India: mafia, massacres and mass resistance
DELHI — Class exploitation takes extreme forms in India. Workers are forced to sell their labour for a pittance. Landlords and bosses use criminal gangs to enforce subservience, with wholesale massacres as the ultimate threat. The Communist Party of India Marxist-Leninist (Liberation), which arose from the Naxalite peasant revolt in the late 1960s, is active in anti-capitalist organising, especially in its strong base in Bihar. Green Left Weekly's EVA CHENG asked P.V. SRINIVAS, the party's international secretary, to assess the state of the class struggle in India and the party's role.
Question: Can you explain your party's involvement in organising workers?
For a long time, we neglected the working-class movement. We were exclusively concentrating on the landless and poor peasants. In the mid-'80s, we realised the need to overcome that gap. We consciously started developing activist movements among the workers. Gradually, we've built up unions at the local and industrial levels, which are coordinated nationally. Our trade union membership is small, about 100,000.
Since the government's 1992 economic policy and the structural adjustment programs, multinational corporations have been allowed in, and many Indian industries have become sick or have closed. Ninety-three per cent of workers are in the agricultural or informal sectors, where the businesses are small, wages are meagre and legal protection of workers non-existent.
The organised sector covers the state industries and the big monopolies. But those areas have been slashing jobs due to restructuring, privatisation, downsizing and outsourcing. The private sector is also going for "lean production", swelling further the informal sector. The organised sector, where the traditional trade unions are concentrated, is waging a defensive battle to save jobs.
But these unions have neglected the other 93%. Organising the latter is a challenge for a revolutionary organisation. These workers are forced to sell their labour power for a wage that doesn't even meet their subsistence.
We are focusing on the informal sector, where even the right to bargain is denied, and trying to form basic unions as well as state-wide associations in some key states, especially in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal.
Question: What are the key difficulties in organising this sector?
The big industries often employ workers through subcontractors, who seek to exert control through the use of mafia gangs (sometimes their own) and their privileged connections with the ruling party and the police.
The tannery industry is notorious for union smashing. The multinationals usually procure the leather goods and export them to the West through their trading arm. With this system, they can afford to pay workers very little, ignore sanitation or job security and expose workers to harmful chemicals in order to maximise profits.
In Madhya Pradesh's iron ore industry and Bihar's coalfields, though the steel production and mine management are government-owned, mine workers from the tribal area are employed through contractors and paid a pittance. The contractors have their own mafia to intimidate workers.
Our strategy is to develop a popular movement to support the workers' struggles.
Question: How do the people's movements supplement the trade union struggle?
Some of our close collaborators have built unions and linked them up with the people's movement. This strategy is very successful in Chatishgash, a tribal area, where the backbone of the people's struggle is the workers. The workers, organised and assertive, boost the people's confidence in waging their own struggles, while the workers draw strength from the people to combat the mafia. Solidarity and a sense of community are strong.
But such solidarity does not necessarily exist in the metropolitan areas. In one tannery-dominated peasant area in Tamil Nadu, when the workers suffered a setback, the peasants didn't give them support. The management sacked workers from certain villages and found replacements from the same villages. Pitting one group against the other, they kept wages low.
In a suburb in Madras where the workers still have connections with the villages from which they came, whenever management tries to break a strike and recruit strikebreakers, the people in the villages resist. Organised workers' struggles increase the awareness and self-organisation of the agricultural labourers and peasants.
But where workers have been in the metropolitan areas for a few generations, they are usually cut off from such relations, and only class solidarity can help them.
Question: You're currently campaigning in response to a massacre in Bihar. Do such massacres happen frequently?
They are not new for Bihar. The killings aren't aimed at a particular village, but at a particular class in order to preserve the status quo. In Bihar, as well as elsewhere in India, the struggles of the landless and poor peasants and agrarian labourers challenge the supremacy of feudal authority in the villages.
These are class clashes, but the people's awareness of their true nature is uneven. When you're organised, your consciousness is high and you are prepared for the enemy, to resist arms with arms. In such cases, massacres are unlikely.
Massacres tend to happen in isolated villages where the consciousness is low and the villagers are not organised. The killers want to spread fear and terror.
The feudal lords and landlords engineer these killings. They pay the low-paid and the unemployed to do the job. They also use caste sentiment to mobilise them, injecting the fear that their caste is endangered.
Question: What's your strategy in struggling against these massacres?
Mass struggle. To retaliate against killings with killing will not advance the struggle. We target our class enemy who masterminds them. We are organising awareness programs and intensive mobilisations. The people's consciousness is rising against such inhuman attacks. Division and clashes are developing even within the castes from which the executors are recruited.
In this context, this war against the people can't continue for long. We will continue our mobilisation and mass struggle to speed up its demise.
Question: Can you quantify your peasant base?
Our organised base is about 400,000-500,000 in Karbi Anglong (a tribal area inhabited mostly by small peasants and where we are the ruling party), 1-1.5 million in Bihar and 3-3.5 million in India as a whole. But it's nothing compared to the total 600-650 million rural masses.
Question: There are many parties in the Indian communist movement. What collaboration do you have with the other groups?
We have close collaboration with the Lal Nishan Party [in Maharashtra], and they participate in our trade union organisation. It has a good mass base but is still too small to have mainstream influence.
There are two streams in the communist movement in India — the revolutionary and the social democratic. The latter includes the Communist Party of India (CPI) and the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), which are ruling in one big and two small states. Elsewhere in India, these parties have only marginal influence and are trying to have closer relations with the bourgeois parties — the Congress party in particular.
All the "class struggles" the CPI and CPI-M engage in are geared to enrich their parliamentary presence. They are implementing neo-liberal policy in the states they control and claim they lack an alternative because state governments have to implement the central government policy.
As for the revolutionary communist parties, the collapse of the USSR has not affected them because they never regarded the Soviet Union as communist. There are two trends among them.
One is represented by the anarchist-inclined People's War group, which lacks a mass mobilisation perspective. It engages in regular attacks on kulaks and local leaders, burns buses and extorts contractors, but fails to raise the question of power at the national level. When there is a massacre, they will commit a counter-massacre.
They engage in grassroots work and are attractive to the liberal bourgeoisie in the human rights or non-government organisations they collaborate with.
The other trend, of which we are a part, is convinced of the importance of a mass political movement. It utilises parliamentary struggle to enhance an independent class movement. There is animosity between these two trends. The first group sometimes attacks our cadres.
Since about three years ago, we have been involved in a joint forum with six Marxist-Leninist groups. [A defeat in 1971-72 resulted in many splits and the formation of many ML groups, including many small ones, which are experimenting with different strategies. Many of them have made negligible political impact and some have disappeared.]
The major ML groups are in one forum, which consists of ourselves, CPI-ML (Red Flag), CPI-ML (New Democracy), CPI-ML (People's Power), the Communist Organising Committee and the MCPI (a splinter from the CPI-M).
On certain issues, we have joint action. For example, last year the pesticides the small farmers rely on did not work, crops failed and huge debts crushed them, thanks to the dependency — especially on multinational corporation-sourced supplies — created by the now-bankrupt "Green Revolution".
There is a mass movement protesting these issues as well as the neo-liberal policies of the World Trade Organisation, the World Bank and the IMF.
We are also involved in another forum which is for all mass organisations of the CPI, CPI-M, CPI-ML (Liberation), and a section of the Socialist Party against the central government's economic policy. We collaborated on mass demonstrations, mass processions and all-India strikes.
We aspire to build a united single communist party in India and have experimented on this for years. We are not pinning much hope on it now because a wholesale merger of all is neither possible nor healthy. A polarisation will come from which real communists will emerge and all pseudo-communists will be swept away.