People together : Arguments for an initiative

February 5, 2013

Building people’s unity towards building resistance to global capital’s aggressive onslaught

by Sumit Chaudhury

An immense turmoil is taking place throughout the landmass known as India. Indeed, it is integral to and in conformity with the tumultuous times the entire world is going through at present. When global order, or rather the global capitalist system, is facing its toughest challenge in the period since the end of the great imperial wars, can the country we live in – for that matter, any country – remain blissfully stable?

More than two decades have gone by since India has been zealously pursuing, in the name of ‘economic reforms’, the neoliberal doctrine – a perilous rehash of the foggy old idea of laissez faire the apostles of early capitalism were preaching. This new dispensation was ushered in – almost everywhere in the world in the days the ‘Cold War’ was getting frozen – on the dictates of global financial oligarchies. Since then, it has been serving as an engaging cover for the overtly belligerent, most violent conduct of global capital in the midst of an inevitable and insoluble crisis. Today, not a centimeter of terrestrial space is being able to escape the poisonous paws of this hungry beast prowling to dominate the earth.

Two worlds, two Indias

The neoliberal onslaught has sliced the globe into two extremely unequal halves. It has helped only a few to amass colossal wealth – the measure of which is unprecedented in human history – but wrought havoc on the lives and environments of the vast majority. Pillage and plunder, death and destruction have accompanied the never-satiating march of the super-rich even as deprivation, dispossession and destitution have been the fate of the ever-swelling multitudes of the world’s poor. Never before had the gap between these contending classes been so vividly obscene. Never before had they to stand face to face in such unambiguous fashion. Our planet seems to be spinning simultaneously in either direction, putting at stake the very survival of the bulk of its people, its ecology, of life itself.

This gaping inequality and the consequent battles it has spawned between the gainers and losers of the present-day ‘free-market’ arrangement – otherwise known as ‘globalisation’ – are the most pronounced in India alongside some other economies across the continents. The neoliberal advance, heartily sponsored by the all-powerful Indian state, has, of course, propelled India’s growth rate to dizzying heights (only to be brought down to more realistic levels in recent months), shot the stock of the stock market up into the stratosphere (from where, time and again, it comes crashing down) and further fattened the already corpulent corporate wallets to the point of bursting at the seams. Then again, it has put unemployment to a never-reachable summit, elevated inflation rates and prices of essential items to sky-scraping altitudes, taken human development indices down to sub-Saharan depths and turned poverty, grinding as it had always been, into such an everyday-everywhere entity that it cannot be recognised as poverty any more.

The neoliberal era, our experience shows, is the era of grabbing. Mountains and rivers, forests and seas, dry lands and aquifers, the subterranean gifts of nature, knowledge systems, even genes – everything that belongs to our people – are up for grabs, to be owned, possessed and sacrificed at the altar of unrelenting ‘accumulation’. To help carry this out, the Indian state – otherwise flogged as a ‘republic’ – is at its repressive best, letting loose a reign of coercion and terror across the country, even declaring a full-fledged war – aerial strikes included – on our people, particularly in areas where the profit-diggers have set their eyes on. At the same time, it feels so passionate about slavishly serving the marauders – does not matter whether they come from within its own territories or from far-off dream lands – that it is willing to forsake what it is meant to protect: the people, the natural resources, the boundaries and its own sovereignty.

The ‘independent’ Indian state, under the neoliberal regimen, has totally given up on people’s welfare – to which they had been providing, at least, lip-service before. Governance and economic development have been, for the past couple of decades, geared solely towards satisfying the greed of the multinational monopolies. It was, therefore, only a matter of time before the bureaucrat-politician nexus, walking the corridors of power, effectively became prisoners in the hands of the corporate Mafiosi and got steeped in corruption. Soon, they would be stashing away their scam-harvests in bank accounts abroad. This is their reward for facilitating multinational invaders to rob the people of their sustainable resource-bases; and denying them their fundamental right to live free and with dignity.

If one side of the neoliberal mirror reflects the shining face of India, the other side offers nothing but an opaque nothingness.

Resistance, resistance everywhere

The people of our country are, of course, not taking all this with bowed heads and bent knees. As in many other parts of the world, massive walls of resistance have been put up almost wherever the Indian state has tried rolling down the neoliberal chariot to pave the way for the capitalist raiders. From Kalinganagar to Kudankulam, Nandigram to Nonadanga, Singur to Subarnasiri, Gurgaon to Gadhchiroli, Manesar to Malkangiri, Narayan-patna to Niyamgiri, Dandyakarnya to Dantewara, Bhopal to Bhatta-Parsole, Jagatsinghpur (Posco) to Jaitapur, Raigarh to Lalgarh, wherever one looks, one sees heroic and historic people’s upsurge breaking out, in one gigantic wave after another. Nearly seven decades ago, the young poet, Sukanta, dreamt of a situation like this: ‘Eto bidroho dekheni kokhono keu/Dike dike othey abadhyatar dheu – No one has seen such rebellions galore/ Waves of defiance everywhere roar.’

And almost everywhere the prowlers have had to return empty-handed. So, they have forever been on the lookout for easier hunting grounds; and if they encountered even a trace of opposition, they would command the trigger-happy Indian state to retaliate with brutal suppression. In the end, however, the determination of the people has triumphed almost everywhere.

Loser takes all

A million mutinies may have surfaced in the last couple of decades; and yet, the neoliberal assault keeps reappearing with renewed vigour as the Indian state gets even more determined to go along the neoliberal ‘reforms’ path – never mind the terrible cost the country has been paying and the worldwide economic calamity it generated. Aided by corporate media’s dazzling propaganda, the neoliberal ethos have acquired loud legitimacy among large and varied sections of our fellow country-people, particularly the burgeoning middle classes – a huge market as large as almost half of Europe – who have been made to soak themselves in a self-nurturing, consumerist, business-savvy mindset. The working people and the rural populace, too, are, to quite an extent, sold on the dream of an economic paradise – ‘trickle-down’ of growth, they have been told, would fill their hungry bellies and provide work in their hands. Surely, neo-liberalism has established itself as a ‘manufactured consent’ in the Indian psyche. Little wonder then, that all election-centric political outfits, irrespective of which segment of the spectrum they stand on, act as its cheerleaders and zealously implement its programmes in whichever province or panchayat’s reins they hold.

Our resistance, their resistance

The main thrust of the fight against global capital’s invasion and occupation is, therefore, ideological; that is, in the realm of hearts and minds, of outlooks and ideas. The resistances may have been daring and valiant, even spectacular in their totality; but they have emerged and remained more as struggles for survival, in self-defence, merely reactive, piecemeal. They are also autonomous, confined to local spaces and immediate issues without a common thread to bind all of them together. An aggregate, full-blown picture has been missing – like ‘Six blind men of Indostan’, each resistance has made a partial, bitty sketch of the ‘elephant’ they were battling. In many instances, as in West Bengal, people’s movements have been unable to pinpoint or remained confused about who their enemies have been (In Singur, Tata or CPI(M) cadres! In Nandigram, Dow Chemicals/Salim group or CPI(M) harmads!), enabling, thereby, opportunist political formations to hijack the struggles and reap enormous electoral harvests.

The fragmentary nature of these resistances may be attributed to the acutely uneven development of capital through our land as well as to the immense diversity in social formation, community, culture and politics. Unlike the countrywide protest actions in the European nations in recent years, people’s upsurges here have stayed restricted to specific pockets and zones. Unlike the massive demonstrations, general strikes and rioting in the streets of Seattle, Genoa, Buenos Aires, London, Paris, Madrid, Rome, Athens, Santiago, New York, Ohio and so on, people’s movements here have taken a wide range of form and appearance: peaceful Satyagraha to rasta-roko to armed combat to guerilla warfare.

Such heterogeneity, on its part, has encouraged disconnectedness and prevented the emergence of a common agenda.

Contemporary people’s struggles in the advanced capitalist nations like the USA, Greece, Spain, Italy, France, England, Japan and South Korea – as also in some of the Latin American territories such as Chilie and Argentina; and even in West Asia during the ‘Arab Spring’ – have all come forth, more or less, on a single bill of fare: end the rule of capital or end the rule of dictatorship. People’s struggles in India, on the other hand, have sprung up on an innumerable variety of issues: SEZ, land acquisition, slum eviction, big dams, nuclear power, industrial disaster, labour rights and rights to food, education and health, human rights, prisoners of conscience, freedom of expression – the list is endless.

Alas, all these struggles could not bring into focus the stand-up fight against the expansionist (ad)ventures of global capital.

What is to be done?

As the prowling beast continues to prowl, poised, as it is, to vanquish us, we can no longer turn our head and pretend not to see. An initiative must begin right now in right earnest to bring together all the people on a common platform for a unified resistance to the aggressive invasion of global capital on our land and lives. ‘People’s unity for a united resistance’ is the clarion call at this hour.

Friends and foes: The first task is to locate the friends and the foes. When every nook and corner of our land has been converted into happy hunting ground for global capital, the friends of ‘people’s resistance’ are, naturally, all those who are hunted, all those destroyed or distressed by the hot pursuit of the profit-chasers. The foes are obviously the capitalist hounds; and, of course, their friends which include the power-wielders in various institutions of the state. Then, there are those who run with the hunted and hunt with the hounds – oppose neoliberal aggression by words but work for it in real life – there can only be contempt reserved for them since they are bound to become irrelevant in the long run or when it comes to a do-or-die battle between the hunters and the hounded.

‘We are the 99 percent’: Working people – both in organised and informal sectors, the entire bottom and middle rungs of the peasantry – landless, share-croppers, small and middle land-holding farmers, all those who are facing the brunt of the neoliberal assault, are the mainstay of this united resistance. All the oppressed communities and societies – adivasis and dalits – which anyway constitute the bulk of the working people and the lower strata of the peasantry – are the core pillars of this people’s united front. (Suppressed and discriminated-against religious minorities – Muslims, Christians and Sikhs; also in the hunters’ hit list – may also be considered for this category). Women seeking liberation from patriarchy and gender oppression – integral to predatory authoritarian structures and mores – hold a special position in this alliance; while the youth form the real fighting force in battle arenas.

All of them together may add up to nearly 85-90 percent of our adult population. If, however, sizeable segments of lower and intermediate middle classes join us, we can proudly proclaim, just as Occupy Wall Street did, ‘We are the 99 percent.’

From the grassroots: Unity of all these forces cannot be imposed from above but built and retained from the grassroots. For, it is there that real ‘people’s resistances’ are brewing, simmering and erupting; the battle arenas are down there, the bulk of those putting up the resistance – at least the 85-90 percent of our friends – belong there, at the below. So, we say, ‘from below, for below.’

Democracy within and without: It follows that people’s unity for resistance must be based on democratic practice within itself. If we are to seriously take on the evil designs of a highly exploitative and tyrannical force, overseen by a dictatorial machine, we must guarantee the pursuit of democratic principles also among ourselves. The battle is going to be prolonged and complex, and there will be ups and downs, advances and retreats – only the practice of democracy, and democracy alone, can keep us together and kicking; only by nurturing democratic values in our hearts can we hold our head high.

‘Let a hundred flowers bloom’: The cornerstones of real or radical democracy are participation and plurality, consensus and collectivism. Everybody – regardless of ideological moorings, political views and organisational affiliations – should be brought into the fold; and everybody given the right to freely express their views – ‘Let a hundred flowers bloom’; dissenting minority opinions may not only be tolerated but also given the importance and encouragement they deserve. Decision-making must be based on discussions and debates; and, though it may be a many-way affair, it should preferably come from the grassroots.

From the barricades: People’s movements, social and environmental movements, women and oppressed communities’ liberation struggles, self-determination struggles, cultural action groups and activists, people’s health and people’s education campaigns, human and civil rights organisations, voluntary social action groups, trade unions, peasant associations, teachers, students and youth federations, doctors and lawyers guilds, even political parties – all those opposed to global capital are welcome – but sans their flags and banners. Each one’s autonomy is to be respected but identity merged as far as possible into the united whole. Unity is achieved when everyone accepts that ‘growth of all is the precondition for the growth of each’. A leadership will surely emerge, but let it from the barricades.

Resurrect history: Only through participation, multiplicity of points of view, a sense of belonging and togetherness can the people be enthused and a radical mass politics emerge. Only then can the people develop the vision of an alternative system which guarantees their empowerment. Only then can we all dream of another, a more just and egalitarian, a better world. History, whose crucifixion had been proclaimed by the global masters at the dawn of the neoliberal era, will then be resurrected.

Participatory, pluralistic, consensual and collectivist politics is the need at this juncture. Charting such a course towards revolutionary mass mobilisation is the need of the times. The day is not far off when the entire Indian plains and peninsula – perhaps, the whole of south Asia and beyond – may turn into the Tahrir (Liberty) Square of the East.

People together: a counter-offensive

A sense of disquiet and unrest is in the air. With more and more people being pushed to despair, with frustration and anger reaching the brink, with rapid loss of faith in the system and its leadership, wrath pouring out against the establishment, upheavals brewing in every corner, it is time we came together and launched a counter-offensive. So many struggles, so many sacrifices cannot be allowed to go in vain. We must act now. All of us, all People Together.

Post-script: The spontaneous and widespread protest-demonstrations in the wake of the gang-rape of a young woman in the capital are as much an outburst of people’s pent-up anger at the country’s present state of affairs as reflection of people’s desire to break free of a long-ensconced oppressive social-cultural structure. The mass convergences on the streets have openly been directed against the state, its edifices and institutions; creating, at the same time, a feel of ‘people’s power’, albeit notionally, and in an embryonic form.

The aspiration of People Together is not much different; except to be less spur-of-the-moment and more abiding.