Saturday, December 22, 2007

Nandigram and the Blind Faith in Industrialization

From the June 2007 issue of the Hindi Journal Samayik Varta.

Original article by Sunil. Translated by Amit Basole ( Footnotes and comments in square brackets are by the translator. Samayik Varta is a monthly Hindi magazine published from Delhi, and edited by Yogendra Yadav. The contact address is: Samayik Varta, G-9, Third Floor, Preet Vihar, Vikas Marg, Delhi-110092.

The events in Singur and Nandigram and before that the struggles in Kalinga Nagar and Dadri have achieved at least this much; the intoxicated ruling class proceeding rapidly on the path of globalization has been slowed down and a debate has been initiated in the country. The government has been forced to rethink matters somewhat.

But this debate is occurring largely on a superficial level and the solutions are also being proposed on the same level. Even those who are opposed to displacement of peoples for SEZs and other industry (which includes the CPM ) are proposing such superficial solutions. They say that SEZs may be constructed on empty, fallow or less fertile agricultural land. But by saying this we support the displacement of tribals and other backward classes.

By this logic, Singur and Nandigram are wrong, but Kalinga Nagar and Kashipur are OK. In fact the question is not of the productivity of land. However fertile or not the land maybe, for the majority of the people of that region it is their chief source of livelihood. Dispossessing them of this land creates a serious crisis in their lives. It is also being said that displacement can happen as long as the displaced are rehabilitated properly, are given jobs and even stock options in the new projects. The Indian Government is also busy formulating a new rehabilitation/relocation policy. But we know from experience that no matter how good a relocation policy is, it is not implemented well and justice is never done to the displaced. As compared to the dispossessed, the interests of the more powerful are usually served better in any project. We have the example of the Sardar Sarovar Project in front of us.

A justification is also being offered by asserting that the government should not acquire land and that instead the private companies should directly buy land from the peasants. With regard to the SEZs, this is indeed the government’s new decision. This policy will certainly stop the seizure of land from peasants to sell it at throw-away prices to the companies, and so will it put a stop to the millions of rupees scandals in the land market. But where companies can see heaps of profits in the form of tax breaks and outright theft, they will not hesitate to offer attractive land prices to peasants, and in the new corporate-government rule they will not shy away from bringing pressure or using force upon peasants in order to make them sell their land. Our government is also taking many steps to make the whole process of land transfer to the corporations easier. Land ceiling laws are being relaxed and an effort is being made to develop the land market. With the continued losses being endured in farming and agriculture itself becoming a loss-making activity, farmers in many places are also ready (forced) to sell their land. But the question is, is land transfer on a large scale from the farmers to corporations and from agriculture to industry and other uses appropriate or defensible?

Some fundamental questions are raised here. These questions are, what will be the status of agriculture, industry and other activities, and what will be their share in our economy? Is industrialization necessary for development? Of what type will this industrialization be? After all the CPM leaders have offered this type of logic in the Singur-Nandigram context. According to them progress in agriculture via land reform has a limit and this limit has been reached in West Bengal. After a point agriculture cannot be a source of employment. For further development West Bengal must be industrialized and for this it is necessary to invite Tata, Salem Group and others. Buddhadeb Bhattacharya asks of his opponents, “Will a farmer’s son remain a farmer?” Opponents of the CPM will have to reply to these arguments and solutions must be found for these questions. The time has come to have an extended debate on this issue.

This debate is also necessary because many reactions to the Singur-Nandigram events have been limited to attacking the internal divisions of the Left Front Government, the rowdyism of the CPM and to moral corruption. The present policy of industrialization and development and the theory behind it have not been adequately debated. But if an alternative path is not found for development, then in this age of Globalization Singur and Nandigram will repeat.

In fact in both Marxist and Capitalist thought agriculture and villages are old and backward things, remnants of an old civilization. In the US, Canada and Western Europe agriculture’s share in national income and in total employment is not more than 2-3% now. Urbanization is proceeding rapidly there. In some parts of Europe many villages have been destroyed and no one lives there now apart from a few old people. Many of our leaders and intellectuals think this is our aim too, and progress in this direction is natural and defensible for them.

The movement away from villages and agriculture started in Western Europe with the advent of Capitalism itself. Farmers were displaced from the land in large numbers. In England farms were replaced by pasture-lands for grazing sheep whose wool was to be used in the textile industry. This also made available an army of unemployed workers to the upcoming big industry. This was an inevitable and essential component of the process of the industrial revolution. Marx says that these workers who were displaced from their lands formed the “industrial reserve army of labor.” He called it “primitive capital accumulation.” What is happening in India today can be compared to this. Are Singur- Nandigram to be understood as India’s primitive capital accumulation and are they signs that capitalism is advancing? Is this why Bengal’s leftist government is acting as though this process is a necessary evil? Karl Marx’s brilliance was in laying bare and analyzing the processes that lie behind the development of capitalism. But his fault was that he believed these contemporary developments in Western Europe to be inevitable laws of history and hence argued that the whole world must sooner or later go through the same phases. The transition from Feudalism to Capitalism and then the advent of Capitalism is the inevitable march of history. Every part of the world must pass through the same phases and no one can bypass capitalist industrialization and go straight to socialism. This was the primary matter of debate between the Narodniks and the Communists in Russia. The Narodniks thought that it was possible to remove the Tsar and to go straight from Russia’s traditional village-based communities to a socialist society. Today the General Secretary of the CPM, Prakash Karat is saying that those leftists who criticize the Bengal government are arguing like Narodniks and are not true Marxists. The development of capitalism will be like that in Western Europe, wherein there will be large factories with thousands of workers employed in them. The growing organization of these industrial workers and their growing class-consciousness will be the motive force of the communist revolution.

The followers of Marx were so convinced of this principle that they believed that the coming of capitalism in the non-European parts of the world was an inevitable and progressive aspect of history and that industrial workers would alone be the heralders of the revolution. In many countries including India they ignored the ground realities and occupied themselves in organizing the workers of the organized sector. It is obvious that in this thinking there was no place for farmers. Being tied to the land farmers cannot be seen a property-less, proletarian. During the Soviet Revolution the Bolsheviks had obtained the support of the peasantry and this support was important for the Bolshevik victory. But later in Soviet Russia when, in the guise of a necessary step towards industrialization, the prices of agricultural output were lowered the farmers refused to sell their crop. In response the land was seized from the farmers, communal farms were created and hundreds of thousands of resisting farmers were killed in the Stalinist regime. Since then farmers being called “kulaks”, are despised in Marxist thinking and are thought to be a counter-revolutionary force. In India as well, many leftists have derided the peasant movements, calling them kulak movements.

China’s situation was different and industrialization also did not occur there to the extent it did in Russia. That is why the Chinese communist revolution under Mao’s leadership was completely a peasant revolution. Hence communist China’s path also looked different at the outset. The China of backyard steel furnaces, barefoot doctors and bicycles seemed to adopt a different road to development. But perhaps the faith in the superiority and the inevitability of Western-style industrialization was so deep in Marxist philosophy that China’s communist leaders also convinced themselves that this was only an transitional system; eventually China also must industrialize the way Europe-America did. This belief and this mode of development with its imperatives eventually converted communist China to capitalism. The point to note here is that after the demise of the Soviet Union, China is the model for India’s communist parties. Both Buddhadeb Bhattacharya and Manmohan Singh appear to be singing the praises of China and flowing its example. The notion of Special Economic Zones has also come from China. The news coming from China suggests that there is large-scale displacement, dispossession, migration and unemployment occurring there presently. Many Nandigrams are happening there too.

So in Marxism, there is no escape from capitalism and (Western Europe-style) industrialization. Capitalism must come before socialism. Until what Marx called the “forces of production” or what in common parlance is called technology, are developed adequately, the situation will not be ripe for the coming of socialism. The whole world must follow the same pattern. One alternative mode of modern industrial development was that adopted in the Soviet Union, wherein capital accumulation and development of big industry was undertaken by the State. But after the failure of the Soviet model there is no other path left. This is why Bengal’s Left Front government has devised an industrialization policy based on inviting the Tata and Salem Group. Like the other Chief Ministers in the country, Jyoti Basu and Buddhadeb Bhattacharya also tour foreign countries to invite Multinational Corporations. The same Tatas-Birlas without cursing whom no program of the Indian Communists would be complete, are today such good friends with the Communists that the later can brutalize their own farmers but cannot desert the Tata-Birlas. And they are doing all this for the industrialization of Bengal. It is obvious that this faith in industrialization has reached the level of superstition.

In fact, this problem is a result of the fact that both Marxism and liberalism/neo- liberalism overlook one important facet of the development of capitalism. Namely that colonial plunder and exploitation play an important and inevitable role in the development of capitalism. Domestic displacement of the peasantry and exploitation of workers are not the only sources of capital accumulation. Europe’s industrial revolution was based on the exploitation and destruction of the peasants, workers, artisans and traditional occupations of the whole world. If England, France, Germany, Spain, Holland etc. had not had colonies all over the world, then the industrial revolution would never have happened. The real dispossessed were in fact the peasants, weavers, artisans and indigenous peoples of the colonies. Even today, it is only through the neo-colonial plunder and exploitation that European and American capitalism can flourish. Globalization is the newest and most pervasive form of this process. The prosperity of America and Europe and the poverty of Asia, Africa and Latin America are two sides of the same coin.

Karl Marx had certainly paid attention to this fact and in his book, “Capital” he gave an extensive account of colonial plunder. But he did not make this important historical fact a part of his analysis. Later Rosa Luxemburg tried to fill this gap to some extent. But the important thing is that if colonial plunder and exploitation is one principal basis of capitalist development and industrialization then this avenue is not open to the non-European nations of the world. Wherefrom will they bring colonies? Hence the option of capitalist development and industrialization is simply not open to India and other countries of Asia-Africa-Latin America. Here only partial and limited industrialization can happen, as has happened so far. But for modern industrialization the necessity of colonial exploitation is so deep and intrinsic that in order to industrialize if these countries cannot find colonies elsewhere they are forced to create colonies within their own borders. The backward and tribal areas, rural and agricultural communities of these countries are a type of internal colony, which have been the targets of neglect, exploitation, plunder and displacement. Hence the inferior status, poverty and exploitation of peasants and agriculture is an intrinsic part of modern capitalist development and industrial order. This is a primary source of capital accumulation or capital creation. A principal shortcoming of Marxist thought is that it has taken the exploitation of workers inside a factory to be principal source of surplus value, while exploitation of countries via international trade, finance and capital, and the exploitation of other sectors of the economy inside the country have proved to be a bigger source of value. As a result of exploitation of this kind capitalist and worker incomes have grown in Western Europe, it has been possible to avoid class conflict between them and the revolution predicted by Marx and Engels has not taken place. From the point of view of the non-European parts of the world, this was the main shortcoming of Marx’s thought, which in India was elucidated well by Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia in his essay “Economics After Marx.”

There was one more weakness in Marx’s analysis. According to him labor was the principal source of production and value-creation. A worker is not given the entire product that he or she produces with her labor, but only a small part of it and the rest becomes surplus value or profit for the owner. This is correct but it is not the whole picture. An important basis for industrialization in capitalism has also been the use, exploitation and destruction of natural resources for free or for low cost. And just as exploitation inside the factory or within a country were not enough for industrial development under capitalism, similarly, the plunder and despoliation of natural resources has also occurred on an international scale. International trade, finance and foreign capital investment are the principal means for this. The exploitation of natural resources is of course in the form of the never-ending and growing need for more raw materials from mines, farms, forests and oceans. But the capacity of industrial capitalism for direct appropriation, pollution and destruction of water, forests, land, wind, biodiversity etc. is also extraordinary. This much can be said; had Europe not gotten the opportunity to plunder the natural resources of the two Americas and Australia via the decimation of the native populations and to appropriate the natural resources of Africa and Asia, the industrial revolution would not have been possible. Since the livelihoods of the majority of the people in the poor and so-called underdeveloped countries are still tied to nature and natural resources, the two types of exploitation of industrial civilization (of labor and natural resources) are often joined here. It is as if the populace there is cursed to bear the destructive effects of both. In other words it can be said that in addition to capitalist profit, some type of “rent” is also a very important (or even more important) part of capitalism. The “rent” comes from the control and monopoly over natural resources. Apart from natural resources, the royalty obtained from monopoly control of knowledge through patents and copyright laws is a similar type of income. It can also be said that the primitive capital accumulation occurring through the dispossession of people from land and other natural resources is not some initial stage or pre-history of capitalism, but an on-going process of the expansion of capital and an important part of capitalism [emphasis added by translator].

It is understandable that Marx and other nineteenth century European thinkers did not realize these destructive aspects of capitalism and industrial civilization, but Gandhi had understood this very well. That is why Gandhi called is a “satanic civilization”. It was only in the last two or three decades when pollution made life hellish for the people of Europe-America that protests were raised against this and movements like the Green Movement were born. Now they are troubled by the destruction of the Ozone Layer and global warming. After destroying their own forests and being responsible to a large extent for the loss of forests in most of the world, they are now engaged in projects for saving forests and species of wild animals. But this environmental consciousness has not fully come to terms with the fact that the real reason for this destruction is the industrial civilization and the modern lifestyle. Until this is curbed and until alternatives are found, the ecological and human disasters will deepen.

Nandigram, Singur, Kalinganagar, Kashipur etc. are indicators of the fact that modern industrialization’s hunger for water, forests, land and minerals is immense. As far as big business, modern lifestyles and globalization are concerned, the fact is becoming clear that the exploitation of peasants and workers, and capital accumulation via this exploitation is not enough, they also need land on a large scale. Similarly the need for water is also great and conflicts over water have also emerged in many areas. In Orissa, the Hirakud Dam in the Mahanadi River was built four decades ago for irrigation purposes, but now the Orissa state government has signed several agreements to share the water with industries coming up in the area, which has made farmers suspicious and agitated. There are also famous cases like Plachimada in Kerala where water itself was made into a commodity to be sold in the market and excessive ground-water usage created a crisis. The question was raised as to who should have rights over the water. Similarly in Orissa-Jharkhand-Chhattisgarh agreements over minerals are taking place on a big scale, which includes agreements like POSCO and Mittal. The world’s mineral resources are limited. The strategy of the capitalist industrial countries is that they want to keep their mineral reserves safe and exploit the resources in the rest of the world. The lesson in free trade and export-led development that is being taught to the poor, “underdeveloped” countries of the world has been quite useful in this strategy. The World Trade Organization, World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are the instruments for this. But where this is not enough, the use of military force is also not ruled out. The attacks of the US and Britain on Iraq and Afghanistan are fresh examples of this.

The struggles going on today in India and in other parts of the world and the controversies occurring in many places have at their center neo-colonial exploitation, imperialist agendas and conflicts over natural resources. The struggle between workers and owners is either non-existent or has receded into the background. Those movements/ struggles in India in the past three decades, that have been debated or have been in the headlines, have either been about water-forests-land (e.g. Chipko, Narmada Bachao, Chilika, Gandhmardan, Kashipur, Gopalpur, Koyalkaro, Tehri, Plachimada, Mehdiganj, Kaladora, Baliyapal, Netarhat, Polavram, Kalinganagar, Lanjigarh, Kaveri water dispute) or have been struggles over farmers’ right, indigenous peoples’ rights, dalit rights or struggles for regional autonomy/identity (e.g. Assam, Jharkhand, Telangana, Punjab, Kashmir, North-East, North Bengal etc). These are all born out of the regional disparities, the excessive centralization of modernization/development. Even the struggles and conflict going on globally, such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Venezuela, Bolivia, Iran, Nigeria, Palestine etc. have some natural resource conflict as their major cause, be it oil, natural gas, land, minerals etc. This is an important truth about the 20th and 21st century world, in the light of which we must review our old principles and beliefs, interpret struggles like Nandigram-Singur and search for a way ahead.

India’s agriculture and its farmers are the main targets of this industrial civilization today. Transnational corporations are seeing new possibilities for profit in this situation. The direct appropriation of land and displacement is only one part of the multi-pronged attack of globalization on India’s farmers. Increasing the amount of investment that an ordinary farmer needs to make and decreasing the price he/she can sell the produce for (or not allowing the prices to rise as they should), and thereby making agriculture a loss-making activity, are important weapons in this strategy. The result has been that ordinary small farmers have sunk deep into debt and are being compelled to commit suicide. Many laws, policies and plans are being conceived to ensure that the farmer gives up agriculture or else becomes ensnared in corporate farming. All talk of food independence or food security has become out of date now. The supporters of free trade say that it is not at all necessary for India to be self-sufficient in producing the grains, lentils, and edible oil it needs. It can just purchase what it needs on the international market, from wherever it is available for cheap. Under these conditions, only export-driven, capital-intensive corporate agriculture can flourish in India; all other kinds of farming will die out. When the Indian government talks about increasing the rate of development in agriculture or mentions the coming of a second green revolution, then it is this [corporate] type of agriculture it has in mind. So, whether it is the government of India or of West Bengal, making small farmers, such as those in Singur-Nandigram prosper, is not on their agenda. It is not a coincidence that the task of preparing the agriculture policy of West Bengal’s Leftist government was given to the British consultancy firm McKenzie, which is often present as a member of projects carried out by the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, and often gives advice to India’s planning commission, to the various government ministries and to those state governments who are embarking on the path of globalization.

This much is true that today farmers are in a bad state and villages do not appear to have any prospects for employment, development or betterment. When Buddhadeb Bhattacharya asks whether a farmer’s son will remain a farmer, he want to use this miserable and stagnant state of the farmers and other villagers for his own ends. But the question is who is responsible for this ignorance and these stagnant conditions in the villages or in agriculture? Is it not this leftist government that has ruled Bengal for the past 30 years and who has done nothing after the initial round of land reforms under Operation Barga? Are not the development policies being adopted by the Indian Government and the West Bengal Government responsible for this?

The second question is how many sons of the farmers displaced from Singur- Nandigram will find respectable employment in the cities? Will they not simply contribute to the increasingly hellish conditions prevailing in the slums of these cities?

When Buddhadeb Bhattacharya (or Manmohan Singh, Chidambaram, Ahluwalia) says that industrialization is only answer to Bengal’s or India’s unemployment problem, they forget the historical fact that this type of industrialization has not solved the problem of unemployment anywhere in the world. This type of industrialization creates unemployment, does not get rid of it. Even in the countries of Western Europe, capitalism and industrialization have created unemployment. But we do not see the unemployed there because the Europeans spread out to America, Australia and South Africa, displaced the native inhabitants there, captured the resources and settled in these places permanently. In one sense they transferred their unemployment and depravation to the non-European, non-white peoples. Even today, in Europe-America the main source of employment is not industry but so-called “services.” The name “services” is misleading in a way. “Services” is the name given to the activity of spending on enjoyment, the wealth that comes to America-Europe by looting the whole world. The main services are five start hotels, restaurants, tourism, telephone and television services, advertising, transportation, trade, banking, insurance, stock markets and so on. These services are not productive. The service sector does the work of distributing the output and income of the agricultural-industrial sectors. Thus it can also be called parasitic. Even in China, whose miraculous progress is thought to be worth emulating by Manmohan [Singh] and CPM, industrialization and growth of exports has not led to a growth in employment. In a recent issue of Frontline magazine, the economist Jayati Ghosh says that maximum people were employed in the industrial sector in China in 1995, and that was less than 100 million. Despite the rapid growth of export-based industries, employment through industry is now 12% less than even that amount (Frontline, 12 April, 2007). The capitalists and CPM-style communists who are dazzled by the spectacle of Europe-America’s prosperity, forget a simple fact. Those people in Europe-America who were displaced/uprooted from agriculture and industry and became unemployed as a result, spread out the world over via colonialism and neo-colonialism and were absorbed in those [colonial] economies. If people are displaced on a large scale from villages/agriculture in India where will these millions go? What is their future?

In human societies, agriculture has been and will be important for three reasons. Agriculture may occupy negligible space in Europe-America but despite all this industrialization and development, even today, a large fraction of humanity lives in the villages and is dependent for its livelihood on agriculture, livestock, fisheries etc. In countries like India, even today, more than 70% of the population lives in the villages. Although the share of agriculture in India’s national income [GDP] is less than 25%, even today 65% of the country’s population depends upon agriculture. (This is also an indication of the exploitation of agriculture). That is why if any development policy wants to be inclusive and not partial and imbalanced, it will have to have the villages and agriculture at its core. To neglect agriculture and to show this vast population a dream of progress through industry or through life in the cities, is a madman’s scheme, a day dream and can be nothing more than deceit or fraud.

Secondly, it is through agriculture and livestock etc. that humankind’s most basic need-food-is fulfilled. Modern technology has not yet succeeded in finding an industrial or non-agricultural alternative to producing food-grains. This does not seem possible in the future either. This is why food supply and agriculture has a very important place in international diplomacy. Those countries who wish to live independently and with self- respect pay great attention to self-sufficiency in food. To beg from someone for food is a sign of great destitution.

A country like Japan wants to maintain its cultivation of food-grain even if it takes large subsidies to do so. The United States has continuously increased its agricultural subsidies so that by increasing production is can maintain its control over food and other raw material markets. The negotiations of the World Trade Organization have been stalled over this issue as well.

Thirdly, amongst humanity’s economic activities, it is only agriculture (and livestock rearing, fisheries etc) which is actually productive of new value or wealth. With the help of nature, a farmer can produce 20 or 30 grains from one seed. Nothing new is produced in industry, only previously produced substances (raw materials) are transformed. And services, as we have mentioned above, are parasitic, and only do to the job of redistributing already created income/output. Even if we view the matter from the perspective of energy or calories, we see that where other economic activity expends energy, agriculture creates energy/calories. In agriculture, nature, with human labor truly creates something.

For these reasons, agriculture will remain important in human society. Any development policy must keep agriculture and the village at its center, only then can it be called development in a true sense. The historically ongoing exploitation of villages, agricultural and farmers must be ended, and the flow of wealth must be reversed. Buddhadeb Bhattacharya must be made to answer the question, why cannot a farmer’s son remain a farmer and still be prosperous and happy? Why should the farmer, who fulfills the most fundamental human need by producing food, remain poor, uneducated and miserable? Why cannot she/he be a well-off, educated, respected citizen of this country?

But will agriculture provide employment for everyone, leaving no need for industrialization? The answer is, absolutely not. But this will be a very different type of industrialization. Today, India’s villages have become completely de-industrialized and there remains no activity in the villages apart from agriculture. Village and agriculture have become synonyms; while village and industry have become opposed to each other. Where there are villages there is no industry, and where there is industry there are no villages. This is not a good situation and is an inheritance of the colonial period.

During the British period, India’s small, cottage and rural industries were destroyed. The economists Thanner and Thanner have called this “de-industrialization.” Analyzing the census figures, they discovered that during British rule the percentage of the Indian population dependent on agriculture rose instead of declining, and the percentage dependent on industry fell. Even after independence, the process of destruction of industry in the villages continued apace, although it does not show up very clearly now in the census data. Under globalization, due to Nandigram and Special Economic Zones this process has now picked up pace. If Bengal’s leftist government indeed wants development and wants to eradicate unemployment, it will have to reverse this process. Instead of inviting the Tatas and the Salem Group they should spread a network of small and cottage industries throughout West Bengal’s villages. It is not necessary that these cottage industries be an imitation of those found in the old days. New types of cottage industries, adapted to the new times, can certainly exist. But they should be village based, should increase the independence of the villages and should be labor rather than capital-intensive.

Under this type of industrialization it will not be necessary to displace peasants from their lands or to seize their lands. It will not be necessary to fawn before domestic capitalists or multinational corporations to obtain large amount of capital. The rural population will not need to migrate to the towns, cities and industrial centers. It will not be necessary to impoverish agriculture and the villages by sucking wealth away from them. Income, capital and wealth/property will not be centralized in this type of industrialization. There will not be as much enmity with nature or destruction of the environment. But for this, we will have to fight a real battle with the central government and the forces of globalization. A mere ritual enactment of opposition or protest will not suffice.

This type of decentralized and rural industrialization and development is the only alternative available for countries like India. In today’s context this is also the socialist path. Analyzing and learning from history, and abandoning our ideological insistence [on urban industry] all leftists should also accept this.

If this smells of Gandhi or Schumacher, or if we need to mix Marx, Mao and Gandhi, if we perceive a win for the Narodniks
and Lenin’s defeat in this approach, then so be it, because the interests of the people, the aims of socialism and the facts of history are more important than any ideological bias or inclination.