The Pandemic and the state

Part 7: The Productive restructuring and the working-class

Arup Kumar Baisya

Capitalism and Uncertainties
 During the entire phase of neo-liberal restructuring of both production and labour process pre-pandemic situation, the character of the working class had changed. A big chunk of factory jobs was wiped out by technology, while the service workers had grown. In the past few decades, the number of workers in precarious jobs had risen. But it did not reveal that the antagonism between the contending classes of capital and labour receded, rather it intensified though marked with sporadic and incoherent character. What about the project of the Marxist proletarian revolution then? The absence of numerically decisive organized working class or the proletariats in a Marxist sense placed a large section of left ideologues in a lurch. The trade unionism with white-colour privileges instilled a sense of pure classes in the minds of Marxist imagination. The link of the new working class with the rural countryside had bemused them and distracted them from undertaking any revolutionary agenda without digging into the historical fact of the link of the European working class with the countryside. But the deviation from a communist ideology had mentally prepared them for taking “the neoliberalism for granted” and the epistemological endeavour diverted from the core Marxist understanding of capitalism and expropriation of labour towards diverse schools of culturalism, subalternism, post-modernism and so forth. There were moments in history when ruling class hegemony was established primarily by cultural means and secondarily by economic or physical (coercive) power. Marxist praxis enables us to focus on the hegemonic aspect with an analysis of the material base. The rise of Hindutva forces and its hegemonic control especially during post-Babri Masjid episode was primarily a cultural one. But this does not mean that we should lose sight of the Marxist premise of the inadequacy of the existing social relation of production to contain the immense development of the productive forces (both labour and machinery), and the resultant contradiction sets the dynamics of social tension and conflict into a motion of the nature of the revolutionary situation. The cultural revolution spearheaded by Sangh Parivar on the premise of an ‘imagined reality’ of building a ‘New India’ was the passive revolution from above in the Gramscian sense of the term. But in the Indian left practice, either the neoliberalism was taken for granted or mixed the Marxian episteme with other thoughts for a cocktail. Gramsci’s tactical use of the word ‘subaltern’ was taken out of context to the extent of voluntarism. But this author thinks that Spivak is closer to the reality than Gramsci when she raises the issue of mediation between subaltern and hegemonic domains of politics of insurgent scholars who resist the incorporation of subalterns within hegemonic practices, of NGOs that make an effort to link the subalterns ‘indigenous democratic structure’ to parliamentary democracy, and of non-Eurocentric social movements who are pushing globalization towards a subaltern front. For this part, she argues that new social movements of subalterns have challenged notions of ‘democracy’ and bring into the sphere of the political, their ideas of well-being, justice, and so on. But all these ideas of subaltern democracy and justice are destined to fail if it is not part of the Marxist concept of human liberation, working-class emancipation, and transcending capitalism. The revolution is a moment of the continuation of the process of Marxist praxis. This praxis begins with the concept of proletarian ideology and of the party which embodies this ideology, not from the numerical strength of the proletariat. The transformation of capitalist production and the emergence of the new working class were ignored by the left practitioners during the entire phase of neoliberal restructuring and the faith on any revolutionary project based on numerically decisive emerging social classes was dwindled, and this marginalized the left in the political spectrum. There is another imminent paradigm shift during this Pandemic crisis amidst uncertainties and if the staticity of mindset of the left practitioners blurs their vision to keep an eye on this changing dynamics to formulate a strategy for a radical transformation of society, the capitalism will once again stabilize itself from within the doldrums of massive disruptions to ensure an above-average rate of profit for the aim on which capitalism only survives. In this uncertain situation, every ruler of the world including Mr. Modi is prone to vacillation under pressure from the rising working-class militancy as Marx predicted the vacillation of Russian Tzar due to the emancipation of serfs. The news is pouring in from within the US, the citadel of capitalism, that there are instances where workers are taking over the control of the factories and production.

India’s economy and global capitalist activities
 From the perspective of capitalists, India’s economic situation due to global pandemic and lockdown is grim, but they are hopeful of recovery from a global context and this recovery in the sense of capitalism means to reach to a stage where the above-average rate of profit for an accumulation of wealth is set in motion. Economic growth and accumulation indicate the rate of surplus-value or profit. The Indian economy expanded 3.1 percent year-on-year in the first quarter of 2020, it is the slowest GDP growth since quarterly data became available in 2004, as the country imposed a nationwide lockdown from March 24th aiming to contain the spread of the coronavirus. On the expenditure side, faster declines were seen for gross fixed capital formation (-6.5% vs -5.2% in Q4) and exports (-8.5% vs -6.1%) while imports fell at a slower pace (-7% vs -12.4%). Also, both private spending (2.7% vs 6.6%) and inventories (0.5% vs 1.1%) slowed sharply. On the production side, output fell for manufacturing (-1.4% vs -0.8%), the third straight quarter of contraction and construction (-2.2% vs 0%) and slowed for trade, hotels and transportation (2.6% vs 4.3%), finance and real estate (2.4% vs 3.3%) and public administration and defense (10.1% vs 10.9%).

The report, a special edition that builds on the World Economic Forum’s annual Global Risks Reports, examines the views of nearly 350 senior risk professionals, who took part in the COVID-19 Risks Perceptions Survey. Two-thirds of respondents identified a prolonged global recession as a top concern for business. One-half identified bankruptcies and industry consolidation, failure of industries to recover and disruption of supply chains as crucial worries

The World Economic Forum’s report reveals that collaboration between the public and private sectors to date has helped solve some of the most urgent business and economic challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic and they will become increasingly more important as the world rebuilds and adapts to a 'new normal'.

The nature of the product and business involvement of the global business tycoons underlines the future course of action of the capitalist recovery. E-commerce giant has delivered essential goods across China to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. With the support of the local government, JD deployed drones to conduct ground surveys, design flight corridors, request airspace access permission, and conduct final flight tests in China.

Volkswagen Group, the German Carmakers, is sourcing the materials in China, with distribution in Germany handled by public authorities. The company is also using its facilities to produce medical equipment for areas in need –3D printing mountings for face shields, among other things.

The Mahindra company’s manufacturing facilities are making ventilators, and the Mahindra Foundation is creating a fund to assist the hardest hit across the value chain. They have developed respirators for patients.

The world’s leading 3D printing manufacturers - including HP, Johnson & Johnson, General Electric, Royal DSM, and others - have come together through the Forum’s 3D Printing COVID-19 Rapid Response Initiative to address equipment shortages and rising medical demands due to the ongoing pandemic. Carbon and its partners, in the US, are producing PPE for medical workers and patient sampling swabs. Linde plc is offering combined 3D printing (metal and plastic, design, and software) and medical equipment capabilities in Germany and the US. In Italy, Roboze is printing in-house and with its partners – valves, adapters, connectors, splitters, face shields, and durable thermoforming tools for faster manufacturing of N95 masks. Airbus is employing its fleet of aircraft as well as its industrial resources to support governments fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. The company is flying millions of facemasks and thermometers from China into Europe.

Leading global brewer AB InBev is working with partners, the company is both packaging the disinfectant alcohol and hand sanitizer. Two of the world’s biggest vaccine makers, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Sanofi, are collaborating on a COVID-19 vaccine. The pharma giants are aiming to get a treatment on the market in the next 12 to 18 months. Biopharmaceutical leader Takeda is working with the CoVIg-19 Plasma Alliance to accelerate the development of a plasma-based treatment that could treat people suffering from coronavirus.

International banking group Standard Chartered launched a $50 million global fund to help people affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Group has already provided $25 million to support emergency relief in countries where the number of COVID-19 cases has soared, and healthcare facilities are under significant pressure. The additional $25 million will help communities and businesses recover from the economic impact of the pandemic.

Besides, the Group is committing up to $1 billion in loans, import/export financing, and working capital for certain companies fighting COVID-19, and support industry leaders who are adapting production resources to help fight the pandemic. Companies in the pharmaceutical industry and healthcare providers are set to benefit most from these funds, but Standard Chartered will also support non-medical companies that have responded to the crisis by adding the capability to their manufacturing plants. Goods within this scope include ventilators, face masks, protective equipment, and sanitisers. (Data Source: World Economic Forum Website). Big Pharma executive and a four-star General have just been appointed by President Trump to lead a “Manhattan project-style effort to develop a vaccine for the novel coronavirus.” The effort, called Operation Warp Speed, has set a goal to create 300 million doses of a non-existent vaccine by January.

Capitalist Recovery 
 From the above data, it is amply clear that the Capitalists are temporarily restructuring their production units to meet the demand for the needs of the people for new consumer goods in Pandemic time. The Banks are infusing liquidity for capitalist production, striking off bad-debt, and providing loans to the buyers and distributors. The Indian Govt’s package of 20 lacs crores can be seen in this light. The chief means of reducing the time of circulation is improved communications as Marx observed a revolution in this field during the industrial revolution of the latter half of the 18th century. But circulation is disrupted due to pandemic and lockdown. Govts are promoting e-commerce and digitalization. 

But the Capitalist cannot go on producing commodities based on the need of the people. If it is so, it no longer remains capitalism, it gets transformed into socialist production. Because once the value chain is reestablished through collaboration, the competition will set in for-profit and this will once again lead to the crisis of over-production and over-accumulation without any scope for further investment and accumulation in these particular branches of production. 

Marx writes on the production process, “Precisely the productivity of labour, the mass of production, the mass of the population, the mass of the surplus population, which are developed by this mode of production continually create, through the release of capital and labour, new branches of business in which capital can once again work on a small scale and once again go through the various developments until these new branches of business are also carried on on a wide scale. This process occurs continually. At the same time, capitalist production tends to conquer all those branches of the industry over which it has not yet gained the mastery, which it has only formally subsumed. As soon as it has gained mastery over agriculture, the mining industry, the manufacture of the main materials for clothing, and so on, it takes hold of still further spheres, where its control is still only formal and where there are still even independent artisans.”

Socialism and Democracy
 It does mean that it is in the interests of the capitalists to force workers back on the job to produce value, even if some of them die, for opening up new branches of production. Though the massive reserve army of labour due to unemployment is congenial for the capitalist, it is in the interest of the working masses to stay home and stay safe and alive. To stay home and stay safe mean for the working class to demand indigenous production, revamping agricultural production, need-based production, and free ration, health, and other welfare measures from the Government in power and this is fundamentally a class-struggle in the direction of socialism. But it becomes clear that this struggle also entails a struggle for democracy when we look back on the process of productive restructuring in Nazi Germany. 

The increased expenditure on armaments cannot in itself generate a long-term acceleration of accumulation, and that a continual increase in arms expenditure cannot ultimately overcome the limits of the valorization of capital. The Nazis successfully achieved the ‘German Economic Miracle’ by lowering the value of labour-power by smashing the trade union and all other worker’s organizations. The shifting of the balance of power decisively towards capital against the labour enables the increase of the rate of profit much above the average more by prolonging the working hours than by increasing the productivity of labour through technological improvement. The disunity among the anti-fascist forces for intensification of working-class struggle gave the space for the fascist forces to rise.

The New Initiative for Radical Change
 The precarious condition has sparked the working-class resistance not seen since the post-World War II strike wave. In the various advanced countries including the US, every sector of the working class has become engaged: fast-food, retail, health care, education, food processing, automotive, agriculture, construction, and more. Most noteworthy at this moment is the statewide strike of low-paid fruit processing workers, most of them migrant workers of color in Washington state. If the present mass-uprising in the US gets directed from a working-class perspective, it will set a spectre of working-class emancipation globally. In India, like all other world leaders, when the ruler vacillates, it’s not a perfect case of prisoner’s dilemma of Game theory. Here, if both the ruling dispensation and the working-class organisations keep quiet, the rulers have the advantage - if working-class organisations become aggressive and the rulers keep quiet, the working class has the advantage - if both become aggressive, the Game Theory collapses, there is a revolutionary crisis. 

Everything is now dependent on how working-class organizations unite themselves to unite the workers and the people at large and how the new agenda for radical change is formulated by revisiting and reconstructing the Marxism once again

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Jul 9, 2020

Arup Kumar Baisya

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