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REPEAL THE FARM ACTS

As winter cold descends hard on North India, the newly emerged 'trolly cities' along the length of National Highway 1 and 9 at the Singhu and Tikri borders respectively, are getting longer day by day. Carrying with them rations for months, these protests have emerged as a formidable reaction against the neoliberal march of the Khaki Brigade and government. With nearly two lakh people residing in these make-shift cities with working toilets, bathrooms, water heating geysers running on fire wood, kitchens, reading rooms, their own newspaper and libraries, these protests are said to be one of the largest ever protests, at least in the recent history of India. While these protesters are demanding the repealing of the three Farm Laws, the crowds present here are far from limited to just farmers---students, unemployed youth, teachers, artists and people from various sections of society are also part of these protests.

 

Contrary to the numbers at the national level, where 86 percent of farmers are small and marginal, in Punjab, the number of small and marginal farmers, who own less than 2 hectares, is about 33 percent. However, the numbers are relatively closer to the national average in Haryana—67 percent. These two states were at the heart of the Green Revolution and experienced a flourishing agricultural economy from the 1970s onwards. In the early 90s, the Centre started taking back its support to farmers in the form of subsidies while agricultural productivity started declining and input costs started increasing. This growing crisis was further exacerbated by the entry of multinational and corporate agri-businesses. These factors had a detrimental impact on the emerging capitalist farmers who owned less than 4 hectares. Increased costs for inputs and technology mired them in loan cycles, which culminated in a suicide wave that took the lives of nearly 20,000 farmers in the last two decades in Punjab alone. It is important to note that the number of farmer suicides in the country since 1995 is well over 300,000. If we add the number of landless working in the fields the figures will be much higher. This is a sign of a much deeper malaise and an all-engulfing crisis that has gripped the country since the implementation of neoliberal measures.

In the wake of the Green Revolution, a procurement regime was established, whose function was to procure the crops of wheat, rice and other food grains at the Minimum Support Price (MSP) set by the Centre. These food grains were made available to the poor at a negligible price through Fair Price Shops but under pressure from free-market forces, the universal Public Distribution System (PDS) was seriously weakened. The Essential Commodity Act (amendment), which is one of the three Farm Laws, is one more step towards dismantling the procurement regime and PDS. Under this Act, the hoarding of essential commodities that can be stored such as food grains, has become legal, enabling the manipulation of food prices for the benefit of big agri-corporations while the other two Laws aim to eradicate MSP, and to promote contract farming by big agri-businesses--- all of which will enable them to make huge profits while also leading to the massive polarisation of landholdings.

The basic line of confrontation and struggle can be put very simply---it is farmers control over their own lives and livelihood -- versus corporate control over the agricultural sector ushered in by this government!

These three Laws by aiming to greatly undermine the regime of procurement and distribution in the name of promoting market freedom are an attack not only on the peasantry but also on all working people of India. Moreover, the Centre has put forward proposals for allowing corporates to set up their own banks, for privatising certain public sector utilities, and is pushing through Four Labour Codes whose purpose is precisely to casualise and contractualise and dismiss labour in the mining, manufacturing and services sectors by shifting more control and power to private business especially to big corporates. If the government succeeds in this current assault on farmers they will be much more strengthened in their subsequent attempt to go after urban and semi-urban workers. This is why the need, today and tomorrow, is to forge a strong and enduring worker-peasant unity!

To understand the present protests, we have to look beyond the agrarian crises into the current rural distress in the states of Punjab and Haryana. Unemployment in the state of Punjab is 33.6 percent and 35.7 percent in Haryana---higher than national levels. Furthermore, the de-peasantisation of small and marginal farmers in the last two decades has worsened the crisis. From the 1990s onwards, the rising costs of inputs and technology has made farming unviable for the small and marginal farmers and pushed a large section of them out of agriculture. Farmers who own from 2 hectares to 4 hectares barely make enough to pay for their costs, owing to the assured price in the form of MSP. In fact, it is precisely this combination of serious unemployment, de-peasantisation and unviability of cultivation for the majority of farmers that lies at the heart of this unrest.

What makes these protest different from other protests against the Modi regime is the dominant involvement of Left forces. A great many of these forces belong to the Marxist-Leninist tradition of the Indian Left. While this fact opens possibilities unseen in preceding protests, the ideological sectarianism of these forces also puts constraints on the potential of the present unrest.

The issue of securing a proper MSP for agricultural produce has garnered support of peasants from Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Uttrakhand. The Left should make all efforts to transform these protests into wider peoples struggles against the present authoritarian regime and to give it an anti-capitalist disposition. To broaden and deepen these protests, efforts should be made to include the demands of various sections of working people. Incorporation of demands for employment generation and food security can reinforce the appeal and strength of this movement among the masses across different regions. Pursuing these demands would not only help the movement to gain support among the working people, but it will also push the representatives of the sections of the rich peasantry to the margins. There is an urgent need to build solidarities with the working-class struggles going elsewhere.

Left populism may not be the end objective of Left politics, but it can be an ushering of anti-capitalist politics. Around the world, the Left has seen the resurrection in one or other form of Left populism—US, Britain, Spain and Greece are some of the examples. Many of these experiments have faced defeats, but one thing is certain---that they have succeeded in gaining the support of working-class people and could be used as a springboard for furthering working-class politics. The present movement, with the involvement of Left forces, has the potential to be used as the departure point for such class politics. The left needs to recognize this possibility and work together towards this goal.

The biggest limitation the dominant Left forces have is their sectarian attitude towards electoral politics. For them, electoral politics is the point which differentiates the ‘revolutionary’ M-L forces from the ‘revisionist’ mainstream Left parties. However, there is an urgent need to give this rising ferment an electoral form to not only counter the forces of Hindutva but also to mobilize the masses behind the anti-neoliberal agendas. On the other hand, the role played by the mainstream Left parties to support and strengthen present unrest is insufficient. Even in the states and districts where they have a significant presence, much more mobilization around the issue of repealing the Farm Laws is required.

This is not a peasant uprising to capture state power, as professed by Maoist organisations, nor is this a movement of only rich peasants as claimed by the adherents of a stage-ist Socialist Revolution. This is a movement where the majority of people are fighting for their immediate and longer term survival. The Left should not squander this opportunity to form a redoubtable opposition to Hindutva and to come out of their time-worn ideological cocoons.

BJP’s Agrarian Agenda : Strengthening Agro-business Capitalism and Weakening Federalism

Pritam Singh ( This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ))

The author is a Professor Emeritus at Oxford Brookes Business School, United Kingdom.


The current Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government’s agrarian agenda of supporting entry of big agro-business corporations (especially those close to the ruling party) in Indian agriculture and weakening further the already weakened structure of federal devolution of economic and political power in India has been in the making but it came out most clearly in the three ordinances the central government brought on 5 June 2020 in the name of agricultural marketing reforms. These ordinances were: Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Ordinance, 2020; Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance, 2020; and Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020. These ordinances relating to trading and pricing of agricultural products have now become Acts after having been passed as bills by India’s Parliament and approved by the President of India. The farming policy of the present BJP-led government as articulated through these enactments constitute a watershed moment in reflecting this government’s agenda in favour of deepening the entry of agro-business capitalism and that of increased centralised control of agriculture in India. The opposition to these bills has emerged from three quarters: first, from the farmers’ organisations fearful about the survival of farming communities as a result of agro-business corporations’ takeover of the farming sector; second, from state governments fearful about increasing central intrusion into states’ federal rights over agriculture; and third, from regional parties fearful about these bills further empowering the several aggressive centralist attacks of this government on regional identities and aspirations.

The haste with which first the ordinances and now the bills have been rushed through provide a reasonable clue to the government’s economic and political agenda on the issue. There is no food emergency in the country that could have required the government to act with such haste as it has. It can be inferred, therefore, that agro-business interests that fund and support the BJP must have impressed upon the government to use the opportunity of health emergency created by COVID-19 to get these enactments done quickly without much notice and critical evaluation.ii The government, it seems, had not anticipated the scale of opposition that these farming measures have provoked.

What happens to that opposition, now in the extra-Parliamentary domain, and how the government responds to that will be decisive in shaping not only the political economy of agriculture in India, but also that of democracy, federalism, and pluralism in India. The confrontation between the centre and multiple forms of opposition to it on these farming initiatives is sharpening by the day after the passing of these bills. Additionally, the state governments in Kerala, Punjab, and West Bengal are planning, each in their own way, to put up a legal challenge to these bills in the Supreme Court. If the Court strikes these bills as violative of India’s Constitution, perhaps on the issue of the centre’s right to legislate on an agricultural matter while agriculture is a state subject, the whole issue will acquire a different significance. In addition to this purely legal sounding challenge, the politico-legal- constitutional challenge to these farm laws has been the legislative action of three non-BJP state governments in Punjab, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan in passing laws in their respective state assemblies rejecting these three central laws and passing their own state laws (similar in content) on the issue covered in these central laws.

Why are the Farmers Opposed?

The central objective behind the three Acts —the Farming Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020, and Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020—is to encourage private investment by agro-business corporations from home and abroad into production, processing, storage, transportation, and marketing of agriculture products within the country and abroad. The lobbying for foreign direct investment (FDI) into Indian agriculture by multinational agro-business corporations has been going on for quite some time. There already has been some FDI in Indian agriculture, especially in contract farming for some products, but these enactments are opening the way for a major push for FDI in agriculture. Marketing reforms are, therefore, crucial components of these enactments.

The language the government is using to defend these initiatives is that these are aimed at increasing the choice and freedom of the farmers to sell beyond local mandis, that is, notified APMC (agricultural produce market committee) market yards and the state boundaries. The government’s aim, through its massive media campaign by using this language, is to make this policy initiative acceptable to the farming community. However, the real freedom which is being increased is that of big agro-business corporations, both from within India as well as from outside. The worst hit would be the marginal, small, and medium farmers whose bargaining power against hugely resourceful big corporations would be so tiny in reaching any contract regarding pricing and implementing such contract that such farmers would turn out to be economic slaves to the tentacles of the designs of big corporations.

The Farming Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020 mentions wheat, rice, sugar cane and cotton, along with other products that are covered under this bill. These are the main products in the agriculture sector of Punjab and Haryana, the two major food producing states. The mechanism for “Dispute Resolution” between a farmer and a trader as stipulated in the Act is heavily loaded against the farmer due to the unequal relations of power which, in reality, exist between a farmer (especially marginal, small, and medium farmer) and a trader, especially if the trader is a big agro-business entity. The dispute can be taken through various stages of the administrative/legal process, starting with the sub-divisional magistrate.

A dissatisfied farmer with limited resources, knowledge, and time, however, would not dare to challenge the legal prowess of powerful corporate entities who can hire expensive lawyers. The threat of penalty stipulated in the Act, if a legal challenge in a dispute fails and the contract is viewed as having been contravened, would further make any farmer extremely fearful about challenging a powerful corporate entity which due to its financial clout can afford to take the risk of paying a penalty. Depending upon the nature of contravention of a contract, the penalty would be anywhere between ₹25,000 to ₹10,00,000. If the contravention continues, a further penalty between ₹5,000 and ₹10,000 per day can be imposed. Leave aside a small farmer, even a big farmer would fear such massive penalties in a case of failure in dispute resolution and would not dare to challenge a corporate entity.

There is no provision in the bills on the continuity of the Minimum Support Price (MSP), which is mainly relevant for wheat and rice; the two major food crops grown by Punjab and Haryana and, to a lesser extent, by some of the other states. The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020, instead of stipulating MSP, merely mentions “remunerative price” to be agreed by a farmer in a contract with “agri-business firms, processors, wholesalers, exporters or large retailers.” Such a contract must also specify the “quality, grade and standards” of the product to be sold by the farmer. The wording of the provision for changing or terminating the agreement raises fears about further vulnerability of the farmer. Section 11 of the Act states: “At any time after entering into a farming agreement, the parties to such agreement may, with mutual consent, alter or terminate such agreement for any reasonable cause.” With unequal power relations between a farmer and an agro-business firm, the consent of a farmer to changing or terminating a contract can be subjected to powerful economic and non-economic pressures. The mechanism for dispute resolution on the contract regarding price and quality of the produce is also stacked against the farmer.

Once it became publicly known that the MSP is being abandoned, the fear that outrightly abandoning the MSP for wheat and rice, apart from alienating the farming communities in the wheat and rice producing states, might jeopardise government procurement targets, which can then lead to insecurity for food availability and social unrest in food deficit areas, many government spokespersons have been indulging in damage limitation by making announcements that the MSP would be continued.Even if these announcements are reluctantly trusted and the MSP is not abandoned temporarily due to strategic reasons, it should be kept in mind that the MSP would be used for paying the farmers only to the extent that it ensures the fulfilment of procurement targets decided by the government. Once this target is achieved, there would be no need for the government to purchase more. After that, the farmers, by losing this support structure, would become vulnerable to the market fluctuations to push the prices of their products downwards due to excess supply beyond the procurement targets.

It is not beyond the realm of possibility that in the beginning, for a couple of years, the central government may encourage and incentivise big agro-business traders to offer a higher price to the farmers than the one available in the APMC market yards. Once the APMC trading structures are destroyed through this rigged competition, the farmers would be completely at the mercy of the big traders who would exploit the newly increased vulnerability of the farmers.

My reading of many initiatives, including these latest ones of this government, in the sphere of agriculture is that their aim is to so weaken the economic sustainability of the marginal, small, and medium farmers that they are forced to do a distress sale of their lands to large agro-business corporations, domestic and foreign. Such farmers, dispossessed of their tiny holdings, will turn into wage labourers. The excess supply of such labourers in the rural economy and, through economically forced migration, in the urban economy will push down wage rates and would lead to increased profits of agrarian and urban capitalist enterprises. This is the hidden meaning of the word “transformation of agriculture” being used in selling this latest initiative.

The farmers’ resistance to these Acts, as demonstrated through the massively successful Bharat Bandh on 25 September, may turn out to be the biggest political challenge the BJP has faced since coming back to power in 2019. In the event of increased confrontation between the farmers’ movement against the Acts and the government, it is possible that the government may use the same tactics to suppress the farmers’ organisations as it has used against other opponents, namely, calling left-wing dissidents as Naxals, Muslim-background activists as “terrorists” and Sikh-background opponents as “Khalistanis.” That there are already some pro-government individuals using the tag of Naxals and terrorists for farmer activists suggests that this might reflect one line of the government’s strategy. However, the government may not pursue this course of action because this may backfire due to the massive public support the farmers’ organisations enjoy in all states, though unevenly. The government may, instead, selectively target only left-wing farmer activists by branding them as Naxals or Naxal-supporters. The mode of response of the broader farmers’ movement to such selective repression would test the political maturity and the culture of solidarity of the farmers’ organisations.

Why are the States Fearful?

Right from the framing of India’s Constitution in 1949 to various amendments later made to it, there has been a continuous process of invasion by the centre in agriculture, which in the Constitution was designated as a state subject. The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act 2020 takes this process much further and is certainly the most devastating attack so far on federal rights of the states in agriculture. The “One India, One Agriculture Market” slogan being advertised by the government says it all about the thinly veiled centralisation objective of this move.

There is a widespread misconception circulating in some academic and journalistic writings on the Indian political economy in general and on these latest agrarian initiatives from the centre in particular that the weakening of the government regulatory regime giving more push to privatisation as envisaged in these deregulatory reforms would lead to decentralisation and devolution of more powers to the states. The roots of this misconception can be traced to the failure of recognising that centralised/unitarist nationalism, as opposed to plural nationalisms, has been the strategic key to the shaping of India’s capitalist economy in which the centre has been given hugely excessive powers for building the unitarist nationalism. As a result, increasing privatisation resulting from deregulatory reforms is not necessarily opposed to centralisation (Singh 2008). The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act 2020 can be considered as representing the most clear-cut case of confirmation of the thesis that centralisation and privatisation in India can co-exist but, even more, that they can reinforce each other. Strengthening centralisation and privatisation are the two most prominent features of the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act 2020.

The most brazen form of the scale of attack on the already limited autonomy that the states currently have can be assessed from the words of Section 12 of the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020: “The Central Government may, for carrying out the provisions of this Act, give such instructions, directions, orders or issue guidelines as it may deem necessary to any authority or officer subordinate to the Central Government, any State Government or any authority or officer subordinate to a State Government.” This dire warning about emasculating the federal powers of the states can only be ignored by political leadership at the state level, which has a very limited vision of politics.

The undermining of the state autonomy cannot be more stark than what is implied by the words in Section 16 of the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020: “The Central Government may, from time to time, give such instructions, as it may consider necessary, to the State Governments for effective implementation of the provisions of this Act and the State Governments shall comply with such instructions” (emphasis added). No scope is left for any escape for a state government from these central directives (Singh 2020a).

The attack by the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020 on the limited revenue resources of the states is also clear in the provision that “no market fee, cess or levy” can be levied by a state APMC act or any other state law. After depriving the states of the revenue they earlier earned through sales tax by replacing it with centrally controlled GST, and now resisting compensation to the states due to this revenue loss, this is another attack on financially weakening the states and making them more dependent on the centre.iii

Apart from the vertical tensions between the centre and the states emanating from them, these agrarian reforms have the dangerous potentialities of generating new forms of federal tensions in the domain of horizontal tensions (inter-state tensions) and class conflicts aligned with those horizontal federal tensions. Agriculturally dependent states such as Punjab and Haryana and the farmers of these states would be the most adversely affected due to the weakening of the minimum support price (MSP) structures. In contrast to that, industrially advanced states such as Gujarat and Maharashtra and the big business interests (especially agro-business ones) based in these states would be the beneficiaries due to increased and easier access to foodstuffs and agricultural raw materials from other states. This will increase regional and class tensions.

Regional Aspirations/Identities

The increased central intrusion through these Acts into the federal rights of the states in agriculture has alarmed all the states, though the BJP-ruled states have either kept mum or endorsed the central government’s moves. The increasing centralisation is viewed by regional formations as a threat to the solidity of regional interests, aspirations, and identities. The troubled relations with Shiv Sena and Akali Dal, two of the oldest allies of the BJP, are manifestations in different ways of the tension between the ideological perspectives of centralist Hindutva and regional aspirations (Singh 2020b). The tension over the farm Acts has led to resignation of Akali Dal representative Harsimrat Kaur Badal from the Union Cabinet, the first resignation ever from a BJP-led government at the centre over a policy issue. The BJP-led coalition government in Haryana, with its regional ally in Dushyant Chautala’s Jannayak Janata Party, may face a crisis if deputy chief minister Chautala is forced to leave the coalition as a result of pressure from farming organisations which Chautala is currently supporting in their campaigns against the farm bills.

Though different in many other respects, both the BJP and Congress are centralist in their political perspectives in building one unified Indian national identity. Therefore, both are opposed to the articulation of regional identities. However, the BJP is currently showing a much more aggressive approach than the Congress towards centralisation.

Its propagation of “one country, one agriculture market” in defence of its farming policies articulated through the farm Acts, the aggressive promotion of Hindi over regional languages (far more than the Congress ever did during its reign), its decision to scrap Jammu and Kashmir’s constitutional status and its statehood, and its New Education Policy are some of the key indicators of the BJP’s aggressive centralisation agenda.

As the BJP views regional identities with suspicion, as a subversion of its overarching Hindu identity agenda, the regional identities suspect the BJP vision as one aimed at annihilation of regional identities. The tension between the states—the locations of different regional identities—and the centre over the farm Acts has contributed to heightening the fears of regional identities about BJP’s unitarist Hindutva agenda. The Left in India (especially the parliamentary left represented by CPI and CPM) increasingly oriented towards centralised nationalism by surrendering to the flawed discourse of ‘unity and integrity of the country’ has not been able to capture the progressive potentialities of regional nationalisms in India especially in opposition to centralised Hindu nationalism.

Ecological Concerns

We have discussed the three main nodes of resistance to the farm Acts, but it is important to mention, even if briefly, the ecologically damaging consequences from the operation of these Acts because this dimension has remained almost completely unexamined in the current debates on this issue. The destruction of locally and state-based agriculture and its incorporation into all India and global agricultural marketing systems will lead to increased transportation. Increase in transportation everywhere leads to increase in carbon emissions, pollution, ecological destruction, and damaged health of all living beings, human and non-human. It is an anti-thesis of the “self-reliance” (Aatmanirbharta) which this government has been proclaiming, patently hypocritically, as its aim.

There is also a need to start rethinking the wider importance of agriculture in “development” discourse. Both the traditional right-wing thinking (such as Rostow’s stages of growth or Lewis’ dual economy model as exemplars of this mode of thinking) as well as the dominant left-wing thinking (Stalin’s collectivisation as an extreme form of such thinking) view development and growth as a path of moving from agriculture to industry to services. In the era of global climate change where the planet earth faces an existential threat from global heating and bio-diversity loss that result from the traditional economic growth paths, whether of the traditional right or traditional left format, the central importance of farming and the farming ways of life which are compatible with ecological sustainability need to be reimagined. Eco-socialist vision as a critique of both the traditional right-wing and traditional left-wing modes of thinking is an attempt to grapple with the ecological challenge humanity is currently facing.

Conclusions

It is only through a concerted and collective action of the organisations representing marginal, small, and medium farmers that the multi-dimensional destructive turn in economic policy symbolised by these farm Acts might be reversed. It is also the economic interest and moral duty of all those political formations and state governments that stand for federalism, pluralism, and ecological sustainability to coordinate their efforts to oppose this move. The struggle for federalism and diversity is also the struggle for democracy. The weakening of federalism contributes to concentration of economic and political power at the centre and the rise of authoritarian political tendencies and practices which are also anti-ecological in their orientation.

One indication of the sincerity and commitment of those making any coordinated efforts in reversing the policy package contained in these farm Acts would be to declare that in any future government at the centre they may be part of, they would undo these changes and would look anew at the Constitutional provisions to increase the power of the states in agricultural management. There are other areas too, such as industry, finance, and education, where federal devolution must be fought for, but agriculture being linked to the land and source of food remains the most crucial area for states’ right to retain their autonomy. The US, China, Europe, UK, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand are all closely integrated into the global capitalist economy, but each of these countries makes every effort to protect its agriculture even if that protection does not meet the standards of ecological sustainability.

Protecting agriculture as a state subject in Indian federalism and resisting the entry of agro-business capitalism would be the key economic, political, social and cultural battles in India in the coming years. Grasping the seriousness of this issue would be critical towards developing the perspective to strengthen decentralisation, diversity, democracy, local farming, and ecological sustainability.



References

Punjabi Tribune (2020): “Kheti Billan Naal Punjab Nun Har Saal 4000 crore rupai da nuksaan hovega: Manpreet” (The Farming Bills will lead to Rupees 4000 crore annual loss to Punjab: Manpreet), 19 September, p 2.

Klein, Naomi (2007): The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Random House.

Singh, Pritam (2008): Federalism, Nationalism and Development: India and the Punjab economy, London/New York: Routledge.

Singh, Pritam (2020a): “Centre's Agricultural Marketing Reforms Are an Assault on Federalism,” Wire, 20 June, https://thewire.in/agriculture/agriculture-marketing-reforms-federalism.

Singh, Pritam (2020b): “As Cracks in NDA Widen, Is BJP’s Ideology Incompatible with Regional Identities?” Wire, 22 September, https://thewire.in/politics/bjp-punjab-akali-dal-shiv-sena-regional-alliances.

Singh, Pritam (2020c): “BJP’s Agrarian Policies: Deepening Agro-Business Capitalism and Centralisation”, EPW, Vol 55, No. 41, Oct 10.





i An earlier version of this paper was Singh 2020c.
ii Naomi Klein (2007) has argued that the rise of neo-liberalism as a policy doctrine has seen that governments seize upon disasters-environmental, economic and political- to push through policies and programmes to advance the agenda of neo-liberal capitalism.
iii Punjab’s finance minister, Manpreet Badal, has estimated that Punjab alone would lose ₹4,000 crore revenue per year because of this farming initiative of the centre (Punjabi Tribune 2020).

Radical Socialist Statement on Hathras Caste Atrocity and the Babri Masjid Verdict


On the 14th of September, a 19 year old woman of the Valmiki caste,was gang-raped and brutally assaulted by four Thakur men in Hathras, Uttar Pradesh. Her spine was broken, and her tongue cut out. Days later, she died in a hospital from the severe injuries sustained during the attack. The police and local administration have protected the accused upper caste men with characteristic alacrity. The police burnt her body in the middle of the night, without any of her family members present. Immense pressure is being brought to bear on her family members in the hope of silencing them. Yogi Adityanath’s regime claims that no rape has occurred, and has even hired a PR firm to push this disingenuous narrative. The Sangh Parivar’s disinformation machinery is working overtime to frame the victim’s death as an ‘honour killing’, and paint her family as the ‘real’ perpetrators. Upper caste groups and political figures have rallied around the accused, declaring them ‘innocent’ and openly threatening those calling for justice. BJP’s Rajveer Pahalwan, former MLA from Hathras, hosted one such gathering at his house, which was attended by members of the RSS, Bajrang Dal, Karni Sena, Rashtriya Savarna Sangathan, Kshatriya Mahasabha. The shifting of the case to the CBI, which has a notorious pro-BJP record, is further cause for alarm.

This case forces us to confront once again not only the cultures of cruelty and violence that pervade the lives of Dalits, women and minorities in India, but also the impunity afforded to upper caste men by the nexus between dominant caste lobbies, state institutions and the ruling political regime. Figures from the National Crime Records Bureau indicate that every day three Dalit women are raped, two Dalits are murdered, two Dalit houses are burnt and eleven Dalits are beaten. Public discussion in India is dominated by an upper caste commonsense that runs the spectrum from outright devaluation of Dalit lives to purported caste-blindness. The social power of upper castes is based on a disproportionate control over land or other assets, and proximity to political power through their caste networks. There can be no doubt that this Hathras rape and murder, like countless other atrocities, is the consequence of the relations of caste domination to which Dalits continue to be subject, with little respite. Describing the victim as ‘India’s daughter’ is a jaundiced, even if in some instances well meaning, attempt to downplay the centrality of caste.

Upper castes loyalties structure and pervade virtually all mainstream political formations in India, and cover ups of this sort are a matter of routine. What is distinctive under the ruling-BJP is the sheer brazenness of the cover up, and the stridently unapologetic tenor of the upper caste backlash. This points to the reactionary character of Hindutva: it is an elite revolt, a ‘rebellion’ of Hindu India’s upper caste, upper class elite against the concessions — sometimes significant, often meagre, and always hard-won — forced by liberation movements. Recent attempts to dilute the SC-ST atrocities act, and end caste-based reservation are two examples. While the Sangh Parivar claims Dalits as its own (after all, how else could upper castes, around 26% of the population claim to speak as a ‘majority’?), it is committed to maintaining them in a position of social, political, economic and ritual subordination. The logic of the Sangh Parivar’s programmatic commitment to communalism is laid bare — the demonisation and brutalisation of India’s Muslim minority has a unifying function for the construction of the ‘Hindu’ body politic.

Elsewhere in UP, a CBI special court acquitted all the current accused in the conspiracy to demolish the Babri Masjid. That criminal act, carried out on December 6 1992, was given a stamp of legitimacy by the Supreme Court last year, when it ordered the construction of a temple on the site where the mosque once stood. In doing so the court signalled that it too now participates in the process of consolidating Hindutva hegemony. The BJP’s mass mobilisation around the Ram Mandir — explicitly aimed at bringing down the mosque — was directly responsible for weeks of violence preceding the demolition. Following the demolition, Hindutva stormtroopers led riots in cities across the country. Numerous commissions, not least the Liberhans and Srikrishna commissions, have established this. The leadership of the Sangh Parivar has explicitly, repeatedly and with great pride claimed their responsibility for these acts. For a court to now declare them innocent, after 28 years of a wishy-washy non-investigation, is a travesty.

The political aims of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement have been ticked off one by one: a belligerent and communal nationalism, given ideological cohesion by a loose Brahminism, articulated through an extreme centralisation of power, over a citizenry denied any opposing political voice. The Hathras case is a manifestation of this same reactionary backlash, unafraid to stand in the light. The current political opposition, on whose account must rest decades of inaction and complicity in caste and communal violence are junior partners in this revolt. The media has proven more than willing to amplify the voices of those in power, and to silence the voices of the marginalised. The police and other branches of the executive are now fully paid up participants in this ‘rebellion’.

 

We confront a Hindutva political movement that controls state power. To end this brutality and discrimination progressive and democratic forces must recognise that we have to build social power to counter it. The times demand that all progressive and democratic forces come together to lift us out of this crisis. This is the only way to win equal rights and inclusive democracy for every citizen today. Political opposition to Hindutva must be a principled one. All opportunistic political formations, including Dalit formations allied with or hoping to ally with the BJP must realise that they are contributing to the growth and legitimation of this upper caste rebellion. 

October 9, 2020

Remembering Trotsky’s Contributions

Doug Enaa Greene

For revolutionary militants today, Leon Trotsky not only serves as an example, but his Marxism is a necessary tool in the struggle for communism. The following are some of Trotsky’s contributions. 

 

 

On August 21, 1940, an assassin killed Leon Trotsky while he was living in exile. This cowardly murder was the culmination of more than a decade of persecution and slander by Joseph Stalin that saw Trotsky driven from the Soviet Union and forced to travel the planet without a visa. Whereas many other opponents of the bureaucratic degeneration of the Soviet Union capitulated and rallied to Stalin, Trotsky never laid down his arms and remained unconquered. Trotsky had to die since he fought for and symbolized revolutionary internationalism and the renewal of the hopes of 1917. For revolutionary militants today, Leon Trotsky not only serves as an example, but his Marxism is a necessary tool in the struggle for communism.

The Pen and the Sword

Trotsky was a true Renaissance figure who excelled in nearly every pursuit to which he devoted himself. He was a journalist with impeccable style, one of the twentieth century’s great orators, a literary critic, a political analyst, a theorist, and a historian whose work ranks among that of Thucydides and Edward Gibbon. However, Trotsky was not simply an intellectual, but a man of action. After joining the underground Marxist movement in Tsarist Russia as a young man, he fought heart and soul for the proletarian revolution during his entire life. He was the leader of the St. Petersburg Soviet of 1905, one of the main organizers of the Bolshevik insurrection of 1917, the founder of the Red Army that defended Soviet power against the counterrevolution, the chief antagonist against Stalin and the bureaucratic caste that he represented, a Cassandra-like figure on the dangers of Nazism, and the founder of the Fourth International. He led a heroic life that represented the fusion of uncompromising dedication  in ideas and action  to the struggle for a world free of exploitation and oppression.

Permanent Revolution

One of Trotsky’s chief contributions to Marxism is the theory of permanent revolution. He developed the theory based on the experience of the 1905 Russian Revolution. The chief wings of the Russian socialist movement believed that Russia was too underdeveloped for socialism, but ripe for a bourgeois one. The Mensheviks believed that the bourgeoisie would lead this revolution and that the working class should limit themselves to a supporting role by not putting forward any radical demands for fear of frightening them. While the Bolsheviks agreed with the Mensheviks that Russia was facing its 1789, they believed that the bourgeoisie was too frightened of upheaval from below to lead the struggle against Tsarism. Therefore, the workers would have to play a leading role.

Trotsky developed a different theory. He agreed with Vladimir I. Lenin that Russia was backward and that the workers were central to the forthcoming struggle. However, he argued that Russia was not following the same classical path of development as Britain and France. Rather, the uneven development of the world economy meant that Russia imported the latest technology from Western Europe. This created a highly concentrated, combative, and powerful working class with the potential to lead the revolution in alliance with the peasantry.

While it would fall to the working class to fight for the bourgeoisie revolution, Trotsky argued that the workers would not stop halfway, but would fight for socialism. In other words, there would be no lag between the bourgeois and socialist stages of the revolution, but the process would be uninterrupted and “permanent.” However, Trotsky recognized that Russian backwardness meant that the revolution stood little chance of survival unless it spread abroad to more advanced capitalist countries. This was a break with stagist Marxism, which dominated the major socialist parties of the Second International and later the Stalinist Communist parties of the Third International. According to stagist Marxists, underdeveloped countries needed to undergo a prolonged period of capitalist development before they would be ripe for socialism. This conception effectively consigned workers to supporting the bourgeoisie and effectively took socialism off the historical agenda. In contrast, Trotsky argued that it was possible for a socialist revolution to occur in underdeveloped countries first. The theory of permanent revolution was confirmed during the actual course of the 1917 Russian Revolution, when the workers took power away from the feeble bourgeoisie.

Originally, Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution was written to explain the peculiarities of the Russian Revolution. After the failure of the Chinese Revolution of 19251927, he generalized it to explain the possibilities for socialist revolution in the colonial world. Trotsky argued that in colonial countries, the bourgeoisie was weak and too bound to imperialism to lead the struggle for national liberation, agrarian reform, and democracy. Rather, that task fell to the proletariat, which would not simply achieve the goals of national liberation but also social revolution, something confirmed by the struggles in China (1949), Cuba (1959), and Vietnam (1975). In understanding the Stalinist folly of viewing the national bourgeoisie as a revolutionary force, and in defending the need for the proletariat to take up the tasks of national liberation and socialism, Trotsky’s analyses have had few equals.

The Anti-Fascist United Front

In the misery of Depression-era Germany, both the Communist Party and Nazi Party were gaining ground. Analyzing the situation, Trotsky believed that there was a real possibility of Adolph Hitler taking power, but he did not believe this outcome was preordained. The German Communist Party (KPD) was one of the largest revolutionary parties in the world, with millions of supporters. If the KPD formed a united front with the Social Democratic Party (SPD), then the possibility existed to forestall the Nazi rise to power.

However, the KPD and the Communist International’s “third period” condemned social democrats as “social fascists.” Instead of directing its main blows against the Nazis, the KPD went after the SPD and this for all practical purposes, foreclosed any united front action. As the Nazi vote climbed upward, Trotsky kept raising the call for a united front between the SPD and KPD.

Trotsky’s anti-fascist strategy was also an analysis of bourgeois democracy. He knew that the liberal bourgeoisie was more inclined to support brownshirts against workers than defend democracy. Trotsky did not have much hope in the antifascist potential of the SPD, which not only strangled the 1919 German Revolution, but also advocated support for liberals and faith in parliament in place of mass struggle from below. Instead, Trotsky advocated that a united front between the two worker organizations would rely upon extra-parliamentary means that would defeat the fascists. Beyond the role of defending democratic freedoms, the united front would allow communists to expose social democratic reformism as inadequate and win those workers to revolutionary politics. The united front would not only enable the communists to defeat fascism but serve as a springboard for a future revolutionary offensive.

It was all to no avail, and Hitler took power in 1933. The largest workers’ movement in Europe was crushed without mass resistance. Following this disaster, Stalin and the Communist International embraced the strategy of the Popular Front. In place of revolutionary sectarianism, Communist parties now advocated opportunist alliances with the liberal capitalists and curtailing workers’ struggles in the name of anti-fascism. The Popular Front had tragic results during the Spanish Civil War, when communists betrayed the revolutionary struggle of the working class. Against the dead ends of both ultra-leftism and relying on the bourgeoisie, Trotsky’s strategy linked anti-fascism and a united front with the revolutionary struggle against capitalism.

Degeneration, Defense, and Renewal

According to the theory of permanent revolution, socialism cannot exist in a single country like Russia, but the revolution must spread internationally to survive. This was tragically confirmed by the degeneration of the Russian Revolution in the face of blockade, civil war, and the failure of the German Revolution — which the Bolsheviks were counting on to provide material support. While the Soviet Republic prevailed against its enemies, it did so in conditions of isolation and extreme poverty.

During the 1920s, a new bureaucratic caste developed, personified in the figure of Joseph Stalin, which usurped political power from the working class. The failure of the German Revolution pushed forward the idea of “socialism in one country” that Russia could not expect aid from abroad but could only develop by its own efforts. To Trotsky and the Left Opposition, “socialism in one country” was a nationalist vision and a rejection of the original Bolshevik program of international revolution. During the 1920s, the Left Opposition fought for increased soviet and party democracy, industrialization, and internationalism. Despite its defeat, the Left Opposition’s revolutionary vision continued to haunt the Soviet bureaucracy. That Trotsky was named as the figurehead of the conspiracies “unmasked” during the Great Purges of the 1930s was no accident. The kernel of truth was that Stalin knew Trotsky’s vision symbolized revolt against the bureaucracy’s power and privileges.

Even though the working class had been deprived of political power, Trotsky recognized that the Soviet Union remained a workers’ state. The USSR’s economy was nationalized and planned, not run according to the logic of capital. Even though the bureaucracy operated as a parasitic element, it did not own the means of production. Ultimately, Trotsky argued that the bureaucracy would dispense with the socialist façade and restore capitalism. This could be stopped only by a political revolution of the Soviet working class, which would overthrow the bureaucracy and restore soviet democracy. Sadly, the Soviet Union’s restoration of capitalism in the 1990s confirmed Trotsky’s theory, whose analysis had allowed him to understand and criticize the USSR’s degeneration.

Trotsky recognized the progressive achievements of the Russian Revolution and that, however degenerated it had become, imperialism remained socialism’s main enemy. In any direct confrontation between the USSR and imperialism, Trotsky was unflinching in calling for the unconditional defense of the former. It was the task of the Soviet workers to deal with the bureaucracy, not imperialism. Trotsky’s analysis allowed him to understand the USSR’s degeneration. He also recognized that the revolution’s achievements were conquests of the working class that must be defended. 

Trotsky’s perspective allows Marxists to avoid the simple binary of either condemning revolutions as “dictatorial” and nothing else, or uncritical adulation that leads to overlooking betrayals and problems. The former perspective can lead to de facto support for Western imperialism as a “lesser evil” against “totalitarianism,” whereas the latter lends itself to whitewashing bureaucratic regimes and identifying them as socialist. With Trotsky’s position, we can defend the USSR and other workers’ states against capitalist restoration and imperialist attack while remaining unsparing in criticizing their bureaucratic leadership and fighting for political revolution. It can be a fine line, but this is a principled standpoint sadly lacking on much of the Marxist left.

Carrying the Red Flag Forward

Leon Trotsky was one of the twentieth century’s great figures. He fought for the socialist revolution with both the pen and the sword. His struggle against Stalinism was not a personal feud; it was a defense of Bolshevik internationalism against bureaucratic degeneration. Every revolutionary owes Trotsky a debt of gratitude for undertaking this struggle.

Trotsky understood that capitalism offers no way out for humanity. The struggle for communism requires rejecting reformist shortcuts, bureaucratic betrayals, and looking to “benevolent” sectors of the bourgeoisie. The only force that can free the world from oppression, ignorance, and slavery is the working class. For militants today, it is necessary to defend and advance this communist perspective. By doing so, we show true fidelity to the life and legacy of Leon Trotsky.

Suggested Reading

Works by Trotsky

Results and Prospects & Permanent Revolution

My Life

History of the Russian Revolution

Struggle Against Fascism in Germany

Revolution Betrayed


Biography

The Prophet: The Life of Leon Trotsky by Isaac Deutscher

Leon Trotsky and revolutionary art

 

Michael Lowy

21 August 2020

International Viewpoint

http://www.internationalviewpoint.org/spip.php?article6784

Eighty years ago, in August 1940, Leon Davidovich Trotsky was assassinated in Mexico by Ramon Mercader, a fanatical agent of the Stalinist GPU. This tragic event is widely known today, well beyond the ranks of Trotsky’s supporters, thanks, among other things, to the novel The Man Who Loved Dogs by Cuban writer Leonardo Padura ...

Revolutionary of October 1917, founder of the Red Army, infexible opponent of Stalinism, founder of the Fourth International, Leon Davidovich Bronstein made essential contributions to Marxist thinking and strategy: the theory of permanent revolution, the Transitional Programme, analysis of uneven and combined development - among others. His History of the Russian Revolution (1930) has become an indispensible reference: it was among the books of Che Guevara in the Bolivian mountains. Many of his writings can still be read in the 21st century, while those of Stalin and Zhdanov are forgotten in the dustiest shelves of libraries. One can criticize some of his decisions (Kronstadt!) and challenge the authoritarianism of certain writings of the years 1920-21 (such as Terrorism and Communism, 1920); but we cannot deny his role as one of the greatest revolutionaries of the 20th century.

León Trotsky was also a man of great culture. His little book Literature and Revolution (1924) is a striking example of his interest in poetry, literature and art. But there is one episode that illustrates this dimension of the character better than any other: the drafting, with André Breton, of a manifesto on revolutionary art. This is a rare document of "libertarian Marxist" inspiration. In this brief tribute to the anniversary of his death, let us recall this fascinating episode.

During the summer of 1938, Breton and Trotsky met in Mexico, at the foot of the Popocatepetl and Ixtacciuatl volcanoes. This historic meeting was prepared by Pierre Naville, ex-surrealist, leader of the Trotskyist movement in France. Despite a violent controversy with Breton in 1930, Naville wrote to Trotsky ’in 1938 recommending Breton as a courageous man who had not hesitated, unlike so many other intellectuals, to publicly condemn the infamy of the Moscow Trials. Trotsky had therefore given his agreement to receive Breton and the latter, with his companion Jacqueline Lamba, had taken the boat to Mexico. Trotsky was living at that time at the Blue House, which belonged to Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, two artists who shared his ideas and who had received him with warm hospitality (alas, they would fall out a few months later). It was also in this huge house located in the Coyoacan district that Breton and his companion were accommodated during their stay.

It was a surprising encounter, between personalities apparently located at the antipodes: one, a revolutionary heir to the Enlightenment, the other, installed on the tail of the romantic comet; one, founder of the Red Army, the other, initiator of the Surrealist Adventure. Their relationship was quite uneven: Breton had enormous admiration for the October revolutionary, while Trotsky, while respecting the courage and lucidity of the poet - one of the rare French left intellectuals to oppose Stalinism - had some difficulties understanding Surrealism… He had asked his secretary, Van Heijenoort, to provide him with the main documents of the movement, and Breton’s books, but this intellectual universe was foreign to him. His literary tastes led him to the great realist classics of the 19th century rather than to the unusual poetic experiences of the surrealists.

At first, the meeting was very warm: according to Jaqueline Lamba - Breton’s companion, who had accompanied him to Mexico, interviewed by Arturo Schwarz - "we were all very moved, even Lev Davidovich. We immediately felt welcomed. with open arms. LD was really happy to see André. He was very interested ". However, this first conversation almost went wrong ... According to the testimony of Van Heijenoort: "The old man quickly began a discussion of the word surrealism, to defend realism against surrealism. He understood by realism the precise meaning that Zola gave to this word. He began to talk about Zola. Breton was at first somewhat surprised. However, he listened attentively and knew how to find the words to highlight certain poetic features in Zola’s work." (Interview of Van Heijenoort with Arturo Schwarz). Other controversial subjects arose, notably on the subject of "objective chance" dear to the surrealists. It was a curious misunderstanding: while for Breton it was a source of poetic inspiration, Trotsky saw it as a questioning of materialism ...

And yet, the moment passed, Russian and French finding a common language: internationalism, revolution, freedom. Jacqueline Lamba rightly speaks of an elective affinity between the two. Their conversations take place in French, which Lev Davidovich spoke fluently. They will travel Mexico together, visiting the magical places of pre-Hispanic civilizations, and, immersed in rivers, fishing. We see them conversing in a friendly manner in a famous photo, sitting close to each other in an undergrowth, barefoot, after one of these fishing trips.

From this meeting, from the friction of these two volcanic stones, a spark arose that still shines: the Manifesto for an Independent Revolutionary Art. According to Van Heijenoort, Breton presented a first version, and Trotsky cut this text out by pasting his own contribution (in Russian). It is a libertarian communist text, anti-fascist and inimical to Stalinism, which proclaims the revolutionary vocation of art and its necessary independence from states and political apparatus. He called for the creation of an International Federation for Independent Revolutionary Art (FIARI).

The idea for the document came from Leon Trotsky, immediately accepted by André Breton. It was one of the few, if not the only jointly written document by the founder of the Red Army. The product of long conversations, discussions, exchanges, and no doubt some disagreements, it was signed by André Breton and Diego Rivera, the great Mexican muralist, at the time a fervent supporter of Trotsky (they will fall out soon after). This harmless little lie was due to the old Bolshevik’s belief that a Manifesto on Art should be signed only by artists. The text had a strong libertarian tone, notably in the formula, proposed by Trotsky, proclaiming that in a revolutionary society the artists’ regime should be anarchist, that is, based on unlimited freedom. Another famous passage in the document proclaims "any license in art". Breton had proposed to add "except against the proletarian revolution", but Trotsky proposed to delete this addition! We know André Breton’s sympathies for anarchism, but curiously, in this Manifesto, it is Trotsky who wrote the most "libertarian" passages.

The Manifesto affirms the revolutionary destiny of authentic art, that is, that which "sets up the powers of the inner world" against "the present, unbearable reality.". Is it Breton or Trotsky who formulated this idea, undoubtedly drawn from the Freudian repertoire? It doesn’t matter, since the two revolutionaries, the poet and the fighter, managed to agree on the same text.

The document retains, in its fundamental principles, an astonishing topicality, but it does not suffer less from certain limits, due perhaps to the historical conjuncture of its drafting. For example, the authors strongly denounce the restrictions on the freedom of artists, imposed by states, particularly (but not only) totalitarian states. But, curiously, it avoids a discussion, and a criticism, of the obstacles which result from the capitalist market and the fetishism of the commodity… The document quotes a passage from the young Marx, proclaiming that the writer "must not in any case live and write just to earn money"; however, in their commentary on this passage, instead of analyzing the role of money in the corruption of art, the two authors limit themselves to denouncing the attempts to impose "constraints" and "disciplines" on artists in the name of "the national interest". It is all the more surprising as one cannot doubt the visceral anti-capitalism of the two: had Breton not described Salvador Dali, as a mercenary, like an "Avida Dollars"? We find the same lacuna in the prospectus of the review of the FIARI (Clé), which calls for combating fascism, Stalinism, and ... religion: capitalism is absent.

The Manifesto concluded, as we have seen, with a call to create a broad movement, a sort of International of Artists, the International Federation for an Independent Revolutionary Art (FIARI), including all those who recognized themselves in the general spirit of document. In such a movement, write Breton and Trotsky, "the Marxists can walk here hand in hand with the anarchists (...) provided that both of them implacably break with the reactionary police spirit, be it represented by Joseph Stalin or by his vassal Garcia Oliver.”. This call for unity between Marxists and anarchists is one of the most interesting aspects of the document and one of the most current, a century later.

In parentheses: the denunciation of Stalin, qualified by the Manifesto as "the most perfidious and the most dangerous enemy" of communism, was essential, but was it necessary to treat the Spanish anarchist García Oliver, the companion of Durruti, the historical leader of the CNT-FAI, the hero of the victorious anti-fascist resistance in Barcelona in 1936, as Stalin’s "vassal"? Of course, he was a minister (he resigned in 1937) of the first Popular Front government (Largo Caballero); and his role in May 1937, during the fighting in Barcelona between Stalinists and anarchists (supported by the POUM), negotiating a truce between the two camps, was very questionable. But that does not make him a henchman of the Soviet Bonaparte ...

FIARI was founded shortly after the publication of the Manifesto; it succeeded in bringing together not only Trotsky’s supporters and Breton’s friends, but also anarchists and independent writers or artists. The Federation had a publication, the review Clé, whose editor was Maurice Nadeau, at the time a young Trotskyist militant with great interest in surrealism (he became the author, in 1946, of the first Histoire du Surréalisme). The manager was Léo Malet and the National Committee was composed of: Yves Allégret, André Breton, Michel Collinet, Jean Giono, Maurice Heine, Pierre Mabille, Marcel Martinet, André Masson, Henry Poulaille, Gérard Rosenthal, Maurice Wullens. Among the participants we find: Yves Allégret, Gaston Bachelard, André Breton, Jean Giono, Maurice Heine, Georges Henein, Michel Leiris, Pierre Mabille, Roger Martin du Gard, André Masson, Albert Paraz, Henri Pastoureau, Benjamin Péret, Herbert Read, Diego Rivera, Léon Trotsky, ... These names give an idea of the capacity of the FIARI to associate quite diverse political, cultural and artistic personalities.

The review Cle only saw 2 issues: n ° 1 appeared in January 1939 and n ° 2 in February 1939. The editorial of n ° 1 was entitled "Pas de patrie!", And it denounced repression and internment of foreign immigrants by the Daladier government: a very topical issue in 2018!

The FIARI was a beautiful “libertarian Marxist” experience, but of short duration: in September 1939, the beginning of the Second World War put an end, de facto, to the Federation.

Postscript: in 1965, our friend Michel Lequenne, at the time one of the leaders of the PCI, the International Communist Party, French section of the Fourth International, proposed to the Surrealist Group a refoundation of the FIARI. It seems that the idea did not displease André Breton, but it was finally rejected by a collective declaration, dated April 19, 1966 and signed by Philippe Audoin, Vincent Bounoure, André Breton, Gérard Legrand, José Pierre, Jean Schuster - for the Surrealist Movement.

Bibliographic note: the book by Arturo Schwarz, André Breton, Trotsky et anarchy (Paris, 10/18, 1974) contains not only the text of the FIARI Manifesto but also all of Breton’s writings on Trotsky, as well as a substantial historical introduction of 100 pages by the author, who was able to interview Breton himself, Jacqueline Lamba, Van Heijenoort and Pierre Naville. One of the most moving documents in this collection is the speech made by Breton at the funeral in Paris in 1962 for Natalia Sedova Trotsky. After paying homage to this woman whose eyes experienced "the most dramatic battles between shadows and light", he concluded with this stubborn hope: the day will come when not only justice will be done to Trotsky, but also "to ideas for which he gave his life".

Trotsky, a guiding light of the century

 

Daniel Bensaid

21 August, 2020

 

This year we commemorate the deaths of three leading figures of our movement. Daniel Bensaïd Marxist activist and philosopher, emerging from the May 1968 movement in France, who died too early in 2010 after a life as leader of the French section and the Fourth International. Ernest Mandel whose political activity started in resistance to the rise of Nazism, was an outstanding Marxist economist and a central leader of the Fourth International from the postwar period until his death in 1995. Léon Trotsky, leader of the Russian Revolution and of the fight against the counter-revolution, founder of the Fourth International, was assasinated by a Stalinist agent and died on 21 August 1940.

On this sad anniversary we publish an article by Daniel Bensaïd on Trotsky written in 2000.

Why this assassination? Leaving aside Stalin’s perverse personality, we have to start again from Trotsky’s last combats, that is, the entire Mexican period during which he principally waged three great struggles in a phase of collapse of hope.

First, he wanted to prevent any possible confusion between revolution and counterrevolution, between the initial phase of October 1917 and the Stalinist Thermidor. He did this in particular by organizing, upon his arrival in Mexico (January 1937), during the second Moscow trial, the international commission of inquiry chaired by the American philosopher John Dewey. Five hundred pages of documents dismantling the mechanism of falsification, of political amalgamations. The second struggle involved understanding the steps towards a new war, in a phase in which chauvinism was going to exacerbate and darken class issues. Finally, the third struggle, linked to the previous ones, was for the founding of a new international - proclaimed in 1938, but planned at least five years before, from Hitler’s victory in Germany – which he conceived not as a gathering of revolutionary Marxists alone, but as a tool turned towards the tasks of the moment. It was in this work that Trotsky was able, at this time, to be “irreplaceable”.

A time of defeats

He was wrong in his prognosis when he drew a parallel between the events that followed the First World War and those that could result from the Second World War. The error lies in the fact that the workers’ movements were in very different situations. In the Second World War, many factors accumulated; but what is key is undoubtedly the bureaucratic counter-revolution in the USSR in the 1930s, with a contaminating effect on the entire workers’ movement and its most revolutionary component. There was a sort of misunderstanding, of which the disorientation of many French Communists in the face of the German-Soviet pact is the most perfect illustration. But there were major defeats, such as the victory of Nazism in Germany and fascism in Italy, the defeat of the Spanish Civil War, the crushing of the Second Chinese Revolution. An accumulation of social, moral and even physical defeats, which we find difficult to imagine. But you can never assume that everything is decided in advance.

One of Trotsky’s major mistakes was to imagine that war would inevitably mean the fall of Stalinism, just as the Franco-German war of 1870 had meant the death sentence of the Bonapartist regime in France. We were in 1945 at the time of triumphant Stalinism, with its contradictory aspects. All this is very well illustrated in Vassili Grossman’s book, “Life and Fate”, concerning the battle of Stalingrad. Through the fighting, we see society awaken, and even partly escape bureaucratic control. We can envisage the hypothesis of a revival of the dynamics of October. The twenty years since the 1920s are a short interval. But what Grossman’s book says next is unstoppable. Stalin was saved by victory! We do not ask the winners to account for themselves. This is the big problem for the intelligence of this time.

The theoretical implications are important. In his critique of bureaucratic totalitarianism, if Trotsky understands very well the part played by police coercion, he underestimates the popular consensus linked to the pharaonic dynamic generated, even at a high price, by the Stalinist regime. This is an overlooked point which deserves to be taken up.

However, after the war there were specific responsibilities of the parties. Within the framework of the division of the world - the famous Stalin-Churchill meeting, where they divided Europe with a blue pencil - there were important social, or pre-revolutionary, surges; in France, but more so in Italy and Greece. And here, we can frankly speak of treason, of the subordination of social movements to the interests of the apparatuses. This does not automatically mean a victorious revolution, but a dynamic of development and a political culture of the workers’ movement that are certainly different. Which leaves other possibilities. We must nevertheless recall the famous “you have to know how to end a strike” of PCF general secretary Maurice Thorez, or the attitude of the Italian CP at the time of the attack on Togliatti. But the worst and most tragic was the defeat of the Spanish revolution and the disarmament of the resistance and the Greek revolution. Then, the Stalinist vote on the project of Balkan federation, still the only political solution faced with the question of nationalities in the Balkans.

The necessary and the possible

In sum, Trotsky’s tragic fate illustrates the tension between the necessary and the possible. Between social transformation responding to the effects of a decadent capitalism, and immediate possibilities. We can already find this when reading Marx’s correspondence. As for the theoretical and strategic contribution, it is considerable. Particularly in the analysis of the combined and uneven development of societies, starting with Russia as early as 1905, or the perception of the current modalities of imperialism. But what is irreplaceable, despite its shortcomings, is in the analysis of the phenomenon, unheard of at the time and difficult to understand, of the Stalinist counterrevolution. From this point of view, Trotsky serves as a guiding light. This does not mean a pious or exclusive reference. On the contrary, our task is to transmit a pluralist memory of the workers’ movement and of the strategic debates that have traversed it. But in this landscape and this perilous passage, Trotsky provided an indispensable point of support.

This article was published in Rouge, the weekly newspaper of the Ligue communiste révolutionnaire, to mark the 60th anniversary of the death of Trotsky. Translated by International Viewpoint.

৫ই অগাস্টের তাৎপর্য ও ভবিষ্যতের দিশা সম্পর্কে র‍্যাডিকাল সোশ্যালিস্টের অবস্থান

৫ই অগাস্টের তাৎপর্য ও ভবিষ্যতের দিশা সম্পর্কে র‍্যাডিকাল সোশ্যালিস্টের বক্তব্য

ভারতের উত্তরকালের ইতিহাসে ৫ই অগাস্ট তারিখটি আগ্রাসন ও উগ্র জাতীয়তাবাদের চূড়ান্ত ফ্যাসিবাদী চোখরাঙ্গানির দিন হিসাবে চিহ্নিত থাকবে। সামাজিক তাৎপর্যের নিরিখে একালের অন্যান্য দেশের উগ্র-দক্ষিণপন্থী ফ্যাসীবাদ-ঘেঁষা শক্তিগুলির তুলনায় তা অনেক বেশী অভিঘাতবাহী, যা প্রথম ভারতীয় সাধারণতন্ত্রের টুঁটি টিপে মারতে সক্ষম হয়েছে।

একথা অনস্বীকার্য, যে স্বাধীন ভারতের সংবিধান, তার রাজনৈতিক অনুশীলন, সবেতেই একটা হিন্দু ও ব্রাহ্মণ্যবাদী ঝোঁক ছিল। কিন্তু যা অতীতে ছিল বিভিন্ন উপাদানের একটি, আরএসএস ও তার হাতে গড়া রাজনৈতিক ও ‘সামাজিক-সাংস্কৃতিক’ সংগঠনগুলির হাতে তা হল প্রবল ঘাতসম্পন্ন কেন্দ্রীয় উপাদান। এই কারণেই, একদিকে বিজেপি জাতীয়তাবাদের উঁচু জমি দখল করতে পেরেছে, আর অন্যদিকে কংগ্রেস ও অন্যান্য বুর্জোয়া দলগুলি নীতিগত ভিত্তিতে তাদের বিরোধিতা করতে পারে নি, পারবেও না। বরং ধর্মনিরপেক্ষতার নীতি আদর্শ খানিকটা বিসর্জন দিয়েই তারা রামের মালিকানা নিয়ে বিজেপির সাথে প্রতিযোগিতায় নেমেছে।

রাম মন্দিরের ভূমি পূজার দিন ইচ্ছাকৃতভাবেই ৫ই অগাস্ট স্থির করা হয়েছে। ভারতে কাশ্মীর অন্তর্ভুক্তি প্রসঙ্গে পুরোপুরি গণতন্ত্র বর্জিত যে পন্থা নেওয়া হয়েছিল, তাকেও অগ্রাহ্য করে, এক বছর আগে, এই ৫ই অগাস্ট তারিখেই রাজ্যটির যেটুকু আত্মনিয়ন্ত্রণের মর্যাদা ছিল তা চূড়ান্তভাবে ধ্বংস করে, বেআইনিভাবে রাজ্যটিকে দুটি কেন্দ্রশাসিত অঞ্চলে রূপান্তরিত করা হয়। রাজ্যটিকে ভারতে একাত্ম করার নামে এ হল ঔপনিবেশিক শাসন কায়েমের শেষ ধাপ। এবার তার জমি ও সম্পদ বাইরে থেকে এসে অবাধে লুঠ করা যাবে। শেখ আবদুল্লার প্রশাসনের প্রথম দিকে যে অপেক্ষাকৃত প্রগতিশীল সংস্কার হয়েছিল, তাকে উলটে দেওয়া যাবে। আর, গত এক বছর ধরে কাশ্মীর আগাগোড়া স্বৈরতান্ত্রিক শাসনের পদানত যা মেনে নিয়েছে সুপ্রীম কোর্ট, কারণ তারা সরকারের সব দাবিকেই শেষ কথা বলে মনে করছে। ভারতীয় রাষ্ট্রের প্রত্যেকটি স্তম্ভের অগণতান্ত্রিক একীকরণের বার্তা এ থেকে স্পষ্ট হয়ে ওঠে।

ঐ তারিখকে ভূমি পূজার তারিখ করে একগুচ্ছ সাংকেতিক বার্তা দেওয়া হচ্ছে। এই মন্দির নির্মিত হচ্ছে এমন এক রায়ের ভিত্তিতে, যেখানে ভারতের সর্বোচ্চ আদালত মেনে নিয়েছে যে অপরাধীরা একটি ঐতিহাসিক মসজিদ ধ্বংস করেছে। তবুও সরকারি অর্থে সেখানে সংখ্যাগুরু সম্প্রদায়ের জন্য একটি মন্দির প্রতিষ্ঠা করার রায় দেওয়া হয়। এই রায় ছিল ধাপে ধাপে ধর্মনিরপেক্ষতার নীতির বিরুদ্ধে তীব্র আঘাত। ৫ই অগাস্ট তারিখ বেছে নিয়ে কেন্দ্রীয় সরকার জানান দিচ্ছে যে তার কাজে কোনরকম টানাপড়েন নেই। কাশ্মীরে মুসলিম সংখ্যাগরিষ্ঠ জনতা বিপন্ন, সেখানে অন্য জায়গা থেকে মানুষ এনে বহু দশকের লড়াইয়ের কণ্ঠরোধ করার চেষ্টা চলছে। একক জাতি নির্মাণের আগ্রাসী হিন্দুত্বের রাজনীতি, ব্রাহ্মণ্যবাদী ও উত্তর ভারতীয় হিন্দু ধর্মের সঙ্গে জাতিকে এক করে দেখানো হচ্ছে।

মানুষ যে শোষণ-নিপীড়নের বিরুদ্ধে লড়াই আবারও করবে তাতে সন্দেহ নেই। কিন্তু বিগত দশকগুলির ইতিহাস সাক্ষী, ভারত যদি কাশ্মীরের অধিকারের জন্য লড়াই না করে, তবে ভারতে কোথাও গণতন্ত্র, ন্যায় বা সামাজিক প্রগতির জায়গা থাকবে না। শ্রমজীবী মানুষ, শ্রমিক ও কৃষক, দলিত ও আদিবাসী ও অন্য নিপীড়িত সম্প্রদায়, নারী ও অন্য প্রান্তিক লিঙ্গের মানুষ, ঐক্যবদ্ধ হতে হবে, বুর্জোয়া রাজনীতি ও ব্রাহ্মণ্যবাদী- হিন্দুত্ব মতাদর্শের নিয়ন্ত্রণ থেকে বেরিয়ে আসতে হবে। তাদের এমন সব লড়াই গড়ে তুলতে হবে, যা তথাকথিত মূল শত্রুর বিরুদ্ধে লড়াই করার নামে শোষণ-নিপীড়নের স্তরবিন্যাস করবে না। যা বলবে না মূল শত্রুর সাথে লড়ার জন্য সমস্ত বিশেষ নিপীড়ন, সকল শ্রেণিগত শোষণ ভুলে যেতে। বুর্জোয়া রাজনীতি ও তার লেজুড়বৃত্তি করা সংস্কারবাদী বামপন্থা ১৯৭৫-৭৭ এর জরুরী অবস্থার সময় থেকে আজ অবধি ঐ পথ ধরে আজ আমাদের এই বিধ্বংসী পরিবেশে এনে ফেলেছে। লড়াইয়ের কোনো সোজা রাস্তা নেই। লড়াই হবে দীর্ঘ। কিন্তু ৫ই অগাস্টের হিন্দুত্ববাদী বিজয়ের বিরুদ্ধে লড়ে, দিন বদল সম্ভব কেবল প্রতিটি শোষণ-নিপীড়নের চরিত্র বুঝে, গণ যুক্তফ্রণ্ট গড়ে, এবং সব বুর্জোয়া দলকে প্রত্যাখ্যান করেই। বর্বরতার একমাত্র বিকল্প সমাজতন্ত্র। বুর্জোয়াদের ফেলে দেওয়া পতাকা তুলে ধরে সাচ্চা বুর্জোয়া গণতন্ত্রের স্বপ্ন নয়, চাই ভারতীয় পরিস্থিতিতে প্রলেতারীয় বিপ্লবের দীর্ঘ প্রস্তুতি, যা হতে পারে কেবল সমস্ত শোষিত ও নিপীড়িতের কণ্ঠ হয়েই।

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