Report on bandh on 20th september

 

Introduction:

 

As part of the continuing dissident trend in india today, there was a large Countrywide bandh on the 20th of september 2012. The bandh call was in protest against a range of issues beginning from price hikes of fuel and rationing of LPG cylinders with a limit of six per year for subsidized cylinders. However, the most highly pitched issue was the allowance of FDI into retail. This issue in particular brought the petty bourgeois masses out in protest. It was on their base that most of the regional parties and petty bourgeois formations supported the bandh. The largest support came from several thousands of trade association representing approximately 50 million shopkeepers across the nation. The most impacted were the states in West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Assam, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tripura.

 

Almost all oppositional parties showed consensus on support over this issue, and combined their forces for the bandh. However, it was political compulsion and scheming and not any genuine concern for the condition of the masses that drove this decision of the parties. Several significant political shifts took place preceding the point of bandh which will have a strong impact upon the future political landscape of the country. The bandh, it’s scale of participation and the events immediately preceding it, reveal a capitalist regime in crisis,. The consequent political tensions building up reveal the dynamics of an objectively pre-revolutionary situation.

 

Thecharacterofthebandh:

 

While we stress, that the objective situation is pre-revolutionary, we also state that this will not automatically translate into a favorable subjective situation. The masses are in rebellion, but this phase of struggle continues to be ridden with contradictions emerging from the one fundamental contradiction of the absence of revolutionary leadership. This showed most glaringly in the character of the bandh. While its effect varied from place to place, what was seen most clearly was the absence of any consistent political support. Some of the parties which supported the bandh also supported the ruling party at the centre, like in the case of the SP, whilst some parties which were opposed to the ruling government and its reforms also opposed the bandh !

 

The effect of this was to sow confusion in the minds of the people, which ultimately worked to keep them off the streets. The Stalinists too showed opportunistic color where they organized the bandh entirely on a petty bourgeois plank, where workers had little say if any. Rail lines were blocked, but railway workers didn’t raise a finger ! The situation in our city in Pune showed the disparity between participation of workers and petty bourgeois most clearly. The bandh was felt only within a section of the city which had a substantial base of lower and middle petty bourgeois, in the old town. Busses, transportation, offices functioned like any other normal working day. No major marches were taken out. The workers unions were mostly silent and organized workers in public sector enterprises did not come out.

 

Whilst in North india, there were pitched support in Uttar Pradesh and around delhi, the impact of the bandh declined considerably when coming to central India. Yet, in Southern India, especially in the states of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, the bandh was reported to be ‘total’. In the latter state, though the ruling government is the Congress, the opposition TDP and TRS who represent the petty bourgeois of this state, came out in force and managed to channelize dissent against the Congress and its policies. It must be noted here, that the Telengana agitation over economic disparity is also gaining strength in the South. Likewise, the Kudankulam agitation too is gaining strength, all of these act as a contributing factor the success of any militant action in the region. However, even these mobilizations were weakened by the bad leadership they have received from bourgeois and petty bourgeois parties and organizations, and as such cannot succeed against the force of reaction being unleashed from the centre.

 

None of the parties however, seriously thought about mobilizing the working class in action ! Definitely not the bourgeois parties, but not even the Stalinist parties thought of it! That ensured that the characterization of the bandh would remain petty bourgeois in nature, and consequently would be fragmented, divided and thus easily tolerable for the bourgeois in power. To add to its weakness, was the fact that the Bandh was a simple 12 hour shut down. In other words, not even a full day’s strike ! Even so, it was enough to frighten the bourgeois who childishly complained about losing around $2.25 bn in trade. A figure that is most likely an exaggeration.

 

Thepoliticalsituation:

 

Several key political changes had taken place preceding the bandh call. Amongst them, was the victory of the Congress party in the presidential elections. The Congress succeeded in placing its candidate Pranab Mukherji (ex. Finance Minister and Congress party Oligarch) in the position of the president. Within that context, it also effected a re-allignment of sorts with regional parties notably with that of the Socialist party which presently rules the state of Uttar Pradesh and entrenching its alliance with the BSP. In doing so, it isolated the right wing opposition of the BJP and in time would succeed in isolating its troublesome ally from Bengal the TMC. This victory for the Congress ensured a dominating position not only in legislature but also in the executive, as well as emboldened them to effect a wave of reaction against the oppressed classes.

 

However, this would not happen without a challenge. Immediately preceding the bandh call, was the departure of the TMC from the coalition of the UPA. This threw the Coalition government into a crisis of sorts, but the Congress managed to bail out through forcing support from the Samajwadi(Socialist) Party and the BSP. This ensured that the Congress would be in power with a healthy majority of 60% of the parliament on its side. In an apparent repetition of the first UPA coalition government and its phasing out of the left front, the Congress this time managed to isolate and evict its troublesome ally the TMC, ultimately fortifying its position for its intended barrage of attacks against the people. The path was cleared now thanks to the wily genius of Pranab Mukherji and his presidential victory, for bringing in FDI in retail and aviation as well as pushing ahead with reforms in various other sectors.

 

The opposition to this reaction came chiefly from the petty bourgeois formations in North and east india. The TMC which was till now a key ally in the UPA coalition, consisting the second largest number of seats in the alliance after the Congress, was the strongest opponent of FDI in retail. Likewise, the BJP and SP as well as other regional and national oppositional forces took a stance against this policy. This was primarily aimed at winning over the petty bourgeois section of the population and went hand in hand with the opposition against diesel and petrol price hikes. The Stalinist parties unsurprisingly also pitched in, and shared a united front with the right wing BJP in its opposition against both FDI in retail as well as fuel price hikes. Perhaps hoping that they may be able to win back some of the petty bourgeois support it had lost. In its favor would be the contradictory stance taken by Mamta Bannerji and the TMC towards the bandh and FDI in retail and aviation. This of course, would be a necessity for her, to try to preserve her faltering base among the petty bourgeois in Bengal whilst not giving her opponents any room in her home state.

 

Such political calculations of course change nothing for the working class, if nothing is done to strengthen their position as a national force. At a time when class struggle is on the ascent, with workers showing the way at Manesar, Nasik and across the country, the time is ripe for strengthening the working class as a pole of power. This would give it the power to give leadership to the poor peasants and poor petty bourgeois. However, the Stalinists seem to be blind to the central role of the working class in any revolutionary Socialist and democratic agenda. The Stalinists seem to find themselves content with aiming for opportunistic alliances with other petty bourgeois and bourgeois oppositional parties. In this of course, they would be more than willing to compromise on their own position against these parties for the sake of sharing the dais with the likes of the BJP. Unity in action is being muddled into a suicidal popular front ! Sheer absence of revolutionary leadership too has meant that the working class is falling prey to this and other reactionary leaderships.

 

The regressive thinking of the Stalinists have worked hand in hand with the opportunism of the bourgeois and petty bourgeois parties to make this bandh which could have been a powerful mobilization of the masses, into a mere pin prick against Indian capitalism. Putting its faith on the petty bourgeois parties and regional bourgeois parties, the left front could not anticipate the flip flop from the Socialist party, wherein it declared its continued support for the Congress government at the centre. It’s plan of creating a pre-election ‘third front’ was thus washed away. What all of this has done however, notwithstanding the immediate failure of the bandh action, was to expose the political hollowness of the various bourgeois and petty bourgeois opposition in india and the fallacies that Stalinism carries with it.

 

The reactionary turn of the Congress party has weakened its bourgeois opposition. Though a fundamentally negative proposition, this failure presents some opportunities for the working class and for revolutionaries to organize. This is in no small part due to the heightened class struggles breaking out in India today, starting from Manesar to Nasik and elsewhere. The more demanding and aggressive the class becomes the more backward looking and reactionary the Stalinists appear. The lesser becomes their power to mislead the masses. The more the strength of revolutionary Bolsheviks emerge.

 

Conclusions:

 

While it is true that the government survives for today, it does so only on a thread. We must not lose sight of the fact, that we are still seeing the presence of a political crisis in India, one which will only deepen with the economic crisis. The Congress party which till date remains the preferred choice for the Indian bourgeois, is the ‘state bearing party’ which is bearing the brunt of the political crises. The fluidity with which political alliances are being made and broken are a symptom of this crisis. At the same time, other bourgeois and petty bourgeois alternatives are only revealing their hollowness. This will ensure that the bourgeois forces would collectively lose the support of the masses on whose base their power rests today. The Stalinists being the misleaders they are, can only buy time by temporarily pacifying the people, but can’t do much more than that. They stand as discredited as their bourgeois political counterparts.

 

This period should be interpreted as a golden window of opportunity to build up our forces and strike at Indian Capitalism. Notwithstanding, the immediate failure at mobilizing during the bandh, the weaknesses of oppositional parties reveals the existence of a void in leadership. One which is ripe for exploiting for a revolutionary Bolshevik Leninist party of workers. In this context the impending General strike in February 2013 assumes added importance and is reflective of the increasing frequency of militant mobilizations happening in india today.

 

 

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The protectionists, the free traders and the working class

-Karl Marx

[Written in the second half of September 1847]

The protectionists have never protected small industry, handicraft proper. Have Dr. List and his school in Germany by any chance demanded protective tariffs for the small linen industry, for hand loom-weaving, for handicraft production? No, when they demanded protective tariffs they did so only in order to oust handicraft production with machines and patriarchal industry with modern industry. In a word, they wish to extend the do-minion of the bourgeoisie, and in particular of the big industrial capitalists. They went so far as to proclaim aloud the decline and fall of small industry and the petty bourgeoisie, of small farming and the small peasants, as a sad but inevitable, and as far as the indus-trial development of Germany is concerned, necessary occurrence.
Besides the school of Dr. List there exists in Germany, the land of schools, yet another school, which demands not merely a system of protective tariffs, but a system of import prohibition proper. The leader of this school, Herr v. Gülich, has written a very scholarly history of industry and trade, which has also been translated into French. Herr v. Gülich is a sincere philanthropist; he is in earnest with regard to protecting handicraft produc-tion and national labour. Well now! What did he do? He began by refuting Dr. List, proved that in List’s system the welfare of the working class is only a sham and a pretence, a ringing piece of hollow rhetoric, and then, for his part, he made the following propos-als:
1. To prohibit the importation of foreign manufactured products;
2. to place very heavy import duties on raw materials originating abroad, like cotton, silk etc., etc., in order to protect wool and nationally produced linen;
3. likewise on colonial products, in order to replace sugar, coffee, indigo cochineal, valuable timbers etc., etc., with national products;
4. to place high taxes on nationally produced machines, in order to protect handi-craft production against the machine.
It is evident that Herr v. Gülich is a man who accepts the system with all its conse-quences. And what does this lead to? Not merely preventing the entry of foreign indus-trial products, but also hindering the progress of national industry.
Herr List and Herr v. Gülich form the limits between which the system moves. If it wishes to protect industrial progress, then it at once sacrifices handicraft production, labour; if it wishes to protect labour, then industrial progress is sacrificed.
Let us return to the protectionists proper, who do not share the illusions of Herr v. Gülich.
If they speak consciously and openly to the working class, then they summarise their phi-lanthropy in the following words: it is better to be exploited by one’s fellow-countrymen than by foreigners.
I do not think the working class will be for ever satisfied with this solution, which, it must be confessed, is indeed very patriotic, but nonetheless a little too ascetic and spiri-tual for people whose only occupation consists in the production of riches, of material wealth.
But the protectionists will say: “So when all is said and done we at least preserve the pre-sent state of society. Good or bad, we guarantee the labourer work for his hands, and prevent his being thrown on to the street by foreign competition.” I shall not dispute this statement, I accept it. The preservation, the conservation of the present state of affairs is accordingly the best result the protectionists can achieve in the most favourable circum-stances. Good, but the problem for the working class is not to preserve the present state of affairs, but to transform it into its opposite.
The protectionists have one last refuge. They say that their system makes no claim to be a means of social reform, but that it is nonetheless necessary to begin with social reforms in one’s own country, before one embarks on economic reforms internationally. After the protective system has been at first reactionary, then conservative, it finally becomes con-servative-progressive. It will suffice to point out the contradiction lurking in this theory, which at first sight appears to have something seductive, practical and rational to it. A strange contradiction! The system of protective tariffs places in the hands of the capital of one country the weapons which enable it to defy the capital of other countries, it in-creases the strength of this capital in opposition to foreign capital, and at the same time it deludes itself that the very same means will make that same capital small and weak in op-position to the working class. In the last analysis that would mean appealing to the phi-lanthropy of capital, as though capital as such could be a philanthropist. In general, social reforms can never be brought about the the weakness of the strong; they must and will be called to life by the strength of the weak.
Incidentally, we have no need to detain ourselves with this matter. From the moment the protectionists concede that social reforms have no place in their system and are not a re-sult of it, and that they form a special question – from this moment on they have already abandoned the social question. I shall accordingly leave the protectionists aside and speak of Free Trade in its relationship to the condition of the working class.