Gurgaon Workers News on the mass workers' struggles in India in the 1970s and their relevance for the discussion on the relation between crisis, class struggle, ‘popular movements’ and state form today.
The crisis blow of the 1973 ‘oil-crisis’ fuelled inflation and pushed up the unemployment rate in India. A year later students in Gujarat protested against the rise in canteen prices. The police attacked them, sparking violent protests throughout the state. Main target of the anger was the ‘corrupted government’ and its repressive forces. Initially the movement spread without an established political party or institution leading it. The state government had to resign. Some months later a similar movement started in Bihar. Apart from engaging in demonstrations, warehouses with hoarded essential goods were raided and prices of commodities reduced. In June 1975 the movement became the official reason for the declaration of a state of emergency, which lasted for two years. After the lifting of the state of emergency violent workers struggles broke out. These struggles were repressed by the new ‘democratic government’, which had emerged out of the ‘popular movement’ prior to the Emergency.
After the chimera of the ‘neoliberal boom for everyone’ crashed in 2008, the question of corruption re-entered the political stage. In India it took the form of the anti-corruption movement of Hazare, though it never developed the character of a ‘popular revolt’. New ‘popular’ movements emerged: they took over city squares in Spain in 2011, they removed Mubarak’s ‘neo-liberal dictatorship’ in Egypt and we witnessed short outbursts of popular anger in the streets of cities in Turkey and Brazil in summer 2013. Again, police repression against a seemingly minoritarian action triggered a wave of violent protests ‘by the people’ against the corrupted government. Particularly in Egypt we were able to see how out of the popular unrest a new state government came to power, which quickly turned against the continuing proletarian struggle.
For us this historical parallel raises at least two questions:
a) what is the relation between ‘capitalist crisis’ and ‘protests against the impact of crisis as protests against corruption’? and
b) what is a ‘popular movement’ in (working) class terms and in terms of political trajectory and limitations?
In the following we cannot provide any significantly new thoughts concerning these questions, we rather provide some material for debate. We want to re-consider the Bihar movement of 1974 briefly and then focus on the working class unrest between 1977 and 1979 with focus on the industrial area of Faridabad. To focus on the Bihar movement and the post-Emergency trouble is an appeal to see the current ‘popular movements’ (from Spain to Egypt to Turkey) in a wider historical dimension and to engage in a deeper discussion. We think this is necessary because in 1974 the step from a) the ‘total revolution’ called for by the later leader of the Bihar movement, JP Narayan, addressing ‘the common people’ to b) the institutionalisation of the movement in the form of the Janata Party, which came to power in 1977 and immediately turned against the upsurge of working class struggles, was a very short one. The various revolts today are not free from that danger of degeneration, even if they express a goal of ‘true democracy’ and egalitarianism as common citizens. The other trap when criticising the populism of the anti-corruption movements is to see ‘corruption’ as an by-product of privatisation and neo-liberalism. This would run the danger of idealising the state as an institution of public interest in contrast to the private sector of profit-interest and corruption. If at all, rather than privatisation, the state in India in 1974 promoted nationalisation of certain industries (banking, mining), which did not make the regime less ‘corrupt’ in the experience of the people. We conclude the historical documentation with general thoughts about what has structurally changed between 1974 and 2013 and thereby radically limited the scope for social reform and ‘popular movements’.
*** The background: Developmental crunch since the mid-1960s and crisis blow 1973
*** The background: Bihar in the early 1970s
*** The composition and political organisations of the Bihar movement, 1974
*** The chronology of the Bihar movement
*** The State of Emergency, 1975
*** The Janata Party government and the working class unrest 1977 – 1979
*** Conclusions and historical comparison
The crisis in India was not a mere external affair caused by the costs of the India-Pakistan war in 1971 or the blow of the ‘oil-shock in 1973. Bourgeois forces in India, which includes large parts of the left, try to display the economic crisis in India as a result of externally imposed politics (from colonial policies, to IMF re-adjustment programs to global financial speculation), without seeing the underlying general contradictions of capitalist social relations.
In India productive investments slowed down considerably since the mid-1960s, while overcapacity’s increased. At that time around 40 per cent of the capacities of the machinery and equipment component industries were unutilised. While the annual growth of capital formation in the public sector was over 9 per cent during the 1950s till mid 1960s, it slowed down to 0.7 per cent from then on. During the decade 1955-65, total industrial production increased at an average annual rate of 7.8 per cent, while manufacturing output increased at 7.6 per cent. In the following decade, 1965-75, the rates dropped to 3.6 per cent and 3.1 per cent respectively.
In July 1969, in an attempt to revamp the state’s authority and to contain the rising wave of discontent, Indira Gandhi nationalised the country’s 14 largest banks, followed by an act of nationalisation of the mining industry few years later. The Communist Party of India interpreted this as a step towards Socialism and from then on backed the Congress government all the way through the repressive phase of the state of Emergency. Nationalisation was more of an attempt to concentrate capital for a leap in re-structuring of major industries and created a brutal ‘Mafia’-type’ of collusion between mining management and Congress trade unions in the mining regions.
On a wider level real wages and per capita income declined from the mid-1960s on. Social unrest culminated in the late 1960s in both urban and rural areas, which caused closures and re-locations of many older industrial plants, e.g. many factories were re-located from West-Bengal to the industrial belt around Delhi. The impact of the global slump 1973 was direct. Over the two-year period to 1974, prices almost doubled on average, while wages remained frozen, when they were not cut. The share of crude oil and petroleum products in India’s import bill jumped from 11 per cent in 1972/3 to 26 per cent in 1974/5. Closures and state policies lead to a concentration process of capital. Between the late-1960s and mid-1970s the assets of medium and large public limited companies doubled. The gross profits of the twenty biggest business houses increased by 60 per cent between 1972 and 1975. Concentration of capital in times of mass unemployment, in particular amongst the ‘aspiring lower middle class youth’, created an atmosphere for popular anger, not just in India, but all over the globe. From the 1973 blow to the early 1980s most ‘developing’ countries underwent major turmoil and extended periods of state repression, from Chile 1973, to India 1975, to South Africa 1976, to Poland 1977, to South Korea and Iran 1979.
One of the significant reasons for why a populist ‘anti-corruption’ movement started in Bihar was the specific composition of capital and ruling class. Bihar, before the creation of a separate state Jharkhand in the south in 2000, was a state rich in mineral resources, producing 46 per cent of India’s coal and 45 per cent of bauxite. At the same time Bihar remained the state with the highest level of poverty. Major steel plants were opened close to the mining areas, e.g. in Bokaro and Jamshedpur, which created major aspirations, but few jobs. The small local bourgeoisie perceived that the benefits of these investments mainly go to ‘outside’ business corporations and the coal mafia or are funneled away into the budget of the central state. In particular after the nationalisation of the mining industry and the allocation of mining jobs to ‘outsiders’, the material ground was created for a certain populist regional identity of both local bourgeoisie and the lower middle-class plus aspiring segments of the working class. This lead to a backing of the Bihar movement by the local bourgeoisie once it became clear that it is actually not about ‘total revolution’, but about questioning the monopoly of central Congress power. It also lead, later on, to the populist Jharkhand liberation movement.
A similar situation existed in the countryside. The local middle peasantry perceived that the main profits in the agricultural sector in Bihar were channeled towards the Jute mill capitalist in neighbouring West-Bengal. Their complaints became louder when after 1973 the central Congress government cut some of the agriculture subsidies to its former social back-bone, the middle-peasantry. For the time being there was no political party representing their social position, which led to the fact that one of the main representatives of the middle peasantry in India at the time, Charan Singh, gave his support to the ‘Bihar movement’ and later on his BLD helped the Janata Party to power in 1977. The middle peasantry was not only looking for support vis-a-vis the central government’s agrarian politics or the agribusiness, but also for dealing with the social unrest of the rural proletariat.
In Bihar in 1970, there were over 600 recorded agrarian agitations, seven times more than in the previous year. Local landlords formed private armies against the allegedly Naxalite (Maoist) uprising and land occupations. In this situation the later leader of the Bihar movement JP Narayan provided a populist ideology, which seemed to address all major problems of the middle-peasantry: a call against the corruption of the Congress government; a Gandhian ideology of peaceful social cooperation and rural development. For the land-owning peasantry he had proven his reliability in 1969 when he intervened in support of the state and landlord in order to repress Naxalites in Musahari, Muzzaffarpur district.
But the backing of certain sections of the bourgeoisie and middle-peasantry does not explain why a movement erupts in the first place. Unrest did not only exist on the countryside, e.g. against corrupt local politicians and moneylenders. In the towns, teachers, government employees, and other sections of the urban ‘professional’ working class raised their voice against sky-rocketing prices, black-marketeering and hoarding – which according to their view was done in collaboration with government officials. The imposition of a professional tax in 1973 added fuel to the fire. While prices went up, the educated sons and daughters of the middle-waged class remained unemployed. The number of colleges in Bihar increased by 284 per cent from 1951-52 to 1966-67. There were 14,000 unemployed graduates in 1967. The number rose to 66,000 in 1972. Protests started, initially still called for by the CPI. A Bihar-wide strike was called for on 21st of January 1974, supported by 400 trade unions, mainly of the public sector, against scarcity of essential commodities and price hikes.
Driving force of the movement were students, professional section of the middle-class (public sector employees, teachers, lawyers etc.) and some segments of the local entrepreneurial class. After an initial phase of mass mobilisations in response to police repression the student union organisations, affiliated to various political parties, became the transmission belts between movement and political class. In early 1974 various student organisations formed the Bihar Student Struggle Committee (BCSS). Of its 24 student members, 20 belonged to upper castes, while in terms of political affiliations, one-third were in the Right-wing ABVP (affiliated to JKan Sangh, a Hindu-nationalist predecessor of the BJP), four were in the socialist SYS, two in the Gandhian Tarun Shanti Sena, two in the Congress (O) and one in another student group. Only seven were not attached to any party or group. At this time most Bihari students were from families of white-collar employees, businessmen and landholders. There were only isolated instances of women participating in the Movement, and these tended to be at lower levels, including “attending to office work”. When looking at the political composition of the Bihar movement we have to keep the bigger global picture of the time in mind. Within India the Cold War situation played its role, with the US block supporting opposition movements as a counterbalance to the Congress and CPI power.
Given their pluralistic political composition of the official student movement on one side and the general mistrust towards the official party system on the other it was no wonder that the student leadership approached JP Naryan to take over a leading position. He had the credibility of a freedom fighter against colonial rule, he had refused official political positions, he had broken with the communist movement and his Gandhian ideology of peaceful and constructive resistance made it possible that he became the personal symbol of a movement which itself was not sure what its unifying elements and goals were, apart from being against the current government and the aspiration of a certain formal equality as citizens. But he was not only an honest politician he also had strong enough ties to the economic powers, e.g. by having served as secretary to the industrial magnate G.D. Birla. More due to the lower middle class composition of the movement, and less due to the peaceful preaching of its leaders, the actual practice of the movement changed from violent outbursts, raiding and looting of black-market warehouses etc. towards a more and more symbolic activity, e.g. silent marches, and for more and more limited political goals, e.g. the dissolution of the Bihar assembly.
There was a ‘Gandhian’ aspect of the movement which remains to be explored, e.g. the call for independent political and economical committees on village and neighbourhood level, educational organisations for the rural poor, proposing the usage of labour-intensive artisan tools and agricultural methods. Other suggested actions were: non-payment of taxes; keeping a check on corruption and bribery in government offices, on blackmarketing and hoarding and on irregularities in ration shops; distributing essential commodities at fair prices; picketing of liquor shops; protecting the land and homestead rights of scheduled castes and ensuring their equal treatment; protecting sharecroppers’ rights; distributing bhoodan (voluntary land distribution) and government land; preventing crime and keeping the peace; flood relief; vaccination and hygiene campaigns; encouragement to renounce dowry-giving and the wearing of the sacred thread by high caste Hindus; verification of electoral rolls; and voter education. These were partly attempts of the movement to ‘socialise’ itself, once urban protests ran out of steam. They were based on an assumption that the ‘village’ was still a potentially self-sufficient entity of small scale agricultural producers and artisans. The impact of these attempts remained marginal. Mass actions of rural labourers were not encouraged. For example, as part of the ‘rural campaign’ it was decided to form Janata Sarkars [bodies of people’s rule – a kind of parallel government] in 150 blocks [administrative district] out of the 587 blocks in Bihar. However, by the end of March 1975, only 18 blocks were declared to have formed Janata Sarkars. In Chandi block of Biharsharif district the landed class had formed in January 1974 a Kisan Sangh [farmers’ organisation] to protect their (landed) interests, also against the rural proletarian unrest. The governing board of the Kisan Sangh converted itself into a Janata Sarkar. So the Gandhian efforts remained at best marginal. Later on many students saw the attempts to recruit them into these Gandhian organisations as a conscious effort to steer away from the political confrontation with the state.
Efforts to create links between the movement and the wider working class were discouraged by the leadership, e.g. the leadership of the BCSS sabotaged a call for a solidarity strike with the India-wide railway workers strike in April 1974 – an historic chance of a ‘general popular urban anger’ coming together with the structural power of a specific and potentially leading segment of the working class.
The strike involved 1.7 million workers, mainly demanding higher wages and shorter working hours. The strike call was given for the 8th of April 1974. Indira Gandhi responded to this call by declaring the strike illegal under the provisions of the “Defence of India Rules”, inherited from the colonial days. Strike activists were arrested under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act. The strike lasted from 8th of May till 27th of May. During this period over 50,000 workers were sent to jail and 15.000 lost their jobs. This repression was clearly a precursor of the repression of the state of emergency a year later. But the repression itself cannot explain why the strike remained isolated and ended without success. The official trade union leaders like Fernandes, who was also a supporter of the Socialist party and therefore of the Bihar Movement, were aware of the fact that the strike could spark off an incalculable wave of discontent which would have gone beyond the agitations in Bihar and Gujarat. So they contained the strike as much as they could without losing the strike leader position. Fernandes was later on rewarded with a Union Minister for Industries post in the Janata Party government. One week into the strike, on 15th of May, the non-Congress union federations went through the motions of calling a token one-day general strike in support of the railway strikers. But in the absence of any serious preparation, it was poorly supported outside Bombay and Calcutta. The CP-led trade unions which took part in the railway workers strike predictably tried to curb the strike so that it would not endanger the Congress government – another precursor of the CP’s support of the declaration of state of emergency later on. Two days after the beginning of the strike, CPI spokesmen announced ‘that it should not and will not last long’.
If we return to the relation between the leaders of the Bihar movement and workers’ struggles like the railway workers strike we can see that their motivation to limit the connections between ‘popular movement’ and ‘workers struggle’ might partly have been ‘party political’, given the active hostility between the Communist Party of India (CPI) and the political organisations of the Bihar movement. The CPI sided with the Congress government and displayed the Bihar movement as a ‘fascist and CIA led conspiracy’. It would be superficial to say that this political position of the CPI was based on purely ‘politically tactical’ moves or a ‘wrong understanding of fascism’, as the politics of the CPI trade union (AITUC) towards any offensive working class struggles during and after the Emergency demonstrated – see examples from Faridabad. In turn, the decision of the BCSS leadership not to call for a strike in solidarity with the railway workers can only partly be explained by the fact that the CPI had substantial influence amongst the railway workers. It was also not in their political interest to boost major working class movements.
The characteristics of the Bihar-wide ‘strike’ called for by JP Narayan on the 3rd to 5th of October 1974 also revealed the composition of the movement. He appealed to students, government employees, businessmen and workers to support the ‘strike’. The Chamber of Commerce supported the call. But organised workers such as the All-India Telegraph Engineering Employees’ Union, Railway Workers’ Union, the Bihar State Committee of All-India Trade Union Congress, etc. opposed the bandh (closing of shops and offices). ‘Public’ life all over the state, except in some industrial towns of south Bihar, remained paralysed on all three days. But it is worth noting that the examinees of BA, BSc, etc. at different examination centres turned up as planned, and factories also kept working.
The political tactics of the leadership cannot explain why the wider (industrial or rural) working class did not take part in the Bihar movement collectively, meaning as collective producers on strike. During the early period, from March to May, the urban poor people were sympathetic to the movement because they felt that students were fighting for their cause. “There were instances of rickshaw pullers not accepting the fare from students and, instead, asking the passenger, “Malik! Chavel ek rupaya ser milega na?” (Master, will rice be available at one rupee a kilogram?) But later, as issues like corruption and dissolution of the Assembly came to the fore, they grew cool because they saw the movement was not meant to solve the problems of the poor.” Here the division between ‘popular movement’ and ‘working class struggle’ is not a specific characteristics of India in the 1970s. We see as similar ‘asynchronous’ relation between waves of workers struggles and ‘popular revolts’ in Argentina 2001/2 or recently during the uprising in Turkey 2013. The working class in India in the mid-1970s was not docile at all, as proven by various rural labour revolts and the massive railway workers strike in April 1974 and later on by the emergence of violent strikes and struggles after the state of Emergency in 1977. But at large it seems a feature of the period shortly after a crisis blow that workers rather risk their physical health in protest battles in the streets than their job, meaning that we rather see popular unrest with individual workers’ participation than political strikes.
The social unrest permeated the repressive organs of the state itself. During the ‘Lucknow Mutiny’ members of the para-military Provincial Armed Constabulary rebelled against their inadequate pay and miserable service conditions by joining the ranks of student protesters they were meant to repress. Apart from this mutiny the year 1973-74 saw a series of high-profile industrial conflicts – a 33-day strike in the jute industry, a 42-day strike by Bombay’s textile workers, a 3-month strike by junior doctors and 3-week lockouts of workers from Life Insurance Corporation and Indian Airlines Corporation, among others.
The Gujarat movement 1974
3rd of January 1974
Students of the L.D. College of Engineering in Ahmedabad went on strike in protest against 20 per cent hike in student canteen prices. Clashes with the police.
7th of January 1974
Call for indefinite strike in all educational institutes. Ration shops (government shops for subsidised food-supply) in Ahmedabad attacked by students and working class protesters.
10th of January 1974
Two days strike (mainly a call for shutting down businesses) crippled bigger towns. Students and lawyers formed the Nav Nirman committee as a representative body. They call for the resignation of the state chief minister.
25th of January 1974
A state wide strike was called and results in clashes in 33 towns. The government imposed for a curfew in 44 towns, but the movement spread further.
28th of January 1974
The army was called to restore peace in Ahmedabad.
9th of February 1974
The state chief minister Patel resigns, the governor suspended the assembly and imposed President’s rule over Gujarat. Nav Nirman called for new election, which was finally held in June 1975, shortly before the declaration of the state of emergency.
During January 1974 in Gujarat 100 people were killed by state forces, 1,000 to 3,000 were injured, and 8,000 arrested.
The Bihar movement
21st of January 1974
The CPI called for a Bihar wide strike against inflation.
16th of February 1974
Students in Patna staged demonstrations demanding reduction of prices for university text books and cinema tickets. They also formed flying squads to check the distribution of essential goods (raids on black-market warehouses etc.).
18th of February 1974
Formation of the BCSS (Bihar students struggle committee)
13th of March 1974
Students set fire to the Bihar University building, demanding the postponement of exams given that due to ‘mismanagement’ courses had not been completed.
14th of March 1974
The government ordered the closure of the university, in response students raided and occupied the buildings.
16th of March 1974
On a demonstration called for by the BCSS against inflation and unemployment three demonstrators were killed by the police.
18th of March 1974
Groups of students assembled near the state parliament in order to prevent a meeting. The police attacked and killed five protesters. People responded with riots. Government buildings were set on fire, so was the residence of former education minister Ramanand Singh; posh hotels and warehouses were looted, railway wagons with food stuff were opened, two media buildings were torched.
19th of March 1974
Riots took place in Ranchi, Dhanbad, Chhapra, Saharsa and half a dozen other bigger towns. Railway stations, post offices, courts, state dispensaries and other government buildings were the main targets of attack. Ten people were killed by the police. JP Narayan accepted a request of the BCSS to ‘take over the leadership of the movement’.
20th of March 1974
A curfew was imposed on eleven towns. The army was called out at several places and ordered to shoot at sight. About 22 persons died in police firings, and several hundred were arrested. Student organisations called for a Bihar wide strike. JP Narayan issued a public letter asking the Bihar Government led by Abdul Ghafoor to resign.
22nd of March 1974
JP Narayan urged the student organisations to reconsider the strike call, fearing that violence would hit back at them.
23rd of March 1974
The strike took place in Patna, the police tried to suppress it, which was answered by riots. 25 people were killed by the state force.
8th of April 1974
JP Narayan’s first major action was to lead a ‘Silent March’ through Patna, with participants wearing material over their mouths, saffron-coloured scarves (Hindu colour) and with their hands tied behind their backs, to demonstrate their non-violence. At a rally following the march, JP announced the commencement of a five week ‘people’s struggle campaign’ aimed at bringing down the State Government.
9th of March 1974
JP Narayan announced to the students that his leadership would be conditional on that they strictly adhere to non-violence. Meanwhile work in many government offices remained suspended either due to internal or external protests.
11th of March 1974
Ghafoor and thirty-nine of his ministers submitted their resignations to the State Governor, who called upon Ghafoor to form a new Ministry. Protests continued.
12th of March 1974
Eight people killed during protests in Gaya. People blockaded the national highway.
21st of March 1974
Huge procession led by JP Narayan against police violence.
23rd of March 1974
JP Narayan left the scene for medical treatment. He set up an action plan for week-long campaigns, mainly hunger strikes in front of politicians houses and processions,
8th of May 1974
The national railway strike started, involving 1.7 million workers, demanding higher wages and shorter working hours. The strike was brutally suppressed by Indira Gandhi government with thousands being sent to jail and losing their jobs. The strike lasted till 27th of May 1974 and was called off without immediate success. The BCSS leadership refused to call for a strike in solidarity with the railway workers.
3rd of June 1974
Counter-demonstration in Patna against the ‘JP Movement’ and ‘for the Bihar Assembly’ [parliament], led by the CPI. Around 100,000 people attend, many of them armed.
5th of June 1974
JP Narayan and demonstrators handed over petition with 10 million signatures to dissolve the assembly. The government had tried to stop transport to Patna, nevertheless one million people took part in the demonstration. At a rally he called for a ‘total revolution’ in the Gandhian sense (decentralised political and small-scale economical units), but added that ‘partyless democracy’ was a future goal and was not an objective of the present agitation.
Between June and October the ‘campaigns’ continued, mainly observed by student activists (educational programs, enforcement of a four months closure of educational institutions)
3rd to 5th of October 1974
A Bihar-wide strike (or rather closure of shops and government services).
Two more rallies in Patna with 500,000 and 1 million participants, but general decline of the movement in terms of activities. Indira Gandhi publicly addressed JP Narayan to ‘let people decide at the ballot box’. He publicly accepted the challenge and the focus of the movement finally turned towards election. On 11th of November the CPI demonstrated their support for the government with 75,000 followers, despite official section 144, which bans demonstrations.
6th of March 1975
Bihar Movement activists march on Parliament in Delhi.
31st of March 1975
JP Narayan said that soldiers and police would be warranted in disobeying unjust and undemocratic orders from corrupt governments, which caused a public outcry.
26th of June 1975
Indira Gandhi declared a state of emergency, referring to JP Narayan’s announcement regarding army and police orders. JP Narayan was arrested and with him 175,000 to 200,000 other ‘opponents’.
It was not that the state of emergency crushed the movement, it had come to an internal impasse during the months before the emergency, but it had to serve as an official justification. The state of emergency was as much a response to growing social unrest in towns and countryside as an attempt to break the ‘developmental blockade’ which capital in India was not able to overcome since the mid-1960s. There was and is much public focus on the apparent political acts to break the blockade: legal restrictions concerning working class ‘organised’ expressions; campaigns to drive out urban poor from ‘profitable’ areas; ‘encouraged’ and forced sterilisation of the 4.3 million adults of the proletarian population; fiscal support for export industries and foreign investment; reduction in capital gains tax and tax of royalities.
There is little written about the impact of the state of emergency within the production process, e.g. enforcement of productivity schemes, which management was not able to implement during the proceeding years, or large scale re-structuring, ban on strikes and a ‘wage freeze’. As a journalist quoted the general manager of Tata corporation when asked why he supported the emergency: “Things had gone too far. You can’t imagine what we have been through here – strikes, boycotts, demonstrations. Why, there were days I couldn’t walk out of my office onto the street. The parliamentary system is not suited to our needs’.”
Some figures for the scale of restructuring and capitalist offense: within the first months of Emergency 20,000 workers in multi-national companies were laid off, in the first year of Emergency a total of about 700,000 workers were laid off. During Emergency lock-outs account for nearly 95 per cent of (wo)man days ‘lost’ [sic!]. During the first half 1975 17 million (wo)man days were ‘lost’ to strike, during the second half only 2 to 4 million. Strikes were declared illegal, a general wage freeze imposed and annual bonus payment cut by 50 per cent. There was an increase of industrial output of 10 per cent in 1976 compared to 1975, while during the same period unemployment increased by 28 per cent.
The state of emergency turned into a social pressure cooker. The social anger due to inflation and unemployment which existed before was aggravated by authoritarian rule on the countryside, the urban workers’ slums and in the factories. At the same time the two main forces of ‘working class institutionalisation’, the Congress and the CPI had discredited themselves amongst the working class to a large extent. During the sudden upsurge of working class struggles in 1977 to 1979 the Congress trade union INTUC and the CPI trade union AITUC were completely pushed aside. The (pre-) emergency had also been a melting pot of workers activists. There are numerous stories of striking railway workers in Dhanbad area running away from the police force in 1974, who sought shelter amongst the rebellious local mining contract workers who fought armed battles both against moneylenders and coal mafia. Stories of students who had been kicked out of university in 1975, who joined the underground struggle amongst the rural proletariat and found refuge amongst old CPI rank-and-file militants who criticised the state collaboration of their party leadership.
The state of emergency was lifted on 21st of March 1977. On 23rd of March it was announced that the Janata party – a coalition of the Hindu-nationalist Jana Sangh, the Socialist Party, Congress (O) and the BLD (representing the middle peasantry) – had won a sweeping victory, securing 43.2 per cent of the popular vote and 271 seats. The following two years of Janata government mainly proved two things: a) that the contradictions of the Bihar movement as the transmission belt between middle class discontent and party politics only aggravated once the movement became officially and formally institutionalised; b) that under conditions of social crisis and turmoil ‘being in government’ and being in power are two very different things – as, e.g. the recent and equally short ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ government in Egypt has confirmed. In this sense the Janata government had two years to politically bankrupt themselves in the attempt to ride the wave of crisis-related social discontent, before the ‘old party apparatus’ was ready to take over again.
The first political steps of the Janata government showed that they were conscious to appeal to both their power-base (the urban middle-class and emerging new middle peasantry) and to the ‘discontented masses’: increase of the procurement price paid by the state to peasants for certain agricultural products (mainly wheat); announcement of a modest land reform (redistribution of land above the land property ceiling, which mainly benefited the middle peasantry (capitalist farmers who emerged with Green Revolution); in Bihar the Janata government announced that wherever it would cause tension between landlords and workers the minimum wage for agricultural labour would not be imposed; the central government promised the return of the workers’ savings impounded under the compulsory deposit scheme, which was implemented during emergency; the government implemented formal reservation politics for the middle classes of the lower castes (e.g. in Bihar 1,800 ‘reserved’ posts in government employment for in total 200,000 graduates leaving university in 1977); the Janata government took back some of the repressive measures of the state of emergency, but not all, e.g. the Maintenance of Internal Security Act or powers of preventive detention. Another attempt of the government was to create a new ‘central management of industrial relations’, by creating a commission comprising representatives of the central trade unions, the state, the public sector enterprises and the employers’ associations (Varma Committee of Industrial Relations). This internal composition of this committee, like the composition of the rest of the government, was too weak to survive the external pressure.
When we look at the transition period in Spain in 1975, at the Solidarnosc movement in Poland in 1980 or the struggle against the military dictatorships in Brazil in 1985 and in South Korea in 1986/87 we can see how the main ‘democratic pressure’ against state repression is exercised by workers struggle and how the trade unions become transmission belts for a new political class once the trajectory of the struggles can be reduced to and separated into ‘economic’ and ‘political’ demands. It is not a coincidence that Fernandes, the strike leader of the railway workers union later on became a Minister of Industries in the Janata government, and that in Egypt in 2013, the president of the newly formed independent trade union federation becomes a Labour Minister in a ‘democratic and liberal’ government which was put and is held into place by a brutal military coup, slaughtering hundreds, if not thousands. In India in the 1970s the urban working class was quantitatively less significant and the trade unions therefore still less of a potential ‘governmental force’, while the ‘middle classes’ (both in the rural and urban areas) once they faced general social turmoil quite quickly aborted their ‘democratic aspirations’. In this sense the relation between ‘democratic movement’ in 1974, state of emergency in 1975, and new government and the wave of struggles after the lifting of the state of emergency in 1977 has been much more disjointed compared to other emerging industrial countries during this cycle. If we now list some examples of struggles during the period 1977 to 1979 then mainly as proof of the fact that the ‘non-participation’ of workers in the ‘anti-corruption’-movement in 1974 was not due to passivity, but because of the specific class character and trajectory of this movement.
In terms of a general picture the Union Labour Ministry’s estimated that in 1977 21.2 million (wo)man hours were ‘lost’ due to strikes and lock-outs (strikes: 10.5 million and lock-outs: 10.7 million) compared with 12.8 million in 1976. We cannot derive much from official statistics, but we can a) see a clear increase in industrial unrest, but b) also see that unrest did not completely cease during emergency.
Before we look at the period of struggle 1977 to 1979 in Faridabad on a more detailed level, here some short and everything but exhaustive examples of discontent from other regions. Many of the struggles were fought without or against the main trade unions, either by workers without official organisation or by rapidly proliferating ‘independent company unions’ ( the number of unions increased to approximately 10,000 in 1979 from 2000 in 1950, the average size of the unions did not increase).
For people who read Hindi we suggest reading the recently digitalised version of ‘Filhal’, a workers’ paper from Delhi area, published in the late 1970s, which touches upon questions raised in this newsletter.
During the end of emergency, in February 1977, first protest marches of workers took place in Bombay. Bank employees, LIC employees, university teachers and workers of the India United Mill No 6 held marches. The workers of the Madhusudan Mill marched to the owners’ offices. The ESlS local office at Kurla witnessed a protest demonstration by workers demanding an end to corrupt practices and callous behaviour of the officials. While AITUC held conferences in favour of the government and trade unions of the ‘opposition’ parties geared up for election, some smaller independent unions (Sarva Shramik Sangh, Kapad Kamgar Sanghatana, Blue Star Employees’ Union, some mill committees and unaffiliated trade unions) called for a Defence of Workers’ Rights Conference on 8th of March 1977.
March 5, 1977 Struggles Resumed
Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 12, No. 10 (Mar. 5, 1977)
In September 1977 workers at the Gomia factory of Indian Explosives Ltd. went on strike for 36 days. The plant manufactures 58 per cent of the total supply of explosives to Coal India Ltd. Due to the strike coal production was impacted on, losses were estimated at Rs 100 million. This in turn caused problems with the power supply. Major steel works and other coal dependent industries in the area came to a halt.
During a struggle about restructuring during the second half of 1977 workers of the Kerala State Electricity Board allegedly committed acts of sabotage, which cost the Board Rs 16.2 million in repairs. The government and ‘left’ union leadership blamed ‘CIA agents’ and ‘Maoists’.
A survey limited to the Thane-Belapur industrial region near Bombay showed that between April and December 1977, there was ‘labour trouble’ which required legal mediation in 114 units. The ‘trouble’ led to a loss of Rs 1,020 million in production.
The Bhilai Steel plant was one of the biggest industrial investment projects in post-colonial India. It was planned and built in cooperation with the Soviet Union, therefore it was in the focus of party politics in the context of the Cold War. Sixty kilometres away 20,000 male and female workers were employed in the iron ore mines of Dalli Rajhera (Chattisgarh), supplying the steel plant. In 1977 their wages were around 5 Rs a day, most of them were hired through contractors. In the steel plant the permanent workers earned about ten times as much. The mining workers organised a strike in February-March while the Emergency was still formally on. After having been released from jail where he had been put under Emergency, one of the leading figures of the strike became Shankar Guha Niyogi. He had left his job at the Bhilai steel plant in order to ‘organise in the rural areas’, influenced by the Maoist political frame-work. On 2nd of June 1977 – three months after official end of the Emergency – Niyogi was again arrested provoking thousands of workers to demonstrate at the police station and practically lay siege to it. On 3rd of June 1977 police opened fire on the workers’ protest and killed twelve workers. That particular incident of firing was the first of its kind under the new Janata regime that had come to power in March. The CPI line was to declare Niyogi a CIA agent plotting against Soviet Union-related industrial projects. Niyogi was later assassinated by killers of the big industry, shot in his sleep at midnight of 28th September 1991.
Workers of this mill had already taken management as hostages during Emergency itself. On 26th of October 1977, after wages had not been paid for several weeks most of the 8,000 workers surrounded the factory and held the main managers inside, the trade unions were not involved, leaders of all main trade unions had been beaten up. Workers placed gas cylinders and acid bottles on the roof of the factory and threatened with blowing things up. The workers’ wages were paid after 54 hours of ‘siege’. After various conflicts during previous weeks, on 6th of December around 1,000 workers again surrounded the factory. Trouble with armed security guards started, two managers died in the confrontation. The police intervened by shooting at the mass of workers confined in the premises. Official numbers stated 11 dead workers, workers said that over 100 people died. The new Janata government Minister for Agriculture, Charan Singh commented, that the government “will not tolerate any gheraos [encirclements] due to their illegal character”. The conflict already indicated the ongoing and accelerating restructuring in the textile sector, as management wanted to close down the factory and convert half of its capacity from cotton textile into synthetic textile. Management in many textile mills in Kanpur resorted to lock-outs and did not pay wages. The Bombay textile mill strikes in the early 1980s will become the climax blow of restructuring.
Post emergency, workers in Siemens were agitated since the company had taken advantage of the national emergency and connived with the Siemens Workers Union (SWU) leadership to impose an unfair settlement on them. This resulted in the formation of a new militant union named Association of Engineering Workers (AEW). In spite of the overwhelming support of workers for this new union, the company refused to recognise it. In February 1978, violence erupted between the two union factions and the company declared a lock-out. Following this, the AEW declared a strike. There was more violence against strike-breakers resulting in action by authorities against the striking workers. With the intervention of the Chief Minister of the State, the strike was called off after 10 months. More then 100 workers were dismissed for taking part in the strike and indulging in violence. Sensing the militant mood of labour in Bombay, the company decided to diversify manufacturing activity into new areas with the aim of cutting labour cost and avoiding unions. In 1979, a small workshop was established in Satpur, in Nashik district of Maharashtra, to manufacture switchboards and motor starters. Similarly, in 1980 the manufacture of low tension switchboards were transferred and expanded from Calcutta Workshop to Joka Works, outside Calcutta.
Faridabad, in the southern fringe of Delhi, emerged as a new industrial area in the late 1960s and its emergence was connected to struggle: when workers’ struggles intensified in West-Bengal from the mid-60s onwards, over 300 industrial units were shifted to Delhi. There was a large labour demand which could not be met by supply from the Haryana and UP hinterland. The labour demand led to situations that e.g. at Bata shoe factory ‘Brahmin’ ex-villagers would work side-by-side with Dalit ex-agricultural labourers. Here two short accounts from friends who worked in Faridabad in the early 1970s.
“I came to Faridabad from Kerala, in the early 1970s. In Kerala I had been engaged with the illegal CPI(ML), mainly struggling against land-lords. At the time it was not unusual for workers to come the long way from far – south Kerala, there must have been more than 20,000 of us working in Faridabad at the time. There was a huge demand for skilled workers which could not be satisfied from northern areas like Bihar or UP- that has changed quite a bit since then. In 1972 I got a job in the Ford tractor plant, where about 2,500 workers were employed. These were rebellious times, for example shopfloor cleaners forced their way into the separate management canteen and ate from their buffet after their demands for a better canteen service had been ignored. The management then used holy Ganga water to purify their canteen! A comrade and me became elected as representatives of a left-wing union, which organised the vast majority of workers in the plant. The management tried to ignore our union in the Ford plant. The workers were rather angry about that, they had voted for us, because they wanted us to do things. When a general negation between Escorts management and unions took place about 2,000 Ford workers gathered in front of the administration building. They demanded that their reps could be heard. The management refused. Workers wrote a demand notice: “Either the management talks to our representatives or they will be beaten with sandals”. The management remained deaf. Workers then pushed into the main building and surrounded the management, started beating it with sandals like promised. This was hot. The police-force itself was not too reliable at that time – a clear sign for the depth of social discontent. The lower ranks of the police were badly paid and had to work long hours. In Faridabad they went on strike. Some of them were from Kerala and we got in touch with them. In the end they had to bring in the special police force CRPF. They sacked half of the local police and the CRPF disarmed the other half. We put up posters “Police against Workers – CRPF against Police – Army against CRPF: This is Indian Socialism!”. The activities inside Ford got us more and more into the focus of repression. Escorts paid the police good money to find and beat us. During these days most of the arrests were unofficial and never documented. They would pick you up, take you to a faraway station and give you a good beating. The home guards, a rather poorly paid part of the police informed us about the police plans.”
“I grew up in Bihar, in a village, in a poor family. There was very little money. I started smuggling rice, going back and forth between village and the nearest town in West Bengal. That was the time of the Naxal uprising. A lot of trouble also for the industrialists, bombs being thrown, workers on strike and all that. Many companies shifted to Faridabad, for example Orient Fan. They hoped to find more peaceful conditions there. I also went to Faridabad in the late 1960s and started working at Gedore. At that time you even got an appointment letter, you had a six month trial-period and that received a confirmation letter that made you a permanent employee.
But there was no peace in Faridabad either. In 1969 East India workers went on strike for higher wages and double rate for overtime. They went on strike for 22 days. The police picked workers up, drove them out of Faridabad and dropped them somewhere in the jungle near Rewari (Rajastahan border). They had to walk back on foot. A lot of workers from Faridabad got detained in Gurgaon prison during that struggle. In 1973 a big strike took place. We at Gedore took part, Gedore was the first plant in Haryana where a CITU union got established. The strike spread to most of the big companies, apart from Goodyear, they had an INTUC union there. We organised a major demonstration to Goodyear, in order to convince them to take part. More than 10,000 workers, the whole National Highway towards Bhalabgarh was one big procession. The police was in riot gear. I saw how they shot the worker, he was alone, not in a mob, but they shot him dead. The other strikes stopped shortly after, our strike continued for three months. I had no income, so I started selling roasted corn-cobs. The strike ended, the company paid 500 Rs for the strike period on the first working day. We could see that they wanted to re-establish good relations. The agreement brought higher wages, but attached to a productivity-based incentive scheme. Since this strike there was peace at Gedore. There was silence inside the factory during the time of Emergency, but trouble in the workers bastis. I lived in Mujesar, police would come in troops and enforce sterilisations. There were also a lot of slum demolitions and re-locations going on. People lived in fear, we slept on the roof hiding. After one raid people got angry and lynched five cops. Gedore increased exports during the Emergency, business went well. Before 1973 workers used to throw around spanners and other metal parts against police or goons. After the strike and the agreement things calmed down. Gedore workers did not take part in the turmoil of the 1977-1979 period, neither in the general strike of 1979. The situation changed from ‘privilege’ – after Metalbox we were paid the highest wages – to fear. The CITU union and management linked up arms, the re-structuring of the 1980s hit us hard.”
After Emergency was lifted, workers’ unrest came to the fore in many factories. Owners of at least 100 factories faced charters of demand from their workers who mainly want the implementation of the minimum wages act and an end to contract labour and other unfair practices. There were hundred of conflicts, managers got beaten up during night-shift, women workers attacked the police. The union landscape was in chaos, many workers had left the CPI union AITUC and the Congress union INTUC – the two parties were also seen as responsible for the Emergency. Here some examples of local struggles after the state of Emergency was lifted:
On 30th of June, all activity in Faridabad came to a standstill. Thousands of factory workers downed their tools in protest against the death in police custody of Harnam Singh, a maintenance foreman, working in one of the leading companies of Faridabad. Violence had erupted in many parts of Faridabad and vehicles proceeding to the capital were stoned, looted and burnt. According to co-workers Harnam Singh had been tortured to death by the police on the factory premises in the presence of the managing director, a sub-inspector of police, and some other senior company officials.
On the morning of 7th of September, Harig India, a machine tool factory located in Mohan Nagar near Ghaziabad, was the scene of a violent confrontation between workers and the management, in which two persons died, 76 were hurt and the factory was gutted by fire. The workers of this factory formed a union in January 1977 before the Emergency was lifted. All the workers joined the union. After the Emergency was lifted, this union sought affiliation with CITU (trade union of the CPI(M).
On 28th of June 1977, the Union presented a charter of demands. The management brought security guards who carried guns, kirpans, etc..
On 6th of September workers discovered that a week’s wages had been cut from their pay for the alleged tool down strike which, even according to the management, had lasted only three days. The workers refused to take any pay at all. The next morning about ten workers reached the factory gate to put up posters and raise slogans. The security guards advanced towards the factory workers with their kirpans. This confrontation attracted some other workers and passers nearby. As the crowd grew in size, some of the guards allegedly opened fire, the pellets hit the crowd. In the end the factory burnt down and two people, a foreman and a security guard, who both had been firing at workers, were killed. Workers in neighbouring factories went on one-day wildcat strike in solidarity with the Harig workers, a crowd of 20,000 workers gathered next day.
On 16th of February 1978, over 120 striking workers of the Auto-Pin (India) in Faridabad were arrested on charges of rioting and arson, after they had defended themselves against armed security guards sent in by management to break their strike.
In the following we briefly quote from an article published in EPW no.42 in late 1977. It provides a good summary of examples of local confrontations, expressing the general suspicion of workers towards the established trade unions and the new ‘peoples government’.
(EPW no.42, 1977)
“For a brief period it was possible to argue that the ‘labour unrest’ was part of the post-Emergency euphoria. Not so any longer, as the frequent clashes in Faridabad, Ghaziabad and Sahibabad will testify. The cry for reinstatement of those sacked during the Emergency and restoration of rights and privileges is gradually giving way to resentment against the present “democratic excesses”, such as the UP government’s decision to ban strikes in a number of industrial units (private as well as public sector), the partiality of the Haryana police towards owners in Faridabad and the use of hired thugs by industrialists to terrorise workers at Pilakhua-Ghaziabad and Mohan Nagar.
With the increasing inability of the unions to influence the government even as ‘pressure groups’ on behalf of labour, this role of the trade unions is being called into question by labour militants. Outside of the wage demands, there is a widening tendency for workers to “take the law into their own hands”. Trade unionists are forgotten, indeed they remain discreet bystanders, in direct confrontations between workers and managements. They often enter the scene after the event. In a confrontation between workers and some hired thugs in the pay of some Hapur industrialists in July, for instance, it fell upon local union leaders to play the role of “harvest brokers” to placate a 500-strong band of irate lathi-wielding workers. Similar confrontations have been reported from Pilakhua and Sonepat as well.
Even the call for a general strike in Faridabad and neighbouring Badarpur came from the workers with the trade unionists lamely following behind. When irate workers stormed the Prostolite factory and set it on fire, the unionists were beseeching the workers not to destroy “national property”. Some unions, including those of the left, branded the destruction as the handiwork of outside saboteurs, thus disowning the working class they claimed to represent. It was only after workers in Badarpur joined the struggle that the unionists “rose to the occasion” by issuing statements of support and sympathy.
The present writer recalls a rather amusing meeting shortly after with an AITUC leader in the posh air-conditioned offices of a major liquor magnate in the neighbourhood. After some exchanges of compliments between the union leader and the industrialist, the former drew attention to the failure of the police to arrive on time and the resultant “sad loss of national property” (the factory was burnt by the workers). The union leader added, “There is no discipline left after the Emergency”.
Middle level trade union functionaries have had to face some difficult situations. One such left- wing functionary in Faridabad was assaulted in early August by a 4,000 strong band of textile workers. The leadership of the union classified the event as a “plot” hatched by right-wing elements. The issue, however, goes much deeper than a right wing left wing confrontation and the hatching of “plots”, for, if there had been no initial resentment, it would have been difficult for agent provocateurs to ferment a “plot” among workers who till the other day had enthusiastically accepted the leadership of the very unionist they later assaulted. The workers alleged that the assaulted unionist had been responsible for the arrest of numerous worker militants during the Emergency and was even in the pay of the mill management.
By now the organised sections of workers in Faridabad and Ghaziabad have gone through the whole gamut of unions and the sole ‘alternative’ left is the CITU. At each point of time, the shift has been leftwards to more militant unions, but disillusionment also has come faster. As Bhaskar, a militant worker in an oil mill in Ghaziabad said quite cynically, “they are all the same. The CITU talks of working class unity here while the CPI(M), its political leadership assures industrialists in Bengal that gheraos will not be tolerated. Leaders of the 1974 railway strike are ministers today and the same bonus demands of railway workers made then are no longer justifiable today. Such empty talk will not fill our stomachs.” Which still leaves us with the question, “After CITU what?””
To answer this question it suffices to have a short look at the reports on factory restructuring in Faridabad during the 1980s and 1990s, where CITU lend a helping hand to management in many cases – see e.g. example of Gedore factory in the GurgaonWorkersNews History section. The introduction of ‘labour saving electronics’ and automation in the production process and the trade union – management collaboration to mediate and enforce redundancies ultimately broke the collective power of permanent workers in the bigger plants and mills during the 1980s and 1990s. But the restructuring wasn’t just a ‘technological fix’, it needed a violent blow to silence the workers unrest after the blanket of the Emergency had not been able to suffocate it. It was not the creepy market force of neoliberalism which decomposed the workers’ power of the 1970s, it needed brute state force to open the way for the more impersonal forms of domination, be it the publicly arrested flight controllers in the US in 1981 or, as in the case of Faridabad in 1979, a major act of state murder.
By 1979 the general discontent in Faridabad and other industrial areas around Delhi lead to many workers leaving CITU and BMS, too. In Faridabad a Sangharsh Samiti (struggle committee) was formed, a kind of umbrella organisation which tried to strive on the general mistrust towards the established unions. There were massive acts of violence in many factories, for example at Usha Spinningand Weaving Mills, at Bharati Electric Steel, East India Cotton Manufacturing Mills, Thompson Press. In an attempt to align the general discontent behind their ‘leadership’ the main trade unions called for a Faridabad-wide general strike on 17th of October 1979. A huge crowd gathered near Neelam Chowk, under a huge fly-over. After a short provocation police started firing from strategic positions on both sides of the fly-over. People were forced to jump off the 50 feet high fly-over. Those who were present at Neelam Chowk on the day of the incident reported that not a single leader of any union or political party was to be seen there before or after the incidents. Police chased people, some workers were killed by police gun shots four to five kilometres away from Neelam Chowk.
While official figures said that 17 people were killed, unofficial numbers ranged between 100 and 150 dead people. The next day there was silence in the area, apart from the running machines. The area was under control again, the ground for the restructuring was created. Tragically, the police forced many relatives to burn their dead in the crematorium in Gurgaon, in order to avoid trouble in Faridabad. Two decades later Gurgaon replaced Faridabad as the main industrial centre, mainly relying temporary workers and a dispersed, flexible supply-chain industry. If we were out to look for theatrical analogies we could say that the ashes of murdered workers fertilized the re-structuring process of capital. On a wider scale this cycle of struggle was closed with the defeat of the Bombay textile mill strike in 1982 – or on a global scale we could take the example of the massive ‘pro-company’ demonstration against workers’ agitations at FIAT in Italy in 1980. The ‘obvious defeat’ and repression of workers struggle is often a mere starting and or ending point of the more substantial defeat through de-composition of the workers’ power base by re-structuring.
There are many lessons to learn from this period. We can only touch upon a few aspects, relating to the question of how crisis, class struggle, ‘popular movements’ and changes in the regime form relate to each other.
- We can see a global change of the state form of mediation of class struggle during the period between 1967 and 1979, in particular in the so-called ‘developing countries’. The crisis from mid-1960s and the global blow of 1973 narrowed down the scope of mediation of class struggle. We therefore saw rapid changes between ‘dictatorship’ and ‘democratic’ forms, from Chile, to India, to Poland. This decade of unrest, which led the Subaltern Studies to look for the post-colonial specificities of class relations in India actually demonstrated the increasingly intertwined global character of capitalism.
- These changes in the ‘state form of mediation’ are often accompanied by ‘phases of corruption’. Corruption in this sense is an expression for the fact that social relations, including property relations, change quicker than the legal form is able to represent. Corruption is a way to re-compose the cohesion between the political class and representatives of capital. In the case of, e.g. the mining industry, the coal mafia was the expression of corruption during the centralising shift in the mid-1970s and the ‘coal mining contract’ scandal in the 2010s marked the emergence of an internationally intertwined ‘political managing class’. Apart from this, the crisis also enforces a scramble for a piece of cake amongst the ruling class – which takes the form of corruption – given that long-term profitable investments seem out of reach.
- In this phase the popular movements, dominated by a middle-class political perspective form themselves within the framework of ‘anti-corruption’, e.g. fair access to the upper levels of the labour market independent from personal connections to the ruling class. Working class people might form the most dynamic part of these popular movements, but they form it as militant poor citizens not as collective producers.
- Middle-class ‘popular movements’, although their appeal is for more ‘democracy’ do not actually represent the material driving force of democracy in the sense of ‘social egalitarianism’, which originates in the social production process. Due to this fact popular movements in the end remain either toothless, e.g. Bihar movement had no way to deal with repression of Emergency or they institutionalise themselves within the state machinery, as we have seen as much in the case of the Janata Party government in India in 1977 as in the governments in Egypt following the fall of Mubarak.
- In the 1970s trade unions served as a transmission belt between the material power and democracy aspirations of workers struggle and the re-formation of the political class, as could be seen, e.g. in the case of the CC.OO during the transition period after Franco in Spain and to a lesser degree in the emergence of trade union leaders as political leaders in the post-Emergency era in India. This separation into ‘democratic demands’ channeled into parliamentarism and economic demands represented by the trade unions created major tensions, which required state repression in order to be contained.
- If we look at the global dimension of this period then we can say that repression was necessary to shake-up workers’ power of 1967 to 1977 (from Soweto to Danzig), but that the main political attack was lead on the level of re-structuring of the social process of production, e.g. through introduction of electronics and the subsequent possibility to de-compose the fortresses of workers power through relocation and ‘supply-chain management’.
- In India this re-structuring not only impacted on the factory level, but lead to a massive boost in proletarianisation, by largely finishing off artisan production and peasant mode of production in agriculture.
- This restructuring in the production process as a political attack on class power is accompanied by and requires a process of ‘social engineering’ in the ‘public sphere’. The socialisation and spreading out of labour requires an expansion and localisation of central state control. In the case of India this is done through the expansion of the ‘grassroot state apparatus’, which had already been propagated by forces like the Bihar movement, e.g. through extension of the Panchayat Raj (legal reform which ties the village council closer to the central state power and integrates sections of the poor through reservation politics) and NGO-isation.
- On this historical background of structural changes between 1973 and 2008 we can understand the limited scope of the ‘anti-corruption’ movement of 2013 in comparison to the popular movements of 1974. The Bihar movement could still pretend to have an alternative social program: a Gandhian social vision in form of artisan production, village subsistence, and grassroots democratic bodies. The process of proletarianisation (social death of artisans and peasants) and the occupation of the political field by local state and NGOs have closed down the space for social reform.
- The changes in the production process also meant that the trade unions are marginalised and don’t represent larger sections of the working class and therefore are not in the position to engage the working class in a process of ‘democratisation’. The anti-corruption movements post-2008 haven’t produced a Lula, a Fernandes or Walesa; or more specifically, a Charan Singh, who could claim to represent the interest of the peasantry in India as a politician of the Janata Party in 1977.
- The anti-corruption movements represented by Hazare or Ram Dev therefore could only muster comparably pathetic political proposals: the Jan Lokpal Bill (ombudsmen) or the demand to send black money back from Switzerland. They cannot provide any solution to the vast scope of crisis-related social tension. The condition of Morsis government could be interpreted in a similar way: without connection to the state repressive sector and without being able to satisfy popular anger through material concessions the government’s days were numbered.
- Therefore anyone who wants to foster the self-emancipation of the working class should develop a critical analysis of the character of corruption and changes in the state form of mediation, which goes beyond complaining about ‘personal looting in the process of privatisation’. This is necessary in order to help preventing that the working class discontent is instrumentalised as a ‘driving force’ for new middle class leadership of the popular movements.
On Workers of Dalli Rajhara Mines:
On Kanpur Swadeshi Cotton Mills:
Andre Gunder Frank: Emergence of Permanent Emergency in India, EPW No.11, 1977
1967-77 Marriage of Wheat and Whisky, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 12, No. 15 (Apr. 9, 1977),
On Bihar movement:
Bihar Through the Ages
On post 2008-corruption movement: