On November 26th 2020, a potentially record setting number of farmers and workers heeded the call of the major Indian trade unions and went out on strike against the latest batch of anti-worker legislation from the Modi government. The main gripe this time, a series of bills meant to open up the agricultural sector to large corporate and financial interests (Crowley, 2020) backed and supported by the right-wing Hindu nationalist and neoliberal group known as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Yet this isn’t the first, nor sure to be the last, instance of dramatic struggle in the fight for rural and workers rights in India. A long history of class struggle encapsulates the Indian workers movement and its momentum is sure to become a problem for BJP Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.
November’s strike was organised by the main 10 trade unions including the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) and the All-India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), the union bodies of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), and the Communist Party of India respectively (Rupasinghe, 2020). Both groups have been resilient in their approach to the Modi government and have likewise remained such in their role in the workers movement, that is currently occupying and picketing Indian businesses across the nation. Their demands include the withdrawal of all “anti-farmer laws and anti-worker labour codes” and an order to stop the “privatisation of the public sector, including the financial sector, and stop corporatisation of government-run manufacturing and service entities like railways, ordnance factories, ports, etc.” (Aurelio, 2020).
Growing antagonism between the countries’ Left and Right has mirrored current political events worldwide, but sharp increases in violence between BJP aligned groups and various communist organisations has certainly shaken Modi’s position. With global capitalism faltering in the wake of COVID-19 and China continuing its rising power status under President Xi Jinping, an internal situation developing amongst India’s poorest is the last thing the long running Prime Minister needs as he relentlessly pursues his agenda to homogenise Indian culture along Hindu nationalist lines and attempts to position his party as a bulwark for America against communist China.
A long running series of stabbings, beatings and assassinations has characterised Indian street politics with rival groups in the student and worker wings often clashing in shared spaces between the two. Modi’s recent attempts at further neoliberalist market reforms can be seen to be a clear reason for the increased militancy of the communist parties and their ability to mobile millions of workers to confront the police and paramilitary groups. The primary form of struggle though has not come from the parliamentary parties and their bodies. Instead, the plight of the farmers showcased in November’s strike has been most ferociously backed by the Indian Maoist movement known as the Naxalites.
The Naxalites primary position in the Indian class struggle comes from their very name. In the summer of 1967, peasants from the Naxalbari village would light a fire in the revolutionary movement as they staged an uprising against landlords within the district. With the assistance of Communist Party cadre, the new political bosses in the region would find themselves at the forefront of a Maoist aligned Peoples War on behalf of the peasantry. The uprising was to have dramatic consequences, as the historian Sumanta Banerjee writes “For the first time in post-independence India the movement asserted the demands of the poor and landless peasantry in a way that shook the then atrophied Indian political scene.” Since then, armed attacks by rural guerrilla fighters have plagued Indian state forces whilst legally operating Naxalites such as the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation have galvanised the low caste, peasants and poor farmers in increasingly militant organising actions. These include a land siege by the landless farmers in the Malwa region and hunger strikes in the slums of Delhi in protest against demolition orders from the government.
The response from the Modi aligned groups and state forces has followed the historical impulses of class struggle worldwide by relying on far-right paramilitary gangs to target the red unions and their membership. Of primary note is the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a rightist group inspired by the cultural nationalist ideologies of European fascism. The Indian author Benjamin Zachariah likewise characterised the group as “…convinced followers, first of the Italian Fascists, and then of the German Nazis, and they still follow that tradition, with a movement that is based on the use of paramilitary forces loyal to the party for extra-legal blackmail and violence.” (Chakrabartty, 2020). Communist Party cadre have given as good as they got though, responding to assassinations from the right with the usage of organised leftist hit squads dedicated to curbing the rightist paramilitaries. For example, in response to the decapitation of Communist Party leader Thangappan in Mancombu, a Marxist team of mostly women fighters hacked to death the RSS school-teacher KT Jayakrishan inside his own classroom in front of stunned sixth standard students and similarly assassinated RSS leader Kidangara Vishwambaran (Nair, 2017).
The situation in India within the working class and landless movements is certainly escalating as Modi remains defiant in spite of the opposition against him. However, with militancy and instability rising in the streets it may only be a matter of time before the organisations of the peasants and workers come to the great halls of power ready for a prolonged struggle.
Aurelio, M. (2020, November 27). The Biggest General Strike in the World: Over 200 Million Workers and Farmers Paralyze India. Retrieved from Left Voice: https://www.leftvoice.org/the-biggest-general-strike-in-the-world-over-200-million-workers-and-farmers-paralyze-india
Chakrabartty, P. (2020, January 22). ‘India Has The Longest Running Fascist Movement in the World – The RSS’. Retrieved from The Wire: https://thewire.in/politics/benjamin-zachariah-fascism-sangh-parivar
Crowley, T. (2020, 12 3). “This Is a Revolution, Sir”. Retrieved from Jacobin: https://www.jacobinmag.com/2020/12/general-strike-india-modi-bjp-cpm-bihar
Nair, A. (2017, August 5). RSS Vs CPM: The Killing Fields Of Kerala . Retrieved from Mens World India: https://www.mansworldindia.com/more/news/politics/rss-vs-cpm-the-killing-fields-of-kerala/
Roychowdhury, A. (2018, May 25). Naxalbari: How a peasant uprising triggered a pan-India political movement. Retrieved from The Indain Express: https://indianexpress.com/article/research/51-years-of-naxalbari-how-a-peasant-uprising-triggered-a-pan-india-political-movement-5191046/
Rupasinghe, W. (2020, November 27). Millions of Indian workers join national general strike against Modi government’s social attacks. Retrieved from World Socialist Website: https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2020/11/27/indi-n27.html
Staff, S. (2017, February 13). Political Violence In Kerala Hits A New Low: Another BJP Worker Stabbed To Death. Retrieved from Swarajya: https://swarajyamag.com/insta/kerala-politics-violence-hits-new-low-another-bjp-worker-stabbed-to-death
Unnithan, G. (2020, October 5). CPM leader stabbed to death in Kerala’s Thrissur. Retrieved from India Today: https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/cpm-branch-secretary-stabbed-to-death-in-kerala-thrissur-1728352-2020-10-05