Forgotten then and unreported now: The bloodletting inspired by ‘Maoism’

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By Donald Kirk,

NEW DELHI — The late “Great Leader” Kim Il-Sung no doubt drew upon the teachings of Mao Zedong when he formulated his philosophy of “juche” or self-reliance, but one word you never hear on visits to North Korea is “Maoism.”

If North Korea recognizes Mao Zedong as an historical eminence, you would never know it from the rhetoric put out by the Workers’ Party newspaper Rodong Sinmun or the Korean Central News Agency. Nor do you see photographs, much less statues, of Mao in North Korea — though the noble style of statues of Kim Il-Sung and son the “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-Il bear a resemblance to those of Mao that still stand tall here and there in China.

Mourners gather near the offices of the Congress political party in Raipur, India, the scene of a massacre of 29 in an ambush by Maoist insurgents on May 25.  /AP
Mourners gather near the offices of the Congress political party in Raipur, India, the scene of a massacre of 29 in an ambush by Maoist insurgents on May 25. /AP

It’s startling to discover, then, that Maoism not only exists in India but poses a real and present danger in India’s eastern and southeastern regions located far from swarming metropolises comprised of high-rise office buildings and glittering shopping centers surrounded by urban blight. It’s not in those highly visible slums that Maoism feeds a simmering revolt but in fields and forests that are rarely in the news until violence breaks out and people are killed.

Thus it was that “Maoists” ambushed a convoy of politicos from the ruling Congress Party on May 25, killing 28 of them, some in the first volleys into their vehicles, others, including leaders whom they particularly hated, were dragged out and executed. The massacre was about as bloody as those you hear about every day in Syria or Iraq but was basically overlooked by the global media.

Against all those stories about mayhem in the Middle East, this brutal outbreak seemed of little or no consequence. Where were the foreign troops who might be assisting the “Maoists?” What Great Power interests might be at stake? Was China attempting, through “Maoists,” to infiltrate India beyond the border regions where clashes have occurred for years? And who outside India had heard of Chhattisgarh, the state where the Maoists staged the attack?

The answer is negative. Intimations of Chinese aid or influence have not come up in the wake of the bloodletting. Nobody thinks the Chinese Communist Party has ties with the “Communist Party of India (Maoist),” a breakaway from the Communist Party of India.

The ideology of India’s Maoists is unclear. The best clue is their unabashed use of the words “Maoist” and “Maoism,” but you don’t find ideological ravings reminiscent of those of Mao’s “Little Red Book.”

Nor is it clear how strong India’s Maoists are. They’re estimated to have at least 20,000 troops, mostly from tribal groupings that feel oppressed and left out in India’s rise as a great if flawed and corrupted democracy. Many more Indian troops are said to be pursuing them without notable success — last weekend Maoists killed a senior police officer not far from the site of the ambush while police forces were conducting “anti-insurgency operations.”

None of which is catching the world’s attention even if the “Maoists” are often called “Reds” — a term that’s long since dropped out of global headlines. You still see stories describing North Korea’s dictatorship as “Stalinist,” but when was the last time anyone referred to the regime up there as “red?”

What would it take for India’s simmering “red revolution” to emerge as a matter of concern worldwide? In fact, radical sympathy is not hard to find in major centers where the contrasts in Indian life are all too visible. You wonder if the spark of Maoism could set off a firestorm elsewhere.

Many seem to have forgotten that Mao spread an ideology that inspired some of the world’s most horrifying revolutions. The Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot, invoked Maoism as the rationale for the slaughter of two million people after emerging from the jungles and seizing power in Cambodia in April 1975.

North Korea’s own record of the slaughter of its people also rests on Maoist ideological nonsense. If North Korea avoids “Maoism” as a watchword, it‘s because Kim Il-Sung decided to flaunt a false self-reliance after having relied on China to rescue his regime in the Korean War. The idea was that North Korea needed to get out from under pervasive Chinese influence.

More than ever, North Korea counts on China for survival. The Chinese may have endorsed UN sanctions but still feed North Koreans half their food while pouring in 80 percent of their fuel. “Juche” and “seongun,” military first, are the descendants of Maoism.

India’s Maoists, having never counted on China, endure almost as an anachronism in a world that’s more worried about the Taliban and Al Qaida.

Like the North Korean regime or the Khmer Rouge, though, these Maoists pose a danger to a society built on centuries of calcified inequities. No doubt if the revolution caught fire and spread, the rest of the world would hear about them.