What historically began as a movement of the downtrodden masses as a safeguard against the hegemonistic rule of the aristocracy and the monarchy has completely undergone a transformation in its form and idea. The movement has taken up the skin of an umbrella movement that openly preaches violence against the ruling classes in an attempt to seize power. The modus operandi is indoctrinating masses with unabashed hatred and makes average human beings shape-shift into zombie-esque creatures spewing anti-establishment slogans left, right and center while devising new ways to launch an inglorious proletariat revolution.
To reiterate the point better, it’s imperative to talk about the inherent violence embedded deep within the ideas from the confluence of which, the ‘Left’ came into being. The French Revolution was probably the first instance of leftist ideas manifesting into being. The radical left made sure that the French aristocracy was reduced to nothing and every traditionalist sympathizer was to be shown the way to the infamous guillotine. Edmund Burke, the famous English Traditionalist in his Reflections on the Revolution in France wrote, “In Paris, the steady thud of the guillotine’s blade meeting flesh and bone became white noise to city inhabitants.”[i]
The greatest examples of the left using social justice as a façade to perpetuate violence are probably the writings present in Das Kapital. It describes the capitalists as blood-thirsty hounds who can sell away their mothers for money in a thousand different ways and talks extensively about how capitalism has systematized violence, but hypocritically, itself preaches a violent armed revolution as the only means of establishing the rule of the Proletariat. It assumes that capitalists are lesser human beings and that there is no moral guilt or shame associated with the genocide of capitalists.
The Marxist legacy was carried forward by Stalin in Russia through the February and October Revolutions. Stalin followed a process of clearing all his political rivals through a series of ‘purges’. The first wave washed away 40,000 Party elites and 25,000 Soviet citizens because of their family ties or friendships.[ii] The second wave included the mass operations and the national operations, consumed 625,000 people and by the time the terror subsided, NKVD agents had executed 690,000 men, women, and children.[iii] Those specifically targeted during the first wave of purges, the “old guard” of Party elites, included high ranking members of the Politburo, military officers, industrial managers, and former leaders of the NKVD. [iv]
The Leftist movement took a turn for the worse in the latter part of the century with the advent of Mao in China. What began as a cultural revolution that soars to glory with the charismatic image of Mao, ended up as a long and treacherous decade filled with violence, gore, and systematic dismemberment of every single ounce of Chinese culture. In an interview with The Guardian, an ex-member of the Red Liberation army talks about her experience in the 60s. She remembers the lynching of suspected class enemies, the hysterical mass rallies, and how Red Guards roamed Beijing, setting upon those with supposedly counter-revolutionary footwear, clothing, or hair.[v] Red Guards marauded across the city, ransacking and looting homes and staging public “struggle sessions” in which victims were savagely beaten, tortured, and sometimes killed.[vi]
Maoism paved the way for its sinister cousin, Naxalism, to rear its head in India. The movement started with a seemingly noble motive of letting poor farmers and land-tillers be the actual owners of the land. The problem arose when the means to achieve the objectives turned violent. Soon enough, Naxalites became a cult-like organization whose main motive was to violently seize the wealth of the rich or upper-caste communities and re-distribute it amongst the poor and the tribals. Their reign of terror was marked by their uprising in Naxalbari, in West Bengal, where they gheraoed a police station and killed a sub-inspector. More and more calls were given amongst tribal communities in Bengal, against the establishment and mainstream society.
The movement secured a stronghold for itself in universities in Kolkata where professors and students alike developed a sympathy of sorts towards the revolution churning in Naxalbari. Thus, a class of urban intelligentsia was created that sympathized with Naxals and whitewashed them in public forums. What people back then failed to realize is that the intellectuals seated in Kolkata were mere privileged elites who had absolutely no context about what really was happening in Naxalbari. Though the first generation of urban intellectuals may not have supported the violent wrongdoings of Naxals, what they inadvertently did was, indoctrinate the next generation in a way that it actually acknowledged and supported the violence perpetuated by the Naxals.
The Naxal movement successfully planted a ‘We versus Them’ sentiment in the minds of gullible tribals and the state, rich people and upper-caste communities were demonized and portrayed as tyrants who had snatched their land away from them. This movement percolated to nearby states like Odisha, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh where Naxalites took over tribal communities and started a process of systematic brainwashing to indoctrinate them with a hatred for the state and to legitimize the usage of violence to achieve their ends. Militant activities like the kidnapping of politicians, attacking army convoys, planting landmines, using tiffin bombs on railway tracks to derail them became rampant, especially in the 2000s. Calls for absolute boycotting of elections and any other national celebration like Independence Day were given out and anyone who didn’t obey them was mercilessly killed. In as recently as 2019, calls were given in Naxal ridden districts of Odisha to boycott the state and central assembly elections. Polling booths sat completely empty in Malkangiri in Odisha. The Naxal movement used innocent tribals from the poorest Indian states as their pawn to achieve their own sinister, anti-establishment motives.
In modern times, Naxalism has turned into Urban Naxalism, all thanks to the ideological indoctrination of university students through the left-leaning study materials starting in the 70s after the Marxist Party secured the Education ministry for itself. Entire brigades of Urban Naxals have taken over the functioning of otherwise prestigious institutions like JNU. In the garb of social activism and liberalism, a series of anti-establishment activities are being carried out in the recent days, be it the slogans demanding Azadi for Kashmir, be it the ones calling for the death of Hindutva and Brahmanism, be it sympathizing with radical Islam by having a soft corner for Kashmir Separatists or by mere virtue signaling and whitewashing of terrorism masterminds like Afzal Guru.
What they have effectively succeeded in doing is creating a stronghold over Lutyens media. They have entire media houses devoted to reporting their protests in an empathizing manner, ‘renowned’ artists and celebrities endorsing views propagated by these Urban Naxals. What this does is, it shapes the narrative in a way that supports their propaganda and helps to push out this propaganda into the public. People who would otherwise be considered fringe elements of the society, get effectively mainstreamed, and find a place in day to day conversations. Recently, leftist groups created obstructions in the registration process and weren’t shy of beating up anyone who didn’t comply with their orders.
The most problematic aspect about the situation in JNU is the downplaying of the veracity of violence being used in the protests, the so-called ‘peaceful’ protests against CAA were anything but peaceful. Public property was vandalized and arson was committed. Similarly, the Shaheen Bagh protests have long stood as an obstacle for the common public. One act that completely unmasked the actual face of the left was the fact that they raised a hue and cry when Delhi Police attacked the protestors but looked for ways to justify the usage of violence when they used the same during protests against fee hike.
Since its inception itself, the Left has always assumed a moral high ground. It always thinks of itself as the all-seeing messiah who shall bestow happiness upon the ill-fated. Herein lies the problem. The left acts more like a fallen angel and less like a messiah while delivering social justice as it takes up wrong approaches to achieve seemingly noble ends. It tries to justify its use of violence by sugar-coating it with different terms for social activism. But, once someone succeeds in seeing beyond the façade of activism that the left tries to build to cover up its wrongdoings, he beholds the true sadistic colors of the left.
[i] Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France (London: Oxford Classics, 1970), 102.
[ii] Stephen Kotkin, Stalin: Paradoxes of Power, 1878-1928, Volume 1(New York: Penguin Books, 2014), 312.
[iii] The mass operations began on 30 July, 1937, when the NKVD issued Order 00447. This order targeted former kulaks, criminals, and anti-Soviet elements. NKVD agents executed approximately 380, 000 people because of Order 00447. The national operations began on 9 July, 1937, when the NKVD issued Order 00485.
[v] ‘Fifty years on, one of Mao’s ‘little generals’ exposes horror of the Cultural Revolution’, The Guardian (London, 2016).