Tuesday, June 19, 2007

People’s industry


Industrialisation of a country from a pre-existent agrarian economy has always been a painful process. Industry needs land, energy, capital and trained manpower. The land has to come from the agrarian base. That agrarian base has a surplus manpower that can be trained but not all of them. Industry requires technical manpower and as small an untrained labour force as possible. So where does the surplus manpower from land go and what happens to the agrarian base?
In the UK the industrial revolution started in the 18th century with coal as the main energy source. Displacement of farmers and the woes of the coalminers were at the root of organised trade union movements, the eventual rise of leftist ideologies and some excellent literary works. The surplus manpower was shipped out to colonies or engaged in shipping to win more colonies. These colonies, of which India was the principal, provided both the capital and the market for Britain’s industrial revolution. It took more than a century and several wars to balance the population with internal productivity and till the end of the nineteenth century many areas of Lon-don remained a nightmarish city of unemployed labour, vagabonds, rogues and prostitutes. Till the early twentieth century, the coal miners’ movement remained the breeding ground of many Left-wing politicians who became famous subsequently.


In the USA, the hunger for more land led to the formulation of the principle of “Manifest Destiny” by the Jackson Democrats in 1845. In Germany, the process started a little later and not having colonies to ship the surplus population they looked elsewhere and Friedrich Ratzel in 1897 raised the political agenda of Lebensraum. Von Bernhardi used it for practical politics in 1912 and said that in the next war Germany would seize the lands eastwards up to the Urals to settle the German population in a greater Germany. The theoretical justification was based on the Darwinian hypothesis of ‘filling of ecological niches’ by a superior adaptive race. These lands in Tsarist Russia were sparsely populated and were being filled up by encouraging large-scale migrations from other countries though citizenship rights were not given to many. This ultimately proved to be a problem. After the First World War the Nazis took up the cry for Lebensraum and Alfred Rosenberg drew the map of future Germany with Reichscommisariats ruling European Russia including Byelorussia and Ukraine and all of Western Europe excluding Spain, Portugal and Finland. Hitler was not the originator of Lebensraum but added an internal version by eliminating Jews.
Industrialisation of Russia under Stalin has been studied as data became available after the fall of the Soviet Union and is well known. In brief, Stalin reversed Lenin’s New Economic Policy of distributing land to the farmers that had ushered in a marked rise in agricultural output. Capital was needed for industrialisation and it was scarce. The middle class who could invest was decimated by 1926. Stalin saw that there would be only one way for the State to raise money and accumulate capital, and simultaneously transform the economic base of Russia from farming to industry. The solution for Stalin was to collectivise agriculture, forcing the peasants into communes, destroying the kulaks, controlling agricultural output, and fixing the prices of wages and food. The surplus labour on land was deported to industrial centres in the east. Half of the foodgrain production was appropriated by the State at a low price and sold in towns at a higher price. In eight years from 1929-30, 25 million peasants were forcibly evicted from land to distant industrial centres, 25 million small peasant farms gave birth to one lakh collective farms, private consumption of gross GNP went down below 50 per cent (in an economy at take-off stage it should not go down below 80 per cent), rebellions started as famine spread in many states and Stalin initiated his policy of ‘final solution’ of the nationalities in Ukraine, Kazakhstan and some other areas that was virtual genocide. The industrial production however went up spectacularly making Soviet Russia the second largest economy and a military power in eight years but agricultural production continued to decline through the war and afterwards and could never recover.
China started industrialisation in earnest after the waves of Cultural Revolution ebbed. The growth rate has been spectacular so far with an annual growth rate in GDP close to 10 per cent that many in India look at with envious eyes. But industrialisation has a price to pay no matter where and how it is done and faster the rate greater is the price. China is paying that price as evident from an interview given by China’s Deputy Minister of Environment to the German magazine Der Spiegel a couple of years back. To quote him “This miracle (of China’s growth) will end soon because the environment can no longer keep pace. Acid rain is falling on one-third of the Chinese territory; half of the water in our seven largest rivers is completely useless, while one-fourth of our citizens do not have access to clean drinking water. One-third of the urban population is breathing polluted air, and less than 20 per cent of the trash in cities is treated and processed in an environmentally sustainable manner. In the future, we will need to resettle 186 million residents from 22 provinces and cities. However, the other provinces and cities can only absorb some 33 million people. That means China will have more than 150 million ecological migrants, i.e. environmental refugees.”
So what is the road for India and particularly West Bengal, a state with high population density? The recent growth in the Indian economy is mainly through the IT sector, the service industries and entrepreneurship in foreign countries that do not need massive land space and West Bengal with its frittered human resources has regrettably been a late starter. This Indian growth cannot be sustained without infrastructure, heavy industries and manufacturing industries in different sectors and suitable land is of prime importance.


West Bengal is credited with a land reform programme that has empowered the rural population and increased agricultural production but is now showing a downward trend. The rural people are today more educated and cannot be brushed aside in a democratic country. There is also a large educated urban middle class. The state is also familiar with the resettlement problem since the time of Partition. At one point of time, there were plans to resettle East Pakistan refugees in the Andamans. It was thwarted by political opposition with the result that Tamil migrants to the Andamans cornered most of the economic activities and the small Bengali population has remained poor. The refugees were then resettled in a more inhospitable region of Dandakaranya. From there, an exodus occurred towards the Sundarbans, more specifically Marichjhapi, and the police resorted to firing to discourage those farmers.
The story is now being repeated in places where the government is trying to establish mega industries and the political sides have changed. While we do not have the “advantage” of a totalitarian state to move populations at will and nor should politicians think that we have, we do have the advantage of being one of the most open democracies in the world and are proud of it. The people are responsive to change for a better tomorrow if they are made partners. Democracy automatically prevents excesses in any direction however frustrating it may seem and acts as its own check and balance.
Development is a national priority like defence of the nation and political parties should act in unison in the best democratic traditions and decide on the strategy of development as partners and not as enemies. Politics today does not encourage freethinking and honest people, without personal and group interests, should help the process and give democracy a chance.