India Today (Part Two of Three-Part Series)


 Workers taking part in a two-day general strike in 2013 involving more than 100 million people.

By Paul Le Blanc

[This article was inspired by a recent tour of India by the author, in the summer of 2015.  Read the first piece, "India Yesterday". The third, “The Struggle for India’s Future”, will be published shortly. Read more articles by Paul Le Blanc.]

When I first visited India, to attend the Mumbai (Bombay) World Social Forum in 2004, I was overwhelmed by the poverty that I saw there – its extensive and intensive qualities outmatching poverty I had seen in United States slums, in Mexican shantytowns, in U.S.-devastated Nicaragua – offset only by the incredible vitality and energy of these impoverished men, women and children as they worked and struggled to ensure the survival of their families and themselves.

Eleven years later, spending twice as much time and seeing much more of the country, I found poverty’s persistence, but also unmistakable signs of economic growth. In a recent volume India Becoming, A Portrait of Life in Modern India, Akash Kapur focuses attention on what is happening in the cities – “crucibles of the new nation,” as he phrases it, although he adds political scientist Sunil Khilnani’s characterization: “bloated receptacles of every hope and frustration.”[i] 

According to Kapur, “India’s traditional agricultural economy was becoming a relic.  Cities – with their software parks and service-sector jobs and armies of young, independent workers – were building a new economy.”  Elaborating on this theme, he acknowledges that about 70 percent of the population still lives in the countryside, but stresses that between 2000 and 2030 it has been estimated that India’s urban population will increase by about 300 million people, and that more than 70 percent of India’s Gross Domestic Product will be generated by the cities.[ii]

As the laws of uneven and combined development would lead one to expect, the consequences are highly contradictory.

Promise and Crisis of Indian Capitalism

India’s major industries include an impressive array of petroleum products, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, agribusinesses (such as tea plantations), textiles, steel, transportation systems and equipment, machinery, leather, cement, mining, construction, and of course computer software, not to mention a thriving service sector.  The country’s labor force consists of 502.5 million people, 49 percent of whom are engaged in agriculture, 20 percent in industry, and 31 percent in the service sector.[iii]

It was in the Nehru years, under the banner of “progress” and “development” and with a quasi-“socialist” veneer, that this process dramatically advanced.  The state-supported proliferation of industries, large dams and other transformations advanced an India-specific capitalism on behalf of the indigenous bourgeois forces that had dominated Nehru’s Congress Party.  In order to accomplish the independent development of capitalist India, it helped to be relatively free from the imperial reach of U.S. business enterprises.  This was facilitated by economic aid from the USSR and a left-leaning neutralism during the Cold War global confrontation between U.S.-led capitalism and the USSR’s Communist Bloc. 

With the collapse of the USSR and the end of the Cold War, as Arundhati Roy has nicely phrased it, “the Indian government . . . performed a high-speed somersault and aligned itself completely with the United States” (at a time when the neo-liberal “Reagan Revolution” and “Thatcher Revolution” were in full swing), which meant “the rules of the game changed suddenly and completely.”  The already-begun “dispossession and displacement” of masses of people, associated with India’s modernization process would, in the new era of privatization and structural adjustment, be “accelerated . . . at a mind-numbing speed,” to the detriment of “millions of people who lived in remote villages and deep in the heart of untouched forests,” as Roy points out. At the end of his upbeat India Becoming, Kapur acknowledges some of the turmoil on which Roy focuses, reflecting that many people “wouldn’t survive the turmoil.  Their lives, and their way of life, would be shattered.  So much was being broken in the new India. . . . A world was dying.”  And yet, he insists with a dogged optimism, “I resolved to hold on to this conviction: that ineluctably, if at times haltingly, a new world was rising to take its place.”[iv]

Yet the realities are too messy to be tamed by such a hopeful flourish.  In her brilliant, award-winning account of Mumbai today, Katherine Boo describes a Mumbai slum area inserted “in the thriving western suburbs of the Indian financial capital,” with 3000 people “packed into, or on top of, 335 huts,” amid “a continual coming-and-going of migrants from all over India.”  This is one of several impoverished squatter settlements looking like “villages that had been airdropped into gaps between elegant modernities.”  As one of the young slum-dwellers said to her: “Everything around us is roses.  And we’re the shit in between.”[v]  Roy sketches a larger context, in 2009 comments that have lost none of their relevance:

Two decades of this kind of “Progress” in India has created a vast middle class punch-drunk on sudden wealth and the sudden respect that comes with it – and a much, much vaster, desperate, underclass.  Tens of millions of people have been dispossessed and displaced from their land by floods, droughts, and desertification caused by indiscriminate environmental engineering and massive infrastructural projects, dams, mines, and Special Economic Zones.  All developed in the name of the poor, but really meant to service the rising demands of the new aristocracy.[vi]

India was similarly described U.S. labor analyst David Macaray, who added “that 400 million Indians are illiterate, that universal rural electrification (promised to be in place by 1990) is still out of reach, that infant mortality rates and child malnutrition are alarming problems and that nonunion factory workers are still being exploited.”[vii]

Patterns of Political Economy

There are a number of additional complications – some having to do with political shifts in the country.  While the humane and dignified image of Jawaharlal Nehru persisted thanks to strong residues of his youthful idealism, there were many in Congress not so graced – and such politicians profited spectacularly.  It is said that Nehru was a poor judge of character, and there were characters in and around his regime, and within the upper levels of the Congress Party, who made use of the old left-nationalist idealism to feather their nests and do favors for friends and relatives.  Such developments were hardly reversed when Nehru’s daughter, Indira Gandhi, succeeded him as Prime Minister, within two years of his 1964 death.  She seemed to lean to the left in order to outdo rivals in Congress, particularly after briefly being bumped from power from 1977 to 1980.  At the same time, in her commitment to “modernization” she further centralized her power, riding roughshod over political opponents to her left and right, and over the rights of ethnic and religious minorities as well, including persecution of Sikhs, which led to her assassination in 1984.

The power of the Nehru/Gandhi dynasty was reflected in the ascension of Indira’s son, Rajiv Gandhi, to the position of Prime Minister after her death.  Having a more “live-and-let-live” approach than his mother, Rajiv’s regime significantly eased up on political opponents, pursued policies of pro-business “liberalization” that, among other things, sought to open up India to more foreign investment, carrying out what were denounced by critics as “pro-city” and “pro-rich” reforms.  He also became mired in sufficient levels of corruption to result in electoral defeat in the face of a center-left electoral coalition in 1989.  Two years later, while campaigning to bring Congress back to power, Rajiv was killed by a Tamil assassin because of support his regime had given to Sri Lankan repression of the Tamil Tigers.  Elections swept Congress back into power (which it held until 1998), and pro-business “liberalization” policies were extended and accelerated.[viii] 

Marxist economist Prabhat Patnaik has noted that the policies of Congress from 1947 to 1990 had represented “the classic case of bourgeois economic nationalism.”  His cogent summary deserves serious attention:

The bourgeoisie was more developed as a class at the time of independence from colonial rule than its counterparts elsewhere in Asia: it had a stronger productive base owing to greater industrialization in the colonial period, and a larger social weight because of this as well as its association with the anticolonial struggle.  Correspondingly, however, it also faced a more organized proletariat, a more vocal petty bourgeoisie and salariat, and a peasantry made militant by Depression-induced impoverishment.  It used the state for a relatively autonomous capitalist development, and asserted itself both politically and economically vis-á-vis imperialism: protection against foreign goods and capital (even while collaborating with the latter), non-alignment [in the Cold War], a democratic polity, and a strong state-capitalist sector were hallmarks of the Indian dirigiste [statist] strategy.

But the absence of thoroughgoing land reforms, a result of the bourgeoisie’s compromise with landlordism, kept productive forces in agriculture arrested.  The market for mass consumption goods remained restricted and grew slowly for this reason.  Moreover, the ability of the state capitalist sector to keep expanding, and thereby to keep enlarging the market for the private capitalist sector, got progressively undermined: the low agricultural growth put a ceiling on the rate at which public investment could grow without squeezing the living standard of the masses to an extent intolerable in a democracy; in addition, the ruling classes enriched themselves from the public exchequer, a form of ‘primitive accumulation of capital,’ which further curtailed the growth of public investment.  The dirigiste strategy of capitalist development, dependent on expanding public investment, entered a cul-de-sac and lost social support even as metropolitan capital, and particularly finance capital, stepped up its offensive against this strategy through the Bretton Woods institutions [i.e., the International Monetary Fund and World Bank], and later the World Trade Organization (WTO), in a world where the crucial support coming earlier from socialist countries [i.e,, the Communist Bloc] had disappeared.[ix]

There is additional complexity in Indian developments, suggested in an analysis of Vijay Prashad, involving the dramatic shifts in the global economy.  Such shifts have powerfully challenged India’s business elite, but Prashad also notes counter-tendencies that have been profoundly beneficial to it.

Nehru’s India had been in the leadership of what Prashad has called “the Third World Project” – related to the non-aligned movement of predominantly former colonial countries determined (a) to remain neutral in the Cold War, (b) to employ economic strategies that involved statist and import-substitution policies designed to enhance relative economic independence from the major capitalist powers (United States and Western Europe), and (c) to develop, between the countries in this bloc, “social and cultural connections against racist hierarchy.” 

Nehru’s successors would eventually run into a powerful effective counter-attack.  “The debt crisis of the early 1980s, manufactured by the Volcker shock of 1979, shattered the basis of the Third World Project,” according to Prashad.  “Dollar-denominated debt – accumulated for a range of reasons from the aggrandized consumer needs of the new elites, including for arms purchases, to the requirements of foreign capital for infrastructural development – now increased.  Simple interest on dollar loans rose by 21 percent.”  The project of third world unity collapsed as “surplus budgets spiraled into catastrophic deficits, as countries were not longer able to meet their most basic financial commitments.”  One by one, “each country was given its dose of [austerity-related] reforms, mostly under the name of Structural Adjustment – what this meant of course was that no longer could a short-term balance-of-payments problem be dealt with as a liquidity problem; it was turned into a problem of political and economic choices and values, and it meant that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and its various organizations could now come in and determine the path for a country.”[x] 

This path became known as neo-liberalism (referring to a new version of the laissez-faire policies long-ago advocated by such 18th-century liberal economists as Adam Smith).  “The institutions dominated by the North and the global financial sector pushed for a decrease in the role of the state in social life and for a constrained sovereignty of states in general,” Prashad explains.  “One way to accomplish this objective was for the IMF, for instance, to move a policy agenda that called for the state to cut back on social spending for people’s needs and, in the name of efficiency, to turn that over to the private (corporate) sector.”  This was interrelated with what is often referred to as globalization, involving the utilization of new technologies and communications systems enabling major business firms “to break up the production process and locate parts of the factory line in different countries,” with multi-national corporations thereby maintaining “final control of the entire chain of production” in ways that “weaken not only the state’s ability to determine its own policy,” but also narrowing “the kinds of policy options (such as nationalization) available to states to enhance their national economies.”[xi]

As Prasahd has emphasized, however, the relative decline of U.S. and Western European capitalism (the North), combined with the economic rise and partnership of capitalist economies elsewhere on the planet – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (often termed “the BRICS”) – has generated what he calls “Neoliberalism with Southern Characteristics.”  This involves “sales of commodities and low wages to workers alongside the recycled surplus turned over as credit to the North as the livelihood of the majority of its own citizens remains flat.”   Of course, the economic elites of the BRICS enjoy dramatic benefits – for example, although “the Indian people experience high levels of poverty and hunger,” India’s economic “growth rate is steadily increasing.”[xii] 

This further contextualizes the “high-speed somersault” that Arundhati Roy has pointed to, and according to Patnaik, “the decline of whatever anti-imperialist commitments the bourgeoisie had had, is mirrored in the change in the orientation of the traditional bourgeois party, Congress.  This change has been responsible for its loss of support, which has left a vacuum that the communal forces have moved in to fill.”[xiii]

Ideology and Politics

These “communal forces” need to be specified.  Communalism is a term often associated with having allegiance to one's own ethnic or religious group rather than to the wider society.  In South Asia it is used “denote attempts to construct religious or ethnic identity, incite strife between people identified as different communities, and to stimulate communal violence between those groups.”  Communal violence in India has generally involved conflict between Hindus and Muslims, but also between Hindus and directed against other groups (Sikhs, Christians, immigrants, etc.).  The foremost political expression of communalism in India for the past three decades has been the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP – Indian People’s Party).[xiv]

The BJP traces its roots to the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, an Indian nationalist party that existing from 1951 to 1977 as the electoral arm of a Hindu right-wing group, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS – National Patriotic Organization).  The RSS, founded in 1925, posed as an alternative to the Congress-led independence movement, whose struggles it shunned.  Calling for “selfless service to India” under the banner of “Hindu nationalism,” it drew inspiration from Italian fascism and German Nazism.  The assassin of Mohandas Gandhi had been associated with it in earlier years, and was an activist in V.D. Savarkar’s group, Hindu Mahasabha (Hindu Assembly), which advanced the ideology of Hindutva.  This holds that the entire Indian sub-continent is the homeland of the Hindus – emphasizing their sharing of “a common blood,” opposing the “co-mingling of races,” viewing Muslims as the spawn of “foreign invasion,” and insisting that Hindus represent “a common nation, . . . a common race, . . . and a common civilization.”[xv] 

Hindutva was formally proclaimed the ideology of the BJP in 1989, and its leaders and militants have been denounced for fomenting murderous violence against Muslims and others in numerous incidents.  Among the more recent infamous examples are those taking place in 1992, when mobs destroyed a Muslim mosque in order to replace it with a Hindu temple (in the violent aftermath 2000 were killed, mostly Muslims, and many more injured, with the destruction of many mosques, stores, and homes throughout the country), and 2002, when a horrific destruction of a train carrying 59 Hindu pilgrims was used as a pretext for three days of incredibly brutal violence and slaughter directed against Muslim, especially women and children (as many as 2000 being killed, many after being tortured, mutilated or raped; 150,000 were displaced).  The BJP was implicated in both of these cases, and yet the party moved on to make big electoral gains (from two parliamentary seats in 1984 to a commanding 282 in 2014), and elections have given it control of the government more than once.[xvi] 

Such developments caused many on the Left to lament, in Prabhat Patnaik’s words, “a communal-fascist party, which had nothing to do with the freedom struggle, occupying the offices of the government and surrendering the country bit by bit to a reimposition of imperialist hegemony.”  Along with “patriotic” bigotry, the BJP was associated with a strong social conservatism, and – for a time – favoring tariff protection for Indian business.  This last position was quickly abandoned in favor of full-throated support for “globalization,” linked with deregulation and privatization of government owned enterprises.  BJP policies have also involved rolling back labor and environmental regulations and privatization of social services – bringing much praise from the business community.[xvii] 

Perry Anderson seems to challenge Patnaik’s characterization of the BJP on two points: (1) to term it “fascist” is to mislabel it since (in contrast to the rise of actual fascism in Italy and Germany) “there was no working-class threat, no economic slump, no revanchist drive”; and (2) the “saturation of politics with Hindu pathos,” far from being unique to the BJP, can be found in the orientation of Gandhi and was maintained by Congress – the BJP simply proving to be better at it.[xviii]

The insistence on recasting all of Indian reality within the aura of Hinduism – brilliantly articulated by Hindutva’s founder V.D. Savarkar (himself an atheist) – enjoys, as Anderson shrewdly notes, liberal and multi-cultural echoes.  The historical pattern of creating within itself “pluralism and peaceable harmony, its teeming multiplicity of different deities, beliefs and rituals a veritable template for a modern multi-culturalism,” which enables liberal-minded Indians in Congress and to its left to comprehend Hinduism as a unique religion that “has so capaciously included even atheism in its repertoire, along with monotheism, polytheism, pantheism and any other sort of theism.”  Anderson wryly concludes: “In this version, secularism cannot be at odds with a Hinduism whose values are so close to its own.”[xix] 

While one can argue that Anderson’s vision of ideological convergence understates the BJP pattern of fomenting murderous communal violence, it is difficult to deny substantial Congress/BJP convergence in regard to economic perspectives.  Here India’s two major political parties – despite some differences – currently have much in common.  In the run-up to the 2009 elections (which Congress won) “there was absolute consensus across party lines about economic reforms,” Arundhati Roy noted, adding that the former chief ideologist of the BJP, a very disgruntled K. N. Govindacharya, “sarcastically suggested that the Congress and BJP form a coalition.”  No need – the BJP won the 2014 elections, and the voter dissatisfaction that generated this (thanks to adverse impacts of pro-business economic “reforms) may once again swing in favor of Congress.  Noting the substantial corruption infecting both parties, Govindacharya put his finger on the deepest aspect of their common corruption: “This nexus of political power and money power will definitely influence the formulation of policies also. It will be difficult for the political parties to strike a different line or mode that will be injurious or harmful to the interests of the corporates.”[xx]

Class Struggle, Oppression, Social Movements

This brings us to the all-important “what is to be done?” question, and particularly to an examination of some of the forces on the Indian Left that are struggling to develop answers.  For Marxists, of course, the natural force that one must look is the working class, and it is the organized labor movement “at the point of production” that has been a special focus for left-wing parties. 

In fact, most of the several dozen trade union federations are affiliated to political parties.  This goes beyond the organized left, Congress and the BJP having the resources to build the largest of India’s trade union federations (with memberships of 33.3 million and 17.1 million, respectively). To the left of those, there are the Communist Party of India-led All India Trade Union Congress (14.2 million), the socialist-led Hind Mazdoor Sabha, or Workers Assembly of India (9.1 million), the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Centre of Indian Trade Unions (5.7 million), and several different federations (with a combined total of close to 9 million) connected to one or another of the many Marxist-Leninist parties.  The number of workers in unions climbed from 12.3 million in 1989, to 24.8 million in 2002, to more than 90 million in 2013.  Yet with the BJP’s return to power in 2014, a raft of “labor reforms” – designed to undermine union power – were advanced by the government, setting the stage for new confrontations with organized labor (with even the pro-BJP labor federation joining in the protests).[xxi]

Beyond “the point of production,” however, there are multiple oppressions bubbling up and sometimes overflowing within the fluid political, social, and economic contexts we have traced here. The rise of social movements, pressing for various reforms in society, are arguably no less important to the interests of the working class, and to the advance of working-class consciousness and the class struggle, than is the persistence of trade unions pressing for various reforms in the workplace.  This is consistent, of course, with Lenin’s stricture that a revolutionary socialist must function not like a trade union secretary but as “a tribune of the people” – actively opposing every form of oppression and tyranny no matter what social sector or class is involved.  There is also the pointed observation of social analyst Sumanta Banaerjee: “With the governing institutions and their underlying ideology failing to respond to the aspirations of its citizens, the nation state is threatened with disintegration.”  Which suggests a revolutionary potential inherent in the welling-up of this diverse range of problems outside the parameters of “the point of production.”[xxii]

“Indian Marxists, however, have too often behaved as if the economic is the only reality or invariably the most important one,” Achin Vanaik pointed out in 1990.  “Class has been allowed to subsume all other divisions.  Thus the legitimacy of autonomous organization by Dalits or women is often denied and the approach of leftists toward such movements essentially manipulative and paternalistic, focusing on giving them the ‘correct class line’ which, of course, they are best able to provide as a result of their ‘superior’ analysis of Indian reality.”[xxiii]

Under the broad banners of social movement, people’s movement, popular movement, etc., activists refusing to submit to the “superior” wisdom of left-wing parties have, since the early 1970s, organized a proliferation of social mobilizations in India around a variety of issues.  “Much of the work of these new movements has been undertaken or organized by what are called non-governmental organizations (NGOs), voluntary agencies (VAs) or action groups (AGs),” Vanaik observed in 1990.  “These are a mixed bag ranging from charity groups to development missions (often, in effect, a less bureaucratic and more flexible arm of the state) to militant grassroots organizations to self-conscious non-party political formations with a theorized rejection of traditional forms of left organization and of their supposedly state-centered strategies for social transformation.”  Vanaik offered two particularly shrewd comments: (1) “these social movements very often have a short life-span, collapsing as a result of loss of cadres or funds or because of various crises affecting individuals, the organizations or their activities”; and (2) “these movements may be against this or that aspect of the system but not necessarily against the system as a whole,” and “even their gains are not necessarily cumulative nor irreversible.”[xxiv]

Despite the ups and downs of one or another manifestation of the “social movement” phenomenon, however, it has proved to be durable and to have lasting impact on the Indian political scene.  There have been movements of unorganized labor in rural and urban areas, of landless rural dwellers and of peasants, of displaced and homeless people, of the urban poor, of small subsistence entrepreneurs, and of unemployed youth.  There are also struggles of tribal and indigenous peoples (known as adivasis, or “first residents”), as well as the long-standing struggles of the Dalits.  Environmental concerns – ranging from fights against industrial pollution to pushing against deforestation to opposing ecologically damaging big dam projects – have provoked popular mobilizations.  Action around the rights of gays, lesbians, and other oppressed sexual minorities has been facilitated by broader struggles for gender equality.  Dramatic instances of sexual and murderous violence against women have generated a recent and widespread upsurge of militant protest.[xxv] 

Resisting what are perceived as rigid and domineering ideologies characterizing many left-wing parties, activists and supporters of the new social movements have made use of ideological orientations that may draw from Marxist and socialist conceptions, but also perspectives associated with the old Gandhian movement, varieties of ecological analysis, feminist theory, etc.[xxvi]  Related to this, “post-modern” critics of Marxism insist that “class” (and especially the working class) has become less relevant than identities related to gender, race, and sexuality, not to mention such “non-class” issues as environmental degradation and political corruption. Some who see themselves as defenders of Marxism, on the other hand, denounce “middle class” diversions from proletarian class struggle.

One problem with this involves the fuzzy, obscurantist term “middle class.”  The bourgeoisie (capitalists below the old landowning nobility but above the laboring masses) have been tagged as middle class, yet the term has also been applied to a “petty bourgeoisie” that apparently includes small shopkeepers, commercial farmers, white collar workers (such as store clerks, office workers, professionals, teachers, government employees).  In the United States the great mass of blue-collar and white-collar workers refer to themselves as “the middle class”: neither rich nor poor but in the middle.  This is, of course, in contrast to Marx and Engels who, in the Communist Manifesto, refer to those dependent on the sale of their own labor-power to making a living as, in fact, the proletariat, or working class. 

And in fact, the great trend of global capitalism over the past century has been the accelerating proletarianization of great swathes of the world’s labor force – embracing “professionals” and technicians, white-collar laborers of multiple varieties, and soaring percentages of those who graduate from institutions of higher learning.  Similar “proletarianization” trends can be found among agrarian laborers and subsistence farmers.  The “informal sectors” of the economy, while often having a mixed-class dimension (including subsistence “businesses”), are similarly impacted by the “proletarianization” dynamic.  The great majority of women, of ethnic and racial minorities, the great majority of gays and lesbians and sexual minorities, the great majority of those who are hurt by such problems as corruption and the degradation of our environment, not to mention declining quality of life (in housing, sanitation, public transportation, education, health care, etc.), are part of the laboring majority, the proletarian and semi-proletarian layers that make up the great majority of the people.[xxvii]      

Corruption has recently become an essential issue impacting on India’s political scene.

Throughout Indian society there has been a sense that “India’s main pillars of governance – the legislature, executive and judiciary – have failed to address the voices of internal dissent,” but also, increasingly and dramatically, the credibility of these institutions have been eroded because of corruption and criminal activity.”  The anti-corruption struggle has therefore seemed to pose a far-reaching systemic critique. Tremendously popular in Delhi, this movement (despite ruptures with activists who were in disagreement) decided to put itself forward as a political party – the Aam Adami Party (APP – Commoners’ Party), quickly winning control of the government of the massive urban area of Delhi.  A young AAP partisan named Akash explained to me: “The ideology of my political party is to make India a corruption-free country, and provide a lot of opportunities for citizens of our nation.”  As implied in Akash’s two-sentence summary, there is (as Marxist analyst Kunal Chattopadhay notes) the linkage of the anti-corruption stance with “social issues that matter to the poor, without first looking over its shoulder to see whether Congress would agree.”  Its popularity involves a fusion of mass struggle with a stance completely rejecting both Congress and BJP.[xxviii]

Given the limitations of its internal resources (ranging from financial to analytical), and its specific cultural-political relevance to Delhi, it seems unlikely that the APP can develop an India-wide reach.  There is also the dynamic pointed to by an anti-corruption leader who opposed going electoral: “elections require huge funds, which will be tough for activists to organize without compromising on their values.”[xxix]  And then there are the normal pressures of bourgeois politics (the need to be “realistic”) that make it difficult to prevent candidates from becoming corrupted, one way or another, after being elected.  The adoption of neo-liberal policies by the ostensibly Marxist regime in West Bengal (leading to its being voted out after many years) is a recent example.

And yet there may be hints here for revolutionary Marxists.  Radical dimensions of the social movements and their struggles may be a key to building a broadly based revolutionary effort.  Marx once argued that the working class possesses the advantage of numbers, “but numbers weigh in the balance only if united by combination and led by knowledge.”  India’s diverse laboring majority is represented not only by trade unions but by the multiplicity of social movements.  A structured alliance of all forces working to bring about a systemic change could be central to bringing the rich resources of India under the democratic control of the laboring majority.  A revolutionary Marxist left could play a decisive role in drawing together such an alliance, interweaving reform struggles with an uncompromising commitment to socialism, which was the approach of Marx his revolutionary successors.[xxx]

Where is this “revolutionary Marxist left” which could be essential for the future of India?  Or how it could it be brought into being?

[i] Akash Kapur, India Becoming, A Portrait of Life in Modern India (New York: Riverhead Books, 2012), 46.

[ii] Kapur, 45.

[iii] “Economy of India,” Wikipedia, (accessed 13/07/2015).

[iv] Arundhati Roy, Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to the Grasshoppers, new edition (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2015), 6; Kapur, 287.

[v] Katherine Boo, Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity (New York: Random House, 2012), ix, xii.

[vi] Roy, 6.

[vii] David Macaray, “Brief Look at Labor Unions in India,” Truthout, 10 December, 2009, (accessed 22/07/2015).

[viii] Perry Anderson, The Indian Ideology (London: Verso, 2013), 129-136; Ali, 145-324; Achin Vanaik, The Painful Transition: Bourgeois Democracy in India (London: Verso, 1990), 93-102.

[ix] Prabhat Patniak, The Retreat to Unfreedom: Essays on the Emerging World Order (New Delhi: Tulika, 2003), 118.

[x] Vijay Prashad, Neo-liberalism with Southern Characteristics: The Rise of the BRICS (New York: Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, 2013), 4-5.

[xi] Manfred B. Steger and Ravi K. Roy, Neoliberalism, A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, UK” Oxford University Press, 2010), 1-20; Manfred B. Steger, Globalization, A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2003); Prashad, 6.

[xii] Prashad, 7-15.

[xiii] Patniak, 66.

[xiv] “Communalism (South Asia),” Wikipedia,  (accessed 13/07/2015); Vanaik, The Painful Transition, 139-176.

[xv] “Bharatiya Janata Party,” Wikipedia, (accessed 13/07/2015); Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS),” Wikipedia, (accessed 13/07/2015); V. D. Savarkar, Hindutva (Bombay: S. S. Savarkar, 1969), 4, 10-12, 28-29, 38-39, 42-44, 85, 115-116.

[xvi] Roy, 154-155; “Demolition of Babri Masjid,” Wikipedia, (accessed 13/07/2015); “A Destructive Legacy,” The Economist, November 26, 2009, (accessed 13/07/2015); “2002 Gujarat Riots,” Wikipedia, (accessed 13/07/2015); Kunal Chattopadhyay, “Communal Fascism and its Dangers,” International Viewpoint, 4 November 2014, (accessed 16/07/2015).

[xvii] Patnaik, 115; “Bharatiya Janata Party,” Wikipedia.

[xviii] Anderson, 147, 149.

[xix] Ibid., 150.

[xx] Roy, 15; Ramesh Ramachandran, “BJP Under Modi Will Become Like Congress Under Indira,” Tehelka.Com, November 15, 2014, (accessed 13/07/2015); “Govindacharya Criticizes Congress, BJP Over Corruption,” Outlook, July 27, 2011, (accessed 13/07/2015).  Anderson (158) similarly notes the “large measure of convergence” but adds: “Organizationally, they are not so similar, sine the BJP possesses real cadres and members, Congress little more than a memory of them.”

[xxi] Sreelatha Menon, “Indian Trade Unions Are Getting Bigger,” Business Standard, April 6, 2013, (accessed 22/07/2015); Nisheth Desai Associates, India: Trade Unions and Collective Bargaining, Mumbai: March 2015, (accessed 22/07/2015); “Trade Unions Officially Declare National Strike to Protest Labour Reforms,” Business Standard, May 27, 2015, (accessed 22/07/2015).

[xxii] Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, What Is To Be Done? in Revolution, Democracy, Socialism, Selected Writings, ed. by Paul LeBlanc (London: Pluto Press, 2008), 143; Sumanta Banerjee, “India at Odds with Itself,” Himāl, Vol. 26, No. 1 (January 2013), 28.  On the necessity of Marxist theorizations of social movements, with examples, see Colin Barker, Laurence Cox, John Krinsky, and Alf Gunvald Nilsen, eds., Marxism and Social Movements (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2014).

[xxiii] Vanaik, 200.

[xxiv] Vanaik, 201, 202.

[xxv] See special issue, “Labour and Its Discontents,” of Himāl, March 2015, especially articles by Anumeha Yadov, Archana Aggarwall, Simon Harding; “List of trade unions in India tea gardens,” Wikipedia, (accessed 23/07/2015); Sujoy Dhar, “Malnutrition Deaths in India’s Tea Gardens Highlight Worker Abuses,” Thomson Reuters Foundation, 1 August 2014, (accessed 23/07/2015); Sanhati Collective, Sanhati Selections, An Anthology in Solidarity With People’s Struggles 2012-13 (Kolkata: Kranti Press, 2014); Soma Marik, “India: Scrap Article 377: Defend Queer Rights Through Mass Movements,” Links, December 13, 2013, (accessed 22/07/2015); Soma Marik, “The Barasat Rape and Murder: Some Reflections,” Radical Socialist, June 2013 (accessed 22/07/2015); Tithi Battacharya, “India’s Daughter: Neoliberalism’s Dreams and Nightmares of Violence,” International Socialist Review #97, Summer 2015, 53-71.

[xxvi] “Social Movement in India,” Wikipedia, (accessed 22/07/2015).

[xxvii] See: Ronaldo Munck, Globalisation and Labour: The New “Great Transformation” (London: Zed Books, 2002); Paul Mason, Live Working or Die Fighting: How the Working Class Went Global (Chicago: Verso, 2010); Paul Mason, Why It’s Still Kicking Off Everywhere (London: Verso, 2013).

[xxviii] Banerjee, 27; “Aam Adami Party,” Wikipedia,  (accessed 22/07/2015); Kunal Chattopadhyay, “Lessons of the Aam Adami Party Campaign for the Left,” Radical Socialist, 8 February 2015, (accessed 22/07/2015).

[xxix] Anna Hazare quoted in “Aam Adami Party,” Wikipedia.

[xxx] Elements of this perspective are suggested in Vanaik, 203-204.  See also Karl Marx, “Inaugural Address to the International Workingmen’s Association,” in Paul Le Blanc, From Marx to Gramsci: A Reader in Revolutionary Marxist Politics (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1996), 158.