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Radical Socialist Stand on Indian Elections 2019

 

Defeat the BJP

Strengthen the Working Class, Left and All Progressive Movements

 

 

A: Five Years of the BJP Rule

In 2014, the National Democratic Alliance, headed by the BJP, won 38.5% votes, but, due to India’s first past the post electoral system, that was enough for it to get 336 out of 543 seats. The BJP itself got 31% votes and 282 seats. This had a dramatic effect. It meant, that while there was a coalition government, it was now firmly under the grip of the BJP, which no longer needed the Vajpayee type of conciliatory mask. The core RSS agenda could be brought forward without any hesitation. The push for Modi for Prime Minister had been funded by a considerable part of the Indian big bourgeoisie. Thus, the rise of Narendra Modi was also connected to Indian big capital.   To assess the five years of the Modi-led government, therefore, we need to grasp the totality of the following elements: a sluggish neoliberal economy mired in cronyism, a sharp attack on democratic rights, attacks on Muslims and Dalits, a determined Hindutva pushed and a splintered opposition to these developments.

The Economic situation: Cronyism, mismanagement and widening inequality

A general economic malaise

The five years of BJP rule has not been a period of sustained high growth. Certainly a few favoured cronies of the ruling dispensation have profited tremendously. Adani’s growth has been staggering and most remarkable of all industrial houses. In 2017 alone the Adani group grew by 124.6%. In the run up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the helicopter personally used by Narendra Modi was provided by Adani. In the economy as a whole, however, much of the capitalist class has not done spectacularly. Overall growth rates, despite much massaging of figures, have remained well short of the performance of UPA I. Investment in the economy has remained low, with the Gross Fixed Capital Formation falling as a percentage of GDP over the period. Agrarian distress has sent even large landholders on protest marches in Delhi and Mumbai. Employment generation, one of the BJP’s signature poll promises, has been tellingly absent. The latest NSSO data, leaked despite government efforts to bury it, reveal that there has been a shrinkage in the male workforce for the first time since 1993.

Indeed, each of the BJP’s signature economic measures have been conspicuous failures.

·        The biggest of these was demonetization. It was carried out supposedly to check black money. The claim about recovering black money has been demonstrated to be false. The Reserve Bank of India has confirmed that 99.3% of demonetised notes were returned to the bank. The sudden decision had a massive negative impact on the Indian economy, including a slowdown in employment of labour and a dip in overall farm incomes. Growth slowed down to a four-year low of 6.7%.

·        Though planned by the Congress, the BJP executed the imposition of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), which, besides causing a further decline in growth rates, effectively enhances the dependence of states to the centre, by replacing the state controlled Sales Tax in favour of an all India GST, whose rates are decided by a GST council where every state is just one member, together with the Centre, and therefore quite powerless to alter the rates it can charge, it is clearly taking away states’ powers.

·        The much touted Make in India scheme has, so far, floundered on the falling rate of investment by the private sector. FDI as a percentage of GDP has remained limited to around 2 per cent. Only a minuscule proportion of this has gone to the manufacturing sector.

This government has hardly proved an able steward of the economy, even by the standards of the capitalist class.

Rising inequalities

While growth in the economy has been sluggish and concentrated in a select few companies, smaller firms have been hit by Modi’s penchant for spectacular authoritarian gestures. Demonetisation – an utterly ineffectual measure – devastated Small and Medium Enterprises, while leaving big capital relatively unscathed. The much touted Mudra loan scheme aimed at the former, has had a risible average loan of just over Rs. 45,000. Smaller business continue to limp back to normalcy while Gautam Adani waltzes into the list of the world’s richest people.

Among the ordinary people of this country, too, wealth has continued to concentrate among those at the top. The Global Wealth Report 2018 published by the Credit Suisse, an investment bank, says India now has 343,000 persons owning over one million US dollars, or about 7 crores of Indian rupees, worth of wealth. According to the World Inequality Database, the income of the top 1% of the Indian population was Rs 33 lakh per adult or Rs 275,000 per month, while the income of the bottom 50% of the population was Rs 45,000 per year per adult, that is Rs 3750 per month.

Spiralling inequality is an outcome of the effort to wind up or curtail welfare expenditures. After its initial frontal assault on India’s fledgling social safety net – the PDS and MNREGA – failed, the BJP settled for death by a thousand cuts. Overall welfare expenditure has increased only marginally while tall claims have been made about the pathbreaking nature of schemes that were essentially re-launches of existing government measures. There have been no countervailing expenditures by the state to check the growth of inequalities.

Rampant Cronyism

Cronyism, then, has been a keynote of this government. This has not been a regime that has spread wealth far and wide across even corporate India. Instead, a chosen few have been consistently favoured for positions of power and direct benefits transfer. The Planning Commission was replaced by the National Institution for Transforming India (NITI) Ayog, which has already identified 74 central public sector undertakings (CPSUs) – including 26 for downright closure and 10 for strategic disinvestment. The government has appointed Reliance Mutual Fund Managers to provide consultancy and execute its project of quick selling 10 CPSUs strategic to the national economy, including ONGC, GAIL, Oil India Limited, Indian Oil Corporation, Coal India Limited, BHEL, Bharat Electronics Limited etc through the Exchange Traded Fund (ETF). So the Ambanis, who are among the corporates sector closest to the BJP, are asked to oversee privatization. The numbers of Non-performing assets held by corporate houses has increased steadily over the period of the BJP government and have  contributed to making the position of the financial sector one of the most tenuous in the current economy.

Government figures themselves inform that every year, the national exchequer is robbed of not less than Rs 5 lakh crore through non-repayment of loans and tax fraud. In 2015-16 alone, direct tax evasion amounted to Rs 6.59 lakh crore. In mid 2017, the bad loans of India’s nationalised banks amounted to about 10 lakh crore rupees. The top ten business group borrowers alone accounted for 5 lakh crores.

·        The Rafale Scandal is too well known to need a detailed discussion. In place of giving the contract to Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, it went to the Anil Ambani owned Reliance Defence Limited, which has no experience. The cost of the aircrafts went up from what had been originally negotiated. The final version of the deal, in September 2016, saw India signing an inter-governmental agreement with France, in which India will pay about Rs. 58,000 crore or 7.8 billion Euros for 36 off-the-shelf Dassault Rafale twin-engine fighters.  According to Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie (dissident BJP leaders, not leftists) along with Prashant Bhushan,  the total price of 36 aircraft is about 60,000 crore, which works out to be Rs.1,660 crore per plane. This makes the price more than double the original 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft proposal.

Any question about the scam has been answered by accusations that asking such questions threaten India’s national security. We do not accept the bourgeois nationalist perception of national security in any case, where increasing military hardware is the main task. But even when that line of argument is advanced, we want to ask, if it was true that India needed 126 aircraft, buying 36 at a higher price benefits whom?

Why is BJP the chosen vehicle of the capitalist class?

If economic mismanagement, rampant cronyism and rising inequalities have characterised the current government what are we to make of the consolidation of the capitalist class behind the BJP? This is best captured in the vast gulf between the incomes of the BJP from any other political formation. According to an Association for Democratic Rights report, the BJP accounted for 80% of the income of national parties for 2017-18. For donations above Rs. 20,000 the BJP received 93% of such donations (Rs. 437 crores) while the INC received Rs. 26.6 crore of such donations. This gulf in funding is one of the many indicators of the capitalist consolidation behind the BJP. What explains such a one-sided choice?

The answer lies not so much in the performance, but in the promise of the BJP. Plans for over 11 industrial corridors lie with the current government. The scale of these plans is instructive. The largest of these currently ongoing is the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor; at $100 billion, this is easily the largest infrastructure project ever in India. It spans the states of Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra. This project alone will urbanise an estimated 12 per cent of India over the next 30 years, displace 20,000 families. Other industrial plans on this scale and larger include the Bengaluru-Mumbai Economic corridor, Chennai-Bengaluru Industrial corridor and Amritsar-Kolkata Industrial corridor. Most of these will require the firm and cruel hand of the government of the day as millions of people are displaced.

On this count, the BJP government has made all the right noises. With the dilution of environmental clearances, the continual surveillance of people’s movements and the demonstrated willingness to use the coercive apparatus of the state to put down opposition, the BJP has repeatedly demonstrated both ability and desire to carry through repression on the truly mass scale that this industrial push will entail once investment picks up.

The Congress, initiator of most of these industrial plans, may feel a petulant envy at the favour the BJP currently enjoys with Indian big business. For Left and Progressive forces, however, this only underlines the need to think more comprehensively about our strengths and weaknesses in the coming battles.


.Democracy Under Threat

To the authoritarian stamp needed to push through neoliberal measures, this government has also added its own Hindutva twist. Attacks on democratic rights and constitutional provisions have increased since 2014. The secular and democratic elements of the constitution are being whittled down at the expense of the Hindu-tinged, communal and scholastic orientation.

Decimating Political opposition

There has been a concerted and systematic marginalization of the opposition typified by the slogan Congress mukt Bharat. Whenever possible, they have subverted democratic content within the parliamentary form to wipe out the opposition; but even otherwise they have not stopped at brazen attacks if needed.

The election of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Delhi was one of the first electoral setbacks to the Modi regime. There has been an unremitting assault on this regime through a shameless campaign of obstruction using the peculiarly complex structure of the Delhi government. The lengths to which the BJP has gone have included the refusal of the Delhi Development Authority (controlled by the centre) to provide land to the Delhi Governement for neighbourhood clinics. The Lt. Governor has repeatedly refused transfers of officials requested by the AAP government. Municipal services (controlled by the BJP through the municipal corporations) have been repeatedly interrupted through non-payment of the wages of municipal workers.

Elsewhere, money power and the governor have been used to subvert democratic mandates. Take for instance the 2017 Assembly elections in Goa. The BJP got 13 seats (reduced from 21 in the previous Assembly elections) compared to the Congress’s 17 and yet ManoharParrikarwas asked to form a government by Governor MridulaSinha. The situation was reversed in the Karnataka Assembly elections when the BJP had more seats than the Congress, but the Congress-JDS post-poll alliance had more numbers than BJP. The drama unfolded on live television for the next few days as people could witness the brazen horse trading of MPs and recorded audio tapes of Yedurappa offering money to buy MPs.

More generally, opposition figures have been repeatedly painted as anti-national and betrayers of a supposed national consensus. Questioning the government in parliament has been painted as efforts to destroy the nation. This is, of course, when parliament has even functioned. The average duration of past Lok Sabhas has been 468 days. The 16thLok Sabha compares badly, with 331 days of sitting in its entire life. Meanwhile, there was a mainstreaming of aggressive hate speech. Hate speech by MPs, MLAs and Ministers, defined as statements that are clearly communal, casteist, or calls to violence, rose by 490% between May 2014 and April 2018. 90% of such comments were by BJP politicians.

As socialists we have always maintained that bourgeois democracy is limited and partial at best, but guarantees of even limited political democracy are now being rolled back.

Capturing and Undermining Institutions

A bourgeois democratic system is of course first and foremost a democracy for the bourgeoisie. In other words, a major difference between bourgeois democracy and bourgeois authoritarianisms of various kinds is that in the former all sections of the bourgeoisie have greater access to the corridors of power and get opportunities for accumulating capital. But this government is characterized by weakening of all forms of democratic institutions. The institutions of the state are suborned and subverted to suit the narrow goals of the Sangh Parivar—a steady lurch towards a Hindu Rashtra.

Of these the first is the massive attack on the judiciary. In early 2018, four judges of the Supreme Court took the unprecedented step of holding a press conference to voice their protest against the arbitrary allocation of cases by the then Chief Justice of India. This was not mere factionalism within the court, but a revolt against how the CJI was allegedly distributing cases to suit the Modi Government.

A second institution under siege is the system of higher education: at the level of the universityas well as the umbrella body of higher education the UGC. Right after getting elected in 2014, the BJP has relentlessly targeted the central institutes of higher education, most prominently JNU, HCU, etc. Vice Chancellors in these universities have transformed structures of university governance, ridden roughshod over Teachers’ Associations and threatened students. Structures of participatory and consultative administration are fast being replaced by a culture of bullying and intimidation of faculty and staff.

Along with branding any independent critical assessment of the regime as anti-national, the present government has tried to remove the very basis of assessment. By manipulating the figures put out by autonomous statistical institutes like the NSSO, a complete control over information has been sought. Data increasingly are either not released at all, or else are ‘massaged’ to a point that strains credulity. This has been true of the controversial GDP figures, data about demonetisation and its effects and, most consistently, data about employment. The resignation of two non-governmental members of the National Statistical Commission (NSC) points to the direct government intervention in the workings of the statistical institutes.

The CBI has completely become a tool of the government to harass opposition party members. It must be recognized that unlike the courts, or civil society organizations, the CBI cannot even be thought of as any kind of pro-people institution. Furthermore it must be recognized that the independence of the CBI has always remained compromised no matter which government is in power. But, the functioning of the CBI has sunk to depths not seen in the past. It has been used to target opposition parties, and arm twist opposition leaders to change sides, etc. This of course shows the poor moral and political standards of such opposition politicians – like Mukul Roy, who switched from being a high ranking Trinamool Congress leader to the BJP -- but this also shows that the CBI is not probing corruption or crime. Instead, it has become an instrument for turning tainted or dubious opposition leaders into BJP leaders.

 

Crackdown on Civil Society Organisations

For workers, peasants, dalits, adivasis, religious minorities, attacks on other organisations matter more. There has been a relentless attack on civil society and human rights organizations, human rights activists and NGOs like the Greenpeace, INSAF, etc. Selectively using bureaucratic and legalistic mechanisms like the application of FCRA regulations the government has pushed human rights activists and NGOs to the margin by accusing that they take foreign funding, when the irony is that it is the Sangh Parivar which is one of the highest recipients of foreign funding from NRIs.

There has been seen a massive use of undemocratic laws against workers, dalits, adivasis, Muslims. The singling out of the Dalit protests over Bhima-Koregaon is particularly significant as a symbolic action. After violence on the peaceful gathering at Bhima-Koregaon by Hindutva provocateurs fake claims about their programme being Maoist was used to widen the net, and arrest many civil rights activists, seize laptops and plant fake “evidence”, seize books containing keywords like Marx, Lenin or Mao, etc. Between April and August 2018 there was a broadening of the net, with the arrests of artistes like the Kabir Kala Manch, civil rights activists like Professor Shoma Sen, SudhaBhardwaj, Gautam Navlakha, Arun Fereira, Vernon Gonlsalves, poets like Varavara Rao, activists like Sudhir Dhawale, the editor of the Marathi magazine Vidrohi and founder of the Republican Panthers, etc. However, the FIR the arrests were based on related to the violence that followed the Bhima-Koregaon event. In other words, there is an attempt to attack Dalit activists and civil rights activists as Maoists, and to say that if you are a Maoist then you have no democratic rights.

The cases have increasingly been made under the UAPA along with various sections of the Indian Penal Code. The UAPA is an act that allows ferocious violence on the accused. GN Saibaba, a wheelchair-bound teacher with 90 per cent physical disability, along with five others, were convicted by Suryakant Shinde, a sessions judge at Gadchiroli District Court, Maharashtra, under Sections 13,18, 20, 38 and 39 of the UAPA and Section 120B of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).The UAPA, by its own definition, does not arrest citizens for committing a crime. It does so to prevent them from doing so. But what constitutes an “unlawful activity”? Just about any action that either “disclaims, questions, disrupts or is intended to disrupt the sovereignty and territorial integrity of India” or causes or is intended to cause “disaffection against India”. Left intentionally vague, these words manage to cover almost any action that the “Designated Authority” feels can constitute a threat against the nation, thus justifying the drive to a police state.

Hate Crimes: Terrorising Minorities and Dalits

Most striking of all has been the free rein given by the BJP government to vigilante groups affiliated to the Sangh Parivar to carry on a campaign of terror and intimidation against minorities and dalits. Designed to keep these groups fearful and simultaneously rouse the social base for Hindutva, the incidence of these crimes has mounted steadily. Government data on communal violence shows a spike of 28 per cent between 2014 and 2017. In the name of beef ban and cow protection, there have been repeated attacks, murders.

Even more serious, the state has acted in favour of organised mobs carrying out such lynching activity. Thus, in 2015, Mohammad Akhlaq was murdered after being accused of beef eating. The police, instead of targeting murderers, wanted to investigate whether the meat in his home was beef or not. And Modi, after keeping silent for several days, issued an ambiguous statement, instead of an outright condemnation.  In October 2015, amid protests spurred by rumours of cow slaughtering, a truck was attacked with a petrol bomb, killing one Muslim man in Jammu and Kashmir. In March 2016, two Muslims were killed and hanged in the tribal state of Jharkhand after being accused of smuggling cows. On June 22, 2017, three Muslims were killed in West Bengal state after being accused of cow smuggling. On June 27, a Muslim dairy owner in the state of Jharkhand was attacked by a mob after being accused of killing a cow; the man was rushed to a hospital in critical condition after the police managed to save him from his attackers.

These were not accidental and stray incidents. The UP government of Adityanath made a ban on beef one of its first tasks. Cow protection, a Brahminical agenda, has been used to systematically generate violence on Muslims and Dalits.

There have, thus, been threats to democracy at every level: from the parliament to the grassroots. The effect has been a cumulative one: fuelling an atmosphere of of fear and intimidation among dissenting groups while emboldening the cadre of Hindutva.

Pushing the Hindutva Agenda

The last issue discussed brings us to the BJP-RSS offensive in pushing the Hindutva agenda. Many parties and organisations on the left, when they use the term fascism against the RSS, do not recognise that fascism or fascist-like itself implies two simultaneous dimensions –the economic offensive against the common people and in favour of the big bourgeoisie, and the ideological offensive of aggressive nationalism. In India, that means pushing the Hindutva agenda and generating hyper nationalism, against particularly Pakistan. It is not that only one of these is a “real” agenda while the other is a diversion. The strength of the RSS lies in the forces it has generated in civil society, basing themselves on aggressive Hindu nationalism. This is not the belief of all Hindus, but a very aggressive nationalism, where the nation is defined as Hindu. Its strength lies partly in the previous Hindu inflection of the nationalist movement, and the consequent Hindu bias in aspects of the Constitution itself. But the Constitution, and the nationalist movement, were both the result of compromises. The RSS was a purely aggressive Hindutva force. And in the last five years it has pushed its agenda very far, in numerous ways. It has attacked all major secular democratic institutions of higher education, and especially humanities and social sciences, because these teach youth to look at society critically. It has degraded science, by stressing fake ancient science.

Pushing the Hindutva agenda has also meant violence on rationalists. The murders of Kalburgi, Dabholkar, Pansare and Gauri Lankesh show the extent to which the aggressive Hindutva forces are willing to go. The degree of their impunity has grown. When in some cases they are checked by law and court orders, as in the Sabarimala case, they attack the secular and democratic laws. Thus, in the case of Sabarimala, Modi attacked the state government of Kerala for doing the little it did to protect the women who wanted to enter the temple. In other cases, they have pushed the Hindutva agenda in other ways. Thus, the Supreme Court had struck down instant triple talaq. That is enough to make it illegal. But the passage of an Act that makes it a criminal offense and prescribes a jail term for the offending man, does not actually protect Muslim women, who in such a case would not get security, while the criminalisation would go against the reconciliation that they presumably seek. In no other religion are men (or women) flouting legal divorce procedures criminalised in this way.

Finally, pushing the Hindutva agenda means taking a far more aggressive stance on Kashmir, as well as on Pakistan. On Kashmir, by pulling out of the alliance with the PDP and establishing President’s rule, they have the province under their control. At the same time, by their collaboration with Israel and the extensive use of techniques originally used by Israel against the Palestinians, they have shown how violent they will be. And the Pulwama incident shows how aggressive nationalism will turn to war threats, even while there is the risk of its escalation between the two nuclear powered neighbours.

The Pulwama event and its aftermath are major electoral campaign issues of AmitShah, Narendra Modi and their cohorts. So let us look at some questions dispassionately. Why was the warning of an attack ignored? And why did 80 car loads of soldiers go in such a huge convoy, making it a tempting target? Third, why is the question never posed of what has made Kashmiri youth turn to militancy for decades or why so much violence is inflicted in Kashmir? The attitude is – the territory of Kashmir is an integral part of India,but the people of Kashmir do not matter. Their rights to maximum autonomy, promised in 1947 when India also promised a plebiscite, have been long betrayed. Today, even their elementary democratic rights, are violated by keeping lakhs of armed personnel there and continuously exercising violence against them.

Following Pulwama, in place of examining these issues, the government claimed to have carried out a bombing of a major terrorist camp deep inside Pakistan. This was accompanied by a campaign of nationalist fervour in the media. In the face of this aggressive nationalism a left perspective must stand implacably opposed and demand a focus on the rights of Kashmiris.

Working class and progressive social movements

The period of the current BJP government has not been one of working class strength. While there have been important workplace struggles in a number of places, The working class has not emerged at the forefront of opposition to the rise of Hindutva. More significant progressive opposition has come from a variety of groups: students, dalits, peasants and women.

The Working Class

The period has seen ominous labour law reforms being proposed which would make it harder to unionise and reforms to social security of organised workers. The Labour Code on Industrial Relations Bill was so draconian that it was rejected by the RSS’s own union (the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh). The 2018 Draft Labour Code on Social Security would similarly marginalise unions from negotiations over social security.

Despite this clear attack, the period has not been one in which militant labour struggles have been launched or supported by the established trades unions. Major strike actions  have been largely symbolic one or two day actions with little impact, though participation has been impressive. The divisions among the larger trades unions have deepened with the BMS often relying on its special connection to the government to bargain.

Outside the central unions also there have been militant struggles. A wildcat action on a huge scale (1.25 lakh workers) by largely women workers in the garment sector of Bengaluru  points to the continuing intensity of, both, exploitation and the fight back against it by workers. Less sporadic, more sustained and militant struggles have also occurred. Struggles have emerged along the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor: those in Manesar and Neemrana by workers from Maruti, Honda, Daikin and other companies were particularly important. In this context, the effort by some of the unions leading militant working class struggles in those regions have come closer to form larger platform  ‘Mazdoor Adhikar Sangharsh Abhiyan (MASA)’. Similarly, building bases for united militant working class struggle and politicising these struggles elsewhere are critical tasks ahead.

Rather than from the working class, the sharpest opposition to the current regime has come a number of other sections.

Students

Among the earliest opposition to the NDA regime came from students in universities across the country. Beginning with protests in FTII, the emergence of Ambedkar-Periyar Study circles in IITs to the Ambedkar Students Association at Hyderabad Central University. These were determined and militant struggles against which the state took severe measures, including those that led to the death of Rohith Vemula. The struggle of students at JNU took on a wider scope with the effort to term students seditious. These major sites of revolt were mirrored by impressive student struggles in Jadavpur, TISS, and a number of other campuses.

The suppression of each of these movements has proceeded apace. But, through actual networks of solidarity, and through force of example, the students’ movements have tended to spread and support each other. Most recently, struggles against the state’s efforts to, in effect, nullify reservations among faculty have also sparked pitched battles on campus.

The unrest on university campuses are not the result of some greater awareness of students. The People’s Commission on Shrinking Democratic Spaces has revealed the breadth of actions required to transform India’s higher education into the neo-liberal university. High handed university authorities are required to create the more quiescent, pliable, and professionalised public university desired by the Hindu Right and neo-liberals alike. An agenda of surreptitious privatization has also been pushed. There has been a steady decline in the funds invested in higher education as a proportion of GDP, a reduction in enrolment of MPhil students, and in 2018, for the first time in India, the enrolment of undergraduate students in private institutes has exceeded those in the central institutes. Meanwhile, universities are also the sites of other social transformations. As the Saksham Committee report has revealed, with 47 per cent of students in higher education being women, this is nearly the only place in the entire economy where men and women are present in equal numbers. The OBC reservations have made universities more representative than ever before. Graduate employment prospects continue to be dismal.

University campuses are churning as a result of larger structural forces. Student agitations on university campuses seem likely to continue and a perspective of politicising and connecting them to other struggles is crucial.

Dalit Groups

Protests by Dalit groups have, in this period, continued to have a radical edge that has  worried the BJP regime. As mentioned, Dalits along with Muslims, have been direct targets of cow vigilantism. The incident at Una, Gujarat of publicly flogging Dalits sparked a grassroots mobilisation in that state. Earlier, Dalit groups were among those at the forefront of protests against the institutional actions that led to the death of RohithVemula at HCU. Most impressive of all, perhaps, was the response to the April 2018 Bharat Bandh call against the dilution of the SC/ST Atrocities Act. Particularly across North India, there was an unexpectedly large response which shut down many cities. Similarly impressive was the Maharashtra Bandh called by Prakash Ambedkar in response to the attacks by Hindu nationalist groups on the Dalit commemorations at Bhima-Koregaon.

The state and Hindutva groups more generally have adopted a two-pronged approach vis-a-vis Dalit Groups. On the one hand, to attack these movements and mobilisations. The sordid attempt to deny Vemula’s Dalit identity, the arrests and crackdowns against the protestors involved in the Bharat Bandh and the brutal attacks on the Bhima-Koregaon protests followed by efforts to imprison many of the organisers for being ‘Urban Naxals’. The second prong has been to try to assimilate and Hindu-ise Dalits. Partial veneration of Ambedkar (as an anti-Muslim thinker), the appointment of Ram Nath Kovind, a Dalit, as President, patronising high-visibility stunts like the PM washing the feet of Dalits, and being prepared to bring in ordinances and legislations on SC/ST atrocities and the university appointments roster are all examples of this more conciliatory approach.

It is important to recognise that no Hindutva approach will successfully and stably incorporate Dalit demands. The ethos of the RSS is a fundamentally brahminical one and that will not change. It is equally important that historical suspicions, where they exist, between Left and Dalit groups must be overcome. Joining together in struggles – particularly working class struggles – are crucial for this to happen.

Peasants

Agrarian distress has reached a critical point and peasants have been on the march. Impressive mobilisations have happened in Mumbai, led by the All India Kisan Sabha and in Delhi with a coalition of various groups. At more local levels there have been agitations of farmers as well. Discontent about non-payment of dues to sugarcane farmers has put the BJP on the backfoot in Western Uttar Pradesh.

The farmers’ agitations have brought together a coalition of farmers. This includes rich farmers and marginal ones. The existence of this coalition reflects the depth of the crisis in which the agrarian sector finds itself. This has, moreover, been a long time coming. With the an industrial push in place, it seems quite clear that band-aids are all that is on offer for the deep gashes inflicted on the agrarian sector over two decades. The concessions won by the movement – the government’s announcement of Rs. 6000 per year to land holders – represents one such band-aid with little hope of addressing the underlying crisis in agriculture.

Women’s movements

These past few years have also seen a remarkable explosion of popular energies on issues of women’s rights in public and private. Beginning from the mass mobilisations following the 2012 rape and murder of Jyoti Singh, the issue of gendered violence, sexual harassment, rape and unequal work conditions for men and women have been brought to centre stage. Women have protested in academia, journalism, and a number of other professions. The debate has also posed the issue of caste-based forms of gendered violence with particular force.

While these movements have not taken direct aim at the BJP regime, their far-reaching exposure of the forms of male dominance in public life have brought a new generation of women (and some men) into radical activism. These were the actions and energies of the Pinjratod movement against the confinement of women through curfews in university hostels, the demand for the creation of safer workplaces through the Me Too movement and other protests such as the ‘Garima Yatra’ of survivors of sexual violence across 24 states. Even in BHU, often seen as a bastion of Hindutva organising, women’s protests have shaken the establishment. There is a fundamental incompatibility of the demands for equality and freedom being articulated in these struggles and the masculinist ethos and atavistic values promoted by the Sangh Parivar. Strengthening these movements will form a critical part of a resistance that points towards a more liberatory future. Indeed deepening the intersectional vision and connecting them to working class struggles will be critical to the winning of these ends.

These varied movements have given some hope of the persistence of a spirit of struggle. At times they have even been able to roll back this or that aspect of the Hindutva juggernaut.  Nevertheless, it must be recognised that these are not much more than the starting points of a potential alternative. There have been important fissures between these various movements. A broader vision of strengthening Left and progressive movements through strengthening the working class is necessary.

 

B: Is Congress the alternative?

There is considerable agreement over many of the issues we have discussed in the foregoing sections. However, the situation in India today calls, not for academic discussions, but concrete political actions. And this is where a wide range of views and perspectives come up.

The Liberal anti-BJP standpoint has as its principal axis the desire to replace a BJP parliamentary majority by a different majority. For many liberals, particularly the English speaking elite, the main target is to have a favourable outcome in the elections of 2019. This has made the Congress their principal choice. Indeed, even the parliamentary left seems enamoured of this option. The calculation is purely arithmetical. To block the BJP there has to be a firm parliamentary majority of 290 to 300. Unless there is at least one party as the core of the opposition bloc capable of getting at least 130 to 150 seats, no alternative government would be able to be sworn in. It is worth remembering that the Election Commission now has at its helm people aligned to Modi, that the President is an RSS man, as is the Vice President. With dice loaded so much, mainstream liberals have become admirers of the Congress. Rahul Gandhi, once mercilessly trolled as ineffectual, he is now constantly held up as a mature politician and contrasted favourably with Modi.

A minimal gloss of welfarism is given to this basically ‘mathematical’ affirmation of the INC. One measure referred to is the NYAY scheme announced just recently. This is a minimum income support scheme, to pay Rs. 12,000 per month to the 20% families in the poorest of poor category. The Congress’s own lack of interest in the scheme is indicated by how poorly it has been thought through. Proper estimation of household income cannot be done through NSSO household consumption surveys. Past experience has demonstrated that this kind of targetting generates huge errors: by including undeserving recipients while excluding those that need and qualify for support. Finally, the Congress has not said how it is going to raise funds for this scheme estimated at Rs. 3.65 lakh crores over the 5-year government term. Given the Congress’s fundamental neoliberalism, it is unlikely to raise taxes on corporates or the rich. Instead, the most likely approach will be to wind up other social welfare schemes to pay for this one. Nor is there likely to be any serious move to do what is most needed: prioritize the creation of free, universal, quality healthcare; make available quality public primary and secondary schooling for all; install adequate social security and pension for the elderly; massive investment on public housing and transport and so on.

There are some extremely important problems with support for the Congress. One or two may not trouble liberals overmuch, but they must trouble anyone claiming to be a socialist and to standing on the grounds of class struggle. There are troublesome problems even if we were to stay close to the premise of the liberals.

As socialists, we need to ask, apart from the demonetisation issue, and leaving aside Hindutva for a very short while, can we discern major differences between the BJP and the Congress? If we look at the period 1991-2018, the Congress was in government for fifteen years. The dismantling of the state sector, the destruction of the Public Distribution System, the privatisation of banks, all began under Congress governments, even if the BJP has been able to push these through with greater success in the last five years.

The plan for the GST, which we have seen takes away the autonomy of provinces, in the name of national unity, was also planned by the Congress. So was the UID scheme, now known as Aadhaar -- a step in creating a police state. At the same time, it is unsafe, as leakages have already shown. In other words, not only does the state gain massive control over people, but the data can be leaked to private corporate players. It is not surprising that the Congress criticisms about Aadhaar were all minor and over technicalities. It has not, and cannot, put up any principled opposition to the UID scheme as a whole.

A second problem that socialists should have is the attempt at moving the discourse to personalities and to a two-party system. On one hand, we are constantly asked to consider who will be the better Prime Minister, Modi or Rahul Gandhi. Or, we are asked, if an alliance wins, will there not be instability due to too many contenders for the position of Prime Minister? This is an attempt to move India more and more in the direction of a plebiscitary and a presidential style politics. Revolutionary socialists have always insisted that socialist democracy must be more democratic than bourgeois democracy. So we cannot support a shrinking democracy by making it a Modi versus Rahul Gandhi fight, but by fighting for proportional representation, so that any party getting 1 per cent vote gets five seats in the Lok Sabha, and by making it a transferrable ballot, so that no vote is wasted. If the party of first choice does not get 1 percent then the vote will be transferred to the party of second choice. We must remember, also, what US leftist activists say about the Republicans and the Democrats – the bosses have two parties, we have none.  The two party system is a conscious attempt to create a false choice for the masses, while the bosses and elites control both the parties.

The other problem with seeing the Congress at the core of a supposed secular-democratic alliance is, that it is neither very democratic, nor deeply secular. If we look at how the Congress has used the Constitution and other laws, it becomes clear that from the outset there was an attempt to strike a ‘balance’ between secular and Hindu communal tendencies, along with a centralising tendency which carried a whiff of the Hindu-Hindi-Hindustan politics. This is evident if we look at the Constitutional promise to promote cow protection: a Brahminical demand dressed up in a pro-agriculture garb.  This is also evident when we look carefully at Schedule VIII, with its promise of developing Hindi, and the concept that this would necessitate drawing resources from Sanskrit. The collapse of the Hindu Code Bill was likewise the result of a compromise with Hindu communalists. 

But it is not merely a matter of the past. In the last few years we have seen that the Congress has taken the view, that secular liberals have no option, but to vote for the Congress and neither do the Muslims.  It therefore sees its task as one of wooing the Brahminical forces. On a significant range of issues, the Congress has reverted to a policy of soft Hindutva. In very recent times, two of its actions describe this clearly. One is the Congress response to the Supreme Court verdict on Sabarimala. In Kerala, it tried to compete with the BJP in mobilising Hindu communal forces, since it hoped that this would weaken the CPI(M) in the province. And in Delhi, when Congress(I) MPs from Kerala wanted to stage a protest, Sonia Gandhi effectively told them not to do these things in Delhi. In other words, for the Congress High Command it was a tactical matter. In Delhi they had to compete against the BJP. In Delhi they had to negotiate with the CPI(M), and with secular liberal forces. So in Delhi the support to Hindu communalism should not be played up.

Another Congress action we can talk about is the support given to the call for building a Ram Temple by several Congress leaders, such as Harish Rawat, former Uttarakhand Chief Minister, or Kripashankar Singh, former Maharashtra Minister. Obviously, there is a difference between a party that has made the Ram Temple one of its signature campaign themes and a party that uses it as part of a huge set of issues. But these people clearly show that Hindu communalism will not die out if the BJP is ejected from power.

That the Congress is willing to support not just Hindu communalism but even people who kill in the name of religion was on display when they made Kamal Nath, one of the main accused in the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom case, the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh after the recent elections there.

So if the arithmetic alone is considered, key political issues are discarded. It is a matter of recognising how far to the right the political terrain as a whole has shifted. Only then can we acknowledge, that while we would oppose the Congress unhesitatingly, many exploited and oppressed people in several provinces may find that they have no option but to vote for the Congress (I). That might well be the choice facing Muslims, Adivasis, Dalits, in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, and other provinces and union territories where they do not find significant alternative forces for whom to cast their votes.

We are not in the business of giving political advice to bourgeois parties. However, revolutionaries need to make sober estimates of political situations. The soft Hindutva of the Congress is one of the major impediments to cobbling together a “secular” front against the communal agenda. Just as the deep rightwing economic commitment of the Congress is one of the major impediments to cobbling together a “people’s front” against the economic offensive mounted simultaneously by fascism. So, when we are accused of being politically irrelevant forces who out of a misplaced purism oppose voting for the Congress, we ask, what is the programme for which we are voting? If the actions of the Congress over the past three decades, if the utterances and deeds of Congress leaders over the past five years, are any indication of the things they would do in power, it is clear that:

·        Congress in power would also be hawkish against Pakistan

·        Congress in power would now go for further militarization, with Rahul Gandhi accusing Modi of causing a slowing down of purchasing the Rafale planes

·        Congress would not fight openly against communalist forces on the ground, being content with cosmetic surgery, such as changing a few officials in certain academic and other bodies (UGC, ICHR, VCs of JNU, HCU etc) rather than passing severe anti-communal laws, banning the RSS and VHP under the same laws and for the same reasons which have been used to ban organisations like the SIMI, which have actually been able to inflict far less damage to the fabric of secularism and democracy in India, or taking up thoroughgoing struggles against the Brahminical ideology of the RSS.

·        Congress would continue along the path created by the BJP in centralisation, since the BJP in turn took over many of the weapons forged for previous Congress deeds.

In short, a Congress-led and Congress dominated government may keep BJP out for five years. But first, once the politics of the Congress are clear to the majority of toilers, to Dalits, Adivasis and Muslims, they would hesitate to vote, which itself would make the coming of such a government more difficult. And secondly, such a government (even if it were to last that long) would restore the credibility of the BJP for 2024, since people would see that the economic policies of that government would not benefit them, while the BJP, out of power, would be able to use its forces to on one hand mobilise the oppressor castes on a Brahminical plank, while on the other, mobilising the toilers by pointing to the failure of the Congress. And since the front that the Congress aspires for, is a front that would include most of the opposition parties, its collapse would be the last throw of the dice. The RSS would be able to campaign openly for a full blooded Sangh regime, with majorities in both Houses, opening up real prospects for making decisive changes in the Constitution.

 

C: What about a Federal Front or a Third Front?

In different forms, this is the call that has been going round. This has two shapes, and we need to look at both. One is the very rightwing call for a Federal Front given by West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee. This has of course not materialised in a formal way. What most regional parties know is that their role will be finally determined by how the seatshares that emerge. So they are mostly content with province to province arrangements. But we must be aware that the TMC has been one of the most aggressive right wing parties in India after the BJP.[1]  We have identified it as such a long time back, and that was why, unlike many parties and groups on the far left, who in their so called struggle against “social fascism” supported the TMC in 2009-2011, we have never called for any political support or even any grassroots collaboration with the TMC. It has struck violently against working class struggles, fighting against every all India general strike called by Central Trade Unions since 2011, imposing a terrible “settlement” on tea-garden workers in West Bengal, refusing to pay Dearness Allowance twice a year to government employees and other workers paid by the government, and has waged war against the left forces (both parliamentary left and radical left), including arrests, false cases, deaths due to violence by party goons, deaths due to police action, deaths in prison due to action (or inaction, as when Sudip Chongdar, arrested on the charge of being a CPI Maoist leader, was allowed to die without treatment after he suffered a stroke).

The TMC has also been a partner in earlier NDA blocs, including being in an NDA government. Its current electoral opposition to the BJP stems from bourgeois political compulsions. At present the BJP is a rising force in West Bengal, while the Congress and the Left Front are both seemingly on the backfoot. Consequently it has formally declared its opposition to the BJP. The dubiousness of this opposition can be seen from many developments. Supposedly, TMC goons have repeatedly beaten up Dilip Ghosh, the BJP leader. Yet not once has he even had a few days of hospitalisation. This appears to be a TMC-BJP mutually agreed and staged ‘show’. It enables the TMC to act the role of opponent of the BJP at low cost, and it allows the BJP to also appear to be the real opponent of the TMC. Despite all its failings, in West Bengal, as the 3 February 2019 mobilisation showed, the Left Front is capable of really massive popular mobilisations. At election times, however, massive hooliganism at the grass roots level can have the effect of cutting down the transformation of that support into votes.

That the TMC has no principled secular agenda can also be seen from its use of Bengali chauvinism rather than democratic politics as a mobilising strategy. Its supremo, Ms. Banerjee, has as her declared goal the winning of all 42 seats from West Bengal, hoping this will make her party the strongest in a very fragmented parliament. And if that hope does not work out, she still expects that a lower tally will make the BJP turn to potential allies, possibly dump the Modi-Shah duo for a “secular” and “moderate” face (Gadkari, for example, has already been making the right noises), in which case she can provide her support for or even join a new NDA government in exchange for some of her key demands along with a few token gestures that she can hold up as great victories for secularism.

The second model of the Third Front/Federal Front is one that is more tilted against the BJP. This is a conception that many activists have been hoping to achieve in reality but has little basis in the political calculations of significant electoral formations. This is an Indian version of a rainbow coalition. It is put forward by activists who do not see class struggle as central, but at most as one identity (“class identity”) along with other identities. They believe that a coalition of the BSP, the Dravidian parties, the RJD and the SP, etc would highlight caste, regional and ethnic aspirations and create a more democratic space.

It is true that Dalit-Adivasi-Bahujan oppression is a major point of struggle. But India has seen the performance of the United Front Government too when the Left participated in it but was certainly not in the driver’s seat. Without stronger struggles being generated on the ground, a rainbow coalition will not lead to a rainbow government. Rather, first of all, the sheer numbers show that at least in 2019 such left-of-centre rainbow coalition government is impossible. In several provinces, the Congress is either a partner in such a rainbow, or the Congress is the major opposition to the BJP.

Moreover, such a coalition is unlikely to develop a coherent programme, even for the exploited and oppressed whose votes it is banking on. The refusal of Mayawati to have anything to do with Azad and the Bhim army shows that the BSP is trying to get a constituency under its hegemony rather than fight for Dalit rights. While some intellectuals keep talking about a rainbow, there are no significant gender or class slogans emanating from most of these parties.

D:What Strategy for the Left and Working Class

Conditions in India have worsened in a number of ways. The organised left – parties, unions, other mass organisations, have less striking power than they did thirty years ago. Our benchmark needs to be set at 1989, as a starting point, because that was when the BJP launched its new strategy. Our current has been arguing about that since then. In Parliament that year, the CPI, CPI(M), Forward bloc, Indian Peoples’ Front and Marxist Coordination Committee had 54 seats and had between them polled 10. 49% votes.The organised working class had a bigger striking power.

Indian capitalism had begun its turn to a neoliberal, privatised economy some years earlier, but at a slow pace. 1990-91 saw a drastic shift. A balance of payments crisis was used as the plea to ram through devastating pro-market, pro-rich policies. And the minority government of P.V. Narasimha Rao could do that, constantly holding the left at bay by raising the bogey of the BJP. The left had 58 seats and about the same votes as in the previous parliament. But its persistent policy of lesser evilism, of making a distinction between fighting class battles and fighting fascism, meant that it dealt gently with the Rao government. The result was a further massive growth of the BJP, and its ability to forge alliances with other regional bourgeois parties. In 1996 the BJP won 161 seats, and its allies a further 26. The Congress won 140 seats, a decline of 92 seats and nearly 7.5% votes. The Left Front won 52 seats with just over 9 per cent votes.

What was significant through all these years was the determination with which the parliamentary left clung to its illusions about progressive bourgeois parties. This was revealed in 1996 when the United Front Government was formed. The CPI entered the government, while the CPI(M) and RSP supported it from outside. This government showed absolutely no difference in its economic policies. P. Chidambaram as its Finance Minister presented a budget which Indian big business described as a dream budget. Montek Singh Ahluwalia, one of the principal market advocates of the government, wrote, in a paper for the Planning Commission in 1999:“That a consensus of sorts has evolved is perhaps reflected in the fact that the reforms initiated by the Congress Government in 1991 were continued by the United Front coalition which came to power in 1996 and have also been broadly endorsed by the BJP led government which took office in 1998”.

This popular frontism cost the left heavily in the end. Its last major opportunity had come in 2004. The BJP had gone into the 2004 elections with an arrogant, openly upper class campaign, talking about ‘India Shining’.  The national level perception went against the BJP, as did its local level alliance pacts. The left won 61 seats. But that was followed by the Left Front deciding to give “support from outside” to the Congress led UPA based on a Common Minimum Programme that was hailed as a great step forward. But in fact, the CMP did not do certain things. The CMP did not promise natural justice to the victims of the Gujarat Genocide. In the NDA period Murli Manohar Joshi had ensured the rewriting of text books. When Manmohan Singh, in a rotten balancing act, called for equal rejection of left fundamentalists as well as Hindutva fundamentalists, the left parties did not stand fully with the secular historians and their scholars fighting against the glorification of Savarkar, Hitler and the denigration of the Russian Revolution as a coup in school text books..

Nor is it the case that the left took stronger positions over bread and butter issues. It has been a persistent failure of the left to recognise that the strength of the left, even the non-revolutionary left, is primarily based on extra-parliamentary mobilisations. Despite the left parties not being in power in many provinces, it is the AITUC, CITU etc that have repeatedly mobilised vast numbers of workers in general strikes that have been considered the biggest in the world. But the left parties in the UPA period did not fight all out for the rights of workers and peasants, being satisfied with such sops as the MNREGA, which only offered 100 days of low paid work for one member of each family. Had the left fought resolutely, primarily outside parliament, but also using its MPs in Parliament, for full restoration of the PDS, for universal health care for all, for state funded education and teachers who are state employees, rather than farming it out to NGOs and ill paid workers, they could have both snatched greater gains from the ruling class for the exploited, and made possible a strengthening of their base. After all, the German Social Democratic Party in the period 1890s-1910 won victories, rights for workers, and parliamentary seats, through major trade union mobilisations. The CPI in the period 1951-1962 progressed in much the same way. The experience of being in government has so reoriented the reformist left that it has stopped being able to understand even this. Instead of solidly linking the parliamentary battles to the extra-parliamentary dynamics, the majority of left parties and leaders create separate calendars. They have mobilisations of workers, peasants. But that calendar ends and a separate electoral calendar begins once the elections are announced. As a result, thereafter the class battles are ignored. Absolutely current instances are the struggles of tea garden workers and the elections, or the struggles iof School Service Commission applicants, both in West Bengal. With the BJP putting up John Barla as a candidate, what was absolutely necessary was to fight for tea garden workers’ rights NOW. Similarly, with Mamata Banerjee and the TMC deeply implicated in turning the SSC into a shady racket, there was a need to make the struggle far more visible and to sharpen its focus, instead of leaving it to the handful of protestors.

In addition, the left continues to have a narrow vision of the class struggle that mirrors the politics of the identity politics forces. Where they see class as one among so many identities, the left sees a narrow economism as the class struggle. It does not look at the links between class struggle and caste oppression (and when it tries, it ends up with the failed theory of semi-feudalism). The left reduces gender and sexuality issues to a dogmatic definition of class struggle. As a result, whatever the potentialities, in fact the politics of the left remains a marginalised politics.

Our criticism of the left is based on that. We have an understanding of the class struggle that is potentially unifying. But to be actually capable of unifying the varioius exploited and oppressed masses, there is a need to develop theory and practice together, to struggle for every sector of the oppressed and exploited, and to connect that with the parliamentary struggles. Unless the struggles are linked, unless the left moves out of its eternal search for progressive bourgeois allies and fights together with the oppressed and exploited, there can be no revival of the left even in the parliamentary sphere. And only a stronger left in the parliament can resist the fascists. If we have to rely on chance combinations of bourgeois parties we constantly give ground to the fascists.

The left, whether the reformist or the radical left, needs to understand that the failure to make a Marxist analysis with a proper action programme for caste-gender-sexuality issues leads to either a wooden Marxism of the sectist type that alienates Dalits, Adivasis, women activists, queers, or leads to a post-modernist influenced collapse of the Marxist outlook.

From this perspective, we say that the real United Front in today’s perspective has to be a United Front with mass organisations of workers, peasants, Dalits, Adivasis, mass women’s struggles, queer movement organisations etc. A left alliance should be one that has candidates from such mass movements as well as from left parties, rather than candidates of non-BJP bourgeois parties, as the people we are asked to vote for.

In the concrete situation, our slogans are:

·        Defeat BJP.

·        Defeat all the most right-wing parties regardless of whether regionally they are in alliance with the BJP or not.

·        We understand that in seats where there is an essentially BJP vs Congress stand-off people will feel compelled to vote for the Congress. But we do not see that as the road out of the crisis. The road forward requires treating elections as part of the process of generating mass movements.

·        Hence we call for a vote for Left and progressive candidates.

·        Fascist type forces have never been defeated by bourgeois parties. Other bourgeois parties claiming to fight the BJP are neither anti-neoliberal nor capable of permanently defeating the politics of Hindutva. But they too are now opposing the BJP as they realise that its final victory could be their death knell. The Congress is an ugly rightwing party which cannot be a serious barrier to the progress of Hindutva in the long run but is not a far right fascistic force. Because it cannot be a serious opponent of the politics of neoliberalism or Hindutva  we cannot call for a positive vote for Congress even as we do call for a vote  against  BJP/Sangh as our principal political electoral slogan.

 

The Struggles to Which We are Committed, before, during and after the Elections

FOR A DEMOCRATIC ELECTORAL, ADMINISTRATIVE AND LEGISLATIVE REFORMS

1.      Proportionate peoples representation in parliament, legislative assemblies and local governments, instead of current first-past-the-post system for a true reflection of people’s aspirations.

2.     Thirty three percent reservations for women and people of other sexuality in parliament, legislative assemblies and local governments and gradually raising the same to fifty percent in timebound plan.

3.     Total state funded electoral system free from the evil of money, muscle, bribes and other ill practices, including media practices. EC should be appointed by multi-member constitutional committee.

4.     Legislative change in appointment and removal of top brasses in CBI, CVC, NIA, CAG through parliamentary committee without any extra weightage and advantage to the ruling party/(ies) and constitutional guarantee in their independent function without govt. interference and control.

5.     Non-Parliamentary top executive to be appointed/removed/replaced mandatorily by the legislature through committee of members from ruling and opposition parties without any extra weightage and advantage to the ruling party/(ies).

6.     A legally binding mandatory framework for pre-legislative consultation to ensure participation of the citizens in process of making laws which affects them for.

7.     Restore in the Electoral list the names of  lakhs of Muslim and Dalit voters, who have been eliminated in the last five years.

8.     Scrap the National Register of Citizens and the Citizenship Bill.

9.     Fix income for both governmental and private sectors at the maximum ration of 1:6. Bring back a progressive income tax up to a highest tier of 80%, restore the property tax and raise the tax on corporate profits.

FOR PRESERVATION AND EXTENSION OF DEMOCRACY

1.      Repeal (completely and unconditionally) the anti democratic laws and sections of laws/acts viz. UAPA, NSA, AFSPA, Article 124(a), 499 of IPC etc and administrative detention.

2.     An effective whistle blower's protection law.

3.     Legislative enactment of accessible, decentralized citizen’s grievance redressal mechanism to provide time bound redressal of citizen’s grievances with provisions for auditability & accountability and compensations.

4.     Constitutional guarantee of fund, functionaries and authorities for the local self-governments without discrimination for democratic and effective governance, as per the spirit of 73rd and 74th constitutional amendment with mandatory provisions for highest authority of the Gram/Ward Sansad in decision making, overseeing and action taking.

5.     Legal framework for punishable offence with respect to assault upon individual or groups reflecting diverse culture and identity, like food habits, religious practices, caste hierarchy, gender differences etc, mostly minority and weaker stratum and protection of victim(s) with compensations.

6.     Independent statutory body with quasi-judicial power to oversee and protect political and social opposition to the government and the state with right to protest, organise events without discrimination with equal opportunity as the ruling party.

7.     Any aggression or offence by the ruling party or administration, formal or informal with the patronage of the government should be dealt with proper and quick response actions by independent statutory body empowered for the same.

BASIC OF RIGHTS

1.      Constitutional guarantee of ‘Right to Work’ for living to all adult people, with compulsory unemployment wage equivalent to minimum wage, upto the age of sixty.

2.     Universal ‘Right to Pension’ at the age of 60, equivalent to last drawn wage.

3.     Declaration of national floor level minimum wage in consultation with trade unions, nutritionists, social activists with bi-annual upward auto-revision enabling based on CPI; irrespective of nature of work and employment. Mandatory revision of minimum wage with legal obligation after every five years.

4.     ‘Right to Food’ act for universal (nutrition and health compliant) subsidised PDS.

5.     Universal basic health and healthcare system by easy accessibility of safe drinking water, nutrition, housing, end-to-end free medical services with ensured quality and availability at all levels..

6.     Every school must be complaint of RTE. Every childhood education and care should be integral part of it. ITI must be increased in huge numbers followed by setting National Village Education Fund to support Government to improve quality of education in rural areas. Provide residential facilities for under privileged at least up to college level. No communalisation of education system.

7.     Strict implementation of existing labour laws including accountability and actionable provisions upon violation, with progressive reforms over time in favour for employees to minimise the difference in power and authority between employer and employee.

8.     Statutory assurance of remunerative prices as per Swaminathan Committee's recommendation for the peasants and their land distribution support for farmer's collective, sustainable/ecological agriculture promoting and ·full implementation of land acquisition Act, 2013.

9.     Recognition of local communities specially forest dwellers as custodians and share holders of local eco-system and natural resources of that area and legally empower the relevant local assemblies to govern the system while the forest department should be restructured to assist them. An independent and empowered environment commission should be set up to judge environmental standards and make regulations and ensure compliance.

MEDIA, JUDICIARY AND JUSTICE FOR VULNERABLE SECTIONS

1.      An independent institutional framework for accountability of the media and licensing power free from government control and independence of public service broadcasters.

2.     An accessible and accountable judiciary which can deliver justice for all. A full time body independent of government and judiciary which can examine is highly needed to make judiciary accountable and implementable..

3.     Establish an Equal Rights Commission through a law that all can easily understand and that covers all aspects of social inequality. Ensure through this the structural inequalities and the injustices that are faced by helpless social groups. Thereby ensure proper solutions. Reservation in public and private sectors for jobs and education only for the socially oppressed and repressed groups of peoples.

4.     Recognise the rights of all marginal sexualities as equals by creating law respecting self-identification by transgenders.

ENVIRONMENT, FOREIGN POLICIES ETC

1.      All natural wealth must be controlled neither by the government nor by corporate sectors. They must belong to the people. The direct producers must have rights over land.

2.     Maintaining the ecological balance in utilising natural wealth must be given proper weightage. Scrap all industries that destroy the environment.

3.     India must tread the path of friendly and fraternal relations among the peoples of South and South East Asia and West Asia, in order to achieve general development of the peoples of these regions, rather than developing conflict-based relationships. Halt war madness, reduce military expenditures. Stop the use of nuclear weapons and nuclear power.

 

 


 

 

Marx, Class Struggle and Women's Oppression

 

 

Soma Marik

 

DOES KARL MARX have any relevance for today’s struggles for women’s liberation? Do his theories of society and revolutionary transformation present us with tools that in any way continue to be useful?

 

These and related questions come up repeatedly — as I will argue — for two very different reasons. I will exclude here the arguments, if they can be called that, of the extreme right, which are opposed to human liberation in any form, from class exploitation, from racial, gender and sexual oppression and discrimination. Rather, my focus is on forces and ideas within what we can call the center and the left.

 

With the worldwide collapse of older, organized, often large Marxist (or socialist) working class parties, a left-liberal segment became more influential even within the old left. We think of the left’s orientation to the Democratic Party in the USA (where no mass workers’ party has existed for some 80 years now) — or the example of India where the left, in order to halt the fascist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) [extreme Hindu nationalist — ed.], sees no option but to rely on the rightwing liberal Indian National Congress.

 

One consequence has been the acceptance of intellectual currents that reject Marxism’s contributions to the principles of emancipation. Another consequence of the collapse of class politics is the rise of an ideology that conceives of the struggle for liberation as separate for each gender, race or other “identity”-based segments of the population. These separate oppressions at best forge moral alliances, rather than an objectively rooted unity.

 

A secondary but not unimportant reason lies in the creation of an opposite ideological claim that Marxism indeed promotes women’s liberation, Dalit [lower caste — ed.] and other oppressed people’s emancipation, but must be hostile to feminism, Dalit (or Ambedkarite) politics, etc. as all being variants of “bourgeois/petty-bourgeois politics.”

 

In India in particular, in the name of putting the working class first, this second current is widely present within both the old mainstream left and considerable parts of the far left. We can call this a sort of Marxist Antifeminism. It has both indigenous and international influences.

 

Marxist Antifeminism in India

 

Kanak Mukherjee, one of the first woman members of the Communist Party of India (CPI) in Bengal and a leader of the Communist-led mass women’s movement from the end of the 1930s. She later became a key figure in the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPIM) and its women’s front, the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), needs to be cited in this connection.

 

Mukherjee, belonging to an older generation of activists, dismissed feminist ideas and movements for autonomy in many of her writings. Her focus was on fighting the Congress as well as the CPI (after the party split in 1964 and she went to join the CPIM), defending the Left Front government in West Bengal from 1977. However, a few remarks scattered through her political essays show Marxist Antifeminism at work. She saw feminism as a homogeneous category, and a movement that set women against men rather than class against class. In Women’s Emancipation Movement in India (1989), she wrote:

 

“Now the imperialists are also throwing a challenge to the healthy democratic women’s movement. They are propagating the misleading Western ‘feminist’ ideology to misdirect and confuse women of the villages and cities…. As against Marxist ideology and its analysis of the women’s emancipation movement as an integral part of the people’s revolutionary movement and the class struggles of the proletariat, these agencies advocate “party-less” or ‘above party’ ‘feminist’ theories to confuse and disrupt the democratic women’s movement. (103)

 

In the next paragraph, she sets forth the theoretical positions of the feminist movement as she sees it.

 

“These feminists, though of various views, pose the woman’s question as opposed to men’s and hold the patriarchal system of society responsible for the exploitation of women. Thus, they try to divert the class struggle into a struggle between men and women. This breeds hatred in the family, conjugal life and social life, and leads to the isolation of the women’s movement from the mainstream of the people’s movements…. Some of the leaders of these action groups pose as leftists and criticise the teachings of Marx-Engels-Lenin on women’s questions.” (Ibid).

 

Younger activists, who had to build their organizations while in regular dialogue with the left wing of the feminists, such as Brinda Karat, for many years General Secretary of the AIDWA and now a member of the CPI(M) Politbureau, took a somewhat more nuanced position, but explained the persistence of patriarchal families as a hangover from the ruling class, with no material roots within the toiling people. (Karat, Survival and Emancipation, 36-39)

 

One of the major influences from abroad has been “classist” (class reductionist) forces in the West, especially their material available in English. Here, I do not propose to look at all dimensions, but to mention the example of Tony Cliff’s book Class Struggle and Women’s Liberation. Cliff took the most conservative trends in feminism as representing the norm, then debunked all feminists as some kind of homogeneous force, and went back to Marx, Zetkin, Lenin and others as evidence that he stood with the Marxist tradition.

 

Cliff’s argument against the feminists, taken up in the mid-to late 1980s by some activists in India having connection with the British Socialist Workers Party, included the stance that feminists are wrong in differentiating between men and women even when looking at women’s oppression:

 

“This is not to deny, however, that men behave in certain ways which are oppressive to women…. But the blame should be placed squarely on class society, not on its individual agents. Women’s oppression damages the interests of both working women and men.” (Cliff, 229)

 

Elsewhere, Cliff lumps theoretical disputes around violence against women as minor, or issues that divide women from men.

 

“Many women in the women’s liberation movement have consistently focussed on the areas where men and women are at odds — rape, battered women, wages for housework — while ignoring or playing down the areas of struggle where women are more likely to win the support of men — such as opposition to the cuts in hospitals and schools, the right to abortion, and battles at work for equal pay or the right to join a trade union….(T)he women’s liberation movement has come to concentrate on where women are weakest. (177-8)
This implies that fighting too seriously for an end to rape and violence against women should take a very low priority in the agenda of a Marxist party or a Marxist-led women’s movement — an especially appalling position in the context of violence against women in India!” (My own response to Cliff’s harnessing of Zetkin to his narrow position appears in my essay “German Socialism and Women’s Liberation,” 2003.)

 

Marxist Antifeminism vs. the Real Tradition

 

To make sense of Kanak Mukherjee’s attacks, it is worth looking at one of her earlier essays, published in a Bengali collection of her writings, Nari Andoloner Nana Katha, titled “Patitar Paap.” Originally published in 1958 in the women’s association journal Ghare Baire, it deals with prostitution.

 

The title sums up her attitude, for Patita means “the fallen woman,” and paap is “sin.” Apparently, back in the 1950s there was already some agitation among prostitutes for organizing, to demand better conditions. The essay looks at Engels, at Lenin’s dialogue with Zetkin, and at real or supposed achievements in the USSR and China, and discusses existing laws to eradicate prostitution in India.

 

About the prostitutes themselves and their demands there is a brief statement: “What the fallen women themselves are saying or doing is not important. … The first demand of the fallen woman is the demand for freedom from her fallen life. What they want is unimportant, the real issue is what we want for them and what we are doing about it.”

 

Rather than a long polemic over this, I want to move to Marx, at a very young age, provides with a different approach. In The Holy Family, there is a considerable discussion of gender in the context of Marx’s critique of Szeliga’s analysis of the French socialist Eugene Sue’s novel The Mysteries of Paris.

 

For Sue, the emphasis is on a questionable altruism shown  by the German Prince Rudolph. In Marx’s discussion, we find an examination of Fleur de Marie, a Paris prostitute, and Louise Morel, a sexually exploited servant of a bourgeois man. Marx’s description of Fleur de Marie rejects the specious philanthropy of Sue, which later affects the attitude of Mukherjee.

 

“We meet Marie surrounded by criminals, as a prostitute in bondage to the proprietress of the criminals’ tavern. In this debasement she preserves a human nobleness of soul, a human unaffectedness and a human beauty that impresses those around her, raise her to the level of a poetical flower of the criminal world and win for her the name of Fleur de Marie.” (The Holy Family, in Marx and Engels, Collected Works, Vol. 4, 168)

 

It is not an abstract moralism by which Marx judges Fleur de Marie, but by how her actions affect herself and others. Pointing to the hardships of working class women and girls, Marx rejects the priest’s description of Fleur de Marie as sinful. “The priest had made up his mind concerning Marie’s penance; in his own mind he has already condemned her.” (172)

 

As members of the proletariat have no way to survive but to sell their labour power, when there is not enough other work the women are forced to sell their bodies to survive. Marx sees her entering the nunnery as an illusory consolation which focuses on the mind at the expense of the body. Christian values forced her to focus on supposed crimes that she had committed, ignoring her reality.

 

Marx’s sharp remark is: “Convent life does not suit Marie’s individuality — she dies. Christianity consoles her only in imagination, or rather her Christian consolation is precisely the annihilation of her real life and essence — her death.” (176)

 

It could be argued that Kanak Mukherjee did not ask that all prostitutes be made to enter convents, whether by persuasion a la Rudolph or by the force of law. However, this is precisely the point — that her condemnation of the prostitutes as “fallen women” willy nilly pushes her in the same direction as Sue and Szeliga.

 

It is the moral degradation of the prostitute, not the society that has produced her, that Mukherjee’s article ends up stressing. Marx’s view of what she had done is put in other terms:

 

“The memory of the catastrophe of her life — her selling herself to the proprietress of the criminals’ tavern — puts her in a melancholy mood. It is the first time since her childhood that she has recalled these events…. Finally, contrary to Christian repentance, she pronounces on the past the human sentence, at once Stoic and Epicurean, of a free and strong nature: ‘Enfin ce qui est fait, est fait.’” [“In the end, what is done is done.” — ed.] (MECW v. 4, 169)

 

Coming from Marx, the identification Epicurean needs to be understood as “materialist.” And selling herself is caused by her need to survive. So she “considers her situation not as one she has freely created, not as the expression of her own personality, but as a fate she has not deserved.” (169)

 

The voice of Fleur de Marie should be given due attention: instead of a sweeping assertion that what she wants does not matter, what matters is what “we” (the liberators from above) want to do to her. It is ironic that a fictional Prince Rudolph is to appear in a Marxist garb over a century after Marx wrote.

 

Marx’s attitude to the issue is clear. He is not glorifying the initial condition of Fleur de Marie, when she certainly did not voluntarily choose to become a prostitute. But the alternative life she was given was far worse, as Marx saw it, for she was made to atone for something for which she was not responsible. To treat the prostitute as a fallen woman is to put the spotlight on her, and not on the social system that repressed her.

 

Marx and Engels on the Family

 

It is also worth looking at both The German Ideology and The Communist Manifesto, for the way Marx and Engels look at the family. Rejecting the possibility of looking at the family as a unit through the ages, they stressed (this was of course a joint work) that one has to look at the historical context, particularly the social relations involved in production.

 

“One cannot speak of the family ‘as such.’ Historically, the bourgeois gives the family the character of the bourgeois family, in which boredom and money are the binding link, and which also includes the bourgeois dissolution of the family, which does not prevent the family itself from always continuing to exist. … Where the family is actually abolished, as with the proletariat…the concept of the family does not exist at all, but here and there family affection based on extremely real relations is certainly to be found. In the eighteenth century the concept of the family was abolished by the philosophers, because the actual family was already in process of dissolution at the highest pinnacles of civilisation. The internal family bond, the separate components constituting the concept of the family were dissolved, for example obedience, piety, fidelity in marriage, etc; but the real body of the family, the property relation, the exclusive attitude in relation to other families, forced cohabitation … (MECW v. 5, 180-81)

 

The argument is repeated, with more rhetorical sweep, in The Communist Manifesto: “On what foundation is the present family, the bourgeois family, based? On capital, on private gain. In its completely developed form this family exists only among the bourgeoisie. But this state of things finds its complement in the practical absence of the family among the proletarians, and in public prostitution.”

 

As with much of the Manifesto, there is a compression involved. What they seem to be arguing is that the family in bourgeois society needs to be viewed distinctly from pre-capitalist families. This family, in its ideal form, existed among the bourgeoisie, while the absence of ownership of the means of production meant that in practice such a family  tended to be absent in the working class.

 

In the later writings of Marx we can certainly see that he recognized the existence of families among workers in practice. But there is no idealization of the family. There is no need to argue that Marx had arrived at positions developed by feminists. There is certainly no elaboration of the concept of patriarchy. What I am getting at is that Marx is simply pointing out that there is no universal form of family across time.

 

The German Ideology also provides some evidence of a much more complex attitude to women’s supposed inferiority. The discussion on the gender division of labour points out that the natural division that exists due to women’s different biology turns into something social, with wife and child being described as the first slaves of the husband.

 

Since this original “natural” division is seen in societies that have underdeveloped productive forces, social and productive development would render the division no longer necessary. At the same time, since women are “enslaved” (whether this was based on Marx’s class analysis and/or whether it was a linguistic turn of phrase), this suggests that technological improvement alone would not lead to women’s improvement. Rather, a suggestion exists that they would have to fight for their emancipation.

 

In an essay of 1846, to which Michael Löwy draws attention in his The Theory of Revolution in the Young Marx, Marx looks at family-based and other “private” oppressions. Löwy argues that the essay “amounts to a passionate protest against patriarchy, the enslavement of women, including bourgeois women, and the oppressive nature of the bourgeois family.” Löwy adds that there are few things like this in Marx’s later writings.

 

Talking about the French Revolution and its aftermath, Marx wrote:

 

“The revolution has not overthrown all tyrannies; the evils of which the arbitrary authorities were accused persist in the family, where they cause crises analogous to those of revolutions.” (MECW v.4: 604)

 

Marx and Feminism

 

This is not to argue that Marx had prefigured every progressive step made by feminism. However, it suggests that Marx’s ideas very often put him closer to many feminist arguments and in opposition to Marxist Antifeminism. The argument that a political and economic revolution might not automatically mean the overthrow of all other oppressions, including particularly gender oppression, is one that would be made by socialist-feminists and Marxist-feminists about the Russian and other revolutions.

 

Kanak Mukherjee’s book Women’s Emancipation Movement in India ends with a quotation from Lenin. It is in fact a good argument that Lenin makes, since he talks about the communist women’s movement as a mass movement, not only of the proletariat, but of all the exploited and oppressed. (Mukherjee, 107-8)

 

What Mukherjee does not say, and what Karat would hesitantly admit in her book, is that the overthrow of capitalism did not mean gender equality. “With the general erosion of the commitment to socialist theory by ruling communist parties in many of these countries over a period of time, the conscious ideological and cultural struggle against patriarchal attitudes, which were the hallmark of the early years of the Bolshevik revolution, all but disappeared.” (Karat, 44).

 

The problem, however, was not simply the absence of “ideological and cultural struggles,” but the failure to understand the material roots of sexism. This is where in recent times Marxist-feminists have taken important strides forward, but basing themselves firmly on Marx.

 

Identity, Intersectionality and Class Struggle

 

Anti-Marxist arguments sometime come from those who claim identity politics, regarding each kind of oppression in itself as a distinct entity. My argument is that each of these oppressions are real. But they cannot be solved (a) within capitalist society, or (b) each on its own as if there were no connections. Thus, Dalit caste and gender are both real classifications. As the #MeToo campaign in India has thrown up, sexual harassment of Dalit women is rarely acknowledged.

 

Ruth Manorama, speaking at a meeting in late October, stressed the need to speak about the sexual harassment of Dalit women, which has been ignored for hundreds of years. Cynthia Stephen, writing about NGOs in Tamil Nadu, points out that when she protested against an abuser (who had abused another person, not herself) she was thrown out. She notes:

 

“Information was shared by others, not by me, to the funders of the organisation where I worked about the various wrongdoings of the executive director and the board members. But as far as I know, they did nothing to intervene at the time or maybe they chose to believe his lies and nobody asked me for my side of the story. Was it because I was seen as a Dalit woman and therefore one whose opinion did not matter?” (https://bit.ly/2Tg1Ugn)

 

One way of dealing with these problems is to create a hierarchy, deciding that certain oppressions take priority. This is what Antifeminist Marxism does in a way, arguing about class first, others later. Reversing the signs, this is what is sometimes done by anti-Marxist critics.

 

Marxist-feminists have been in the forefront of a new analysis. From Lise Vogel and a small number of others to Tithi Bhattacharya in recent times, a line of argument has been developed, stressing that Marx’s analytical tools and his own discussions in Capital and elsewhere can be extended.

 

Workers are sustained their paid and unpaid labor, which includes the care of workers, themselves as well as the care of the non-working members of the working-class family (the elderly, the children, the sick). Their survival ensures the replacement of their generation of workers by the next. This has been called social reproduction theory.

 

In the essay “How Not to Skip Class,” Tithi Bhattacharya writes: “Instead of the complex understanding of class historically proposed by Marxist theory, which discloses a vision of insurgent working class power capable of transcending sectional categories, today’s critics rely on a highly narrow vision of a ‘working class’ in which a worker is simply a person who has a specific kind of job.”

 

Bhattacharya follows closely Marx’s analysis of capitalism, and stresses, not that he had made all the connections, but that within his analysis there is scope for its expansion to a full-fledged social reproduction theory. Bhattacharya points out that workplace struggles are not the sole form in which class struggles are fought out.

 

“Workplace struggles thus have two irreplaceable advantages: one, they have clear goals and targets; two, workers are concentrated at those points in capital’s own circuit of reproduction and have the collective power to shut down certain parts of the operation. . . . But let us rethink the theoretical import of extra-workplace struggles, such as those for cleaner air, for better schools, against water privatization, against climate change, or for fairer housing policies. These reflect, I submit, those social needs of the working class that are essential for its social reproduction. They also are an effort by the class to demand its ‘share of civilization.’ In this, they are also class struggles.” (Viewpointmag.com, October 31, 2015.)

 

Bhattacharya, as well as David McNally in “Intersections and Dialectics: Critical Reconstructions in Social Reproduction Theory,” his essay in a volume Social Reproduction Theory (2017) edited by Bhattacharya, both argue that intersectionality theory leaves unexplained the potential for a unified theory of oppression and exploitation.

 

Nonetheless, whether we look at the context of intersectionality theory in the USA where Black Feminism arose as a response to exclusions, or to its current applications in India where both Dalit women and Queer activists have been talking about it as a response to their exclusions from the “mainstream,” I would argue that we cannot treat intersectionality as a failed framework.

 

Patricia Hill Collins had argued that oppressions should be seen as a single, historically created system. There do indeed exist multiple layers of oppression, and unless the specially oppressed and their conditions are understood and they have their own voice, one can collapse into the Cliff-type position where those points where men are “willing” to help must be foregrounded, while uncomfortable issues like rape and assault should be pushed to the rear.

 

Intersectional politics of oppressed social groups is not necessarily revolutionary. But neither is it reactionary. What is called “identity politics” involves struggles of different social groups. Intersectional identity politics is a step to recognising that it is possible to be oppressed in one context and privileged/oppressor in another.

 

Dalit women in recent times have challenged the #MeToo campaign in India, not because they are misogynists but because they feel it is focussing excessively, or even solely, on upper caste, comfortably placed women, ignoring much more systematic sexual harassment and sexual violence perpetrated on Dalit women.

 

When recently one queer activist made a Facebook post expressing happiness that the #MeToo campaign was showing that heterosexual women could also be facing trouble, most other queer activists took strong exception.

 

Intersectionality is therefore an awareness that there is not one homogeneous, simplified exploiter beating in the same way upon all the downtrodden. And it is an attempt to raise the awareness that unless the struggle for social progress consciously incorporates all the oppressions, they can never be overcome in some automatic manner. The struggle for empowerment and representation of one oppressed group can even further the oppression of another oppressed group if it does not act self-critically with regard to its own tactics and rhetoric.

 

Intersectionality may not lead to revolutionary directions. But the concept of the proletariat as a “universal class” in Marx suggests how Marx also provides a possible link between class struggle and intersectionality. If the emancipation of the proletariat is not possible without the emancipation of all the oppressed, this needs to be understood, not as an automatic function of an ideal proletarian revolution, but as the process where multiple oppressions are seen, addressed, and given proper representation.

 

For example, it might mean the need for building mass working class organizations where women, Dalits, Dalit women, queers, are represented in the program, in the organization, and in the leadership in increasingly growing numbers.

 

So we need to see that Marx’s method provides us with the tools to integrate different oppressions and shows how capitalism binds them together. Intersectionality shows us that these distinct oppressions do have autonomous dimensions. Today we find that a (re)turn to Marx has a lot to do with the pressure of concrete struggles.

 

If we did not acknowledge this, we might again turn to a wooden Marxism that would reduce class to abstract, casteless, raceless, genderless humans who simply sell their labor power at the marketplace. Marxist theory and practice must move forward, not back.

 

References:

 

Brinda Karat, Survival and Emancipation, Three Essays Collective, Gurgaon, 2005.

 

Heather A. Brown, Marx on Gender and the Family, Haymarket, Chicago, 2013.

 

Michael Löwy, The Theory of Revolution in the Young Marx (Historical Materialism book), Haymarket paperback, 2005; Brill hardcover, 2016.

 

Kanak Mukherjee, Women’s Emancipation Movement in India, National Book Centre, New Delhi, 1989.

 

Kanak Mukhopadhyay, Nari Andolaner Nana Katha, National Book Agency, Kolkata, 2001.

 

Kanak Mukhopadhyay, Marxbad O Narimukti, Paschimbanga Ganatantrik Mahila Samiti, Kolkata, 2001.

 

Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Holy Family, in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Collected Works, Progress Publishers, Moscow, vol.4, 1975.

 

Karl Marx, “Peuchet: On Suicide,” in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Collected Works, Progress Publishers, Moscow, vol.4, 1975.

 

Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The German Ideology, in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Collected Works, Progress Publishers, Moscow, vol.5, 1976.

 

Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party, in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Collected Works, Progress Publishers, Moscow, vol.6, 1976.

 

Lise Vogel, Marxism and the Oppression of Women: Toward a Unitary Theory (with an introduction by Susan Ferguson and David McNally), Haymarket, Chicago, 2013.

 

Soma Marik, “German Socialism and Women’s Liberation,” in Anuradha Chanda, Mahua Sarkar and Kunal Chattopadhyay (Eds), Women in History, Progressive Publishers, Kolkata, 2003.

 

Tithi Bhattacharya (Ed), Social Reproduction Theory: Remapping Class, Recentering Oppression, Pluto Press, London, 2017.

Tony Cliff, Class Struggle and Women’s Liberation, Bookmarks, Second Printing, London, 1987

 

Reproduced from Against the Current March-April 2019

The feminist strike extends across Europe

 

Wednesday 6 March 2019, by Laia Facet

In 2016 Polish feminists went on a feminist strike to defend the decriminalization of abortion and in defense of reproductive rights; months later the Argentines stopped the country in protest against femicides and went on to call months later for the first international women’s strike. The contagion is spreading. Already in 2018, the feminist strike in the Spanish State was the great surprise of the day and this year the strike has broken through into Europe.

This feminist incursion comes after a decade of austerity policies that have revealed and exacerbated social and economic inequalities. Of course, these have a clear gender impact. The struggles against the processes of privatization and cuts to the public sector of the previous cycle are taken up by the feminist movements in recent years particularly in health, education and social services, as well as the struggles in highly feminized labour sectors such as cleaning or care.

However, the crisis has had a particularly acute impact among migrant women who carry the bulk of reproductive and care burdens throughout Europe, filling the increasing gaps left by cuts and privatisation of state provision. With different intensities in each country, the presence in the feminist debate of migrant women is already an indisputable and indispensable fact. From one country to another, from the Spanish State to Belgium, demands for the right to have rights are central. With the threatening boom of the most authoritarian and reactionary right, feminism must necessarily shout loudly in an antiracist fashion. This involves taking part and building the organisations of migrant and racialized women that exist in Europe.

Precisely that same authoritarian boom began an attack on the rights and freedoms of women, trans people and the LGTBI + collective as a whole in recent years. Attacks that have consequently generated a reaction, politicization and mobilization of these same sectors. Among these struggles, we can highlight the struggle for abortion and reproductive rights in Poland or Ireland, to give examples of the most important mobilization.

Evidently, the fight against sexist violence has been a vector of radicalization on a world scale, including in Europe. This conflict has precipitated the entry of a whole new generation into feminism. Among the changes that are demanded the central one concerns the collective and structural nature of violence. After decades of a mantra in which violence was considered an intimate, personal, family problem ... this feminist cycle has exposed the systematic, structural and political character of violence. This fight is repeated in practically all European countries from Italy to Denmark, passing through Germany and France. Feminist movements in Europe are planning mobilizations and defending concrete demands.

The response to the strike call on this 8M will be a snapshot although always imprecise, of the state of feminist movements in Europe. We can affirm that, despite the unequal development of the movement in the whole of the continent, this year more countries will organize on the day of feminist strike. Feminists have launched a strike call for March 8 2019 in places including Portugal, Belgium, Switzerland or Germany where a new layer of women is getting involved and revitalizing the feminist struggle. This spreading of the call to different European countries plays a key role in the expectations we have in the Spanish State for the success of the feminist strike.

This year there will be elections to the European Parliament and, therefore, to extend and nurture the autonomous feminist movement will be fundamental to build the necessary networks to face the authoritarian offensive that can be expected with the growth of the extreme right. Perhaps this 8M, Europe trembles before the advance of feminists.

Iran: What happened after March 8 1979

 

Thursday 7 March 2019

An interview by Shirin Shalkooi.

Can you introduce yourself ?

I’m Fariba, I’m a communist women and a member of the 8 March Women’s Organisation (Iran-Afghanistan) [1] . It is an independent and democratic organisation with a revolutionary approach. By « democratic », we mean that women from different ideology and backgrounds can be a member of our organisation. « Independent » means that we are separate from the men and from political parties or governmental institutions. Women of Afghanistan are the most oppressed women in Iran, they are not considered as citizens in the country so a lot of Afghan women living in Iran won’t call themselves Iranian.

The statistics show that violence against women is increasing. In 2014, there were a series of acid attacks in the city of Isfahan by men who judged that women didn’t wear the hijab properly. By then, we understood that we needed to build a coalition with other women to act in the long run and not just occasionally. Two years ago, we started to work in a campaign named Karzar (#kaarzaar) [2] to fight state, social and domestic violence against women in Iran. The campaign involved women from the 8 March organisation but also other activists, women’s organisations and leftists.

For us, revealing the link between the three different forms of violence – social, domestic and state - is really essential. If we use only the term « violence against women », leftists often focus only on the violence of the state and ignore domestic violence. When you speak about social violence (that is violence in public spaces) or domestic violence, some feminists have a tendency to downplay state violence. We argue that there are different spheres of violence that work together and reinforce each other and that we have to fight them all.

Another important political position of Karzar is that we all agree that there is no possibility that women’s situation can improve without overthrowing the Islamic regime of Iran. There are other political organisations are in the opposition of the regime such as the People’s Mujaheddin (National Council of Resistance of Iran) who are pro-imperialist or the Monarchists, but we are totally different from them too. Karzar is a coalition in exile, most of the women live in Belgium, England, The Netherlands, Germany, Canada, Turkey and Sweden. Some women in Iran do follow us but we don’t make any official contact because it is too dangerous for them.

What are the key points of the situation in Iran ?

After the takeover of the Islamic regime in February 1979, we always had resistance in the society. But, last year, in Dey mah [3] there was a major class uprising that changed the whole political atmosphere. Before that, the hegemony of the political ideology of opposition was reformism. If you wanted to do something, everyone was answering you “we need time”, “we can change something with another President”... We changed some faces like Moussavi, Khatami or Rohani but it didn’t change anything in our political situation because all of them defend the interests of the ruling class.

The Dey protests were really important because nobody could believe the huge anger of the people who shouted that they didn’t want the Islamic regime anymore. Poor people, ethnic minorities, women and men, took to the streets in hundred of cities and villages that, as a political activist, I didn’t even know existed. It was a snub to the reformists who spread the idea that the working class and less educated people support the regime. Since the Dey protests, the reformists lost some power and it is the best moment to talk about changes and alternatives.

This year, 2019, is the 40th anniversary of the takeover of the Revolution by the Islamic regime. At that time, the Islamic fundamentalists took the power but the revolution wasn’t made by them. It started with leftist, communist and secular organisations. The leftists did a big mistake by thinking that they could go hand in hand with the Islamists against the Shah [4] and the imperialist powers. Because most Iranian people are religious, they thought that they could use Khomeini [5] as an Islamic ideological leader for the revolution and that they will be able to change the society after it. But Khomeini had his own plans, he wanted to build an Islamic State and the Hezbollah party [6].

After two years of political freedom just after the revolution, the regime began to forbid all other political parties. Over 7 years, they arrested and killed thousands and thousands of activists and political opponents. We lost them physically but we also lost their experiences, this is a big loss for the young generations who have lived only under the hegemony of the Islamic regime. Most of the rest of the « generation of the revolution » is either in exile, or not politically active anymore. In the nineties, the regime started to give some freedom for reformist parties to be built but not parties built by the people, they were parties, organizations and unions built by the reformist part of the government, parties built from the top and controlled by the regime. They made fake « trade unions » and fake « organisations » to control and profile activists.

Ten years ago, before the «Iranian green movement» in 2009, we had a movement of students, workers, teachers and women. After the uprising of December 2017, all those movements and especially the environmentalist, the women, the drivers, the nurses and the teachers, became more radical. For example, there are new unofficial trade unions trying to stay independent from the state like the workers struggle of the sugar refinery of Haft Tapeh.

This radicalism doesn’t come from nowhere. During the last ten years, the Iranian regime had to establish more and more relationship with western advanced capitalist countries. They call themselves anti-imperialist but this is just varnish. They had the illusion that those relationship will help them overcome the effects of the worldwide capitalist crisis.

Rohani signed the nuclear deal in 2015 with the P5+1 (America, Russia, China, United-Kingdom, France and Germany) which brought more capital and enabled them to sign official contracts with the cartels. But, in every country, neoliberal policies increase the gap between the rich and the poor. In May 2018, Trump announced the withdrawal of US from the agreement and re-established strong economic sanctions. Almost overnight, the prices of essential goods tripled. Can you imagine that? You cannot find products imported from the west like Pampers [7] or women’s sanitary products anymore.

Some workers didn’t get paid for one year (one or two months pay during the year is the best anyone can expect). This affects both the public and the private sectors and in fact it is really difficult to make a distinction between them in Iran. For example, numerous guards of Sepah-e Pasdaran, the paramilitary army of the regime, are the owners of so-called «private» companies. A lot of small companies had to close down and a lot of people are jobless for years. We see situations that we never faced, some people sleep in empty graves in the cemeteries because they don’t have other shelter.

The climate and environmental questions are also important. Scientists say that many parts of Iran will soon become uninhabitable. The situations in the countryside is generally worse because some people don’t have access to water. Water wars have started in Iran. In Isfahan last week, we could see that they had water again in the famous Zayendeh river but it is mostly for the tourism. The decision makers bring water from other cities and villages, mostly from the areas of Iran where Arabs live. The environmental problem mixes with the national question because the water is taken from poor region where people of the minorities don’t have any rights. Isfahan is a good example because it has many steel plants which need a lot of water but the city is in the middle of the desert. Can you imagine? It is really crazy.

The Shah wanted to build industries for the prestige of the city, to bring power in the center. Now, on the one hand (for example in Haft-Tappe) if they want to keep the industries, it takes all the water. And in the other hand, if they close them, there are five thousand workers who lose their job. These are some examples of the conflicts between the needs and welfare of people and the neoliberal agenda of the Islamic regime.

The crisis that capitalism has brought upon in Iran is not just economic, it is also political. There are contradictions inside the Iranian regime but also between the Iranian regime and western countries and between the Iranian regime and other powers in the Middle East. Inside the regime itself, the government don’t know how to solve the crisis and there is no unity as there were 30 years ago. Historically, there are two main political positions. There are the ones who think that we need to reinforce the ideologic varnish of the Islamic regime and keep allies like Russia and China against « imperialism » because the opposition against America is important for the supporters and sympathisers of the Islamic regime. On the other hand, there is the “Rohani part” who think we have to develop more relations with the west to fulfil the neoliberal agenda of the regime: to fit themselves into the global market by providing a cheap labor source as well as providing a big market of consumers.

After Trump’s last move, both positions are in crisis. We fear a war with America but it is not easy to predict. I think we are already at war, not inside Iran but in Syria, in Afghanistan, in Yemen, in Iraq, in Palestine, in Lebanon. Everywhere the Iranian regime makes war to strengthen its front against America and its allies, such as Israel, Saudi Arabia and sometimes Turkey. There is a strong nationalist tendency in Iran and a lot of Iranians are racist against Arabs, Afghans and other people from ethnic minorities. However, the regime does not acknowledge these complexities: for the Iranian regime, either you are with them or you are with America. This dynamic is really important both for the Iranian and the American regime because it prevents people thinking about alternatives.

About anti-imperialism, one of the biggest mistakes of the communists was that they didn’t understand that the essence of imperialism is based on relations of production. Some communists think imperialism is only the USA, because it is the world’s first military power and they attack everywhere. But imperialism is relations of production and the Iranian regime was never anti-imperialist. From the very beginning, they had the exact same interests in international economic relationships as defined by imperialism. Some parties like PTB [8] and other currents make that mistake, but they didn’t experience the kind of revolution we did.

The Iranian regime reproduces imperialistic economical relationships with its neighbours, for example in Syria. So, they cannot call themselves “anti-imperialist”. For that, they would need to be socialist, which Iran has never been so far. It’s a very big mistake of some parts of the Western left to support this regime and consider Iranian regime to be an anti-imperialist regime based on its fake facade. Another common mistaken approach towards regimes like Iran is the argument of cultural relativism and arguing that “Iranians are not ready for socialism, or anti-capitalism, or women’s liberation”. But it’s not true!

Can you talk about the situation of the women and why March is an important month for the women’s movement in Iran ?

The problem of the economic and class gap firstly and directly affects women. Women are the first to be under economic pressure, the first victims of poverty, as everywhere. Poverty and the prolétariat are feminine. In Iran, it’s the same.

In most Third World countries, we still have a mix between slavery, feudalism and the modern capitalist wage system. Also, the Islamic State uses religion as an ideological tool of power and domination. The Iranian Islamic regime was the first to build an Islamic State with God as the ultimate leader. All these relationships support and feed the subordination of women that we call the patriarchal oppression. The Imams updated the tenets of Islam from thousands of years ago to use it in a “modern” capitalist state but a lot of the Sharia laws are still based on slavery and feudalism. For example, a father has the right to kill his wife or daughter if he suspects of having sexual relations (with a man?).

Women are trapped in a contradiction because the wage system and neoliberalism give them more right to leave home, to go to work or to study. But, on the other hand Islamic fundamentalist ideology considers their place is to stay at home. That is why the regime imposes the hijab, so that women have to show that when they go out of their husband or father’s home, they are still under their control, the control of the state and the control of God. The hijab functions as a portable prison for women.

It is not easy to be a woman under these contradictions. Some revolutionary communists don’t understand that laws have a real impact on people’s lives. If women want to resist and fight the Islamic regime, they firstly need some basic minimum bourgeois democratic rights to be full citizens. In Iran, when someone kills somebody, he has to pay an amount of money (called Diya– blood money). This money is halved when the victim is a woman. If a woman gives testimony in court, her words has half of the value of a man’s words. This means that you are officially considered as half of a man. You don’t have the right to study, to work or to travel without your father or your husband permission. Of course, a lot of women do it, especially women from the big cities, but men potentially have the right to control women and prevent them from doing any of those things. They also have the right to rape and to beat them. If a stranger does rape you, he can easily use the argument that you were not wearing your hijab properly or that you didn’t have permission to go out. If a woman is married, it is likely that having a relationship with another man would lead to sentencing to death by stoning.

Two weeks after Khomeini came to power, the first reactionary sign was that women were forced to cover themselves in public. All over the world, the very first attacks of the reactionary forces primarily target women. It is the case in Afghanistan with the Taliban, in Iraq with Daesh (ISIS), in America with Trump.

In Iran, it was in March 1979. During six days, thousands of women went out in the streets to protest against the Ayatollah’s fatwa. Compared to the other demonstrations during the revolution, this one was not the biggest but it was mostly women. They were attacked by Islamic militants with acid, guns and razor blades. We call this women’s demonstration “the birth of the new women’s movement” because it was the first time in the history of the country that women went in the streets to fight for gender issues.

Women went in the streets for the revolution, for economic reasons, against the war and over many other social questions, but against gender oppression. They were really, really, brave to oppose Khomeini at that time because almost everyone accepted him as a leader and almost all the parties considered him as a progressive anti-imperialist leader. Women were the first to understand that the regime was reactionary and they had a famous slogan: “we didn’t make revolution to go backward, we made revolution to go forward”.

This history is poorly known and not properly conveyed. We try to keep it alive with the women’s movement. There are some books, articles, interviews and also the small movie “Année zéro” [9] made by the French Movement for Women’s Liberation (MLF). The women’s political role at that moment was not recognised by the communist, socialist and secular people. Unfortunately, back then, in some leaflets of political forces and even leftists, women were called “bourgeois”, “monarchist”, “sympathisers of the Shah family, Ashraf or Farah”, “bitch”. After the attacks on the women, the regime starts to attack ethnic minorities; Turkman, Kurds, Arab, gay people, and other minority groups. And then, after all that, left parties. As told by a German poet “first they came for … then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me”.

As women, we have to resist against many things and fight for everything: for what we want to wear, to eat, to say, for the way we want to be or to act, for the right to go to school, to come home late, to play sport,... From first thing in the morning, you start “against my father, my brother, my husband”. The regime controls your bed, your privacy: “with whom you are, why, how long and what is the result?”. When you resist everything, you are like a soldier who is permanently on-call. Women fight in their own creative ways to survive in our daily life and also to go forward, to change their condition. Step by step. 60 percent of the students in university are women which means that they want to be in the public spaces. Dey mah was important because when the whole society is against the regime, it gives you more driving force, power and place to show that you refuse the control of your body.

The women who took off their scarves in public places did so not only to have a photograph taken but to stay there, to fight, to convey a message. These are women who want to overthrow the regime. For me, as a revolutionary woman whose concern is women’s emancipation, acquiring the right to wear what we like is not the goal, though it is a very basic right that everybody should have. Our fight against compulsory Hijab is not limited to the right to control what we wear , but to choose our clothing has another, deeper level and that is the concept of Hijab. The hijab has a special function, it is the flag of the Islamic regime on women’s body. It is the symbol of women subordination, treating women as a commodity and as sex objects. The patriarchal oppression in the capitalist system of exploitation needs to control women’s body as a tool for reproduction. It is not just a question of religion and ideology, it has actual material basis. If we get a secular regime it will not automatically mean that the control of women’s body will stop.

Why do you think we need an international struggle?

We need to learn from each other, not to copy. We can’t dictate our way of fighting to the others but we need to learn from our respective achievements. With Karzar, it is really important for us to strengthen our voices. We don’t support either the Iranian Islamic regime, or the imperialist intervention.

I don’t want Belgian women to fight against the Iranian regime in Iran, we can do that. I do want them to fight against their own regime in Belgium, that is their role. If they fight well, it will be easier for us to fight there. Imperialism works because anti-imperialist movements in western countries are weak. If the women’s movement has a revolutionary face in Belgium, not a reformist one, of course we will get more victories in Iran. For me, that is the meaning of internationalism. I don’t fight only for the freedom of the Iranian people. If we overthrow the Iranian regime in a revolutionary way, we open a window for the people of many Middle Eastern and islamic fundamentalist countries to fight against their regimes.

We have a lot to teach feminist women in the western countries. If they learn the lessons about the reactionary forces in Iran, they can understand the danger of the far-right. Internationalism is not begging western feminist to come to our demonstrations and make speeches for us. Of course, it is nice and it shows support, but we need more than that. We need a united comprehensive international fight against the patriarchal class systems all over the world.

Support : join the rally in Brussels in front of the Iranian embassy, Friday 8 March at 2.30pm here

Further readings :

Dominique Lerouge, ESSF (article 43456), Iran : 39 ans après le 8 mars 1979 : http://www.europe-solidaire.org/spip.php?article43456

Frieda Afary, ESSF (article 47941), Iran: Ongoing Labor Strikes, Women’s Protests and Ideas for International Solidarity : http://www.europe-solidaire.org/spip.php?article47941

Alliance of Middle East Socialists https://www.allianceofmesocialists.org/womens-emancipation-gender-and-sexual-minorities/

Footnotes

[1] www.8mars.com .

[2] karzar means campaign in farsi

[3] During December 2017.

[4] The then monarch of Iran.

[5] He was the first Ayatollah (Supreme leader) of Iran.

[6] The party of God.

[7] a major brand of disposable nappies.

[8] Parti de Travailleurs Belgique, the Belgian Worker’s Party.

[9] year zero

 

From International Viewpoint

PULWAMA “END THE PERNICIOUS CYCLE”!

Radical Socialist statement

 

Terrorism is not a reference to any category of persons but refers to a particular method, technique or tactic that involves the killing or injuring of innocent civilians or, outside of a battle or war zone, of even soldiers who by virtue of the distinctive nature of the attack are rendered completely defenceless. Precisely because terrorism is an act of this kind it can be and is carried out by the individual, a group, or larger collectivities like the apparatuses of the state. The car bomb attack that has killed 40 CRPF soldiers is just such an act and deserves the strongest condemnation. As in all cases of terrorism our sympathies and condolences are with the loved ones, families, relatives and friends of the victims. The perpetration was a lone Kashmiri youth Adil Ahmad Dar, while responsibility for preparing and training him was publicly claimed by the Jaish-e-Mohammed, a group that has been sponsored and supported by important sections of the Pakistan Establishment. Given that this is the case what should be the course of justice for the immediate as well as the longer term that we should demand?

  • The golden rule of justice is to seek punishment for those identified as guilty. Given that JeM has announced its responsibility there is little reason to doubt its culpability. Nevertheless, the Indian government should publicly disclose all evidence pointing to and confirming this if for no other reason than to fully persuade the peoples of Pakistan, India and the rest of the world of who the guilty ones are and thereby not only build pressure from all quarters for their indictment; but by doing so also counter false and motivated conspiracy theories of all sorts. Yes, the Pakistan government must in any case be pressured to take action against the JeM given its past history. As it is, Pakistan has also suffered from terrorist attacks against its people and institutions but there are those in the wider governing Establishment who make a hypocritical and self-serving distinction between those agents who are ‘ours’ and others.

  • There is indirect state sponsorship and support for agents who have the autonomy to decide when, where and how terrorist acts are to be carried out; and there is direct state execution of such terrorist across country borders (the greatest and most pernicious of such states being the US which since 1945 has killed more civilians outside its territory than all the rest of the world’s countries put together have done). Sponsorship abets an act of international terrorism even if it is not the embodiment of such an act. But there is still between the two a very important qualitative difference politically and in respect of international law. The latter carried out as it were by the official armed forces of a country is an act of war, declared or undeclared. A non-state actor, even when abetted in preparations by a government, no matter how reprehensible this is, is not an act of war. Which is why, for the Modi government to declare that the attack in Pulwama is just such an act of war is not only wrong but it is politically speaking extremely dangerous since it raises the military-political stakes so much higher. That this government should nevertheless resort to such jingoistic rhetoric raises suspicions that the BJP is planning to use this encounter to generate greater communal tensions for the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections. The aim is to whip up public anger against the people and government of Pakistan on one hand and against the people of Kashmir on the other hand – yet another example of a thinly disguised politics of anti-Muslimness that has always been central to the fascistic ideology and politics of the Sangh Parivar.

  • An attack by the Indian Army across the border against Pakistani soldiers, let alone against civilians, will not be a ‘revenge’ because it will cause injuries and deaths to those who have nothing to do with what has happened in Pulwama. This will only cause widespread anger and bitterness among a Pakistan public about the injustice being done to its soldiers and/or civilians and help rally domestic support for their own government including for those sections which are behind such cross-border assaults, when in fact everything should be done to isolate and undermine these sections within the country. Any hopes of moving towards greater democratization within Pakistan and an end to, or cumulative reduction of, military domination will be seriously undermined by Indian actions that push the Pakistani public to support that military in the name of their own form of belligerent nationalism. All progressives in Pakistan working to democratize that society understand this fully (and much more than progressives in India) realize that progress internally in this regard is directly and intimately connected to greater sobriety, balance and moderation in the ties between the two countries. Religious extremism on both sides, however, feeds on generating greater hatred and hostility between the two countries and peoples.

  • Terrorism always has a specific political context. In this case, as in so many other examples of unwarranted violence by non-state and state actors (including by the Indian government), the context is Kashmir! The fundamental diagnosis is clear. While the Pakistan government since the late 1980s has fished in the ‘troubled waters’ of turbulence and alienation in Kashmir those ‘troubled waters’ have been created by successive Indian governments with the current Central government adding a distinctive anti-Muslim attitude and practice to its involvement in Kashmir. Even in the initial decades from independence to the late 1980s when serious levels of domestic violent activism arose, there has been betrayal after betrayal of the commitments made to respect the state’s autonomy even as the province as suffered more frequently from the imposition of President’s Rule than any other Indian state.

There are over 650,000 troops of all kinds primarily in the Valley making the proportion of armed personnel to civilians the worst in the world when according to New Delhi the number of militants or designated ‘terrorists’ in recent years is not more than a few hundred or so. This huge presence of troops is required primarily to monitor and subdue a general population whose alienation and anger against New Delhi has spreader wider and deeper than ever before. Among Kashmiri Muslims this has been further exacerbated by this government which has justified the firing on stone-pelters, excused the occasional firing on bystanders as well as condoning the generally humiliating treatment of the populace, not to forget the use of pellet guns injuring and maiming hundreds of unarmed demonstrators. Given this reality it is extraordinary that the Indian army is now saying that they will shoot on sight anyone carrying a gun who does not immediately surrender. All this has not lessened the willingness of Kashmiri youth to get training from the all too willing providers like the JeM across the border; or to carry out their own ‘martyrdom’ through suicide bombings to make their personal statement against the injustices done to them.

 The path to reducing and finally eliminating attacks such as in Pulwama does not lie in belligerent posturing or ‘surgical strikes’ across the border let alone in escalating military tensions and actions between the two nuclearly-armed neighbours. It lies above all in addressing the political context of Kashmir and in ensuring justice to all in the province especially in the Valley, be they resident Muslims or Hindu Pandits wanting to live there with peace and amity once again restored. It is not the Indian government’s actions against Pakistan but its behavior in Kashmir that will be decisive for shaping the future. Will alienation there further deepen making it a continuing breeding ground for the cycle of on one side non-state terrorism (aided or otherwise from across the border) and on the other side the state terrorism of the Indian armed forces? Or will we work to end that pernicious cycle altogether?


February 20. 2019.

Appeal for Solidarity from Nicaraguan Activists

Nicaragua

Urgent Communiqué: Nicaraguan government attacks human rights groups, NGOs, media

Wednesday 19 December 2018, by Articulación de Movimientos Sociales,

Alert and Request for International Condemnation: Nicaraguan Government Raids the offices of the principal human rights, non-governmental and media organizations.

The following statement is from the Articulación de Movimientos Sociales, the coalition of social movements in Nicaragua. Alert and Request for International Condemnation: Nicaraguan Government Raids the offices of the principal human rights, non-governmental and media organizations.

Acting as virtual armed bandits and stealing anything valuable in sight, Nicaraguan police this morning raided the office of the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH), the country’s most emblematic human rights organization, along with the offices of seven other civil society organizations: Popol Na, the Segovias Leadership Institute (ILS), Fundación del Rio, the Communication Research Center (CINCO), the Institute for the Promotion of Democracy (IPADE), the Institute for Strategic Studies and Public Policy (IEEPP) and the Center for Health Information and Services (CISAS), where they seized assets including vehicles, cash, personal property and registries. They also sacked the office of one of the country’s main independent news outlets, Confidencial, as well as the offices of Esta Semana, Esta Noche and Onda Local, stealing all computers and television editing equipment, and raided the offices of two other businesses on Confidencial’s premises.

During the raids, paramilitary and uniformed officers, who arrived without warrants or other legal justification, also beat and kidnapped the mothers of political prisoners who were staying at the Popol Na premises. At least three guards at the different facilities were attacked and kidnapped according to the organizations. Confidencial editor Carlos Fernando Chamorro qualified the raid as an attack on freedom of expression, part of the growing harassment that independent media has suffered from the government in recent months. Chamorro also heads CINCO, but the groups offices are in a separate location. Inspecting the premises, Jose Adan Aguerri, of the Private Enterprise Council (COSEP), called the raid an assault on private sector entities. The targeted organizations — including CINCO, but not Confidencial — were among those whose legal standing was removed in the last few days.

Yesterday, the National Assembly cancelled the legal recognition of five groups, bringing the total to nine civil society organizations shut down within two weeks. The cancellations mean that the groups cannot have bank accounts, receive funding, or carry out projects, and that their property is subject to confiscation. Authorities allege the organizations, which include some of the country’s most respected human rights groups, were working to destabilize the government. But local and international human rights groups denounced that the move is aimed at silencing organizations that have reported on widespread and ongoing human rights violations.

These latest acts are part of the systematic violence and intimidation against Nicaraguan civil society which reached a critical level on April 18th of this year. The social, political and economic crisis over the last 8 months includes over 300 people killed, over 2,000 wounded and with over 600 political prisoners. These latest acts also aggravate the "state of exception" in Nicaragua (a country devoid of rule of law, as declared by the head of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission on the situation in Nicaragua) where arbitrary arrests of human rights defenders and people critical of the government continues constantly. In this moment of extreme attacks and intimidation, the Nicaraguan Platform for Social Movements and Civil Society Organizations calls for solidarity from social movements and political and human rights groups worldwide. The Platform also calls upon governments and organizations to denounce such actions and demand that the government account, nationally and internationally, for its criminal behavior.

We make a particularly strong call to organizations and governments that have remained silent until now, choosing instead to not pressure the regime in case it may have a “change of heart”. This strategy has been naïve and harmful. During their silence, the repression has gotten worse by the day and the regime’s legitimacy has been completely lost, with levels of repression that have led civil society to legitimately demand the resignation of the President and Vice-President that are responsible for the attacks.

The voice of those organizations matter, and they must use them to protect human rights. Nicaraguan civil society groups are working tirelessly to stand firm and demand respect for the basic human rights of all Nicaraguans. Yet, the larger international community to which we belong, made up of institutions and people that work against violence and abuse of power, and in favor people’s capacity to live in peace and with basic rights, must speak up now, when we most need them.

We call on these individuals and institutions to show solidarity by denouncing the state’s repression publicly and formally; to protest directly at Nicaraguan consulates and embassies worldwide through calls and visits; to pressure their own governments to formally demand an end to the attacks; and to demand that all international organizations that work in Nicaragua speak out against these abuses, including those members of the UN system with offices in Nicaragua that have remained silent on these issues.

“Only the People can Save the People”—Solo el Pueblo salva al Pueblo”

Nicaraguan Platform for Social Movements and Civil Society Organizations US at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

#AltoalaRepresiónNic #LibertadparaPresosPoliticosNic #JusticiaporlosasesinadosNic #SOSNicaragua

December 15, 2018


From International Viewpoint

Resist the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2018

Statement of Radical Socialist, 23 December 2018

 

Radical Socialist affirms, first of all,

1. Sexuality generally is an important political issue. The oppression faced by Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transgender people (LGBTs), is real.

2. We fight for a combination between the left and working class movement and the Queer movement (also movements of all other oppressed), without calling for the subordination of LGBT movement to any other movements.

3. We believe, though it may not be obvious, that the elimination of oppressions of LGBTs, like any other oppressed groups is necessarily linked with elimination of class society based on private ownership over means of production and the elimination of the exploitative and oppressive state, which can be summarised as elimination of capitalism. The vast majority of transgenders are of the working class. So working class unity necessarily requires struggling against all forms of oppression within this working class; including consciousness by relatively less oppressed layers of workers about special or multiple oppression; while every oppressed section within the working class must also be part of the common collective struggle against class oppression, i.e. against capitalism.

Our stand on the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2018 is based on the struggles of the Transgender community and organisations within it. The long struggles of the Transgender community saw one significant achievement, when the NALSA judgement came. This was a Supreme Court judgement which made acknowledging the self-definition of identity important.

Part of the judgement read:

Gender identity refers to each person’s deeply felt internal and individual experience of gender, which may or may not correspond with the sex assigned at birth, including the personal sense of the body which may involve a freely chosen, modification of bodily appearance or functions by medical, surgical or other means and other expressions of gender, including dress, speech and mannerisms. Gender identity, therefore, refers to an individual’s self-identification as a man, woman, transgender or other identified category.”

The NALSA judgement also ends with a demand from the Supreme Court that the central and the state governments uphold the right of transgender persons to decide their self-identified gender; and pursuant to this, be granted full legal recognition towards the same. This judgement was an important one, in a way too good to be true in a country where patriarchy and homophobia are so deeply entrenched. The parliamentary reaction under the Hindutva forces shows the backlash by the elite to the judgement.

Self-declaration versus regulation by bureaucracy:

 The importance of self-declaration is that it avoids any filter that any kind of legislation is likely to set up. The transgender community is a minority group that has borne a history of incessant discrimination, state sanctioned violence and systemic marginalisation. The inclusion and acceptance of the diversity of experiences under the umbrella of "transgender" can be realised fully only when there is a liberty to each individual to claim their identity and be legally recognised for it. The proposal in the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2018 is to set up a two-tier screening process to determine gender identity. If a Transgender person wants to get legal acknowledgement for the chosen identity, and applies for a “third gender” identity then the District Magistrate will have to be the person to whom application is submitted. A District Screening Committee will look into the application. It will include psychologists, medical officers, etc. Their certification is essential. If the wish is not for a “third gender” identity, but for the “opposite” gender, that is, if it is a cis-man asking for recognition as woman, or the reverse, then they have to get a certification from a committee, along with having Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS) and submitting its evidence to the District Magistrate. This flies in the face of the NALSA judgement which asserted that any insistence for SRS for declaring one’s gender is immoral and illegal.

Anti Transgender Features of the Bill:

 The Bill also criminalizes begging by making it an offense. Given the long history of the Hijras, the inclusion of this clause in this particular bill has to be seen as something pointed against them. In a country where so many are jobless, where begging in general is so widespread in all the big cities, to target begging in a bill devoted to Transgender Persons is so palpably a hostile act, that not just socialists and members of the LGBT+ community, but anyone claiming to be a democrat, has to oppose this.

The bill provides for a lower punishment for sexual violence against transgender persons (maximum two years) as opposed to the law punishing sexual violence against cis-women, which is up to seven years.

The bill treats transgender persons not as equal humans, empowered subjects, but as victims who require protection.

The bill attempts to compel transgender persons to return to the families in which they were born. The real situation is, in many cases they have left those families because of patriarchal and anti-trans oppression/violence. Thus, the bill effectively ignores domestic violence when the violence is directed against transgender persons.

The bill ignores the Supreme Court suggestion that transgenders be seen as a Backward Class/Community and reservations be made for them.

Under the circumstances, we condemn the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2018.

We demand:                                                      

 

  • ·         A Law that follows the NALSA verdict

    ·          A law that is made in consultation with wide sections of transgender organisations across India

    ·         Reservation for Transgender persons in accordance with the NALSA verdict

    ·          An end to the criminalization of the profession of Hijras

    ·          A recognition of the alternative family/social networking of the transgender people which they have chosen, instead of forcing them to return to their families of birth.

 

 

We urge all transgender and other queer activists to recognise the necessity of unity of all sectors of the oppressed and exploited. This should not be seen as a rhetorical remark. Specific demands, such as the call for reservation, while perfectly just, will be used by the elite to divide the poor, as they already do. Unless the necessary links between different segments of the exploited and oppressed are worked out and organisational links forged, each struggle will remain isolated, and be easier to defeat. We may mobilise, and win some legal victories, but neither the law on minimum wages nor the law on self-identification will mean anything unless we have the united force to snatch from the rulers what we need.

 

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