The general strike of 28th February 2012 is of immense significance in the recent history of worker’s struggles in India. Beginning from 2003 there has been an upswing of a united strike action resulting in several general strikes (Al Jazeera reports 14 general strikes having taken place since 1991).

What makes this strike action stand out, however, is the fact that it was the second such united strike action bringing all the major central trade union and taking this national unity to the next level by bringing 5000 smaller regional and sectorial unions into the strike action. We have analyzed this development in the statement as well as the implications for this.

The last general strike took place in India in 2010 which resulted in an upswing of militancy across the nation; we estimate this strike action to have the same effect. This strike must also be seen in a political context where the Congress party ( which has hitherto been the preferred choice of the Indian bourgeois ) has been declining and other regional and national parties (notably the 2nd largest party the BJP) has largely failed to present an alternative. This leaves a situation of paralysis and political crisis for the Indian bourgeois, one which is exacerbated by the World economic crisis. The field is now being made open for revolutionary leadership to emerge and take the lead of worker’s struggles in India and displace the present economist/reformist leaderships dominated by Stalinist parties and their affiliated trade unions. 

The socialist group New Wave, based in Pune, released a statement on the general strike perspectives and demands which is shown partially below.

Statement on General Strike

For all out support to the General Strike!

{module Propaganda 30 anos}Precisely 15 months since the last general strike, India faces yet again a general strike of the same magnitude. In a continuum of the trend since the last momentous strike, we see all the major central trade unions uniting together for a joint action. However, the importance of this strike goes beyond the unity of trade union militancy and hits out at the Indian capitalist system fundamentally.

This strike happens after an interval which witnessed many significant upheavals both nationally and globally. Nationally we witnessed the rise of the anti-corruption movement on the one hand and the rise of worker militancy in North India with the landmark strike at MarutiUdyog’s Gurgaon plant.  There were other important struggles in the public sector as well with the December strike at BSNL in 2010. That came only 2 months from the general strike. Internationally, there was the Arab spring at the start of 2011 and big mobilizations in Europe.

Most empiricists would mistakenly say that none of these struggles were in any way linked with the general strike, but that is not so. The general strike of 2010 was a big impetus towards struggles succeeding it. The general strike and the issues it raised created the environment and mental framework to orient the masses towards greater militancy against the bourgeois state and its virulently pro-capitalist policies. The result was a slew of struggles breaking out in the 14 month period succeeding the strike. This strike will have a similar effect if not more intense! Because this time not only are major central trade unions joining the strike but regional ones as well. At this juncture when the bourgeoisie in India is being attacked from all corners and is faced with mounting social pressure from the workers and peasants of India, the general strike is critical in paving the way for the overthrow of the bourgeoisie state and the establishment of a Workers State in India.

New developments in course of the general strike

In the course of preparation for the momentous general strike, several new and significant developments were seen in the spectrum of trade unionism as well as political developments. On the trade union front we are seeing the deepening of trade union unity with regional unions and sectorial unions also joining in support of the strike. A significant example is the joining of the unaffiliated BSNL unions. On the political front, we are witnessing a strike being conducted by leading left wing affiliated unions when they are politically at their weakest, with the CPIM being ousted from power both in Kerala and West Bengal. The recent developments in West Bengal are of particular interest here as the forces of the working class are once again directly pitted against a belligerent state being ruled by a semi-fascistic party, the TMC. The success of the strike in West Bengal would thus become a pole of inspiration for the whole country as it would succeed against most adverse conditions.

Next phase of trade union unity and its importance

India’s trade unionism suffers from the problem of fragmentation. As of 2005 there were over 68000 trade unions with an average membership of 1000 in a working population of around 395 million. The bulk of the trade union membership being monopolized by 10 main central and regional trade unions and their affiliates.

Though there is political control over the trade unions, this is more in terms of ideological orientation than organizational control. This has resulted in a lack of centrality in trade unionism as well as a weak ideological development among workers. This paves the way for depoliticization and the primacy of minimal struggles over maximal struggles. Minimal demands and minimal struggles howsoever important they may be in the short term must develop into maximal demands with maximal struggles.

This does not happen without there being a bridge linking minimal consciousness with maximal consciousness, which aims towards Socialist revolution. That is where transitional demands and a transitional perspective come into struggle and more importantly, political leadership which can give this direction. The first step towards overcoming this difficulty however, is trade union unity. What is achieved through trade union unity is the sidelining of infighting amongst trade unions which has become all too common, in place of the unity of the working class. This is step one towards achieving the primacy of a general class consciousness in place of narrow sectarian trade union consciousness.

The first general strike achieved this unity at the central level, whilst this general strike promises to achieve this at the regional and sectorial level, thus deepening unity of workers across the nation. The next step therefore, is to expand this and bring about unity of the Indian working class with their class brethren across the world beginning with South Asia and surrounding regions. Here the need for a revolutionary International is felt as well as a revolutionary party in India.

Political developments since 2010

In the last general strike, the government run by the Congress Party was dictating terms from a position of relative strength and had a semblance of authoritative power. It was shaken but not yet stirred.

At the regional level the Left front was still holding power though challenged and on the verge of falling. But now that situation has changed. One of the main achievements of the anti-corruption movement, and in which we may even call it a pyrrhic victory of sorts, was the shattering of the power of the Congress Party and shattering its rule over India. This period may perhaps become the last chapter for the Congress Party, no different from the last days of tsardom in Russia.

The National leadership of the bourgeois is thus in no position to clamp down on the tide of worker’s struggle which will now engulf India and eventually, the sub-continent. The Stalinist parties of the left front which were then ruling West Bengal are now out of power and in opposition. In the past being integrated within the bourgeois-democratic framework only furthered their bureaucratization till the point where they lost all linkage with class struggle and of the working class. Now the overturn in West Bengal has forced them back into the working class and weakened their bureaucracies. Even though there is a prevalence of social reaction in West Bengal with the TMC at the helm, there is a marked increase of strength from the forces of the working class, both in Bengal and nationally.  

The defeat of the left and the weakening of the Congress thus have had a dialectical consequence, in that it has led to the strengthening of the working class and its allies nationally. Despite a temporary strengthening of the right, the trajectory of decline was still and is still in force. As expected, the right wing parties of the BJP and other regional parties are being incapable of giving mass leadership in a revolutionary direction. The field is being opened for a revolutionary party of the working class to win over the masses and side by side, we see an ever bolder working class which is regaining much of its lost strength and adding new strength with each passing day. The only real hindrance is the continuing absence of a revolutionary Bolshevik Leninist Party in India and a concrete presence of a revolutionary International.


The path forward for class struggle

Notwithstanding the weaknesses of the present movement, there are important developments taking place which require the full and unconditional support from revolutionaries in India and internationally. The void in revolutionary political leadership is the single most important hindrance for the further development of the Indian labor movement in a revolutionary direction. This general strike like the one before it is an important stepping stone in the class consciousness of the Indian worker.

However, it is not a final solution by a long shot. The next climactic phase of class struggle is starting and for which the general strike will pave the way for future militancy to arise, this time much more well-coordinated and with a strong sense of solidarity among workers in India. What must be avoided at all costs however, is for the strike to fall to tokenism. Should that happen, then the net effect of a general strike would become the very opposite of what it potential could achieve.

The tactic of general strike is to the working class in struggle against the bourgeoisie what an ICBM would be to the bourgeois at war. But it must be used wisely and not misused; otherwise it will become a drain to the strength and energy of the working class and its allies. The whole direction of struggle could go awry and fall into the doldrums of passivity. This is what will happen if the demands around which the strike action takes place remains caught in suspended animation at the minimal level. The need of the hour is for an advancement of tactics from defense to offense. This itself needs the intervention of revolutionaries to draw it into this course of action.