On the General Strike of the 7th September in India
August 31, 2010 Leave a comment
This 7th of September 2010 most major trade unions have called a strike action protesting against incessant price rise and attacks on living standards of the Indian working class. Thus far, 8 major trade union bodies representing in excess of 10 million unionized workers have declared their support for the proposed strike action including :
1) The INTUC [affiliated with the Congress Party.]
2) The CITU [affiliated with the CPI (M)]
3) The AITUC [affiliated with the CPI]
4) The HMS [an *independent* trade union body affiliated with the International federation of independent trade unions].
5) The AIUTUC [affiliated with the SUCI]
6) The LPF [affiliated with the DMK]
7) The UTUC [affiliated with the RSP]
8 ) The TUCC [affiliated with the Forward Bloc]
Thus, we see the leadership of this strike falling squarely largely to either the forces of counter revolutionary Stalinism or reactionary trade unionism under the aegis of the INTUC affiliated with the bourgeois Indian Congress, and to regional parties like the DMK. What is however noteworthy here is the united action of the organized vanguard of Indian proletariat on the plank of a common cause, namely, protesting against the ongoing price rise and the attacks of Indian capitalism upon the working class. In so far as this is an action of the class we support the strike. However, we cannot do so uncritically. Herein lay a dialectical approach to the strike action.
What is our attitude towards trade unions?
For revolutionary Marxists there are two precedents towards the approach on trade unions, One which was summed up by Lenin in the book “left wing communism: An infantile disorder” and the other in a different context in the transitional programme. What is common to both approaches is the recognition of the trade union as an organization of the working class and at the same time a more or less minimalist organization of the working class. In other words, in themselves trade unions do not represent an end in themselves nor the completion of the revolutionary aspirations of the working class. One may also conclude that they do not represent any substitution for the revolutionary party. In the example before us we find the masses of workers responding to the call of the strike action lead by trade unions both reactionary and counter revolutionary in character. The ultra left “radical” would have us say that such an action by virtue of it’s leadership in the hands of counter revolutionary forces would be rendered in itself a counter revolutionary act. They are quick to forget both the nature of the action, the context of the action and more importantly, the class dialectics operating in a trade union. Historically, we as revolutionary Bolsheviks are posed the same questions in this century, which were posed earlier to the revolutionaries of the last century, namely that of the question of our attitudes towards trade unions. As Bolshevik Leninists we stand firms by the principles of Marxism and by the core principles of Bolshevik praxis, we are steadfast in our commitment towards the same. The dialectical understanding of a trade union as a body of the working class yet one that is necessarily bridled in a myriad historical weaknesses is essential in this and this understanding will help us in developing the correct tactics for the upcoming strike.
Tactical line towards the unions and the movement:
The core issues raised by the striking unions is centered on price rise and incessantly rising inflation in the country which has lead to greater suffering of the Indian working class and their class allies. Corollary to this a host of other issues pertaining to the attacks of Indian capitalism upon the working class including privatizations in Public Sector Units and a critical view of the lax nature of implementation of labor laws in India are also in the range of this agitation. However, few things emerge from an overview on the agitation. 1) Though issues pertaining to the working class are being raised there is no perspective on furthering the agitation in a more radical direction. In other words, the strategy of the unions appears to be limited to making a show of political strength and air out frustrations of the class without any real goal in mind or intention to make a focused attack against the capitalist assault upon the Indian working class. Furthermore, whatever concrete demands are being made are with a most limited reformist perspective, namely, limited to the proper implementation of Labor laws and the universalization of the Public Distribution System ( PDS ). 2) With a strengthening of the Indian bourgeois state and an greater expansion of India’s sub-imperialist development democratic rights of workers have been challenged like never before and the state is assuming an increasingly undemocratic form. One of the fallouts of this has been concerted attacks upon the right to agitate of the working class. The general strike, whose call has evoked popular support, would have been the best possible occasion to raise this issue. Here again we see the union bureaucrats failing to raise this most pertinent issue and fight for expanding the democratic space for struggle. 3) In the last one and a half month period since the proclamation of the strike action by the major unions what has been evinced is certain fluidity in terms of support for the strike. Now, the unions themselves claim in their respective manifestos and programs to represent the interests of the working class. The HMS goes so far as to suggest that the union is in fact the only true vehicle for the realization of the aspirations of the working class. However, a major union like the BMS has pulled out of the strike after stating their support thus, weakening the assault of the workers. Paradoxically the Congress affiliated union the INTUC has just joined in. Paradoxical considering the present government in India is a Congress led government. What both of these actions suggest is the reformist nature of typically bureaucratized trade unions. Whilst on the one hand being organs of struggle of the working class their bureaucratization makes them assume the form of a burden upon the very people they purport to represent. Thus, the leadership of the strike falling upon the shoulders of Stalinism or reformist leaders hampers the sharpness of the assault of the strike whereas the agitation itself marks a distinct advance in class militancy in India. The scale of the strike itself is noteworthy which threatens shut down 75% of the organized sector nationwide. In so far as this is a struggle of the class for raising class demands we support the agitation and work towards strengthening it and orienting it in a revolutionary direction. However, in so far as the leadership of the agitation is concerned we voice our opposition to their orientation which works towards capping the militancy of the proletariat.
Minimalist approaches and our transitional approach:
In the transitional program, Trotsky wrote: “..The Fourth International does not discard the program of the old “minimal” demands to the degree to which these have preserved at least part of their vital forcefulness. Indefatigably, it defends the democratic rights and social conquests of the workers. But it carries on this day-to-day work within the framework of the correct actual, that is, revolutionary perspective. Insofar as the old, partial, “minimal” demands of the masses clash with the destructive and degrading tendencies of decadent capitalism – and this occurs at each step – the Fourth International advances a system of transitional demands, the essence of which is contained in the fact that ever more openly and decisively they will be directed against the very bases of the bourgeois regime. The old “minimal program” is superseded by the transitional program, the task of which lies in systematic mobilization of the masses for the proletarian revolution.” In this approach lies the dialectic of the transitional program, transitional demands and minimum demands. The present action is not per se wrong in defending to whatever limited extent and whatever jagged manner the existing conquests of the class and in raising the issues of the class, what is however wrong is the manner in which the minimalist perspective is capping the rising militancy with this minimalist approach. The minimum demands worth noting here include:
1) Proper and strict implementation of labor laws
2) Halting disinvestment of state owned industries
3) An expansion of the social security net for unorganized workers by removing the restrictions within the Workers Social Security Act of 2008.
4) Greater regulations of prices of food products by implementing universal PDS system.
5) A call for stimulus packages for ailing private sector corporations in order to secure jobs for those employed there.
All of these demands reflect in toto all that is jagged and faulty about minimalist approaches. They are limited, partial and oriented from a sectoral perspective with the only exceptions of the stricter implementation of labor laws and the call for implementing the PDS system. The world crisis has affected India like any other nation however the impact of the crisis in India has thus far been felt less in economic terms and more in social and political terms with a growing intensification of the civil war in the countryside which goes hand in hand with the greedy expansion of the sub imperialist bourgeois in its competition with world imperialism. In this context it is equally necessary for the peasant worker of the cities and every other section of the urban working class to extend a hand of solidarity to their class allies in the countryside who are seeing first hand the brunt of negative effects economic expansion and proletarianization. The bureaucrat (mis)leaders of the working class have only one thing to offer for the class allies of the proletariat in the countryside which only remotely touches upon the issues of the countryside, that of the implementation of a universal Public Distribution System. It is a pertinent demand and we support any move to control rising prices of goods however, the same can have gotten a far sharper response from the agitation especially since, India’s sub-imperialist expansion is a double edged sword which at once effects the proletarianization of the rural masses as well as the intensification of wage slavery for the working class and more dangerously the retraction of democratic rights for agitation. It is thus, imperative that demands pertaining to the democratic space for agitation of the working class be raised. This however, has fallen out of the view of our union bureaucrats. The most detestable amongst the aforementioned demands is the call for a stimulus package for private sector corporations affected by the crisis. Ironically, the unions propose this as an aim to secure the employment of the working class against the attacks of capitalism which include laying-off or retrenching of workers from employment as a cost cutting measure. We propose that such reformist Keynesian tactics are in no way a sustainable means to secure job security for the workers. The bourgeoisie has no interest to defend the rights and social welfare of the working masses and are only interested in securing their own profits and wealth by whatever means at their disposal including the most concerted and harsh attacks on the working class. To fight against it the class must orient itself towards fighting in a more radical direction aiming at securing the right to full employment as a fundamental right, in other words the right to employment to become an absolute and unconditional right of the working class.
In response to the above minimum demands of the unions we present our list of transitional demands:
1) Full and unfettered right to strike:
The class has nothing to receive from the bosses but slavery and assault to plead mercy is a wasteful endeavor. For the class to gain hold of even the most basic demands of welfare and sustenance the working class must fight tooth and nail against the machinations of the capitalist system. Bourgeois democracy despite being nothing more than a jagged “democracy” for the rich offers only a limited space for agitation for the working class. We must utilize every opportunity offered by the enemy class to fight against them. For this we must strive to constantly expand the scope for agitation and fight for making the right to strike a *fundamental right*, in other words a right which is unfettered and unrestrained and inalienable.
2) Sliding scale of wages:
Under the conditions of disintegrating capitalism, the masses continue to live the meagerized life of the oppressed, threatened now more than at any other time with the danger of being cast into the pit of pauperism. They must defend their mouthful of bread, if they cannot increase or better it. There is neither the need nor the opportunity to enumerate here those separate, partial demands which time and again arise on the basis of concrete circumstances – national, local, trade union. But two basic economic afflictions, in which is summarized the increasing absurdity of the capitalist system, that is, unemployment and high prices, demand generalized slogans and methods of struggle. The Fourth International declares uncompromising war on the politics of the capitalists which, to a considerable degree, like the politics of their agents, the reformists, aims to place the whole burden of militarism, the crisis, the disorganization of the monetary system and all other scourges stemming from capitalism’s death agony upon the backs of the toilers. Neither monetary inflation nor stabilization can serve as slogans for the proletariat because these are but two ends of the same stick. Against a bounding rise in prices, which with the advance of imperialism will assume an ever more unbridled character, one can fight only under the slogan of a sliding scale of wages. This means that collective agreements should assure an automatic rise in wages in relation to the increase in price of consumer goods.
3) Employment must be transformed into a full and fundamental right:
One of the most concerted attacks of the crisis ridden system of imperialism is focused on the employment of the working class. For the capitalist who knows only the language of profit the priority of the bourgeois is not to augment welfare and social security of the masses but to augment through whatever means available the accumulation of profit for the bourgeois. For this it may from time to time endanger the employment of the working masses and create a reserve army of the unemployed to push down wages and production costs. The best defense here as well is an offence against the system in the form of a transitional demand for making the right to employment a fundamental right. This must go hand in hand with a genuine respect for the rights of workers which already existing serve to defend albeit limitedly the social security and safety of the working class.
4) Complete nationalization of all industries:
The strike has called into attention the issue of disinvestments and privatizations. One of the demands of the striking unions being a reversal of the policy towards divestment in public sector corporations and the privatization of state owned enterprises. These demands oriented towards the defense of the hard won rights of workers and their social security, though work towards the defense of workers rights are yet limited in nature. The only realistic solution for the sustainable defense of worker’s rights is the full nationalization of all industries in the nation. Privatizations attack workers rights and in the ultimate analysis work towards putting profits above the needs of the masses. One of the consequences of privatizations is the relaxing of enforcement of labor rights and the strengthening of bourgeois management. Ultimately this reduces the workers to the position of becoming hostages of the anarchic forces of capitalism. The logic of competition between public sector companies and the private sector serve, not to augment the conditions of the people at large but instead to the detriment of their general welfare. We stand for the complete nationalization of all branches of industries in full measure. Furthermore, it is imperative that such nationalizations not be left to the whims of the government bureaucrats but pass on to the effective control of the workers over the industry. We demand by nationalization of industry, the nationalization of industry under worker’s control!
Revolutionary seizure of power as our ultimate goal:
Even the most humble demands for bread, clothing and shelter cannot be achieved under the aegis of capitalism through reforms. These demands which pertain to the most basic needs of the working masses must be fought for tooth and nail with the ultimate perspective of the revolutionary seizure of power. The present bourgeois – capitalist state facilitates not the general welfare of the people nor tends to the needs of the people but to the needs of the ruling strata of Indian society i.e. the bourgeois class. In place of this bourgeois state, enforcing the dictatorship of the bourgeois the proletarian masses must struggle for the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat by the revolutionary seizure of power and the creation of the workers state over the ashes of the old bourgeois republic. But this dictatorship of the proletariat is in no measure a dictatorship of one man or one party as Stalin’s Russia or Mao’s China had become but the dictatorship of the working masses themselves, in other words the achievement of the highest level of democratic control over the means of production and distribution and of the most advanced political conquest of worker’s democracy. Whilst our struggles in the immediate instance may be national in form it is International in substance. This revolutionary struggle of the working class can only conclude in the completion of the world revolution where the world working class seizes power in every country of the world.