The character of the Indian state – Choppam

The following explanation on the character of the Indian state was written around 2010, however we feel the basic principles laid out here are still valid. 

What kind of state is India, and why does it matter?

Why does it matter what kind of state India is?

For a workers movement in struggle, the character of the demands put forward is crucial. Transitional demands urging the movement forward need above all a clear objective towards which the transition is taking place. As well as a clear starting point from which the transition is departing.

The character of a state determines both the starting point and the objective of the transition. And this means it determines the priorities for revolutionary action. Are they historical (e.g. getting rid of feudalism), or national (e.g. emancipation from colonial rule)? In this case they are bourgeois democratic priorities. Are they rural (e.g. land reform)? This is a democratic priority directly challenging the landowning bourgeoisie. Or are they urban (e.g. working conditions, employment, etc)? In this case they are directly socialist.

The different priorities posit different potential alliances – sometimes cross-class when bourgeois democratic objectives are concerned. Sometimes firmly class-based where working class objectives are concerned.

To gain the confidence of the working class and win the leadership of the proletariat, revolutionary priorities need to be visible always and everywhere. And if they are off-target in any way, working class confidence will suffer.

The Indian state – alternative characterizations

India can be characterized in a number of different ways, with each alternative representing a point or node of development in an historical spectrum. Broadly speaking, the spectrum covers two stages. The first is national oppression – from colonial exploitation (the old imperialism) by way of national liberation to semi-colonial exploitation (the new imperialism). The second is class oppression – from the exploitation of the working class in a relatively autonomous bourgeois state to the exploitation of the working class on an international scale by an imperialist state. It is important to remember that imperialist oppression is qualitatively greater and more devastating for both dependent nations and dependent classes. The degree of exploitation and the repressive measures employed are more deadly and more far-reaching.

The main alternatives with respect to India are:

  • Transitional Post-Colonial: the main tasks here are both historical and national, and comprise the uprooting of social, political and economic strongholds of feudalism and colonialism.

  • Semi-Colonial: here finance, trade, manufacturing and services are predominantly in the hands of foreign capital in general ie at the mercy of imperialist states. Imperialist oppression in general has replaced the despotic oppression of a single colonial power. This alternative puts both national and social emancipation on the agenda, with national issues appearing more immediate to the masses.

  • Independent Bourgeois: here class oppression is the major determining characteristic. The national bourgeoisie and its state machinery are in control of the economy and the armed force needed to preserve this relative autonomy. Foreign capital is present but not able to dictate its own terms. Imperialist states are kept at bay. The major tasks are social, aiming at class emancipation. The exploitation and repression are those of advanced capitalism “at home”. The defensive attitude towards other bourgeois states adds an element of national sovereignty to the tasks, but this is subordinate to the interests of the working class and the democratic issue of national self-determination can be handled better by the working class than by the bourgeoisie.

  • Imperialist: this alternative combines the task of working class emancipation in the imperialist state with that of fighting to liberate the working classes of other countries subject to the exploitation and repression of the imperialist state – including where necessary the national emancipation of these countries.

The character of India in relation to these alternatives will emerge in the examination of important aspects of the Indian situation.

Historical aspects

There is an ancient imperial tradition in India including both home-grown and foreign systems. In an historical perspective the British arrived late and took over a lot of “pre-packaged” administrative, geographical and economic features from former empires. What they did achieve – apart from unprecedented levels of exploitation and death – was the unification of the subcontinent, the development of a native bourgeoisie and native strata of technical specialists, professionals and bureaucrats.

They also made sure they preserved and amplified features of the old Indian civilization that served their interests. Feudal relics were employed as “native princes” to ensure tribute without requiring expensive colonial intervention. The caste system was encouraged and utilized to stratify and split the population. Religious differences were exploited to divide and rule – most successfully to cripple and castrate the subcontinent on independence by making sure it split along religious lines – hindu vs muslim. (Although failure to handle religion correctly led to the potentially lethal threat to British rule posed by the Indian Mutiny.)

In all, the British took over all the developed features of former states that were to their benefit, while demoting the former rulers and making them into tools of British domination, along with relics of the past like feudalism, caste and religion.

And when they left they made sure that the new rulers of independent India were in a far weaker position than they need have been, bequeathing them a knot of highly toxic snakes that they were ill-fitted to handle, unravel and dispose of.

However, they also left behind a large and skilled cadre of political, administrative, professional and technical Indians, who were united in their hatred for British rule even while they were seduced by British culture (e.g. education and sport) and fractured into contradictory and self-destructive special interests.

Economic and class aspects

Although much of India remained static under a form of Oriental Despotism (in the sense developed by Marx in the Grundrisse), the former empires brought a dynamic element into the subcontinent in the great trading and manufacturing cities that the British weren’t slow to turn to their own advantage. The developing financial, mercantile and manufacturing bourgeoisies grew under colonialist rule and were very well placed to take independent India into an era of undisputed market-driven capitalist development. They were aided in this of course by the protective and fostering services of the independent bourgeois Indian state.

The question of whether the Indian bourgeoisie after liberation was independent or merely comprador is not hard to answer. Comprador bourgeoisies are spineless and obsequious in relation to their foreign masters, although they now and then vomit on their shoes. Neither the India state nor the Indian bourgeoisie taken as a whole have ever been spineless or obsequious towards the British or any other potential imperialist overlord. They have played imperialist states off against each other, and played these off against the Soviet Union. They have leveraged the strategic fears of the imperialists (the Soviet Union and China) to obtain nuclear weapons, and exploited the desire of the Soviet Union to neutralize imperialist influence in the subcontinent in order to widen their network of trading partners and suppliers of arms and technology, so as to lessen dependence on any single great power. No enslaved post-colonial state could manage this.

Perhaps the most important question in regard to the character of India looking at the bourgeoisie is “who owns what?” Can it be said that the Indian bourgeoisie owns the forces of production in India both in its own right and via the state? Considering the clout of huge groups like Tata and Reliance, and the thoroughly bourgeois character of the fundamental laws of land and property ownership, and of production and exchange, and the way state ownership and investment is subservient to the needs of the bourgeoisie rather than the nation as a productive entity (in a similar manner to state ownership and investment under the Welfare State in postwar Britain) – bearing all this in mind along with the decidedly subordinate (if still powerful) role of foreign capital in India, it can be argued that the Indian bourgeoisie owns and controls the forces of production in India. The alternatives are ownership and control by foreign capital, on the one hand, or ownership and control by the state (as in China, where the state owns the forces of production both in its own right and via the bourgeoisie), on the other. The first alternative is patently false, and the falsity of the second is clear enough if the investment and military priorities of the Indian state are taken into account. The very prominent role of the state in India is necessary to enable it to look after the interests of the bourgeois class as a whole, fostering and protecting domestic capital against competing foreign capitals.

The most important issue in regard to the working class and its position in India is connected with the overwhelming social pressure of the land question. On the one hand the huge rural population comprises a mass base with the potential for irresistible revolutionary mobilization. The countless masses of landless labourers are not merely class allies of the urban working class, but a colossal and integral force within the Indian working class in general. In addition to these millions of rural labourers owning nothing but their labour power, there are further millions of close and natural class allies of the working class, namely the poor peasants engaged in subsistence farming or compelled by debt or violence to produce crops for big farmers, powerful landowners, or agribusiness, rather than for their use and sale in their own interest.

The dynamics of the land question in India are the same as those in all countries where subsistence farming has been the main occupation for hundreds if not thousands of years. Marx describes the ravages of the invasion of the land by capitalism and the market in Capital, in chapters on the displacement of poor crofters in Scotland by sheep bred for profit and on the effects of increasingly brutal legislation in England from before the English Revolution aimed at driving poor farmers off the land along with their dependents farmhands.

This invasion had two effects that accelerated the growth both of the bourgeoisie and the working class. One was the take-over of most land by large market-driven farming operations, which transformed the landowners from a feudal class to a relatively autonomous branch of the bourgeoisie at the same time as it created a new stratum of the bourgeoisie in the shape of medium and large-scale farmers. The other was the forced migration of the rural poor into the cities. This process created the first great modern cities dominated by the manufacturing and commercial bourgeoisie and populated by a swelling mass of dispossessed and desperately poor proletarians, living in appalling conditions. The Manchester described by Engels in The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844 is a typical city of this kind.

In India (and all other countries with the same dynamic) the invasion of the land by capital and the conquest of production by market forces began much later than in England, but surpassed the horrors of the English process many times over.

The bourgeois academic world euphemistically refers to this process, which accelerated enormously after World War 2, as “urbanization”. As if the location of the final destination was the most important thing. Once we call the process by its correct name, however – proletarianization – it is easy to see its fundamental importance in the development of modern bourgeois nations worldwide.

By appropriating the land to produce for profit, the bourgeoisie increases its own power and correspondingly weakens the rural population. Starvation drives the dispossessed rural population into overpopulated cities where they barely survive in filthy slums or in the streets, or in precarious employment in brutal conditions surrounded by desperate unemployed people competing ruthlessly for the few miserable jobs available.

India is perhaps the most terrifying example of this process. Untold millions of poverty-stricken rural “refugees” have fled and are fleeing the destruction of their livelihood by capital. These millions are urban proletarians and have no choice in the matter. But they are still rural laborers or peasants at heart. Which means that Indian cities are teeming with uprooted country people who Lenin (in similar circumstances in late 19th century Russia) called “peasant-workers”. The implications of this for the Indian revolution are huge.

The undeniable scope and social and political impact of these processes make nonsense of any attempt to claim that India today is in any real sense a feudal or caste-driven or colonial country.

The scale of these processes generating on the one hand great concentrations of bourgeois power and wealth and on the other great concentrations of proletarian impoverishment and powerlessness create a social situation in which class tensions are intolerable and visibly approaching breaking point. Rural resistance to these processes has already led to a state of civil war in large parts of India, for instance.

Political aspects

The fundamental political question is “who represses who, and for whose benefit?” The role of the bourgeois fraud Mahatma Gandhi gives a very clear answer to this for India. He inspired both the Congress Party in India, and the African National Congress in South Africa. The goal of both movements from the perspective of their leaders (Gandhi and Mandela) was national liberation with as little disturbance of the bourgeois character of the country as possible. In both cases the leaderships diverted and demobilized and disarmed the movements as much as they could without defeating the whole project of bourgeois national liberation. And of course both these executioners of some of the most powerful revolutionary movements in the modern world are canonized as saints by bourgeois public opinion.

So after liberation the national bourgeoisie, with a great deal of help from imperialism, began repressing the working and poor masses through a state of its own creation. And they did this for their own benefit at the expense of the working class. Some of their new-found wealth was naturally siphoned off as tribute to the imperialists until the growth of the domestic bourgeoisie made this no longer necessary.

In class terms this means that repression in India is carried out by the Indian bourgeoisie against the urban and rural proletariat. Not by foreign capital, and not against the whole nation. It is class against class, with no elements of colonial or semi-colonial national oppression, and with no great bourgeois democratic tasks remaining to be fulfilled. A thoroughly modern class war in a relatively autonomous bourgeois state.

In fact, far from India being subject to foreign oppression, it is extending its power beyond internal exploitation to the exploitation of workers in other countries, with the presence of its capital in many parts of Asia and Africa.

As already mentioned, civil war has broken out between the rural proletariat along with the poor peasantry and the landowners, usurping capital, and the state, in large parts of India. The dynamics of this armed revolt are not fully understood by its leadership, as it does not have a correct class analysis of the causes or of the forces in conflict, which leads to false priorities including a debilitating rejection of the crucial role of the urban working class and the proletarian revolution in resolving questions of rural exploitation and repression. The central issue of expropriation is a good example of this strategic weakness. Who should expropriate the oppressors, and on what political basis, and at what level should the land taken over be owned and worked? The leaders of the rebellion have no satisfactory answers to these questions.

India’s geo-strategic position in an imperialist world

On the basis of what has been said so far, the character of the Indian state is beginning to emerge quite clearly. India’s geo-strategic position removes any remaining doubts. In an imperialist world, India is not owned or controlled by any other country – in fact, it is hardly even threatened in these respects, and if it was threatened it would be able to mobilize its largely home-equipped military and its nuclear weapons against the potential aggressor. And any potential aggressor would destroy itself if it attempted to invade India, or if it launched a nuclear attack.

So it is at the very least an autonomous bourgeois state, and one with considerably larger resources than most European imperialist states.

Looking at the strategic situation on a continental scale it becomes clear that India is a power in its own right in Asia. Its only conceivable competitors at this level for Asian-based domination in Asia are China and Russia. Because of the greater competition on a world scale represented by US and European and Japanese imperialisms taken together, these three countries are performing a strange dance for three — part minuet, and part war-dance. There is cooperation a-plenty, in trade, arms, resources and mutual support against the current imperialist superpowers. And there’s even a name for this community of interests (including Brazil, in a similar kind of position in Latin America) – the BRIC countries.

But in an imperialist world all countries are dragged into cut-throat competition willy-nilly, and this is as clear as day when it comes to the struggle between India and China for command of South Asia and South-East Asia. Billion-dollar trade agreements are made with countries like Burma to build and get favorable access to strategic positions on the rim of the Indian Ocean. China is so far winning this particular battle, but Burma is naturally playing the two big neighbors off against each other, so India has considerable presence, too. China is successfully keeping India out of South-East Asia in spite of India’s efforts to increase its presence and influence there, Whereas India is far ahead of China with its stakes in Afghanistan, in Central Asia and in Iran and the Persian Gulf states. Africa, on the western rim of the Indian Ocean is to some extent being divided up between India and China, where there isn’t sufficient great power imperialist presence to keep them out.

It goes without saying that Bangladesh is India’s economic and military hinterland, with few if any strings attached. It is obvious who is the domineering party in relation to Pakistan, even though Pakistan is hostile to India and fights bitterly to keep India at a distance. Among other things by selling itself as a base for US imperialist aggression in the region and obtaining nuclear weapons that it is politically and economically incompetent to control. However, Pakistan has been thrashed more than once in wars with India.

Russia is present in the Asian framework, but so far more as a looming cloud than an actual hurricane. But its interests in Central Asia are undeniable, and it has a border with China that practically bisects the Asian continent if you include Mongolia. Not only does it exert powerful pressure on Europe, but it is also closer to both Japan and the United States than China is.

The major strategic aspect of the three-way competition between India, China and (to a lesser extent) Russia, is that all these countries are attempting to expand their economic and military influence in Asia. Like pre-war Germany, they need Lebensraum – “room to breathe”. And like pre-war Germany, if they don’t get it then internal pressure will build up until the boiler explodes.

The most important factor keeping them tightly locked within their own borders is blindingly obvious when we move from an Asian perspective to a worldwide perspective. It is the domination of every corner of the world by the current great power imperialisms – every corner, that is, except where states of exceptional economic and military power are able to keep them out. So there is a terrible tension building up as current imperialisms keep India, China and Russia locked within their own borders, and these countries are developing their forces of production as much as they can, producing an equal and opposite pressure to keep these imperialist interests out.

There are close historical similarities between India, Russia and China today and Germany and Japan before World War 2. These two countries were also expanding their forces of production so powerfully that they were able not only to keep out world imperialism but challenge it directly in war. They fought the war to grab more of the world for themselves at the expense of the established imperialisms of the day.

At the moment India, Russia and China are only engaged in small-scale military aggression, so the main expression of their expansionist drive is economic.

For our characterization of the Indian state it is valuable to remember a crucial difference between it and Germany and Japan after World War 2. Defeated in war, both countries were nonetheless recognized by western imperialism to be absolutely necessary barriers to the pressure being exerted in the world economy by the workers’ states of the Soviet Union and (after 1949) China. To be as useful as possible as buffer states they had to be both encouraged to feel autonomous and to be discouraged from getting out of line from the point of view of US and European imperialism. Hence the effort put into reviving their national economies and national bourgeoisies while transforming both countries into military bases for trans-Atlantic imperialism – the Marshall Plan being one such effort.

In this way Germany, Japan (and South Korea, too) were deployed as relatively autonomous but very effective buffer states, containing both the Soviet Union and China. This was proof, if such was needed, of the growing primacy of political considerations over economic ones in the postwar world. The US fostered potentially powerful competitors for the greater strategic good of binding China and the Soviet Union.

The difference between this process and India’s situation is very simple. India was never fostered or revived by imperialism after defeat in war, or deployed by it as a subordinate and crippled buffer state. After throwing off the British yoke, India has been its own master and grown on its own terms. It is an autonomous bourgeois state with no built-in strategic fetters. It is only constrained by external pressure from the imperialist world, not internally crippled like Japan and Germany.

A final political-economic point that has to be made is the qualitative differences between the three states of India, Russia, and China. India is bourgeois from roots to crown, Russia is perhaps the ideal embodiment of State Capitalism – with the centralized state apparatus and economic structures inherited from the Soviet Union, while ownership is in the hands of fabulously rich capitalists. The state is based on domestic capital and supports the capitalists, as long as they don’t disagree with the state. In the first two decades of post-Soviet Russia the ousting of serious competition by foreign capital has more or less been completed, and “oligarchs” refusing to toe the state line have been deposed or driven into exile. And China is a workers state, on a non-capitalist socio-economic foundation, albeit an extremely deformed one.

The struggle for a greater share of the world’s wealth between these three states is practically a laboratory experiment in the relative strengths of three different state formations – 1) India, a purely bourgeois state, 2) Russia, state capitalist (capitalist but directed and to a large extent owned by a powerful but clearly bourgeois state), and 3) China, a non-capitalist state.

And the indisputable fact of this trial of strength, and the fear it induces in the current imperialist great powers, also indicates that not only are they autonomous and expanding against the interests of these powers, but that they are well on the way to becoming serious political and economic challengers or even equals to these powers. In other words (ignoring for the moment the special case of China as a deformed workers state) they are challenging for imperialist status, although they haven’t fully acquired it yet.

Revolutionary perspectives

First of all a negative point has to be made. There is no popular agitation in India demanding the expulsion of the IMF, or the repudiation of India’s foreign debt. These features of foreign imperialist domination are just not present in India.

The hottest struggle currently taking place concerns the land, as is to be expected. A large-scale armed revolt of poor peasants and the rural poor is in full swing and has been going on for years.

In the city regions a rising tide of strikes is taking place, some of them involving tens of thousands of workers, even if they are only regional – as in the recent strike of sugar factory workers in Maharashtra to get the back pay they have been owed for years. Others involving a few hundred workers show that a strategic strike can paralyze a big city – as was the case in the motormen’s strike in Bombay earlier this year.

The scope of the strikes is extending nation-wide with calls for and the organizing of general strikes.

These struggles are not for democratic demands. The rural struggles are not just for land reform parceling out the land of absentee or brutal landlords. They aim for expropriation of the land. And the strikes (naturally) are for workers demands such as pay, conditions, employment and access to health and education regardless of personal wealth.

In fact democratic demands as such represent a reactionary line dragging the struggle back by decades.

There is no way a democratic state of workers and peasants would solve any of India’s biggest problems, and there is not even a ghost of a chance of such a state materializing, regardless of the number of banners or leaflets demanding it as the slogan for power. The national question has been transformed into an international question, not one of freeing India from a foreign yoke, but of freeing other countries from the Indian yoke. Questions of language, ethnicity and religion are still inflammatory, but they can be handled within the framework of the current state. A new, more democratic bourgeois state would not further the interests of oppressed groups more effectively than today’s state.

International questions such as war, infrastructural conflicts (a general strike of dock workers and/or other workers involved in international transport, for instance), etc, are purely a class question, involving class solidarity both at home and abroad. The question of war brings to the fore the special case of China as a deformed workers state in relation to the classic Indian bourgeois state. The Indian proletariat has no serious class choice open to it but to agitate for the defeat of its own bourgeoisie, which in this light it would be not at all misleading to call sub-imperialist. The Chinese proletariat, however, despite all the distortions of the state and the grotesque concessions made to foreign and even domestic capital, must defend its class state against foreign aggression. In both cases however, the rulers need to be thrown aside if a healthy proto-socialist workers state is to be set up.

Conclusions

The conclusions to be drawn from this analysis of the character of the Indian state have already been indicated in the main part of the text.

The solution to the all-important question of the land and how a revolutionary proletarian leadership should approach it is rooted in the character of the land reform being demanded both by urban and rural proletariats. As mentioned above, a “negative” perspective – the removal of oligarchic, absentee, brutal landlords and the parceling out of their land is completely inadequate. It opens the door to the growth of a new class of rich peasants who will gradually drive the poorer peasants off the land in a new iteration of the old process. This is a bourgeois democratic approach, and it is also fatal for the urban working class in that it doesn’t address for one second the question of who owns the real estate in the cities, and urban landlords are an invisible cancer eating away the productive forces of society. A “positive” approach is needed, calling for complete expropriation of the land, both in the countryside and in cities, and the control of its use by and for the benefit of those who use it for productive and socially useful labor.

The question of war – especially one involving China – must be tackled with a perspective of “the enemy is at home”. The sub-imperialist Indian bourgeoisie is an implacable enemy both of the Indian working class it exploits and uses as cannon fodder, and of the working class in countries it attacks.

The perspective needed to focus these demands into a coherent programme is that of the Permanent Revolution underpinning Bolshevik-Leninism, as it is laid out in the Transitional Programme of the Fourth International.

The fundamental issue here is that of the revolutionary leadership of the proletariat, which must have the formation of a revolutionary workers state as its overriding objective. In order to reach this objective, bourgeois democratic demands (such as national liberation, electoral rights, equality before the law etc) have to be realized in passing, as part of the struggle for revolutionary class-based demands. The demands raised in concrete struggle, in agitation among the masses, must be transitional in that they cover both the immediate demands being raised around the issue involved, and point forward to a more general solution to this and other similar issues for the benefit of the whole working class in a society run in the interests of the working class.

The mass leaderships of the labor movement and the left since the hijacking of the Soviet Union by the counter-revolutionary Stalinist bureaucracy have shown themselves time and again to be mass misleaders of the working class and its class allies. Social Democracy is committed to capitalism and the bourgeois state. It is no longer even reformist. National democrats have often succeeded in liberating their countries from a colonial yoke, but have not been able to secure the country from imperialist exploitation and depredation. The only possible way of securing a country against imperialism is by expropriating the bourgeoisie – as the trajectory of the bourgeois democratic revolution in Cuba showed. And in fact the same was the case in China after the Red Army had driven the Kuomintang into exile (accompanied by the Soviet embassy!). Chavez in Venezuela is now at an historical crossroads of this kind.

Mass leaderships of the working class rooted in the success of an anti-capitalist revolution, but that usurped the revolution and pursued counter-revolutionary policies, ie Stalinism and Maoism, have led the class into an endless series of deadly and demoralizing defeats. And the non-Social Democratic, non-Stalinist left leaderships have been riven by the twin forces of opportunism and sectarianism.

It is necessary to evaluate the lessons of these failures of leadership and propose policies that lead to a healthy workers revolution rather than botching it or annihilating it.

And finally, one of the ways in which India’s revolutionary project could be botched up badly would be to raise as power demands the slogans of National Independence and a Constituent Assembly. If the working class and its allies are in a position to raise slogans this direct in agitation for taking over the state, they are in a position to raise slogans for their own class rather than these obsolete slogans of bourgeois democracy.

Class power demands in a state like India will have to call for power to the soviets and the expropriation of all capitalist property.

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Death in the air – A recent rebellion in Udyog Vihar

Note: The article has been written by Akash Bhattacharya on the basis of the findings of a Labour Solidarity Forum (LSF) team and an independent fact-finding visit by Amit Chakraborty. The LSF team comprised of Dheeraj Anand, Leila Gautham, Parag Bannerji, Pratik Ali, Santosh Kumar and Sthira Bhattacharya, besides Akash Bhattacharya.

11 February 2015. Shamichand, a thirty-two year-old worker at Gaurav International – a garment factory at Udyog Vihar in Gurgaon – reported ten minutes late for the second shift that starts around 1:30 p.m. The guard at the factory gate stopped him and an altercation ensued. Shamichand was brutally beaten up. Within an hour news spread that he had died. Workers of Gaurav International and its sister concern Richa Global, indignant at the atrocity, attacked and damaged the buildings and vehicles of the two concerns in the vicinity. Within a day English and Hindi newspapers reported that workers had “gone on the rampage” and “vandalized” the factories upon mere rumours of a death.
Shamichand had not died; and the workers’ acts of “vandalism” were not merely about his suspected death. Few in fact seemed to have accurate information about the incident. They had mutinied against the conditions that make death probable. They work, earn and reproduce amidst oppression, degradation and fear. “If one person stands up, he will be dismissed [from the factory] and everyone will be too scared to do anything” claims Rachna, a female worker in Udyog Vihar. Fear surrounds their homes too in the shape of exploitative landlords and contractors. Sita’s brother-in-law had committed suicide some months ago under suspicious circumstances and the police had refused to accept a First Investigation Report (FIR). She suspects foul play by the maliks (either factory owners or the landlord).
The need for a pliant and flexible labour force for “development” requires their lives and deaths to be rendered invisible. The simmering anger sometimes boils over creating minor but threatening ripples on the tranquil surface of a comfortably ignorant society.
Insignificant Lives
Two days after the incident, a fact-finding team that reached Udyog Vihar was greeted with some suspicion. Outsiders – often upper class people – are correctly deemed unlikely to side with workers. Besides, the police had already filed FIR against two hundred rebellious workers and were looking to arrest them. Knowledge was therefore to be carefully circulated; largely preserved within a subterranean information society. At Kapashera, the border between Delhi and Gurgaon, we were welcomed by a banner with a smiling Arvind Kejriwal thanking all citizens of Delhi for delivering the historic election verdict in favour of the Aam Aadmi Party. Across the border is Udyog Vihar – the industrial area – while the worker’s colonies saturate the lanes on the side of Delhi. They aren’t however the “citizens” that Kejriwal was thanking.
Mostly migrants from agricultural districts of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan and West Bengal, the workers face acute social and political isolation. Shamichand for instance hails from Gorakhpur. Neither are they allowed to unionize themselves nor are most of them voters at the site of their exploitation. In fact the latest wikipedia entry for Gurgaon denies their existence altogether: only the bustling Information Technology sector features under the “economic activities” section. Spatially locked away in the by-lanes near the border, their existence is sometimes trivialized as chhotamota – meager, inconsequential – by more privileged local residents.
Garment workers, numbering over lakhs in Udyog Vihar, are paid miserably low salaries. A permanent worker earns between Rs. 5000/- to Rs. 7000/- per month for 8 hours of work per day, which rises to around Rs. 9000/- with the addition of overtime pay. Unlike the automobile sector along the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC), salaries and employment security are similar for permanent and contract workers. Permanent workers better leave facilities and social security benefits on paper. The deduction of money for Provident Fund from an already meager salary however adds to their hardships in the present.
We began by asking street peddlers, fruit and vegetable vendors about the incident. Some denied any knowledge of the incident, nevertheless calling it “usual”. A rickshaw puller felt that a fine would have sufficed for coming late; the thrashing was unwarranted and unjust. Some did not seem to bother too much about it: we merely come there and sell our stuff to earn a living, what do we know of such incidents? Some said that they had noticed workers running towards the border as the police chased them: a rare instance of rebellious workers leaving a mark in the social space beyond their factory/home. Traffic was blocked along the Delhi-Gurgaon Expressway, IFFCO Chowk, MG Road and Signature Tower too; not due to a workers’ invasion but police efforts to insulate the privileged from the insurgents.
What the Workers Say
Strikingly many workers and other respondents on the streets continue to believe that Shamichand died or that he is fighting for his life. Unsurprising, as death-at-work is a common occurrence here. On 28th March 2014 Sunil Pushkar, a worker in the tailoring department of a garment factory, suddenly collapsed on his seat in front of the electronic sewing machine. He uttered hum ko bacha lo (please save me) to a relative before passing away on the way to the hospital. While the postmortem report claimed that it was a heart attack his colleagues suspected electrocution and blamed the factory management for inadequate safety measures.[i]
Sunil Pushkar’s relatives were fortunate to receive his mortal remains at least. We heard stories of workers disappearing, of dead bodies vanishing; to ensure that no compensation could be claimed and no subversive narratives weaved by the dead. Some workers in Udyog Vihar were not only convinced that Shamichand had died but also concerned about whether his mortal remains were ever going to be found.
Many women – industrial workers and house-workers – also believe that Shamichand is dead. They sympathized with his wife who worked at the same factory as her husband. She was suddenly told before 2 p.m. that day that someone was calling her outside. She rushed out to see her husband lying on the ground. His brutalized body, no longer fit to work, had been discarded. She, along with her brother-in-law, took him to Safdarjung Hospital where he was treated and discharged in a few hours. He later had to be admitted to the Employees’ State Insurance Commission (ESIC) Hospital in Gurgaon.
Indignation at Shamichand’s condition was palpable among women in the residential quarters even as they spoke of their unique difficulties which their men did not always sympathize with: double burden of industrial work to supplement family income and housework. Rachna works eleven hours a day in Udyog Vihar for a paltry Rs. 5000/- a month to finance her child’s education. A poster on the outer walls of Gaurav International celebrates the education of girl children even as the industry denies the finances to its workers to do so.
The outer limit of tolerance was not the same in all workers; though a sense of rage pervaded. Some said that while fines and reprimands were permissible, “We won’t tolerate slaps”. Some felt that the factory manager was responsible; for others, managers are decent people and it is the staff that mistreats workers. Either way the act was not to be condoned. Some accepted that it was wrong for Shamichand to have arrived late, for his job – quality checking – required on-time attendance though the punishment meted out had been disproportionate. Others said that it was unacceptable that workers be taken to task for arriving late whereas mangers and staff could take their own time. Many were angered by the suggestion that the ensuing violence was the work of outsiders, “union people from Haryana”, as an official at Richa Global claimed. They were proud that their colleagues could take such prompt and brave action. “The management was going overboard, something had to happen. Now they know how not to treat us”, several workers claimed. The lack of dignity at work seemed to pinch them as much as low salaries and hard living.

Of Rumours and Fabulous Tales
Amardeep Dagar, the Human Resource General Manager of Gaurav International provides a different account of the incident. According to him the guard had asked Shamichand to speak to his senior before entering the factory, upon which he slapped the guard. An altercation ensued and far from being grievously injured he went to the police to file an FIR. The police themselves shifted him to Safdarjung where he was treated and discharged. He had been asked to join work the following day but instead he let himself be instigated by outsiders and demanded 10 lakh rupees as compensation. On being denied, he lied to doctors to get himself admitted at the ESI Hospital. The next day his wife and brother brought around one hundred and fifty hooligans, pelted stones, burnt files, injured four members of the factory staff and damaged eight-eight vehicles. The police arrived and promptly stopped the arson. The Station House Officer at Udyog Vihar police station claimed that the police had accepted FIR from both sides and that there had been no injury to anyone.
Despite variations in the workers’ accounts of the incident one does notice a pattern in them. All of them claim that the guard beat the worker and not the other way round, that his colleagues retaliated in response, and that the police had sided entirely with the factory management. Their side of the story is eminently believable, for it has been repeated across scores of factories along the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor over the past few years. The police, law and the labor welfare departments have taken the side of neo-liberal capital during unrests at Maruti-Suzuki, Munjal Kiriu, Asti (all in Manesar, Haryana), Autofit (Dharuhera, Haryana), Daikin Air Conditioning (Neemrana, Rajasthan) to name a few.[ii]
Beyond the core set of facts that is repeated by every worker, discrepancies surface. Some claim Shamichand was beaten by the guard alone, some say it involved bouncers. Some say he was beaten inside, some say outside. Not many know who took him to the hospital and what exact condition he is in right now. Some claim that it wasn’t workers who started the violence: it was a response to stone-pelting by the police. Discrepancies are partly deliberate, as none wants to be identified as a participant in the violence. The management has submitted the available CCTV footage to the police and the arrest of some workers is imminent. Four are already behind bars. The camera is rumoured to have been damaged in the violence and the entire footage is possibly unavailable.
The incongruities in the accounts emerging out of the subterranean information society point to the irrelevance of some details. Within the grand-narrative of neo-liberal “development” workers are destined for miserable lives and unceremonious deaths. Even if Shamichand did not die, someone did some weeks back and more will in the coming weeks. Rumours of death, so trivialized in many a report on the incident, are true; even if not in the immediate sense. To say that they are false would amount to a greater lie.
In the light of the great truth regarding the ugly underbelly of industrializing India many fabulous tales take root. In the varying accounts of the Shamichand incident, his brother emerges as a magic figure. Amardeep Dagar identifies him as the conspirator-in-chief: the man who instigated Shamichand to demand a compensation of ten lakhs instead of getting back to work. A landlady in the by lanes of Kapashera told us that he worked in the air-force; that he had managed to get the phone number of the vidhayak (parliamentarian) from a television channel, called him up and got him to send a police force! She however shed no light on what role that force was supposed to play. Several workers believe that he has greater financial power than the factory management and can pose a serious challenge to their machinations. Above all, being bade aadmi (big man) he is not going to take his brother’s plight lying down.
In reality, Shamichand’s brother, Shekhar, is no more powerful than a garment worker. A few workers speculated that the powerful one could be some second brother though we did not come to know of a brother other than Shekhar. He too worked at Gaurav International for seven years and changed his job barely a month ago. He has been running around in vain to file an FIR against the management for beating his brother to pulp. As the workers desperately hang on to their lives and dignity, fabulous stories surrounding materially powerful people rather than god-men aid their emotional sustenance. In the face of a severe crisis in the material world even God’s power is reduced to the material means at his disposal.

Statement on the riots at Trilokpuri New Delhi

Below we reproduce the PADS (People’s Alliance for Democracy and Secularism) statement on the recent communal riots in East Delhi’s Trilokpuri.

STATEMENT ON THE RECENT COMMUNAL DISTURBANCES IN TRILOKPURI
BY
PEOPLE’S ALLIANCE FOR DEMOCRACY AND SECULARISM

NOVEMBER 2, 2014
(Members of P.A.D.S. have been interacting with and visiting residents of Trilokpuri ever since the communal disturbances started on Oct 23. Along with many other citizens they are involved in efforts to re-establish peace and in providing legal aid to those wrongfully arrested. This statement is based on their experiences.)

The inhabitants of Trilokpuri, a densely populated neighbourhood of working people in Delhi, went through a harrowing week after Diwali night on 23 October. A brawl around two places of worship turned into a full scale communal clash. Armed mobs from outside the locality are reported to have joined the rioting that involved brick throwing. Firearms were also used and two boys suffered critical bullet injuries. Inhabitants are emphatic that the police fired into the crowd. The police first denied firing at all. Its latest claim is that it fired only in self defense. One apparel show room owned by a Muslim resident was gutted. Police intervened in force only two days after the clashes started. It turned the neighbourhood into an occupied war-zone. More than fifty men and minor boys were arrested randomly, many picked up forcibly from their houses amid verbal abuse and physical violence. Road intersections were barricaded and entry and exit points were closely monitored. Drones were used in surveillance and houses systematically searched. Essential supplies were in short supply. Daily wage earners, contract workers, and self employed who could not go out lost their source of livelihood. Seriously wounded and ill had no access to medical aid. While the entire neighbourhood suffered in one form or another, inhabitants of three blocks in particular, nos 15, 27 and 28, and attached jhuggi clusters, mainly occupied by citizens who are Muslims bore the brunt of police action.

All this happened at a distance of less than ten kilometers as the crow flies from the center of state power in India’s capital. National elections five months ago were won by Mr Narendra Modi who projected a ‘strong man’ image and promised that he would provide ‘achhe din’ of decisive and effective governance. In reality, the face of the Indian state in Trilokpuri these days is ugly. First, institutions of the state, its police, bureaucracy, and all political parties associated with it failed to prevent a localised scuffle from flaring into a violent riot. And second, when the state did show up, only its authoritarian jack boots were seen on the ground. It further terrorised people already battered by rioting and public violence. It did not taken any steps to initiate dialogue between affected communities, and provided no relief or medical aid. Its social institutions like schools, anganwadis, health centers, or the police organised peace committee, etc. simply collapsed. Three fourths of the arrested people are Muslim citizens. Some of them are migrant workers. Arrested people were abused and beaten up while in police lock up. Many of them had visible injuries when presented in front of a Magistrate in the Karkardooma court on 27th October. They were not provided any medical aid or food for nearly two days.

The Trilokpuri neighbourhood has a traumatic past. It was established in the mid seventies of the last century during Emergency. It is a so-called resettlement colony, in which people forcibly displaced from inner city were settled and given land titles. The displacement and settlement process was often violent. Mr Jagmohan, the top administrator of Delhi and a close confidant of Mr Sanjay Gandhi then, later Governor of Jammu and Kashmir during insurgency there and a minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, was the chief persona in the entire process. The most gruesome massacres of Sikh citizens in Delhi in 1984 took place in Trilokpuri and neighbouring Kalyanpuri.

Despite the fast economic growth and massive urbanization in the past two decades in India, settlement patterns in cities continue to be segregated by religion. Most of Trilokpuri is inhabited by Balmikis, a scheduled caste, classified as untouchables in the orthodox Hindu varna order. After the Sikhs migrated out, Muslims are the other community, who are concentrated mainly to three out of thirty blocks. Recent migrants in search of work form a significant part of the population. They are also settling along community lines. The twenty five square yard plots originally alloted have now risen to three-four storey pucca structures, providing a decent rental income to original owners. There are also occasional cars parked in narrow streets. The little prosperity that has trickled into this neighbourhood has however not brought secure peace. Residents often complain of brawls and other forms of every day violence. The area reportedly also suffers from petty crime syndicates operating under police protection. Nevertheless, for thirty years since 1984, the neighbourhood escaped communal violence. Even the weeks following demolition of Babri mosque in 1992 passed peacefully.

Recent events in Trilokpuri reveal the character of Indian society and state that do not portend well at all. All experiments in Fascism, that involved selective violence against minorities to consolidate a nation, have relied upon mass support. The India of 2014 can not be said to be impervious to such schemes. The political success of Mr Narendra Modi at the national level has emboldened the Hindutva targeting of religious minorities and aggressive mobilisation around sectarian demands.

The ex-MLA from the BJP is reported to be part of the communal organising in Trilokpuri. Communal polarisation is proving to be a successful electoral strategy for the BJP. It is exploiting economic, political, gender and caste anxieties in a fast changing society which has not developed a strong popular democratic consciousness. The tragedy of politics at the moment in India is that none of the competitors of the BJP have a clue about how to counter its dangerous mix of religion and politics with a leader enjoying mass support. The Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi had succeeded in getting the support of Muslim and Dalit voters in the last assembly elections and currently holds the Trilokpuri seat, but it is afraid to come out publicly against communal violence lest it disturbs its electoral calculations. Congress is in severe decline and absent from the scene. No mainstream political party in India has had the wisdom and ideological clarity to realise that treating society in terms of the majority- minority framework actually validates communal agenda, and that the counter to communalisation of politics is an unequivocal assertion of citizenship rights of every one.

It is also obvious that the Indian state, while seemingly democratic in some aspects, is also undemocratic in some fundamental ways. It does not consider the protection of democratic rights of its citizens as its prime responsibility. It regularly attacks rights of the poor and socially marginal, which at present also include religious minorities. Indian state still follows the colonial authoritarian policy of treating moments of deep social strife like riots as a ‘law and order’ issue, and its first action is to enforce its brutal authority over people, rather than help the victims. Further, over time the Indian state institutions have been communalised. None of the victims of communal riots in India, including the most gruesome ones, of 1984 in Delhi, 1992-3 in Mumbai and 2002 in Gujarat have received justice. Commission after commission on riots in India have found the police and administration to be authoritarian and partisan. Yet, if nothing has changed, there obviously are powerful social and political forces that wish to use this character of Indian state for their own ends.

The social ideological environment of neoliberalism has encouraged religiosity and public assertion of religious identities, while weakening mass based mobilisations against oppression and exploitation. This is happening in all communities. Right wing political forces claiming to represent specific religious communities are using the opportunity to develop new kinds of aggressive religious practices that lead to social strife and communalise the society. This is a new challenge which democratic and secular forces have to contend with. Barring a few exceptions, the media in the capital has played a partisan role during recent developments in Trilokpuri. English language newspapers and TV channels that cater essentially to consumerist aspirations of urban propertied and professionals have spread the police version of rioting, which blames Muslim residents of the neighbourhood. They are more interested in sustaining a consumerist utopia unencumbered by social disturbances, rather showing the sufferings of the marginal and the physical abuse of people arrested by the police. Many residents of Trilokpuri work as maids, drivers, security guards and provide other services to the upper middle class residents of neighbouring Mayur Vihar. Yet life in the latter went on as usual.

P.A.D.S. appeals to the citizens of Delhi to disregard aggressive sectarian demands, provocations and rumours by communal forces and defeat their plans to communalise society. Secularism of the state and society is necessary for everyone, believers of different religions and non-believers, to lead a peaceful life without discrimination and persecution. Before succumbing to calls for their so-called ‘community’ interests all citizens should ponder over what kind of society they wish to live in. The one based on hatred and violence, or the one which respects citizenship rights of everyone.

We appeal to the working people of the city, who constitute the overwhelming majority of its population, to organise and fight together against their economic exploitation, caste oppression, price rise, police extortion, and deplorable condition of public services like hospitals, schools, and transport, rather than against each other.

Long term policy changes are needed to ensure that events like Trilokpuri do not occur anywhere else in the country. People’s Alliance for Democracy and Secularism demands following from Delhi state administration.

1. All administrative and police officials who failed in their duty to prevent rioting, made random and wrongful arrests, and physically abused citizens should be punished.
2. All residents who suffered physical injury, mental trauma, wrongful arrest and loss of property during riots and subsequent police occupation of the neighbourhood should be adequately compensated.
3. All citizens arrested should be granted immediate bail, and cases against them settled expeditiously so that they and their families can lead a normal life as soon as possible.
4. A judicial commission of inquiry should be constituted immediately to find out culpability of state administration, and of the political leadership of any party in fanning the communal violence.
5. Immediate relief should be provided to all residents who have lost livelihood. Medical aid should be given to the injured.
6. The ‘official’ peace committee established by the police has proved completely ineffective. It should be revamped and representatives of the organisations working in the area should be included in it. Its meetings should be held regularly and publicly.

7. Many areas in Delhi are potential flash points for communal violence. There are many reports of aggressive sectarian demands made by ‘panchayats’ and ‘mahapanchayats’. All those making illegal demands and spreading false propaganda about others should be dealt with firmly, so that citizens of other parts of the city do not suffer what Trilokpuri residents are going through.

Statement on BSNL contract worker’s dharna on 26th

ALL OUT SUPPORT TO THE CONTRACT WORKER’S STRUGGLE !

Contract workers in BSNL are said to number around at least 1 lakh. This huge force of workers are among the most exploited segment of the company’s workforce. These workers, some of whom have worked for over ten years, remain deliberately exempted from benefits which are guaranteed by labor laws. After years of wait, all contract workers have united in their struggle and today are out on protest all over the nation under the banner of the BSNL Contract and Casual Worker’s Federation. The New Wave Bolshevik Leninist group extends its full support to the union and the contract workers who have come out on struggle today. We are with you all the way !

Nature of contract work and nature of exploitation.

The contract workers while employed by BSNL, are paid by the contractors. The contractor effectively acts like a seller of labor force, and the company its buyer. Because of this, the company management always tries to pass the buck on to the contractors, and the contractors themselves show now responsibility towards their workers. The Abolition of Contract labor act stipulates certain facilities and duties that the contractor must provide for the workers, chief among these are ensuring due payment of ESI, Provident Fund and payment of minimum wage. More often than not, they don’t honor any of these commitments. On the contrary, we have seen cases, where workers haven’t even gotten their pay for periods of 4-5 months and when this payment is given, it is done in a most irregular manner. This is despite a company directive, that the workers must be paid via cheque or through deposit in their account.

Company management blaming contractors, contractors blaming company management.

When these irregularities are reported to the company, the company feigns responsibility by saying it is not their duty. This is far from the truth ! Being the company which employs the workers, BSNL is the main employer for the contract workers and it is their responsibility to ensure that the workers get adequate pay and decent working conditions. Likewise, the contractors pretend that all matters pertaining to labor rights is out of their hands, even when the law stipulates that they must observe due payment of wages and give facilities for workers to help in their work. Neither the contractor nor the management has any regard for the contract worker and his rights. We cannot and must not let the contractor go scott free with their wrong doings, but nor must we lose sight of the bigger picture in which the management becomes the main enemy.

Who is the main enemy ?

While the contractor may present himself as the immediate enemy, the truth is that he is only a small part of a much bigger system in which the main enemy are those that decide the company policy. We must fight at three levels. The first level faces the immediate enemy, that is the contractor. Every time, that the contractor fails his duties to the workers, or commits any act which is illegal (like non-payment of wages) the union and the organization must take it up with the management and demand the same of the management and report the contractor for his illegal act. On the second level we fight against the company’s local management, against whom we can demand immediate measures dealing with local conditions. At the third level, we fight against the very top management and in turn, the capitalist government itself, and demand changes in policy for the betterment of the condition of workers and changes in law to ensure decent working conditions and ultimately, for the abolition of the contract labor system.

This third enemy, is our main enemy and it is not just our enemy but of the whole working class of India. Even while fighting at the local and state levels, we are ultimately building up to the fight at the national level. In this, we must build unity amongst ourselves and between ourselves and the workers of India.

For unity between all contract workers and unity between contract and permanent workers.

However, none of this can be achieved without the strength of a strong, militant and united organization of the workers. This step has been taken by the formation of the BSNLCCWF, but we cannot simply take it for granted. The organization must be strengthened by the constant vigilance and active participation of the workers in it. The organization in turn must function as an organization of the workers, taking the rank and file into trust in every decision it makes. The hallmark of a militant workers organization, is its steadfast commitment to the interests of the workers and fearlessness in defending and furthering it.

While we are building our own organization in BSNL, we must not be ignorant of the larger picture. The curse of contractorization affects not just us, but the whole working class of the country. By uniting our struggle with the struggle of all contract workers, and even non-contract workers, we will not only be strengthening our own struggle, but also furthering that of the entire working class. Remember, the main enemy is the capitalist class and its government.

The long term goal and short term goal.

Our struggle must be shaped in two directions. On the one hand, we must keep a long term goal, whilst on the other keep a gist of short term goals which can give contract workers immediate relief. The long term goal must be the regularization of all contract and casual workers employed by the company and their alleviation to the status of a permanent worker with the wage rate and attached benefits of a permanent worker, for all those who do work of a permanent nature. For those whose work is of a temporary nature, to make improvements in their condition of work and wage rate bringing them at par with permanent workers employed in similar areas of work. Our short term aims must include the most urgent and immediate questions of increases of pay and regularization of payment as well as measures which can guarantee us these.

Lastly, we must remember that it is only through rigorous and organized struggle that we can win in our fight. There are encouraging examples right within BSNL of victories which the contract workers have won through their struggle. In Kerala and Karnataka where they have won wage increases, and have successfully fought back discrimination against themselves. These are examples which show the way forward for all of us.

Abolish contractorization ! Stable jobs and good conditions for all !

Stop the discrimination ! Equal pay for equal work !

Report on field visit to BSNL contract workers

On the 22nd of January, comrade Adhiraj and Pushkar of the New Wave made a visit to a team of contract workers who attended our Open Forum on the 7th of January.

They were engaged in work of line repair for BSNL underground cables. The workers have told us that they have been at this work since morning at 9 and had spent 7 hours at work by the time we arrived. During our stay there we did not see any supervisor nor technician on the spot to guide the workers in this work, although the line man ought to be present.

When we asked about the nature of the work and the support from the company or contractor, one worker was quick to point out that “There is no support from the company or contractor, if we injure ourselves there is no accident insurance either. Despite the fact that the work we do is of a hazardous nature”. They also pointed out to us an earlier incident of a colleague being injured while on duty.

Later on we discussed about the core demands which the workers would look forward to. They were all unanimous in stating that their main concern is getting proper payment of wages. One worker among them told us “The contractor disburses the payments, and he always pays us less than the minimum wage. We don’t get ESI *( Employee’s State Insurance) payment or Provident Fund payment, but a much smaller amount” . Incidentally it was in most cases less than the stipulated minimum wage for the state of Maharashtra and far below the minimum wage guaranteed by the latest order by BSNL itself.

When asked “are you satisfied with the minimum wage of around Rs. 10,000?” the workers unanimously stated that the wage must be at least Rs. 12-15,000 especially so given the rising cost of rent and transport. Most of the workers we interviewed live in the outskirts of Pune and have to travel distances of 50 or more kilometres to arrive at the office, from where they are assigned different areas of the city to work in. The pressure for transportation drains out most of the monthly income from the workers, which we found were in most cases around Rs. 5000 . A pitiable amount considering the house rent and cost of transport. Even here, though workers have complained to us about arrears in payment and delays in payment. We were told by one worker, that two months’ payment of wages had not yet been given to him.

We asked him later on about how long he has been working in BSNL and what were his motivations in joining the company. He explained to us : “I have been working in BSNL for around 12 years at least. Right after completing graduation I joined the company. We were told that BSNL was a growing and reputed government company. All of us who joined expected the stability of a government job. I hoped that after two or three years my employment would be regularized, but nothing of the sort happened. In the last 12 years I have seen no change it has been as bad as it is now. I have two parents, a wife and a child in my family, and so far, we’re surviving only on my father’s pension. I haven’t been able to contribute a single rupee to the family because my wages are too little and aren’t paid in time.”

All workers we discussed with were more than willing to come out in struggle for their basic demands, however, they did not find the necessary support. The main trade unions in BSNL had not raised the issue of contract workers on their agenda till the New Wave Bolshevik Leninist initiated its Open Forums. The main fear in the minds of the workers however, was the constant threat of retrenchment which the contractor keeps repeating. Absence is punished with pay cuts and the workers are forced to attend on weekends including Sundays and other statutory holidays. Even Independence Day and Republic Day are not spared and their names are written on the muster rolls even when they do not attend. That day’s pay is cut from their monthly salary.

Comrade Adhiraj Bose later on answered the doubts regarding the legal structure in place for contract work. In particular, the duties of the contractor and the management in the event that the contractor fails to do his duty. The position of the contract worker is legally synonymous with a ‘workman’ in the Industrial Disputes Act which entitles him to all benefits which any permanent worker enjoys including ESI payment and Provident Fund. Not only that, but makes it mandatory on part of the contractor to provide for this. A discrepancy in payments by the contractor would invoke punitive sections in the Abolition and Regulation of Contract Workers Act, and would also put burden on the company management to make good any arrear in payment to the worker. Neither company nor contractor is performing their legally binding duty in this case. Equally significant to note, that when a worker is employed in a job of a continuing nature, that entitles him for regularization. Most of the workers therefore, would be entitled to regularization.

At the end of the meeting the workers were keen to know about the next step in the Open Forums initiative. We have resolved to continue the organization of the Open Forum and use it as a fighting force for the rights of contract workers. The next step we decided is to investigate into grievances of contract workers within Pune district and investigate into contractors who have indulged in illegal abuses.

Contractorization of labour and the fight against it

Contractorization of work has fallen like a curse upon the Indian proletariat. The trend in Indian capitalism has been to make work more and more precarious in order to more thoroughly exploit the working class. Contractorization is being more and more preferred as a medium of employment as it blurs the lines of employment responsibility and helps capitalists escape legal compulsions towards their workforce. It promotes abuses like arbitrary retrenchments, non-payment of minimum wages, and denial of welfare measures which are the right of the workers. But this has not been unanswered and without opposition.

With the spread of contractorization of work, there has been has given rise to a movement against this. A trend of struggle against contractorization has emerged emerged which has seen more and more trade unions playing a proactive role in regularizing contract workers. The aim being fought for is for the total abolition of the contract worker system. It is important to note that despite the existence of a legal framework in force, in the form of the Contract workers, (regulation and abolition) Act 1970, and the Contract Labour (regulation and abolition) Central Rules 1971, abuses on contract workers still persist. As in many similar cases, legislation of this kind serves more as a fig leaf than any real protection.

A brief overview of some important struggles :

Contract workers throughout the country are mobilizing against unfair and exploitative treatment at the hands of their employers. Some have achieved notable victories, as was the case with the BSNL contract workers at Kerala. An indefinite strike was started by contract and temporary workers in Kerala from 12th of August with demands for wage revisions and implementation of ESIEmployees Social Insurance (ESI) and EPFEmployees Provident Fund (EPF) which resulted in a comprehensive agreement. The agreement guarantees :

1. The employees engaged for Cable/Line maintenance will be paid @ Rs.258/- + DA


2. All other workers will be paid @ Rs.236/-+DA


3. EPF and ESI will be implemented.


4. Work less than 4 hours will be treated as part time and ESI & EPF will be implemented.

5. Payment of bonus will be considered and provision will be included in the tender.

6. ID card certified by BSNL officer will be issued.

7. The system of Work Contract will not be implemented at present.

This was a notable victory of contract workers in BSNL’s Kerela SSA and a model which can be followed in other circles.

Similar struggles had been initiated out in Goa last year where around 350 contract workers went on strike for regularization of jobs. This was after the local management had assured the workers of guaranteeing they would guarantee them statutory welfare measures like leave, weekly off, holidays, overtime, bonus and a wage revision. Reports from Karnataka show similar mass mobilizations, with a 1,000 contract and casual workers agitating for regularization. The demands include payment of minimum wage, implementation of social security measures like EPF and ESI, and reinstatement of retrenched workers. While the treatment of contract workers fares is better in public sector companies owing to better accountability, abuses do take place even here. The scene in the private sector however, is decidedly worse, where even token regard to labor laws is absent. This difference in public and democratic political accountability is a huge benefit of nationalization even under capitalist conditions with a bourgeois ruling class.

One of the most intense struggles involving contract workers, thus far has been seen in Maruti Suzuki where a major portion large number of arbitrarily retrenched workers have been contract workers. What began as a strike against unjust and unfair labor practices in Maruti has transformed into a movement which has shaken shaking the confidence of the bourgeoisie everywhere in the country. An unprecedented rolling strike took place and the protest movement continues. Among the major issues in this mobilization has presented before us is the point of is precisely the job security of contract workers. And as always, throughout the struggle the state machinery has shown itself to be decisively in favor of corporate interests over worker’s interests.

The bourgeoisie aims to pauperize, fragment and weaken the working class everywhere, and contractorization has been among one of the best ways to achieved this. The ambition of Indian capital to attain global standing has only exacerbated this in the name of ‘growth and development’. But this is not without there is, as always, resistance. The struggles occurring both in the private and public sector shows show us this. However, in most cases these are piecemeal efforts aimed with very defensively aims and with a very empirical perspective in place. Good as they may be, they do not overturn the system of pauperization in place which puts systematic pressure to pauperize the working class in the whole nation. However, past struggles of workers have given us a good foundation to fight on. This is best reflected in the welfare measures which the different governments in power have been forced to make concede. And the struggles have led to a legal framework for regulating and abolishing contract work.

The legal framework in place :

The key piece of legislation on the question of contract workers is the Contract Labour regulation and abolition Act of 1970. The Act was instituted in a period of heightened class struggle and in a time when contractorization of work was only a nascent phenomenon. Though this act, as well as the central rules framed in 1971, were meant to provide relief against arbitrary and exploitative practices of employers against contract workers, and to this effect regulate (and in some cases abolish) the system of contract work, in reality, this has proven to be a red herring. The good intentions have proved to be a mirage.

The continuing exploitation of contract workers as seen from examples above, show that the laws in force are not only inadequate but are poorly implemented. Among the most glaring inadequacies present in of both the aAct and the Rules, is the ambiguity on responsibility of payments and the the non-admission of liability of the principal employer. A huge loophole has been left out which has encouraged the worst abuses of contract work, in the ambiguity on responsibility for ensuring wages and facilities for contract workers. As per Sections 20 and 21 of the Act, the first responsibility for ensuring payment of wages is given to the contractor rather than the principal employer. The Principal Employer assumes responsibility only in the event that the contractor fails to meet his obligations. More often than not, the principal employer jettisons responsibility for the contract worker entirely.

The Act also provides for a regulating mechanism in the appointment of duly authorized representatives. This is sorely inadequate in achieving its target, in the objective of ensuring due payment at the hands by the contractor. In absence of a strong mechanism to compel the payment of wages to contract workers, the abuses remain unchecked.

Among the biggest inadequacies however, and possibly its greatest weakness is that it doesn’t apply to workers of the unorganized sector. The act has explicitly stated that it only applies to establishments employing more than 20 workers. This provides a very easy loophole has been left out where the employer and contractor can avoid the obligations imposed by this enactment their legal obligations by simply dividing the factory or office establishment.

However, as a welcome respite the judiciary has occasionally stepped in to provide some relief and bring about clarity in the laws. Notably, the Supreme Court in the cases of Standard Vacuum vs their workmen (1960IILJ) wherein, contract labor was forbidden in four areas of work were debarred from employment of contract workers :

Where work is of a perennial nature and goes on from day to day.;

The work is incidental to and necessary to the work of the factory.:

Where it is sufficient to employ a number of permanent workmen.;

Where most of the work is being done through regular workmen.

Thus far, this has been among the most significant judgments dealing with contract workers and has expanded the ambit of exclusion of contract work.

Similarly important judgments include the case of Gujarat State Electricity Board vs Union of India and Air india Statutory Corporation Ltd vs. United Labour Union & others. These however, deal with the question of absorption of contract workers in cases where contract work is abolished. The first judgment held that the Act should be amended by incorporating a suitable provision for an industrial arbitrator in cases where contract work is abolished, while the second deals with an employer’s liability for absorbing contract workers. The former decision was never acted upon by the government and no such amendment has been made till date, while the latter judgment was prospectively was overruled. The employer, it was held, could not be automatically compelled to absorb the contract workers. If anything these The fate of these judgments in favor of the workers’ interests plainly show the limitations of the judiciary when it comes to guaranteeing and enforcing laws intended to help the workers.

All in all however, the long term aim of abolishing contract work and bringing about a full regularization of workforce remains untouched by the legal framework in place. Even in its aims of providing relief to contract workers from the prolific abuses the legislations in place fall shorts on many grounds. The Judiciary is bound in by its own institutional framework has in the bourgeois system, and has very limited scope to go beyond the legislative frameworks in place advance the interests of the workers in their contradictions with the capitalists. Despite the occasional respite given, the scenario on the whole remains dire and shows that a long and concerted struggle is needed to ensure even the most basic needs of the workers.

The direction of struggle, towards a campaign for abolition of contract work :

As is the case with most labor laws and welfare measures in place, they are paid scant regard by capitalists and are often reduced to mere letters. The case with laws on contract labour is no different. While we must take advantage of every opportunity these concessions have given give us, empowering us in the task of organizing contract workers, we must not have any illusions. Our aim is the full abolition of contract work and a framework ensuring job security and a guarantee of welfare for all. This To achieve this aim requires a united struggle embracing all contract workers across the nation. What is more, the solidarity between contract workers and regular workers is indispensable for a strong movement to emerge.

The position of the contract worker is one facing double exploitation. On the one hand the worker is exploited as insecure and easily exploitable workforce coerced labour by the principal employer while on the other hand he is exploited by a parasitical middle man in the form of the contractor. The contractor controls an important supply of labor within his enterprise and pockets the surplus through both from the literal sale of the laborer to the company as well as from the denial of statutory guarantees to the worker.

But it must not be forgotten that in a bourgeois democracy exploitation is accompanied by concessions whose scale depends very much on the vigor of working class action and the vision of its leadership. The Labour legislation, though inadequate, gives enough scope to mount a legal and open challenge against the worst aspects of the contractorization system. Demanding all those benefits guaranteed by law while preparing the ground for expanding fighting to expand the welfare that can be accorded of the working class by improving its living conditions and share of the national wealth is the crucial dialectic of our approach to the everyday struggle for a decent life under capitalism. This in turn must aim at the complete abolition of the contractorization system while making the conditions of work for contract workers in the present situation as good as possible.

Our ultimate goal, it goes without saying, is to abolish the economic system which thrives on these injustices and takes advantage of unemployment and insecurity to damage people’s lives. A modern society based on human values and mutually beneficial relations between all its members has nothing in common with our present-day capitalist societies. These are shot through with greed, corruption, brutality and a callous disregard for human life and well-being. They are reaching the end of their historical tether, and we are only too willing to cut it for them and put them out to pasture, like retired wild beasts who have spent a lifetime breaking the bones and eating the flesh of gladiators.

Our stand on the Telengana agitation

Our Stand on the Telengana agitation :

One of the most significant movements of recent times in the India has been the agitation for a separate state of Telengana. The movement that started out in the 1960s with a bloody uprising of students and peasants came to a conclusion some weeks ago with the cabinet decision passed for the separation of Telengana from Andhra Pradesh, forming two separate federal states. Unsurprisingly, this has led to vigorous agitation from those who want an undivided Andhra Pradesh including the districts of Telengana. But if we only analysed the parties and groups involved in this agitation we would be using a superficial and artificial perspective on the massive movements taking place among the people, and only blind ourselves to the real dynamics beneath the surface.

The entire history of the Telengana province and of the political struggles in Andhra Pradesh reveals a continuum of failures of bourgeois political solutions for the people of both Andhra and Telengana. The present situation in Andhra is no different and only reflects this failure more glaringly. All the major parties, from the ultra-right to the Stalinist (and even the Maoist) left, have only proposed one kind of pro-capitalist solution or another. None have proposed a socialist solution calling for a government of workers and poor peasants and tribals running the region themselves in their own best interests and for their own and incidentally everyone’s benefit.

The root cause of the struggle :

The 1930s and the 1940s saw a mass awakening in the Indian sub-continent. The working class emerged as a serious political force in the affairs of India. The peninsular South was not immune from this, and the emergent bourgeoisie around Seema Andhra was drawn into the national anti-colonial movement. The workers and peasants eventually entered the stage under the communist party and the movement grew to be irresistible.

The peasants overwhelmingly supported the bourgeoisie of Seema Andhra, but this was only because they welcomed and were ready to fight for the anti-colonial and anti-feudal agenda of the pro-independence bourgeoisie (at that time led by the Congress party). The roots of the agitation were deep in this anti-colonial and anti-feudal struggle, whose highest point was probably the Telengana rebellion of 1946. The peasant rebellion was in essence anti-feudal in nature and had an agrarian agenda. The core questions of land reform and rural welfare were topmost on the agenda upon the abolition of the feudal Hyderabad Nizamat. But the defeat of the Telengana uprising by the Indian army that forced Hyderabad into the Indian union under the Congress government, destroyed any hope of the people themselves being able to resolve these burning questions of the democratic revolution. The Stalinists gave up the revolutionary struggle the moment they shunned the armed uprising in favor of a parliamentary approach within the bourgeois Indian state. Ultimately the caricature of the democratic revolution that was bourgeois Independence was replayed with equal brutality and neglect of popular needs in the provinces of Telengana and Andhra.

The merger of Telengana and Andhra arose from the demand of a united province for Telegu speaking people in which the regions of Rayalseema and Telengana would be included, both of them vastly poorer than the Seema Andhra region. The natural reaction of the people of these provinces was fear and suspicion on the domination of the bourgeoisie, and subsequent experience did not improve relations between the people of any of the provinces concerned. The capitalist model of development not only preserved the inequalities between the two provinces but exacerbated it. A nouveau-riche bourgeoisie based in Telengana soon took advantage of these sentiments and channelized them into self-interested regionalism. The Stalinists had long since become irrelevant as a relevant political force in Telengana and Andhra having failed the agrarian revolution in 1946. The bourgeoisie led by the Congress was now indisputably the chief political force and devoted itself to exploiting, misdirecting and repressing the struggles of the peasants and youth who constitute the most potent social force behind the agitation.

There is no lack of revolutionary energy among the masses of unemployed and pauperized youth and peasantry, they are ready and willing to fight and sacrifice everything for their cause. But in the absence of revolutionary leadership, their entire potential has been drawn off into a narrow regionalist agenda that is permanently and completely detached from the real interests of the people.

The political forces and their role :

The main political force in Telengana is the bourgeoisie organized around the Congress party, and their role is truly national in scale. A perspective that views the Telengana movement from the perspective of Andhra and Telengana alone cannot understand the reality of the situation in the region. The Congress party became the undisputed leading political force after militarily crushing the Communist party and remains so till today.

The decisive victory of the bourgeoisie in crushing the first Telengana rebellion and its unbroken control over the united Andhra movement ensured lasting domination. Through this time, the bourgeoisie’s power rested on its ability to secure the support of the mass of peasants and petty-bourgeois forces around a regionalist agenda where an end to backwardness and regional development were popular catch calls. Students too formed an ideological as well as material backbone of the Telengana movement, providing a strong urban force. But none of the leading bourgeois parties had an agenda that would bring about the betterment of the people they led into battle. It was never long before the mobilizations degenerated into a political game of grabbing the best spoils.

With the fall from power of the Congress party at the central level in the 1990s, the party underwent a series of splits. Bengal and Maharashtra ended up with their own regional Congress parties. Andhra was not immune to this. The internal dissidence of the Congress party leaders over the backwardness of Telengana and the need to keep a united Andhra led to splits from the Congress to create specific regional parties. In this period the Telegu Desam Party emerged as a challenger to the Congress, with the facade of championing the interests of Telegu culture. More recently the Y.S.R Congress emerged from a split within the Congress party. Likewise, the Telengana Rashtra Samiti emerged from the support given by the Indian National Congress to counter the influence of the Telegu Desam Party adding to the chaos of squabbling bourgeois opportunists and fortune-hunters.

The Congress party is ruthlessly determined to rule over both Telengana and Andhra, and the cunning way it plays off various regional interests against each other shows very clearly how little it cares for any of them. Holding aloof and vacillating between keeping the peace between its dissidents and inciting a fight between them has been a cornerstone of Congress Party policy towards Telengana. If they support statehood for Telengana today, it is not with any concern for the people, but as a strategic gambit to grab more seats in the state legislature and the national parliament. The Maoists know only too well the cunning strategy behind the vacillations, a kind of maneouvre which the centrally established bourgeois democrats have perfected in India, as they’ve been severely damaged by it. The Telengana region was a core stronghold of the Naxalite movement in India till the Congress government retook power (with the tacit help of the Maoists, intent on committing political and too often literal suicide by refusing to organize and fight on a principled class-based revolutionary set of demands). Once it was back in power, the Congress unleashed the full force of paramilitaries upon them. Presently, the left is all but exterminated from the political landscape in Andhra and Telengana. Whatever lame-duck presence the Stalinists can muster is only a token blip. This is a lethal and permanent punishment for their betrayal of the Telengana movement and the foolishness of trying to make alliances with bourgeois factions.

The chaotic situation has only gotten worse with the recent emergence of reactionary and obscurantist communal forces offering their support to the Telengana separatist movement. The BJP under Modi seems to be in an unofficial competition with the Congress to support Telengana statehood. Needless to say, this provides yet another destabilizing dynamic to the barrel of nitroglycerine that is Telengana (especially considering the substantial and cruelly victimized Muslim population of Hyderabad) and will only add more blood and agony to the already horrific record of Indian capitalism in Telengana.

The first task of any revolutionary organization in such a situation is to dispel confusion and silence the braying of the bourgeois asses, and to speak clearly on what must be done and why. In supporting the Telengana agitation and backing the creation of a separate state, we do not for a second support any of the bourgeois factions trying to round up the support of the pauperized peasantry for their own selfish ends, but we advance our own programme of demands, based on the immediate material and social needs of the working class and the poor peasantry. We put forward a socialist alternative aimed at breaking the monopoly power of the bourgeoisie (in all its forms) over social production and development.

The proletarian alternative :

The policy of the Indian bourgeoisie over the Telengana issue follows the same pattern as everywhere. Hijacking powerful class-based movements, watering down or ignoring the class-based demands that drive the mobilizations, and using the social energy generated by the masses to secure their own selfish, limited interests, often diametrically opposed to those of the masses who bring them to power, and never of any benefit to them at the very least. To this effect, almost all bourgeois parties try their best to suppress the core questions of economic disparity and general impoverishment of the populace and replace them with some vaguely defined concept of ‘identity’. The identity itself is pure opportunism as far as the bourgeoisie is concerned. It can be religious, for communalist hooligans, nationalist, for Great India chauvinists, regional, for local discontents, ethnic, gender-based. It doesn’t matter. The aim is too obvious to ignore. In Telengana, they want to give the entire movement a direction which suits the interests of each regional bourgeois leaderships. Each wants to get or keep a position of power. The mass power of the people is either corralled to this end, or defused, or derailed. To this sorry state of chaos, revolutionary bolsheviks present their own alternative based on the core interests of the people.

1)The agrarian question :

The social rage generated by the Telengana question is rooted in a more general agrarian question. The question of the land has been central, from the anti-feudal rebellions in Telengana and Andhra to the present situation, where Naxalism had till recently strong and widespread support among the most pauperized sections of the peasantry. The Indian bourgeoisie has sought to resolve this burning democratic question of land reform in an absurdly inadequate fashion. In Piecemeal ! The bourgeoisie was never consistent in its fight against the kings and princes of old, and is even less interested in the general material, social and cultural prosperity of the rural populace. We have not the slightest reason to rely on their leadership. They have patently failed us for 60 years and are still blatantly failing us today !

The most immediate and important question is the question of Land. This is a reflection of the needs of the peasantry and the countryside nationwide. It is at the heart of any real solution to India’s problems of modernization and achieving a decent life for all who live and work in India. To resolve the waste and destruction of the countryside by capitalism, we present our agrarian programme which is founded on the Nationalization of Land ! Under this scheme, power would flow to the most basic unit of authority in the villages, the gram sabhas which would collectively and cooperatively take responsibility for the land and ensure the fair and equal distribution of land to all. This goes hand in hand with a programme for Abolition of rural debt. Indebtedness is the main driver of rural poverty in the region reflected by the endemic farmer suicides. This needs an urgent answer which only a revolutionary bolshevik force can provide.

Such a solution not only eliminates disparity in the countryside, but also eradicates indebtedness and low productivity, core causes of impoverishment of the peasantry in general. Equally importantly, it seeks to eliminate the power of the land owning bourgeoisie in the major cities, primarily in Hyderabad which has been fought over like a marrow bone in a dogfight between the bourgeoisies of Andhra and Telengana, much to the detriment of its citizens.

2) The question of uneven development :

While all leading political parties have made the question of the disparity between Telengana and Andhra the main focus of the struggle, none have any viable solution for this. Indeed, no bourgeois force can resolve such a question, where their interests are inextricably linked with the preservation of capitalism and furthering their interests on the backs of the workers and peasants. Only the people of both states can settle this question, in an atmosphere of equality and cooperation.

In 1972, the Congress played the lofty arbitrator and mediated an agreement between the leaderships of Telengana and Seema Andhra resulting in the Mulki rules, which gave preference in jobs to locals from the Telengana region. This shows the general ineptitude of the bourgeoisie in resolving any of the burning questions facing the people of the state, as such a solution can only be implemented on condition of permanent acceptance of unemployment, and deprivation. To such a crippled solution revolutionary bolsheviks counterpose a programme for full employment and equal opportunities ! Guaranteed, as such a programme must be, by a plan for nationalized corporations leading the effort at generating full employment and providing opportunities for all. Something which is impossible if the biggest corporations and enterprises remain in the hands of the greedy and parasitical capitalists or their henchmen, allowing them to exploit these assets for their own greedy ends.

But this solution won’t work if it simply targets Telengana and Andhra alone. It has to be part of a national program and we consequently need a total national solution to the regional nightmares bedevilling the whole of India.

Within the regional context, we propose a programme worked out by the people in committees at all levels of the community in full democratic consultation, settled and ratified by public plebiscite to ensure the fair management of water of rivers flowing from Telengana to Andhra as well as the democratic management of electricity supply and needs of Telengana with direct people’s participation. What we propose is not a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ which would have no value (we have seen how little such things mean to the bourgeoisie when it smells profits), or any kind of  skewed laws like the Mulki rules which only end up compounding the problems they seek to solve, but a concrete solution which seeks to eradicate once and for all the problems facing the people of Telengana and Seema Andhra and set them on the road to making a dignified and prosperous life for themselves.

This however, requires clarity on the overarching immediate demand of the people of Telengana as well as the interests of the oppressed classes in Seema Andhra and Rayalaseema. The merger of Andhra and Telengana in 1956 was not founded upon a popular mandate in Telengana, and was bound to result in gross inequalities between the two states. This could only result in the continuing domination of more enriched Seema Andhra based bourgeoisie. If the same be allowed to continue, the seething discontent *( which has already resulted in 300 self-immolations of youth activists and countless revolts by the people of Telengana, each met with police brutality ending in much bloodshed) would go on without any solution in sight. Not one bourgeois leader in Telengana nor Andhra has any concrete solution to offer beyond vague assurances and promises all in the nature of ‘gentleman’s agreements’ .

For a revolutionary party, the choice is stark and must be made without hesitation. The interests of the people of both Telengana and Andhra are inextricably bound with the question of statehood for Telengana and we are duty bound to give it our support. But in doing so, we do not ignore our task of providing a concrete socialist solution to the core needs of the people. The nature of the Telengana movement, is fundamentally one which aims at self-determination. Any support to a movement of self-determination can only be given on the logic of bridging the divided between the oppressed classes of the dominating and dominated states. For this it is necessary to both support the immediate demand of statehood as well as present our own independent programme against both the ambitious wannabe bourgeoisie of Telengana as well as the greedy dominating bourgeoisie of Seema Andhra. To the chaos these bourgeoisies have to offer, we provide our own programme for the betterment of the workers, peasants and youth. The programme of Permanent revolution!

ABOLISH ALL RURAL DEBT !

NATIONALIZE THE LAND ! LAND FOR THE PEOPLE !

FULL EMPLOYMENT AND EQUAL OPPORTUNITIES !

The Garment Worker’s Struggle continues :

The garment workers of Bangladesh have been struggling for decent conditions of work and living wages since for nearly a decade. The movement had reached a pinnacle in the aftermath of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in November last year which took the lives of more than 1000 workers ! This tragic disaster has sparked off one of the strongest mobilizations of garment workers in recent times and has succeeded in winning important advances. One year on the struggle remains strong and continues to score victories. The most recent of which has been an increase in the minimum wage to $100.

The significance of the present mobilization is both in terms of its scale as well as its intensity. Workers have targeted factories and there have been frequent incidence of arson and violence. It has been reported that the strike resulted in the closure of more than 100 factories and a 20 percent decline in national productivity. The strike has already encompassed a vast majority of workers employed in the sector which serves as the backbone of the Bangladeshi economy.

The mobilization in Bangladesh has also served to inspire actions throughout the globe targeting western retail conglomerates which has acted in support of the just demands of the workers in Bangladesh. Important mobilizations have taken place against Walmart and GAP in the USA where workers of these retail giants have voiced their support for the garment worker’s agitation and likewise activists from Bangladesh have given their support to the agitation against unfair labor practices by Walmart. Such solidarity actions have been instrumental at creating safety accords which mark a victorious milestone in the struggle of the garment workers.

The aftermath of the Rana Plaza incident :

The Rana Plaza tragedy revealed in full the exploitative nature of capitalism in Bangladesh as well as which vested interests played the leading role in the most ruthless exploitation of the workers. The garment workers haven’t been silent victims to this. Several times there have been major mobilizations in the garment industry each aimed at the abolition of sweatshop conditions existing in the 5100 factories in this sector. The mobilizations in 2006 and 2009 were significant in the fact that it showed the power of the masses of the workers mobilized in struggle. The mobilizations following the collapse the Rana plaza and another major factory have exceeded them both in terms of scale and impact. Notably, it has succeeded in giving the struggle of the garment workers an international dimension.

The present mobilizations may be traced to the ‘wildcat’ general strike action and has often been characterized by ‘plebian anger’ directed against the very means of production in which they work. The first object of anger for the workers have been the garment factories themselves. Soon after the tragedy at Savar, garments workers have burnt several factories in protest.[2] This action has been reminiscent of Marx’s description of the initial period of struggle by the proletariat in the Communist Manifesto : “They direct their attacks not against the bourgeois conditions of production, but against the instruments of production themselves; they destroy imported wares that compete with their labour, they smash machinery to pieces, they set factories ablaze”. However, unlike the primitive workmen of the mid 19th century that Marx described, the garments workers aren’t interested in ‘restoring the abolished status of the medieval workman’ but in achieving higher standards of welfare and better conditions of work !

This combination of plebian anger with a more advanced trajectory of struggle is a potentially revolutionary combination which can open the way for further more advanced struggles in the near future and gives the garments workers’ fight immense importance in the socio-political landscape of Bangladesh. What is severely lacking in this picture is the presence of an organized revolutionary force which can channelize this raw energy and lead the workers through more advanced tactics in their battle against the viciously exploitative garment bosses and their imperial protectors. Among the major obstacles to build an organized movement of the garment workers are the restrictions on freedom of unionization. Indeed many have lost their lives trying to organize the garment workers into unions.

Importance of international solidarity :

One of the most significant aspects of the present mobilizations of the garment workers is the strength and spread of international solidarity. It must be noted, while the previous mobilizations occurred in an international situation without any revolutionary mobilizations anywhere, the present struggle is being waged with the revolutions in North Africa and the Levant. Furthermore, the waves of upheavals in the last two years in Europe and America have radicalized the workers and youth in those countries. When the worker’s uprising had emerged in Bangladesh there were already protests against companies like Walmart and Gap. The ground was ready for a widespread international solidarity of workers in Europe and America.

Some of the most significant solidarity actions took place in Boston, Madrid, and Toronto among other places. These were aimed against the leading retail corporations which source products from Bangladeshi sweatshops in the name of ‘cheap fast fashion’. Gap and Walmart as well as several important Canadian and Spanish retail brands have been the target of these actions. In addition to this, the dogged advocacy and activism of labor lawyers have been successful in putting pressure on these mega-marts.[6]

These actions together with the continuing advances of workers in Bangladesh have resulted in signing safety accords which bring a degree of accountability in sourcing material for retail. So far European brands have shown greater willingness than others in signing these accords.[7] As of now, 100 brands have signed safety accords. What these advances show is the strength of the mobilization and the concrete impact on the ground. However, shortcomings remain which must be addressed.

Tactics of struggle and international solidarity :

The biggest weakness of the movement of garment workers has also been its hitherto existing strength, the spontaneous nature of the mobilizations. While this has ensured that the workers can erupt freely into unrestrained offensives, it lacks a channelized direction for putting forth demands or a long term goal. While it would be wrong to say that the entire agitation is completely unorganized. The vast majority of garment workers and the vast majority of actions taking place are outside the bounds of labor organization. The main reason for this of course, is the immense pressure mounted by garment bosses (with complete cooperation and protection from the government). In addition to the fact that since the majority of the 3.5 million workers in the industry are women, posing problems unique to organizing women in the labor movement.

This unorganized nature of agitations has created two chief problems. Firstly, it has meant that a long term united programme isn’t being placed to carry on the struggle. Secondly, it means that international solidarity efforts get scuttled owing to a very weak communication between activists in Bangladesh and those in other countries. The restrictions on freedom of political association as well as forming unions, add to the problems of organizing the garment workers. While this situation remains, the focus of demands *( which seem unclear ) appear to be on winning wage increases and attaining some immediate relief from the deplorable conditions of work in the garment sweatshops. This disconnect can only be bridged by a concerted effort to organize on the basis of a programme with clear political aims. Such a programme can and must be realized in a socialist programme with the aim of revolutionary overthrow of capitalism.

Likewise, organizing international solidarity in support of agitations of the garment workers would be indispensable to securing a complete victory in struggle. As has already been proven through the example of the solidarity actions in North America, and Europe, solidarity is not simply a question of token gestures to ‘feel good’ about, but concrete action which produce concrete results. These actions though having impact, are impaired due to the weak co-ordination and communication with activists and unionists on the ground.

Towards a programme of action :

The foundation of action is theory, and theory expresses itself in programme. The right demands and the right slogans translate into the right actions. So it is for the garments workers struggle in Bangladesh. Considering the present situation any programme for action must express the most urgent needs of the garment workers.

1) Full Freedom of Organization and Association !

The foundation stone of a strong democratically organized struggle of the working class is freedom of organization and association. Repressive measures at the workplace and outside must be fought against tooth and nail. An immediate and urgent demand must be for full and unfettered right to organize at the workplace and to associate with any political party. We propose a campaign built around this demand with solidarity of workers from all sectors of the national economy as well as human rights and labor action groups coordinated globally.

2) For Living Wages and a Sliding Scale of Wages !

The highlight of the movement of the garment workers is the demand for wage increases to levels with which they can afford a decent livelihood. But so far, the concessions have been sporadic and piecemeal. Each time the workers have shown their power, the government and garment bosses have given a concession. While the latest concession achieved is a sight better than the last, such victories are not founded on strong roots. What the garment workers need is a lasting solution to their problems. What is needed is a base of living wage adjusted to the cost of living for a family of 5, to be under constant adjustment to inflation levels i.e. To a sliding scale. With each increase of the cost of living wages must automatically increase in proportion. Every wage agreement must mandatorily have such a provision to benefit the workers and their families, many of whom are dependent on the labor of the garment workers.

3) Full nationalization of the garment industry !

Despite all manner of efforts on accountability and imposing strict safety regulations, the garment bosses through their political clout and financial strength, manage to evade answer. One big reason why wage agreements and safety accords aren’t honored has been the protection and privilege of the garment factory owners themselves ! The only way to ensure proper accountability is maintained and worker’s rights are respected is through Nationalization of the industry in the interests of the garment workers and the people at large. Such a nationalization must be done so without compensation and under worker’s control following a cooperative model. Only this way, can the garment workers secure their interests both in terms of decent work conditions as well as a securing a living wage.

What is Fascism and how to fight it – Clara Zetkin

Our Introduction:

[Recent events in India and the world have forced the question of fascism back to the surface. Of particular importance is the re-emergence of the RSS and in particular of Modi in India, and the Golden Dawn party in Greece. At the same time there is a global resurgence of the working class and there are powerful popular revolutionary mobilizations in North Africa and the Middle East that challenge and overthrow governments and refuse to retreat into passive acquiescence in the face of new oppressors. In this situation of social and political uncertainly and tidal change, there is everywhere confusion about the nature of fascism and the kind of threat it poses. In everyday discussions, any act of tyranny is labelled fascism, but this is loose and lazy thinking that distorts a useful political perspective on the question of fascism and weakens the struggle against it. For instance, a lot of the international left thought Bush was somehow as fascist as Hitler ! This nonsense only helps the capitalist ruling class and its regime of reactionary bourgeois democracy. It blurs our focus and prevents us seeing our class enemies as they are, and stops us finding the most effective ways of hurting them and bringing them down.
 
The peculiar conditions in India exacerbate the negative effects of this confusion. What confuses socialists in India especially is the automatic posing of communalism and fascism as the same thing. Communal violence, be it between rival castes or the more infamous hindu-muslim communalism, is not something exclusive to the RSS or VHP. Often enough, self-proclaimed secular parties have indulged in the most horrifying communal carnage. The butchery perpetrated by Congress during the anti-sikh riots is a glaring example of this. This political confusion has made it almost fashionable to label any and every communalist atrocity as fascism ‘of an Indian variety’. The effects are twofold. On the one hand, communalism (which is a deeply rooted socio-political evil stemming from the British-inspired partition of the sub-continent) is mixed up with fascism (a violent and openly irrational social and political movement against the working class). On the other hand, the solutions for fighting fascism become muddled. In both cases, the dominant bourgeoisie, i.e. the capitalist ruling class, benefits, and ‘democratic’ reaction is strengthened. Once, by exploiting minority fears to its advantage (posing as ‘secular’,’democratic’ saviours), and again by being able to hijack any independent class-based effort to counter the threat of fascism. This ‘anti-fascist’ fraud has just been enacted in Greece, in fact, with the (very belated, and probably reluctant) crackdown on the leadership of the neo-nazi Golden Dawn movement, including its representatives in parliament and its supporters in the police and judiciary.
 
Clarity is the need of the hour ! The cost of an unclear view of fascism can be annihilation. Why? Well, the function of fascism is twofold. First, to destroy the organization and leadership of an ascending working class, and second, to channel raging petty bourgeois frustration and discontent away from a revolutionary progressive struggle where they would make common cause with the working class, towards mass action lining them up behind the interests of the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie invests enormous resources in money and manpower in its war against the working class, and the most extreme of expression of its zealous hate, as we have seen historically in Italy, Germany, Spain, and the post ww2 Latin American dictatorships of Brazil, Argentina and Chile, for instance, is fascism. But history has also shown us that this is an expensive option, with catastrophic longterm effects, so it is not one which the bourgeoisie prefers in peace time. Democratic reaction, with the ever-present option of dictatorial emergency powers, is the norm, and the corner stone of this policy is pacify and dominate. The classical combination, in Marx’s words, of representation and repression.
 
The bourgeoisie invests in dividing the working class to prevent unity from arising in action. While weakening us, it strengthens itself at our expense ! This is where communalism makes its entry, in addition to, alongside, and distinct from fascism. In the Indian context, there is no easier way to keep the working class pacified than making working men and women fight against their own class brethren while stupidly following the lead of the bourgeoisie. The lasting legacy of partition can today be seen in events like Muzaffarnagar, where the ruling ‘secular’ Samajwadi party has deliberately allowed the communal carnage to take place unchecked. The RSS clearly had a hand in organizing the propaganda and mobilizing communities around reactionary caste-based chauvinism, but their main aim was not to target the working class or even to hijack petty-bourgeois frustration and rage. It was done simply to to organize a large scale pogrom against the muslim community. If we look beneath the superficial similarities between the attitude of the RSS towards the muslims and the Nazis towards the jews, it soon becomes clear that they’re hugely different from each other.
 
Battling this kind of fascism by calling for armed workers’ militias or massive violent force rooted in a united front of the working class is badly mistimed given the low level of class consciousness in India still, and quite misdirected, as there are no offices to attack or fascists to kill. Likewise, viewing every brand of religious or caste communalism as fascism blinds us to the threat when it really does emerge. The TMC though not a fully fascist formation is far clearer in launching pogroms against the Stalinist parties and attacking the working class than is the RSS or its supposed parliamentary twin the BJP.
 
In 1923, when Fascism had just started to show itself as a viable political force in the world, with the rise of Mussolini in Italy, Clara Zetkin from the old Bolshevik party, clarified and explained the nature of this threat to the working class and what it meant. While written almost 9 decades back, the questions answered by her are relevant even today to help understanding fascism. In particular, it helps us see through the myriad confusions over fascism prevalent in India.
 
We should bear in mind some important factors stressed by Clara that no longer have any social relevance for the growth of a mass fascist movement aiming to hijack the state apparatus and dismantle the formal rights and safeguards of bourgeois democracy.
 
The most important of these is the complete annihilation of the ultra-left ethos of classical fascism. Both Mussolini and Hitler started out as raging ultra-left socialists. Ultra-leftism as a childhood disorder growing up into an epidemic capable of destroying the world… Their original programmes stole freely and unashamedly from revolutionary socialism, shaming the reformist left leaderships by exposing their cowardice when it came to demanding what the masses wanted and needed. Clara gives a detailed account of the betrayal of this left-sounding programmed by Mussolini’s fascism. This is no longer an issue for us today. The fascists have ditched anything resembling left politics. All they have is an extremely superficial lumpen-proletarian “us ordinary Indian (or British or whatever) workers vs them” caricature of class appeal. The rise of Spanish fascism under Franco was a much more modern development in one way, as it had nothing whatever to do with an ultra-left appeal to the more ignorant elements of the working class or the frustrated proletarianized petty-bourgeois masses. But of course in Spain, the whole working class was ranged against Franco’s fascism – the divisions that led to its defeat were the fruit of Stalinist leadership failing to unite the class against militarized bourgeois reaction, and anarchist leadership failing to defeat the challenge of Stalinism for the hearts and minds of the Spanish working class.
 
The other important factor stressed by Clara is the mass base of fascism in the once independent but now wage-enslaved petty-bourgeoisie and small peasantry. Ruined by the success of Big Capital, impoverished once fee-earning doctors, teachers, and intellectuals were now either unemployed or scraping by on minimal salaries, and they hated it. And since their consciousness was individualistic and nostalgic, rooted in some imagined utopian past, they blamed outsiders and newcomers for their plight rather than the actual cause itself, Big Capital bankrupting them.
 
The process of blaming outsiders and newcomers is still alive and well in today’s fascist movements, where ultra-nationalism is the main ideological refrain, and it’s absurd to see the identical process of selecting appropriate scapegoats in every would-be special and different national framework. National minorities here, immigrants there, the  most recent usually being the most vilified. The left is always attacked for being anti-national, too, but sometimes this is difficult because occasionally the left is strongly organized against the fascists and more often because the established treacherous working class leaderships in labour parties and trade unions are at least as racist and anti-immigrant as the fascists themselves.
 
Three years after Clara wrote her article the great General Strike of 1926 broke out in Britain. The university students were out in force scabbing to break the strike. Today this is almost unthinkable. The most likely student attitude in many countries would be apathy, while a solid majority of students would be out helping the striking workers and organizing politically and socially in many other countries. This was seen with great clarity in the enormous youth mobilizations accompanying the end of the Vietnam war, and in particular in the years leading up to and culminating in the youth revolt of 1968.
 
And the process of proletarianization is as good as over in many countries. Not in India, but here the petty-bourgeoisie is huge and hard to break. So the millions of frustrated new recruits to unemployment and wage-slavery from once-comfortable professions that were found everywhere in the early decades of imperialist capitalism no longer exist. Their place has been taken by worker-peasants, where the poorest peasants are crushed by debt and driven onto the pavements of the metropolitan slums. A breeding ground for lumpenproletarian thugs for the fascists, of course, as can be seen in the slums of Karachi for instance, but nothing resembling the ‘respectable’ shopkeepers and small professionals who thronged the streets of Germany to cheer Hitler.
 
These differences from today are fundamental, but in no way lessen the danger to workers’ lives and communities from fascist gangs if these are allowed to put down roots and thrive in our cities. Workers must be prepared to organize themselves locally and regionally to challenge fascist gangs in battle if need be, and drive them out of their communities by force. This is the language fascists understand. And since they are unthinking cowards and bullies, a few sharp strokes of a stick across the snout will prove very effective deterrents. This requires local committees with complete self-reliance. The job has to be done on the spot. It will be the more effective, the better organized and the more conscious it is, but the local input is paramount.
 
And we should never forget that one of the most effective weapons against the scapegoating ideology of fascism is the pointing finger. “So, you’re angry because you’re out of work?” “Yeah” “Well, that poor/unemployed scapegoat over there never employed you, and never sacked you either, and he’s in the shit like you. That fat cat in the nice suit over there, on the other hand, he employed you, or rejected you, and he has thrown you onto the street.” “Hm, never thought of that…”
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On Fascism:

In Fascism, the proletariat is confronted by an extraordinarily dangerous enemy. Fascism is the concentrated expression of the general offensive undertaken by the world bourgeoisie against the proletariat. Its overthrow is therefore an absolute necessity, nay, it is even a question of the every-day existence and of the bread and butter of every ordinary worker. On these grounds the whole of the proletariat must concentrate on the fight against Fascism. It will be much easier for us to defeat Fascism if we clearly and distinctly study its nature.

Hitherto there have been extremely vague ideas upon this subject not only among the large masses of the workers, but even among the revolutionary vanguard of the proletariat and the Communists. Hitherto Fascism has been put on a level with the White Terror of Horthy in Hungary. Although the methods of both are similar, in essence they are different. The Horthy Terror was established after the victorious, although short lived, revolution of the proletariat had been suppressed, and was the expression of vengeance of the bourgeoisie. The ringleaders of the White Terror were a quite small clique of former officers. Fascism, on the contrary, viewed objectively, is not the revenge of the bourgeoisie in retaliation for proletarian aggression against the bourgeoisie, but it is a punishment of the proletariat for failing to carry on the revolution begun in Russia. The Fascist leaders are not a small and exclusive caste; they extend deeply into wide elements of the population.

We have to overcome Fascism not only militarily, but also politically and ideologically. The reformists even to-day consider Fascism to be nothing else but naked violence, the reaction against the violence begun by the proletariat. To the reformists the Russian Revolution amounts to the same thing as Mother Eve’s biting into the apple in the Garden of Eden. The reformists trace Fascism back to the Russian Revolution and its consequences. Nothing else was meant by Otto Bauer at the Unity Congress at Hamburg, when he declared that a great share of the blame for Fascism rests on the Communists, who had weakened the force of the proletariat by continual splits. In saying this he entirely ignored the fact that the German Independents had made their split long before the demoralising example was given by the Russian Revolution. Contrary to his own views, Bauer, at Hamburg, had to draw the conclusion that the organised violence of Fascism must be met by forming defence organisations of the proletariat, because no appeal to democracy can avail against direct violence. At any rate, he went on to explain that he did not mean such weapons as insurrection or a general strike which did not always lead to success. What he meant was the co-ordination of parliamentary action with mass action. What was to be the nature of these actions Otto Bauer did not say, but this is the very point of the question. The only weapon recommended by Bauer for the fight against Fascism was the establishment of an International Bureau of Information on world reaction. The distinguishing feature of this new-old International is its faith in the power and permanence of bourgeois domination, and its mistrust and cowardice towards the proletariat as the strongest factor of the world revolution. They are of the opinion that against the invulnerable force of the bourgeoisie the proletariat can do nothing else but act with moderation and refrain from teasing the tiger of the bourgeoisie. Fascism, with all its forcefulness in the prosecution of its violent deeds, is indeed nothing else but the expression of the disintegration and decay of capitalist economy, and the symptom of the dissolution of the bourgeois State. This is one of its roots. Symptoms of this decay of capitalism were observed even before the war. The war has shattered capitalist economy to its foundation, resulting not only in the colossal impoverishment of the proletariat, but also in deep misery for the petty bourgeoisie, the small peasantry and the intellectuals. All these elements had been promised that the war would bring about an amelioration of their material conditions. But the very opposite has happened. Large numbers of the former middle classes have become proletarians, having entirely lost their economic security.

Their ranks were joined by large masses of ex-officers, who are now unemployed. It was among these elements that Fascism recruited quite a considerable contingent. The manner of its composition is also the reason why Fascism in some countries is of an outspoken, monarchist character. The second root of Fascism lies in the retarding of the world revolution by the treacherous attitude of the reformist leaders. Large numbers of the petty bourgeoisie, including even the middle classes, had discarded their war-time psychology for a certain sympathy with reformist socialism, hoping that the latter would bring about a reformation of society along democratic lines. They were disappointed in their hopes. They can now see that the reformist leaders are in benevolent accord with the bourgeoisie, and the worst of it is that these masses have now lost their faith not only in the reformist leaders, but in socialism as a whole. These masses of disappointed socialist sympathisers are joined by large circles of the proletariat, of workers who have given up their faith not only in socialism, but also in their own class. Fascism has become a sort of refuge for the politically shelterless. In fairness it ought to be said that the Communists, too – except the Russians – bear part of the blame for the desertion of these elements to the Fascist ranks, because our actions at times failed to stir the masses profoundly enough. The obvious aim of the Fascists, when gaining support among the various elements of society, must have been, as a matter of course, to try and bridge over the class antagonism in the ranks of their own adherents, and the so-called authoritative State was to serve as a means to this end. Fascism now embraces such elements which may become very dangerous to the bourgeois order. Nevertheless, thus far these elements have been invariably overcome by the reactionary elements.

The bourgeoisie had seen the situation clearly from the start. The bourgeoisie wants to reconstruct capitalist economy. Under the present circumstances reconstruction of bourgeois class domination can be brought about only at the cost of increased exploitation of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie is quite aware that the soft-speaking reformist socialists are fast losing their hold on the proletariat, and that there will be nothing for the bourgeoisie but to resort to violence against the proletariat. But the means of violence of the bourgeois States are beginning to fail. They therefore need a new organisation of violence, and this is offered to them by the hodge-podge conglomeration of Fascism. For this reason the bourgeoisie offers all the force at its command in the service of Fascism. Fascism has diverse characteristics in different countries.

Nevertheless it has two distinguishing features in all countries, namely, the pretence of a revolutionary programme, which is cleverly adapted to the interests and demands of the large masses, and, on the other hand, the application of the most brutal violence. The classic instance is Italian Fascism. Industrial capital in Italy was not strong enough to reconstruct the ruined economy. It was not expected that the State would intervene to increase the power and the material possibilities of the industrial capital of Northern Italy. The State was giving all its attention to agrarian capital and to petty financial capital. The heavy industries, which had been artificially boosted during the war, collapsed when the war was over, and a wave of unprecedented unemployment set in. The pledges given to the soldiers could not be redeemed. All these circumstances created an extreme revolutionary situation. This revolutionary situation resulted, in the summer of 1920, in the occupation of the factories. Upon that occasion it was shown that the maturity of the revolution makes its first appearance among a small minority of the proletariat. The occupation of the factories was therefore bound to end in a tremendous defeat instead of becoming the starting point for revolutionary development.

The reformist leaders of the trade unions acted the part of ignominious traitors, but at the same time it was shown that the proletariat possessed neither the will nor the power to march on towards revolution.

Notwithstanding the reformist influence, there were forces at work among the proletariat which could become inconvenient to the bourgeoisie. The municipal elections, in which the social democrats gained a third of all the councils, were a signal of alarm to the bourgeoisie, who immediately started to seek for a force which could combat the revolutionary proletariat. It was just at that time that Mussolini had gained some importance with Fascismo. After the defeat of the proletariat in the occupation of the factories, the number of the Fascisti was over 1,000 and great masses of the proletariat joined the Mussolini organisation. On the other hand, large masses of the proletariat had fallen into a state of indifference. The cause of the first success of the Fascisti was that it made its start with a revolutionary gesture. Its pretended aim was to fight to retain the revolutionary conquests of the revolutionary war, and for this reason they demanded a strong State which would be able to protect these revolutionary fruits of victory against the hostile interests of the various classes of society represented by the “old State.” Its slogan was directed against all the exploiters, and hence also against the bourgeoisie. Fascism at that time was so radical that it even demanded the execution of Giolitti and the dethronement of the Italian dynasty. But Giolitti carefully refrained from using violence against Fascism, which seemed to him to be the lesser evil. To satisfy these Fascist clamours he dissolved Parliament. At that time Mussolini was still pretending to be a republican, and in an interview he declared that the Fascist faction could not participate at the opening of the Italian parliament because of the monarchist ceremony accompanying it. These utterances provoked a crisis in the Fascist Movement, which had been established as a party by a merger of the Mussolini adherents and the representatives of the monarchist organisation, and the executive of the new party was made up of an even number of members from both factions. The Fascist Party created a double-edged weapon for the corruption and terrorisation of the working class. For the corruption of the working class the Fascist Trade Unions were created, the so-called corporations in which workers and employers were united. To terrorise the working class, the Fascist Party created the militant squads which had grown out of the punitive expeditions. Here it must be emphasised again that the tremendous treason of the Italian reformists during the general strike, which was the cause of the terrible defeat of the Italian proletariat, had given direct encouragement to the Fascists to capture the State. On the other hand, the mistakes of the Communist Party consisted in their regarding Fascism as merely a militarist and terrorist movement without any profound social basis.

Let us now examine what Fascism has done since the conquest of power for the fulfilment of its intended revolutionary programme, for the realisation of its promise to create a State without class. Fascism held out the promise of a new and better electoral law and of equal suffrage for women. The new suffrage law of Mussolini is in reality the worst restriction of the suffrage law to favour the Fascist Movement. According to this law, two-thirds of all the seats must be given to the strongest party, and all the other parties together shall hold only one-third of the seats. Women’s franchise has been nearly entirely eliminated. The right to vote is given only to a small group of propertied women and the so-called “war-distinguished” women. There is no longer any mention made of the promise of the economic parliament and National Assembly, nor of the abolition of the Senate which had been pledged so solemnly by the Fascists.

The same can be said about the pledges made in the social sphere. The Fascists had inscribed on their programme the eight-hour day, but the bill introduced by them provides so many exceptions that there is to be no eight-hour day in Italy. Nothing came also of the promised guarantee of wages. The destruction of the trade unions has enabled the employers to effect wage reductions of 20 to 30 per cent, and in some cases of even 50 to 60 per cent. Fascism had promised old age and invalid insurance. In practice the Fascist Government, for the sake of economy, has struck off the miserable 50,000,000 lire which had been set aside for this purpose in the budget. The workers were promised the right of technical participation in the administration of the factories. To-day there is a law in Italy which proscribes the factory councils completely. The State enterprises are playing into the hands of private capital. The Fascist programme had contained a provision for a progressive income tax on capital, which was to some extent to act as a form of expropriation. In fact the opposite was done. Various taxes on luxuries were abolished, such as the automobile tax, for the pretended reason that it would restrict national production. The indirect taxes were increased for the reason that this would curtail the home consumption and thus improve the possibilities for export. The Fascist Government also abrogated the law for the compulsory registration of transfers of securities, thus reintroducing the system of bearer-bonds and opening the door wide to the tax-evader. The schools were handed over to the clergy. Before capturing the State, Mussolini demanded a commission to inquire into war profits, of which 85 per cent were to be restored to the State. When this commission had become uncomfortable for his financial backers, the heavy industrialists, he ordered that the commission should only submit a report to him, and whoever published any of the things that transpired in that commission would be punished with six months’ imprisonment. Also in military matters Fascism failed to keep its promises.

The army was promised to be restricted to territorial defence. In reality, the term of service for the standing army was increased from eight months to eighteen, which meant the increase of the armed forces from 250,000 to 350,000. The Royal Guards were abolished because they were too democratic to suit Mussolini. On the other hand, the carabinieri were increased from 65,000 to 90,000, and all the police troops were doubled. The Fascist organisations were transformed into a kind of national militia, which by latest accounts have now reached the number of 500,000. But the social differences have introduced an element of political contrast in the militia, which must lead to the eventual collapse of Fascism.

When we compare the Fascist programme with its fulfilment we can foresee already to-day the complete ideological collapse of Fascism in Italy. Political bankruptcy must inevitably follow in the wake of this ideological bankruptcy. Fascism is unable to keep together the forces which helped it to get into power. A clash of interests in many forms is already making itself felt. Fascism has not yet succeeded in making the old bureaucracy subservient to it. In the army there is also friction between the old officers and the new Fascist leaders. The differences between the various political parties are growing. Resistance against Fascism is increasing throughout the country. Class antagonism begins to permeate even the ranks of the Fascists. The Fascists are unable to keep the promises which they made to the workers and to the Fascist Trade Unions. Wage reductions and dismissals of workers are the order of the day. Thus it happens that the first protest against the Fascist trade union movement came from the ranks of the Fascists themselves. The workers will very soon come back to their class interest and class duty. We must not look upon Fascism as a .united force capable of repelling our attack. It is rather a formation, which comprises many antagonistic elements, and will be disintegrated from within. But it would be dangerous to assume that the ideological and political disintegration of Fascism in Italy would be immediately followed by military disintegration. On the contrary, we must be prepared for Fascism to endeavour to keep alive by terrorist methods. Therefore, the revolutionary Italian workers must be prepared for further serious struggles. It would be a great calamity if we were satisfied with the role of spectators of this process of disintegration. It is our duty to hasten this process with all the means at our disposal. This is not only the duty of the Italian proletariat, but also the duty of the German proletariat in the face of German Fascism.

After Italy, Fascism is strongest in Germany. As a consequence of the result of the war and of the failure of the revolution, the capitalist economy of Germany is weak, and in no other country is the contrast between the objective ripeness for revolution and the subjective unpreparedness of the working class as great as just now in Germany. In no other country have the reformists so ignominiously failed as in Germany. Their failure is more criminal than the failure of any other party in the old International, because it is they who should have conducted the struggle for the emancipation of the proletariat with utterly different means in the country where the working-class organisations are older and better organised than anywhere else.

I am firmly convinced that neither the Peace Treaties nor the occupation of the Ruhr have given such a fillip to Fascism in Germany as the seizure of power by Mussolini. This has encouraged the German Fascists. The collapse of Fascism in Italy would greatly discourage the Fascists in Germany. We must not overlook one thing: the prerequisite for the overthrow of Fascism abroad is the overthrow of Fascism in every single country by the proletariat of these countries. It behoves us to overcome Fascism ideologically and politically. This imposes enormous tasks on us. We must realise that Fascism is a movement of the disappointed and of those whose existence is ruined. Therefore, we must endeavour either to win over or to neutralise those wide masses who are still in the Fascist camp. I wish to emphasise the importance of our realising that we must struggle ideologically for the possession of the soul of these masses. We must realise that they are not only trying to escape from their present tribulations, but that they are longing for a new philosophy. We must come out of the narrow limits of our present activity. The Third International is, in contradistinction to the old International, an International of all races without any distinctions whatever. The Communist Parties must not only be the vanguard of the proletarian manual workers, but also the energetic defenders of the interests of the brain workers. They must be the leaders of all sections of society which are driven into opposition to bourgeois domination because of their interests and their expectations of the future. Therefore, I welcomed the proposal of Comrade Zinoviev (speaking at a session of the Enlarged Executive Committee of the Communist International in June of this year) to take up the struggle for the Workers’ and Peasants’ Government. I was jubilant when I read about it. This new slogan has a great significance for all countries. We cannot dispense with it in the struggle for the overthrow of Fascism. It means that the salvation of the wide masses of the small peasantry will be achieved through Communism. We must not limit ourselves merely to carrying on a struggle for our political and economic programme. We must at the same time familiarise the masses with the ideals of Communism as a philosophy. If we do this, we shall show the way to a new philosophy to all those elements which have lost their bearings during the historical development of recent times. The necessary prerequisite for this is that, as we approach these masses, we also become organisationally, as a Party, a firmly welded unit. If we do not do that, we run the risk of falling into opportunism and of going bankrupt. We must adapt our methods of work to our new tasks. We must speak to the masses in a language which they can understand, without doing prejudice to our ideas. Thus, the struggle against Fascism brings forward a number of new tasks.

It behoves all the parties to carry out this task energetically and in conformity with the situation in their respective countries. However, we must bear in mind that it is not enough to overcome Fascism ideologically and politically. The position of the proletariat as regards Fascism is at present one of self-defence. This self-defence of the proletariat must take the form of a struggle for its existence and its organisation.

The proletariat must have a well organised apparatus of self-defence. Whenever Fascism uses violence, it must be met with proletarian violence. I do not mean by this individual terrorist acts, but the violence of the organised revolutionary class struggle of the proletariat. Germany has made a beginning by organising factory “hundreds.” This struggle can only be successful if there is a proletarian united front. The workers must unite for this struggle regardless of party. The self-defence of the proletariat is one of the greatest incentives for the establishment of the proletarian united front. Only by instilling class-consciousness into the soul of every worker will we succeed in preparing also for the military overthrow of Fascism, which, at this juncture, is absolutely necessary.

If we succeed in this, we may be sure that it will be soon all up with the capitalist system and with bourgeois power, regardless of any success of the general offensive of the bourgeoisie against the proletariat. The signs of disintegration, which are so palpably before our eyes, give us the conviction that the giant proletariat will again join in the revolutionary fray, and that its call to the bourgeois world will be: I am the strength, I am the will, in me you see the future!

Perspective on the work stoppage at Bajaj

The nearly 50 day long tool down action at Bajaj’s Chakan plant was a landmark action by the workers of the Chakan industrial belt, both for it’s duration and the impact it has had in radicalizing the otherwise ‘peaceful’ situation at the Chakan industrial belt. The core issue of the struggle was over the ill-effects of the imposition of total productivity methods at Chakan modelled on the system at Maruti Suzuki and union busting tactics of the management at the Pantnagar plant.

The action at Chakan may be linked to the developments at the Pantnagar plant in Uttarakhand where the workers were deliberately denied from joining the Vishwa Kamgar Kalyan Sangathana ( VKKS ). The harrassment of workers at that plant led to the union at Chakan break the old agreement and make a fresh set of demands targetting an improvement of their working condition. The union leadership however, was limited from the start, by targeting shareholding in the company for workers as a ‘lasting’ means of improving worker’s wages. The leaflet distributed by the union expressed the ideological basis for their demand for shares, the belief in trusteeship, championed by Jamnalal Bajaj. This demand more than any other was what was highlighted by the union.

There were other issues as well. During the meetings, the question of condition of work for contract workers was raised more than once. Bajaj like every other major industry prefers the hiring of contract labor to use of permanent workforce. In the slump period in the auto industry, contract labor again gave way to the use of trainee workers. This together with the total productivity methods, squeezed out the highest possible productivity out of the workers at the plant, not to mention rendered them precarious owing to the contractual nature of work and the temporary or trainee status of the workers. However, the union did not raise these questions concretely in their charter of demands. On the contrary, the allotment of shares, which was stressed by the union, would only aid the management in exploiting the workers. With shareholding, the workers are tied in to the profits and losses of the company, and consequently, hostage to the policy of the management.

At no point was the tool down action directed towards more militant forms of protests like gheraos or factory occupations, or pickets. The result was that the company had a free hand in forcing the trainee workers to work overtime to compensate for production losses due to the tool down. Even though this was illegal, the union leadership preferred a legal course to tackling this than the more militant alternative of installing a gherrao of the factory. However, the enthusiasm of the young workers at the union ( their average age being 26 ), proved to be an inspiration for other workers to join in solidarity. The Shramik Ekta Mahasangh which was the umbrella body of industrial unions in the Chakan belt expressed their solidarity with the workers. However, no tool down action was taken by them.

All in all, the workers at Bajaj had to go on their own. The workers showed both determination and unity in carrying on the tool down action for more than 50 days beginning from the 25th of June till August 14th. This was all despite management tactics of harrassment and attempts to break the strike, not to mention, threats of shifting production away from the Chakan plant to neighboring Aurangabad. In the end the strike was ended ‘unconditionally’. The union leadership under has promised to ‘continue to press for the demands raised by the strike action including wage revision’.

Thus, the work stoppage action ended without any demands conceded, and a murky uncertain future awaits for the suspended workers. The management feels emboldened with its success in ending the struggle without any concessions made, and in potential for shifting production to any other plant in the country.

The unity of workers which has been building up albeit in a somewhat distorted manner since the general strike of 2010, has tremendous implications for the future of the worker’s movement. The Bajaj tool down action represents both the problems and the potential in mobilizing workers in India.

The larger picture :

Though the action at Bajaj ended without consequence, the significance of this work stoppage action can’t be ignored in the larger picture. Since the beginning of market reforms and what is generally called ‘neo-liberal’ growth, the condition of workers in India has become more and more precarious. Contractorization, casualization and rationalization of workforce in addition to privatizations of public companies have added to the burdens of the working class. The ‘boom years’ of the Indian economy also saw the birth of a new phase of class struggle, with the workers at Honda revolting. Soon after, the Gurgaon industrial belt became the scene of the most significant labor movement in recent times centered around Maruti. The rest of the country has not been immune to this. It was not too long since the workers at Mahindra’s Nasik plant struck work after the arrest of it’s union leadership there.

With worsening conditions of work, and the entry of millions upon millions of freshly proletarianized peasant populations ( people who’ve been rendered wage slaves due to loss of subsistence income from the countryside, pushed into the cities or factories to find work ), a new young working class has been created out of the most rebellious and desperate section of india’s populace. The increasing intensity of struggles, with frequent cases of workers turning violent, is an unsurprising outcome of the brutality of the system upon the lives of these populations. With shrinking stable job opportunities, owing to a stagnation of organized employment, most of these wage slaves end up with the worst kind of work in the unorganized sector, if not end up unemployed yet again.

The increase of this reserve labor has strengthened the ability of capitalists to impose their will upon the workers. It is not for no reason that the management at Bajaj could compensate the loss of man hours as easily with trainee workers. The system favored him, but the times are against him. The world crisis has affected india, and the problems of a proletarianizing economy founded on the systematic destruction of peasants and petty bourgeois, has come crashing in. Workers become more rebellious and there is an ever present danger of it becoming violent. The example of Gurgaon-Manesar industrial belt stands as a warning before the greedy bourgeois.

With this new method of exploitation, there have been new movements of resistance against it. The movement for organizing contract workers for decent, secured job opportunities through their regularization, epitomizes this. The proliferation of contractorisation in Indian industry has given new impetus to the movement to organize contract workers. There is not a single major company where contractorisation has not taken roots, and consequently, there is an ever present struggle against the conditions which it brings about. This is one area which can combine the struggles of workers in private industry with those in public industry where contractorisation is emerging in a major way. Take the case of BSNL where almost 100000 workers work as ‘outsourced’ contract workers. But while the significance of the struggle seems obvious, the nature of the movement is restrained to a company specific approach. No focussed effort seems to be in place to create a movement of all workers against contractorisation uniting both public and private sector workers. Building such unity is the need of the day !

This is not unconnected with the developments in the public sector. The crisis has forced the government to aggressively target the public sector for increased privatizations. The results have been a spree of strike actions by workers against privatization. Coal India Ltd, BSNL, Neyvelli lignite have all been witness to workers protesting efforts at privatizing these companies. These have so far been successful in restraining any efforts at completing the privatizations of these companies. The question of contract workers and overall, the question of improving work conditions are not unrelated to this. Privatization brings with it a worsening of working conditions, and increasing precariousness of work. The workers of the public sector companies are essentially waging a defensive struggle against privatization and against losing the security that comes with state ownership. This stands in contrast with the actions in the private sector where existing conditions of work are being challenged.

The public sector is a fortress for the working class, and a lifeline for giving sustainable secured employment. It accounts for a majority of organized workforce in the country as well as being in the commanding height of the economy. Uniting the workers of these two sectors would strengthen the working class in their struggle against Indian capitalism. This would not be possible without the necessary political leadership.