In Search of Slogans

Communists no longer seriously talk of working class, albeit they continue to enjoy the idea of working class leadership, rather its vauguardist role in Indian revolution. But revolution even of their kind—democratic or otherwise—is a distant possibility in India. As for working class revolution, workers themselves are not aware of it though their vanguard party has been there since the 1920s. Workers in Indian theatre are so stratified and caste-ridden that it is difficult to unite them on a common minimum programme. All their struggles are localised and issue-based, having no national appeal. Barring white collar employees in banking, insurance and central government offices, a nation-wide stir, seldom occurs. The white collar employees don’t think they belong to working class. Nor are they interested in any kind of revolution, they are the worst worshippers of the status quo.

Communists in India took the responsibility of finishing the unfinished democratic revolution that stood in the way of developing productive forces. They may now heave a sigh of relief that their service won’t be required as market forces seem to have destroyed many pre-capitalist production relations in most backward regions. So all their old slogans devised to mobilise peasants and workers have little use-value these days. A change in outlook is urgently needed but they simply refuse to recognise the ground reality. They continue to live in the past.

For all practical purposes they have stopped peasant organising though tenancy act and other related issues have not changed much. Sometimes they agitate for higher wages for agricultural labourers or implementation of agricultural minimum wages act. But even in this area they encounter a paradoxical situation that in effect makes their efforts redundant. In double-crop and irrigated regions ‘high wage’ is the problem, not ‘low wage’, particularly in sowing and harvesting seasons. Middle peasants cannot afford wage labour while poor peasants and marginal farmers just somehow manage to complete seasonal agricultural work through family labour. Migration from rural areas to urban and semi-urban centres shows a steady upward swing in almost every state and it is creating labour shortage in regions of intensive cultivation. Communists do not know how to formulate new slogans in the changed context. Remunerative price for agricultural produce is one area about which communists don’t have any specific agenda. They are in a dilemma as to how to address the question without being identified with the Kulaks. They think it is an issue of the rich peasant and as such they have nothing to do about it other than remaining passive. In short the strategy of inaction is the dominant aspect of their peasant policy. But the issue of remunerative price—or for that matter minimum support price—equally affects small producers as well.

One of the communist slogans appearing in almost all communist discourses,  as a routine, is worker-peasant alliance. It deserves thorough scrutiny because this slogan does hardly get translated into action. It is difficult to understand why farmers will support striking workers and employees of an industry unless the latter specifically withdraw labour in support of subsidised agricultural inputs, particularly fertilisers. To issue statement is one thing and to resort to action is quite another. Jute workers who periodically face suspension of work and strike, never support the aggrieved jute growers, who are being forced to indulge in distress sales almost every year though the existing government mechanism to help them at the time of crisis is too inadequate to cope with the situation. The same is true of cotton growers who are now doubly oppressed by market and the monster called genetically modified cotton—Bt Cotton. Farmers mostly commit suicide in Bt Cotton growing regions but cotton and textile workers who are, no doubt, themselves at the receiving end after the historic textile strike in the ’80s, never showed any interest in pro-active action programme in building solidarity with Bt Cotton growers. Communists have all along been highlighting this concept of worker-peasant alliance in abstract without making it a reality. Peasants have no reason to show sympathy towards retrenched workers unless workers respond positively to the plight of cultivators.

Electricity consumers are a harried lot everywhere. But electricity supply employees and workers engaged in production and distribution, never think, as consumer they too are equally suffering from high tariffs, frequent power cuts, inflated bills or ghost bills. There is ample scope to mobilise consumers in support of electricity workers’ movement if consumers’ cause gets attention in employees’ agitation and positive action as well. No, it doesn’t happen. Instead consumers are being harassed by the very employees who need their support to fight the management. Solidarity movement as advocated by communists, remains in theory—what they practise is something else. Sometimes they work at cross purposes only to defeat the very spirit of solidarity movement.

Workers are mainly organised on wage issues, job security and working conditions through trade unions while political issues are addressed by parties. Again in most cases workers and peasants don’t identify themselves with party slogans. Why workers think it is useless to join anti-American rallies, is not being investigated by the parties. They suffer from a kind of passivity : what is good for the parties may not be good for them. ‘Workers work, they cannot afford to stop working and risk losing income for their families’. This feeling rules supreme, albeit it is not tenable for the privileged and organised sector workers.

In truth Indian scenario is somewhat unique but this trend prevails even in advanced industrialised countries. The Maidan movement in Ukraine that started as a protest against the refusal to sign the EU Association Agreement, involved Marxists, social democrats, anarchists and many self-styled left groups. Despite their active participation the free trade unions’ call for a general political strike in support of ‘Maidan’, failed to evoke positive response from workers.

The only area of political consciousness that workers and peasants have acquired over the years is election and their right to adult franchise. Old slogans are out-dated, new ones are not emerging. In the absence of effective slogans that could be utilised to mobilise masses in their millions, most communist parties are simply election-oriented, only to calculate their peasant organising or labour-organising in terms of votes and making or unmaking government. The idea of worker-peasant alliance has not taken root and both workers and peasants are force-fed entirely different meanings of radical change. But communists don’t want to critically look back and analyse how their old slogans don’t work in order to better prepare for new mass manifestations.

Vol. 47, No. 10, Sep 14 - 20, 2014