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Myanmar’s Parallel Govt’s Rohingya Policy Angers Rakhine Groups

 

From ESSF

By

The Irrawaddy

 

Rakhine communities say Myanmar’s shadow civilian National Unity Government’s (NUG) policy on Rohingya does not represent Rakhine people.

The NUG, formed by elected lawmakers in mid-April to rival the military regime, on June 3 said it will replace the 1982 Citizenship Law with legislation offering the Muslim community citizenship and scrap the National Verification Cards that identify the Rohingya as foreigners.

The Muslims in Rakhine State identify as Rohingya but are labeled ‘Bengali’ by many to imply they are illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh. They are denied citizenship and freedom of movement by the authorities.

The All Arakanese Solidarity Committee (AASC), a Rakhine State-based network of civil society organizations, community leaders and politicians, and the Arakan Liberation Party (ALP) have released statements in opposition to the NUG’s Rohingya policy.

ALP spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Khaing Kyaw Hlaing said: “Everyone knows the Bengali issue is sensitive in the country. The NUG was only formed recently and our party says a nascent government should not be making these decisions without consulting Rakhine revolutionary groups, stakeholders and civil society organizations.”

The ALP signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement in October 2015 under U Thein Sein’s administration.

The NUG’s move will complicate the issue while the state is starting to see stability after two years of fighting, the group said. The issue should not be used by any party or government, said the ALP.

The AASC said the NUG’s policy will be unpopular with the Rakhine population and risk disrupting peace and stability.

The statement says the Rakhine people accept the rights of an ethnic group to choose its name freely. But it said the choice of name is intended to distort the history and identity of indigenous ethnic groups and could impact on Rakhine territory, politics and society, directly threatening the future of the Rakhine community and other ethnic minorities in the state.

It is a politically motivated move to seek international recognition and assistance, said the AASC.

The AASC declined to comment to The Irrawaddy.

Coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing told Chinese-language Phoenix TV in May: “There are no Rohingya. It is just an imaginary name. It is not an officially recognized ethnicity. We don’t recognize it.”

While some Rakhine politicians and people have shown sympathy for the Rohingya, who have been persecuted by Myanmar’s military, and agree that they should have fundamental rights, many oppose their official recognition as an ethnic group called “Rohingya”.

Some Rakhine communities fear being swallowed up by the Muslim community as a result of Rohingya recognition as an indigenous ethnic group.

Britain-based Myanmar Rohingya Association chairman U Tun Khin said: “I think Rakhine brothers have a little misunderstanding. We would like to hold talks with our Rakhine brothers as well as the NUG. This problem can be solved through negotiations between the NUG, Rakhine and Rohingya. I think Rakhine people will understand when the time comes.”

The Arakan Army (AA), which has considerable influence in the state, has declined to comment on the NUG’s policy.

In 2019, AA chief Major General Tun Myat Naing told The Irrawaddy that Rakhine people needed to get along with the Muslim community if Rakhine State was to achieve stability and development.

Communal strife broke out between Rakhine Buddhist and Muslim communities in 2012.

After the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army allegedly launched attacks on Myanmar’s security forces on Aug. 25, 2017, the military led a crackdown consisting of “clearance operations” that pushed more than 740,000 Rohingya Muslims into neighboring Bangladesh.

The international community has called the military’s treatment of the Rohingya genocide.

When in 2019 the Gambia filed a genocide case against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice, the United Nation’s highest court, State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi defended Myanmar’s military against genocide allegations.

Why trans liberation means abolishing capitalism :Transgender Marxism

Robin Craig
Jules Joanne Gleeson
Elle O’Rourke

 

Writer and historian Jules Joanne Gleeson and political economist and gender theorist Elle O’Rourke discuss their new co-edited book, which explores trans lives and movements through a Marxist lens.

Trans rights are at a crisis point. In the last year alone, we have seen threats to the healthcare of trans minors in the UK, the introduction of a discriminatory bill in Tennessee that aims to prevent transgender people from using restrooms aligning with their gender identity, and the repeal of legal recognition for trans and intersex people in Hungary.

Amid this, Transgender Marxism (Pluto Press) responds to the current global crises facing trans lives and rights with a radical collection of ‘transmarxist’ essays that analyse trans survival under capitalism. Featuring writing by a mixture of trans academics, activists, and survivors, the collection charts the relationship between transness and class struggle, including how trans people survive hostile workplaces, state violence, inaccessible healthcare, and the nuclear family.

Huck spoke to the book’s editors, Jules Joanne Gleeson and Elle O’Rourke, about the role of trans people in revolutionary organising, the value of publishing trans theory in a mass-marketed book, and the importance of trans Marxism in challenging the rise of the far-right.

In the book, you say that transgender people are unexpectedly prominent in revolutionary organising and subversive circles. Why do you think transgender people are often at the forefront of political organising?

Gleeson: The simple answer is that trans people are often exposed to the worst of the world. Many of us face down long-term unemployment, and the industries we are well known for working within are also notoriously resistant to labour organising. But it’s not quite as simple as ‘trans people are often impoverished proles and therefore against class society’ (true as that is!). Beyond the typical drain of exploitation, trans people have a specific experience of capitalism.

Our experiences of transition often force us to confront the ways that much of what gets presented to us as ‘natural’ and inevitable are actually flexible and can shift more than people realise. We’re only a century or so into informed human investigations into the endocrine system (i.e. the body’s constant regulation of itself with hormones). Trans people today enjoy the fruits of that discovery in ways that threaten a wider expected order of sexed bodies. It’s an order that is now having to justify itself, at our expense.

O’Rourke: It would be facile, and wrong, to attempt to construct some revolutionary potential out of transition as such. But transition is a deeply personal and intimate practice, one that often requires a significant rupture with much that came before, because it touches nearly every single aspect of social life. You have to come towards a new orientation with yourself, your family, your doctors, your school, your employers, and with the state.

Even those [trans people] whose class background affords them an easier time than most can find a life plan quickly thrown off course. This can often bring with it a renewed and distinct understanding of social exploitation, a keener appreciation for the politics of bodily autonomy, and a desire to commune with those who also wish to change it. As Kate Doyle Griffiths put it: “The left is not only unusually ‘tolerant’ of queers and trans people: it also consists of us.”

Do you think transness has historically been seen as incompatible with Marxism?

Gleeson: That viewpoint still exists today, but I find it very boring. A lot of what we wanted to achieve with this book was helping our movements shift out of contrasting ‘material conditions’ and ‘identity politics’. There’s already a lot of Marxist thinking helping us get out of that dead-end: from the last few years, Asad Haider’s Mistaken Identity and Ashley Bohrer’s Marxism & Intersectionality spring to mind. Our collection shows how this same point holds for trans people: whatever we identify as is forged by class society, while often leading us into struggles that are as much about resisting exploitation as anything else.

O’Rourke: The relationship between Marxism and trans issues has often been not so much an ‘unhappy marriage’ but a yawning gulf of indifference. But arguments that wish to cast Marxism as fundamentally incompatible with certain ‘social issues’ (gender, race, sexuality, anti-imperialism and the struggle for decolonisation) would have to dissolve an apparent contradiction: that Marxism is, by far, the most well-travelled social theory of the 20th century, bar none.

Marx has been read by people of all social positions, circumstances, national origins and contexts over the past two hundred years as generations of radicals have, time and again, turned to Marxism and found not just a means of understanding their conditions, but – with a certain amount of creative adaptation – a means to change them. If others see an indissoluble incompatibility, so much worse for them.

You write that global far-right regimes such as United Russia, Hungary’s Fidesz, and Brazil’s Social Liberal Party have used transness as a symbol of cultural decline. Is the fight for transgender liberation an international one?

O’Rourke: Through and through. And it’s one forged not just through affectionate sentiments of fellow feeling, but real networks of affinity, intimacy and solidarity. It’s common for trans people to have friends, lovers and comrades all around that world, and at one point or another for us to mobilise to help them access medication, keep them in their homes or find them a place of safety.

Trans women, in particular, are often mobilised as figures of cultural decline for the far-right because they serve as this ideal symptom of social change more broadly. The idea that gender is being challenged in how it is lived, embodied, and experienced is a real source of political anxiety about the breakdown of ‘traditional’ (real or imagined) thresholds of exploitation. The impression that these thresholds are increasingly difficult to verify, or are being directly challenged, or are not being enforced hard enough, have resulted in a call to arms for their violent re-imposition.

Gleeson: It’s important to remember that trans people aren’t only a ‘folk devil’ used by the right as a scapegoat for national decline. We’re also heavily involved in the efforts to reverse the victories of these movements, worldwide. Virginia Guitzel’s essay ‘Notes from Brazil’ in Transgender Marxism provides an overview both of the offensive against trans people instigated by Jair Bolsanaro and the ongoing struggle to defeat his agenda.

Why do you think it’s important to publish transgender theory in a mass-marketed book?

Gleeson: Usually, trans thinking appears in ephemeral forms: social media statuses, zines, conversations in social centres or movement meeting, and other spaces that are often limited in audience (for safety as much as anything else). These mediums are prone to dissolving across time: sometimes they are even designed to. We don’t expect this to change, but with Transgender Marxism, we aimed to provide a more lasting and accessible testament to the theoretical breakthrough trans people are achieving. The collection makes these insights available to a mass audience for the first time and hopefully will give trans revolutionaries something to draw from in years to come.

O’Rourke: The fact that we were able to publish this book at all reflects the social impact of the increasingly more confident and self-assertive trans-feminist politics that has developed in recent years. No longer are trans issues marginalised to the hackneyed biography, the lurid talk-show spectacle, the small BBS board on hidden corners of the internet.

Trans people are not just addressing a cis-gender audience who presumably know nothing about trans people, who have never met a transgender person, or do not know that they have ever met a trans person. We have so much more to say and a broader constituency who wants to hear it. We can have different conversations from the ones we’re used to being forced into having. So let’s have them, on our own terms.

You write about the UK’s Gender Identity Clinics (GICs) as spaces where access to hormone therapy is gatekept by usually cisgender practitioners. As of May 2021, Charing Cross GIC is only just seeing people referred in October 2017. Do you think healthcare access is a central fight for transgender liberation?

Gleeson: Fewer and fewer trans people find the medical treatment on offer timely or reliable. Even prior to Covid, Britain’s healthcare provision was in a state of obvious meltdown with inhumane waiting lists followed by shoddy treatment sticking strictly to outdated best practices. The clinic’s function has been to break our spirit and deny us dignity. Meanwhile, trans people from all kinds of backgrounds have been building up our own approaches, increasingly allowing us to circumvent the delays and indignities of state provision. Until we’ve rid ourselves of the clinic system, with all its systematic incompetence and routine pathologisation, trans people [will be forced to] come up with their own answers.

O’Rourke: Let’s be blunt here: the relationship between you and your doctor is an inherently antagonistic one. Doctors can deny you the healthcare you need based on personal whim, ignorance, or socially validated prejudice. And when they exercise that power prejudicially it’s you – not them – that suffer the consequences.

This is not a fight unique to trans people, and it’s often those who need care the most that suffer the system’s starkest injustices. But healthcare is a central demand of the fight for trans liberation because adequate care is so often the precondition for so many other things you want to do in life.

Bodily autonomy is a fundamental right that we should all have the opportunity to exercise as we so wish. Pathologising the small minority who undergo medical transition constrains the gender freedom and dignity of all.

Transgender Marxism discusses not only the violence trans people are frequently subject to, but also the various joys of transition, including transgender art, sex, and community. Was it important to you to include discussions of transgender life beyond suffering?

Gleeson: We don’t want to reduce ourselves to listing and illustrating the sufferings and trauma that transitioning brings down on our heads. While the conditions we face are often terrible, we have to keep in view the tremendous efforts we’ve taken – both personally and collectively – to overcome deprivation and everyday harms. Our survival is an ongoing process, and the ingenious ways we’ve navigated and challenged class societies are worth celebrating and learning from collectively.

O’Rourke: The pitiable transsexual – doomed to a fate which no one would choose to suffer of their own accord – is a genre unto itself. But no community that has suffered social oppression has defined itself through that suffering exclusively. Nor should they be expected to. There’s something deeply potent about finding joy, love, expression and community in defiance of a wider society that greets you with, at best, bemusement and, at worst, eliminationist intent. It’s a way of pushing back against a world that was fundamentally not made for you and carries with it a hope that it one day might be.

Vaccination as Class Struggle

 

Ekabali Ghosh

This is a guest post by a socialist and feminist militant on an important topic. How from early 2020 the Government f India has been treating vaccination as it has treated everything-- for the benefits of monopoly capital, and for the political gains of the BJP. -- Administrator, Radical Socialist website

Vaccines for COVID-19 were supposed to be a lifeline for people around the world, particularly in the Global South. However, as 2021 has revealed so far, their roll out has not been determined by legitimate healthcare needs but dictated by the insidious logic of capitalism. The Indian government in its move to liberalize the vaccine market, has only legitimized this business.

India’s vaccine campaign has been perhaps the worst the country has ever seen. The public vaccination system of India, which boasts polio and multiple other effective vaccination programmes for children, has been brought to a staggering failure only the Modi government is capable of. Although other local governments (especially the ones run by opposition parties) have attempted slightly better vaccination campaigns than the centre, they have essentially had to kowtow to capitalists and pander to liberalization in order to get a few lakh doses.

Amid the devastating second wave of COVID-19, getting a vaccine in India has proven to be a function of social and economic privilege. And this should not come as a surprise. The Indian government never planned to vaccinate everyone for free, knowing fully well that leaving a large section of the population to pay for the vaccines would result in the creation of a huge market which could then be exploited by large pharmaceutical companies to sell more doses at higher prices.

As early as December 2020, Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan announced that the government of India had never claimed that it will vaccinate the entire country.  https://www.firstpost.com/health/covid-19-health-minister-says-indian-govt-never-said-it-will-vaccinate-the-entire-country-9075171.html . In January, NITI AAYOG member Dr. Vinod Paul declared that the government would vaccinate only about 300 million people for free.  https://www.freepressjournal.in/india/govt-will-bear-cost-of-vaccinating-30-crore-individuals-not-the-entire-population-covid-19-task-force-head-dr-vinod-paul.  Harsh Vardhan, the union minister for Health and Family Welfare, said the same thing the day after (Jan 2) but framed it as vaccines will be free across the whole country, all 30 crore doses (https://www.deccanherald.com/national/covid-19-vaccine-will-be-free-across-india-union-health-minister-harsh-vardhan-934303.html) This claim was widely misreported by mainstream media as Indians will be getting free vaccines across the country (paraphrased). Such claims by the media are a result of the corporate media’s own complicity with the fascist central government as well as its own desperate desire to create clickbait headlines. Further, in March when quizzed on the failure of the government’s vaccination policy, the union health minister again claimed that the central government had never promised free vaccination to all Indians.

No. The central government did not. But the BJP, which runs the central government, did.

During the elections in Bengal, the BJP promised that if elected they would provide free vaccines to all in West Bengal. https://www.indiatoday.in/elections/west-bengal-assembly-polls-2021/story/bjp-says-covid19-vaccine-will-be-free-for-all-in-bengal-1794249-2021-04-23 . This came after the liberalization of vaccination policy. BJP’s campaign promises in Bengal and Bihar regarding vaccines show that the central government never considered it as a healthcare right but as both a carrot and a stick that could be used as to lure and to discipline people during a hot election season.

Under its liberalized vaccine policy which came into effect from April 21 (https://www.mohfw.gov.in/pdf/LiberalisedPricingandAcceleratedNationalCovid19VaccinationStrategy2042021.pdf), the centre in association with the multi-billion dollar vaccine businesses in India (Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech) has decided that the central government will no longer be supplying vaccines to state governments and private hospitals. Rather, state governments have to buy their doses directly from the manufacturers at a price higher than what the centre pays for the same. The repercussions of such a decision are massive. State governments are now forced to practically bid against each other in the middle of an acute crisis where people are dying by the minute, in order to get more vaccine doses for their states. Private vaccination centres buy doses from the manufacturers at a higher price than state governments but can sell vaccines at their own prices. There is no cap to vaccine pricing. There is a rush to get vaccinated in these centres among the upper and middle classes. Private vaccination centres are charging whatever they can from this populace which can afford to pay thereby increasing the gap between the rich who have been vaccinated and the poor who have not. SII is charging 300 INR per dose of Covishield (originally 400 INR which was reduced under criticism https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/serum-institute-of-india-cuts-covishield-vaccine-price-for-states-to-300-per-dose/article34431403.ece ) and Bharat Biotech is charging 600 INR to state governments. Compare that to what the central government is paying, which is 150 INR per dose to each company. Private facilities are buying Covishield at 600 INR from SII, and Covaxin at 1200 INR from Bharat Biotech. Since these private facilities can sell the vaccines at whatever price they like, Covishield prices in a private facility in West Bengal range from 750 INR to 1100 INR. Covaxin can be bought at 1500 INR at specific hospitals.

This, despite the fact that Covaxin (the great nationalist boast of the BJP, completely “made in India”) is yet to publish its Phase III data in any peer reviewed international journal. All of Bharat Biotech’s claims of close to 80% efficacy are at this point just that, claims made by the developers of the vaccine. Similarly, Zydus Cadila, another large pharmaceutical company is expected to seek Emergency Use Authorization for its Zy-Cov-D vaccine, from the Drugs Controller General of India in late May or early June. The company is yet to release data from its phase 1 and 2 trials which include the crucial safety data. These are the vaccine candidates which are being celebrated as a triumph of Indian science. The much-touted benefit of liberalizing vaccine policy is that the country can now import foreign vaccines like those of Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson. Yet, it was not unexpected that after the Indian government’s early snub to Pfizer (https://science.thewire.in/health/pfizer-withdraws-application-for-emergency-use-of-its-covid-19-shots-in-india/) and its lack of storage facilities, it would be next to impossible to import Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in time to turn the tide of the current wave. What then, was this government aiming at? My hypothesis is that the foreign vaccine line was used by the central government to open up a market that ultimately benefitted SII and Bharat Biotech, at a crucial point in time (rising cases fast approaching the peak) where little criticism was possible. This open market would then serve not just the two largest COVID vaccine makers in India right now but also many other big pharma companies that would enter the market later. Currently, the Indian government is at loggerheads with Pfizer over signing an indemnity bond which if signed by the Indian government would protect Pfizer from being sued in case of damages (say, someone dies after taking the vaccine) https://science.thewire.in/health/india-pfizer-impasse-covid-19-vaccine-indemnity-demand/  Given India’s lack of infrastructure and cold storage facilities, it is not surprising that Pfizer wants to push for the indemnity bond. Ultimately, the Indian government will probably have to give in to their demands. https://theprint.in/health/modi-govt-wants-more-covid-vaccines-but-moderna-is-not-keen-pfizer-has-this-condition/640139/

In comparison to the central government and despite the barriers placed on their way, the opposition ruled state governments have done slightly better at vaccination campaigns. But that is only because the bar for good performance has been set drastically low by the centre. As it became clear that India was headed for a disaster, queues of people waiting for their second doses in front of government vaccination centres increased in West Bengal all through late April and early May. People queued up from the middle of the night, foregoing their sleep. In certain parts of the state, a new profession of “line keepers” developed. These are persons you can pay to “keep” your line (or hold your position in a queue) all night in return for a few hundred rupees. Those who can afford this amount can take their overnight rest. Others have to stay in queue all night or from the wee hours of the morning in order to get a jab. As the demand for second doses grew, the central government set the gap between the first and second dose of Covishield to 12-16 weeks. While there is some scientific evidence that a 12-week (https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(21)00528-6/fulltext) gap between two doses of the Oxford-Astrazeneca vaccine does increase efficacy, there is absolutely no literature to support a 16 week gap. This has been done by the central government purely because the country was facing an acute shortage of the vaccine.

One of the reasons why the vaccine hub of the Global South suddenly has to grapple with vaccine shortages is due to India’s featherbrained policy of vaccine diplomacy. India’s Ministry of External Affairs was wooing imports from other countries for months before the second wave struck. This was done under India’s Vaccine Maitreyee initiative, created to counter China’s vaccine diplomacy which resulted in the export of some 660 million vaccine doses to other countries. Admittedly, a chunk of this was given to GAVI’s COVAX initiative. While we do not support the hoarding of vaccines by powerful nations (and India is relatively powerful compared to much of the Global South), there are some long- term implications of India’s unplanned vaccine exports. Exports should have been more planned so that if cases rose, no export ban would have to be put in place. The sudden ban on exports from India has harmed poorer nations the most, particularly those in Africa which are completely dependent on SII for their vaccines. Moreover, a large chunk of the total number of doses exported was supplied to the UK https://www.mea.gov.in/vaccine-supply.htm which SII was required to do under contract with AstraZeneca (https://thewire.in/business/serum-instititue-seeks-centres-nod-to-send-50-lakh-covishield-doses-to-the-uk) . Due to delays caused by rising cases in India and the ban, the UK alleged that its vaccination programme had been thrown off course by India. UK, which had vaccinated 50% of its adult population demanded more vaccines from India which had vaccinated only 3% of its population and was facing a deadly wave. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/apr/02/india-in-charge-of-developing-world-covid-vaccine-supply-unsustainable  The Global North-South dynamics at play here and its collaboration with capital (especially the demands placed by AstraZeneca and its contract with SII) cannot be ignored. Take for example a concerning report from Uganda in early February according to which Uganda was paying 7$ per dose of the Oxford AstraZeneca dose to SII, as opposed to 2.06$ paid by the Indian central government to SII and 2.16$ paid by EU for the same vaccine doses to its manufacturers in the first world. Countries with lower populations are reportedly paying higher prices because they do not need to place bigger orders. This is essentially an incentive to make smaller nations place orders for more doses to one manufacturer, which increases market risks of monopoly and only makes manufacturers grow larger at the cost of ethical healthcare.

Advanced capitalist nations of the Global North and its collaborationists (including fascists) in the Global South have used a cocktail of patents and nationalist priority etc. to keep vaccines out of the hands of the poorest nations (Canada booked vaccines four times the size of its population. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-12-07/canada-has-reserved-more-vaccine-doses-per-person-than-anywhere). Poorer nations of the Global South cannot manufacture their own doses as vaccines are patented products. Here is an example that demonstrates how completely lacking in ethics these big pharma companies are. Pfizer and Moderna have not even committed to not making profits from their vaccines during the pandemic. AstraZeneca has committed to not making profits during the pandemic but reserves the right to call the end of the pandemic so that it can start making profits. Why should AstraZeneca decide when the pandemic ends? If its vaccines are still needed long enough to make profits, then how is that the end of the pandemic?

While these structural inequalities are not always palpable, several other local developments tell a clearer story about the inequalities of access inherent in a privatized vaccine distribution policy.

As the liberalized vaccine drive for 18-44 olds (the only viable vaccine option for this age group, by the way) was opened up from May 1 (oh the irony!), tech savvy young people developed newer ways to cheat the online system. Extreme scarcity led to greater demand and software codes were made public by coders which could be run on Arogya Setu (one of the apps meant for booking a slot for a dose). Running these codes require tertiary level digital knowledge which the vast majority of Indians do not have. Until very recently, an online registration was a compulsory for vaccination in India. https://indianexpress.com/article/india/policy-must-change-as-per-ground-situation-sc-on-mandatory-cowin-registration-for-covid-19-vaccine-7337921/ which pushed many million people out of the rush for vaccines. The reason provided by the central government is that it will reduce “crowding”. Private vaccination centres are still charging close to 1000 thousand for one shot of Covishield (the Oxford AstraZeneca jab) and 1500 INR for Covaxin (the “Indian” vaccine). The injustice in this becomes clearer when we note that the Indian government has already provided both Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech with significant assistance during clinical trials,  according to its own admission in the Supreme Court (https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/no-financial-aid-given-to-sii-bharat-biotech-govt-in-sc/articleshow/82539319.cms)  (https://scroll.in/article/993257/why-its-vital-for-indians-to-know-who-owns-intellectual-property-rights-to-bharat-biotechs-covaxin).

These are not unrelated incidents but rather the fallout of a vaccination strategy that prioritizes profit over public health which is only part of a larger system of broken public healthcare in India (understaffed, poorly equipped government hospitals, lack of ambulances etc.). Take for example the prices and “packages” offered by private hospitals to treat COVID 19 patients. Some people have reported paying as high as 4 million INR for a hospital stay of two weeks at private hospitals. More recently, a trend emerged where five star hotels were providing vaccine stays at package rates. Packages include doses of a vaccine, luxury stays and meals etc. Although warnings against such practices have been issued, the existence of such business schemes speak to how far privatization has been allowed unchecked in the country.

On a local scale, the West Bengal government has very recently, during the development of this article, started vaccinating 18-44 year olds in a limited capacity for free. But anecdotal reports of local TMC lumpen withholding information on the same so that they and their families can receive a dose first is concerning. Access to doses is guided by privilege and connections, not by need and rights.

Let us not for a moment pretend that COVID-19 has not been a disaster of neoliberal and privatization and the underfunding of public health. More concerning is perhaps the theory that pandemics are connected to deforestation and the increased contact between unusual animal species and human beings (https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-02341-1). As capitalism enables more climate change and deforestation, pandemics are going to become a regular feature in our lives. Underfunded public healthcare systems will only make sure that they are manhandled and reap increasing death tolls. The only way out is sustained international action from socialists and leftists of all hues coming together to push for free healthcare for all, medicines and vaccines without patents, and against climate change. The last should not include mealy mouthed calls to watch individual action (which we should be taking anyway) but has to be a clarion cry against governments and companies that contribute the most to pollution, deforestation and climate change. To prevent further climate change and pandemic mortality, we need structural change that only international socialist collaborations can provide.

Just when the world needed a strong socialist response to a pandemic that has killed millions, we have had to deal with the most horrific of neoliberal policies sold to us as innovation and efficiency. Instead of a people’s vaccine which many in shades of the left have already called for (which gives me hope), we have been served arch capitalism. The world does not need vaccine princes, it needs an angry mass of people with a strong will to demolish capitalism.  

Radical Socialist on CBI raid, Narada Case

Let there be Proper Inquiry for the Narada Case, but Resist the Conspiracy of the BJP, the Central Government, the CBI and Governor Dhankhar

Radical Socialist 17 May 2021

The Narada Sting operation was carried out in 2014. Its tape came into the public domain

shortly before the 2016 elections. Those tapes certainly showed that bigwigs including Mukul

Roy, Suvendu Adhikary, Saugata Ray, Shankudev Panda, Madan Mitra, Firhad Hakim, Sovan

Chattopadhyay and a few others were willing to provide ‘assistance’ in exchange for money,

or showed interest in getting special help, etc. The case began from 2017. So there is little

connection between the actual legal process and selective arrests of Firhad Hakim, Subrata

Mukherjee, Madan Mitra and Sovan Chattopadhyay on 17 May 2021.

1) None of those who have gone over to the BJP have been arrested.

2) The arrests were carried out using a special trick. Taking advantage of the Assembly

apparently not having sat, it was argued that the governor is the lawful authority, and his

signature was obtained. Even a child will understand that this is nothing but a conspiracy by

the BJP cum the Central Government.

These arrests at this particular juncture showed that in the guise of pursuing a case, the CBI is

acting in an utterly biased pawn in the hands of the Central Government and the BJP. The BJP

had attempted to raise a storm in West Bengal, had spent nobody knows how many tens of

millions of rupees, had turned the Election Commission itself into another player for its side,

and yet had failed to win the elections. Rather, compared to 2019, the result has been

considerably poorer. Yet this time, during the elections, Modi and Amit Shah had attempted to

directly take on Mamata Banerjee in a US Presidential election style one on one contest. So

the defeat came as a big blow to them.

So the issue is not, whether there had been corruption or not. The corruption had been shown

directly in the sting videos. Had the CBI truly felt the necessity of arresting, they could have

demanded the arrest of all the accused a long time back, and all together. Moreover, it is

worth noting that because a number of MPs were implicated, the matter had gone to the

Parliamentary Privilege Committee, which met only once, and proceeded no further after

Mukul Roy changed from TMC to BJP.

The tactics used to arrest the four was also deadly. The post of the governor was used, a gap

of a few days found, so that the arrests could be carried out. Clearly, the decision was taken to

destabilize the incoming TMC government after the BJP was badly trounced.

We are opposed to the Trinamul Congress. But those who think that in the current situation

the CBI, the BJP, the Central Government and the Governor Dhankar have not conspired

together to commit a terrible crime, are at best being willfully blind. Those who have been

arrested were not trying to flee with a foreign visa. And people with far worse criminal

accusations, or even convicted by lower courts, are moving around, thumping their chests,

provided they are in the BJP. 

The law will of course take its own course. But the arrests at this juncture did not flow from any

legal necessity. Rather, a central government and the ruling party, that in alliance with the

Election Commission, tried to win the West Bengal elections and in the process acted as a

superspreader by setting up an eight phase election, a central government that has abandoned all

public responsibility and has handed over duties to provincial governments yet has not even

released the money owed to states for Goods and Services Tax, a BJP which in power in various

provinces has arrested people for seeking oxygen, for seeking vaccines, they are clearly trying to

use the pandemic for their own narrow gains. Evidently they think that if the pandemic spreads in

West Bengal, the state government will be discredited, and they will be benefitted. Finally, it must

also be understood that this is exactly how the post of the Governor has been used in Kashmir and

in Delhi to enhance the powers of the centre. So this struggle is necessary to resist fascism. 
 
In this situation we feel:

• The BJP is taking two different stances in parliament and in the province (through the

Governor). This is a straight political fraud and has no connection with halting corruption.

• Governor Dhankar is following in the footsteps of predecessors like Dhawan, S.S. Ray,

acting like a stooge of the centre, and this shows why the post of governor itself must be

abolished.

• Right now, the main task is to prevent spread of the pandemic. The BJP has never performed

that task. But they are also unable to accept the flat rejection given to them by the people of

West Bengal. Hence we must be alert and active against the BJP.

• But that does not mean supporting the Trinamul Congress. We must move out of the binary

created by the BJP since 2013—the binary saying either corruption or BJP (which actually

means communal violence plus super corruption). We must tell Chief Minister Mamata

Bandyopadhyay directly, unitedly, that just because her party has won the elections does not

mean that people accused of corruption, with video evidence shown widely, should get a clean

chit. By keeping them in high posts, and meanwhile harassing all kinds of militant protestors

in this province, she has shown that she too is a right wing, albeit regional ruler, a patron of

corruption. So we must fight against the BJP and all its weapons, for democratic rights, for the

federal character of the country and for the preservation of human lives in the pandemic, but

keeping fully our independence from the TMC.

Resist the Ethnic Cleansing of Palestinians! Oppose Zionism in the Streets! Fight for B-D-S

 

(Statement of Radical Socialist, 13 May 2021)

 

Radical Socialist holds that the very existence of Israel is the existence of a colonial-settler state. The centuries of violence on Jews was carried out, not by Arabs, not by Muslims, but first by the Romans, then by Christian Europeans. Within that, the UN in 1948 had given only a small area. Over the decades, a continuously aggressive Israel has expanded, has occupied territories originally identified for Palestinians. The Naqba has been a never ending process of ethnic cleansing. Protected by US imperialism, in the initial phases by the Soviet bureaucracy, and also by the military power it has built up, Israel has waged a permanent war on the Palestinians.

The current conflict must be viewed from that broader perspective. It is not a conflict between two more or less equal sides. It is not a case where Hamas is to be held as responsible, or even almost as responsible, as Israel. It is Israel that is fully responsible for the renewed bid at ethnic cleansing by pushing Palestinians out of East Jerusalem and elsewhere. With an ultra-right figure like Netanyahu, the failure to form a stable government after the last elections was adequate reason to stoke Zionist sentiments further.

Settler violence is as old as Israel and acts as an imminent threat to Palestinians on a daily basis, rooted in European settler entitlement to Palestinian land. In fact, during the Naqba, the original mass expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians to create room for the Jewish state, was done not just by the Zionist armed forces, but by settlers who promptly replaced the native population, building homes on the ruins of the exiled and protected by the developing Zionist regime and the British government before them.

Currently, there are at least 600,000 Israeli settlers living in illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian West Bank as well as East Jerusalem in direct contravention with international law. Many reports have documented that army or police personnel protect and assist settlers in their attacks against Palestinians. Many Palestinians, including children at play, have been arrested and imprisoned by Israeli forces in order to meet the needs of those residing in these illegal outposts.

Israel has consistently treated Palestinians as less than human. Israel is one of the highest in terms of per capita administered vaccines. As of April, more than half of Israel's population were vaccinated, as opposed to less than a percent of Palestinians vaccinated. Even here, they only vaccinated those Palestinians who were working in the West Bank. No one from Gaza has been vaccinated. This is simply the extension of the racist treatment that Israelis have extended to Palestinians for decades, so much so that even the Human Rights Watch have officially designated the Israeli state an apartheid in a recent report in April 2021. 

It was in this context that Palestinians of East Jerusalem mobilised in the past few days. They were defending their right to live in their own homes, from which the Zionists are trying to evict them. Since Monday, 10 May, the Israeli army has also been carrying out a violent bombing campaign against the Gaza Strip, where demonstrations in solidarity with the Palestinians of Jerusalem have multiplied, as in the rest of the occupied territories, killing – at the time of writing – at least 25 people, including children. In Jerusalem, hundreds of Palestinians have been injured and dozens imprisoned.

The Government of India has been in close alliance with the Zionists for a long period. Indian repressive institutions have had assistance from their Israeli counterparts. So it is hardly surprising that official India, the movers of the Hindutva project, will find in the Zionists their alter egos. The people of India have a long tradition of extending solidarity with victims of oppression, colonial exploitation, imperialist invasion, and the like. Even in colonial India, strong voices had been raised in support of Republican Spain against Franco; in support of the Chinese people against Japanese invasion; and soon after independence student youth had expressed solidarity with Vietnam when Indian ports were used to transfer troops. This continued for decades. Palestine solidarity has not been a novel thing. It is in continuation of those struggles, that we call for active forms of protests, forms of solidarity with the Palestinians facing a war of extermination.

Resistance, (and not any talk of negotiation, which means once more urging Palestinians to give up yet more land, to submit to yet more brutalities), is the only forward road. Today, the global media is raising an outcry, supposedly because the Palestinians have committed some violence, actually because the worldwide resistance has compelled the Zionists to momentarily pull back. They will return soon, unless international solidarity is more persistent, more consistent, and more militant.

·         Justice in Palestine can only come when the civil and military occupation is ended, and when Palestinians get self-determination.

·         End all support to Israeli state.

·         Make the Zionist state accountable for all its crimes.

·         To that end fight for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions over Israel.

#FreePalestine

#FromTheRiverToTheSea  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

India: The myth of Congress socialism

This is an article that is being reproduced from ESSF, a wesbite presenting diverse views from the left across the world, because of the topicality of the issue. Many even on the left are looking back to the Nehru Era as a kind of socialistic endeavour. We publish this essay, not as a standpoint of Radical Socialist, but to highlight the bourgeois nature of the Congress throughout independent India-- Administator]

Why Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi were never really on the Left to begin with.

Were India’s early postcolonial leaders socialists? Yes, undeniably, goes the common reflex, both on the Left and Right. To most conservatives, following the economist Jagdish Bhagwati, it took a new generation weaned off older statist shibboleths – thanks to a balance of payments crisis in the early 1990s – for India to unfetter itself from the shackles of Congress socialism. To most left-liberals, on the other hand, Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi’s years in office – 1947-64; 1966-77 and 1980-84 – were a golden age of welfarism, a world removed from the neoliberal depredations of our time. As it happens, both views rest on a flawed premise. For both exaggerate the differences between early and late postcolonial India.

Indeed, a closer look reveals that continuities count for more than differences. Nehru and Gandhi may have been self-professed socialists, and their successors their equally self-styled critics. But for all that, their styles of rule, and the kinds of state apparatuses they presided over, were remarkably similar. The Nehruvian state, much like the contemporary Indian one, was an emaciated affair. The radical Left, then as now, was seen as an enemy of the state by Delhi’s incumbents. If to prime ministers Manmohan Singh and Narendra Modi, India’s Maoists were, variously, ‘the greatest internal security threat’ and ‘monsters’ with ‘evil mindsets’, unworthy of dialogue and fit for elimination, to Nehru and Gandhi, their predecessors were no better. Happily, Nehru put down the communist insurgency in Telangana with brute military force in the late forties, rescuing landlords from the wrath of the peasantry, which was living in near-feudal conditions. Around the same time, disillusioned Congress socialists left for the Socialist Party when it became clear to them that Nehru’s party was disinterested in land reform. Moreover, they sat out the writing of the Indian Constitution, tasked as it was to an indirectly elected body whose members were selected as representatives of their ethnic communities by a tiny, landed and elite electorate – unjustifiable to the Socialists but perfectly reasonable to Nehru. Later, when the Socialist Party courted a merger with the Congress, Nehru actively discouraged it; it never went through. Likewise, he kept at arm’s length from the faction that tried pushing his party to the Left, the Congress Socialist Forum. Party unity trumped socialism proper. And famously, joining forces with the Muslim League and Christian groups, he threw out the world’s first elected communist government in Kerala in 1959.

“It may well be that the Indian socialist leader is as elusive as the true Scotsman.”

The same was true of Indira Gandhi’s regime. During her premiership, cadres of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) were consigned to torture chambers in Kerala, and Bengali Maoists incarcerated wholesale. After riding on the coat tails of the Congress Forum for Socialist Action (CFSA), the pressure group that helped her cling onto power in 1969 after the party split, she unhesitatingly turned against it in the early 1970s, by which time it had become a liability: “Do these people want another split in the party?” It was disbanded soon after. In 1975, she carried out a self-coup by declaring a state of emergency, banning the Maoist Naxalite movement and arresting CPI(M) cadres, socialists, trade unionists, and even leaders of the Congress Left. For the period of the Emergency, all fundamental rights were suspended save one: the right to property. As for promises to bring the commanding heights of the economy under public control, these were quickly forgotten: so much so that Gandhi announced a moratorium on nationalisation. Moreover, while Parliament was amending the Constitution to reflect that India was not only a ‘sovereign’ but also a ‘socialist’ republic, Gandhi was telling the press that education and welfare cuts were necessary to give tax breaks to the top one percent of Indian earners. A year into her final term, in 1981, she pushed through an amendment of the Essential Services Maintenance Act; aimed at disciplining labour, it made it easier to ban strikes, imprison workers, and use military personnel as blacklegs. She was also behind what was, perhaps, the most brutal suppression of the labour movement in Indian history: in 1982, the textile strike in Bombay was put down with the help of police and paramilitary forces, leaving 150,000 workers unemployed.

The elusive socialist leader

It may well be that the Indian socialist leader is as elusive as the true Scotsman. But even so, it is hard to sustain an image of the Nehru-Gandhis as socialists when both father and daughter presided over a period of growing inequality. And remarkably, neither of them were particularly interested in the business of redistribution. Both, for instance, favoured deeply regressive taxation. When power was transferred to him in 1947, Nehru was quick to institute a tax regime that reduced the burden on the rich. Indirect taxes accounted for 60 percent of total taxes in 1948. When he died in office in 1964, they amounted to 72 percent. His daughter followed in his footsteps. A decade into her rule, the figure stood at 84 percent. Similarly, the Nehru-Gandhis also presided over the steady devaluation of labour power. In the five years to 1955, for instance, the share of wages in gross value added was 63 percent. A secular decline ensued. Fast forward to 1972, when Gandhi’s socialist rhetoric had never been shriller, it had fallen to 53 percent; in other words, surplus value had risen from 37 to 47 percent.

So much for socialism, even at its supposed early-1970s meridian – some two and a half decades into Nehru-Gandhi rule – the public sector remained a skeletal concern, accounting for a mere 16 percent of GDP. There was, then, not much to the Indian state: the railways, the usual monopolies in mass media and manufacturing, a presence in banking and insurance, a nearly non-existent bureaucracy, and a welfare state in extremis. Unsurprisingly, a mere 2.7 percent of Indians were in public employment in 1971. To put this into world-historical perspective, even the decidedly non-socialist polities of the advanced capitalist world boasted considerably larger public sectors. There, on average, some 12 to 15 percent of the workforce was in the employ of the state.

“The World Bank and the Economist heaped praise on the Emergency regime after the 1976 budget, while the ILO and AFL-CIO castigated it in no uncertain terms.”

What accounts for the chasm between progressive rhetoric and conservative praxis? In the main, idiosyncratic policy choices and a very cynical understanding of socialism, it appears. When Nehru assumed the premiership, a time when 83 percent of Indians lived in the countryside, he decided against taxing the gentry, setting a precedent that continues to this day. This, of course, worked to the benefit of the landed elite that formed the backbone of the Congress, and to the detriment of the landless poor.

As the decades rolled by, course correction became virtually impossible, what with Nehru’s and later Gandhi’s parasitical dependence on the gentry for capital formation. For their socialist five-year plans in no small measure banked on rural accumulation to fund industrial expansion. Keeping rural demand low – that is, poor peasants poor – was, in effect, a macroeconomic priority. Whereas India’s landowning gentry – or bullock capitalists, to use the term coined by the political scientists Lloyd and Suzanne Rudolph for those owning between 2.5 and 15 acres – were mollycoddled with minimum support prices and subsidised fertilisers, the rest – mainly the landless and smallholders – found themselves completely neglected. Wages stagnated. What is more, the Green Revolution widened the gap between the rich and poor. In 1961-1962, surplus land accounted for 24 percent of India’s agricultural land. In 1971-1972, a decade into the Green Revolution, it had risen to 31 percent. Dispossession and land consolidation were the greatest in places like the Punjab, Ground Zero of the Green Revolution, where the tractor-owning gentry was quick to improve yields and price out smallholders.

Early on in his rule, Nehru ruled out expropriation. Consideration for large landholders, it appears, was foremost on his mind: “though equitably perhaps justifiable, it may lead to many cases of hardship”. Likewise, he went to great lengths to declare against coercion in the implementation of the Avadi and Nagpur resolutions of 1955 and 1959, which, in any case, were never followed through. Promises of wholesale nationalisation and collectivisation remained just that: promises. But coercion against the landed classes was one thing, against the landless another. Agrarian uprisings were put down in Telangana in 1946-51, in Thanjavur in 1967-69, and in Srikakulam in 1967-70. In the Kilvenmani massacre of December 1968, 44 landless Dalit labourers were torched to death by their employers, all of whom were acquitted by the Madras High Court on grounds of insufficient evidence. In a similar episode, Santhal tribesmen were burnt alive in Bihar. Here, again, the socialist state looked the other way.

“The left has been given control of the rhetoric. The right has been granted most of the tangible benefits.”

If non-violence got in the way of Nehru’s socialism, indifference got in the way of Gandhi’s. She, too, then, remained deeply sceptical of harnessing state power to progressive ends. “Removing poverty is not the responsibility of the government alone,” she declared in 1975. As with Nehru and Gandhi, so with their inner circle. V K Krishna Menon, Nehru’s defence minister, for instance, declared himself strongly opposed to land reform in his native Kerala. Govind Ballabh Pant, home minister, felt much the same. On his account, not all zamindars were rapacious rentiers. Similarly, C Subramaniam, darling of the Congress Left and Gandhi’s finance minister, found strikes “deplorable” and the working classes contemptible for wanting “to imitate the rich”. He thought about the landless in the same terms: “of course, we cannot expect everybody to own land. It is not necessary also.” To another supporter of the CFSA, D K Barooah, too, the trade unions were the enemy, all-powerful and unruly. They were “trying to mislead the working class and sabotage production”, he declared in 1975. The same year, the Ministry of Education, run by “a lifelong member of the Communist Party of India”, Nurul Hasan, could be found inveighing against the abolition of child labour: it was not only “not feasible”, but also “not desirable”.

Congress Left or Right?

With friends like these, and a worldview like theirs, neither Nehru nor Gandhi really needed the countervailing influence of a Congress Right, let alone a rightwing opposition, to stifle their socialist commitments. These existed all the same. Led by figures such as Vallabhbhai Patel and later Purushottam Das Tandon and Morarji Desai in Nehru’s time, and then Jagjivan Ram, Yashwantrao Chavan, and T A Pai in Gandhi’s, the Congress Right was in many senses the stronger faction, even if fewer of its members were to be found in Parliament and government. Very briefly, the Congress Left and Right were rather different beasts. The former operated on a promissory plane, a world of ideas and utopian plans. The latter, instead, was firmly anchored in the real, in the realm of power and realities.

The Congress Left’s writ ran in Rajpath and Janpath – Parliament House and the ministerial residences in central Delhi – and a few enclaves of radical and educated opinion, in the main wherever its few metropolitan allies in the press and unions commanded some influence, but nowhere beyond. The Congress Right, on the hand, had the party organisation in its vice-like grip. This is because it enjoyed the support of the conservative landowning classes, whose ranks made up the building blocks of the Pradesh and District Congress Committees (PCCs and DCCs). While they were influential in the upper echelons of the party, lower down, they were invincible. Indeed, as the political scientist Francine Frankel has argued, they had a wide range of tools at their disposal – juridical; legislative; paramilitary and police; clerical – to bury the land reforms so dear to the Congress Left. Enforcing ceilings and redistributing surplus land hit upon all kinds of stumbling blocks. Many landowners challenged the legality of the transfers in courts. Others resorted to intimidation and violence. Yet others parcelled out their lands to distant relatives, repurposed them for ‘religious’ uses, and temporarily pledged them to charity.

Consequently, during their most concerted stabs at land redistribution – in Nehru’s case, his first term, 1947-1952; in Indira Gandhi’s, the Emergency of 1975-1977 – India’s first and third premiers redistributed a mere 14 and 1.1 million acres, respectively. Needless to say, these figures paled in comparison to those registered by Nehru and Gandhi’s East Asian counterparts. For his part, Mao transferred 100 million acres in the three years to 1952 alone. Proportionally speaking, land reform in India was nowhere comparable to what transpired in, say, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, and China.

Industrial relations under the Nehru-Gandhis was much of a muchness. Periodic socialist declamations apart, Congressmen in early postcolonial India were very much in bed with big business. Less than a year into his first term, Nehru had already jettisoned his nationalising ambitions. Government would focus on developing rather than expropriating industries, the Industrial Policy of Resolution of April 1948 reassured Indian capitalists. Throughout his tenure, Nehru had little say in who served as his finance minister; it was the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), the voice of capital, that had the final word. The Second Five-Year Plan, covering 1956-61, was geared towards stimulating private capital, as was the Third, for 1961-66, which, on FICCI’s recommendations, also opened a number of industries to the private sector. From the ranks of big business came the party’s big donors; in cities like Kanpur, local businessmen also happened to be local Congressmen. Capital, in a word, could not be alienated.

“What accounts for the chasm between progressive rhetoric and conservative praxis?”

But the bond between capitalist and Congressman was not merely party-political; often it was also personal. The Nehrus and Birlas, for instance, were family friends. The power generated by the wildly expensive Rihand Dam, built and funded by the state, was sold for a song to the Birlas in 1959, to the chagrin of Parliament and the public. Eleven years later, during Gandhi’s premiership, the Birlas once again found themselves the subject of public opprobrium when a license to build a fertiliser factory was handed to them. This at a time when the family firm was under investigation and the government committed to reining in monopolists. The premier’s son and effective sultan during the Emergency, Sanjay Gandhi, supported K K Birla’s run for the Rajya Sabha in 1976. One could go on.

If capital needed cosseting, labour needed co-opting, crippling even. First, Congressmen tried entryism en masse to weaken the communist-dominated All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) in February 1947. When this failed – perhaps because Congressmen attempted, rather disingenuously and to no avail, to have the confederation permanently disavow strikes and submit to compulsory arbitration by the state – they set up a rival outfit, the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC), with the blessing of the party leadership and backing of state power. Patronage from the party in power and preferential legislation saw to it that the INTUC quickly became the largest trade union federation. Its hegemony served the party in good stead, but not so much the proletariat. Indeed, its primary business was to see to it that the working classes did not get ideas above their station. The INTUC’s “loyalties are to the Congress Party, then to the present government, to the nation, and last of all to the workers”, Myron Weiner observed in 1962. At the time of Nehru’s death in 1964, real wages for factory workers was lower than it had been in 1952 even as worker productivity was half as large again.

Gandhi was a chip off the old block. Wage suppression continued during her tenure. Through the early 1970s, strikes were routinely broken with the help of the police, army, navy, and paramilitary organisations. No sooner had the Emergency been declared than wages were slashed further, strikes forbidden, a portion of salaries indefinitely withheld as ‘compulsory deposits’, mutinous unionists sent packing to prison, and 500,000 workers made redundant. The four largest unions in the Republic were inveigled into forswearing industrial action for a period of four years. The traditional model of industrial relations, premised on a give-and-take between labour and management, was done away with. In its place came a new system centred on a raft of state-sanctioned ‘apex bodies’, headed by management and with an altogether different mandate: not labour welfare, but production and efficiency. The World Bank and the Economist heaped praise on the Emergency regime after the 1976 budget, while the ILO and AFL-CIO castigated it in no uncertain terms. As even Anthony Lukas, foreign correspondent of the impeccably liberal New York Times, understood perfectly in 1976, Indira Gandhi’s Emergency regime was “profoundly schizoid. The left has been given control of the rhetoric. The right has been granted most of the tangible benefits”.

Engines of privilege

But what of the socialist rhetoric itself? Here, the adjective is misplaced. For the Nehru-Gandhis’ understanding of socialism was always rather suspect. Certainly, both father and daughter placed a greater premium on self-help than state action. It could be said that their common worldview bespoke, or betrayed, the limits of their intellectual formation – in Nehru’s case, a journey from theosophy through Harrow to Cambridge; in Gandhi’s, from Shantiniketan to Oxford. These places, after all, were engines of privilege. In such settings, radical pretensions were certainly imbibed, but never internalised with any degree of seriousness. Socialist posturing was mere talk, and talk was cheap. Or, as the political scientist Howard Erdman would later have it, “Nehru’s bark was far worse than his bite.” An exotic ideology, in short, told of worldliness. Not for nothing did Nehru’s Socialist Book Club – based on London’s Left Book Club that he was a part of – superciliously produce “‘socialist classics’ suitably ‘abridged’ for Indian readers”. For its part, the colonial government did not take “Jawaharlal’s socialist statements seriously”, his biographer Benjamin Zachariah writes, and there is good reason to believe that Nehru himself wore his ideas rather lightly. Asseverating that he was a socialist was just another way of saying that he went to Cambridge.

But if autodidacticism and Oxbridge left much to be desired, there was another influence tempering their socialism: the Gandhian inheritance. For all their cosmopolitanism, they were nevertheless products of a singularly domestic milieu. Nehru and Indira Gandhi shared more with figures like Mohandas Gandhi, Rammanohar Lohia and Jayaprakash Narayan than with, say, Vladimir Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg, or even the social democratic Left in postwar Europe – and understandably so. Parochialism is not without its comforts. But what did this peculiarly Indian bequest look like? Gandhi’s allergy to class conflict is well-known: in 1932, he had famously convinced the Congress Working Committee to formally issue a ‘reassurance to zamindars’ when it appeared to the latter that Congress radicals were toying with dangerous ideas. For Narayan, redistribution was repressive, plain and simple: a disciple of Gandhi’s, he ultimately came to share in his vision of ‘trusteeship’, in which relations between worker and capitalist, peasant and landlord, mirrored that of sheep and shepherd, after having initially critiqued it. While a more radical and clear-headed thinker, Lohia, too, never managed to fully shake off the quainter aspects of Gandhianism: he was a votary of, as it were, small-state socialism, built on smallholdings and handicrafts. ‘The Leviathan state’ of big industry and big government was as distasteful to him as capitalism.

The thinking of Nehru and his team was, in the main, of a piece with the ideology of this constellation. As the historian Taylor Sherman has it, theirs was not socialism per se, but a singularly Indian declension of it. It departed from socialism proper by placing a greater emphasis on individual over state action; remaining sanguine about, even favourably disposed to, private property; and preferring peaceful, if glacial, to rapid, albeit violent, social change. For the historian Christopher Bayly, too, the eminent Nehruvians in power in the 1950s and 1960s betrayed a worldview that was distinctly their own, more imbued with the spirit of, as it were, communitarian liberalism’ than socialism as such. Their hostility to statism; preference for small-scale and local, as opposed to colossal and national, solutions; for voluntarism and associationalism, power to the panchayats, cooperatives and sabhas of every stripe, not centralisation and concerted state action, incontrovertibly set them apart from their mid-20th century Western socialist peers.

Unease with diktat, then, came with the territory. Today, Nehru’s name is associated with modernist hauteur and grandeur: the Indian Institutes of Technology, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, and the city of Chandigarh spring to mind. But these urban marvels – few and far apart as they are – conceal more than they reveal. Truth be told, Nehru did not do monumental ambition. Symptomatic was his characteristically liberal response to those frustrated with the glacial pace of reform: yes, he would have preferred to move faster, but across-the-board expropriation and redistribution was not an option “because most Indians were not socialists”.

His daughter betrayed a similar impulse in 1976, when the Congress Left urged her to remove the right to property: “public opinion was not ready” for such a move, she argued. The concern with propriety and public sentiment, of course, was in no small part a function of the limited ability of the penniless Indian state to enact social reform. But structural constraints dovetailed with ideological inhibitions. To both Nehru and Gandhi, bottom-up initiative was preferable to top-down reform. Faced with acute food shortages throughout their terms in office, both fell back on discourses of self-sufficiency and charity. Why reorganise tenure when citizens could “grow vegetables and grain at home” and selfless Congress party workers could muck in with peasants, as Nehru felt was the way out of famine in 1949? Or, for that matter, why create state-run cooperatives and enforce ceiling legislation when families in cities could get their hands dirty doing a bit of kitchen gardening and school children in the countryside could be recruited to the cause of pest control, catching bugs and beetles by hand, as Gandhi believed was the solution to the food problem in 1974? The gist of it – ‘pull yourselves up by your bootstraps!’– of course, was anything but socialist. If anything, it was a one-nation conservative vision. The poor could get by with some more encouragement, the rich could do more slumming.

Opportunism, not socialism

For all that, the question then remains: why did early postcolonial Congress leaders bother with socialism at all? There are two reasons for this. First, while it often meant nothing in practice, ‘socialism’ belonged to the postcolonial Indian lexicon. Everyone swore by it. Even the Swatantra Party, the vehicle of big business and the aristocracy, no less, fashioned itself as an outfit of “twentieth-century socialists” on the hustings. “We are all socialists now”, ran the Whig dictum of Britain at the turn of the century. Never was it truer, though, than in the self-image of early postcolonial Indian politicians. And second, in a country whose citizens were for the better part poor and illiterate, lip service to socialism was inevitable. So the key desiderata of any self-respecting socialism – expanding public ownership, ramping up public spending, making bigger and bolder five-year plans, facilitating redistribution – were subject to endless name-checking.

For Delhi’s rulers, then, going through the motions was not without its uses. Nehru’s ‘socialism’, in effect, was simply an exercise in skilful triangulation. Anyone more to the Left of him was a rabble-rousing troublemaker; to his Right, a hopeless and heartless monster incapable of commiserating with the ordinary, immiserated Indian. It must be remembered that it was often against a backdrop of incipient radicalism that Nehru made many of his socialist pronouncements and policies. The all-too-real threat of communism in Nehru’s first term prompted the most extensive land reforms witnessed in the republic. The Avadi resolution came in advance of the 1957 general election at a time when socialist parties were poised to make great strides at the expense of the Congress. The Nagpur resolution was announced ahead of the 1960 Kerala election, in which a second defeat at the hands of the Communists was a very real prospect.

For Nehru’s daughter, too, feigning leftwing credentials made political sense, and she was candid about this. “We spoke of socialism because that was what went down well with the masses”, Indira Gandhi said to the press in 1969. Economically, in the late 1960s India was in a hard place. Politically, the Congress Forum for Socialist Action was ascendant. So she unshackled herself from the clutches of the Syndicate, the oligarchic party bosses, by winning over the CFSA, consolidating power in the party on the back of its support, and winning elections in its name. Only a year before coming out as a socialist, she had opposed the nationalisation of banks. Even after her damascene conversion, she continued opposing the nationalisation of foreign trade, and briefly, even the abolition of ‘privy purses’, the pensions of the former aristocracy handed to them for their trouble integrating into the Union at Independence. But at a time of inflation, scarcity, and economic hardship, and fresh from a slew of electoral defeats at the state level, not to mention the hard left insurgency ripping through the countryside and growing stronger by the day, there was no alternative to socialism in 1969, she felt. On her desk was probably the alarming Home Ministry report on ‘The Causes and Nature of Current Agrarian Tensions’ that was published that year, which worried that “extremism” and the “widening gap” between proprietor and peasant were “lend[ing] to an explosive situation”. The Green Revolution could potentially turn red. “Garibi hatao” was her answer: Get rid of poverty. Ahead of her landslide election victory of 1971 she had said to the journalist Kuldip Nayar: “I want to take the wind out of the sails of the Communists, and I can do that only by moving to the Left.” Indisputably, this was opportunism, not socialism.

The Nehru-Gandhis, then, were not some of nature’s socialists, numberless references to the “socialistic pattern of society” (a Nehruvian watchword) and Garibi Hatao (Gandhi’s cri de cœur) notwithstanding. From the 1950s on, the Congress that they led was, as indeed it had been during the twilight years of the Raj, a party of the gentry, and to a lesser extent of capital and the bourgeoisie as well, masquerading as the voice of the proletariat, even as it brutally put down any semblance of collective action by them, placing police and union power at the behest of landlord and capitalist and obviating any juridical or parliamentary challenge to landed and monied interests. To put it less charitably, Nehru and Gandhi in particular, but also Congress socialists more generally, belonged to the same tendency that the Czech writer Jaroslav Hašek caricatured in his circumspect, but alas only satirical, Party of Moderate Progress Within the Bounds of the Law.


Pratinav Anil, a Clarendon scholar, is completing his doctorate on Muslim politics in postcolonial India at St John’s College, University of Oxford. Educated at Sciences Po and the LSE, he has between his degrees briefly worked at the Centre de recherches internationales in Paris and as a farmhand in the Val-d’Oise. His India’s First Dictatorship: The Emergency, 1975-1977 (Hurst), co-authored with Christophe Jaffrelot, is out now.

On COVID and the Plague of Capital

 

Suzi Weissman interviews Rob WallaceMeleiza Figueroa and Graham Christensen
Agroecology establishes a sustainable relationship of crops to the environment.

Suzi Weissman: Rob Wallace is an evolutionary epidemiologist with the Agroecology and Royal Economics Research Corps. His new book, Dead Epidemiologists (2020), is on the origins of COVID-19. He authored Big Farms Make Big Flu and co-authored Clear-Cutting Disease Control: Capital-Led Deforestation, Public Health Austerity, and Vector-Borne Infection.

We are also joined by Graham Christensen in northeastern Nebraska, where he is a fifth-generation family farmer. He is president and founder of G.S. Resolve. Our third guest is Meleiza Figueroa, the producer-director extraordinaire of our program, and she is also a PhD candidate in urban geography. All three are involved with Pandemic for the People.

Rob, we begin with you. In your Monthly Review article called “COVID-19 and Circuits of Capital,” you are talking about the systemic roots of COVID-19 and how it is situated within the context of the globalized capitalist economy.

Industrial agriculture, habitat destruction, global commodity chains and the travel network have set up this perfect storm of conditions, not just for COVID, but also for future pandemics.

How can we get a wider systemic perspective on the current crisis? How vulnerable will we continue to be when we hopefully vanquish COVID-19?

Rob Wallace: Every outbreak that comes out just about annually, whether it’s Zika or Ebola or some of the influenzas, tends to have us scramble to figure out what’s going on. How is it spread, what is its clinical course? That is important because we need to know what they are doing; we need as a society to be able to respond.

Emergencies do happen, and we are obligated to intervene and make sure that any one outbreak doesn’t spread so far as to kill so many people because of the capacities of these pathogens to do so. But in focusing on a particular virus or pathogen, we lose sight of the context in which many of these strains are spilling over and evolving across the rural-urban continuum.

The COVID-19 virus and these other pathogens are emerging out what we call a circuit of production. Some are at the point of contact in which industrial agriculture is cutting into the forest, increasing the interface between wildlife that is the pathogens’ natural reservoir and spilling over into local livestock or laborers.

Despite how very different these viruses and pathogens are from each other in terms of their virology and subsequent development, all are emerging out of this expanding circle of production beginning in the forests and expanding around the world.

SW: You’ve made the connection between this emerging novel coronavirus and the globalized industrialized agriculture system, especially factory farming of livestock. Trump has made meatpacking an “essential” industry, which has increased the danger these workers are facing during the pandemic. Perhaps this is true for consumers as well. As we are facing economic catastrophe, how can we make substantial reforms to our food system, helping us weather the crisis and preventing future pandemics?

RW: Our group Pandemic Research for the People, in which Graham and Meleiza participate, are putting out a call for action around exactly this topic. There are two levels: at the level of the farm, and at the level of the consumer.

Much industrial production produces essentially very genetically similar livestock, hog, poultry and game by the thousands. You might have a turkey barn with 15,000 turkeys that are pretty much genetically the same. If pathogens arrive, they don’t really have to do much work to burn right through the whole group. There’s no immunological firebreaks built into the system.

If you’re a dangerous pathogen, you can get away with killing your host fast and the next host is right there. If you have 15,000 hosts with a similar genetic makeup, it pretty much selects the most virulent pathogens imaginable.

To protect your crop, you have to abandon the business model on which much industrial agriculture is being produced. You need to go back to treating agriculture as a natural economy.

You would reintroduce diversity of breeds into the rural landscape and in essence, reintroduce firebreaks. If some livestock survive an outbreak, those who have the genetic quirk that allows them to survive a pathogen would, in essence, act as the progenitors of the next generation.

Farmers around the world know this. But we’ve moved away from that knowledge by attempting to turn animals into widgets. And by turning farming into an industrial system, we have built a road that pathogens can travel.

Agribusiness vs. Public Health

SW: You talked about how agribusiness is at war with public health and that the public health system is losing. So maybe you could just talk a little bit about the politics at work. It seems that agribusiness, much like other industrial sectors, has considerable political power, but its ability to dominate stems less from the efficiencies they introduce and more their control of market access.

RW: That means basically buying up politicians and state capitals around the country and around the world, and locking out alternatives that we very much need.

We can do agriculture so we don’t actually produce all this pollution, we don’t produce these pathogens, we don’t force the meatpackers back into the factory during a pandemic. When we start to treat agriculture as a part and parcel of communities, both rural and urban, then we can get back on our feet.

This is very much a political problem. It’s not merely the logistics of agriculture – it requires that we understand the process of food production and why we have chosen this method. We all need to understand that what happens in one part of the globe very much impacts elsewhere.

SW: Graham Christensen is a fifth-generation family northeastern Nebraska farmer. He is also the president and founder of G.S. Resolve. So what are those connections, Graham?

GC: We have a fragile food system. I serve as a kind of messenger, being 40 years old and having witnessed firsthand a complete 180-degree shift from when I was a young person in the way food is being produced in our area.

What you’ve seen here is just a dismantling of regulations that were in place to check agribusiness from getting rampantly out of control, heavily concentrated and dominating the market, which has now become completely uncompetitive.

COVID-19 brought out a clear picture of where the disparities lie. In Nebraska, we have had a whole set of legislation that has further weakened our ability to make better decisions for ourselves. And that is combined with big-time federal policy issues like NAFTA, the neglect of antitrust enforcement and the debasement of country of origin labeling.

Consumers don’t have access to transparency to decide where they want to get their food. It makes it tricky to support farmers that are doing things ethically in Nebraska right now.

With COVID, you’ve seen the meatpacking plants become hot spots for the transmittal of the virus. The University of Nebraska Medical Center recently showed us how this is impacting people from more diverse backgrounds. It’s primarily impacting Hispanic workers and some of the communities that are newer to our area. This has revealed the disparities.

Over the past five to ten years everybody in Nebraska connected around the food issue is in unison around the demand for food sovereignty. This creates an opportunity for unification – whether it’s tribal lands, the inner city of north or south Omaha or in farmland USA — so that we can work together to come up with solutions that will create a superior system from what we have now.

Look, $13 an hour are the wages that Costco tried to implement in Fremont, on the poultry production line for the largest poultry operation west of the Missouri River. We did get it raised to $15 an hour after quite some debate, but put this in context. When I was born in 1979 in the same town, on the processing line, except for Hormel, those wages then were thirteen dollars an hour.

This is also the sixth year in a row that the average independent farmer has been in the red. This system of production is not working. People are hurting. When people are hurting and people’s health is declining, then something is wrong.

It’s the consumers who will ultimately drive the market. They’re going to dictate the policy, so we’ve assembled about 80 different groups of folks and entities from different backgrounds so that we can come together with a more unified message.

We want to paint a picture and then show the solutions on how we get in front of this issue. Those solutions are regenerative agriculture and using more biodiverse applications, as Rob was describing. With a more local and regional food security focus we can have that transparency from consumer to the farmer, as it was at one time.

Six Steps Toward Solutions

We have identified six initial actions to help move us forward.

Number one, we need to take care of the people working in the meatpacking plants. These people are unfairly being put into situations without proper protective equipment, sometimes being asked to even purchase the equipment themselves, even though they’re on low-income wages.

We’re asking for increased worker protections, with pay and safety standards as the priority. We have to be able to restore human rights within the meatpacking industry.

Second, we need antitrust legislation to be enforced and updated so that we can restore the competitive mechanism in agriculture that can help independent farmers.

Number three, we need state inspection of meat processing. The USDA put a stranglehold against enabling small farmers to produce high-quality foods that can be funneled into our local area or regional trading. As we’ve seen with what’s happened in the centralized meatpacking plants there is a real food security risk.

Four, we need to create a pathway to ownership for young and diverse people. If companies own the majority of land, it is probably game over for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and family farming as we know it. And that means that nutritional issues and health issues arising from lack of nutrition will increase.

As the baby boomer generation holds most of the farmland, the turnover in land over the next 15 years is crucial. Young people need a pathway to owning farmland so that they can be part of the solution.

Fifth, there needs to be a state-level ban on corporate farming in order to allow more independent operations to thrive.

Six, we need to implement strategic grain reserves. If the COVID-19 virus resurges or the next pandemic hits, we need to have an adequate food supply both for people and animals. This also creates another market for farmers that helps keep them afloat.

SW I grew up in Montana, where of course those silos of grain reserves were everywhere. To underscore the connection between agriculture and capitalism, we see the rise of the pandemic and how rapidly it spread throughout the world. No corner is untouched but here in the United States, it’s raging far more than should be the case because of the lack of leadership.

RW: It was accepted across both political parties that meatpacking plants needed to reopen. The governors across the Midwest, whether Democrat and Republican, rubber-stamped that decision because large agricultural concerns are the economic engine for many states. Governors were willing to cut off unemployment insurance as a way of forcing workers back into the plants.

Some basic questions were moved off the table in a way that requires everyday people to step up and intervene. What are our priorities? What do we need?
There is a sense that the political class has abandoned us. This requires everyday people to step up and push back and make sure that its demands are met. Just in terms of vaccines and antivirals, there is a long history of progressive demands that the latest in medical innovations be made available.

In Pandemic Research for the People (PREP) we’ve outline six different working groups. The first is rural, two of them have already been launched and we’re on our way. The other ones we launched are prep neighborhoods to deal with some of the outbreaks occurring in urban areas.

Criminal Negligence and Mutual Aid

SW: Meleiza Figueroa, Rob talked about meatpackers being forced back to work. We’ve heard over and over again that we should sacrifice ourselves for the economy instead of having the economy serve the community. Could you comment on other ways in which the leadership has been not just absent, but has made things worse?

MF: Absolutely, I would probably use the term “criminally negligent.” Globalization has really set us up for this perfect storm. This is true not just in the food system, but in many other essential goods and services.

What this pandemic is really bringing home is the social vulnerability we have from having dismantled a lot of local systems of support in favor of monopoly-owned capital. Four to six companies own almost 90% of the food chain. Local governments have been retooled to be value producers for real estate instead of guardians and protectors of the public interest.

I’m part of PREP Neighborhoods Working Group. Our objective is to consolidate and systematize knowledge from the ad hoc efforts of communities all over the country.

We’re not reinventing the wheel from scratch. Communities of color and poor communities have survived through mutual aid, especially in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Mutual aid and disaster relief was an organizational response that came out of Katrina as well as Occupy Sandy.

Over many natural disasters, communities have developed a loose model where network of neighborhoods have organized for our own survival. This is in contrast to the government model of waiting for the government to organize a rescue, which is not going to happen, certainly not on the scale and timeline required.

So we’ve been talking about how we can help to amplify these efforts and make them available to community organizers who have been geared towards more pressure-type politics. What are government responses that could help us build the structures that we need to maintain ourselves and fight for more of what we actually need?

Demands come out of movements, so our first dispatch highlighted Southern Solidarity, which was based in New Orleans’ Black community. This form of organizing is solidarity, not charity.

Let’s build a model of what’s necessary for our basic needs and make a political impact beginning at the local level. Local governments still have a lot of power, which has largely been relinquished in the last 40 years. So it’s a matter of training city council people how to govern, to be accountable to public needs.

In the first wave of the pandemic people were making grocery deliveries and prescription pickups. How can we go beyond that? How can we create new structures, working with local producers and also engaging local governments to addressing these issues?

Mutual aid for me gives a lot of hope because it is in many ways a moment for the knitting together of interconnected problems that have just been forced into plain view by this pandemic.

In my town in Chico, California we started a people’s assembly as a result of the George Floyd protests to defund the police. We started asking questions: If we’re going to defund the police, where should we put these public resources?

Almost immediately, a majority of people we’ve been talking to say we need to grow food again. These responses are coming from the vulnerabilities we’re experiencing because of the pandemic. Same thing with labor — with teachers being forced to go back to schools.

In this way the pandemic is bringing those networks back together for, dare I say it, some kind of dual power type of a structure. Again, that’s aspirational, but mutual aid is the core. And I hope that this perfect storm will lead to a solution.

Capitalism: Solution or Problem?

SW: You have been dancing around the obvious point of how capitalism has made all of this much worse. The conventional wisdom is that capitalism frees up human creativity — that’s how we get scientific and other innovation because people aren’t hobbled by structures. Yet each of you has been talking about how gutted these structures are, given the profit motive.

One of the stories this week is how in Los Angeles a factory producing masks had to be shut down. Many of its employees tested positive for the virus. Throughout this pandemic something so basic as just producing and distributing protective equipment is unable to be done. Hospital workers were wearing trash bags.

We have the most expensive health care system in the world yet there’s not enough beds. How many of the solutions to the problem have been handcuffed by capitalism?

RW: I certainly have my personal stance about capitalism, but around the world you’ve had a variety of countries that have been able to respond to this in a way that the United States and Europe, for the most part, have not. I think profit can get in the way of delivering on many of the services that are necessary to keep society running.

In terms of how the outbreak was handled, different countries were able to respond because they see governance as something helping the people with which you rule or rule with or rule over however you want to put it. The notion that governance is supposed to help people in their time of need is a really weird, wild concept here in the United States.

Capitalism has much to do with it, but particularly in the United States example, we’re turning capital back into money. That’s a way of saying that the Apple class is cashing out and that they can only see public services as the means of their getting rich. This is a different cycle of accumulation than that during World War II.

China is a case where they built a public health system as a means of being able to project imperial might. And what’s remarkable is that in the matter of months in the United States we seemed to signal not only the world, but to people here, that we are no longer in the business of maintaining that infrastructure.

We see our country where the political class is almost on strike against the notion of running a government for our people, even if the objective is to accumulate profit. This is where efforts are required that Meleiza described of mutual aid.

There’s also a long history of progressive forces organizing in the neighborhoods as well as in the factories. And in fact, these two things are tied together. If a factory went on strike, it’s important that the neighborhood support it. Chambers of Commerce emerged in part because they were very much disturbed by the chambers of labor that came out in their neighborhoods in support of workers and their strikes.

There were decades of organizing in rural areas to push back against what was, in essence, East Coast-backed agribusiness. They wanted to preserve the rights of rural communities to defend their town economies from being gutted.

So in order to find our solutions, they have to be embedded in more local, regional-based ways of actually exercizing political power. That doesn’t mean that we don’t keep track about what’s going on elsewhere – in fact it is how we learn. When we speak about local and regional, we’re not closing ourselves off from learning and working with people elsewhere.

Already we’ve learned a lot across neighborhoods and rural areas together. In fact it speaks to what could be a future politics going forward and healing the gap that the political class has taken advantage of, in dividing the rural from urban — both Republicans and Democrats have made a lot of political hay out of that — and it must come down to everyday people reaching across and organizing in such a way that ends this division.

This interview is excerpted and edited from the Suzi Weissman’s Jacobin Radio program on KPFK in Los Angeles.

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