The 70th Republic day of India would go down in history. While the state took out its flamboyant military parade through Rajpath, thousands of farmers took out a tractor rally as part of their protest, around Delhi’s ring road. The police, which had allowed the protests, arbitrarily changed routes, blocked roads, leading to chaos and confusion, and in some cases instances of violence, though most of the rally was conducted peacefully. The afternoon saw unprecedented scenes as masses of protesting farmers broke through barricades to storm the Red Fort, a symbol of India steeped in history since the time of the Mughals who built it. They raised the flag of their unions and the Sikh Nishan sahib, on the pedestal in front of the fort’s gate. This historic moment was captured on live tv with most of India’s pliant media shrieking in horror at the ‘destruction’ of a ticket counter, some barricades and the lawn outside the fort while making less than a whimper over the 150 deaths that occurred during the protests because of the government’s denial of access to water, food and shelter.
By Adhiraj Bose from Mazdoor Inquilab
Since the 26th of November, tens of thousands of farmers from across North India converged on Delhi to protest the 3 farm laws: The farmer’s produce trade and commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, and Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act. The Modi government, pushed through these laws in the most undemocratic ways, not even allowing a voice vote in the upper house before pushing through the laws. The Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, known for instituting the ‘Gujarat Model’, is entirely in the pocket of big capital, especially the Reliance conglomerate and the Adanis, every Indian knew this to be true, but the recent actions of the government, forcing through the farm laws and the four labour codes, which makes organized actions by the working class impossibly difficult, has proved it.
While the Congress government would often resort to concessions to the working class and peasantry, or even shows of populism to pacify them, this government has no patience for it. Modi and the BJP believe in divide and rule, pitting Hindu against Muslim, and imposing through the full oppressive power of the state, any reactionary agenda it wants. Small wonder then why he is the darling of big capital, hungry for cheap labour and control over India’s vast source of natural and human resources. Now that he is Prime Minister, he is implementing the ‘Gujarat model’ across India with the full assistance of the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh). The government’s agenda is to open up every possible sector to the big oligarchical capitalists of India, Reliance and the Ambani family being the first and foremost among them, at the expense of the well being of the people. The workers will suffer from the promulgation of the four labour codes, farmers will suffer from the three farm laws.
It is undoubted that Modi’s government is vicious in its agenda, but it is equally vicious in how it imposes it. This was seen in the way police attacked students, storming the Aligarh Muslim university, after protests emerged against the citizenship amendment act. That movement is not yet dead. The same methods are now being brought to bear against farmers who have been agitating peacefully for the most part. Any violence that has occurred has been proven to be the work of provocateurs and agents working within the movement, or as a reaction to police violence. As I have said before, we must show our unconditional support to this movement however we must also understand it’s character and limitations.
The three laws
We must have some necessary context to understand the farm laws which have just been passed. India is the third-largest producer of agricultural goods in the world, after the United States of America and China. The so-called ‘green revolution’ ushered in by Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri in the 1960s and continued by Indira Gandhi, made India self-sufficient in agriculture and opened up a vast hitherto untapped potential in the countryside. It also created the ground for the enrichment of large landed farmers over small and marginal farmers and kick-started the unsustainable pattern of farming that characterizes agriculture in India today.
For the better part of the 21st century and the last decades of the 20th century, India witnessed the impoverishment and stagnation in the farm sector after decades of growth following the reforms of the 1960s and 70s. During this time, farmer suicides started to skyrocket. As of this year, there have been almost 3,00,000 farmer suicides, counting from the year 1995, and this number is almost certainly an underestimate. This, of course, does not tell us of the vast swathes of people who have had to leave farming because they could no longer afford it and survive by selling their labour in large farms or becoming casual labourers in the cities. This conversion of land-owning farmers to landless proletarians is what we have called proletarianization and it is a process that every capitalist country has gone through. India is going through this now, at a much more enhanced pace.
The period of neo-liberal growth from 1991 has seen the agricultural sector’s share of the economy shrink to around 15% of the economy, however, the sector still employs nearly 60% of India’s workforce directly or indirectly. It is not entirely wrong to say that India is an agrarian country, however, it is quite obvious that agriculture does not drive India’s capitalist economy. It is the service sector and the industrial sector that is driving India’s economy, with telecommunications retail, IT and finance being the main core of India’s service sector economy. This is where the role of India’s big oligarchs comes into play. The Tatas, Reliance group, and the upcoming oligarch Adani and his sights set on retail in agricultural products, we are seeing with increasing clarity, those who have a vested interest in taking over India’s farm sector. Industry, finance and services (including retail) have been largely consolidated in the hands of the big capitalists, now they have set their sights on agriculture.
In this context, the farm laws have a major role to play. The previous government under the Congress-led UPA had explored the possibility of similar reforms which would ‘open up’ the farm sector to penetration by the mega-corporations. As of now, the system which exists requires farmers to sell their produce at the designated marketing boards called Agricultural produce marketing committees, established by the government, also called ‘mandis’. These markets guarantee a certain fixed price for the procurement of grain as well as ensuring that selling price does not reach too high a level. During the 1960s and 70s, most states across India adopted this model establishing boards for the procurement of grains. This created stability for the farmer and also ensured security for the consumer. However, this was by no means a perfect system, widespread corruption in the management of the mandis and the monopoly of trade in farming goods it created ultimately hurt the farmers. In addition, the law did not provide for a minimum support price to sustain agriculture in the face of rising costs. The farmer’s difficulties were compounded by the existence of cartelization around certain mandis.
For years, farmers across India had been demanding for the nationwide promulgation of a minimum support price, protests took place in 2017 and 2018, but to no avail. The government has simply skated around the question, and then came with a ‘solution’ which appeared as a slap in the face of farmers hopeful for a solution. This was of course, not novel. The State of Bihar had abolished the mandi system in its agricultural sector in 2006 with the hopes that it would improve the lives of farmers, by ‘attracting investments’. Not only did investments not come, but farmers also found themselves worse off. Now that they had no secured price buffer to sell their produce, they fell into poverty or left the state to find work elsewhere. Agriculture in Bihar remained in a state of decline. Now, farmers rightly fear that the same fate will befall the rest of the country.
The three farm laws were tabled in parliament on September 17th 2020, in the midst of the pandemic. The government felt that this was perhaps the best time to push through the farm sector reforms and the regressive labour codes, with the pandemic and lockdown restrictions still imposed in most Indian cities, it was thought that the masses wouldn’t be able to organize to agitate against these laws. The laws were passed without a voice vote in the upper house, and the speaker was seen live on tv silencing the opposition when they rose against the laws. The opposition walked out over the farm laws, leaving the government to pass the labour codes unanimously. This mockery of democracy was recorded live on tv for the whole country to see. The reaction was almost immediate, farmers protests erupted soon after and they began organizing against the act, despite the pandemic, and despite all anti-covid restrictions. Many farmers were calling the government’s bluff, saying that they could conduct the Bihar elections under the pandemic, but restrict farmer’s protests, simply because they are hypocrites. They were right of course, the restrictions imposed against the farmers had nothing to do with the pandemic, and everything to do with defending the interests of the big capitalists.
So, these farm laws and the following reforms seem aimed at implementing the recommendations of the M.S Swaminathan Committee, established by the preceding Congress-led government. The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020. The government claims this act will benefit farmers as it will ‘allow them to trade irrespective of state boundaries, and outside of the framework of the mandi system’. Effectively, this act does away with the mandis altogether and opens up the field for corporations to monopolize the trade in grain. This aspect is of course undermined by the government who point to the abolition of state taxes and levies as the greater good. The truth is, this not only opens the field for corporations to take over agriculture but it also throws the farmer into unequal competition with large capitalist interests who have every possible backing from the government and billions in capital to invest in inter-state infrastructure. The government may claim this act realizes the idea of ‘one market’ envisaged in the Swaminathan report, but in truth, this is a twisted anti-farmer and pro-oligarch version of ‘one market’.
Nowhere more glaring is this intent than in the provisions of section 13 of the act which gives blanket immunity for the Central government in its procurement of grain: “No suit, prosecution or other legal proceedings shall lie against the Central Government or the State Government, or any officer of the Central Government or the State Government or any other person in respect of anything which is in good faith done or intended to be done under this Act or of any rules or orders made thereunder.”
Similar is the case with The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act. 2020. Under section 19 a restriction is placed on the jurisdiction of the courts: “No civil Court shall have jurisdiction to entertain any suit or proceedings in respect of any dispute which a Sub-Divisional Authority or the Appellate Authority is empowered by or under this Act to decide and no injunction shall be granted by any court or other authority in respect of any action taken or to be taken in pursuance of any power conferred by or under this Act or any rules made thereunder.” Both these acts ultimately work to defend the government from scrutiny, and it is without a doubt framed with ensuring their crony oligarchs benefit from it. Besides such blanket protections, the so-called ‘empowerment’ act will promulgate contract farming, without citing any regulations to protect small and marginal farmers who constitute over 90% of India’s farmers. These most vulnerable farmers will be thrown under the bus for the benefit of large corporations seeking to control the trade in grain.
The last of the three acts amends the Essential Commodities Act. The existing law has a list of commodities listed as ‘essential’ on which there were restrictions on stockpiling, and price limits. The present law increased the price limit and abolished stockpiling limits, with the exception of famine or major calamities. However, the price limits are unrealistically high. The liberalization from these limits of course makes trade easier, but in conjunction of the two other acts, this will again largely benefit big business with limited if any benefit to the farmer. The weakening limits on stockpiling might also create conditions for price rises in essential foodgrains which will ultimately hurt the consumer. So in one stroke, the government of the capitalists has prepared to strike at both the worker in the city and the farmer in the countryside.
Crisis in rural India
For anyone observing Indian politics and economy for the last ten years, it comes to no one’s surprise to say that there is a crisis in Indian agriculture. The successes in increasing grain production and self-sufficiency are slowly giving way to a situation of despair and death as farmer suicides and rural impoverishment rise. The National Survey authority NSSO reported that half of all urban families were landless, and one in ten in the countryside were landless. The rates are higher in some states like Tamil Nadu, over others. The situation is objectively worse where land reforms were never implemented, which includes most of India.
The numbers are unclear as is the definition of landless in the government, but one source suggests a figure of almost 442 million individuals would be landless in India. That would mean one in three Indians is without land. To this must be added, the vast number of people who have marginal holdings or smallholdings who live on the edge of abject poverty. On this, the NSSO data shows that the average landholding in rural India has declined at a shocking rate, from 1.53 hectares per family to 0.59 hectares per family.
What this means for the farm sector, is that now there is greater pressure to produce on ever-shrinking plots of land. This is undoubtedly a recipe for disaster, as small vulnerable farmers with limited productive powers have to compete with larger farmers and corporate farming, who can easily outproduce him. Moreover, the cartelization in the trade of grain, the non-existence of a minimum support price in many cases, and ever-present inflation saps an already impoverished farmer further, to the point where he is forced to abandon farming altogether and move on to labour. As a landless labourer, their life only gets worse, as they are at the mercy of others who pay a pittance for their labour, unionization is distant and in some cases impossible and conditions are deplorable. The once landowning farmer thus becomes a landless proletarian who has nothing to sell but his labour power.
It is this most vulnerable sector of the farmer who is driven to debt and ultimately to suicide. By now, over three hundred thousand of them have died this way, perhaps more as data on farmer suicides is no longer collected. To add to this distress, the unsustainable nature of farming which incentivized monoculture of crops following the “green revolution”, eroded the fertility of the soil, and sapped the productivity of the land. Thus, you have poorer farmers, who are burdened with debt, having to rely on smaller landholdings, to sustain their families, and compete with larger farmers and corporations with massive infrastructures for storage and transportations, while also having to navigate the inequities of the agricultural market and deal with corruption. Indian capitalism has rigged this game in every way against the farmer.
To top it off, none of these acts has any guarantee for the minimum support price which farmers have been demanding for years. They open up the farming sector, deregulate it, but without providing this one necessary safeguard.
The crisis of Indian agriculture can be attested to many factors, but the most glaring of it is the land! The continuous fragmentation of land, and the marginalization of landholding, while big corporations pick up more and more fertile land for ‘corporate farming’, squeeze out the peasantry and forces them into the ranks of the working class, ever more destitute and weakened, socially, economically and psychologically. Many who can’t tolerate the indignity of landlessness prefer taking their own life than live this way. Their numbers keep increasing every day.
Rest assured these farm laws will do much to increase the number of landless and of farmers who commit suicide unable to sustain their livelihood, but as long as it pleases the Tatas, Ambanis and Adanis, Modi is satisfied.
The bourgeoisie comes with us with a very positive-sounding euphemism, ‘urbanization’. They envision a fantasy of a fair system where the lives of people automatically improve with the ‘benefits’ of urban living. The transition away from a life in the countryside to life in the cities is painted in these fanciful ways, to hide the harsh reality of capitalist proletarianization.
What we mean by proletarianization is not merely the conversion of the classes of petty-property holders, like the peasantry and petty bourgeoisie, into a working class, with nothing but their labour power to survive on, but also the destruction of the classes of petty property owners, their continuous impoverishment and marginalization, for the benefit of the big capitalists.
Capitalism works to suck out value from the dispersed and scattered class of the peasantry and petty bourgeoisie to enrich the ever-strengthening big bourgeois oligarchs. This is done in one of numerous ways, but all of it constitutes the process of breaking down the petty classes and their conversion into workers for the purpose of exploitation.
India is unique among capitalist nations for the vast pool of human resource it can proletarianize. This is in fact what the bourgeoisie call ‘the demographic dividend’, that India has a vast store of yet to be exploited labour power, trapped in the ‘dead-end’ of farming and small trade. India’s billionaires have grown rich, only because they have been able to tap into this vast market, and used the bourgeois state to ensure they remain safe from outside competition till they were strong enough to face it on their own. The Ambanis’ fortune is the result of pre-liberalization Congress era policies, along with the wealth of the Tatas and now the Adanis. The stage was set for a much more dramatic enrichment of this class when the economy did open up in 1991. Since then, these billionaires have increased their fortunes many times over, while the poor in India have only grown poorer and more precarious. Nowhere more is this evident than in the rural sector, where 8.5 million farmers have left farming, while the number of landless poor in India has increased by 37.5 million. The numbers show proletarianization at work.
Historically, advanced capitalist countries have already undergone this process in the late 18th and 19th centuries, some had to wait till the 20th century to finish it off, like the United States with the great dustbowl in the aftermath of the Great Depression. In each case, the pattern was the same, the destruction of the peasant and petty-bourgeois class and the enrichment of the big bourgeoisie. The larger the base of peasant and petty bourgeoisie to exploit this way, the greater the enrichment of the capitalist class. At the same time, India is experiencing its own equivalent of the wild west in the central Indian highlands, where indigenous populations are being driven out of their lands with the active collusion of corrupt officials, a violently repressive police force and paramilitaries, so mining corporations may seize their lands. The indigenous populations, of course, will be added to the ranks of the reserve army of the unemployed. The more the number of unemployed the greater the pressure on labour, and the easier it would be for capital to push down wages as now there is an increased supply of labour beyond what capitalist demand is able to soak in.
The process of proletarianization has helped India become a centre of cheap labour production and service and created a vast internal market which can power an aggressive capitalist expansion. This comes at the cost of the well being of the working class and peasantry. It is therefore natural, that they would take to the streets to challenge an agenda which aims at nothing but the extermination of the peasantry as a class, and the greater subjugation of the working class to the will of capital.
The farmer protests today
Much like the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act before it, the farmers’ protests have been unique in its duration and durability. They have not left the borders of Delhi since they sat down on the 30th of November, it now enters its 154th day. Yesterday, the farmers took out nationwide tractor rallies to block highways.
It must be remembered that the current protests come on the heels of numerous earlier protests by farmers across the country, some for more regional/local state level demands, and others for national demands, like the implementation of the Minimum Support Price. The farmers’ protests were stirred on by the forced passing of the three farm laws, which got an immediate backlash. This was the last straw on the farmers who have suffered decades of poverty, and marginalization, they would not tolerate any more.
On the 26th November, their protest converged with the general strike called by workers across India. Both farmer and worker supported each other’s demands, the trade union strike was called for the recall of four labour codes the government instituted, while the farmers protested for the repeal of the three farm laws. A quarter of a billion people took part in that day-long strike, and it set the stage for the current protests in Delhi to take form.
On the 30th of November, about 2,00,000 farmers converged on the highways of Delhi to sit-in protest. Despite every effort of the government, they could not evict them from the protest site. They still remain there, steadfast in their resolve to see the repeal of these laws.
The leadership of the ongoing protests does not come from any political party, but from within the farmer’s movement itself, being led by their unions. They have come under the umbrella of the ‘Samyukt Kisan Morcha’, an umbrella organization for the farmers’ unions. The protests have seen huge numbers across the country, however, it would not be wrong to say that the farmers of Punjab and Haryana are at the vanguard of these protests. While many oppositional parties have come out in support of the farmers, they do so for mostly opportunistic reasons, none of the bourgeois parties of India or even the Stalinists, attempted to stop the brutal march of proletarianization in India. The left front government in India, after some initial gains through land reform, turned their back on the farmer in favour of industrial capital, when they attempted to forcibly acquire land at the behest of the Tatas at Singur. The agitation against this, led to the fall of the Stalinists in Bengal, and the destruction of their political power throughout India.
As such, it is no exaggeration to say that the opposition parties in India, have lost most credibility in the eyes of the farmers and the larger populace. By distancing themselves from these parties, the farmers have also distanced themselves from the taint that could come with it. Despite malicious propaganda by the BJP which has tried to paint these protests as some kind of oppositional plot, none of it has worked to dissuade the farmers or the wider population from sympathizing with them.
However, the farmers do not have their own political formation, the trade union organization lacks cadre-based discipline, and rank and file organization. The weaknesses in the organization were seen fully during the Republic Day tractor parade, where the police and provocateurs were able to sow chaos and confusion in the ranks of the farmers and provoke them into violent behaviour. Despite this, the protesters have remained remarkably disciplined for the most part and have refrained from acts of vandalism or anarchic violence against the authorities.
The farmers have a clear political demand, which is again limited to the immediate demands for the repeal of the three farm laws. This simplicity has allowed them to create a wide alliance with every sector of farmers, but it also limits the scope of the agitation. While most of the protesting farmers might be small and marginal farmers, there are also a good many large land-owning farmers among them. The states of Punjab and Haryana are known for their productive farming sectors, and in general, the farmers of this region are more well off and employ a large number of agricultural labourers sourced from migrants from Eastern India, primarily Bihar. Yet, they are not in the centre of the demands. There is an understanding that everyone who is employed in agriculture or dependent on agriculture will suffer from these laws, and a need for unity to fight it, however the particular demands of the landless and agricultural labourers do not get heard. Nowhere do we hear of the demands for land reforms, neither for organizing rural workers. The entire focus is on repealing the three farm laws.
The farmer’s agitation is mainly defensive in nature, the repealing of the three farm laws will simply revert things to the way they were, and farmers still suffered under it. The implementation of the Swaminathan committee will not overcome the huge disparity in land ownership in the countryside, one which can only be accomplished by sweeping nationwide land reform. Added to this must be a demand for safeguards for migrant workers whose toil has brought about prosperity in the North Indian countryside and who remain in the margins.
Despite these shortcomings, the farmers’ protests remain strong and is arguably one of the most durable movements we have seen in recent history. The reasons for this is because everyone involved in the protests knows what is at stake, and know what the consequences of failure. They rightly see the farm laws as a death sentence upon them, they see this as a chance to stop their doom, and fight for better days, for themselves and their next generation. This spontaneous energy has driven the movement so far, however, the coming days will test the strength of this movement and the unions involved in it. The Modi government is already preparing the tools for massive repression, one can see it on full display as the police dig up roads, lay pikes, and put up thick barricades and come with steel rods, to suppress the farmers.
They have already shut down the water, shut down the internet, and have jailed activists speaking out in favour of the farmers. Nodeep Kaur, one of the student activists who came out in support of the farmers, still languishes in jail where she was sexually abused and tortured. Repressive measures seen in Kashmir, are now being seen in Delhi and its suburbs from internet shutdowns to police barricades and anti-riot water cannons being deployed.
These actions of the government have failed to deter the farmers, on the contrary, they have brought greater sympathy across the country from workers, youth and students. People in Delhi have been seen marching in solidarity with farmers, across India truckers came out in support of the farmers, threatening to stop supply chains in support of them. Every trade union has expressed their support for the farmers during the general strike. What we see here, are the stirrings of a much greater, wider, class-based unity around fighting the Modi government and its brazenly pro-capitalist policies. No amount of propaganda by the mainstream lapdog media or paid ‘celebrities’ like Kangana Ranaut can derail this. Neither is the attack of the farmers as ‘khalistanis’ showing any results. The strong and visible Sikh contingent of the farmer protesters fly their own Sikh holy flags in addition to the flags of the union, the same flag was raised in Red Fort. Only the most foolishly ignorant propagandists of India’s news media could spin this as some sort of Khalistani attempt.
The strength of such a movement has kept the government in a state of panic. Their propaganda is failing, their repressive actions are failing, and neither are the farmers budging on their core demand, the repealing of the farm laws. The government is adamant about keeping it, however, they have started to bend. The Supreme Court stayed the operation of the farm laws and set up a committee of experts to look into the laws. The government has even offered to hold the implementation of the laws for 18 months. However, these tricks have failed to fool the farmers, who want nothing less than the complete repealing of the laws, rather than falling prey to a deception tactic which will just allow the government to reintroduce the laws at a later date with slight modifications.
The way forward
The government and Modi, especially, keep reiterating that they are ‘ready for talks’, while at the same time it shuts down access to food and water for the protesters, digs up roads and sets up barricades of nails to stop them. If the government wanted to talk, it would not try to stop and assault the farmers. The farmers, and the people of the country and the world, can see through this hypocrisy. No amount of propaganda by paid celebrities and the government’s lapdog media can convince the people otherwise.
The government is running out of options, if they do cave in to the people’s demands, they would lose the support of the big capitalists whose money have given the BJP and Modi power, they would lose the halo of authority and power they try to project through their propaganda. Modi cannot be humble, even if he may pretend to be. Modi has to project the image of a ‘strongman’ nationalist leader so the party’s cadre remain energized and fanatical. If he fails, and his government fails, the narrative falls apart and the party will collapse politically. Hindutva will lose, big capital will lose.
It is therefore imperative that we revolutionaries must give our unconditional support for the farmers, who are now at the forefront in the fight against Hindutva reaction. The workers and peasants who have gathered at the borders of Delhi must be prepared for the hard hammer of reaction and maintain their discipline. At the same time, revolutionaries must organize in every way possible, to defend the movement against attacks by the reactionaries, while also trying our hardest to give it a radical agenda that goes to the core of the problems facing rural India and India’s agricultural sector.
For this movement to win, solidarity is key, most importantly between workers and peasants. Such unity is already taking place, but we must give it a clear and visible political form, and an agenda that can unify both sectors. The rural proletariat are the bridge between the workers in the city and the farmers in the countryside and must be at the forefront of a movement for deep social change. Our agenda most simply put, is for socialism in India. While capitalism brings poverty, landlessness and destitution, socialism brings land and hope.
ALL OUT SUPPORT TO THE FARMER’S PROTEST!
DOWN WITH MODI!
DOWN WITH AMBANI ADANI!
REPEAL THE FARM LAWS!
LAND REFORM THROUGHOUT THE COUNTRY!
ABOLISH THE LABOUR CODES!