Covid crisis shows capitalism offers Indian working class no future – Part2

India's lockdown has caused a mass exodus (photo: Pixabay/cc)


India is among the countries with the highest level of inequality. According to an Oxfam report, the top 10% of the Indian population holds 77% of the total national wealth. Oxfam also points out that the rich made their wealth through “crony capitalism” rather than by so-called “market rules”. Even if the government wanted to provide “helicopter money” to boost demand, the level of corruption that exists would mean that most of it would never reach the workers and poor.

But Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his followers in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) aim to hold on to power, not through coming out with schemes to benefit the wider population, but through whipping up Hindu chauvinism and patriotism. Attacks on the national rights of Kashmiris through article 370, attacking the rights of the 195 million-strong Muslim population by removing citizenship rights through the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), are all used to consolidate the Hindu nationalist support for the Modi government. The RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh – National Volunteer Organisation) and the fascist core linked to Modi and the BJP continue their rampage against religious minorities. Modi attended a ceremony to lay the foundation for building a Ram Hindu temple on top of the site of the Babri Masjid mosque in August this year. This was a direct provocation to tens of thousands of Muslims who see this place as their holy place. Amit Shah, the notorious henchman of Modi and home minister, has directly promoted brutality against Muslims who he considers “termites”. He also has a plan to build huge camps to hold millions of Muslims who are likely to become stateless after the national register of citizens (NRC) process is completed.

The RSS claims to have over five million members – all men. It has control of Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), a labour union with over ten million members – the largest union in the country. It also has affiliation with a farmers’ association of eight million. Many figures in the state institutions and government, including Prime Minister Modi, are claimed as members of the RSS. The RSS is said to have opened a military school to train children to become an officer in the army. The core of its ideology is inspired by the fascism that developed in the 1930s, that centres on a hard-core version of Hindu nationalism. The core of the RSS hides their real motives and ideas from their followers. Although they try to mobilise the mass of the workers and poor based on the false promise of defending the wellbeing of Hindus, the majority Hindu population does not subscribe to their ideas. The core of the RSS still remains largely made up of the oppressing castes – the urban petit bourgeois and small businessmen.

Nonetheless, the RSS is capable of providing a significant Hindu nationalist base to serve the interests of the BJP government. This base is involved in all sorts of thuggery and violence – mobilising violent protests, instigating attacks on university campuses, mainly against people considered to be oppressed caste, Muslims, and other minorities. This situation provides an opportunity for the Modi government to divide and distract from any protest or opposition that emerges. However, even this process is not straightforward as at times the RSS-affiliated unions are forced to take a stand against Modi’s policies. This was the case when he recently introduced the new labour laws. The BMS declared that they will organise nationwide protest and even support the general strike against the proposed labour reforms. This union and the RSS having a certain influence inside the government institutions and among government workers make it much harder for Modi to carry through the proposed labour reforms.

The opposition pro-capitalist Congress Party leaders, who have to appear to oppose the RSS, have never, in reality, been able to counter Hindu extremism. In fact, many Congress Party leaders themselves try to woo Hindu votes by claiming that they are the party of real Hinduism. The Congress hope of regaining support by pitching Hinduism against Hindutva has not worked for them as they have nothing to offer the masses. The decline of the Congress Party – along with it the destruction of any parliamentary opposition to Modi – is another reason why Modi has managed to maintain his show as a “strongman”. The Indian National Congress Party ruled India for more than 50 years after independence, but is no longer a ‘national’ party. They have just 51 seats in the Lok Sabha, the main house of parliament, out of 543 seats. Though they are the ruling party in six out of 29 states in India, only in two states (Rajasthan and Punjab) are they in a strong position. Nehru’s dynasty, which still controls this party, is very unpopular and constantly facing internal crisis and challenges to their leadership. Their past history of corruption, and the attacks they led on all sections of society in the name of ‘liberalising” the economy, still haunts them.

In the last general election, the Modi-led BJP gained 21 more seats with an increase of 6% in the votes (37.3% vote won by BJP). However, it is the weakness of opposition that made this party a strong force controlling everything from the centre. Instead of building their own strength, the two communist parties – Communist Party of India (CPI) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI (M)) – always tail-ended the Congress Party. Mobilising a ‘national’ united opposition under the leadership of Congress remained their strategy, at the very same time as tens of thousands were deserting this party. The communist parties (and the other many variants of small communist organisations in the country) characterise the BJP and RSS as a fascist party, and Modi as its fascist leader. From this crude and wrong analysis they derive wrong conclusions, which make them even more unable to provide the leadership for the working class that is so needed.

The current general secretary of the CPI (M), Sitaram Yechury, argues for full collaboration with Congress, supposedly to “defeat fascism”. Yechury’s argument flows from outright opportunism and doesn’t have anything to do with a Marxist analysis. In fact, the communists name any opposition they face as ‘fascism’, including the Trinamool Congress, the ruling party of West Bengal. The very reason that the Trinomial Congress is strengthened in West Bengal, a state that used to be a stronghold of the communists for decades, is down to the wrong political and strategic position of the CPI (M), particularly following the massacre of peasants in Nandigram in 2007. Their party programme still claims that the working class needs to wage “relentless struggle against imperialism and its exploitative order”, and that “unity of the Left, democratic and progressive forces around the world must be forged to fight against imperialism and defeat the ruling classes”. But anti-imperialism for them had remained an opportunity to take the side of the local capitalists at times. Building a serious opposition to imperialism on the basis of international solidarity among workers of the world has never been their history. Leaving aside their ludicrous and audacious claim that the party is based on “proletarian internationalism”, the party leadership never organised any serious opposition against the neo-liberal offensive. Hence they went down, along with their capitalist allies, and lost all the strength they had. In the last election in West Bengal, the CPI (M) was pushed back to third place. Their ally, Congress, won more seats and came second. This is not the first time that the Stalinist parties have made such blunders of collaborating with the capitalists and allowing the capitalist party to make gains through the illusions they helped create.

It is not clear how many members these communist parties have. But their support is undoubtedly shrinking, which was reflected in the last general election where the CPI (M) managed to win just three seats. They won a seat in Kerala and the other two were in Tamil Nadu state. This did not flow from their own strength. The CPI and CPI (M) won 2 seats each in the southern state of Tamil Nadu through their collaboration with the capitalist DMK, which saw a surge in sympathy votes following the death of its populist leader.

Electoral defeat, diminishing popularity, and weak leadership with no clarity have all contributed to a major crisis that is now developing inside the communist parties. Even the former general secretary of the CPI (M) opposed his party’s position in relation to their argument that an Indian variant of “communal fascism” has been established in India. Huge numbers of party activists, particularly the youth, have no trust in their leaders or follow party positions. Various workers and social organisations that the party established in the past still hold on to the operation without any central control or clarity of direction.

In fear of losing control of their ‘membership’ and positions, these parties do not even take up ‘fighting fascism’ inside the unions or in other public bodies over which they have control. This propaganda is merely used as an opportunist argument to form an electoral alliance with the weak Congress Party. Both communist parties no longer have much of a difference in terms of the political positions they advance. The leadership may have a lot in common and talk about possible ‘merger’. But these talks are likely to be limited to an electoral pact. The increasingly radicalised membership however will pull in a different direction. The strategy they put out for ‘struggle’ and merely tail-ending emerging protest movements is not adequate enough for tens of thousands who are looking for a serious battle not just against the Modi government but against the capitalist system as a whole.

Maoist parties also sow confusion

Despite the rhetoric against the communist parties, the various Maoist forces including the CPI (ML) also fail to offer a clear strategy for the working class. Their arguments and actions are full of contradictions. They take the rhetoric of ‘fight against fascism’ to an extreme level among members, even calling for ‘Jo Hitler ki chaal chalega, vo Hitler ki maut marega’ (He who walks Hitler’s path will die Hitler’s death). Their statement identifying the defeat of fascism as the “central task of the vanguard section”, lists the crimes of the CPI (M), the Congress and their alliance. The statement correctly claims that an “alternative revolutionary left force is necessary to resist this situation”. But at the same time the leadership goes for electoral ‘grand alliances’ with the very pro-capitalist and so-called communist parties they are so critical of in order to ‘defeat’ fascism. It is reported that in Assam, they hope to defeat fascism in the coming election by forming an unholy alliance with Congress and the CPI.

The left in India, with its organisational strength and mass support base, remains weak in relation to the impact they have on improving the conditions of the working class or providing a challenge to the capitalist class. This is mainly because of their political weakness. The leaderships of these organisations are not exempt from the crisis of leadership that we see across the world, in terms of their inability to analyse the current situation and come out with a combative strategy to fight capitalism. Their positions, which were always a crude version of Marxism, are now tested by the deepening crisis of capitalism and being ripped apart. Starting from how these forces analysed the character of capitalism in India, to their analyses and positions in relation to caste oppression, and the national question, all stand exposed as utterly wrong and useless to the working class in the need to struggle to defend past gains and living conditions. While, on the one hand, they say that the “wrath against the corruption and anti-people policies” of the previous governments gained a support base for the BJP, they then abandon that analysis and the conclusions that should flow from it for a strong working-class organisation, by arguing that the BJP’s “corporate Hindu fascism” is a result of the spreading of Brahminical ideology creating an “ultra-nationalist base”.

The threat of the fascist core of the RSS and the Modi offensive against workers, peasants, youth and poor, is very real. The authoritarian character of the Modi government, imprisoning thousands of activists, and attacking even basic democratic rights, must be opposed. Even the well-known NGO Amnesty International was recently forced to pull out of India following a persistent witch-hunt by the government. Not just in India but across the world, in many countries the populist authoritarian character of the state is increasing. The main reason linked to this is a shattering of living conditions and the uncertain future that tens of thousands now face – having resulted from decades of neoliberalism accelerated by the world economic crisis. None of the capitalist governments are able to come forward with the solution to ‘fix’ the problems caused by capitalism. The weak position of capitalism, including the lack of confidence in institutions that uphold capitalism, is matched by a lack of serious opposition emerging. This creates the conditions for ‘strongman’ authoritarian forces to gain and maintain power for a period using populist slogans. The left, particularly the far-left forces, faced this period from a weakened position following the setback in consciousness as a consequence of the collapse of the Stalinist USSR and the period that followed. While it is true that the RSS contains a relatively large fascistic core, it is wrong to characterise them and the BJP’s support base, or the Indian state in general, as fascist. Millions are not drawn to them on that basis, but due to deteriorating conditions. Understanding this should be vital in developing a strategy to fight back.

The CWI has repeatedly pointed out that in the absence of mass workers’ organisations with far-sighted perspectives and leadership, all sorts of variants of expression of anger can take place – including significant support for the far right. The development of these counter-revolutionary forces is rooted in the economic and social crisis. Without putting forward a programme and strategy to fight for the improvement of economic and social conditions, and linking that to the need for a fundamental change in organising society on the basis of socialist planning, we cannot fully combat these forces. Leaning on the very forces that create these conditions for electoral gain will not result in a strengthening of the left or defeat of the far right. Developing such a transitional programme is key to addressing the immediate task of winning democratic rights and securing these victories for the future. An electoral defeat of Modi could provide favourable conditions. But Congress coming to power in its place will not address the socio-economic conditions that put Modi in power in the first place.

The building and strengthening of a working-class fighting mass force has nothing to do with an arithmetic sum of the existing left leaders coming together for an electoral agreement. Instead, the strength of the organised working class should be mobilised to offer a lead to the farmers, oppressed castes and other sections of the society. Decisive work must start in the unions, other workers’ organisations and social organisations where the left has control or influence. The general strike that the trade unions have been forced to call for this month should be a way to start the discussion and mobilisation among workers with the long-term strategy of escalating the struggle. The mammoth general strikes held in the past with tens of millions of workers participating were of a ceremonial character. Though these strikes helped to push back the government in terms of some policies, they have not fully utilised the enormous potential strength of the working class when organised and with an effective leadership. The coming general strike and a follow-up strategy can not only push the Modi regime back – and its anti-worker policies – but can also play a role in bringing down the government if it is organised properly. The trade unions must start an offensive campaign, not just on wages and conditions, but also for democratic workers’ control of workplace safety, democratic oversight by the working class and poor of pandemic measures, public services and key industries.

There is no shortage of struggle in India. The anti-CAA/NRC movement was spreading nationally and growing at the start of the Covid-19 crisis. Even under the draconian lockdown conditions, the masses have come out to protest against the horrific killings of people of the oppressed castes, against police brutality, etc. The protests against the attack on farmers’ conditions are another example of how a huge number of people are angry and ready to fight back. Unfortunately, there is no national platform or organisation that exists that can bring these struggles together and organise a decisive fightback. Building such a mass organisation is a vital need. That many in the left (particularly the Maoists) now see the limitations of their past political positions, and the need for breaking with them to build a new force, is a welcome development. But a lack of clarity and the undemocratic Stalinist approach to building such forces remain barriers that need to be overcome. Trade unions, socialists and communist organisations, and other fighting forces should come together in a democratic fighting platform. While maintaining organisational independence, such a mass platform organised democratically with federal rights should have a genuine interest in mobilising workers and all oppressed sections in society. Vital for that is the development of a political programme. Without having clarity on the national question and caste question, for example, such a nationwide force cannot be successfully built in India. India still remains a prison house of nationalities. Attempts by the Modi government to push one nation – a Hindu nation – with one language and culture can re-ignite national aspirations in a number of states. Maturing this crisis means that the balkanisation of India is also possible in the future. India is a huge land mass – a subcontinent – of people who have various cultural peculiarities. Nearly 20 000 languages are in use for example.

Caste and Class

The mistakes of the left in the past, particularly the Stalinist organisations, are also a key reason for the emergence of identity-based organisations that are influencing the struggle against caste-based oppression. While some communists are ‘critical’ of identity politics, in reality they have always tail-ended the petit-bourgeois leadership, with the hope of winning back some of their reputation amongst the most oppressed sections. Various ‘Dalit fronts’ organised by the CPI (M) argue for unity of red and blue (Dr Ambedkar followers – for an introductory detail read the review of the book: ‘Bhimayana: experiences of untouchability’, by Clare Doyle). But this attempt is no substitute for a Marxist analysis of caste and a programme based on mass united struggle to end caste oppression. It is seen as seeking to win support for electoral gains. Despite taking part in various struggles, communist parties and their front organisations have continued to tail-end the existing petit-bourgeois leadership, and have so far failed to organise any serious fight against the caste-based oppression. New Socialist Alternative, the CWI section in India, puts forward a demand such as zero tolerance in trade unions in relation to caste-based oppression, linked to a political explanation of how it is in the interests of the bosses to maintain such divisions (see the booklet on Caste and class). The CPI (M), while pretending to fight for Dalit rights, so far has not supported such demands in the unions that they lead. Workers, organised workers in particular, need to be linked with the struggle against caste oppression. Many CPI (M) union leaders, however, travel in the opposite direction and do not want to take up this issue in the unions for fear of losing their positions.

This is mainly due to the lack of political understanding on the part of the leadership, including on developing a programme and strategy to fight caste oppression. Due to their inability to provide clarity and leadership, they often take a short cut to tail-end identity politics, though in rhetoric they claim to oppose it. In an incident in Tamil Nadu, they went as far as complaining to the police and filing a case against a writer who wrote “Ambedkar is not enough. Marx is needed”, to fight caste oppression. Similarly they zig-zag and take various positions with regard to the national question. While claiming to be ‘Leninist’ and supporting the right to self-determination, not only have they opposed the demands against national oppression where it is strongest, as in Kashmir, but they have also collaborated with the forces that act against national rights. Similarly, they are stuck to the Stalinist past in terms of building a serious international organisation of the working class. Even with respect to south Asia, they have adopted anti-worker – anti-oppressed section positions and policies. The CPI (M) has never seriously opposed the genocidal war in Sri Lanka or supported the national rights of Tamils in Sri Lanka, for example. They are, however, happy to keep a very loose connection with the JVP – a Sinhala nationalist organisation which hides its real position with Marxist rhetoric. The CPI (ML)’s idea of building an international organisation is similar; they do not care about the political position of those with whom they are willing to collaborate. Building united struggles or a mass platform cannot be done without clarity of politics. A far-sighted perspective and principled programme are the main tools that can bring real unity – the unity of all workers, peasants, other oppressed sections and youth. Sections of the leadership in the unions and in the left organisations who act as a barrier to this development must be opposed.

All those who want to build a serious opposition to the current Modi government and the capitalist system as a whole must move towards a fighting socialist programme, which points to the taking of power by the working class as a start to running society in the interests of the overwhelming majority. All the oppressed sections of society in India are now facing the crisis of their lifetime. As the crisis deepens, millions will be forced to starve and die while the capitalist prey on all sorts of divisions that exist in society, to maintain their grip on power. The struggle for clarity of policy and programme, and the building of mass working-class organisations based on that cannot be delayed any further.

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November 2020