By Marty Goodman
“Crisis and Predation: India, COVID-19, and Global Finance,” by the “Research Unit for Political Economy,” Monthly Review Press, 2020
“No Free Left: The Futures of Indian Communism,” by Vijay Prashad, LeftWord Books, 2015
“Crisis and Predation: India, Covid-19, and Global Finance” provides needed background for western readers about the gigantic farmer and worker protests and strikes in India that have erupted since November 2020. Estimated at 250 million, the November 26 strike/mobilization was the largest in human history. (See “India Strike Wave is Biggest in World History,” Socialist Action, January 2021.). And, the struggle is far from over.
India is an incredibly diverse country with a 1.3 billion population, second only to China. Yet, the Euro-centric mindset of U.S. culture has found many of us quite ignorant of the enormous role that India has played in history and will increasingly play in the class struggles ahead.
|Near the onset of the COVID crisis, Narendra Modi, India’s rightest Prime Minister, proclaimed openly his goal of restructuring the Indian economy after COVID, “Turn this crisis into a big opportunity,” which has become a mantra for India’s blood-sucking rich. The economic tourniquet has been tightened by three farming privatization laws, touted as ‘reforms,’ rammed through parliament by Modi last September. The changes reduced government price subsidies for family farms and other changes that insured that Modi’s agri-business pals control the market. Adding to the explosive mix, are reactionary new labor laws that were passed last fall that restrict organizing, sparking worker strikes throughout the country, The crisis has engendered increasing worker and farmer unity. Added to the toxic mix, Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is a party of virulent Hindu nationalism, known as “Hindutva.” Modi, as the former Chief Minister of Gujarat, was linked to attacks on Muslims in 2002, which resulted in some 2,000 deaths. In December, 2019, Modi enacted a bigoted immigration law that blocked Muslim refugees from regional nations from entry into India. The mass protests that overcame ethnic divisions were met with brutal police repression and did not reverse the BJP law.|
|India background |
The horrors being inflicted by India’s ruling rich on the working masses and the revolutionary potential for gigantic clashes make this book essential reading for socialists. In 2019, 10,281 farmers and farm laborers died by suicide, one of the world’s highest rates, acknowledged as stemming from extreme economic pressures.
India was once ruled by British imperialism, a bloodthirsty, rapacious and racist occupation that began in 1858 and was formally ended in 1947. The forces around independence leader Mahatma K. Gandhi and the Congress Party, then a social-democratic party, led the struggle, supported by Socialist and Communist forces. Despite formal independence and its so-called “non-aligned” policies, India is dominated today, economically, politically and militarily by U.S. imperialism and the neo-liberal global marketplace. “Income inequality in India has risen to levels not seen since British rule and its wealth inequalities [are] even steeper,” say the book’s authors.
Some 60 percent of India’s population own small farms or are agricultural workers. Of that, 85 percent own less than 5 acres and are easy prey for large agricultural firms. For decades the employed sector was only 40-42 percent of the population, with 2017-18 showing a dramatic drop to 34.7 percent. Industrial growth neared zero. Moreover, back in 2011-12 and 2017-8 there was a 20 percent rise in poverty. Between the March and August 2020, peak COVID months, 21 million jobs were lost.
Only a decade ago India was viewed as a member of the “BRICS” nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa), so-called ‘emerging’ countries. But even before India’s severe COVID lockdown, India had faced a dire economic downturn since 2017.
The conditions facing the Indian masses today are truly appalling. Misleading by a mile, say the authors, are the World Bank’s “farcically low” stats on Indian poverty. The US-dominated WB uses $1.90 (US) of income a day as the poverty line, but, if revised to merely $5.50 (US) a day some 80 percent of India’s population in 2015 would be below the poverty line!
The neo-liberal “privatization” of public institutions and the radical reduction of services for working people, are key prerequisites for the imperialist World Bank and international capital. Privatization in India took off like a rocket. Since the 1980’s, for example, the privatization of healthcare had been “exponential,” say the authors. The amount of funds dedicated to healthcare today, despite COVID, is still only about one percent of India’s GDP, reduced over three decades and amongst the lowest in the world.
Privatization in India was greatly accelerated during the early ‘90’s. India was the world’s leader in “public-private partnerships” between 2006 and 2012, providing capitalists with public wealth auctioned off at giveaway prices. Modi’s proposed privatizations in the late 2020 are, say the authors, “staggering” and encompass all of the key sectors, petroleum, banks, healthcare, etc.
After the great recession of 2010-11, India turned to international loans. Pressure from global lenders put pressure on India to curtail spending, i.e., public services for working people, thus hurting demand and slowing growth. 100 public assets were sold by foreign or Indian corporations at huge discounts. Indian banks, whose loans went unrepaid, sold the debt to foreign corporations with big “haircuts,” i.e., huge discounts.
The COVID pandemic provided a perfect storm for advancing privatization even more aggressively. Once a firm is privatized, the authors note, wealth is created for private individuals, not the public. Privatization is a “bonanza” for foreign investors and represents a vast transfer of funds to outside interests.
Prime examples are the media giants Google and Facebook, who have invested billions in India and have used their personal relationship with Hindutva bigot Modi to promote his election (see The Wall Street Journal’s expose of Google and Facebook in India starting Aug. 14, 2020). Modi supporter and Indian media billionaire, Mukesh Albani, called Google and Facebook’s role in India “data colonization.”
Growing Role of U.S. Imperialism
The U.S. has consistently discouraged India from trading with its imperialist rival China, but added to economic penetration and market manipulation there is, of course, U.S. military might. As Kenneth Rogoff, former Chief Economist of the International Monetary Fund, an arm of the World Bank, astutely observed, “(U.S.) Military dominance …has been one of the lynchpins of the dollar.”
In recent years the U.S. has pressed the imperialist NATO military alliance to focus on China, long a diplomatic and sometimes military adversary of India along their contested border. As a result of Obama’s “tilt toward Asia,” U.S. arms sales to India have increased five fold between 2013 and 2017. U.S. military training has been increased and, in May 2018, the U.S. announced that the Pacific Command was being re-named as the “Indo-Pacific Command.” The book’s authors cite a U.S. War College study that asserts that it’s essential that India be convinced of its ‘manifest destiny’ and “for it to act forcefully” and to obtain a nuclear force. Modi’s 2014 visit to the U.S. resulted in a ten-year extension of a defense treaty.
“No Free Left”
While “Crisis and Predation” does not extensively examine forces on the Indian Left, another book, “No Free Left, The Futures of Indian Communism,” by Vijay Prashad, (LeftWord Books, 2015), gives us more of an overview. Prashad’s look at the Indian Left is a useful guide, especially for Western leftists, but not necessarily a revolutionary one in my view.
Two Left parties dominate the terrain in the workers movement: The Communist Party of India (CPI), the pro-Moscow Stalinists, and its 1964 split-off, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPI (M), once a pro-China Stalinist variant and today the larger of the two. A smaller tendency, the CPI-M- L (Liberation), i.e., “Marxist-Leninist,” at one point engaged in armed struggle, but has won some recent elections.
Prashad mostly cites the role of the CPI (M), probably out of his own convictions, when he describes struggles within and without of its home bases in the important states of West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura. The CPI (M) has enacted meaningful agrarian reforms, but Prashad cautions us that India’s capitalist constitution prohibits states from engaging in large scale expropriations, a legal barrier against revolution that makes exploitation sacrosanct in India – as capitalist laws do everywhere.
To their credit, as Prashad explains, the CPI (M) has engaged in physical battles against the violent anti-Sikh and anti-Muslim forces of Modi’s BJP, while it has also championed the rights of the Dalit and Adivasi castes, i.e., the untouchables. But, as Prashad notes, the CPI (M) prioritizes ‘class struggle’ over the fight for the rights of specifically untouchable castes, a mistaken counter-position.
In the many struggles since last fall, I get the impression that the mobilizations of farmers and workers saw the major Left forces as participants, but not particularly as initiators. True or not, the strategy of the parties cited above is to seek electoral and parliamentary voting blocs with capitalist parties, such as the Congress Party, to defeat far-right forces, such as the BJP. Such alliances – a cornerstone of Stalinist mis-leadership – have historically tied the workers movements to reformist capitalist forces that will block or betray workers’ power.
May 26th was declared, “Black Flag Day,” a call to action by the SKM (Samyukt Kisan Moreha), a key organizing coalition which represents over 40 farmer groups and is supported by the Central Trade Unions, 12 major opposition political parties, and numerous class and mass organizations. The day marked six months of mobilizations against the BJP’s anti-farmer and anti-worker laws. The Black Flag was displayed in the millions throughout India in a day of mass strikes and protests.
That this level of mobilization could be sustained despite the raging COVID pandemic is truly astonishing. COVID has officially claimed the lives of 300,000 in India – but it’s likely far more.
I’ve visited India a couple of times and feel that I gained much from these valuable books. My hope is that they will encourage us in the U.S. to build an India solidarity movement as the struggle there unfolds. But, from what I saw on the ground in India, without the building of a genuinely revolutionary socialist party the misery of Indian society will ultimately remain, an alternative Prashad sadly does not address.