in what the police euphemistically call “crossfire” incidents. There are many Maoist factions in Bangladesh, and there has been much fratricidal blood-letting, but in response to the “crossfire” murders, the two leading factions of the Purba Bangla Communist Party (Janajuddha and Marxist-Leninist) united from September 2005 to coordinate resistance. In late October, the PBCP killed five ruling party officials in Kushtia, Chuadanga, Jhenidah and Narail during 8-hour period to avenge the “crossfire” killings, and on December 28, it killed three paramilitary personnel at their camp in the Natore district, seizing 11 firearms and 139 rifle bullets.

In Turkey, Maoists are involved in some fighting both in Kurdistan and in the Black Sea region, and in 2005 activists of the Communist Party of Turkey/Marxist-Leninist (TKP/ML) destroyed five offices of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), the ruling party, in support of striking workers, in protest of government effort to privatize state-owned paper factory, and in protest of the suppression of Women’s Day observances. In response, on June 16 the regime slaughtered 17 delegates to the second congress of the Maoist Communist Party in Dersim as they traveled to take part in the gathering. In June the military arm of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party, whose armed struggle receives some support from Turkish Maoists, ended the five-year ceasefire it had observed since the capture of its leader Abdullah Ocalan. Its thousands of militants now operate mostly out of northern Iraq. In Iraq itself, a RIM-aligned organizations called Marxist-Leninist Revolutionaries of Iraq was formed last year. (www.iraqmlr.org/)  

Here is an incomplete list of Maoist actions in India, Nepal, the Philippines and Peru so far this month as reported by the mainstream press:

Jan.1, India: about 100 Maoists attack residence of Rabindranath Kar, longtime leader of West Bengal’s ruling (anti-Maoist) Communist Party (Marxist) in Bandowan in Purulia. Seize security men’s weapons, bomb house killing Kar and wife. Also attack nearby Kuchia police camp.

Jan. 2, India: To punish railroad construction contractor for non-payment of revolutionary taxes, Maoists raid laborers’ camp at village Patritand, in Hazaribag Upendra Kumar, destroy half a dozen dumpers and other railway properties worth over two million rupees.

Jan. 2, Nepal: CPN (Maoist) ends unilateral four-month ceasefire, explodes bombs damaging government building in Bhairahawa city (on border with Uttar Pradesh), city council office in Butwal, and police station in Pokhara (both about 150 miles west of Katmandu). No casualties reported.

Jan. 4, Philippines: NPA ambush kills 3 (Matnog Municipal Police Station chief, soldier and Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Units [CAFGU] member), injure police officer and another soldier in Sorsogon (southern Luzon).

Jan. 5, Nepal: Maoists attack police checkpoint near Nepalgunj Airport (on Indian border), kill 3 policemen, seriously injure 2.

Jan. 6, Philippines: NPA raid police stations in Albuera town, Leyte, seize 32 firearms without firing a single shot.

Jan. 6, Philippines: Using a command-detonated landmine, NPA ambush National Police at Sitio San Jose, Barangay Canumay, Claveria town, killing 8s. Maoists seize one cal.30 machine gun, two M-14, four M-16 and one 9mm pistol.

Jan. 8, Nepal: About 25 Maoist cadres detonate two powerful pressure cooker bombs in the office of the Nepalgunj Municipality.

Jan. 9, Nepal: Eight Maoists storm state-run Rastriya Banijya Bank branch in Surkhet district in western Nepal, take away at least 3.5 million rupees.

Jan. 11, Nepal: Maoist guerrillas attack at least five targets. Large contingent storms Dhangadi, headquarters of Kailali district in far-western Nepal, attacking the district, town and municipal police offices as well as the district prison and Royal Nepalese Army barracks. Seize some weapons from police office. At least 7 policemen killed. Maoists also explode two powerful bombs in the district development committee building at Bardiya.

[Jan. 13, India: Following the 19th meeting of the Coordination Committee on Naxalite violence in New Delhi, Union Home Secretary V.K. Duggal discloses “the level of incidents has gone up by four per cent in 2005. I don’t want to go into the reasons but the challenge in 2006 will be to contain it with an integrated approach.”]

Jan. 14, Nepal: Maoists again attack a government office of the Nepalgunj Municipality, the Number 2 Survey Office. Damage estimated at 1.5 million rupees.

Jan. 14, Nepal: 16 Maoist rebels and one soldier killed in Syangja in biggest battle since ceasefire ended.

Jan. 14, Nepal: At least 16 policemen killed in Maoist attacks at Thankot (dozens) and Dadhikot (about 20) in Bhaktapur district. (Thankot is major road entry point into the Katmandu Valley with two million people.) Rebels seize guns and ammunition, flee into hills shouting revolutionary slogans. Also an explosion at the office of ward no. 9 of Lalitpur municipality, and bombing of family house of Chief of Army Staff Pyar Jung Thapa.

Jan. 15, Philippines: about 40 NPA guerillas disguised as army and police officers sprang nine comrades from a jail in Batangas City, south of Manila. Eight firearms confiscated from prison guards.

Jan. 15, Philippines: About 30 NPA rebels kill 4 801st Brigade soldiers and wound 8 in San Jose de Buan in Samar province, southeast of Manila.

Jan. 15, Nepal: Maoists bomb a recently built city council building overnight at Lekhnath town, about 200 kilometers (125 miles) west of Katmandu.

Jan. 16, Philippines: NPA burn ten-wheel hauler truck owned by a town mayor in Davao in Barangay Maratagas after the mayor refused to pay revolutionary taxes.

Jan. 16, India: 24-hour bandh called for by CPI (Maoist) to protest police firing resulting in death of 12 “tribals” and against evictions to allow for construction of foreign-owned industrial township paralyzes Jhargram sub-division in Midnapore West, Bengal. Bus service, schools suspended; shops closed; no visits to public offices. No reported deaths.

Jan. 16, Peru: Peruvian guerrillas kill 5 policemen and wound an officer and a prosecutor in an ambush in town of San Francisco in southern jungle. PCP takes responsibility in a communiqué, says action intended to “break the siege of annihilation against the popular war.”

[Jan. 15, Nepal: 9 PM-4 AM curfew imposed in Katmandu, other cities. Phone lines cut, internet services cut, and about 200 politicians and activists arrested in effort to limit turnout in Friday anti-king demonstration.]

Jan. 16, Peru: Peruvian guerrillas kill 5 policemen and wound an officer and a prosecutor in an ambush in town of San Francisco in southern jungle. PCP takes responsibility in a communiqué, says action intended to “break the siege of annihilation against the popular war.”

Jan. 17, Philippines: NPA squad from a unit of the Agustin Begnalen Command clashes with a 54-man contingent of the 41st IB in a pastureland in Apao, Tineg. Firefight lasts for more than two hours, as the outnumbered NPA guerillas maneuver in the open pastureland. 5 soldiers killed.

Jan. 18, Nepal: 3 Maoists arriving on bicycle bombed and destroy television repeater tower in Heated, about 80 kilometers south of Katmandu, preventing the reception of Nepal Television signals in many parts of south-central Nepal. Lone employee overpowered; no casualties.

Jan. 20, Nepal: Maoists attack two security checkpoints in Napalgunj 310 miles west of Katmandu, killing at least 6 policemen and obtaining weapons and ammunition.

This list focuses on the violent aspect: military attacks, ambushes, targeted assassinations, seizures of weapons and money, destruction of property. These are ongoing wars. The catalog does not record the activities of revolutionary courts, the construction of roads and bridges, land reform, moves against caste ethnic and sexual discrimination, and the provisioning where possible of free education and basic medical care. These constructive enterprises provide people with a stake in the revolution; they generate the popular support necessary to sustain People’s Wars.

“The Red Army fights not merely for the sake of fighting,” Mao wrote in 1929, “but in order to conduct propaganda among the masses, organize them, arm them, and help them to establish revolutionary political power. Without these objectives, fighting loses its meaning and the Red Army loses the reason for its existence.” “The people are like water,” he wrote two decades later, following the defeat of Japan and as the Communists triumphed over the Guomindang, “and the army is like fish.” Today’s Maoist revolutionaries take such words seriously as they strive to replicate the People’s War that produced the revolution of 1949. So too do their enemies. The U.S. ambassador to Nepal declared last August, “With a violent, ideological Maoist insurgency desiring to take over the state and then to export its revolution to peaceful neighbors, there is much to worry about.” But those who have nothing to lose but their chains respond, today as always, with enthusiasm to calls for radical change. Their hope is the flipside of the official dread greeting the resurgence of Maoism in the new millennium.

Gary Leupp is a Professor of History, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion, at Tufts University and author of numerous works on Japanese history. He can be reached at: gleupp@granite.tufts.edu.   

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* Bush the Dupe?
* The Niger Uranium Forgery of December 2003
* Connected at the Roots? Judith Miller, “Scooter” Libby, and the June Notes

* The IAEA Vote Against Iran
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* New Orleans and the System that Destroyed It
* Rethinking the War in Afghanistan
* The Fascist View of Public Intellectuals
* Bolton’s Proudest Moment: Breaking the UN’s Anti-Zionist Resolution

* Maoist and Muslim Insurgencies in the Philippines 

* Jefferson, Mao, and the Revolution in Nepal