Shrinking left support base and class struggle

Arup Baisya

The present day left movement in India is in complete disarray. When the mainstream parliamentary left is suffering from credibility crisis, the rest of the left formations are in utter confusion on how to build class struggle. The left shtick lacks class appeal in the backdrop of newly emerging social relation of production which has been obscured by highest form of commodity fetishism and variegated forms of surplus accumulation and concentration of capital in few global corporate giants. In the changing agricultural scenario, the lefts are gradually losing their foothold in the vast expanse of rural or semi-urban landscape. This is arisen mainly because of the tendency of the large section of practicing lefts to stick rigidly to the set old formulations by denying the basic tenets of Marxism to explore the social relations of production through a continuous and dynamic process. There is an innate tendency to judge history in a structural framework and Marxism as an affirmative doctrine. Instead of using Marxism for methodical investigation of reality through theory and practice, it is misused as a defence against that very reality. It is taken for granted that the formulations developed under certain historical moments are applicable for all times to come. One such formulation is that the capitalist relation of production in agriculture cannot take the center-stage in colony or neo-colony due to imperialist domination. But Sartre has commented ‘History is not order. It is disorder, a rational disorder. At the very moment when it maintains order, i.e. structure, history is already on the way to undoing it.”

In a colony or semi-colony, the growth of capitalism in manufacturing industry that sets agriculture on the road to capitalist development is weak. But colonial agriculture is not immune from outside pressure; indeed it is reduced to an adjunct to the economy of the metropolitan country. Foodgrains, raw cotton, jute, oil seeds etc are exported in huge quantities to satiate the hunger of the imperialist metropolitan economy. Indeed, there was a double shift in Indian agriculture: first, shifts in relative acreage from food grains to non-food crops, and second, an enlargement within the acreage under food grains of the portion devoted to crops for exports. The resultant çommercialisation of agriculture under such circumstances of imperialist domination may or may not be conducive to the growth of agrarian capitalism, because much of this commercialisation is coercive in nature. According to classical scheme, the middle peasantry splits into two strata : capitalist farmers and wage workers.

The small farmers, impoverished peasants always cling to their land with tenacity. It is all the more so in India because of the lack of job opportunities. The capitalist development through green revolution was somewhat impeded due to realization crisis. The participation of global corporate in agri-business was mostly in the input side, output was predominantly purchased by Government and was used for local consumption. Now the corporate in agri-business is operational in both input and output side. It is becoming the dominant phenomenon after FDI in retail. According to the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP), the Indian agricultural services and agricultural machinery sectors have cumulatively attracted Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) equity inflow of about US$ 2,315.33 million from April 2000 to December 2016. Retailers like Walmart, Tesco are to gain as govt allows 100% FDI in multi-brand processed food retailing. With the advent of new technology, the input cost has increased manifold. In the backdrop of rising input cost, the middle peasant is becoming gradually extinct. Lenin’s condition of the expansion of non-agricultural population to sustain agricultural capitalism is becoming a reality. It must be understood that agricultural capitalism does not depend upon any specific type of technology. Growth of capitalism in agriculture is basically conditioned by the overall class relation in the country. Agrarian capitalism develops in response to the impulse of demand for the agricultural produce from the industrial sector and it is sustained in continuous interaction with the latter.

According to Marx, the capitalism encounters extreme variety of forms of land ownership, such as feudal, clan, communal (and primitive squatter), state etc., when it makes its appearance on the historical scene. Capital subordinates to itself all these varied forms of land ownership and remoulds them after its own fashion, and if one is to understand, evaluate and express this process in statistical terms, one must learn to modify the formulations of the question and the methods of investigation in accordance with the changing form of the process.

The contradictory movement of acceleration and retardation must be the starting point in any scientific study of the development of capitalism in India in the era of imperialism. The role of the antediluvian forms of capital – the parasitical role of usurer’s capital and the impact of the independent existence and development of merchant’s capital on capitalist production in agriculture – is, of course, highly relevant to a study of agrarian relations and of capitalism in agriculture. There is abundant evidence on the role of these forms of capital in India, and evidence which shows how landlordism, feudal and semi-feudal practiced usury. But the point is that it should be ascertained whether capital subordinated to itself all these varied forms of land ownership and remoulds them after its own fashion.

Lenin has said, “the employment of hired labour” is the “the principal manifestation of agricultural capitalism” and indicator of capitalism in agriculture”. But to guard against any mechanical interpretation of Lenin, we must study the presence of both wage labour and capitalist, because there can be no wage-labour without the existence of capital at the other pole. All official data reveal that the number of agricultural labourer in comparison to the number of cultivators has increased manifold in last few decades. The landlord and peasant capitalists who engage hired labour have increased when the middle peasants are becoming extinct. The penetration of imperialist capital through the enhanced participation of corporate giants in agri-business in both input and output side of agricultural economy is imposing the rule of realization of surplus value and surplus-accumulation in agricultural production. The availability of surplus labour and social division of castes in rural agriculture has restricted the bargaining power of the agricultural labourers for higher wages. The successful implementation of MGNREG makes a positive impact on the rise in wages of agricultural labourer and that’s why corporate investors in agribusiness are antithetical to this scheme. The out-migration to urban centres especially of lower castes for jobs shows sign of fluctuations depending on the pace of infrastructural development works. The transition from Government support in both input and output front of agricultural production to the participation of private businesses created a distress situation in agriculture. But this participation of private capital from outside and the rise of capitalist landlords and peasants from within have remouled all pre-capitalist relation of production and also changed the contours of social relation including castes cleavages. In addition to agricultural labourers, there are diverse forms of working class groups who are engaged in both Government and private sectors and they constitute 80-90% of rural population. The question of unity among those toiling masses is complex and is intermingled with the issues related with caste, language, religion etc. But without focusing on the question of their livelihood and earnings, it is not possible to build a left support base in both rural and urban areas. The issues of wage-hike and enhanced income go squarely against the interest of imperialist capital and thus they form the motive force of the people’s democratic revolution.

Sep 01, 2017

Arup Kumar Baisya

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