Sharp Capitalist Contradictions Turn Peasant Movement into Mass MovementOctober 14, 2021
Heraclitus said, one cannot enter the same river twice, because continuously changing water always flows there, i.e., no two situations are identical as things never repeat themselves in exact same way, each time they have a uniqueness. Lenin also taught that ‘a concrete analysis of a concrete situation’ ‘constitutes the very gist, the living soul, of Marxism’. Hence even a right principle applied to every concrete and specific situation as is mechanically, converts it into a mere hollow slogan. Hence, it is vital for a Marxist to analyse each specific historical situation in all its concrete and comprehensive aspects to arrive at the concrete task of advancing the revolutionary struggle. The difference between revolutionary theory and verbiage in Lenin’s view is that while the first leads to the necessary and possible revolutionary action based on the specifics of each situation, the latter does not. No matter how sublime the sentiments, howsoever unquestionable the dedication, if a theoretical analysis of a particular situation leads to inaction rather than revolutionary action, that theoretical analysis is hollow jargon and rhetoric, not Marxism. Living Marxist science determines the correct revolutionary action in every concrete situation based on a complete and comprehensive understanding of all its particularities.
The one year old farmers’ agitation must also be approached in the same way to understand why, after Punjab and Haryana, this movement has been able to garner such widespread support as revealed by the Mahapanchayat at Muzaffarnagar and also why both the Modi government and the very farmers who stood behind Modi firmly till a few years ago, have reached such a state of no return in their ongoing confrontation, from where it is very difficult for both to retreat. Only then we will be able to understand this turning point in the decades long, rich farmer led movement on the question of making agriculture profitable through higher remunerative prices for crops, that it has not only mobilised those sections of the class-differentiated farming community which are benefited by this demand, but has also got the support of those including 86% of the poor small-marginal farmers who do not get any real benefit from the increase in the prices of crops and also the sympathy of the working class and other poor and oppressed people of the country.
Capitalist Economic Crisis & Rising Unemployment
It was only by the end of the first decade of the 21st century, after a long period of neoliberal economic policies, that Indian capitalism was caught in the vortex of the inevitable economic crisis created by these very policies, which is now becoming increasingly acute. The main symptoms of this crisis are falling rate of profit per unit of capital, over-production (not exceeding social requirements, but more than the market demand), insolvency, stoppage of industries or operations below capacity, decline in new fixed capital investment, layoffs of workers and fast rising unemployment due to lack of recruitment, falling real wage rate, mostly temporary casual jobs like maid, driver, watchman, delivery/courier instead of permanent industrial salaried jobs, excessive exploitation of workers, etc. This was the main reason for the Indian capitalist class, especially its financial and monopoly section, to abandon its old and trusted party Congress and opting for the fascist Modi, as it had to rapidly increase the rate of exploitation of the working class and handover the public sector to private monopoly capital. Moreover, it has become necessary for monopoly capital to appropriate the petty capitalists themselves – small producers and traders including farmers and a large section of the middle class and take possession of their wealth and capital. But this plunder and eviction for the benefit of the monopoly financial and industrial capitalists will result in great suffering to this section and there will be resistance to it. Therefore, instead of usual bourgeois parliamentary democracy, the need for an extreme reactionary fascist dictatorship with a parallel state of the fascist hooligans became the need of the bourgeoisie.
This state of economic crisis was already starting to emerge a decade ago. According to the employment data of the Reserve Bank and KLEMS for 2015-16 released on March 27, 2018 the total employment in the country declined in three of the previous years, i.e., 2012-13, 2014-15 and 2015-16. Main reason for this was the constant reduction in the number of labour force, i.e., the total employment since 2005-06 due to increasing investment in fixed capital (mechanisation, electrification, automation) in agriculture. But for some years the labour surplus from agriculture was being diverted to industry and the services, especially the fast-growing home and commercial building construction sector, although the wages in these sectors were barely liveable upon. But due to the economic crisis in the second decade, new jobs creation in the industry-services sector reduced to such an extent that it could not absorb the surplus labour released from agriculture.
This decline in employment was at a time when the economy was said to be grow rapidly. In the subsequent years, it is well known that crores of jobs have been lost in construction, mining, industry, service sectors to a large extent due to demonetisation and GST. In 2018, the government itself had to suppress its own survey in which the unemployment rate was revealed to be at a record low level of 45 years. The crisis in agriculture has also deepened further over the years. That is why the problem of unemployed workers has become critical presently. The situation is such that in 2018 itself, more than a quarter of the youth in the age group of 14-25 were neither in education, nor undergoing any training nor had any job! The situation has become very explosive since then, especially due to the highly repressive lockdown implemented by Modi in the name of Covid.
Urban to Rural Reverse Migration
According to the latest report of the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) conducted by the government, there has been a large-scale reverse migration of workers from urban areas to agriculture in the villages. ‘Reverse’ because with the development of capitalism all over the world and also in India, the normal historical trend has instead been the migration of workers from villages – farms and handicrafts – to cities, that is, to industry and services. The PLFS report shows that while 42.5% of total employment was in agriculture in 2018-19, this number rose sharply to 45.6% in 2019-20.
Prior to this, the Consumer Household Survey (CPHS) of the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) has also been reporting a similar reverse migration, which has now been confirmed in government PLFS, which has found this number to be even higher. According to CPHS, agricultural employment was only 38% of total employment in 2019-20 as against 45.6% of PLFS. We will come to this difference later, it is better to first know that according to CPHS, the increase in the share of agriculture in total employment is not unique for 2019-20, rather this ratio has been increasing for some years. This ratio was 35.3% in 2017-18, increasing to 36.1% in 2018-19 and 38% in 2019-20. Even after this, this growth continued and the share of agriculture in total employment in 2020-21 stood at 39.4%. It is clear that it is not only because of the workers leaving the cities to go to the villages, having become lost their jobs owing to Covid and a brutal lockdown. This is rather the result of an already ongoing process of intense crisis in the Indian capitalist economy.
The difference between CPHS and PLFS is because of the different definition of employment. The PLFS counts a person as employed if he/she has worked any time in a year whereas the CPHS has a comparatively stringent definition. CPHS is a weekly survey and considers those working for wages in concerned week as employed. Employment in agriculture is extremely irregular and for many workers it is available only for a few days a year. By the PLFS definition, all of them are counted in the number employed in that year whereas in CPHS only in the week when they actually worked. Therefore, not only does the total number of employed in PLFS increases but the proportion of employment in the irregular work in agriculture sector is also higher.
However, despite this difference between the two, both the surveys confirm the increase in the proportion of agricultural employment in the total employment, that is, due to the increasing unemployment in industries, many workers are being forced to return to the same agriculture for survival from which they had earlier migrated towards the cities and factories. The PLFS confirms that the share of manufacturing in total employment declined from 12.1% to 11.2% (a decrease of 0.9%), while the construction sector declined by 0.5% and the transport, storage and communication sectors by 0.3%. It is pretty clear that despite announcements of lakhs of crores of rupees incentives for the capitalist owners for reviving production, the crisis in the industrial sector has continued to intensify and the workers from the unorganized sector of both manufacturing and construction have become unemployed on a large scale and forced to turn to agriculture.
Obviously, this reverse migration, instead of being voluntary, is result of the painful compulsion of the workers in the non-agricultural sectors due to the declining demand for workers and rising unemployment. The wage rate data in different sectors in the PLFS itself explains the compulsion for the working class behind this process and the hardships of their lives. According to this report, the average wage for regular salaried employment is Rs 16,780 per month or Rs 558 per day while the average income from self-employment (which itself is a result of high unemployment) is Rs 10,454 per month or Rs 349 per day. In comparison, agriculture mainly provides casual or daily wage work with an average daily wage of Rs 291. Therefore, there can be no doubt that the question of workers voluntarily shifting to the lowest wage sector when better alternatives are available does not arise, but it is consequence of a serious threat to the livelihood of the toiling masses due to the deep crisis of the Indian capitalist economy, the result of the crisis of unemployment, poverty, inflation and hunger.
But to understand the reality of unemployment crisis in India, one should rather look at the number of jobs, not the number of unemployed, because the method of counting the unemployed is wrong ab initio and hides the reality. The magnitude of the actual crisis will be more apparent if we count those employed from among those of working age. Roughly the current employment rate is around 40% in approximately 100 crore people in the working age group of 15 to 65 years. In 2016 itself, before demonetisation, this rate was around 46%, i.e., 6% or about 6 crore persons became unemployed in a little more than 4 years. On a global scale, the employment rate in China is above 70%, but in other middle-class developed countries it is above 60%. Even on a rough scale of 60%, one-third of the people of working age in India are unemployed. Also, according to the definition of employment that we discussed earlier, many mostly unemployed are also included in the count of employed.
The Irreconcilable Contradiction of Indian Capitalism
Per the usual trend of capitalist development, as new industries and businesses develop and agriculture develops on capitalist mode becoming mechanized and centralized, large numbers of small farmers are ruined through bankruptcy and evicted by large landowners. Hence the population engaged in the old rural production system of farming and handicrafts becomes surplus on a large scale. This surplus population is absorbed as wage labour in the newly developing industry and other businesses. But the dynamics of the capitalist production system based on the contradiction of social character of production but private ownership for the profit of the bourgeoisie soon begins to give rise to unemployment in industries as well – competition among capitalists leads to lowering of variable capital, i.e., labour power in comparison to the increasing investment in fixed capital, i.e., machines and production techniques. Therefore, unemployment is an essential by-product of the capitalist mode of production. The older developed capitalist countries like Britain, Germany, France, Holland, Japan, Italy, etc. were also able to absorb only a part of the surplus population from agriculture and handicrafts. But it was possible for these capitalist countries to not only export their capital and produced goods to solve their crisis, but also to force emigrate a large part of this surplus population to continents like North & South America, Australia and Africa. They had the opportunity to induce hundreds of millions out of their surplus population, some voluntarily and some forcibly, to relocate to these colonies throughout the 19th century.
The sick and anaemic Indian capitalism born in the era of colonial slavery had neither the capacity and vitality to fully absorb the surplus population of the villages through rapid industrial development nor was it able to export it abroad. Therefore, it constantly tried to hide and contain the surplus population in various ways – promotion of small-scale cottage industries, keeping them tied to small farming through loans and many such schemes, creating illusion of improving life through handicrafts, animal husbandry, fishery, etc. The propagation of the idea of ‘heavenly’ rural life was also a part of this, although apart from economic reasons for the oppressed castes and women, as well as for a section of youth, migration from village to city was also an expression of their desire to free themselves from the caste and patriarchal oppression existing in the villages to relatively less oppressive urban life. Thus, in spite of slow industrial expansion, a part of the surplus population in the villages was constantly moving through the process of urbanization. Nevertheless, these small landholdings and farmsteads in the villages which the poor peasants, along with their whole family, worked with unceasing backbreaking labour, were quite instrumental in absorbing social discontent and rebellion by hiding the massive unemployment in Indian capitalism.
The rapid capitalist development in agriculture from the 1960s onwards created a class of wealthy farmers with profitable capitalist farms, the top layer of which has become the rural capitalist, while also ruining and bankrupting small farmers in large numbers. Some of them were able to migrate to the cities, but most of them, in absence of alternative employment, could not get rid of their small pieces of land even if they wanted to. The burden of about 40% of the population on 14% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is sufficient to explain the widespread poverty. Except a small number of farmers owning more than half of the total agricultural land, whose cultivation is profitable, more than half of the landless farm labour population of the villages as well as the effectively unemployed or semi-employed majority of the small and marginal farmers lead lives of extreme deprivation. The several lakhs of farmers whose suicides we have heard so much about in the last decades belonged to this section.
But the way the capitalist economic crisis of the last ten years has brought unemployment to a frightening level and finally the brutal lockdown in the name of covid prevention by Modi, drove the migrant workers, deprived of all employment, to the very villages which they had left in search of some work to get rid their immense poverty. Now, on the contrary, by increasing the burden of the population dependent on agricultural land through this reverse migration, the crisis has increased manifold. We have already seen that the population dependent on agriculture increased by 3.1% in the same year of 2019-20 as per the PLFS. Consequently, this contradiction of Indian capitalism has intensified sharply and has come to an explosive position.
The issue of land has become a question of life and death
While the rural population was already suffering on account of the deteriorating agricultural economy, high unemployment and low wages, not only the flow of money sent to these families by the migrant labourers who went to the city to support their families’ livelihood in the village has now stopped, but they themselves come back having become unemployed. As a result of the large numbers moving back to the villages, the supply of workers there too has exceeded the demand. Therefore, not only has the availability of work drastically decreased, but the wage rates have also fallen further. In the Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGA) too, instead of 100 days ‘guarantee’ in 2020-21, every registered worker got employment for only paltry 12 days. Therefore, the huge semi-proletarian population, which was gradually getting freed from their attachment to agricultural land, due to the this very tiny piece of land in the village becoming a last resort of support in the lockdown, their dying attachment to the land has now revived with a vehemence. On the other hand, the desperate young generation in search of employment has no other option but to fall back upon these the small landholdings since the unemployment rate among graduates of 20-24 years age group, from 42% in 2017, has increased to 55% in 2018 and 63% in 2019.
At the same time, the Modi government, which came to power to fulfil the task of furthering the interests of monopoly capitalists came up with new agricultural laws that would take the capitalist development of agriculture to the next stage, that is, through centralization of agriculture in the ownership of few large corporates by further accelerating the already ongoing process. For the farmers the new laws represent the attempt by monopoly corporate capitalists to finally uproot them from their land. In such a situation, not only the already poor small-marginal and medium farmers are agitated, even the lower strata of the rich farmers who have been benefiting from the exploitation of the poor farmers and labourers of the village in the capitalist development till now, now feel threatened in the face of the competition from the corporate capital. Fear of the possibility of being dispossessed from the very land which is seen as the last resort of livelihood in the deepening economic crisis, has made this movement against these new farm laws a question of life and death for the farmers who are now fighting back to save their land. All these farmers, except the richest ones who have become rural capitalists, have united on the question of resisting their eviction from land by corporate capital. This is the real reason why the movement has garnered such massive support among farmers and sympathy of wider population and thus become so forceful, sustained and long lasting. Even the rural agricultural workers, who are very much exploited by these very farmers, are sympathetic to their cause, after finding the doors to employment in industry closed to them and their bitter experience of having been thrown on the roads in the brutal lockdown imposed in the cities last year forcing them to walk hungry hundreds and thousands of kilometres in the sun to get refuge in these very villages which they had left earlier in search of better living.
However, the farmers are petty owners and commodity producers, and every commodity producer, no matter how little surplus marketable production he has to sell in the market, wants higher prices for his goods. Hence, the Minimum Support Price (MSP) naturally becomes the main question in his fight. As a producer of goods, the farmer cannot express his interest in any other form than this. However, farmers have changed the character of this demand by converting the demand for higher MSP into a demand for the purchase guarantee at MSP of all the surplus produce of all the farmers. In its essence, this slogan has now become the refusal to enter contract farming with the private capitalist and to demand, instead, contract farming with the state itself. This has become the main obstacle for the hegemony of agricultural production and trade by corporate capital. That is why the slogan to stop Adani-Ambani entry in agriculture has become the major symbol and war cry of the movement for the people. In a way, farmers have put their tractor-trolleys as a roadblock in the way of the Volvos and Audis of the capitalists.
Modi – Trusted Agent of the Bourgeoisie
Along with the farmers, other working class and poor sections of the society are also watching the present government bring scheme after scheme to help the capitalist class – reductions, relaxations and concessions from corporate tax to every kind of liabilities, up to 96-97% of the bank loan amounts waived off in the name of bankruptcy law, debts worth tens of lakh crores have been written off, public property is being given into the ownership of the bourgeoisie at throwaway prices through privatization, the government is going to hand over public assets of about Rs.25 lakh crores to the capitalists for Rs.6 lakh crores for 25 years in the name of the policy of monetization, all public facilities like educational institutions, hospitals, railways, roads, etc., are being handed over to private capital and taken out of the reach of the common people; Public Private Partnership (PPP) leading to all profits siphoned off into private hands while the entire burden of loss is being passed on to the general public, from infrastructure construction to weapons manufacturing and defence deals, orders are being given for all kinds of huge expenditure schemes to benefit capitalists, many big announcements like central vista, bullet train, fighter plane, submarine, tank, enabling huge profits to the capitalists in the form of construction contracts, and to meet the expenditure on all this, money will be collected from the pockets of the public by increasing all types of indirect taxes from diesel-petrol to GST, etc.
On the other hand, not only are no public facilities being constructed for the public, but through commercialization the existing facilities are also being made so expensive and out of reach of reach for most people. For example, in the education sector, not only the tuition fees amounting to lakhs rupees, the fee for entrance examinations itself has gone up to Rs 4-5 thousand per application so that admissions in these institutions are fully reserved for the rich. The fees for the job applications are also being hiked rapidly. Often, crores of rupees are collected from lakhs of applicants as fees and after some time the whole process is cancelled leading to much anguish among the frustrated unemployed youth.
The people are also watching that the capitalists and a small elite section of the society are being provided all routes to convert all disasters into opportunity for themselves, whether it is an economic crisis or the Covid pandemic. We have all seen the speed with which the wealth of all the big capitalists has increased in this period of great distress and suffering for the common people. According to a recent report by UBS, 8% of high income households have benefited tremendously in a year and a half of Covid – their financial savings have increased to more than 5 Billion USD due to Covid instead of earlier estimate of 2 Billion USD in the usual pre-pandemic days and they have invested heavily in property, stock market, mutual funds, government savings schemes, etc.
Having seen all this, not only the farmers, but also all the working people, are coming to stark realisation that this government works solely for the interests of a few capitalists, not the common man. At the same time, they are also witness to the fact that while farmers are complaining about not getting ‘fair’ prices, the prices of these very same agricultural food products skyrocket when they reach consumers. The way the monopoly capitalists like Adani have manipulated the trade and raised prices of many commodities from mustard oil to pulses is widely known to everyone. Therefore, they find their interests aligned with the peasant movement against handing over the trade of agricultural commodities under the control of corporate capital and against changes in the Essential Commodities Act. In such a situation, the farmers movement’s policy of making Adani-Ambani a symbol of their protest and targeting corporate capital has become very appealing and touched the psyche of the wider toiling masses gaining their sympathy and support. Farmer leaders also understands this. That is why most speakers in the Muzaffarnagar Mahapanchayat, tried their best to connect with them by, in addition to farmers’ issues, raising the issues of suffering for the general public due to high unemployment and inflation.
The extent of the peasant movement, and the responsibility of the working class
Still being a petty-owning class, the farmers’ movement has its limits. They can reach the demand of revolutionary interdependence that takes him beyond the realm of capitalism of the contract with the government by refusing the contract with private capital, but he himself cannot reach it as the owner. This demand of his is an unmet demand within the purview of the capitalist system, a demand that only a socialist authority can fulfill, because it is the socialist authority that employs production to meet social needs, along with the peasants, to their surplus production. Such a contract can be made to buy. But the revolutionary transformation of replacing the capitalist system with a socialist social system can be accomplished only by the proletariat. Therefore, the responsibility of converting this movement into a real revolutionary upsurge also rests on the forces of the proletariat, which can clearly say without misleading the peasants that the problem of most of the peasants in the capitalist system There is no question of their bright future as small producers in the course of their development of the capitalist system, they are bound to be ruined in the face of big capital. Their future lies in building a socialist society in place of capitalism under the leadership of the working class, in which the power of the proletariat will help them organize and organize modern high-tech agricultural production by forming a collective farm, and their surplus production for the needs of the rest of the society. Will also contract for guarantee of purchase.
Therefore, at the present time, when, in spite of the disintegration of the powers of the working class, the sharp contradictions of capitalism, the peasants and other toiling sections have come to the spontaneous consciousness from the bitter experience of their material life that the existing power belongs to the bourgeoisie like Ambani-Adani. As the only authority to manage their interests, then it becomes the responsibility of the working class forces not to lag behind this spontaneous consciousness of the toiling masses, not to confine themselves only to the support of the peasant movement, but to go ahead with history. As the most advanced and leading class, develop this consciousness against the bourgeoisie and unite and mobilize all the forces of the working people against the oppression of capital. For a Leninist, a concrete analysis of the particular situation in India today draws conclusions from this revolutionary task and we must focus our energies on it, as the report of the 7th Congress of the Comintern said, “One of the Fundamental Characteristics of the Bolsheviks One, and a fundamental point of our revolutionary strategy, is the ability to understand at every moment who our prime enemy is and how to focus all our forces against him.”
Instead of saying that the extermination of small producers and the proletariat is an essential historical stage of capitalist dynamics, the proletariat should not be with the demand to turn history back, but to raise its voice for immediate relief to the ruined poor peasantry, highly economic It is an attitude that, ignoring the main contradiction of the current situation, effectively helps the bourgeoisie in the face of the rising mass struggles.
Certainly the proletariat’s interference in the peasant movement can also be objected by saying that the movement includes reactionary, casteist, patriarchal, communal, khap panchayat, old allies of BJP, Khalistani, etc. So real communist revolutionaries cannot participate in it. For this we will simply quote this Lenin,
“Whoever expects a “pure” social revolution will never live to see it. Such a person pays lip-service to revolution without understanding what revolution is.
The Russian Revolution of 1905 was a bourgeois-democratic revolution. It consisted of a series of battles in which all the discontented classes, groups and elements of the population participated. Among these there were masses imbued with the crudest prejudices, with the vaguest slid most fantastic aims of struggle; there were small groups which accepted Japanese money, there were speculators and adventurers, etc. But objectively, the mass movement was breaking the hack of tsarism and paving the way for democracy; for this reason the class-conscious workers led it.
The socialist revolution in Europe cannot be anything other than an outburst of mass struggle on the part of all and sundry oppressed and discontented elements. Inevitably, sections of tile petty bourgeoisie and of the backward workers will participate in it—without such participation, mass struggle is impossible, without it no revolution is possible—and just as inevitably will they bring into the movement their prejudices, their reactionary fantasies, their weaknesses slid errors. But objectively they will attack capital, and the class-conscious vanguard of the revolution, the advanced proletariat, expressing this objective truth of a variegated and discordant, motley and outwardly fragmented, mass struggle, will he able to unite and direct it, capture power, seize the banks, expropriate the trusts which all hate (though for difficult reasons!), and introduce other dictatorial measures which in their totality will amount to the overthrow of the bourgeoisie and the victory of socialism, which, however, will by no means immediately “purge” itself of petty-bourgeois slag.” (The Discussion On Self-Determination Summed Up)