Communal Fascism and Working Class Unity
It has been shown in different earlier issues of Frontier how in
independent India, a fascist force has for the first time captured power by means of a majority. Corporate capitalist groups have spent immense amounts of money in order to make this force victorious and this force is guided by the ideology of Hindutva. While it is true that a fascist state is a long way off, it is also noticeable that the Modi government, in order to protect the interests of the corporate groups allied with imperialism, has already taken several important steps. They are : (1) reduction of budgetary allocation in the social service sector, (2) opening up the defence sector for foreign investment, (3) raising the upper limit of foreign investment in the insurance sector to 49 percent, (4) privatization of mines and mineral extraction, (5) privatization of coal mines, (6) amend the Land Accusation Act so as to bring the country to the situation of the Act of 1894, and (7) amend the Labour Disputes Act so that the legal safeguards acquired by the working class through long struggles may be taken away, and workers may be hired and fired at will. Concurrently with this economic programme, the Central Government, guided by the Hindutva ideology, has taken measures of saffronization of education and culture. Flag bearers of Hindutva are being placed at the head of the University Grants Commission, Indian Council of Historical Research and other controlling institutions. The way the Hindutvite forces have this year used the Indian Science Congress as a platform for the propaganda of their agenda is a matter of serious concern. Alongside, organizations like the Viswa Hindu Parishad and Bajrnng Dal have started a fierce onslaught on Christians and Muslims through activities like 'love jihad' 'gharwapsi', burning of churches and schools etc. In Maharastra the Shiv Sena is advocating the abolition of the voting rights of the Muslims. On the other hand, the way a countrywide onslaught has been launched after the consent of the President to the ban on beef-eating in Maharastra was obtained has not only robbed a large section of the population (Christians, Muslims and sections of dalits and adivasis) of the right to choose their own diet, but also has paved the way for a large-scale attack on the rural economic activities, among which cattle-rearing is an important one. Patently the Modi government aims at shattering the rural economy, so that millions are forced to desert the villages and throng the towns and cites, and thus enlarge the army of cheap labour.
Parliamentary democracy and adult franchise still exist, and in this sense, fascism is yet to be established, but the trend towards the establishment of a fascist system is evident. What should the working class do to arrest this trend? Will the working class draw a line of demarcation between bourgeis fascism and bourgeois democracy, and in order to arrest the rise of fascism, take the responsibility of uniting all the positive forces that are against fascism and in favour of preserving secularism? Or will it evade this responsibility by saying that "all the bourgeoisie are reactionaries"?
Problems of Unity
Undoubtedly the most important task is to build up the unity of the working class. To the extent that the working class, during the last few months, has been able to forge some degree of unity against the pro-corporate policies of the Modi government, it has been able to build up some resistance. Workers of coal mines have participated in this struggle and observed historic strikes for five days. Similarly, bank and insurance workers too have taken to the path of struggle. But these struggles have not been able to build up a nationwide unity. The bills for the privatization of coal mines and opening up the insurance sector to foreign capital have been passed. Had the workers of all the sectors been able to launch a countrywide strike, these anti-people bills might possibly have been effectively resisted. That such a struggle is not taking shape constitutes the principal negative aspect of the present situation.
There are some structural problems regarding working class unity. A small section of the working class is employed in the organized sector. Workers of the organized sector mean those who get appointment letters from employers, and receive benefits of the Provident Fund, ESI etc. The public and private sectors taken together, workers of the organized sector constitute only 7% of the workers of India, and the rest, 93% belong to the unorganized sector. They include self-employed peasants and artisans too. Farm labourers constitute a major section of the unorganized sector. Besides, a fairly large working class has grown in the countryside. They include rickshaw pullers and van drivers, quarry workers, masons, electric workers etc. These types can be called wage-labourers, and in some areas, their number is more than that of farm labourers. These two broad categories together constitute about two-thirds of the rural population.
Clearly, those workers who work together in large numbers under one shed in large factories, mines or other enterprises have some advantages in getting united. On the other hand, most of the labourers, who belong to the unorganized sector, are deprived of these. Besides, the vast majority of the workers of the unorganized sector are from the backward sections of the society, e.g. daltis, adivasis, other lower castes, religious minorities etc. Their standard of education is very low—in reality, many of them are illiterate—and this is one major obstacle to the task of organizing these workers, identity suppression in Indian society creates some problems of organizing the workers from backward communities. Building up working class unity is extremely important and the chief task, but accomplishing this task will be difficult unless workers coming from the advanced sections of the society come forward to stand by the backward sections' struggle for identity-based equality. In all the countries of the earth, where identity or nationality problems do exist, the advanced section of the working class has to grasp this point. Nationality-based discrimination and suppression did exist in Russia, in order to unite the working class, Lenin laid down the condition that workers from the advanced nationality must recognize the right to self-determination of suppressed nationalities. His opinion was that those who did not recognize the right to self-determination of languages and nationalities could not be called ordinary democratic persons, let alone communists. In India, there are various divisions on the basis of nationality, caste, religion and other identities, and the present backwardness of the depressed identities is the upshot of the cumulative deprivation of several thousand years. In order to establish equal rights for them, various special affirmative actions have to be taken in favour of them. But it is often found that workers coming from the upper castes, owing to lack of consciousness, oppose such affirmative actions and the working class unity is harmed in the process.
Besides these structural problems, another problem is that of political division. During the struggle for independence, the working class was united in one organization, the AITUC. After independence, the Congress formed a separate organization, naming it the INTUC. When the Congress was split and the Trinamul Congress was formed, the INTUC also broke up and the INTTUC was formed. The same trend of division is also found within the leftist organizations too. A few years later than the division of the CPI and the formation of the CPI(M), the AITUC was split and the CITU was formed. Owing to these political divisions, unity of the working class is impossible to achieve without an understanding at the political level. At present there is a co-ordination among the centrally recognized trade unions, which includes the CITU, AITUC, INTUC, HMS, BMS and AICCTU etc. This co-ordination has launched one-day strikes at different points of time on the issue of working class demands, but has been largely helpless in the face of the all-round onslaught on the working class.
It is necessary to review whether the two big splits in the AITUC (with the formation of the INTUC and subsequently of the CITU) were unavoidable. Besides, the central trade unions are often guided by bureaucratic methods and their decisions do not always reflect workers' interests.
Apart from these basic problems regarding working class unity, some new ones have cropped up during the neo-liberal regime. The world capitalist system is in crisis. Its progress depends on the rate of growth of the US economy, since the USA is the principal hegemonic power. Despite a general recession, some growth is occasionally visible. But whether the rate of growth is high or low, the rate of growth of employment remains at a low level, and it is outstripped by the supply of labour force. For this reason, the number of casual workers, part-time workers, temporary workers etc goes on increasing, and workers perpetually remain afraid of losing their jobs. In consequence, the working people, instead of getting united, are reduced to tiny, isolated entities. This situation is favourable for the intesification of fascist trends. The Indian big bourgeoisie have taken advantage of it and enthroned Narendra Modi.
The situation is not very much favourable to the working class. But that does not mean that the vangurad of the proletariat should sit idle. Rather the capture of power by a fascist force has opened up a new possibiity and placed a new type of task before it. The essence of this new type of task is to protect and expand the bourgeois-democratic rights. The bourgeoisie are now about to destroy the very institutions they themselves had built up. Now the task of protecting them lies with the working class, and the working class cannot ignore it. The working class cannot restrict itself to such statements, "Since we believe in class struggle, our only task is to build up class struggle". To the extent that the struggle for the protection and expansion of democratic rights will progress, situations favourable to socialism will be created. In India struggles for bourgeois rights include struggle for civil liberties, namely struggle against TADA, AFSPA, Gujarat Internal Security Maintenace Act and such other draconian laws, struggle against suppression and oppression on the basis of caste, religious and linguistic identites, and other types of identities, and for equal rights of identities. Such struggles also include struggle against the patriarchal system and ideas, struggle against the dowry system and other customs that suppress women, struggle against reactionary institutions like the khap panchayet, finally struggle against the feudal remnants in agriculture.
It has been said in the directive principles of the state that the state has to take responsibility for food, work, housing, education and health of every citizen. But these rights have not been recognized as fundamental rights and hence they are not justiciable. A person, who does not have any job, is not entitled to go to the court and demand unemployment allowance from the state. The right to work was recognized in the NRGEP in a restricted manner. Similarly, the Right to Education Act and the Right to Food Act introduced under UPA rule recognized, in a limited way, the right to education and food, universal provision of pension for the old and the disabled is yet to be recognized.
In the present situation, it is necessary to unite the working class for the realization of a package of universally justiciable economic rights. These rights are the right to food, the right to work, the right to free and high quality health care, and the right to pension for the old and the disabled. In many advanced capitalist countries, such provisions were implemented in the post-war period. Under the neo-liberal regime, attempts are bing made to take away these rights in many countries including Greece in the name of 'austerity measures', and the people in those countries are revolting. But in India, such rights were never established. Secondly, notwithstanding the partial recognition of some rights by the UPA government, they were not universally justiciable. Some pople are listed as BPL, and some charities are doled out to them. But even for inclusion in the BPL lists, the poor people have to look for connections in the party in power.
In an article appearing in Deshkal Bhabna (a kolkata-based Bengali fortnightly), Prabhat Pattanaik, an eminent economist, has said, "These rights can be implemented realistically right now, but of course not under the neo-liberal regime (that is why they can be called, in the language of Lenin, transitional demands). Leftists in power must be active in establishing these rights and include them in their election pledges. In my opinion, establishing these universal rights would not require more than 10% of the GDP to be spent. The centre and the states taken together, the tax-GDP ratio in our country is about 14%, which is one of the lowest in the world. If the implementation of the entire programme is financed through taxation, the tax-GDP ratio has to be raised to 24%, which is almost equal to the ratio in the USA. In other words, the tax ratio has to be increased to the level of the mightiest capitalist power in order to bring about a significant change in the socio-economic sphere of our country." Workers of the unorganized sector constitute the vast majority of Indian toiling population. Struggle for the realization of universally justiciable economic rights can play an important role in uniting them. To the extent that these rights are realized, there will be improvements in the standard of living and culture of the toiling people. A substantial section of them is still uneducated and illiterate. This situation will be transformed, and the working class will no longer remain sellers of labour power, but will become a class capable of managing the entire system of production. Such a class will be able to play a determining role in building a socialist system.
Giving importance to the workers of the unorganized sector for building up working class unity does not mean that the task of mobilizing the workers of the organized sector is to be neglected. It is this sector to which the educated and advanced workers belong. These workers have a long tradition of struggle and an advanced section of them is influenced by the ideal of socialism. Workers of the modern IT sector belong to the organizeed sector, and have access to the technology that enables one to know about the world affairs just by pressing a button.
But the IT workers of this country have come mainly from the middle class families. At one time these middle classes were much attracted to the neo-liberal policies. To the educated middle classes of Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi, Kolkata etc, it was very much comforting to see their sons and daughters employed in the IT sector abroad. The situation persists to some extent, but even the employees of the IT sector are feeling the touch of the overall crisis of the capitalist system. Although they are not yet much concerned with the question of socialism, a stir among them on the question of democracy is visible. The recent movement of the AAP in Delhi witnessed some degree of participation by the IT workers.
In the present situation, in order to resist the fascist advance of the corporate-Hindutva alliance, or to unite the working class for socialism the vanguard must raise the flag of democracy and make a distinction between communal political forces with secular ones.
It is true that the parliamentary leftist parties have fought relentlessly inside and outside the parliament against the measures taken by the Modi government for privatization of insurance, mines and coal, reform of labour laws, cancellation of the Land Acquisition Act of 2014. The role of other secular parties is however vaccillating. For example, the Congress has voted in favour of the insurance bill, while the TMC walked out, but did not vote against it. In respect of mines and minerals, and coal, the latter has voted in favour of the Modi government. Finally, it has launched an all-out attack on the democratic rights of the people in West Bengal and has declared a ban on strikes. They employed their full strength to break the nationwide strike in the coal sector in last January. The Socialist Party and the Biju Janata Dal of Orissa supported the bill for privatization of coal mines. Again, all these parties have opposed the land acquisition ordinance of the Modi Government, and have even taken out processions unitedly. In a word, the situation is a complex one. The complexity of the situation makes it extremely important for building up a leftist alliance, but it will be a mistake to reject the possibility of a united front with democratic and secular forces against some aspects of the neo-liberal onslaught. Six political parties that had been formed by breaking away with the Janata Dal have now merged into a single party. It is not obvious what role this party will play regarding various aspects of the neo-liberal policy package, but there is no doubt that it can play an important part in resisting the BJP in the coming Bihar assembly polls. The BJP is now working overtime in order to obtain majority in various state assemblies, so as to acquire majority in the Rajya Sabha. But that will be dangerous for Indian democracy. Hence notwithstanding various differences with the parties like the Janata Parivar, it is necessary to build up unity with them as far as possible in order to protect democracy and secularism.
There is a vague opinion in the leftist circles that the Congress, the BJP and the Janata are all bourgeois parties, and that there is nothing to distinguish between them. This is erroneous and damaging. In a nutshell, the working class has to combine immediate and future interests. Is immediate interest lies in protecting and developing democracy, and it is precisely in which the roots of future, or socialism lie. To the extent that the working class will be able to broaden democracy, the prospect of socialism will be brightened.
One or two words on the present crisis of the world capitalist system may not be out of place. The period between the first and second world wars was one of great leaps of the socialist movement. The working class could take advantage of the crisis of the world capitalist system, and the opportunity was provided by the wars among imperialist powers. As a matter of fact, the two wars represented a continuation of the snme contradiction, in spite of a gulf of 25 years between them. By 1880, the British hegemony in the world capitalist system began to weaken, and Germany and the USA were emerging as rivals. But it is in the very character of the imperialist system that replacement of the hegemony of one power by another is not possible without a war. The World War II ended with the end of British hegemony and establishment of the US hegemony, and taking 1880 as the starting point, the battle continued for about 65 years. Throughout the post-World War II period, there continues the US hegemony in the world capitalist system. Owing to various historical reasons, this hegemony has not been challenged so long, in the neo-liberal system, the assumption of an international form by finance capital has prevented the contradictions among the imperialist nation states from breaking out into a world war, although local wars and proxy wars have taken place. Now it is evident that along with other crises (recession, unemployment, bank failures etc) of the world capitalist system, struggle for hegemony has been intensified. The US hegemony is no longer unchallenged. International transactions are still conducted in dollars. Now the Chinese renminbi is trying to occupy this place. Russia, which had become weak after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1990, is once again flexing its muscles. In trying to maintain its hegemony in the Middle East, US imperialism has been so much humbled that it is now not unwilling to come to an understanding with Iran and Assad of Syria. It has virtually handed over the control of Iraq, for which it had got engaged in so many battles, to Iran.
The notion that globalization of capital has wiped out the danger of inter-imperialist war does not seem to be correct. The contradictions and conflicts that are beginning to surface with the aim of ending the US hegemony are bound to break out in war sooner or later. It is not possible to suggest when it might take place. But the opportunity presented by the two world wars before the working class of the world will reappear. The working class will have to wait for this opportunity and meanwhile organize arid unite itself. Struggles of this period will have to be built up much more tortuously and patiently. The Indian working class too will have to advance its present task, protection and broadening of democracy, keeping in mind its future programme.
[courtesy : Sramajibi Bhasa, 1 May, 2015]
Vol. 47, No. 49, June 14 - 20, 2015