On the worker-peasant alliance in India (and other countries of the Global South)

JEJAAH protest

Abstract: For peasants to enhance their success in getting their demands met in India (as elsewhere in the Global South, with its belated capitalist development), there must be a worker peasant alliance (WPA). The process of formation of the WPA has evidently begun in India. The extent to which peasants — like workers — are able to win some concessions within capitalism depend on the extent to which the WPA’s fight for concessions (immediate demands) is a part of its fight for a world beyond capitalist property and value relations. The fight against capitalism must raise not only immediate demands but also radical or transitional demands that aim to strike at the root of capitalist relations, the state and imperialism. These demands reflect the objective needs of the WPA, thus outlining a non-capitalist egalitarian, democratic and sustainable path of development, irrespective of whether the ruling class and its state say these can be met. The concept/practice of the WPA raises many interesting questions concerning existing ideas about anti-capitalist revolution as well as the revolutionary potential of the peasantry.

India has had a long history of politically progressive peasant movements. Since the onset of what is called neoliberalism (neoliberal form of capitalism) in the early 1990s, there have been many courageous peasant movements, both at the provincial and national scales, against the attacks on peasants’ livelihood and against the attacks on their democratic rights and the rights of oppressed caste and religious minorities.

The successful peasant movement led by SKM (Samukta Kisan Morcha, United Farmers Front) against the current right-wing government’s three anti-farmer laws aiming to enhance corporate control over farming, has rightly caught the global attention (Mashal, et al, 2021; Rukmini, 2021) and is praiseworthy. Many left peasant organizations, including AIKS (All India Farmers Association), have been a part of the leadership of the movement. Peasants are also fighting against the forcible acquisition of land against their explicit consent in the corporates’ interest and at prices much below the fair price. For example, the Bhumi Adhikaar Aandolan (BAA, Movement for Land Rights) was formed as a united platform against unfair land acquisition. BAA forged unity of all the Left organisations of peasants and farm-labourers at the all-India level for the first time since the 1964 split in the Indian Communist movement (Krishnaprasad, 2018). Many Left peasant organisations and the National Platform of Peoples Movement also joined the BAA, thus making it the most cohesive joint forum of Indian peasantry in the post-Independence period. The post-2014 right-wing government experienced the first major defeat at the hands of BAA, which forced the government to withdraw the infamous pro-corporate Land Acquisition Ordinance. 

Peasant organizations have also been a part of a wider movement that includes both class and mass organizations. Thanks to the initiative of the trade unions and peasant organisations, JEJAA or Jan Ekta Jan Adhikar Andholan (People’s Unity and People’s Rights Movement), was formed in a convention in New Delhi in September 2017. This is a platform of more than a hundred class, mass and social organisations against neoliberalism and its twin, religious sectarianism-majoritarianism. This platform has a membership of about 200 million people (Krishnaprasad, 2018). This is almost 15% of India’s population. In a sense, this is arguably the largest ‘minority’! This is almost as big a group as the core vote-bank of the right-wing, pro-big-business party of Hindu nationalists.

Those who label peasants and other protestors as andolana jeevi (this term is used by right-wing anti-democratic leaders to refer to those who live by engaging in protests and thus denigrate them), or even anti-nationals should know that there is a reason for the struggles of the nation of workers and peasants. The reason is the anti-national attacks on people’s livelihood which are effectively attacks on their life.[1] The ruling class and its political representatives are oblivious of the fact that farm income is absolutely insufficient to meet the cost of production and household expenses, so much so that more than 2000 farmers are compelled to give up cultivation every day and look for other occupations to eke out a living, while roughly one farmer commits suicide every half an hour or so (at least between 1995 and 2015).

For peasants to increase their success in getting their demands met, there must be a worker peasants alliance (WPA), an alliance between urban and rural workers and non-exploiting peasants. The process of the formation of the WPA has already begun in India as indicated by the powerful actions of this WPA, which have gone well beyond separate protests/strikes by workers and peasants.[2]

Capitalism’s impacts on workers and peasants

India is emphatically not some semi-colonial, semi-feudal country. India is dominantly a capitalist country, although not exactly in the sense that the United States or Canada is. India is dominantly capitalist in the sense of what Karl Marx calls formal subsumption of labour.[3] Indian capitalism is dominantly based on a regime of low wages and long hours per day, a regime that is combined with elements of advanced capitalism (especially in the monopoly sector) as well as with semi-feudal (type) remnants in specific rural localities. Indian capitalism also makes use of various forms of unfree labour (including bonded labour), which has nothing to do with pre-capitalist institutions.[4] Peasants are a big part of India, as are workers. Peasants and workers form the real nation, suffering under the juggernaut of capital and the “anti-national” policies of its political representatives.

The main contradiction in Indian society is not between landlordism and the masses (including the poor peasants and agricultural workers). The main contradiction is between, on the one hand, capitalism (which includes its national or other factions, monopoly and competitive sectors) and, on the other, the masses (i.e. proletarians and semi-proletarians of both cities and villages and rural petty-producers), who are also oppressed/exploited by remnants of semi-feudal type relations in specific localities. India’s capitalism has not only been collaborating with imperialism, which adversely impacts both workers and peasants, it has also turned to authoritarianism based on Hindutva ideology. This new tendency also impacts workers and petty producers as indicated earlier.[5]

Capitalism is subjecting both workers and peasants, as well as rural urban migrants with family members in villages, in many ways.[6] These include: low wage and un- and under-employment in cities that hurts urban workers, a situation that also limits opportunities for peasants to become urban workers; state-enforced land acquisition in corporate interests; adverse terms of trade against peasant farming; inflation caused, at least partly, by corporate price gouging; neoliberal austerity; tightening grip of corporates over agriculture via marketing, finance, contract farming, etc.; retrenchment of state employees; rural capitalism’s increasing control over peasants and rural labour; collaboration between urban capital and a newly emerging class-stratum of rural rentiers who own dormitories for workers in new industrial towns; increasing control over Indian economy by foreign companies and institutions; and so on. As Vladimir Lenin (1913) has said: “Capital, created by the labour of the worker, crushes the worker, ruining small proprietors and creating an army of unemployed.”

Peasants also suffer due to continuation of pre-capitalist elements in certain localities that capitalism will not eliminate because of its fear of the working class. There are also political attacks. There are increasing attacks on democratic rights and rights of minorities, mainly to discipline the masses into submission and to divide/weaken them. Peasants and workers are also treated undemocratically by state officials. There are attacks on federalism which are attacks on workers and peasants because their organizations are powerful in certain states.

What must peasants — and the WPA — demand?

Given that peasants, like workers, are adversely impacted mainly by the capitalist economic and political system, peasants do make, and must make, demands on the capitalist system to meet their needs.

Peasants demand immediate improvement in wages for agricultural labour and in prices of farm products relative to non-farm products. They also demand the granting of credits to poorer peasants and some loan waiver. They demand that the state redistribute, among land-poor and the landless, the ceiling surplus land and the land held by semi-feudal type landlords. They also demand that forcible and unfair land acquisition must stop.

Demanding land for peasants is not enough nor is a demand for an increase in, for example, remunerative price or for other forms of limited improvement in the conditions of their life. Even if peasants have land, they need non-land assets to cultivate the land that capitalism cannot guarantee. Besides, landless peasants, like urban workers, have nothing but their labour power to sell but they do not have control over whether they will be able to sell it and on what terms they will if they do. It is capitalism that controls all this.

For significant and durable concessions from the capitalist system, the WPA is necessary. Feudal institutions and class relations cause the suffering of the peasantry in specific localities, so they are a basis for the WPA, but they are not the main basis. The main basis for the WPA is capitalism. As long as capitalism adversely impacts workers and peasants, they cannot eliminate the causes of their suffering nor can they even significantly alleviate their suffering if they act on their own. Peasants need the might of the workers, who are the main source of capitalist profit and who are geographically concentrated in cities or in urban regions (cities and their surrounding rural areas), in their fight for a better life. Workers also need peasants: peasants are everywhere and they are exploited as workers are, and they have massive numbers. (A geographical expression of the WPA, in many ways, is their action at the level of urban regions).

Peasant’s revolutionary action has been a subject of debate. On the one hand, peasants are revolutionary in certain contexts. “The peasant movement is a mighty revolutionary factor insofar as it is directed against the large landowners, militarists, feudalists, and usurers” (Trotsky, 1932). Peasants can also challenge capitalism within limits — it can especially challenge the excesses of the capitalist system, if not its foundations in capitalist property relations. On the other hand, insofar as “in the peasant movement itself are very powerful proprietary and reactionary tendencies”, “at a certain stage it can become hostile to the workers [in their fight for socialism]” (ibid.). While peasants are dominantly exploited by capitalism, peasants qua peasants as small-scale proprietors generally do not have socialist instinct, because of their proprietorship, in the way that workers can have because of their objective conditions:

The movement of the peasantry is the movement of a different class. It is not a proletarian struggle, but a struggle waged by small proprietors. It is not a struggle against the foundations of capitalism, but a struggle to cleanse them of all the survivals of serfdom (Lenin, 1906).

In other words, the peasantry’s class position can be a barrier to the WPA’s fight for socialism.

The WPA must be mindful therefore of the particular fact that there is a deep internal differentiation within the peasantry: the fact that the upper sections of the peasantry tend to go along with the big bourgeoisie in all decisive cases and the lower sections go along with the proletariat, with the intermediate section being thus compelled to choose between the two extreme poles. (Trotsky, 1931). “He who forgets about the dual nature of the peasantry is not a Marxist” (Trotsky, 1932). However, to say that peasants as small-scale proprietors do not generally have socialist instincts is not a moral indictment. It is a statement of facts based on peasants’ objective conditions: their proprietorship.

But there are also objective conditions for the working peasants to adopt an anti-capitalist and proletarian/socialist attitude. This attitude within the peasantry will tend to get stronger to the extent that, because of capitalism itself, vast sections of the poor and middle peasantry are being transformed into hired wage workers for farm and non-farm tasks. It is in the objective interests of peasants, just like workers, that they fight for a world beyond capitalism.

“The fight for socialism is a fight against the rule of capital. It is being carried on first and foremost by the wage-workers” (Lenin, 1905). What about the peasants? Some peasants may join that fight and others may not: “As for the small farmers, some of them own capital themselves, and often themselves exploit workers. Hence not all small peasants join the ranks of fighters for socialism” (ibid). But some can, and do, join the fight for socialism: “only those do so who resolutely and consciously side with the workers against capital, with public property against private property” (ibid; italics). In other words, even if peasants are proprietors, there is no absolutely insurmountable barrier to them being a socialist ally of the worker. Their objective conditions may make them do that.

Objective conditions are not enough: just because a class is exploited does not necessarily mean it will fight to eliminate exploitation. This holds for workers as well as for peasants. To complement the effects of the objective conditions, socialist education is therefore vital. This is especially so with respect to the intermediate layers, i.e. those between capitalists and landless proletarians — middle peasants and those who are marginally able to accumulate some surplus appropriated from a few wage workers they are able to hire. Indeed it is the urgent “task of socialist political economy … to demonstrate to the small producer the impossibility of [their] holding [their] own under capitalism, the hopelessness of peasant farming under capitalism, and the necessity for the peasant to adopt the standpoint of the proletarian” (Lenin, 1908).

Such socialist tendencies will be stronger if peasants are educated about not only capitalism’s threat to “private property based on the labour of its owner” (Marx, 1887:539) but also about the fact that socialism, as capitalism’s “other” (or its “dialectical opposite”), is not a threat to the peasants’ proprietary control over land. Socialists do not need to expropriate small peasantry, whose production is based more or less on family labour. A worker and peasant government will make sure that peasants, as individuals or as members of cooperatives, will have access to land and to credit and other means of production. Besides, due to the attacks on capitalist property and, especially, large-scale capitalist enterprises by the worker peasant government, urban wages will rise, state welfare will expand massively, and workplace alienation will be reduced enormously. So many of those peasant property owners who engage in the hiring of some labour apart from working on their land may voluntarily switch to (peasants-operated) cooperative production or to socialist labour.

In a socialist society, Lenin writes in an article titled “Alliance Between the Workers and Exploited Peasants”:

“there is no radical divergence of interests between the wage-workers and the working and exploited peasants. Socialism is fully able to meet the interests of both. Only socialism can meet their interests. Hence the possibility and necessity for an ‘honest coalition’ between the proletarians and the working and exploited peasantry. On the contrary, a ‘coalition’ (alliance) between the working and exploited classes, on the one hand, and the bourgeoisie, on the other, cannot be an ‘honest coalition’ because of the radical divergence of interests between these classes.’ (Lenin, 1917).

So, a part of the peasantry will be on the socialist path alongside the working class in so far as their main oppressor/exploiter are not precapitalist but capitalist relations and the capitalist state. Lenin’s words have contemporary relevance, as Russian workers and peasants before 1917 and Indian workers and peasants after 1980s, and especially after 2014, face the same fate: illiberalism plus exploitation by various sections of the capitalist ruling class (plus feudal type elements in specific localities). Just as the Russian peasants fought for freedom from illiberalism and for land, so must peasants in India and other countries of belated capitalist development, as a part of their uninterrupted fight for socialism.

If the fight for concessions within capitalism must be a part of the fight for socialism, the WPA must make radical or transitional demands that attack the roots of capitalist property relations. These are demands that bridge the gap between the current level of consciousness/action and socialist consciousness/action (Trotsky, 1938).[7] These demands include: nationalization of big corporations, plantations and other major enterprises, especially those in heavy industry, transportation and communication, food and medicine, construction and energy; effective, not nominal, control over credit; expansion of public sector and cooperative sector, and socialization of enterprises which were hitherto in the public sector; cancellation of debts owed to foreign institutions; cancellation of debts owed by peasants and provision of cheap credit and others means of production at an affordable price;[8] elimination of all feudal remnants and granting of land to the tiller; right to work with inflation-adjusted wages; remunerative prices to farmers which are multiple times the prices they receive now; farmers and workers’ access to quality food, shelter, healthcare, education, recreation, etc.; price control by committees of workers and peasants[9]; democratization of the state and a state administration in which workers and peasants actively participate; progressive taxation; immediate cessation of extravagant beautification policies and excessive military spending that do not benefit workers and peasants, and so on. Needless to say that while making these demands, workers and peasants remain independent of bourgeois parties.[10]


If merely objective reasons are not enough, neither is spontaneous action driven by immediate economic demands. In other words: not only must the objective basis for the WPA be translated into action, but so must this action move from “spontaneous” action, indicative of “peasant trade unionism”, to class conscious action. The latter is one that seeks to transcend, however unevenly in time and space, the logic of capitalism, which is the logic of the interests of capitalists and their state. Indeed, the extent to which peasants — like workers — are able to win some concessions within capitalism depends only to a limited extent on the strength of the struggles based on their immediate demands or reforms but decisively on the extent to which their fight for these concessions is a part of their fight for a world beyond capitalism. As Lenin (1921) said: “reforms are a by-product of the revolutionary class struggle”, i.e. of “our main and genuinely proletarian-revolutionary, socialist activities.”

Peasants’ immediate demands, which their associations are courageously making in India, must be part of a series of radical demands that aim to strike at the root of capitalist property relations, the state and imperialism, as well as the locally specific remnants of pre-capitalist relations. The radical demands reflect the objective needs of the WPA beyond immediate demands, thus pointing to a vision of a society that is egalitarian, democratic, prosperous, ecologically sustainable and based on solidarity, a society without exploitation in the workplace or in the marketplace, and where everyone has access to adequate food, shelter, education, healthcare, recreation, transportation, communication, etc. These radical demands are made irrespective of whether the ruling class and its state say these demands can be met.[11] These demands are thus based on the fact and understanding that the basis of the WPA must transcend the bounds of the fight for a more democratic capitalist society.

Peasants are immensely affected by capitalism’s tentacles. Whosoever overestimates the pre-capitalist relation over capitalism as the reason for people’s suffering takes the reformist path. There is a need for the WPA to fight capitalist relations, and not just their effects.

Whether or not rich peasants turn into capitalist farmers,[12] the alliance between workers and peasants aimed at the task of fighting pre-capitalist remnants is necessary and possible. Given that the entire peasantry, like the working class, is under the onslaught from capitalism, going beyond the task of eliminating pre-capitalist exploitation of the peasantry — that is, pursuing the socialist agenda — is also necessary and possible. The WPA is to be bathed with the fire of the idea of socialism.

Peasants must have nothing to fear from socialism: in socialist democracy, there is no need for the forcible expropriation of small-scale property owners who also work on/with their means of production. Socialists do not need to expropriate working peasantry.[13] Socialist education and practical demonstration of the virtues of collective production outside of the dominant logic of the market is a necessity.

Radical ideas are necessary for radical political change. There is a need for large-scale socialist study of the peasant movement. The peasant movement must be seen in terms of its velocity (speed of action), extensity (geographical spread) and intensity (the extent to which it is committed to progressive pro-people ideology and raises relevant demands and forces governments to concede to peasants’ demands). There is a need, on the part of progressive academics and peasant/worker activist-scholars, to study obstacles to increasing velocity, intensity and extensity of peasants’ (and workers’) movements and of the WPA. There is a need to study peasant consciousness/action: how it moves from pre-“trade union” consciousness/action to “trade union” consciousness/action and to socialist consciousness/action (trade union consciousness/action is about making economic and political demands that are realizable within capitalism).

If the main class process that is impacting peasants, including landless peasants, is capitalism, then the (minimal or immediate) demand for land distribution and for the end of landlordism will have limited success in mobilising the poor peasants and agricultural workers and will therefore have a limited contribution to the WPA. If the main class process that is impacting peasants is capitalism, then it is wrong to say that a slogan of a socialist nature vis-a-vis agriculture and land relations, if raised at this stage, will not materialize the task of winning over the peasantry and other allies. Such an approach restricts the development of class consciousness among the non-exploiting peasantry. The idea that workers and peasants will achieve some kind of egalitarian democratic capitalism first and then engage in a socialist struggle to transcend capitalism, at some uncertain future date, is a restrictive vision that affects who the allies of workers will be. It is also based on the idea that capitalist relations, better managed, can further the development of productive forces. Such a view forgets that capital — as a social relation — has become a barrier to itself. If there is no Chinese wall between the democratic stage and the socialist stage in the revolutionary process, let the WPA make the transitional demands as a preparation for a revolution in pursuit of socialist democracy, an initial short stage which will include a fight against unequal land distribution and remnants of pre-capitalist relations. To say that the completion of the democratic task of the revolution is the most urgent task because it will help clear all pre-capitalist relations and institutions is to overestimate pre-capitalism’s impact on today’s society at the expense of capitalism’s. Such an attitude cannot but dampen the development of class consciousness of the WPA. The struggle for land and freedom is a democratic struggle. The struggle to abolish the rule of capital is a socialist struggle. The former needs to be a part of the latter. The aim of the WPA must be to form a worker and peasant government, in so far as the latter is understood not in a democratic sense with its aim restricted to democratic tasks (mainly against pre-capitalist relations) within the logic of capitalism, but in a socialist sense which encompasses the completion of democratic tasks and begins to make inroads on capitalist property.

Time is running out for humanity. Climate breakdown. Fascistic forces knocking on the door. Militarism. Workers and peasants experiencing avoidable death and illness. Imperialism after workers’ and peasants’ blood and sweat. Given all this, socialism must not be talked about in a future tense. A crisis-ridden capitalism-in-decline leaves no space for a more democratic, more egalitarian, less corporates-dominated, and more pro-peasants or pro-worker capitalism. The choice simply is between: socialism or suffering.

A much shorter version of this text was presented on September 7, 2023 at the National Seminar on the Crisis of the Natural Rubber Sector in India, organized by Public Policy Research Institute, Thiruvananthapuram. Raju J Das is professor, York University, Toronto


[1] See Das (2023, Chapter 7) on the anti-national policies of the Hindu-nationalists, the policies that hurt the nation of workers and peasants.

[2] WPA is in evidence in the form of, say, the Mazdoor Kisan rally (Worker peasant rally) that was held on September 5 in 2018, where farmers’ organizations and trade unions supported each other’s strikes and demands, under the leadership of left parties. These joint actions of the WPA are increasingly occurring alongside separate rallies of workers and of peasants.

[3] See Das, 2012; 2020, chapter 3. At a fundamental level, capitalism exists where there is formal subsumption of labour, which is characterized by the following: first, surplus is pumped out via economic, and not extra-economic, coercion, from nominally free labour; second: the means of production and consumption are bought in the market (both by capital and labour) thus confront the worker as capital; third: no more labor time is used in production than is socially necessary: there is competition to reduce the cost of production of commodities for sale thus suggesting that the law of value is operating; and finally, an economic relation of supremacy and subordination exists at the point of production, as the worker is supervised by the capitalist (or their manager).

[4] As Brass (2021) has argued for years, capitalists engaged in the act of “replacing free workers with unfree equivalents or by converting the former into the latter”. This action on the part of capitalists is a form of class struggle from above that aims to “deproletarianize” the workers in order to discipline them with a view to appropriate more surplus value.

[5] It is an excellent example of the operation of the law of uneven and combined development.

[6] Note that a given family may have both workers and peasants or petty producers.

[7] “It is necessary to help the masses in the process of the daily struggle to find the bridge between present demand and the socialist program of the revolution. This bridge should include a system of transitional demands, stemming from today’s conditions and from today’s consciousness of wide layers of the working class and unalterably leading to one final conclusion: the conquest of power by the proletariat” (Trotsky, 1938: 5).

“[T]the essence of [transitional demands] is contained in the fact that ever more openly and decisively they will be directed against the very bases of the bourgeois regime. The old ‘minimal program’ is superseded by the transitional program, the task of which lies in systematic mobilization of the masses for the proletarian revolution” (p. 6).

[8] “[T]he farmer…is in need of cheap credit, of agricultural machines and fertilizer at prices he can afford to pay, favorable conditions of transport, and conscientious organization of the market for his agricultural products. But the banks, the trusts, the merchants rob the farmer from every side. Only the farmers themselves with the help of the workers can curb this robbery. Committees elected by small farmers should …jointly with the workers’ committees and committees of bank employees take into their hands control of transport, credit, and mercantile operations affecting agriculture” (Trotsky, 1938: 21).

[9] “[T]he farmers, artisans, merchants, in their capacity as consumers, can step into the politics of price-fixing shoulder to shoulder with the workers. To the capitalist’s lamentations about costs of production, of transport and trade, the consumers answer: ‘Show us your books; we demand control over the fixing of prices’. The organs of this control should be the committees on prices, made up of delegates from the factories, trade unions, cooperatives, farmers’ organizations, the ‘little man’ of the city, housewives, etc.” (Trotsky, 1938:22).

[10] “Each of the transitional demands should, therefore, lead to one and the same political conclusion: the workers need to break with all traditional parties of the bourgeoisie in order, jointly with the farmers, to establish their own power” (Trotsky, 1938:29).

[11] “Not one of the transitional demands can be fully met under the conditions of preserving the bourgeois regime” (Trotsky, 1938: 31).

[12] The process can be slow and also uneven across localities and crops and is much slower than sometimes imagined within classical Marxism, and this is because they are also under onslaught from big capital, meaning that peasant proprietors lose a part of their surplus to the capitalist sector.

[13] Even “The program for the nationalization of the land and collectivization of agriculture should be so drawn that from its very basis it should exclude the possibility of expropriation of small farmers and their compulsory collectivization. The farmer will remain owner of his plot of land as long as he himself believes it possible or necessary” (Trotsky, 1938: 22).

“[T]he exploited farmers [will]… decide for themselves whether or not it would be profitable for them to go over to collective working of the land—at what date and on what scale” (Trotsky, 1938:22).


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