Indian working class flexes its muscles

On February 24, an estimated 50 million people, including Government employees, answered the call for a nationwide general strike in India. They were demanding a review of the Supreme Court judgment on the right to strike and reversal of the VJP government's economic policies. The strike was total in the Left-ruled States, and it disrupted normal life in the whole of this vast country.

On February 24, an estimated 50 million people, including Government employees, answered the call for a nationwide general strike in India. They were demanding a review of the Supreme Court judgment on the right to strike and reversal of the VJP government's economic policies.

The strike was total in the Left-ruled States, and it disrupted normal life in the whole of this vast country. It was called by the central trade unions and industrial federations, and was total in West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura. The mood of militancy of the workers in some areas went beyond the bounds of an ordinary industrial dispute. In Assam, Haryana, Orissa and Jharkhand it resulted in a semi-insurrectionary ("bandh-like") situation.

The strike also shows the vital importance of trade union unity. The CITU, the All-India Trade Union Congress, the All- India Central Council of Trade Unions, the Trade Union Coordination Centre, the United Trade Union Centre and the UTUC (LS) backed the strike. The All-India Bank Employees Association, the All-India Insurance Employees Association, the All-India State Government Employees Federation and the Confederation of Central Government Employees and Workers also supported it.

The Indian bourgeoisie was worried about the implications of the strike that, in essence, challenged its right to rule. The full weight of the state was brought to bear on the strikers. There were reports of police charges and large-scale arrests in Delhi, Haryana, Orissa and Pondicherry and other states. But none of this deterred the workers, who refused to be intimidated.

This strike explodes the myth that governments can prevent strikes through anti-trade union laws. The Indian working class has asserted its right to strike in open defiance of the prohibition by the Supreme Court. What does this show? Its shows that once the working class is united and mobilised in struggle, no power on earth can stop it.

The sweeping scope of the strike was impressive. Every section of the class was drawn into the struggle. Over 1,500,000 (15 lakh) civilians employed in the defence production sector and some employees of the Income Tax department also joined in. The employees of banks and insurance companies joined the strike. Oil installations in Tripura, Assam, West Bengal and Bihar were affected.

A large number of coal miners, employees of public sector undertakings in Bangalore, Hyderabad and Visakhapatnam, plantation workers, construction labourers and those employed in the steel plants in Salem, Durgapur and Burnpur also took part in the strike. The strike hit operations in the Kolkata, Haldia, Cochin, Gujarat, Paradip, Tuticorin and Mumbai ports. Air transport was also affected. No flights took off from Kolkata and rail traffic was disrupted in several places.

In some areas, however, the response was uneven. In Tamil Nadu, Government employees and teachers did not participate as a result of the vicious victimisation they had suffered for staging a strike last year. But in most areas the strike was an overwhelming success. The president of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), M.K. Pandhe, told presspersons that the working class had "magnificently responded" to the strike call.

This magnificent strike shows the enormous revolutionary potential of the Indian working class, once it is mobilised for struggle. The massive response to the strike by the working class exposed the complete hollowness of the claims of the government that Indian capitalism has created prosperity for all. The pro-market economic policies of the BJP government have benefited a tiny minority of rich exploiters at the cost of deepening poverty, growing unemployment, privatisation and closures and the repeated attacks on the working class.

Vajpayee and his cronies boast that the Indian economy is doing very well. But this is a lie. A minority of the super-rich are doing very well indeed, and some sections of the middle class have obtained jobs in foreign companies that pay wages that may be considered reasonable by Indian standards but which are very low compared to workers in Europe, the USA or Japan. But the overwhelming majority of the people of India – the workers and peasants – have gained nothing.

Even the relatively high rate of growth is only just enough to keep up with the rapid increase in population and even more rapid increase in the number of people demanding work. Power cuts, pot-holed roads, and polluted water, corrupt government, illiteracy, hunger and pogroms - these are the normal conditions for millions of Indian workers and peasants today. With 17 percent of the world's population, India accounts for less than two percent of global GDP and one percent of world trade.

The February strike exposed the propaganda of Vajpayeee. AITUC general secretary, Gurudas Dasgupta, said: "The strike was to protest against the fraud being perpetrated by way of the feel good factor by the Government. If India is really shining, the response would not have been so massive." He charged the Congress with backing the NDA by not coming out with its stand on the government's economic policies. "The struggle will continue, irrespective of which ever party comes to power, and till there is a total reversal of these policies," he said.

Criminal role of Indian bourgeoisie

Since the criminal partition of 1947 the bourgeoisies of India and Pakistan have demonstrated their complete inability to carry society forward. The Indian bourgeoisie once claimed to be secular, democratic and even "socialist". Now the ugly face of reaction is revealed in the shape of the BJP. The relatively high rate of growth is a temporary phenomenon, due in part to the lucky accident of a favourable monsoon. But it does not benefit the mass of the population that is condemned to live in conditions of abject poverty.

Despite the "moderate" speeches of Vajpayee, the BJP remains the face of open reaction. It was responsible for the ghastly anti-Moslem pogroms in Gujarat. Behind it stands the openly communalist Rashtriya Swamyamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the quasi-fascist Shiv Sena. In reality, however, the Congress is no better. It is a measure of its bankruptcy that it has to rely on Sonia Ghandi, who is not even Indian. After decades in power, Congress is split and in crisis. Both the BJP and Congress are reactionary anti-working class parties. What is needed is an independent class alternative.

The CPI and CPI (M) have a mass base among the workers and peasants of India. They must break with the bourgeoisie and begin a campaign of mass mobilizations to drive the BJP from power and replace it with a workers' and peasants' government. Such a campaign would receive the enthusiastic support of millions of workers, peasants, dalits and members of the oppressed nationalities. It would instantly cut the ground from beneath the feet of the communalists and reactionaries. If the working people of India were strong enough to defeat the British Raj, they are strong enough to defeat the Indian landlords and capitalists. What is required is strong and determined leadership!

If the Indian bourgeoisie has failed India, the even more reactionary and corrupt Pakistani bourgeoisie has ruined Pakistan and brought it to the very edge of barbarism. On a capitalist basis no way forward is possible for either India or Pakistan, or any of the other nations that make up the Subcontinent. Bangladesh is a picture of backwardness and terrible poverty. Sri Lanka has been wrecked by decades of bloody civil war and ethnic strife. Nepal too is plunged into an internecine civil war. Kashmir languishes in chains. Everywhere the masses are exploited, oppressed and humiliated.

The Indian and Pakistani bourgeoisies are both terrified of the masses in their own country. Today they need an agreement to pacify the masses. Tomorrow they will recreate a mood of pro-war hysteria to distract the masses again. There will be no shortage of pretexts – terrorist actions, police atrocities, communal slaughter. All these are implicit in the situation. On a capitalist basis, no lasting agreement is possible.

Only the proletariat can show a way out of this terrible impasse by revolutionary means. The Indian working class is the most powerful in the region. It has very militant traditions, as was shown by the 50-million strong all-India general strike against the BJP government's privatisation plans in April 2003, and again in the magnificent general strike of February 24, 2004.

The workers of India cannot place their trust in the bourgeoisie. They cannot support either of the two groups of rival gangsters who have disputed for political power for so many years and have given nothing to the masses but pain and misery. Half a century is long enough to judge the historical potential of the Indian landlords and capitalists. They have ruined a potentially wealthy and successful country and turned a beautiful garden into a hell on earth. They do not deserve to rule!

The working people are the crushing majority of India. They have once more demonstrated their power. They merely flexed their muscles and all India trembled. That shows the way forward! But the marvellous strike of February 24 must not be left as an isolated incident. If that is the case, the bourgeoisie can simply shrug it off. It must be the beginning of a mass campaign of protest against this rotten and unjust government and the barbarous system upon which it rests.

A great responsibility rests upon the shoulders of the trade unions and workers' parties of India. It is necessary to set aside all divisions and work out a programme of action based on the most pressing needs of the workers, the peasants, the unemployed youth, the downtrodden women and the oppressed castes. It is necessary to unite the oppressed masses of all India – Hindus and Moslems, men and women, Kahmiris and Sikhs – against the common enemy – the landlords and capitalists.

The CPI (M) and CPI should join forces to organise a serious campaign of struggle together with the trade unions. No more pacts and coalitions with the bourgeois parties! For an independent programme of working class action! What is needed is a nation-wide campaign of action for working-class demands, culminating in an all-Indian hartal.

The bourgeoisie promised to abolish the caste system but has failed. They promised to solve the agrarian problem and they failed. They promised to modernise the country and they failed. They promised that India would be independent and India today is even more dependent on imperialism than it was before 1947. The rotten Indian bourgeoisie has revealed its total bankruptcy. It has forfeited the right to rule.

The future of India depends upon the ability of the proletariat to take power into its hands. Once that is done, the road would be open to find a solution to all the problems that torment the masses and create poverty in a land of plenty. The working class will sweep away all the accumulated muck of thousands of years. It will transform society from top to bottom and reconstruct it on entirely new, socialist lines.

Last, but not least, a workers' government in India will wipe out the stain of that monstrous crime perpetrated by British imperialism with the connivance of Jinnah and Nehru in 1947. These gangsters divided the living body of the Subcontinent and created a bloody wound that has festered ever since. Nation has been turned against nation, brother against brother, to the detriment of the working people of both India and Pakistan.

The Balkanisation of the Subcontinent is the main reason why it is weak and dominated by world imperialism decades after the achievement of formal "independence". The working class cannot accept the existing frontiers that cut across all natural boundaries and divide people who speak the same languages and have shared a common history for thousands of years.

The proletarian revolution must therefore place at the top of the agenda the slogan of the Socialist Federation of the Subcontinent as the only way out for the peoples of the region. Only by uniting the tremendous productive potential of the whole Subcontinent will it be possible to raise the peoples of this vast and imposing region to their true stature.