“The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.” ~ Antonio Gramsci
The disconnect between the mass agitations and the political outcomes
The country has been witnessing one of the biggest anti-government struggles since the anti-CAA, anti-NRC agitations, and now the crucial historic farmer protests supported by various trade unions.
Throughout the government of NDA-1, the country has witnessed several agitations and protests all over the country against atrocities on Muslims, Dalits, attacks on livelihoods of Workers and Peasants, and against demonetization. It also witnessed the historic Una struggle, Ambedkarite student’s protests against institutional Brahmanism and fascism which was accompanied by student protests across universities, the historic rise of the Bhim Army meeting the RSS forces courageously at their den, and much more.
But the ruling BJP with its well established Sangh Parivar machinery has well penetrated the state organs and established their ground among the masses through ideological and organizational work close to a century through falsifying history and culture and social engineering. And so the ruling party was able to withstand all these protests and keep itself electorally strong apart from a few hiccups.
Election analyses showed that the marginalized and oppressed working class, peasants, Dalit, Bahujan, Adivasis have all shifted towards BJP despite all these developments, indicating that these protests are mainly led by the organizational leaderships representing these sections, and the media and social media portrayal of these protests are highly hegemonized by the Urban intellectuals limiting the role of the “masses” in both rural and urban areas in setting the content of these agitations.
A few months before the HCU protests on Rohit Vemula murder in 2015, Rajasthan witnessed a brutal murder of 4 Dalits and numerous people including old women and children thrashed by the Jat community which didn’t evoke any national furor by the media or any organization.
There are several such atrocities being committed across the country every day, but unfortunately, it is only the ones that the media sensationalizes that become the primary issue, which is then displayed as massive protests on the ground. And despite all this, the political outcomes suggest a different picture.
Even the significant Kisan long march of 2019 in Maharashtra which mobilized around 50,000 farmers for a march of 180kms led to a scenario where the constituencies which saw tremendous anger and mobilization mostly continued to vote for NDA, and in some constituencies, the BJP even managed to increase their votes. At the same time, the country has seen massive All India level worker’s mobilization of around 200-250 million through joint trade union actions. This is probably the largest worker mobilization in the world. Despite a series of such historic and significant struggles by the Dalit-Bahujan-working class-peasant forces, the world witnessed India electing the same govt with an increase of 6-7% of vote share.
So, rather than romanticizing the series of protests and radical slogans and the accompanying sense of psychological satisfaction through social media/channel discussions, understanding this disconnect would probably be the key to understanding WHAT IS TO BE DONE.
The NDA-2 so far in its one and a half years have seen an increased level of agitations throughout the country starting with anti-CAA, anti-NRC which took the anti-fascist opposition to a National level. However, a closer analysis would show that though a wide variety of organizations from Dalit, Left, Liberal, Centrist organizations were part of the agitations, the mass who participated at several places came from the Muslim masses (the 100 days all women sit-in protest at Delhi Shaheen Bagh, 75 days all women sit-in protest at Bangalore Bilal Bagh, Million march at Hyderabad, also huge mobilization protests at Mangalore, Malegaon, Nagpur, Kishanganj, Malerkotla, Mysore, UP, various rural districts of Bihar, Kota town of Rajasthan, Kerala, and the list goes on). For different reasons, huge protests came from people of North East too. Such a response didn’t happen even when one of the most fascist policies was enacted in the division of Jammu & Kashmir, the abrogation of Article 370, and shutting down the lives of Kashmiri people.
But a national level escalation happened when the students of Jamia Millia Islamia were attacked brutally by the police and which was captured by the national and regional media with emotions pouring out in favor of the students from various quarters by the entire opposition parties, Dalit Bahujan organizations, liberals and even sections of right-wing celebrities who still strongly support BJP. The country has really seen month-long agitations and protests throughout the country that has put the fascist government in a fix. But whether these agitations had included Dalit-Bahujan-working class-poor and marginal peasant masses in its core is a huge question.
Even in urban areas, apart from participating in the protests by the Dalit, left organizations, or trade union, how much among these masses the issue has created a sense of agitation is doubtful. During the covid crisis, the masterstroke of building the Ram Mandir has given Sangh Parivar organizations the edge again. In between, political developments in Maharashtra led to a conflict between BJP and its long term ally Shiv Sena, which coming out and forged a new alliance and began implementing centrist policies. In Bihar, its main ally JDU has been jolted by its relegation to the 3rd position (which could have future implications on the alliance) and a strong Bahujan-Left force regaining the ground itself were some of the significant political developments. The Hathras murder also saw wide mobilization by Dalit communities and affiliated organizations, and day-long agitation by Valmiki organizations even in neighboring states, but soon we saw the by-elections in UP seeing BJP comfortably winning (not to forget the by-election results in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh).
Probably, after all these, the biggest jolt to the government is the ongoing peasant agitations where the organized working class also have provided solidarity and which is witnessing one of the biggest mass mobilizations across the country. It was reported that 50 lakh people (mainly peasants supported by workers and other sections) from across 22 states participated in different parts of the country with some states witnessing more success, BJP states like UP putting restrictions. The peasant agitations also forced some key allies to withdraw support or hamper the relations or put them in a fix.
More than the previous series of agitations the current peasant-worker agitations have the real potential if the Dalit-Bahujan landless labourers and unorganized sector workers (inclusive of all religions) and Adivasis also could come together and forge a new mass revolutionary force at the ground through a strong anti-Brahmanical, anti-Hindutva, anti-corporate, anti-imperialist front.
A concrete analysis of Concrete conditions: Need of counter socio-cultural hegemony among the masses: realizing Hindutva as a higher stage of Brahmanism
Who are the Masses in India? The masses in India mainly comprise of the peasantry & workers and the bulk of the peasantry (poor/marginal & small peasantry) and the workers (unorganized sector workers, agricultural workers, industrial blue-collar workers) comprise of the Dalit-Bahujan in the country.
Among the total workers, only 10% or below would be organized in trade unions. The structure of the unorganized sector including a large section of migrant labourers is such that at a practical level the organizing of them becomes too mammoth task facing huge troubles and even compromises with the contractors/primary employers though there are stories of strong unions emerging with resolute struggles and resistance. This also points now to more focus on union activity at the place of dwelling of these workers. A socio-cultural-political involvement at both workplace and place of dwelling hence becomes very important and to widen the struggle from mere economism to a larger socio-political sphere.
The position in which Sangh Parivar is today was not reached by just using the enormous financial resources they have at hand, but also deploying it effectively at the ground along with the best concrete analysis of the concrete Indian situations better than anyone else. They have understood the caste-class dynamics in each state and each region and exercised different tactics in their organizational building both cadre work and electoral strategies. In UP, if they have taken the Thakur route, in Gujarat it was the Patel route, in Dakshina Kannada, it was a combination of Bunt-Billava-Mogaveera communities, in Trivandrum and large parts of Kerala it was through the Nair route etc.
Overall though they remained a brahmin-Baniya party and used their capital from the beginning with even shifts in the big capital turning towards it from Congress, it has also built its organizations in different parts of the country understanding the peculiar concrete conditions of these regions, and effectively did their ideological transfusion through brahmanizing the local anti-Brahmanical cultures, falsifying history and conducting disciplined cadre-organizational work accordingly. These cannot be countered just through social media, simple intellectual discussions, or mainstream radical anti-fascist posturing, the situation can be altered only through a long term involvement in anti-Brahmanical socio-cultural counter-hegemony at ground through interfering in the daily lives and cultures of the masses, not through speeches or seminars or articles.
One must learn from RSS how they have patiently worked for around a century even in adverse conditions where strong anti-Brahmanic Bahujan culture existed in building their organization. The secular, democratic and collective contents in the Bahujan culture need to be retrieved from the Brahmanical hegemony. The secular organizations need to understand that it’s the Brahmanical soil untouched or even hegemonized by the post-1947 Indian state and the major political parties that empowered Sangh Parivar, Hindutva is nothing but a higher stage of Brahmanism. Sangh Parivar has entrenched itself into the minds of the people and created a new falsified identity and new enemies, and it requires long term socio-political-cultural work but also cannot wait longer, it must start immediately. As we know, only a section of working classes are organized and large number are in organized sector, which even includes manual scavenging labour, agricultural labourers, plantation sector workers, etc. who lives in secluded Dalit hamlets or slums which also involves Dalits from across the religions.
Whatever the favorable situation at hand should be utilized for politicization by retrieving the history and fervently attacking the solidified caste-class system in Indian society which not only plays a daily role but deeply entrenched in the unconscious minds even of the so-called revolutionaries. The politicization can happen only by acquiring such a realistic understanding of how Indian society is, only from here will a politicization against Islamophobia, against marginalized gender-sexuality, against the statist hegemonic notion of oppressed nationalities like Kashmir, North East and even understanding how the class politics works in the Indian society different from the European conditions be possible.
Trade Unioninization of the unorganized sector and conversion from economism to socio-cultural-political level
Its imperative that the bulk of the working sections in the unorganized sector needs to be unionized with union functioning both concentrated at the work-place and the place of dwelling. It also needs to be converted from mere economistic struggles to larger socio-cultural-political struggles starting from local daily issues. In this one cannot ignore or keep under the cover the question of caste anymore. Worker solidarity won’t come by itself, it has to be solidly addressed at the ground by bringing open the hidden caste conflicts to the forefront. It should also bring the other conflicts such as gender, language, region, ethnicity, only by bringing these to the open can there be a real politicization process and building of genuine solidarity which alone could raise the ongoing struggles to a qualitative new level.
Even at the high time of anti-CAA protests when the all Indian joint trade union protest happened which saw one of the largest mobilizations ever and included a demand regarding CAA-NRC-NPR, it really failed to carry forward or come as a leading force in the political struggle by failing to politicize the workers. The later country wide protests saw lesser number from non-muslim or non-north east working classes. Trade union leadership has been involved but not the rank and file members. It is during such a period of political turmoil that organizations themselves and even the rank and file undergo more politicization than during calmer periods. But unfortunately, the structure of the Trade Unions & Kisan Organizations has traditionally been such that irrespective of written democratic functioning process, its still not developed democratically.
Beyond their immediate issues, as we are seeing in the ongoing peasant agitations, where peasants are widely involved in discussing the policies (though there could also be the factor of the fear accumulated from the ongoing agrarian crisis which has worsened peasant conditions which also contributed to the agitations rather than actual knowledge of the new farm policies) or even workers discussing the labour reforms, we should realize that there is a lack among the workers and peasants (who have been protesting over the last many years or decades) on the number of democratic discussions happening amongst them in their general bodies or unit committees beyond their immediate issues. How much discussions formally happen in their committees about general government policies considering the workers from other sections in case of trade unions or regarding policies on peasants from other states/regions in case of peasant organizations is doubtful leave alone larger political discussions happening about caste, gender, communalism, federalism, corporate policies etc. Hence, politicization is a farfetched thing, and the role Trade Unions and Peasant organizations had in the political struggles and the political developments of the country certainly seems to have been lost today.
An in-depth empirical study of how the mass membership of the unions and peasant organizations view the NDA government’s policies or their political positions with respect to caste, communalism, gender, or even larger ideological aspects of working-class unity or alliance between the poor-marginal-middle peasantry and working class, caste-class conjectures could throw more light on the reality countering the radical-romanticist slogans of the Savarna-middle class- academic Left youth claims of working-class leading the anti-fascist struggle. What is required is a concrete analysis of concrete conditions.
Democratization & Politicization of the Trade Unions
The basic structure of Trade Unions have been such that they have been dominated by the individual leader or leaders rather than collective leadership of the democratically elected executives or leading bodies. This could be due to multiple reasons such as the daily work life of these classes and communities being so oppressive and exploitative that they couldn’t involve organizationally as the leadership and even spend more time in their political development. This doesn’t mean they are not political, but their time spent to develop the political analytical capabilities are fractured due to the life situation. Another major factor is caste as a system that underlies Indian societal structure and plays in everyday life which acts as a blockade to a “real” unity rather than the unity in struggles outside of which there may not be a real unity built. As Gopal Guru says “Workers from the upper castes are subjectively inclined to hold on to the coherent sense of caste identity, which is based on the essence of social superiority” (Gopal Guru: Shifting Categories in the Discourse on Caste and Class, EPW). There will be a lack of unity among the workers of the same union itself outside of their workplace or union or protests, though there could be such lack of unity due to caste factor within unions and workplace itself. There is also a lack of unity between different categories of unions like there could be cases where certain union workers won’t want themselves to be seen at the same status as that of for example manual scavenger’s union.
In such a situation, all the factors combined lead to a position where the workers or peasants themselves expect a savior to lead from the front for their struggles politically and legally. There are very few spontaneous efforts like the garment workers protest in Bangalore which forced the Central govt to roll back the withdrawal of PF but the protests which blocked Bangalore’s busy road towards IT park Electronic city was scorned off by the IT and other white-collar workers who didn’t care for the fact that they will also be benefited. Hence, it’s up to the leadership in first democratizing the Trade Union by creating a democratic atmosphere of discussions and debates within their committees starting from their immediate issues to larger union and worker related issues to larger political issues and how it affects them and their role. Additionally, these unit committees/general bodies should be empowered to conduct discussions about their lives, about their local issues or issues related to their state/country, their concerns or doubts or opinions (even if they are deeply politically problematic) and hence enabling them to express and create a space to autonomously developing their political analytical potential.
The leadership themselves and the workers should also be sensitized with respect to Caste, Gender, and also having adequate representation from these marginalized sections at their leadership.
Only through such a top to bottom democratization and politicization will the empowerment of the workers in building larger workers’ and peasants’ solidarity and in bringing open the mute conflicts and contradictions of caste, gender, religion, sexuality, etc. to the forefront will happen. And only by resolving these contradictions alone, workers’ solidarity can be built up. Only through such a vibrant involvement of the rank & file cadres rather than being mute spectators to boring seminars or long speeches can they really come out themselves rather than participating for the sake of their unit’s call to participate in the larger statewide or national union protests.
Such democratization and unity may not happen among the Kisan organizations considering the extreme caste reality in rural areas which virtually makes such a unity impossible and the fact that mostly Kisan organizations are mostly led by middle or rich peasantry who are from upper shudra/Kshatriya castes who might be the direct oppressors of the Dalit and lower shudra castes. But there should be efforts to at least forge unity within Kisan organizations among the poor/marginal farmers, small farmers, middle farmers, and thereby bringing the possible vacillating rich peasant sections under them rather than rich peasantry taking the leadership.
Another part of democratization and politicization is the aspect that the unity of the workers and peasants shouldn’t be limited to the one day Nationwide or Statewide calls. It shouldn’t be restricted to the one-day mobilization at the district, state, national levels but should continue on a daily basis at the workplace, at their places of dwelling, should extend to their personal and cultural lives. The organizations and it’s rank & file members should come together at a local level for any sort of political agitations, forge an alliance with the Dalit-Adivasi-Bahujan-women-LGBT organizations, should establish fraternity with migrant labourers and all the unorganized sector workers – but all these not by hegemonizing the other struggles but democratically involving in them. The road is long, but efforts need to start which could even be the start of a process of self rectification.
The soil is laid, the protests and solidarity between the poor-marginal-middle peasants, workers and Dalit Bahujan organizations will go on for some time at their organizational levels but it should be converted to the levels of the rank and file masses. Now is the time more fertile than any other time, such historical situations seldom come, and organizations can’t continue to afford being satisfied by just showing these numbers of mobilization and getting stuck only at the present issues and appearing in channels, social media, webinars etc.
This is the most important time for counter socio-cultural hegemonic work and the organizational democratization of the basic committees and politicization of the rank and file cadre. If cadres are insufficient to do this work, the organizations should utilize their parent organizations to pool in their cadres for this most important work which decides the future course of action. They should go to the slum areas and Dalit rural hamlets and Adivasi villages and understand the dynamics rather than typical patronizing approaches, should be ready to sacrifice for long term hard work and not for short cuts. There should be an organic two-way politicization process where the organizational leadership also should “learn from the masses”.
Hence, atleast now, organizations should focus more on these grounds – slums, Adivasi areas, lower-middle-class areas, working-class areas, migrant workers dwellings and reduce their time on the more comfortable social media, channel discussions, webinars, and engaging with their liberal and radical middle-class friends and comrades (who are divorced from ground organizational work among the masses) who will anyway continue to perform the social media & urban NGOist work as that gives them a meaning of life by creating around themselves a romantic spiritual revolutionary haven and assuming proletariat will lead the anti-fascist opposition by default without understanding the concrete conditions and the dialectic functioning of the caste-class-capital-Brahmanical hegemony in Indian conditions.
The author works in an employee at an IT company.