On 26 April 1937, twelve bombers of the German Condor Legion and the Italian Aviazione Legionaria flew low over the Basque country of Spain in the midst of the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). They tore down over the small town of Guernica, where they let loose their fiery arsenal. Almost two thousand people died in this defenceless town. Noel Monk of the Daily Express (London) was one of the first reporters to enter the town, hours after the bombers dropped their ordinance. In Eyewitness (1955), Monk wrote, ‘A sight that haunted me for weeks was the charred bodies of several women and children huddled together in what had been the cellar of a house. It had been a refugio’, a refuge. Pablo Picasso, the artist, was so moved by news of the fascist bombing raid on this town that he painted his most powerful work – Guernica (1937) – which now hangs in Madrid’s Reina Sofia.
At the entrance of the United Nations Security Council in New York City hangs a tapestry of Picasso’s Guernica that had been made by the weaver Jacqueline de la Baume Dürrbach in 1955. When US Secretary of State Colin Powell came to the UN in early 2003 to make his – false – comments about weapons of mass destruction about Iraq, the UN staff covered the tapestry with a blue cloth. In 1923, Picasso told Marius de Zayas, ‘art is a lie that makes us realise truth’. The lies that led to the US war on Iraq could not be told with Guernica as backdrop.
Lies lead to war and then lies are needed to cover up the horrors of war. Over the past few years, the International Criminal Court (ICC) had diligently begun to investigate war crimes in Afghanistan conducted by the armed forces of the United States of America, Afghanistan and the Taliban. The ICC’s special prosecutor Fatou Bensouda was convinced that there is adequate evidence for the ICC to move the investigation along (including evidence provided by Wikileaks from various US army secret investigations). But the Trump administration, in the mode of the mafia, put immense pressure on the ICC. First, US National Security Adviser John Bolton threatened to sanction the judges and lawyers at the court and then US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo denied Bensouda a visa to come to New York City to deliver her report to the UN Security Council. On 12 April, therefore, a pre-trial bench of the ICC decided to stop the investigation. They said that an investigation into US war crimes in Afghanistan ‘would not serve the interests of justice’ (for more on this, please see my report). So it goes.
It has become impossible to hold states to account. The ICC cannot move on powerful states, such as the United States and its allies (notably Israel). No other avenue remains open to the victims of permanent wars. They will march for justice, but they will get little attention. In 2011, Haji Bismillah’s son was killed by a US helicopter strike in Nangalam (Afghanistan). ‘My son Wahidullah’s head was missing’, he said with great sadness. ‘I only recognised him from his clothes’.
Global military spending is over $2 trillion, with the United States by itself spending almost half this amount. Total US military spending is now at $989 billion. This number includes not only the formal expenditure on the US military, but also expenditure on the Veteran’s Administration, the Department of Energy, the National Nuclear Security Administration, the Cyber security component of the Department of Justice, Homeland Security and the military aspects of the State Department. It does not include the immense secret budget of the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency. Add these up and the US military budget is already over $1 trillion, as our friends at Monthly Review found in 2007. The United States spends more on its military than the next nine highest-spending countries combined: China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, India, France, United Kingdom, Japan, Germany and South Korea. ‘Security’ or ‘deterrence’ are not the main aims of such formidable military spending. A world awash with weapons leads to tragedies, such as the recent massacre in Sri Lanka, where military-grade explosives were used in the terrible murder of over three hundred and fifty innocent people.
Focus on the arms industry is sporadic, with the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) and others like it lonely in their work. Recent reports from SIPRI show that the volume of arms transfers – a major part of the business of the arms trade – has been rising over the years, with the United States, Russia, France, Germany and China as the biggest exporters of weapons (they account for 75% of all world arms sales). The United States, by itself, sells 36% of the world’s arms – with a focus on combat aircraft, short-range cruise missiles and ballistic missiles and guided bombs. The top ten arms companies in the world are:
- Lockheed Martin ($44.9 billion) [USA]
- Boeing ($26.9 billion) [USA]
- Raytheon ($23.9 billion) [USA]
- BAE Systems ($22.9 billion) [UK]
- Northrop Grumman ($22.4 billion) [USA]
- General Dynamics ($19.5 billion) [USA]
- Airbus Group ($11.3 billion) [Europe]
- Thales ($9 billion) [France]
- Leonardo ($8.9 billion) [Italy]
- Almaz-Antey ($8.6 billion) [Russia]
Why do governments spend such a vulgar amount on weapons? In his monumental Grundrisse (1857), Karl Marx made the offhand, but accurate remark, ‘The impact of war is self-evident, since economically it is exactly the same as if the nation were to drop a part of its capital into the ocean’. A permanent war economy is a waste, even if there are massive profits to be made by these warfare companies. So much can be done with $2 trillion – a mere $30 billion per year to end world hunger, as the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation noted in 2008. Last year, the UN began a campaign to raise $10 billion to eradicate illiteracy. But even these meagre funds have been impossible to raise, the promise of ‘billions into trillions’ from the much-heralded public-private partnerships falling flat. There is always money for war, but never enough money to build the scaffolding for peace.
There is always the illusion that military spending is for security, when it appears to be more for profit. The entire industry is lubricated with bribes. Joe Roeber of Transparency International said that the arms trade is ‘hard-wired for corruption’. ‘In 1997, I was told in Washington that a mid-nineties report by the CIA concluded’, he wrote, that ‘arms trade corruption then accounted for 40-45% of the total corruption in world trade’. The national security argument, Roeber suggested, ‘throws a veil of secrecy around arms deals’, whose scale is so large that even small percentages of bribes make for large dollar amounts. Bribery is normal, the deals that are revealed are startling – bribes running from $300 million (the South African-BAE deal from 1997-98) to $8 billion (the Saudi-BAE deal from 1985-2007).
For a taste of the arms trade, do watch Shadow World by Johan Grimonprez, trailer above, which is available for rent at all the major outlets.
A few days ago, I joined a group of Iraqis (such as the writer Haifa Zangana and Thuraiya Muhammed of Tadhamun: Iraqi women solidarity), journalists who covered the Iraq war and those who led solidarity campaigns for the Iraqis in signing the following note:
Thank You, Julian Assange. Thank You, Chelsea Manning,
For exposing the human rights violations, criminality and horrors of US war on Iraq.
For Wikileaks that told us the truth about what was actually happening.
For providing us with The Iraq War Logs that would help us, in the near future, to hold those responsible for launching the war of aggression on Iraq as war criminals.
We had in mind the terrible bombardment of Iraqi society and civilisation. We had in mind Chelsea Manning, sitting in a prison cell, refusing to testify against Julian Assange. We had in mind Julian Assange, who is in Belmarsh prison, 20 kms from the head-quarters of BAE systems (Britain’s main arms dealer).
And we had in mind Ola Bini, who is in El Inca prison in Quito (Ecuador), who has no role in any of this but seems to be collateral damage for the frustration of the ruling elites that their mendacity was revealed by the Afghan War Logs and the Iraq War Logs and so many more leaks.
It is not what is in these Logs that bothers the powerful, whose indignation is reserved for those brave people who expose their crimes and call them to account.
A Gestapo officer barged into Picasso’s apartment in Paris. There was a photograph of Guernica on the wall. The Gestapo officer asked if Picasso had done the painting. ‘No’, Picasso replied. ‘You did’.
(The Seventeenth Newsletter of the Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research) n
We received this letter by email from comrade Lalan from Nagpur. He has raised many pertinent questions and has put forward certain concepts on the post-revolutionary society based on his interpretation of Marx’s Critic of Gotha Program. In the context of the experience of more than one and half century of international communist movement these are questions which call for discussion. Contributions are expected to continue this discussion – Red Star
How do we understand what is happening all over the world in the name of Marx? What do we see all around us? In America the Trotskyites are busy forming one organization after another. If an organization fails to take off for whatever reasons, they form another in its place or along with it, as if they have opened a “cottage industry” (in the words of Peter Hudis) for manufacturing organizations! Similarly in India we come across members of organizations who were in a “Revolutionary Platform” to begin with, had formed a “Party” next and then a “Council” and finally a “People’s Parliament”, and now contemplating of forming a “Party” all over again! It appears as if they have opened a laboratory to form “New Organizations” in the name of Marxism! On the other hand when we look at “Communist China” we find workers are struggling for the recognition of their own unions and are being harassed for not fulfilling the target of production set by the management! We certainly did not expect the workers to be in such a bad condition in a “Communist Country”! It is sad indeed that in all those countries that had/ have declared themselves to be “Socialist” or “Communist”, Democracy of any kind has remained conspicuously absent! In all these countries, workers continue to be severely exploited and suppressed at the altar of State controlled production.
2) The three main Communist Parties in India, CPI, CP(M), and CPI(M-L) consider their own ideologies as supreme and therefore others as insignificant. It is evident today that all these “parties” have been converted into sects unto themselves. We had written an open letter to “Marxists” last year and had sent it to one of our “Marxist” friends. Meeting him we discussed the letter. He said that the said letter was addressed to “Marxists” and not to a “Marxist –Leninist” he considers himself to be and hence he did not consider it necessary to respond to the letter. This shows that all trends belonging to post-Marx Marxism (i.e., Marxist-Leninism, Stalinism, Maoism, Trotskyism etc) are different from that of Marx.
3) Otherwise how is it that whereas Marx and his Philosophy is one, organizations existing in his name can be counted in hundreds if not more? It is clear that most of these organizations have failed to grasp Marx’s Philosophy in its totality but have taken bits and pieces from it to suit their own purposes and present their own interpretation of it as the most “scientific”. However when it comes to us, how do we know what is true and what is false in these interpretations? For this surely we have to go back to Marx’s Philosophy and inquire from Marx himself.
4) In 1875 in Germany the followers of Ferdinand Lassalle and the Eisenach group met in a united congress for the first time in the city of Gotha to form an independent workers organization. This organization eventually became the largest socialist organization in Germany as well as in Europe. They adopted a program in this congress which is famously known as the Gotha Program. However when a copy of it reached Marx, he could see a lots of flaws in it. Marx criticized the draft sharply through marginal notes simultaneously providing guidelines to a future society known as Communism which would be realized as the end result of the ongoing class struggle between Labor and Capital. In these marginal notes on Gotha Program Marx brings forward the weak points of the program. Marx had critiqued other Socialist and Communist trends as early as 1848 in Communist Manifesto. Critiquing one such trend Marx had said in Communist Manifesto: “They want to improve the condition of every member of society even that of the most favored. Hence they appeal to society at large, without distinction of class; nay, by preference to the ruling class ….. Hence they reject all political, and especially all revolutionary action; they wish to attain their ends by peaceful means, and endeavour by small experiments, necessarily doomed to failure, and by force of example, to pave the way for the new social Gospel.”(M-E, Collected Works, Volume 6,P 515)
5) The two factions of German workers’ parties united into the Socialist Workers Party of Germany at Gotha and projected Socialism as their aim. However Marx did not consider their Program to be Socialist or Communist in any sense of the term. Many of the proposals in the Gotha Program were in fact taken from the Communist Manifesto as well as the Rules of the First International and presented in distorted forms which were exposed by Marx in his critique. Although “Critique of Gotha Program” is a critique of “Socialist Workers Party of Germany”, Marx did not mention the word Socialism even once in it. Marx uses the word “Communism” instead. In fact Marx makes no distinction between Socialism and Communism. For him the two words are synonymous. Marx talks about two phases of Communism in his “Critique of the Gotha Program”: the lower phase of Communism and the higher phase of Communism. According to Marx products do not exchange in the first phase of Communism. In other words commodity production comes to an end. With the end of “Abstract Labor”, production of “Value” comes to an end. Along with classes the State too comes to an end, the State which Proudhon had described as “heartless, authoritarian, murderous, insensitive, looter, pretentious and heinous”. The wage system comes to an end in the first phase of Communism and the workers no longer remain wage labor. They are transformed into Producers.
6) Marx discusses all these aspects in his critique of the Gotha Program. During the first phase of Communism, since a definite quantity of labor time is exchanged with the consumer goods equivalent to the same quantity of labor time, an individual producer would get back from society after social deductions have been made, the same amount of compensation that he he/she has contributed to society. According to Marx this principle of “equal compensation” is based on the bourgeois principle of “equal right”, which can only come to an end on reaching the higher phase of communism where “real labor time” no longer remains the measure of social relations. It is only in the higher phase of Communism, when it becomes possible for every human being to contribute to society according to his/her ability and to get back from society according to his/her needs.
7) Marx is not providing an utopian vision of the future society in his critique of the Gotha Program. On the contrary he is treating the existing bourgeois mode of production as the basis of the future society. Since the distinctive feature of capitalism is commodity production and the exchange of products through the medium of money, wherein Value is produced through the Abstract and Indirect Social Labor; the only way to end Value Production and consequently Capitalism would be to replace abstract, indirect social labor by concrete, direct social labor. Thus Communist Mode of Production is born out of the womb of Capitalism.
Secondly, according to Marx the very nature of bourgeois mode of production is in reality transitory, the very structure of which takes it towards a higher form of cooperative mode of production i.e., Socialism. However this does not mean that this process is automatic. Elsewhere Marx says: “…Without revolution socialism cannot be viable. It needs this political act to the extent that it needs destruction and dissolution. However where its organizing activity begins, where its aims and soul stand out, socialism throws away its political cover.”(Early Writings, 1975: 420). Thus according to Marx Revolution is not merely a destructive phenomenon but is simultaneously a constructive one as well. Revolution for Marx is not merely an event (seizure of power) but is an epochal phenomenon.
The only objective of Capitalism being endless expansion of “Value Production”, it forces humanity to “produce for the sake of production”. But at the same time this system of production develops Productive Forces and creates those material conditions which provide a real basis for a higher form of society, a society wherein free development of each individual becomes possible.
8) Marx has talked about a “transition period” between Capitalism and Communism which is the period of revolutionary transformation of Capitalism into Communism. Marx designates it as the ‘political transition period’ which is a period of Dictatorship of the Proletariat. Although in the critique of Gotha Program Marx does not discuss about the nature of the social relations during the transition period, his concept of the “transition period” can serve as a parameter to understand the revolutions of the twentieth century— as to their true nature. In his recent article “The alternative to capitalism in Marx’s critique of Gotha Program”, Peter Hudis has pointed out that the history of the revolutions of the last 100 years is a history of a series of flawed concepts of an alternative to capitalism. We ought to examine the self-declared successful socialist revolutions of 20th century from the following perspective: Was it working class who seized power in these revolutions and were they Dictatorship of Proletariat that were established in the aftermath of these insurrections? If indeed they were Dictatorships of the Proletariat, what went wrong due to which Capitalism and not Socialism came into existence? If on the other hand these regimes were not DPs then Dictatorship of which class or classes were they? Did the working class really lead these revolutions or were they led by forces other than the working class, with the working class merely following them? In short which class led these failed “socialist revolutions” of 20th century? Through the concept of “transition period”, Marx had provided indicators so as to grasp the situation during and in the aftermath of the seizure of power, thus providing an idea as to which direction these societies were moving.
9) In the first chapter of volume 1 of Capital under the caption “Fetishism of commodities and the secret thereof” Marx depicts the post capitalist society thus: “Let us now picture to ourselves, by way of change, a community of free individuals, carrying on their work with means of production in common, in which the labor power of all the different individuals is consciously applied as the combined labor power of the community. ....The total product of our community is a social product. One portion serves as fresh means of production and remains social. But another portion is consumed by the members as means of subsistence. A distribution of this portion amongst them is consequently necessary. This mode of distribution will vary with the productive organization of the community, and the degree of historical development attained by the producers.”(Karl Marx, Capital, 2016, Page, 40) This description of the post-capitalist society in Marx’s Capital accurately depicts the “first phase of communism” found in the “Critique of the Gotha Program “. Marx talks about production and distribution according to human needs in the higher phase of communism. In this higher phase the slavish subordination to the division of labor comes to an end. In this full- fledged communist society everyone contributes according to his/her ability and gets back from society according to their needs.
10) Peter Hudis, an American Marxist-Humanist and a member of IMHO has provided a detailed analysis of all these issues in his recent article: “An alternative to capitalism in Marx’s Critique of Gotha Program.” In this article he writes: “New passions and forces for liberation continuously arise, posing new questions and challenges of their own. This is especially seen in the array of new social movements and freedom struggles in recent years, by women, Blacks, Latinx, and other national minorities, and of LGBTQ. Many within these struggles are reaching for a vision of a new society that transcends the limits of both existing capitalism and the so-called “Socialist” and “Communist” regimes of the past. Yet too few theorists and activists are working to provide such a vision. Herein lie our crisis: just when we need an alternative that can speak to masses of people the most, we possess it the least.” A little ahead in the same article Peter writes: “We are aware that we can’t live by the truths of a different era. We face problems that Marx didn’t envision or face. But we are also aware that no thinker developed a more far-reaching and dialectical criticism of capitalism. This is because a positive vision of the future was immanent in his negative critique.”
In essence Marx’s critique of Gotha program is not different from his critique of Capitalism. Capital is self-expansive value and the specific characteristic of Capital is that within it labor acquires the form of Value. Within Capitalism labor is compelled to operate by an abstract time-determination which is beyond the control of workers. This in reality is the basis of bourgeois class exploitation and destruction of nature. Hence it is only by eliminating “Value Production” that the transition of Capitalism into Communism becomes possible, a new society wherein each individual contributes to society according to his/her ability and gets back from society according to the quantity of labor contributed in the first phase and according to needs in the higher phase.
However a few questions arise from “Marx’s critique of Gotha program” and Peter’s introduction to it that we think deserve to be discussed at the national as well as international level. These discussions we believe will help us move forward on our journey towards Communism by providing further clarification on these issues.
For example the following few questions may be asked: 1. When State comes to an end in Communist Society, how will its positive tasks (i.e. fulfillment of all human needs and individual freedom) would be performed? 2. How should the socio-economic relations be organized after the seizure of power by the working class? 3. If the first phase of Communism is defective and if according to Marx this new society is tainted with the birthmarks of capitalism (having been born from the womb of capitalism) will there not remain the danger of sliding back to capitalism? 4. What will be the nature of the socio-economic system and the nature of the society during the “transitional period” between Capitalism and Communism? Will the domination of Capital continue to operate even under the hegemony of the working class (D.P) during this period?
Last year we had written an article: “Where to begin?” The present article from Peter Hudis, “The alternative to Capitalism in Marx’ Critique of the Gotha Program” was preceded by another article from the same author titled: “Directly vs. Indirectly Social Labor: The path to overcoming Capitalism”. Peter had ended this article saying: “We need a new beginning and Marx points us as to where to start.” Let us then begin with Marx’s Method based on his Philosophy in order to find a way out of capitalism!
Date: 23rd March 2019 Marxism Today: The unfairness of a “fair day’s pay. n
Lal salaam, lal salaam, lal salaam.... salaam!
Lal salaam comrade Ramarao…. lal salaam, salaam!
The song’ Lal salaam’ in the loud piercing voice of Com Ramarao is inseparable from memories of his life time singing stint. His legacy of performing art clearly reminds us of his commitment to the social purpose of art. Songs he chose to sing embodied reality of the contemporary class conflicts. As a performing artist he was not merely a seasoned singer but also a politically engaged revolutionary having close links with the people. Adoption of a strong life purpose in revolution and revolutionary art helped him cope up with adverse economic circumstance as well as tough organisational challenges. As contemporary cultural activists many of us had an opportunity to witness his artistic talents from close quarters during various joint cultural programs.
As an artist, he too did not confirm to societal boundaries set for the normal family man. His wife Aruna’s support and participation in the movement as a comrade made his family life easier. As a revolutionary his cultural practice had ideological conformity to Marxism in opposition to the half romantic and half commercial practice of pure art. However he never betrayed a sense of superiority over the art practise of other professional artists. He was even open to learn from their forms, techniques to enrich the revolutionary art. He had a great respect for the folk artists from whom he constantly drew inspiration for his live performances. He was fascinated by the folk form ‘Burrakatha’ and used it for the revolutionary cause.
There was a phase during his political career when identity politics asserted itself in the revolutionary left movement at the cost of the class unity. It manifested in the form of caste based judgements of revolutionary individuals. It was a wake up call for the entire revolutionary ranks across the caste lines to address the caste issue seriously. That was a period of ideological turmoil caused by the growing recognition of the effect of traditional social divisions within the revolutionary ranks. This realisation compelled the revolutionary intellectuals associated with the movement to pay attention to the nuances of social divisions within the project of class unity. It also compelled all of us to evolve an effective strategy to deal with the problem of friendly social contradictions within a given class. During this entire period and even after that, com. Ramarao did not succumb to the pressure from the alien sectarian trends associated with the caste identities but stood steadfastly with the idea of unity across the castes on the class lines. Simultaneously he devoted himself to the struggle against the practise of social discrimination in order to strengthen the class unity.
Com Ramarao always stood up for his values without succumbing to populist mainstream culture. He could not be lured by the mainstream commercial media where he had a clear opportunity to make a lucrative career. His individuality as an artist was never at the cost of denying the importance of others by him. There has been a trend in the left cultural movement to see art as a mere passive reflection of the society. There is also a dogmatic approach associated with the thinking that as long as the content of the art is revolutionary, it does not matter how it is expressed in its art form. The conscious cultural artistes have always rejected this anti art trend in the revolutionary culture. Ramarao consciously tried to improve his vocal skills and experiment with diverse forms of performing arts including folk forms as well as Indian classical music. He experimented with semi classical renderings to the revolutionary music too. Ramarao gave equal importance to the issue of cultural creativity within the revolutionary movement without being complacent with mere reflection of the social reality of his time in his performances.
Those who had an opportunity to associate with him in joint cultural performances were always impressed with his man of the world approach to music which he laced with his passionate humane tones. He never came across as a romantic blue eyed boy of revolutionary culture but he consciously assumed the principal role as an organiser of the cultural movement. His immense popularity in his state and at the national level never made him act in a pompous manner. His singing brought him joy, happiness and a lovely feeling unique to the artists that can not be expressed in words. Urgency in his voice galvanised the audience into action. His music was a force for the social progress. Music today has assumed the status of an industry and latest artistic techniques are being utilised to exploit the skills of singers for the consumption in a capitalist market. Com Ramarao on the other hand attracted many singers towards the alternative music of his own brand and away from the influence of capitalist music market. His music had been patronised in the past and will also be remembered in the future by the patrons of his own choice, the toiling masses of our country.
Karl Marx made a brilliant statement about art in his ‘A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy’ - “The object of art, like any other product, creates an artistic and beauty-enjoying public. Production thus produces not only an object for the individual, but also an individual for the object.” Com Ramarao’s songs too created an audience for his music. His music appealed to the struggling masses particularly. There has also been a significant section of music lovers outside the circles of struggling masses who got attracted to the revolutionary musical skills of com. Ramarao. His music served the social function of building up a revolutionary and progressive movement in India. His songs are products of struggles and as such, his music can be appreciated better if we understand the conditions of its creation.
The role of an artist in society is a controversial subject but its a fact that no creative artist can remain uninfluenced by the social conditions surrounding him. Today we live in a situation where a mono culture of the political Hindutva is made out to be the national culture of our country. It is being patronised by the ruling elite to create hurdles in the advancement of the progressive cultural movement in our country. Artistic freedom is being impinged and people’s interests are being ignored by the present hegemonic regime at the centre. Ideas of post-modernism are reflected in the new mass culture through revival of the traditional in the banal contemporary forms. The rulers have even abandoned the garb of liberal democracy in today’s Neo-Liberal world. It is time for the artists to defend our composite culture and strengthen the movement for cultural advancement of our country.
A true tribute to the music of Com Ramarao will be in continuing his tradition of engagement with the struggle for progressive and revolutionary cause. All concerned artists and cultural activists should therefore actively resist the communal onslaught on our culture. We should also do all we can to promote secular popular culture. We should form action networks on issues concerning the project of opposition to the communalisation of Indian culture. It is also necessary to support the civil society institutions struggling to protect their independence from authoritarian forces. All our efforts to save democratic space for art and culture should be combined with struggle against neo-liberalism which is the real prop for Neo conservatives of Hindu National variety.
As long as the struggle for justice and freedom continues in India and revolutionaries continue to be martyred in the revolutionary struggle, ‘laal salaam’ will remain an unfinished song of Com Ramarao.
Pravin Nadkar for
Navnirma Sanskritik Manch
(Revolutionary Cultural Forum)
Cyclone Fani’s destruction in Puri, in the twin cities of Bhubaneswar-Cuttack and in area around was enormous. A preliminary assessment shows that about 65 people died, scores injured and 5244 primary schools, 542 upper primary schools, 180 high schools, 1031 primary health centres and 5596 kms of road have been damaged. 19 132 KV towers, 2 400 KV towers, 200 numbers of 33/11 KV HT poles, 10,000 11/0.4 transformers and countless (rough estimate puts it at 65,000) HT lines have been damaged. The summer crops in almost 12 districts, Fisheries (Prawn) along 485 km long coastline and other means of livelihood are devastated. 35 lakhs of people were left without electricity and access to drinking water for days. Even mobile connections were cut for days. Cyclone Fani uprooted tens of thousands of trees also in the state.
Cyclone Fani, the second most powerful cyclone to have hit Odisha, paralysed the state after it made landfall in Puri on May 3, 2019 with a wind speed of 240 kilometres per hour. The most powerful storm on record to hit Odisha coast after the 1999 Super Cyclone has made people believe that cyclones will keep ruining their lives. This one uprooted trees, destroyed houses, damaged several vehicles and knocked out power supply infrastructure. While those whose assets are broken beyond repair are still staying in shelters, schools and in pucca houses of other villagers. Panic had gripped Mahakalapada and Rajnagar blocks of Kendrapara district and Earsasama block in Jagatsinghpur district after strong tidal waves caused extensive damage to crops and saline embankments. Many cyclone-hit villages are still without electricity after the storm swept away several electric poles, wires and other infrastructure. Fani is the 13th pre-monsoon cyclone to hit Odisha out of 134 cyclones since 1804.
The storm, called Cyclone Fani (pronounced “Foni”), struck the coast near Puri with winds in excess of 115 miles per hour (equivalent to a Category 3 hurricane). That makes it the strongest storm to hit India in 20 years. Fani, which started out in the Bay of Bengal in the last week of April, was not like the typical storms that Odisha is accustomed to. From 1965 to 2017, the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea collectively registered 46 ‘severe cyclonic storms’. More than half of them occurred between October and December. Seven of them occurred in May and only two (in 1966 and 1976) were recorded in April, according to data from the India Meteorological Department’s cyclone statistics unit. Before Fani, only one of them (in 1966) had actually made landfall over India.
Though recorded furious cyclones in Odisha dates back to 1831, the mega-cyclone 1999 marked the turning point for the state. It was catastrophic: it killed thousands, obliterated homes, and left a trail of destruction. The State was cut off from the rest of the country, and it was weeks before the magnitude of the tragedy hit home. Since then, Odisha has prepared itself in various ways to face such cyclones — by building specially crafted storm shelters and commissioning electric poles that are designed to withstand strong gales. By May 1, the authorities were confident that Fani would not be as devastating as the one that had hit the port town of Paradip in 1999. But their calculations were proved wrong. Though the number of people died are comparatively very small, the devastation in Puri and nearby areas was enormous. After his brief visit, when Prime Minister Modi offered Rs. 1000 crore relief fund and he and Odisha CM were congratulating each other for the relief works going on, the people’s sufferings continued for days and many households are still suffering in all Fani affected areas!
According to reports of Red Star comrades, they were actively engaged in relief work right from the beginning forgetting that their own houses are damaged. They went to all Bastis in Bhubaneswar, in Puri and Cuttack, organized Basti dwellers and formed teams for relief work. Absence of polythene sheets was creating severe problems as roof of most jhuggies were blown off, and rains were continuing. The main stream media, in the beginning, was not publishing real condition at ground level. Contrary to what is claimed by the authorities, the number of dead are comparatively very small this time since though very high velocity Fani hit, but there was no 25 feet tall sea waves lashing the coastal areas devastating everything on its path including killing thousands as happened in 1999. In spite of cyclone warnings and evacuation orders, many people actually did not shift as very little food and other arrangements were made. This reality is concealed by authorities.
Compared to what we did during the relief work in 1999, this time reflecting the strengthening of Red Star organization and activities in the state, the leadership could mobilize all party members and activists of Basti Suraksha Manch, TUCI like organizations for relief work. They played an important role in all the three urban centres as well as in nearby villagers to mobilize the people for relief work. They led the people to organize relief centres, as well as to demand urgent relief from the state. This is a huge work and our party committees as well as mass organizations are actively involved in these. The party Central Committee has called for a relief fund to help the urgent relief work to be immediately taken up in the affected areas. All party committees should try to send as much help as possible.
Urgent and Long Term Tasks
Once again, all the reports show that out of the many million families affected severely, vast majority are the economically backward sections who are living in Jhuggies in Bastis and mud houses in the villages. So, firstly, permanent housing for all these people is an urgent problem to be resolved. Though the hutments are temporarily repaired, an extensive progressive rehabilitation work should be taken up by the government, along with better infra-structural facilities, like water supply, sanitation, electric supply etc. Secondly, large number of people, including the fisher people, small vendors, hawkers, those owning or working in workshops, small enterprises etc have lost their livelihood. Their immediate rehabilitation is needed.
Since Odisha is a very cyclone prone region, a serious planning and execution of projects along the coastal region is called for. In spite of repeated warning from environmental scientists, even when the ‘global warming’, ‘climate change’ like features are increasing the possibilities of more frequent and severe cyclones, extensive construction of coastal highways and vast real estate building etc are taken up in the coastal region. Whatever mangroves were existing are also destroyed for these corporate projects. The concerned governments and their agencies should be compelled to reverse the present ‘development’ plans which are aggravating the consequences of the cyclones. All highways and real estate constructions in one kilo meter wide strip along the coastal areas should be stopped. Whatever is existing should be realigned or demolished. A 500 meter wide mangrove stretch along the sea-coast should be developed on an urgent basis. Involving the people of the region also, a plan should be prepared for the protection of the coastal area, making it capable of restricting the impact of the cyclones.
A people’s movement should be developed to compel the governments and their agencies to take up these immediate and long term tasks with the urgency they demand.
Fani Cyclone a Report from Odisha
Cyclone Fani hit Puri on 3rd May, 14 districts of Odisha affected. Puri, Khordha, Cuttack, Balesore, Bhadrak, Ganjam, Jagatsinghpur, Jajpur, Kendrapara, Keonjhar, Mayurbhanj, Nayagarh. Foni land fall was at Puri, so this area was severely affected. Adjacent district of Puri Khordha (Bhubaneswar) also affected badly. Total 159 Blocks, 51 Urban Local Bodies, 18388 no. of villages and 1,65,55,507 population affected. 5,08,467 houses damaged. 181711.4 hectare of crop area affected. 64 people died. Thousands of injured. Still many people are under treatment in various Govt. and private hospitals.
Government Propaganda and Reality
Odisha Government declared that 15,57,170 persons were evacuated. It is completely false propaganda. In reality, they just officially demarcated in pen and paper that this cluster of people will shift to this school. College, building etc. The authorities of that institution just provided one or two rooms. Even many did not allow their toilets to use by this people. No food and other facilities available there. So maximum people did not shift. They were in their own houses or in nearby neighbours and friends houses, which is some what safe.
The death toll and causality was less comparative to 1999 super cyclone. Main reason is this time Fani affected for only 3 to 4 hours. It was in day time. In 1999 severe rain was there before cyclone and rain continued for 3-4 days followed by heavy flood. 27 feet high sea waves lashed in 1999, but this time no such sea tide was there. Rain stopped just after cyclone. No heavy rain was there. Also due to advance warning through media, people were alert. The whether forecast and calculation of timing was exact.
Odisha Government Failed to Provide Drinking Water and Immediate Relief to the Needy People
Only those having natural water resources like well, ponds, canals, rivers etc managed somehow. But mainly in urban areas and slum areas people suffered a lot with out getting drinking water. Up to 5-6 days govt. could not supply minimum required drinking waters. For 1 lakh population area only 6 to 10 tankers of water provided. Road side and proper communicable areas got some water but all others suffered a lot. This Fani cyclone proved that through tankers required water can not be supplied. Water scarcity is due to Govt. giving permission to land mafias to construct buildings, apartments etc by filling wells, ponds, canals, rivers like natural water resources. It should be stopped immediately. Natural water sources should be saved. In some areas we have to maintain tube wells continuously.
False Propaganda on Reconstruction and Compensation
As Per latest report of State Emergency Operation Centre (SEOC) Situation Report on Extremely Severe Cyclonic Storm-Fani of 20.05.2019, 12.30pm, 5,08,467 houses damaged in Fani. State Govt. declared house damage compensation will be provided to all house damaged/Fani affected families. Compensation 95,100/- will be provided for fully damaged, 5200 for partially damaged and 3200 for minor damages. Instead of this compensation, Govt. declared to provide cyclone-flood free pucca houses to all affected people. House survey will start from 15th may and Work order will be provided to all by 1st June. But when the official order passed, it is written assistance will be given as per relief code. Odisha Relief Code is very old. It followed from the British Rules. In this code there is no provision for assistance to those residing in ‘objectionable’ land. So that all slum dwellers, all dalit, adivasi and poor families those do not have land with Record can not get this assistance from the Govt. In Fani 90% of slum dwellers and common people who are residing in encroached lands and patta-less lands were affected. But this govt. order is restricted and it does not provide them assistance. So out of 5lakhs more than 4 lakhs families will not get compensation and pucca houses. Govt. orally declared assistance, but in official order it is reversed. So people are fighting for this right along with ground level workers.
In this context, CPI-ML Red Star Odisha State Committee and Basti Surakshya Mancha are continuing struggle to provide justice to these affected people. We demands before Govt to amend the Relief Code and make an immediate order to provide pucca houses and compensation to all these affected people including slum dwellers. We also demands for a Relief, Restoration and Rehabilitation act in Odisha because Odisha is regular cyclone, flood and drought prone area.
(Odisha Relief Code Chapter-1 Preamble Point 2 calls for provisions of this code may be modified, revised and supplemented at any time by appropriate orders of Govt., with the change of time and need. It is considered so expedient.). We also demand Rs. 20 lakhs compensations to family members of the deceased and complete free treatment and minimum Rs. 1lakh compensation for Fani injured people. Odisha Govt. declared only 500 for a coconut tree. We demands Rs. 2000 for a coconut tree. AP had given 1500 per coconut tree when their people were cyclone affected.
Including these, with a charter of demands we have decided to Gherao Odisha State Secretariat on 4th June. Thousands of slum dwellers of Puri, Bhubaneswar, Cuttack and other affected urban and rural land patta less adivasi, dalit, poor and working class families will participate in this gherao. Since 3rd May afternoon all our comrades of party and class mass organisations, mainly of Basti Surakshya Mancha, AIRWO, TUCI and AIKKS activists and supportes were engaged in relief, restoration and rehabilitation work and mainly peoples struggles to get it or facilitate it to them.
In this context, we point out that in 1971, the state Govt. constituted a Technical Export Committee to give proposals to face Sea cyclones. This committee submitted its report in 1974. If this report was implemented then this Fani or 1999, or recent other cyclone causalities and loses could be avoided to a great extent. But The Govts since 1974 have not implementing this report and the P. Koteswaram Committee report of Centre. So we are demanding to implement these committee reports soon to avoid cyclones’ consequences permanently. n
As Modi led corporate-saffron regime had reached the fag end of its first term, spokespersons of the regime have started repeatedly emphasising on India’s fastest growth during the last five years. They argue, for instance, that India under Modi is not only the fastest growing one in the world with a growth rate of around 7 percent but also has become the sixth largest economy ahead of France and will soon become larger than even Great Britain. Modi continues in power, according to them, within a decade India will be the third largest economy below that of US and China respectively.
Of course, the basic orientation of Modi since the very beginning has been to pursue an ultra-rightist growth path led by private corporate capital in conformity with market fundamentalist Washington Consensus according to which benefits from wealth concentration and fast growth shall slowly trickle-down to the bottom. With this perspective, he dismantled the Planning Commission and dissociated from what is called state-led planning, the last relics of the Nehruvian model so as to transform the state as a mere facilitator of corporate capital. Modi took necessary steps towards complete demolition of the administrative price mechanism in fuel pricing and giving full freedom to corporate oil giants in price-determination, raising the FDI cap in defence and insurance sectors to 49 percent at one stretch and similar other pro-corporate and business-friendly steps, prompting the World Bank to praise the Modi regime in its 2018 Doing Business Report for adopting almost half of the total 37 requirements essential to achieve a high ranking in Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index. The most crucial initiative among them has been the implementation of the GST, the biggest post-war neoliberal, pro-corporate tax reform at the behest of imperialist centres for placing the country on a high growth trajectory.
But the outcome is on the contrary. According to the latest data released by the Central Statistical Organisation, India’s economic growth rate has declined to 6.6 percent, even as leading members of the Central Statistical Office including its chairman had already resigned protesting against the governmental pressure on them to manipulate data in favour of the bogus claims of the regime. As such independent observers consider even the 6.6 percent GDP growth rate released by CSO an overestimate, and according to them, the real growth rate would definitely be slower than the official rate. In the same vein, organisations like the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) do not consider this latest official growth figure as in accord with reality. And in a latest development, National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) has imparted a heavy blow to the Modi govt. by casting doubt over the reliability of the entire data base used by the government.
Historically, figures pertaining to the Indian unorganised/informal sectors where more than 90 percent of the labour force depends for sustenance are mere guestimates as reliable data on them are few and far between. However, the two unexpected attacks inflicted on the whole economy, namely, demonetisation and GST have devastated not only the informal sectors but the formal/organised sectors also. Therefore in the absence of a concrete analysis of the post-demonetisation and post-GST structure of the economy, even data relating to the formal sectors is also unreliable.
Another aspect is the inclusion of large number of ‘untraceable’ or ‘shell’ companies’, whose number is almost one-third of the actually existing companies, in the official growth data. That is, large number of registered companies are not at all found at the address and are not engaged in the work they have claimed. Though, such bogus companies that are not contributing anything to national product, they are also included in data. The main purpose of floating such companies which are only “shell” and not any way contributing to production is to divert profits and siphon out unaccounted money to tax havens within and outside the country. To include the shell companies output, which is nothing but a portion of the main companies output, in data is therefore double counting and the GDP estimation becomes highly inflated and larger.
The upshot of the argument is that in spite of a definite slowdown, spokespersons of Modi govt. are working overtime to chart out a rosy picture of the Indian economy still claiming that the GDP growth rate is still running at 6.5 percent. Ironically, the highest growth rate that the saffron regime claimed was in relation to demonetisation year when all the formal and informal sectors, especially the latter actually experienced a sharp decline. Therefore the credibility of Modi regime’s growth figures is questionable. Meanwhile, the unpublished NSSO report, the details which are available in the public domain, has estimated the unemployment rate at 6.1 percent in the preceding fiscal year (quoting a leaked report from the NSSO, the Business Standard said, “The country’s unemployment rate stood at over a four-decade high of 6.1 per cent during 2017-18, compared to 2.2 per cent in 2011-12.”) and a steep decline in labour participation rate from 47 percent in 2017 to 43 percent in 2019! It can be guessed that these sharpest decline in employment in five decades has been mainly due to the double-shock inflicted on the economy by the superimposition of demonetisation and GST.
As a manifestation of this economic down-trend, production in both the consumer and capital goods sector are facing reverses, the latter registering a contraction of 8.7 percent in March 2019!A striking trend is the setbacks faced by the firms specialised in the middle-class oriented fast-moving consumer goods sector (FMCG) due to the sudden collapse in demand and low consumer sentiment. And in spite of GST, according to the revised revenue estimates for 2018-19, there is a shortfall of Rs 1.6 lakh crore, and the central government’s revenue growth rate is as low as 6.2 percent instead of its budgeted claim of 19.5 percent. Consequently, central government’s debt under five years of Modi has shot from around 50 percent of GDP to almost 80 percent.
Another grave problem has been that of NPAs (non-performing assets) now amounting to Rs. 15 lakh crore in the public sector banks attributed to big corporate companies, as a result of which agriculture, small and medium industries, traditional and informal sectors have become the victims of the severe credit crunch in banks. Reckless loan payment to speculation by non-banking finance companies (NBFCs) such as IL&FS has also reduced the source of funds for labour-intensive, informal and small sectors. Lack of credit, indebtedness and absence of price-support programs are pushing thousands peasants to suicides every year. But since 2015, the National Crime Records Bureau as directed by the Modi govt. has stopped releasing data on peasant suicides though routine media reports of famers committing suicides in states like Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, and Karnataka among others are continuing as usual. However, as per data available in the Ministry of Home Affairs, annual report titled ‘Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India’, on an average every day 34 farmers are committing suicides in India.
This collapse in the domestic economy has it’s manifestation in the foreign trade sector too. It is an acknowledged fact that around half of India’s exports originate mainly from the labour-intensive traditional, small-scale and medium industries. However, both demonetisation and GST by denying cash and imposing higher tax-burden respectively have made most of them economically unviable. Coupled with this adverse domestic factor including the overreliance on contract labour (along with lack of healthcare, education and skill-training) that declined labour productivity, competition from labour intensive exports of other cheap labour economies, especially South-Asian countries has resulted in a steep reduction in exports leading to a trade deficit of $ 176 billion(approximately more than Rs. 12 lakh crore). Regarding capital-intensive exports, India is facing the biggest threat from protectionist policies in the US and elsewhere. All these have their domestic linkage effects adversely affecting production and employment. Over the next 30 years, around 75 lakh young job seekers are expected to join the working age population each year. Around 16 percent of the educated youth is estimated as unemployed in India. On the other hand, Modi’s ultra-rightist policies have destroyed more than 100 lakh jobs in the preceding year alone. One can imagine the extent of social and political tensions in store for the future.
However, the immediate threat that Indian people are going to confront is the prospect of rise in oil prices. In view of the election, oil companies under instructions from the Modi regime has been keeping domestic petroleum prices flat, though crude oil prices rose from around $52.40 a barrel in January to $70.70 a barrel on 3 May. In the context of the unilateral US embargo on oil export of Venezuela and Iran, India is losing cheap sources of oil and is bound to import high-cost shale oil from USA and Canada. In view of the US threat-escalation, there is every chance of the world crude oil prices shooting up. As a pointer to the emerging trend, immediately after the polls, based on green signal from Modi regime, oil companies have already raised petrol and diesel prices.
Obviously, while the employment-oriented really producing economy is declining under the Modi-regime, the parliamentary opposition ranging from the Congress and regional parties to CPI (M) having no alternative to the neoliberal-pro-corporate policies, the exit-poll projections of a landslide victory of the BJP led NDA have given a further boost to the speculative the sphere of the economy as manifested in the Sensex gaining around 1400 points in one single day in the BSE. As a result, the shares of leading stock speculators including Ambani, HDFC, ICICI, etc. have gained around Rs. 5 crore. As these lines are being written, the election results are pouring in indicating a continuation of the Modi regime with an absolute majority in Lok Sabha. Then the outcome is an extra-ordinary galloping of financial speculation led by the most corrupt corporate class under whom the so called development itself oriented to the vast majority of toiling people is transformed in to a by-product of money-spinning businesses throughout.
Modi’s second coming implies a further opening up of the floodgates of ultra-rightist, neoliberal corporatisation subjecting the working classes and all oppressed to the domination of the most degenerated financial class in every sphere. Its outcome shall be unprecedented wealth concentration in the hands of the most corrupt tiny financial elite and intensified pauperisation and loss of purchasing power for the vast majority.
The ruling regime will try to manage the consequent political and social tensions by incessant attacks on democratic rights of workers and all oppressed including dalits, adivasis, women and minorities. It is up to the democratic and progressive forces in this country to rise up with an appropriate political intervention at this critical juncture. n
Following the latest round of trade negotiations between US and China failing to reach any agreement, US had imposed $200 billion worth tariff hikes on goods and services imported from China. Trump also warned that if China retaliates, he will impose more stringent tariff hikes. Rejecting his threats, now China has hit back imposing tariff hike on $60 billion worth US goods.
Along with imposing sanctions against Venezuela and Iran, strictly banning sales of petroleum products, and threatening all countries against purchasing petroleum from them, Trump has taken a hawkish stand intensifying the contradictions among the imperialist countries, as well as the contradiction of US with all dependent countries like India.
This intensifying trade war is going to further increase the plunder of the oppressed peoples all over the world. It is going to be a challenge before the govts. of India like countries whether they will succumb to the dictates of the imperialist powers as the Modi govt does, or resist them, taking a self-reliant stand! n
What happened during last three months was a feverish and acrimonious election campaign for the 17th Lok Sabha. The results of these elections, giving almost a two third majority to NDA in the new Lok Sabha announced on 23rd May, has surprised not only the mainstream opposition parties, but all the progressive, democratic, struggling people’s forces who were campaigning against and leading numerous struggles against it. If Modi led BJP had won the 2014 elections with the slogan of Sub ke Sath Sab ka Vikas, during the last five years all the major initiatives his government took including demonetization, GST, intensification of corporatization of all sectors etc had led to highest rates of unemployment during last 45 years, acute distress in farm sector leading to suicides by hundreds of farmers in many states, serious slow down of the economy and growing ecological destruction making the climate change like phenomena severe day by day, to mention a few of the serious consequences. At the same time pursuing aggressive saffronization, spreading politics of hatred, targeting the religious minorities and dalits, etc majoritarian divide and rule politics is taken to extreme levels.
In this situation the resistance against Modi rule went on increasing, first through numerous people’s struggles and then, as reflected in electoral reverses, especially in the defeat of BJP led state governments in Rajasthan, MP and Chhattisgarh six months ago. All these factors had pointed towards possible defeat of Modi government in the 2019 elections.
The mainstream opposition parties, though none of them had led any major campaigns or struggles against the Modi rule during the last five years, were expected to pick up these issues and the failure of Modi rule in implementing any of its major promises of 2014, for defeating Modi and replacing it with their alliance after the elections.
But as the campaign was starting by February, with the militants’ attack on the CRPF convoy at Pulwama, followed by the Balakot air strike against the terrorist base inside Pakistan, Modi turned around the possible anti-incumbency against his government by projecting the national security matters and muscular nationalism targeting Pakistan, the Muslim minorities and the Kashmiri people’s movement through a protracted, colourful and extremely expensive sectarian political campaign, with the slogan: We will enter your house and kill you, This is New India. Modi, Amit Shah and other leaders, blatantly violating the Model Code of Conduct rules of the Election Commission, were asking the people to vote BJP in the name of the Pulwama martyrs, for the Balakot ‘surgical’ strike, for Modi’s army! The first accused in Malegaon terrorist attack, Pragya Thakur was fielded as candidate, further intensifying the saffron campaign. In this process, the identity politics of the caste based parties were, in the main, submerged by the frenzied saffronization of the RSS parivar.
Surprising its opponents, the BJP and its NDA allies led a presidential style campaign, appealing for each vote to their candidates as a vote for Modi, projecting the election as a referendum for him. It was turned in to a jingoistic campaign with an anti-Muslim political narrative. The opposition parties, especially, the Congress, could not or failed to expose this sinister BJP campaign organized with the connivance of a majority in the EC. Besides, while the BJP even made concessions to forge unity of the NDA parties, the opposition, mainly Congress, failed to forge unity among themselves, or to put forward a unified approach. In this situation, utilizing huge corporate funds, services of the media, planned use of social media, EC majority’s connivance which went to the extent of planning the seven phase elections to suit Modi’s public meetings and road shows, to allowing him to stage a sort of ‘road show’ at Kedarnth and Badrinath on 18th and 19th May, on the day of silent campaign and the last polling day, Modi and company created conditions for its victory.
The disunited opposition parties who have no alternate vision about the corporatization speeded by Modi, who pursue caste based politics compromising with Hindutva ideology, easily crumbled before the Modi-Shah juggernaut, helping BJP led NDA to a massive victory, polling more than 50% of votes in 17 states and spreading menacingly to W. Bengal, Odisha like states also. And, with the connivance of the EC and utilizing loop holes in the present electoral system including the use of EVMs against which criticism are increasing day by day, Modi could outsmart the divided opposition easily. As far as the traditional left, the ‘Left Front’ parties, are concerned, they have refused to take lessons from their hitherto debacle due to pursuing neoliberal policies. So, even after getting unseated in W. Bengal and Tripura, they repeat same mistakes in their last resort, Kerala. In front of Modi- Shah offensive they were swept away in Bengal and Tripura, and severely mauled in Kerala
The coming to power of Modi for another five years with added strength poses a serious challenge before the toiling masses as well as to the struggling left forces who waged a campaign, fielding candidates in few seats, with the slogan: “Defeat corporate-saffron fascist Modi rule, Build people’s Alternative”. While actively participating in all movements to weaken the saffron fascist forces, they should take up the question of building people’s alternative against increasing corporate-saffron fascist threat more actively, striving to participate in all forms of struggles with the orientation of developing independent communist assertion. It calls for concrete analysis of the present developments leading to the victory of Modi, mobilizing all struggling forces for launching people’s movements against it. The growing ultra rightist, neo-fascist challenge, a growing danger at international level itself, can be confronted and defeated only by putting forward an alternative manifesto for democracy and development, and mobilizing the toiling masses and all oppressed sections for people’s democracy and socialism. Let us take up this challenge with firm resolve
On 21st April afternoon, when the campaign for the 17th Lok Sabha elections were coming to a conclusion in Kerala, with the LDF, UDF, NDA parties engaged in a show of strength in various town centres spending crores of rupees with all police forces concentrating there, more than one thousand landless families, mainly Adivasis, who constitute 17% of the population of Wayanad district occupied nearly 500 acres of land in Towarimala in Batheri taluk, about 20kms from the district headquarters, Kalpatta. They were led by the Land Struggle Committee (LSC) formed at the initiative of the state committees of AIKKS and Adivasi Bharat Mahasabha (ABM) led by the CPI(ML) Red Star comrades. This Committee formed two years ago had brought out details of the land holdings in the state and the deplorable condition of the nearly 1.5 million landless families in this state “famous” for the land reforms of the 1957 CPI government. A Land Struggle Convention was held in 2017 January at Thiruvananthapuram which appealed to the government to take over nearly 58% of the revenue land in the state illegally occupied by nearly 200 land mafias including the foreign plantation companies Harrison and Kannan Devan (now Tatas) and to distribute the land to the plantation workers and landless families. This Convention was organized by the LSC when, in spite of many campaigns and mass movements by the landless families followed by attempts to occupy the land at many places for the last four decades, consecutive Congress led UDF or CPI(M) led LDF governments did not take any action to solve the problems of the landless families. It was in continuation to decades of movements by the landless families and its own efforts for this, the LSC led the landless families to occupy the land at Towarimala, bordering the Harrison Plantations’ tea estate.
This land is not part of reserve forest as falsely claimed by the forest department or alleged by the state government. It is part of the 5000 acres of land taken over by the state government led by CPI leader Achutha Menon in 1971 as surplus land from the Harrisons for distribution to the Adivasis who were in a rebellious mood following the torture and killing of com Verghese on 18th February, 1970, one of the first CPI(ML) leaders in the state, who had successfully led the Adivasis against the slave trading of them at Thirunelli temple and against exploitation by feudal landlords and usurers. But consecutive governments did not distribute it to the landless Adivasis and others. On the contrary, the bureaucracy under present Pinarayi government is engaged in a conspiracy to transfer it back to Harrisons. That is why the LSC decided to occupy this land.
When the Land Struggle Committee took over the land and landless families started making huts and clearing the land for cultivation, following the conclusion of the elections on 23rd April evening, next day early morning the district authorities deployed a large police force to throw out the families for vacating the land to give back to the land mafia, Harrison! It was a most shameful act by the CPI(M) led government. It was like Budhdev government in Bengal shooting down people at Singur and Nandigram for providing land for Tata and Salim Group. The leaders comrades, MP Kunjikanaran, party CC member of CPI(ML) Red Star and state secretary of AIKKS, Rajesh Appat, state executive committee member of the party and Manoharan, district secretary of AIKKS were taken away by force under the pretext of holding discussion; but they were arrested and remanded to Vythiri jail. Using brute force all the families including women and children were attacked and forced to flee from the area even abandoning their belongings. Police and forest officers were posted there, threatening the people.
In this situation, the party comrades brought all families together, mobilized them and marched to the district collectorate at Kalpatta, and by evening started a resistance movement for land there. By that time, knowing about the police action, party state secretary com Dasan and many other leading comrades including many democratic forces reached the place and arrangements were made for a protracted movement for land to the landless.
It shows that in spite of the red flag they hold, CPI(M) and its government is not different from the other state governments. The landless people, mostly Adivasis and dalits have no other option but to resist the deployment police to Thomarimala, arrest of their leaders and intensify the movement for land. From 25th April morning onwards leaders of various people’s movements across the state, leaders of Adivasi and dalit organizations and progressive individuals started coming to the struggle centre in front of Kalpatta collectorate and declaring solidarity with the movement. From the Adivasi padis (jhuggies) and other settlements of landless families, people started coming in big numbers always making the struggle centre crowded. The district collector who discussed with the LSC leaders told them that though the landlessness of the Adivasis is known, nothing can be done, as there is no land available to distribute. He was not ready to accept the fact that 5-25 lakh acres of land are illegally held by Harrison, Tata like corporate as established by the government appointed Rajamanikyam Committee report.
The government’s intention to suppress the movement was clear with the way government pleaders took hostile stand to get the bail petitions moved for the three comrades rejected in the magistrate and sessions courts. In this situation, com.MP started hunger strike in the sub jail on 6th May. Within hours the three comrades were shifted to Kannur central jail where MP continued the hunger strike. As he became weak, he was shifted to Kannur district hospital where he was given trip by force. But he continued the hunger strike. Though the bail petition was moved in the High Court, alleging that if they are released they will again lead struggles to occupy the land, on 14th May the HC rejected the bail petition and postponed the hearing to 20th May. The intention of Pinarayi government was clear: to suppress the movement at any cost, including detaining its leaders in Jail!
By this time the land struggle has got good publicity even though the mainstream media is disinterested still. Representatives of Chengara, Parappa like land struggle movements extended support. In Idukki district, inspired by the Towarimala struggle 300 landless plantation workers occupied government surplus land and made huts there. Landless people’s representatives from different districts came and announced their decision to occupy the illegal land held by the corporate forces and mafias as government is not ready to take over them and distribute to landless people. On 14th May a well attended Solidarity Convention was held at Kozhikode, where a resolution was adopted to spread the land struggles at state level as the government is refusing to take over the 5.25 lakh acres of land illegally held by the corporate and mafias and to distribute them to landless families and plantation workers. A state level Solidarity Committee was formed to help the struggle. It appealed com MP to end the hunger strike as the Convention has taken the decision to intensify the movement and as MP’s health condition was deteriorating. On 15th May morning leaders of the Solidarity Committee met com MP and explained the Resolution adopted by the Convention to carry forward the struggle more intensively. Com MP agreed with the proposals of the Convention and called of the hunger strike.
But the relay hunger strike at Kalpetta struggle centre continued. Following the High Court order on 20th May giving bail to the three comrades, they were released from Kannur central jail on 21st May. They were given reception at the jail gate and at Kannur. Later com Manoharan was given reception at Kalpatta, and the relay hunger strike was called off. It was decided to shift the struggle centre later to a place near the Adivasi padis and where it is easier to mobilise the landless families for next phase of struggle to occupy the land.
Meanwhile, comrades MP and Rajesh who are denied permission for five months to go to Wayanad, were given receptions at other places and on 22nd May a march to Thrissur collectorate was organized. Soon the campaign to continue the land struggle in different districts and mobilization of the landless people for occupying the land shall be speeded up.
Extent of Landlessness and Impoverishment of Oppressed in Kerala
The Solidarity Committee has decided to start struggle centre in front of the state secretariat at Thiruvananthapuram, and to start struggle centres in all districts mobilizing all the struggle committees in the region. A glance through the present deplorable condition of the nearly 1.5 million landless families in Kerala, which includes the Adivasis, dalits, plantation workers, fisher people and other most backward sections who are thrown to ghettos where they have no land to even bury their dead shows that this question demands an urgent solution. One should know that Kerala which is marketed for tourism as “Gods own land” and famous for the “Kerala Model of Development” is a hell for the Adivasis, dalits and such other oppressed sections who are landless, in spite of CPI(M) led LDF is coming to power here for every alternate five years for last 4-5 decades and presently LDF is in power!
In Kerala, out of about 35 lakh dalits, 79% are confined to 26,193 colonies without many of the basic amenities. Out of nearly 4 lakh Adivasis, 90 % are landless and are confined to padis or colonies. Thousands survive in jhuggies on road sides or near forest areas. Out of more than 2 lakhs of plantation workers, majority of whose ancestors were brought by force from Tamilnadu during colonial times, live in layams built during pre-1947 days. Once they retire from service, they are thrown out of these ghettos also. The nearly one lakh fisher people are confined to 600 or more colonies spread across the coastal area; many of them landless.
The other side of the picture is that 58% of the revenue land in the state is under illegal occupation of corporate and land mafias like Harrisons and Tatas. Consecutive governments whether it is led by the UDF or LDF refuse to take any action to take over this land as the institutionalized political class belonging to UDF, LDF and NDA are colluding with this mafia. If one has to understand this serious situation, a glance through Kerala’s political history vis-à-vis the land question is necessary.
An Over-View of Land Reforms and Land Struggles in the State
After United Kerala was formed on 1st November, 1956, following the states’ reorganization, the first meeting of the state committee of the undivided CPI declared based on the political line developed by the communist movement through the series of anti-feudal movements waged in the state that if the party is coming to power in next year’s elections it will go for revolutionary land reforms based on “land to the tiller”. In 1957 elections CPI with the support of few independents who won with party’s support got majority and the EMS led CPI ministry was formed. But when it took up the land question, it not only abandoned the “land to the tiller” slogan, it refused to take over the plantations under control of foreign companies like Harrisons Plantations and Kannan Devan (who later handed over to Tatas) or to bring the plantations and the land under the control under the ceiling stipulated in the Land Reforms Bill. Though the tenants who were cultivating the landlords’ land got control over it, the real tillers who were predominantly Adivasis and dalits were not given land for cultivation; these families were given only 10 cents for housing. It was promised that the land found in excess of the ceiling, shall be distributed to the tillers.
When the Land Reforms Act became a reality by 1970, there was 7.25 lakh acres of surplus land. But, in spite of the struggle for the distribution of this land by CPI(M), which was in opposition at that time, hardly one lakh acres were distributed. Out of this the Adivasis and dalits got very little or nothing in many areas. After this period, neither CPI, nor CPI(M) nor any of their LDF partners took up the question of distributing land to the Adivasis and dalits in practice. Like Congress and its UDF partners, they were only giving lip sympathy to it during election time. The Naxalbari Uprising in 1967 and spreading of CPI(ML) influence to Kerala once again put the question of agrarian revolution to the forefront. But in the absence of any mass peasant movement led by it, the land struggle could not be carried forward. Meanwhile, under the “one lakh house scheme” initiated by a CPI minister in 1971 during the CPI- Congress alliance government, the ghettoization of the Adivasis and dalits started, pushing them to so-called settlement colonies.
In early 1990s under the initiative of CPI(ML), a land Struggle Committee was formed under the leadership of Choman Muppan, an Adivasi leader of Wayanad, demanding the implementation of the Adivasi Land Protection Act. By the end of 1990s under the leadership of Adivasi Gothra Mahasabha, an active campaign was launched leading to an agreement with the then UDF government for time bound distribution one acre land to each family. As this was not implemented, the Sabha led the Adivasis and other landless people to occupy Muthanga land in Wayanad in 2003. This struggle was brutally put down by the AK Antony government even falsely alleging Maoist involvement; in police firing one comrade became martyr, and including the leaders many were tortured and jailed.
As the government continued not to implement the agreement of distributing one acre each land to landless families, thousands of landless families occupied the 5000 acres rubber plantation of Harrisons at Chengara in south Kerala, Pathanamthitta district. In spite of many manoeuvres by the LDF government and denying all basic facilities like ration card, drinking water and voter card, these families are still continuing their occupation there. Next year landless people occupied surplus land at Parappa in Kollam district. During these years landless families successfully occupied land at Meppadi in Wayanad and at other places. But whether UDF or LDF, these governments want to restrict the land movement to allotting 3 cents of land! But the pity is that even this bid is so far scuttled by the land mafias and the corrupt bureaucracy along with the elite political class. But the ghettoized Adivasis, dalits and other landless poor have no other option but continue this struggle for survival, for land and livelihood.
How the Online Media Reports the Thowari Mala Land Struggle
Wayanad’s landless Adivasis have been agitating against the delay in the distribution of the promised land for around two decades now. In 2003, rallied by the community organisation Adivasi Gothra Maha Sabha, they occupied the Muthanga Sanctuary. In the violence that erupted when the police tried to evict them, an Adivasi man named Jogi and a policeman were killed. The Adivasi community, though, maintains that 16 of its members were shot dead that day. There are around 8,000 landless Adivasis in Wayanad, said the district’s collector, AR Ajayakumar. “Of them, 3,000 people possess less than five cents of land. The rest are completely landless,” he said.
The Thovarimala occupation has spurred similar agitations by landless Adivasis at 18 other places across Wayanad. Ajayakumar agreed that the agitations reflected “the seriousness of the Adivasi land issue”. He claimed the government was “trying to speed up the distribution process”, but “land scarcity is a major problem”. MK Dasan, Red Star state secretary dismissed the scarcity claim. “The government could have brought legislation to reclaim 5.25 lakh hectares of land that is illegally held by multinational plantation companies,” he argued. “It would have put enough land at the government’s disposal. But successive governments have been scared of touching big business and collaborating with them.”
He warned that “land agitations” would intensify across Kerala if the government failed to find a solution soon. “Thovarimala agitation is just an indication,” he said. “Land struggles will erupt in all Adivasi areas if action is not taken soon.” Adivasi leader CK Janu, who led the 2003 Muthanga agitation, echoed Dasan. She pointed out that the government needed less than three lakh acres to provide land to all landless Adivasis. “It has already identified 11 lakh acres of land for distribution,” she added. “Adivasis will be forced to occupy land if there is no government action.” It was in this situation the Adivasi and other oppressed people’s leaders from across Kerala are met at Kozhikode on May 14 and decided the future course of action.
Thovarimala was owned by Harrisons Malayalam Ltd, a private plantation company, until 1971, when the Kerala Private Forests Act enabled the state to take over private forestland and give it to agricultural labourers for cultivation. The government took a total of 30,046 hectares of land from Harrisons and Poddar Plantations across Kerala, leading to a long legal battle that ended with the Supreme Court approving the state’s decision in 2001. The court, however, gave Harrisons a reprieve by directing that 700 hectares of the acquired land be returned to the plantation company. The government complied with the order but Dasan alleged it was now planning to hand over all of the Thovarimala forest to Harrisons. That is why the Adivasis were forcibly evicted, he said, adding, “The government is working hand in glove with the plantation company.”
‘We Will Continue Our Fight’
For now, though, possessing cultivable land remains a dream for Wayanad’s landless Adivasis. Many of the protestors at the district collectorate said they joined in the agitation after realising they would die without owing a piece of land if they kept quiet. “I live in a hut on five cents of land. I cannot cultivate anything to make a living,” said K Janu, 46, from Perumbadikkunnu Adivasi Colony in Ambalavayal. “I have submitted many applications to the government for land. But nothing has happened so far. I don’t have any option but to join the agitation. I want to own cultivable land before I die.” Janu said around 150 families, including 12 from her colony, took part in the April 21 occupation. “All of us are now staying in the protest tent,” she said. “No one can break our unity.”
Her husband Veliyan, 55, claimed the police used brute force to evict them from the Thovarimala forest. “They kept reminding us about the Muthanga firing,” he added. “They picked protestors randomly, put them in a van and dropped them at different locations. It was done to isolate us. I escaped the arrest by running into rice fields in the valley nearby.” The police have since been raiding their homes and threatening to arrest them for participating in the agitation, Veliyan alleged. “Plainclothesmen have been threatening us to go back home,” he said. “We have been told that the state government would deny us land if we continue participating in the protest.” But they will not give up. “We will continue our fight,” Veliyan said, as his wife nodded in agreement. “We don’t want to die landless.”
Dalit activist Sunny M Kapikad told that government has taken a dispiriting stand in the issue. “Arresting the leaders of protest after calling them for meeting and evicting the Adivasis using force cannot be justified,” The protesting Adivasis are demanding that 104 hectares of vested forest in Thovarimala adjacent to the plantation of Harrisons Malayalam Private Limited, should be distributed to the landless among them. The 104 hectares of land which was in the possession of Harrisons Malayalam was deemed as excess land through the Kerala Land Reforms (Amendment) Act, 1969. “The protestors have raised a demand of two acres for each of the family. But there is a practical difficulty in finding this much land,” Wayanad District Collector AR Ajayakumar told TNM. He also added that the district administration has taken the possible initiatives that it could. “On the first day of their strike in front of the Collectorate itself, we held a meeting. Things have been notified to the government. Now it is up to the state government to decide,” the Collector says.
Meanwhile Dalit activist M Geethanandan told that there was no such practical difficulty in finding land for Adivasis in Wayanad. “To implement the Kerala Private Forests (Vesting and Assignment) Act, 1971, the Madhava Menon Commission was formed. As per the commission report that came out in 1974, it had found assignable and non-assignable land. And we have found that the vested forest in Thovarimala comes under the assignable land,” says Geethanandan. According to activists, the agitations had always remained within the tribal population. “The Adivasi movement has not been taken up by the ‘civil’ society. CPI(ML) heading this agitation of Adivasis is a good sign,” he says.
Western Ghats Protection Committee Backs Landless Tribals
The Co-ordination Committee for Western Ghats Protection has supported the landless Adivasi people in Wayanad who have occupied a land belonging to a plantation company. “It is a lie that the Adivasis have encroached into the forest land. They have occupied the land belonging to Harrisons”, said a statement issued by the Committee. The indigenous people in Wayanad and other parts of the state have been deprived of their land on various pretexts by the government and private entities and individuals leaving them destitutes in their own land. “Protection of environment is not possible without the Adivasis. The land issue of Thovarimala should be resolved by protecting the interests of the Adivasis”, the committee opined.
Inspired by Towarimala Land Struggle, the Movement of the Landless Gets a New Fillip
The State level Solidarity Convention was held at Kozhikode on 14th May in support of the ongoing Thowari Mala land struggle. It called for expanding the land struggle by the landless Adivasis and other sections of people at state level. While the resistance struggle in front of the Kalpatta collectorate by the land Struggle Committee shall be continued, a struggle centre shall be started at Thiruvananthapuram in front of the state secretariat and similar struggle centres shall be started at district level, mobilizing all the people’s committees leading land struggles of the landless families. In order to focus on the expansion of the struggle, and in the context of Kerala High Court postponing the bail petition for the arrested comrades to 20th May, the Solidarity Convention appealed to com. MP Kunjikanaran to end the hunger strike. Following it, com MP ended his hunger strike on 15th May at Kannur district hospital in the presence of Dr Ajoykumar, the chairman of the Solidarity Committee, com PJ James and others.
Addressing the Convention the leaders and representatives of the land struggles at state level including comrades G Gomathi, Ad PA Puran, Dr Ajoykumar, PJ James and many others from different parts of the state explained how the consecutive governments are taking reactionary stand against the distribution of land to the landless families, and how they are protecting the corporates like Harrisons and Tatas and the land mafias who are illegally occupying more than 5.25 lakh acres of land. The Convention called for mobilizing all land struggle movements at state level and launch an all out offensive for fulfilling the demands of the landless families.
It formed a Solidarity Committee with Dr Ajoykumar as chairman and comrades Gomathi, Chitra, Ad PA Pauran, PJ James, MK Dasan and others are members to expand the movement at state level. A number of democrats and intellectuals came out with a statement in support of the struggle.
On 20th May Kerala High Court gave bail to comrades MP, Rajesh and Manoharan and released from Kannur central jail on 21st May. Large number of comrades received them at the jail gate and taken to the border of the Wayanad district, near Vythiri where a reception was arranged, as both MP and Rajesh are denied permission to enter the district for five months. Com Manoharan, whose house is in the district is denied permission to go to Towarimala!
The state level solidarity committee and various organizations who are part of it have declared the decision to spread the land struggles to various districts as the LDF government refuses to take over the illegally held 5.25 lakh acres of revenue land and to distribute it to Adivasis, dalits, other landless and to the plantation workers. Though with the release of the comrades, the relay hunger strike at Kalpatta struggle centre is called off, the struggle centre shall continue with more landless families mobilized every day. Comrades are determined to march forward till the distribution of 2 acres of land to all landless families. n