Difficulty Of Growing Tails Again

As the events in the last few months have shown, there has been a parting of the ways between the Left parties, particularly the CPI(M) and various sections, which had earlier appeared to be a part of a larger coalition of forces against imperialist globalisation. While the parting of the ways may not be surprising, given the ideological differences that existed on a number of issues, what has surprised many is the venom that has been spewed out against the CPI(M). Otherwise, it is difficult to understand why these sections think it is alright to drive CPI(M) activists and sympathisers off their land and throw them out of their homes, but not “democratic” for them to come back. Obviously, Nandigram and Singur are symptomatic of a much larger difference that existed and which has now surfaced.

For a number of activists who are currently on the other side, the issue has not been one of capitalist development but development itself. As one of these activists had put it in a discussion in which I was also a participant, “why should we look at other alternatives to globalisation, the traditional modes of production are our alternatives” (emphasis added). For them, the “enemy” is science, technology and development, divorced from the class issue of who owns the means of production, which in traditional modes of production amounts to who owns the land. For them, land reform is therefore not on the agenda; neither is industrialisation.

The second divergence with these forces is on the issue of the State. For large sections of these activists, capitalism, imperialism and development are all the same. Therefore, they do not see a role for the Indian State in either promoting development or fighting against imperialist dominance over the national economy. The post-colonial period saw the use of the Indian State as an instrument of development; in this view, this is of no consequence. Therefore, the dismantling of the infrastructure built up by the post-colonial State today by the protagonists of the neo-liberal order and the battle to keep it as public infrastructure is not their fight. Though some sections of these forces have tried to join with the trade union movement in the fight against privatisation of the State Electricity Boards, by and large they have remained outside such battles.

The third issue which divides the Left from such forces is the issue of imperialism. For a section of the anti development forces, the institutions of global capital such as the World Bank have been courts of appeal against the big bad Indian State. For others, imperialism is just capitalism and the nation state is not only not a terrain of struggle against global capital, but a hindrance. There is no national dimension to the struggle against global capital but only one single global battle.

Post-Colonial State

After independence, India chose a path of development in which the State provided the basic infrastructure for industrial capital. Thus, the major infrastructural activities were all carried out by the State. Some of the projects, such as the river valley projects are so large that they were in any case outside the scope of private capital. This led to the growth of infrastructure services that had stagnated under the earlier colonial rule.

However, while the rhetoric for such projects was “development”, the State was really involved with capitalist development: the fruits of such development went largely to the capitalist class. What was worse, was those displaced by such large projects, rarely received full compensation for taking over of their lands, and their traditional right to the natural resources they had exercised. They were thrown out on to the lowest rung of class society as a pauperised reserve army of labour.

In the view of some of the critics of development, as development in India in the last five decades has led to increasing inequality, there should be a moratorium on development itself. Secondly, they regard big projects as the villains of the piece and as the State is closely involved with many of such big projects, this development is viewed as “statist”.

The demand for a moratorium on development that such movements raise, stem from the belief that if big projects can be stopped, then the tribal and peasant communities will not lose their land and livelihood. However, the issue here is not one of pauperisation versus a bare subsistence economy and the choice between the two, but how to break out of such a choice. The other problem is that stopping big projects is not going to save the natural resources that such populations are using today. Forests are disappearing as the timber mafia, in collusion with State authorities, are denuding ever-larger areas of existing forest cover. Peasantry is already losing land to market forces as real estate developers take over their land and then convert to high value real estate. Thus, the encounter of capitalism with those using the forest or agricultural land as a means of subsistence is far wider than a few large hydroelectric or industrial projects. By focusing on such big projects, the larger encounter of capitalism with pre-capitalist formations is lost sight of. Industrialisation, electricity, irrigation, telecommunications may create growing inequalities, but their stagnation means freezing not only current inequalities but also absolute levels of poverty that are prevalent in both urban and rural India. By focussing on the struggle against big projects and industrialisation, a possible alliance of those who are fighting the loss of their land and other resources with the workers who are fighting against the owners of their factories is also aborted.  The fight for a more equitable society cannot be for remaining at the current level of development but fighting for a more equitable order. This cannot be achieved by limiting the alliance to only to those who are fighting against capitalist inroads of pre-capitalist formations.

The attack on Statist development has become fashionable both from certain sections of the “left” and the right. Thus, both the NGO movements and the IMF/World Bank theorists demand a roll back of the State. The Fund/Bank theorists argue that the economic functions of the State be handed over to private capital. The NGOs’ demand that social functions of the State be handed over to NGOs; in effect the attack on the State by the Bank/Fund lobby is complemented by the NGOs. In Latin America, the NGOs shifted the focus of the struggle against foreign capital to micro management at local levels. In a larger sense, their attack on the State without defending public assets that had been built by the State led to the de-legitimisation of the State and made it easier for foreign capital to take over the national assets in Latin America.

Freezing Development or Supporting Subsistence Economy

To bring out the problems of freezing development, let us examine India’s needs, starting from only two items: food and energy. Is there a way of meeting the demand of India’s growing population and giving them minimum nutritional levels without increasing foodgrain production? At the moment, by all accounts, a large part of India’s poor do not get enough to eat. Our self-sufficiency in food is also due to depressing peoples consumptions. Obviously, food production and productivity of land has to be increased in a big way if we have to achieve true food self-sufficiency. We need to replenish the nutrients in the soil, put in water and improve the seeds. Staying where we are using traditional methods will not allow for this growth in productivity to take place. Is there a way of increasing food production without using additional energy in some form? Without fertilisers? Is it our objective that the Indian peasantry should remain at this subsistence level for the future? If we want to stop the influx of rural poor into the cities, would we not have to consider a minimum standard of living in the villages including health, education, and easy transportation?

To understand the energy economy, we must understand that there are two aspects of energy. We do not create energy: we only transform energy to a useful form, for example solar or coal to electricity. The other aspect is that while we transform energy, we also produce waste products that need to be disposed of. The crisis today regarding energy is a two fold one: one is how to access stored energy such as fossil fuels which are finite in nature and how to dispose waste products such as hazardous nuclear wastes and carbon di-oxide which is accumulating in the atmosphere creating the well-known greenhouse effect.

To those advocating traditions as the alternative, it is a back to nature argument that is put forward. The cities and the rich are then seen as the villains while the “protagonist” is the peasant or the tribal living in a non-monetised energy economy and supposedly in harmony with nature. His or her low-energy economy is juxtaposed to the high-energy economy of advanced countries arguing therefore that this is the only answer to the global energy crisis. Obviously, it has a resonance with the advanced countries, which are busy arguing that while their high-energy lifestyles are not negotiable, the developing countries should not ape these lifestyles but stick to their traditional ones with maybe some marginal changes; that India should be content with energy consumption one twentieth that of the US or Europe, as otherwise the global energy consumption levels are not sustainable.

If we want to increase food production and also the standard of living of the poor, we will need a larger amount of energy per capita then we are using now. It has been shown that per capita consumption of energy matches quite closely with per capita GDP using purchasing power parity. So freezing energy levels to current ones – we use per capita 1/20th the energy that US does – is also asking for freezing current levels of development. In fact, when the US asks India and China to put a cap on emissions of greenhouse gases, it is effectively asking for a cap on development also. It is not surprising therefore that those forces who in any case do not have imperialism on their radar, have no problems with dovetailing their demands on the Indian State with that of the US. For them, freezing development is the objective and if the US also propagates this for India, then the US is an ally.

Of course, we also need to look at the model of development that produces inequitable development and also inequitable use of resources. However, even if we look at equitable models of development, we will still need a much greater per capita consumption of energy than we have today. Any solution to the problems of meeting food and energy needs of the people necessarily entails a higher level of production and a greater use of science and technology. It demands a different mode of production. It will bring the issues back to production relations and locate the development debate within this context. We come back to the question of who owns the land, who owns the factories and who provides the labour for production.

Those that propagate traditional modes of production, forget that one essential component of these models is the division of labour in terms of castes. The traditional modes of production had embedded social relations including the caste system. Any “going back to our tradition” model including the Gandhian one, cannot break with the caste system but will necessarily reinforce it. It is not possible to have the land owned by one caste, with other castes providing the labour and not replicate the traditional social relationship between castes.

The rejection of industrialisation and urbanisation has also brought out another distorted view of development. These forces now argue that the State should play no role in planning land use and acquiring land, leaving this to the “market”. The market, as is well known in neo-classical economic literature, fails when dealing with “limited” resources such as land. It neither delivers compensation to those who do no own the land but depend on it, nor does it provide development of public facilities so important for healthy development of the city. That is why world over, the State controls land use and does not leave it to the market. Those arguing for a market led land use, are in effect on the same side as the most ardent market fundamentalists. Even in the US, the home of neo-liberal economics, no serious economist talks about urban development being left to the market.

The parting of the ways over Nandigram/Singur with the organised Left is a part therefore of a much larger picture. The so-called anti-globalisation forces have a large section (e.g., NAPM) that identifies development itself as the enemy. Their view of development also dovetails with their belief in the essentially “evil nature of the State”, a belief that this section shares with the protagonists of the neo-liberal order. A section of the Left (different sections of Maoists) joining them is not surprising, as they have also looked upon the peasantry as the only basis of resistance and bring a kind of limited peasant radicalism into the equation. It is these sections that would reduce the global issues to one of rejecting the global order and opting out of the system.

Interestingly enough, the Maoists, who otherwise profess Marxism-Leninism, have no problems with identifying also with these sections. For them, the Indian State is in any case already “comprador” and therefore its role in development or fighting against imperialism irrelevant. Therefore, in their view, engaging with imperialism on issues such as WTO, Intellectual Property Rights, India-US Nuclear Deal are all only cosmetic exercises. The net result is the same as not recognising a category called imperialism.

The other section that has also parted company with the Left is one whose constituency is primarily the “West”. In their view, global democracy is centred on New York, Paris and London, with periodic travels to these places as the only means of establishing their democratic credentials. It is not surprising therefore that fighting against imperialism on the ground – the India-US nuclear deal for example – has drawn at best a lukewarm response. For most in this section, the opposition is to the US giving India such a good strategic deal. It is not about fighting Indian elite, which wants India to become a subordinate ally of US imperialism. The critical stage of the battle over the India-US Nuclear deal and therefore against India becoming part of US’s war mongering in West Asia, has not been of any concern to them. In this period, they have had no hesitation in joining hands for Left bashing with the worst elements of the Trinamool and other similar forces, including repeating of all the usual canards, which the Trinamool uses.

The key issue is to engage with the actual imperialist agenda on the ground, be it in WTO or the India-US Nuclear Deal. The slogans for quitting WTO, promoting traditional models of production, arguing for reduction of trade are attempts to work out a solution in isolation from the rest of the globe and not joining the national struggle to the larger global one. Going back to our traditional models of production is not an option for the future. The problem with a back to the trees campaign as is being propagated is the difficulty of growing tails again. Evolution is a one-way process, true no less for societies as for the species.