Presentation made by Comrade Birju Nayak at a web meeting organised by Mazdoor Ekta Committee on 4 October 2020 on “The Way Forward for Workers and Peasants”
All across the country, workers and peasants are protesting against the laws recently passed by Parliament. On 23rd September, there were huge rallies and protest demonstrations by workers’ unions and farmers’ associations against the three Labour Codes and the three Bills relating to trade and storage of agricultural products. On 25th September, over 250 farmers’ associations organised a Bharat Bandh.
The Labour Codes make it legitimate for capitalists to violate the rights of workers, including the right to security of employment, safety at the workplace, social security, right to form unions and the right to strike.
The farm bills open the path for increasing domination of agricultural trade by big capitalist corporations, Indian and foreign. They are aimed at further cutting back on government procurement and weakening the role of state regulated mandis. Crores of peasants will be at the mercy of capitalist companies, just like they were in the days of the British East India Company.
Taken together, workers and peasants make up more than 90 percent of the population in every region of our country. The overwhelming majority of the population is protesting against the decisions taken in Parliament. But their voice is being ignored by the Government of India. It shows that the existing parliamentary system is a democracy only in name.
The dictionary meaning of democracy is rule by the people. What exists is the rule of capitalists, headed by the Tatas, Ambanis, Birlas and other monopoly houses. The Government of India is acting in the interest of this super-rich minority. What exists is a capitalist dictatorship.
Ever since 1947, every party that has taken charge of the government has made false promises to the workers and peasants. They have claimed to be building socialism. They have raised the slogan “Garibi hatao”. However, it is the corporate houses who have amassed wealth all these years. Workers and peasants have remained poor and super-exploited.
Today, we have Prime Minister Modi promising “sab ka vikaas” and doubling of farmers’ incomes. He says, “Shrameva Jayate!” The reality is that workers and peasants have been deprived of any semblance of economic security. The fact that crores of workers were forced to walk back to their villages when the lockdown was announced showed their extremely insecure conditions. Thousands of farmers are continuing to commit suicide.
Every government implements policies to suit the interests of the capitalist billionaires. In the name of improving the ease of doing business, they want to make it easy for capitalists to dismiss workers whenever they please. Capitalists are being allowed to hire the majority of workers on contract. But how can workers maintain their families and take care of their monthly expenses if they have no job security?
Peasants are being told that they are free to sell their products to anyone they wish. But how can peasant families survive if there is no guarantee that the price they receive will be at least 50% more than the cost they have incurred?
For the past 30 years, every party in charge of the central and state governments has been implementing the program of liberalisation and privatisation. By now it has become clear that this is a program to attack whatever limited rights that workers have won through years of struggle. It is a program to withdraw even the limited support to farmers by way of subsidised supply of inputs and government procurement of wheat and rice. It is a program to enrich the biggest Indian and foreign capitalists at the expense of workers and peasants.
Congress Party, BJP and other parties which have held power at the central or state level talk as if they are greatly concerned about the welfare of workers and peasants. When in power, they implement one and the same program aimed at guaranteeing maximum profits for the corporate houses. When they are out of power, they organise hartals and chakka jams against the anti-people policies of the government. This is a drama they repeatedly carry out, in order to deceive the people and manipulate their anger so as to come to power.
All these parties sing the same tune that there is no alternative to the capitalist system and the program of liberalisation and privatisation. Each of them claims that they can implement this program better than their rivals. They claim that some so-called pro-people policies can be implemented within the capitalist system. They claim that it is possible to fulfil the greed of the big capitalists as well as the needs of the workers and peasants. But the experience of the past 70 years has shown that this is nothing but an illusion. Any government can be either committed to fulfil the greed of capitalists for maximum profits, or committed to fulfil the needs of the workers and peasants. It is not possible to fulfil both.
There is only one real alternative to the capitalist program of liberalisation and privatisation. That alternative is to completely reorient the economy. From being oriented to ensure maximum capitalist profits, it must be reoriented to ensure secure livelihood and prosperity for the entire working population.
The only way to ensure secure livelihood for all peasants is to establish social control over the supply of all agricultural inputs and over the procurement of agricultural products. As long as the purchase of farm produce is in the hands of private traders, they will always buy at the lowest possible price. To ensure remunerative prices for farmers, it is essential for the central and state governments to become the principal purchasers of farm produce, not just wheat and rice but all other agricultural products. The role of private profiteers in supplying seeds, fertilisers and other inputs, and in purchasing the farm output, must be eliminated.
The vast majority of farmers in our country are poor peasants toiling on small and tiny plots of land. The central and state governments have to encourage such peasants to pool their land and form agricultural cooperatives, so that they can raise their productivity and lower their costs. Agricultural machinery and technical assistance must be provided to such cooperatives farms.
The entire system of production is today geared towards maximising profits in the hands of capitalist companies. This orientation is leading to massive unemployment among workers and extreme insecurity among farmers.
If the economic system is reoriented towards fulfilling the people’s needs, then there will be a huge increase in the production of food, clothing and housing. Tens of thousands of additional teachers, doctors, nurses and other health workers will be required. It will be possible to provide work for all.
Every person who is hired to work in any factory or shop, school or hospital, must be registered as a worker. All the rights that belong to the working class must be guaranteed for every worker without exception. This includes minimum wages, 8-hour working day, paid leave, pension and social security. Today the majority of workers are deprived of these rights. Even the minority of workers who have enjoyed some degree of legal protection are being deprived of their rights by the recently passed Labour Codes.
According to these Labour Codes, workers employed in an establishment which has 40 or less employees, or for a labour contractor who employs 50 or less, have no rights whatsoever. They will be at the mercy of their employer. They can be made to work for any number of hours every day and thrown out of their jobs at any time. Are such workers not human beings? Do they not need to maintain their families? Do they not need time to rest and spend with their children?
Government spokesmen argue that the owners of small-scale enterprises cannot afford to ensure social security to their workers. It is not acceptable that workers must be deprived of their rights so that their employers can make a profit. Government must ensure social security for all workers.
Faced with inhuman treatment by their employers, workers in all spheres are naturally trying to form unions to fight for their rights. The only way they can improve their miserable conditions is by organising strikes and other forms of struggle to compel their employers to address their demands. The Labour Codes are aimed at depriving workers of even this weapon. They are designed to make it extremely difficult to register new unions and even more difficult to go on strike.
The most positive and encouraging development at this time is the growing unity of workers and peasants against the attacks on our livelihood and rights. The way forward is to further strengthen this unity and raise it to a higher level. While it is necessary to oppose the program of enriching capitalists under the banner of liberalisation and privatisation, it is not enough to say no to this program. We have to unite and agitate for the real alternative to this program.
The alternative to capitalism is socialism. The word socialist has been inserted into the Constitution but the system remains capitalist. We have to unite around the program of making socialism a reality, by reorienting the economy to fulfil the needs of the entire population. Vital sectors including banking, wholesale trade and large-scale retail trade must be brought under social control. Only then can the entire system of production be carried out according to one centralised plan aimed at fulfilling the ever rising material needs of the people. Any private enterprise that violates this plan must be taken over and converted into a social enterprise that belongs to the people.
The existing system of parliamentary democracy is nothing but a form of capitalist rule. Workers and peasants have no decision-making power in this system. Parties backed by capitalist money power select the candidates for election. Workers and peasants are asked to choose between rival parties of the capitalist class. Once we cast our vote, we have no say in who forms the government and what policies it implements.
The alternative to capitalist rule is workers’ and peasants’ rule. We need to unite around the aim of bringing decision-making power into our hands, so that we can carry out the socialist reorientation of the economy.
The BJP and its allies say that Hindus are a majority and we must therefore establish Hindu rule. The Congress Party and its allies say that communalism is the main problem and we must establish a Secular government. Both sides are wrong. They both want to mislead the workers and peasants. The real struggle is between the capitalist class on one side and the workers and peasants on the other side. Our political aim is neither to establish Hindu rule nor a Secular rule. Our aim is to establish workers’ and peasants’ rule in place of the existing capitalist rule.
The only way forward is to further strengthen the fighting unity of workers and peasants. We must uphold the principle that an attack on one is an attack on all. We must build political unity around one common program aimed at establishing workers’ and peasants’ rule and carrying out the socialist reorientation of the economy. We must not fall into the trap of parties which want to use our struggles to achieve their own narrow aim of coming to power and continuing with the same system and program of enriching the capitalist minority.
Mazdoor Ekta Committee appeals to all organisers of workers and peasants to join this effort. We workers and peasants make up the vast majority of the Indian population. If we unite as one political force, we can succeed in changing the course of our society. Inquilab Zindabad is a slogan that has inspired many generations of our people. The time has come to convert it from a slogan into a program of action.
An attack on one is an attack on all!
Let us unite around the aim of establishing workers’ and peasants’ rule!
Let us fight for a bright new socialist India!