An analysis of the Anti-Corruption movement
September 4, 2011 Leave a comment
The anti-corruption movement in Indiain recent times, and the mobilizations which took place around the arrest of Anna Hazare, and subsequently gathered around his fast, have been one of the largest mass mobilizations in recent history in India. Some sources cite numbers going up to hundreds of thousands, whilst the day of Anna’s arrest itself saw nearly 60000 protestors on march in Delhialone. Never since the end of the emergency have so many people been mobilized in such a manner across the nation to bring about a political change. But the mobilizations which took place on the 16th of August and the 12 days thereafter were in fact a culmination of a struggle in motion since April this year. The leadership of which has fallen by and large to the hands of the ‘India against Corruption’ organization and the team led by Anna Hazare. The core of the demands raised by the leadership was to erect the office of an ombudsman empowered with various legal powers to investigate, and persecute corrupt officials from the highest to the lowest levels. This is the essence of the Jan Lokpall bill proposed by them, and the main focus of their agitation. Many in the left used the limitations of this approach as well as the apparently ‘middle class’ nature of the initial mobilizations to distance themselves from the mobilizations. This bespoke of their fallacious view of class struggle, and the fallacy of sectarian approaches towards mass mobilizations. They expect a kind of ‘perfectionism’ in class struggle which would take the course according to their own fantasies. The reality of class struggles of course escapes our sectarian muddle heads. Nothing else contradicts the vague assertions of the left intellectuals more concretely than the fact of the composition of the mobilizations themselves.
Nature of the mobilizations:
Whilst the first anti-corruption mobilizations were limited in scale, the second and most recent mobilizations were larger in scale and more diverse in composition. Unlike the first mobilizations in which a limited section of people mostly a section of students , petty bourgeois and NGO activists and their connections, the latest mobilizations drew support from the lower strata’s of society as well as the earlier support base of the so-called ‘consumerist’ middle class. Most significantly, as was witnessed by the mobilizations on the 23rd august and throughout the agitations, a good measure of working class and leftist presence had already come to the fore. The largest group present in all the mobilizations however, was the students, and petty bourgeois classes in particular the lower and middle petty bourgeoisie. These are classes whose position pits them towards being natural allies of the working class in its struggle against Capitalism.
In the context ofIndia, these classes find themselves more and more pauperized and suppressed by the forces of Capitalism, of which corruption is increasingly revealing itself to be an integral part! This is reflected to the best degree in the massive scams and scandals which have hit the country repeatedly throughout its recent history as well as the massive accumulation of wealth in foreign banks, in tax havens and other depositories of ill-gotten wealth. Swiss banks alone account for over a trillion and a half dollars of Indian wealth stolen from its people by the corrupt degenerate ruling class ofIndia, the Indian bourgeois! This is the accumulated wealth of decades of scams, bribery and looting of public sector companies. Corruption is but one of the means for the bourgeois to both undermine democracy as well as enrich itself, but what sets it apart is the brazen and degenerate nature in which it pauperizes the poor and enriches the rich. The extent and scale of this thievery is understandable from the fact that there are nearly $1.5 trillion worth of Indian money hidden in Swiss banks alone, and much of this money is illegally accumulated. In the sense that the movement is pitted against corruption, particularly emerging from the highest echelons of power, it is objectively Anti-capitalist. But this reality has completely escaped the sectarian muddle heads of our times. They would rather pour indignation from the comfort of their air conditioned rooms and apartments rather than go to the field of struggle and struggle to give leadership to the masses in action.
Another feature of the mobilizations which were a consequence of its class character, was that it was urban centric. It was the urban petty bourgeois and students based in urban centers, who took the lead in organizing the nationwide agitations. More significantly, it was focused on the major urban centers ofIndia, the metropolitan cities of Mumbai,Calcutta,Delhiand Chennai as well as other emerging metro cities like Pune,Bangaloreand Ahmedabad. These cities in addition to being key administrative and financial centers are also major industrial centers with a large concentration of an organized working class as well as unorganized working class. Given this disposition, the mobilizations would have the effect of radicalizing the working class ofIndiain its most strategically significant areas, and would bring the petty bourgeois and students into an alliance with the working class. The eagerness of the masses to pose a general strike to break the bourgeois government was ever present. The only factor that did come in-between the further radicalization of the movement was in fact the leadership which it had. Whilst, revealing the massive power of the masses in action, the movement from the beginnings to its consequence also revealed the limitations and weaknesses of petty bourgeois leadership and perspectives, and revealed the weakness of the petty bourgeois class itself.
The movement and its leadership:
The mobilizations of the 16th of August were a culmination of the movement which began as a national movement from April this year. From the start the leadership of the movement had crystallized around the leadership team of Anna Hazare and his colleagues from the IAC organization. The IAC (India Against Corruption) was an NGO set up and headed by Arvind Kejriwal an ex-bureaucrat who had quit his lucrative post to champion the cause of anti-corruption. The other members of the team were all from similar backgrounds, either being ex-bureaucrats or former judges (as is the case with the Bhushan duo and Santosh Hegde). Anna Hazare himself is from a peasant background and is ideologically entrenched in the Gandhian concept of a nation of self sufficient village systems. From a brief perusal of the backgrounds of the leadership team which stood at the core of the movement reveals the most obvious petty bourgeoistic nature and orientation which comes from their position as ex-bureaucrats and specialists. It is no surprise then, that the solution which they posed to the problem of corruption inIndiawould be one which would reflect their petty-bourgeois logic.
The proposal that the team has put forward involves the creation of an office of the ombudsman which would be given extensive powers to tackle corruption, to the extent that it would almost be made supreme over the highest law making authority in the country, the parliament. The selection of the Lokpal itself is not through popular mandate but through a highly filtered and specialized body of which the chairperson would be the Prime Minister himself. Moreover, the bill envisages the existence of a body which is essentially subordinate to the President. Perhaps it did not occur that under their scheme both the highest member of the selection committees as well as the superior authority over the lokpal were offices now controlled by the ruling party in command! To add to the irony of the whole situation, the government had already accepted their earlier demand of creating the office of the lokpal and had even drafted its own version of the bill to that effect.
The leadership had only this much trouble, that it wasn’t the same version that they had prepared, the main difference being the scope of the lokpal of the government’s bill which was narrower than that presented by Anna and his team and excluded lower bureaucrats as well as the Prime Ministers and Chief justice of the supreme court. In addition to these they also excluded members of parliament from the ambit of the lokpal’s jurisdiction. The mobilizations of the 16th were planned around a fast call by Anna Hazare which was done only after repeated negotiations with the government ended in failure owing to their arrogance stand. Any empirical observer would have us like to believe that it was in fact the bill and the charisma of the leadership by Anna which led to the success of the movement. The reality is, it was the massive outpouring of indignation of the government’s highhanded ways in defending itself against a popular backlash that was the real reason for such a massive and spontaneous mobilization of people. The preventive arrest of Anna Hazare was the real catalyst of the movement which galvanized the anger of the masses of the country against the forces of the bourgeois. In particular, this anger was focused upon the Congress Party and its oligarchs in power.
Where to for the movement?
The sudden and massive spontaneous eruption of public anger against the bourgeois state has had few parallels in recent history ofIndia. The last time such a large scale mobilization took place was in 1977 against the emergency measures imposed by the then Congress government in power. Side by side, it has also revealed several weaknesses of the movement which prevented it from being expanded in its scope and impact. These weaknesses include: a) Weaknesses in leadership, b) Relative absence of working class leadership, c) reformist perspectives taking the fore.
Though the intentions of the leadership of Anna Hazare and his team weren’t wrong, the fact of their being focused on arriving at solutions to problems as rooted in society as Corruption within the parliamentary framework, made the entire struggle limited in scope. Nothing was raised beyond the immediate issues pertaining to the Jan Lokpal bill; neither were more diverse solutions sought which could bring the people directly into the arena of combating corruption. Corruption affects the working class and its impoverished allies in the peasantry and petty bourgeois more than any other class in Indian society, yet they have no say over it. It is only the forces of the working class and other democratic forces inIndiaunder class leadership which can tackle the threat of corruption effectively.
Corruption cannot be seen as something that is merely symptomatic and curable with reforms here and there or a quick fix here and there. It is outright wrong to think that one change to the existing power structure in place would magically as if cure the ailment of corruption which drains the people ofIndiaof the wealth that they deserve. The rabid and institutionalized corruption is in fact a result of the peculiar development of capitalism inIndiawhich has taken off at a very late period of Capitalism when the bourgeois is bereft of its progressive ability. At the same time, this bourgeois which has emerged from shamelessly hijacking the revolutionary movement for independence, has had to find various means by which to various underhanded ways to enrich itself. One of the ways this was done was through corruption.
This was further strengthened by the prolonged one party rule of the Congress party overIndiawhich was the harbinger of corruption. Since then all other political parties be it offshoots of Congress or otherwise have emulated these tactics to make them its own. With statism, the bourgeois was forced to concede welfare to the people, but here again; the structure of the bureaucracy which was inherited from the British, posed a way to undermine this victory. The bureaucracy has now emerged as a major pillar of corruption fulfilling a vicious nexus between corporations, the politicians and the bureaucracy. All the while, this nexus remains buoyant by progressively alienating itself from the people and thwarting any principle of accountability the bourgeois might talk of. This will continue to be so, notwithstanding the plethora of laws and regulations in place, as long as the people themselves aren’t given the first stake in combating corruption.
But to raise this possibility would be too much to ask from our reformist leaders who are content with the dysfunctional parliamentary democratic system of the bourgeois. Their limited perspectives weren’t restricted to strategy alone but reflected tactically as well. Throughout the strike, the leaders were concerned with the smooth functioning of the day to day work of the capitalist system. It was a strange sight to see that in the midst of huge nationwide protests, businesses and trade running smoothly throughout the country. Eventually, the more militant aspirations of the people were doused by this. The best way to pressurize the bourgeois government into caving into their demands would have been to declare a general strike throughout the country and appeal to workers in every sector and in particular strategic sectors like the railways, to stop work in solidarity with the protests. This would have brought everything to a standstill! Far from such militant tactics, the leadership under ‘team Anna’s’ direction took great care to keep the protests ‘peaceful’ and made sure that not even traffic would be disturbed in cities.
Ultimately, the protests did end with a two way compromise, with the government giving its assurance to discuss the three issues which was pressed. The original demand of the Jan Lokpal bill being passes by the government was turned down in favor of the government’s own version which would “consider some of the issues raised by the Jan Lokpal bill”. On the 29th of August the fast was ended with this compromise being achieved from both sides and was hailed as a “win-win” solution for both sides. The fact is that it was in fact a loss for the people both ways and a pyrrhic victory for the government. Neither did the masses get a bill which would include their democratic participation in tackling corruption nor did they get the more fighting version of the lokpal which was initially promised! One of the factors behind such a compromise being hatched in haste was the failing health of Anna Hazare himself. After 12 days of fasting, he had lost 7.5 kgs of weight and his blood pressure was declining to alarming levels. He could not fast forever, and neither the government nor the team leadership could let him die. The fast would be broken sooner or later. It was broken and a compromise was reached. These actions reveal the weaknesses of Gandhian tactics which build a mountain and deliver a mouse!
If the anti-corruption movement is to achieve its goal of a society free from corruption, where there can be social justice and where the wealth is not deprived from the people by a clique of the corrupt, then it must advance from the limited frame of a reformist movement to a Socialist struggle with the working class at its core. Corruption will not be ended by one Lokpal nor would it be over with the right of recall alone, but through the overturning of the present wasteful and degenerate Capitalist system by the democratic rule of the working class and its allies under Socialism! The first step towards this transformation is to strive for creating popular committees to fight corruption by the workers at the workplace, by gram Sabhas at the village level and neighborhood committees at each ward in every city!
New Wave’s Third Regular Edition Dedicated to Analysis of Anti-Corruption Movement