The Pandemic and the state

Part 6: The Reform and the Revolution

Arup Kumar Baisya

The Two Combatants
Some Marxist scholars rightly argue that the reform is not the obverse of revolution. But a serious and sincere continuation of reform agenda does not automatically culminate into a revolution if two aspects of the relation between capital and labour are not considered. Firstly, the respective powers of the two combatants i.e. capital and labour determine the rate of surplus-value and the distribution of the newly created value between capital and labour. Though it is primarily determined by the presence of reserve army of labour below or above a certain threshold level, the balance between the respective powers of capital and labour is also dependent on the strength of the class struggle in a space-time. Based on linear logical reasoning, we can surmise that capitalist class can successfully lower the value of labour-power when the supply of labour is abundant and vice versa and the strength of the class-struggle is entirely dependent on this demand and supply balance. But this viewpoint is one-sided and deterministic. The intensity of class struggle is also dependent on the condition of political, cultural, and historical specificity. Capitalist class lowers the value of labour-powers by annihilating a series of workers’ historical and social achievements by partially eliminating commodities that cover their needs from the ‘standard of life’ hitherto regarded as normal. When the workers’ desire to incorporate new needs is met by the sudden degradation of the standard of life of the workers, the class struggle may intensify. The section of workers who are privileged and modern within the working-class hierarchy will be rapidly disillusioned over the system and the assertion of the resentment of these advanced workers will be the ideological core for working-class solidarity and intensification of class struggle. The cyclical over-accumulation that causes the crisis of capitalism will try to force the price of the commodities of labour-power down to a level much below its value so that it becomes conducive for the idle accumulated capital to re-invest for renewed production process by creating a condition of an excessive reserve army of labour through retrenchment. But the intensification of class struggle due to the fall in the standard of life may act as a countervailing force against the move of the capital to come out of its cyclical ebb. In these circumstances, communist forces must consider taking the historical and cultural specificity into cognizance to prioritise revolution over reform and strive for working-class solidarity especially between mental and manual labour. Secondly, the continuation of reform culminates into revolution provided the reform agenda is guided in such a direction that it compels the political class in power to direct the production process more and more for the production of use-value instead of exchange value. To accommodate the pressure of class struggle and/or if the political force in power so desires, the production of use-value in some sectors like health, education, etc. through people’s participation and free service without adding any value as profit may be adopted. But this pressure must be continuously extended to diverse sectors for working-class control over the production process through workers’ councils in the workplace so that production of use-value is prioritized over exchange value. The struggle for gradual reforms in that direction only will be culminated into revolution because the capitalist class may concede reform to a certain extent under certain circumstances, but will retaliate with counter pressure and repressive measures of the state if the rate of surplus-value falls below average rate of profit.

Revolution and neo-liberalism 
The question of revolution may also be seen from a different perspective. A programme for revolution must begin with a question of ‘who is in control’ of the production process. Revolution does not only mean the dislodging or overthrowing ruling class from the control of the state but also the change of relation between state, capital, and labour in a radical way. It means the revolution is also a social revolution. From the global perspective, it also means bridging the metabolic rift between labour and nature to ensure the existence of an individual in nature through creatively controlled productive activity and that can be only be ensured by replacing the productive activity destructively dominated by capitalist-expansion or globalization of capital. The process of proletarianisation in a developing country cannot be articulated in isolation. The conditions of labour in developing countries are incomparably worse than the developed countries. But the countries concerned are an integral part of the system of capital and labour. The conditions of the labour market are deteriorating everywhere, including the western capitalist countries.

Before the present situation of Pandemic and lockdown, what was the status of Indian urban and rural sites? The combined development under imperialist capitalism had dismantled the social balance of classes in Indian urban sites where the hegemony of the bourgeois-landlord ruling class hitherto established over the diverse petty-bourgeois middle classes and the aristocracy of labour through the state institutions. The millions of workers with their rural place of origin started living in cities where they were denied legal rights and access to a wide range of benefits of cities. They lived with starvation wages, rickety dwelling-houses, and atrocious living conditions, but they were not fully integrated into the institutional hegemonic structure despite their vulnerability as a new working class under a coercive regime which was vigilant for creating a disciplined army of labour. In addition to the industrial worker, there was an immense rise in service workers. When this service worker does not offer the labour directly to the user of its effects but instead sells it to the capitalist, who re-sells it on the commodity market, then we have the capitalist form of production in the field of service. The overwhelming presence of this new class who were super-exploited under neo-liberal capitalist law of value was prone to strikes and demonstrations for their rights and wages. Like combined development (in the center and periphery), uneven development is ingrained in capitalism and the unevenness is ubiquitous throughout the system. The unevenness is accentuated when capitalism reached its imperialist stage of exploitation. This unevenness is marked by the presence of pre-capitalist relations which is moulded and shaped by the combined development under capitalism to ensure its profit and accumulation.

Karl Marx dwelt on the dual nature of labour under capitalism. On the one hand, argues Marx, labour is abstract labour, involved in producing commodities for the market, objectified as value, expressed in the exchange of commodities for money, from which capital extracts profit. On the other hand, labour is also involved in the production of use-value, concrete labour, both individual and social. Under capitalism, the two forms of labour are, he argued, in constant tension with each other. The creative, purposeful activity is subordinated to labour disciplined for the maximisation of profit. According to Marx, capitalism encounters an extreme variety of forms of land ownership, such as feudal, clan, communal (and primitive), 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 fashion. If one is to understand, evaluate, and express this process, the contradictory movement of acceleration and retardation must be the starting point in understanding the development of capitalism in India in the era of imperialism. 

Pandemic realignment
The Pandemic and especially the lockdown disrupted both the production and labour processes. Capitalists’ desire for creating a huge mass of reserve army of labour has been achieved through retrenchment and reverse migration. The entire mass of both mental and manual labour has been disjointed from capital as the production process itself has come to a halt. There is no profit for capital without linking the living labour with dead labour. The social relations of production have reached a stationary stage when the two segments of the productive forces have been segregated in time and space. This is an unprecedented situation that has created the opportunities for power-struggle for both the combatants, capital, and labour, to redefine the social relation of production. The Capitalists can invest in newly emerging productive sectors in both departments I & II by lowering the value of labour-power and by pressurizing the state to bail them out due to the huge loss they have incurred during the lockdown. But the disruption of both the production and labour process and the dislocation of the workers from worksites have increased the transportation cost and the scarcity of labour even though the unemployment rate has increased. The capitalists need the state’s intervention for increasing consumer demands through the increased government expenditure. Furthermore, as the value chain has been disrupted, the process of extraction of profit by diverse capitalist classes through the addition of values to the commodities at various points of the value chain has been lost. The state now must facilitate the private players to ensure the transportation, stock, and delivery of the commodities. This new dimension has also created a space for the workers to fight back and compel the state to act in favour of the working class. The solidarity and the intensity of the class struggle may soon culminate into a revolutionary crisis. The state may retaliate in favour of the capitalists by adopting more and more repressive measures or act in favour of the labour by further extending the constitutional democracy which may be a part of reform in favour of labour. If the organisations of the working class fail to rise to the occasion to unite to achieve working-class solidarity and reconstruction of past valiant social struggles, the capitalist productive system may once again come out of its downslide even in the polity of constitutional democracy. At this stage, it is unpredictable how global capitalism will once again come out of its long-cycle crisis. History tells us that capitalism came out of its long-cycle crisis in the past through creative destruction, technological revolution, massive increase of reserve army of labour to reconstruct the production process to achieve an above-average rate of surplus-value. There are a lot of uncertainties in this transitional phase. But the working class inevitably has the only option of socialism, be it by treading the path of reform culminating into revolution or through a revolution in immediate future. But this transitional phase and the situation of uncertainties are not going to sustain for a very long period. The capitalists will act, it is to be seen whether the working class, the combatant of the capitalists, acts in a befitting manner with the agenda which has been thrown by the history before them. The advocates and proponents of neoliberalism have lost their confidence in their policy framework for capitalist revival. The Pandemic and the lockdown have given body blow to this neoliberal logic. But at present, the capitalist will act to reaffirm their neoliberal agenda by pressurizing the state to facilitate the market. But the political class is in dilemma whether to adopt neoliberalism or nationalist welfarism and trying to tread a middle path of some form of ‘Keynesianism’. There lies the task of the working-class organization to adopt a reformist agenda to compel the state to adopt a nationalist welfare policy by opposing neoliberalism and breaking the chain with neoliberal globalization.

Immediate Task and Socialism 
In these circumstances, what becomes the immediate task before the Indian communist? First of all, the monopoly-finance capital is in the driving seat in this phase of transition of the state and society and as such the monopoly-finance capital vs. the Indian nation is the principal contradiction and as the state is now supervised by the market, the delinking or severing the tie of monopoly-finance with Indian economy must have an alternative project of both state ownership and workers co-operative. The struggle for state ownership and workers' co-operative or workplace workers-council is the content of the struggle between capital and labour. But due to uneven development and existence of pre-capitalist social relations along with the dominant contradiction between capital and labour, the working-class revolutionary movement must build unity with the poor peasants, oppressed castes and communities and nationalities. The poor peasants have a score to settle with landed gentry to free them from feudal oppressions especially in many hinterlands and backward regions. But the feudal class is continuously being weakened by the inroads of capital or under the coercion of eviction, but poor peasant must build its struggle against the feudal gentry to free them from primitive thought and this struggle must not be confined to the issue of land to the tiller which does not lead them to imbibe universal world view, but also the peasant movement must demand rural peasant committees for their collective decision-making process. The revolutionary force must promote this self-rule of the peasant communities and most importantly build the unity of the working class and peasants. Similarly, the Dalit and lower castes must free themselves from caste oppression and social ostracization. The revolutionaries have the task to establish the leadership of the working class in all these movements against pre-capitalist social relations, not through sermons and programmatic publicity, but through practice, example, and people’s movement. The most important movement against pre-capitalist social relations is the movement against patriarchy and for women’s rights.
Due to the capitalist development under the control of imperialist global capital, the ruling class of the Indian state can be identified as the global oligopolist and the Indian big bourgeois compradors. In the capitalist mode of production, the working class is the direct adversary and the agent of a revolutionary change. The workers and poor peasant alliance in urban and rural landscapes form the core of any revolutionary movement. But the extent of unevenness that is glaringly intrinsic in the capitalist development under imperialism, forms diverse intermediary classes who are amenable to side with a revolutionary alliance of workers-peasants in the backdrop of rising radicalization of working-class consciousness. The transformation of working-class consciousness from class-in-itself to class-for-itself teaches them to incorporate the interests of such diverse intermediary classes who are subject to diverse forms of caste, community, and nationality oppressions. The concentration of power in the hands of imperialists and big bourgeois compradors isolate the diverse section of the middle classes from the institutions of the state and their disillusionment on the existing state makes them ally for the working class for a revolutionary change. This necessitates the united front practice throughout the movement and from the beginning, as the imperialist domination is always detrimental to the interest of the intermediary classes and the oppressed identities. In all these struggles, the family labour and social labour needs to be considered intertwined within the ambit of the law of value and expropriation of surplus-value and the formulation of the programme on women’s labour and women’s liberty within the essence of social and workers’ movement becomes utmost important. The people’s movement to establish metabolic unity among man and nature for a new society based on co-operation instead of exploitation must also include the struggle to save the earth from the ecological catastrophe which is becoming more pertinent due to the capitalist exploitation of labour and nature and the rift between the two categories. 

The transition of the state from bureaucratic to a state which is supervised by the market necessitates the centralization of power and capital. The inroads of financial capital both in the form of debt and credit finance and as speculative finance weakened and replaced the regional and community bourgeoisie with a class which is linked through the national and global financial value chain. The emergence of this new class is favourable for the drive for the homogenization of the market and its concomitant centralization of power. The regional bourgeois and the middle class are so weak that they cannot even defend the existing institutional arrangement of federalism on center-state relation which is being meticulously dismantled. So the radical federal reorganization of the state and decentralization of power become the democratic agenda of the revolution under the leadership of working-class, and this needs to be implemented in a post-revolutionary state with the working class as the ruling class for immediate transformation to the next phase of the building of socialism by ensuring the extension of constitutional democracy to its higher stage.

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Jun 28, 2020

Arup Kumar Baisya

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