Our Beloved Comrade Sivaram Never Dies! He Lives Through Us, Inspiring Present and Future Generations!
A tribute to com. Sivaram by KN Ramachandran.
By the time the online PB meeting was held on 5th May evening, Pramila had come out of Covid’s grip, but Sivaram was in ICU. Still he attended the meeting for few minutes. After extending greetings to all comrades he left. Within 4-5 days he was moved to ventilator keeping all of us in anxiety and with the hope that he shall resist and come back. We held the next PB meeting on 28th May evening, postponing it 2-3 times, waiting for his recovery. Meeting ended by 10 pm. As usual I called Shankar, he said no new report from hospital. The shocking news was send by hospital at 11.30pm. Early morning Shankar saw the message, soon called me, our Sivaram is no more. I felt totally exhausted, but recovered, started calling comrades, posting messages in social media. Now all our comrades, fraternal forces and friends are sharing our grief, a great loss not only for our party, but to the communist movement as a whole. For me, it is difficult even to think, he is no more with us, with his boyish smile, and revolutionary enthusiasm.
When I first met him in 1993 at Bangalore he was just 20, just completed his degree. It was a crucial time for the country: after getting Babri Masjid opened for Shila Nyas RSS was on the offensive, when to counter RSS/BJP Rathyatra, Mandal report was published in 1989, followed by Kamandal against Mandal by BJP, formal introduction of neo-liberal, corporatization by Manmohan/Narassimha Rao in 1991, followed by demolition of Babri Masjid by RSS in 1992, Indian politics was entering a new, dangerous phase. TUCI, with 9-10 workers’ organizations, mainly linked to CRs, organized the first demonstration at New Delhi against LPG in 1992. Then a well-attended Democratic Convention against Growing Autocracy was organized by CPI(ML) Red Flag at Thrissur, Kerala, with the participation of prominent all India leaders. In continuation to it a democratic convention was organized at Bangalore with participation of Dr. Balagopal (APCLC) like comrades as main speakers. Sivaram attended it with senior journalist com. Abir Pady from Berhampore. Sivaram spoke only few sentences in the convention, but his revolutionary spirit was evident. I discussed with Abir Pady and Sivaram in the evening, and they invited me to Odisha. During the discussion, com. Sivaram told me that he had participated in the movement of local fisher people aginst allotting Chilka lake to Tatas for prawn breeding. The Aska college where he studied was a center of left politics. Com. Balachader who first joined Liberation and then shifter to New Democracy, Sabyasachi Pandey who joined PWG were his college mates. But Sivaram was not satisfied with the political line of these CR organizations. After our discussions and the conversations with many left intellectuals where I presented our approach to the changes taking place in the imperialist system from colonial to neo-colonial forms of exploitation during the post-Second World War years and the failure of the CR organizations to recognize these developments, we got many friends there.
In 1980s, com. Gananath Patro, like most others in the forefront of the movement against building the Space Centre at Baliapal, proposed were also basically upholding the “Chinese Path’. Dr. Narayan, IIT Kharagpur student, who was trying to organize CPI(ML) inspired by Naxalbari Uprising. Though he joined us for some time. But his work was mainly focused on bringing a cultural paper in Odiya, and among intellectuals. He became inactive after becoming a lecturer in a college near Bhubaneswar. So, we were eager to start work in Odisha, but we had to start from scratch. Pady was very critical of the parliamentary stream, CPI, CPI(M) like parties whom he called “election, collection, corruption” teams. He was also critical against “only armed struggle line”. Our critic of hitherto communist movement, analysis of how neocolonial plunder intensified through neoliberal policies plundering the masses and devastating nature, the need to campaign against impending WTO formation, and our call for developing revolutionary mass line were supported by him. Sivaram was keenly attending the discussion, and raised many questions.
His father was a worker in the sugar factory at Nuva Gaon, in Aska tehsil, where his family is living. He was helping a tuition center, run by a progressive intellectual who was a supporter of Netaji Bose. He had read some of the basic documents of communist movement, and had discussions with CPI leaders of his area. When I met him, already he had an overall understanding about the Marxist- Leninist movement. Though his family wanted him to take up some job, he wanted to join the revolutionary movement. He had read Bhagat Singh’s articles which inspired him. He asked, if Bhagat Singh could join the movement at the age of 16, why can’t he start at 20?
Then our discussion shifted to where he will start working. I had explained how neocolonization have started capitalist transformation of agricultural sector, how crony capitalism was becoming dominant trend, driving millions from villages to urban areas. But the CRs then present in the state, while participating in issue based struggles joining with others, were still sticking to the Lin Biaoist analysis that India is like pre-revolutionary China and should follow the people’s war line. The CPI(M) led Left Front parties with their line of parliamentary cretinism, were continuously weakening. At the same time, the PWG pursuing its anarchist line was active on the borders with AP and Chhattisgarh; its extremely sectarian approach and isolated squad actions like exploding compartment of Kakathiya Express train, killing many passengers, were not winning friends for Marxism. Fighting both right opportunist and ‘left’ sectarian line, how to politicize and mobilize the masses and build a communist party was the challenge.
The socio-cultural, and economic backwardness of Odisha aggravated the problems. Though capitalist relations were entering agriculture, especially in the coastal districts, land concentration in the hands of Puri temple like Matts and big landlords continued. With the introduction of neo-liberal policies, the corporate forces were entering the state in a big way. They were allotted large areas of land for mining and establishing industries. As a result of growing people’ opposition to these policies pursued by hitherto Congress governments, Congress was reduced to 3rd position, BJD and BJP were fighting for power. But they also supported transfer of huge tracts of land to corporate forces. At the same time, Manuvadi Hindutva polarization was taking place fast with RSS increasing its strength. Caste system of the worst sort was dominant. Though the CPI and later CPI and CPI(M) had fairly good influence in many areas till 1960s, their line of economism, almost rejecting the need for socio-cultural changes, not fighting against the Brahmanical Manuvadi RSS doctrine of Hindurashtra weakened them considerably. The CRs who had presence there also failed to address these questions. So, it was not easy even to make an entry in to this complex socio-political and economic situation and build a communist party witch pursues revolutionary mass line. Following the traditional methods of going to the villages and start agrarian movement from scratch, or trade union work where reformist forces are dominating will be impossible. So, let us go for a new experiment.
Abir Pady knew some of the democratic rights and social activists having contacts in the vast Bhubaneswar slums with lakhs of population. So, with Sivaram’s consent, it was decided to start a new experiment by organizing the slum dwellers of Bhubaneswar, staying in Pady’s room to start with. According to this plan, both of us went around, met many of com. Pady’s friends and met many slum dwellers. We found the entry among these slum people is not going to be easy. I told him my experience in Mumbi slums. Almost all political parties, dalit and Adivasi organizations , numerous NGOs and religious/caste organizations are having well entrenched bases. They use political clout, religious/caste identities and giving economic and medical help and relief during the natural calamities, to hold on to their pockets. Anti-social elements also have their dens. Situation is almost here. Only difference is that these are new slums, the vested interests are not so well entrenched.
In our study of the area, we found that the basic needs, the housing right as fundamental one, and no demolition till satisfactory alternative housing were rarely or not raised and fought for. So, our work should mainly focus on it. Within two- three months, Sivaram found that, as soon as possible he should get some space in any big slum, make a shed and shift. But the party had no funds to help. Its funds came only from collection from supporters. We were strongly opposed to money action, or extortion practiced by most of the groups, or even collection from tainted forces. All these problems were explained to him. He liked this method of entirely relying on the masses for funds.
Within months, he be-friended an old slum activist of Salia Sahi from a left party, who joined Sivaram in his activities, and provided place near his house Salia Sahi to Sivaram for building a shed. Sivaram had many friends among the youth in the area already and he was really moving fast. So, next phase of work was planned. . In this manner, within two years he was known in most of the slum areas, Basti Surakha Manch was launched. The first resistance struggle against slum demolition also took place. Women were organized in large numbers and they were in the forefront to beat back the demolition squads with bull dozers. This took more organized form soon. Organization of units of Basti Suraksha Manch and their committees in as many slums as possible was started. A vacant spot was found and an office was started in a shed there. Within 2 years he had gained much confidence and was taking initiative in all fields.
Impressed with the progress of his work, Dr. Narayan who was teaching in a nearby college, with whom we had many round of discussions, gave his contacts in Bhadrak. In Bhadrak and Balasore district to the north, bordering Bengal, once CPI and latter CPI(M) had good influence. But, as they became entirely election focused parties, they got weakened. Still, they were against entry of Naxalites in the area. When our comrades approached the inactive former Naxalite activists and sympathizers, most of them were for ‘armed struggle only line’ though they were not doing anything! Contrary to what Mao taught they were not interested to mobilize the people and make them capable of creating revolution. They were not interested even to discuss how almost all former socialist countries where communists had seized power, including Mao’s China had degenerated from the socialist path and the importance of learning from them. Like the parliamentary stream of communists, they were also thinking socio-cultural changes will follow the revolution automatically, abstract understanding. Nobody had told them about Mao’s call to communists to learn from the negative experience in the former socialist countries, and dare to launch the Cultural revolution along with class struggle for revolutionary change. Sivaram’s theoretical clarity and dedication succeeded to win over many comrades who had left CPI and CPI(M) and it helped to start party building.
At the same time, more attention was given to win over mainly youth and students. But in the absence of comrades who are capable of taking this responsibility apart from him, this difficult task could not gather necessary momentum. During the political campaign in Bhadrak district Com. Pramila and her friends joined the movement and their political campaign inspired more women to join, paving the way for organizing women’s groups. Peasant and agricultural workers were organized. Some students from Bhadrak college also joined us. This offensive helped him to expand the field of activities to not only the slums of Cuttack, but to many districts.
Starting from getting involved in the Chilka movement against handing over the Chilka lake to Tata’s for prawns’ fishery, Sivaram was active in the movements against Kalinga nagar, Vedanta to the movement against corporate POSCO, which gave inspiration to many movements against corporatization of industries and trade at all India level. He was fully active in relief work with all comrades when the Super cyclone devastated most of Odisha’s coastal region. During these relief works, he had a very serious accident. Even before fully recovering from it, he was back in relief work. The cyclone had destroyed lakhs of coconut trees. So, coordinated by the CC a plan to bring two truck loads of coconuts from Kerala, to prepare a temporary nursery near Puri to make coconut saplings and distribute them ws worked out. The Kerala committee organized a campaign to collect the coconuts and the amount needed to take them in trucks to Puri, and when they reached Puri, in some vacant land a nursery was organized to prepare the saplings, and the party committees with the help of relief committees distributed them. It was a successful move, and most of those saplings have become trees giving coconuts. involving the Kerala state committeethe which included getting a truckload of coconuts from Kerala comrades, and supplying coconut shoots to those who lost them in large numbers.
At Bhubaneswar, a former Khurda district secretary of CPI(M) and a senior advocate RBM, who had left it and was inactive for many years, showed interest to discuss with us. Impressed by the dedication and Marxist clarity of Sivaram, he joined the party. Meanwhile some comrades from Puri and Koraput also joined. A party State Organizing Committee was formed. Sivaram attended the 3rd Ali India Conference in 1994 at Raichur, Karnataka, with two more delegates.
In 1996, when the Mumbai visit of WTO chief Arthur Dunkel, who drafted GATT Agreement based on which the WTO was formed, was announced, the party organized a militant Dunkel Go Back march, mobilizing hundreds of RYFI members from different states, along with slum dwellers of Mumbai and party comrades, com. Sivaram led a team of comrades from Odisha to join it. (As a result Dunkel had to cancell the visit). Though we could not use the positive impact it created in Mumbai as we had no consistent, active leadership in the state at that time, it enthused Sivaram immensely and had its good impact in other states also.
He met many intellectuals and the democratic rights activists and it led to long term relations with them. Among them, Adv. Biswapriya Kanungo, is closely associating with the BSM and all other activities even now. As a result of this relation with large number of university professors and other intellectuals, he became part of the environmental and socio-cultural movements He started attending the discussions on various issues in Bhubaneswar and became close to all progressive forces.
It was in 1995 or ‘96, an interesting thing happened. After working with PWG comrades in AILRC, in cultural field and fraternal contacts, and three round of discussion with its top leaders, we found that our differences with it are very serious. It had a static approach to Indian reality. Following it, there was open polemics with it in our organ. Meanwhile, some intellectual belonging to PWG’s network knowing Sivaram’s activities, tried to win over him. When he rejected their line out rightly, may be as a last attempt, he was asked to go to their ‘area’ once and see how their squads are functioning. When he informed me and asked permission, I told him if you know the contact well you can go, but take care.. From what he learned from three weeks stay and travels with the squad, he understood how politically backward they are, and like their theory how their practice is also bankrupt. Party’s approach to such things, allowing him to go and see for himself, increased his confidence in it.
Sivaram’s contribution to the revolutionary movement is that at a time when it is facing a great setback, when the degeneration to right opportunism and pragmatism was taking place at fast pace, when how to develop revolutionary mass line was eluding even those who had accepted mass line after the 1972 disintegration of the CPI(ML) , and when almost all of the ‘educated sections’ around him were ridiculing Marxism as a failed venture, he dared to embrace it, and dared to apply it in the concrete condition of his surroundings. As a result, during the last three decades he could build up a militant mass movement, and party and class/mass organizations to lead it. Though, still it has to cover a lot more distance to influence the politics of Odisha, it has become a continuously growing force, the most active section among all the parties belonging to the broad left spectrum.
By 2000, the Odisha State Committee could expand its influence and membership, and he could lead a strong delegation including comrade Pramila and other young women cadres to the 5th All India Conference of CPI(ML) Red Flag at Raichur. In this conference he was elected to the CC, when he was only 27. In the following years while the slum people’s movement and party was developing, Sivaram had to face two major ideological-political challenges.
In Kerala a rightist deviation was getting strengthened for some time focusing on approach towards CPI(M) and the LDF led by it. When the CC decided to convene the sixth All India Conference at Bangalore, inside the CC and among the members the rightists started a vulgour camapaign. They tried to influence the CC members from other states also, so that they can capture the leadership of the party, by unhealthy means. They targeted Sivaram and tried to win over him to their side. But Sivaram took firm stand against these advocates of social democracy and stood with the leadership.
Again, the Red Flag and CPI(ML) led by Kanu Sanyal merged with the understanding that differences still remaining on some of the basic questions shall be settled in an all India Conference within two years, and to work together at central and state level under a single committee based on consensus, In Odisha, while Sivaram was leading a very active organization led by young comrades, the ‘senior’ leader who was allowed to become secretary and others belonging to KS section started to put pressure on him, either to confuse and weaken him, or to win over a section of our comrades. It was an unhealthy thing against the understanding to work under consensus, and to create a healthy atmosphere for advancing towards the final merger. Sivaram faced this situation with exemplary patience and political maturity; he maintained good personal relations with the ‘senior’ comrades, but defeated all their efforts to weaken him politically or organizationally. As a result, even though we were forced to end the merger, as the KS section went on creating obstacles to implement the joint decision to hold the Conference within two years, even after three and half years, Sivaram could come out of it with increasing support from people in all fields.
From 2009, in expanding the slum people’s movement at state level, in organizing the trade unions and TUCI committee, the peasant movement and activities in all other fields there were further advances. Expect in Kerala where the rightist section were expelled in 2003, at all India level party activities have strengthened. During these 30 years, starting with the formation of RC and then CRC, CPI(ML) in 1979, its reorganization as CPI(ML) Red Flag in 1987, merger with KS led CPI(ML) as CPI(ML) in 2005 at Vijayawada, coming out of it in the beginning of 2009, registering as CPI(ML) Red Star with EC, and making all out efforts for the unity of the CR organizations, from a small group formed with the merger of Kerala committee of CRs with a few CRs from AP, it had grown in to an all India organization searching a new path for revolution according to the fast changing neoliberal concrete conditions, an unprecedented dangerous phase in the history of humanity, at international and national levels. To evaluate this rich experience and to chalk out the way forward, a Special All India Conference was held at Bhopal in November, 2009, which elected a new CC and CEC in which com. Sivaram was also included. When the CC decided to hold the Ninth Congress of the CPI(ML) Red Star in 2011, Sivaram confidently came forward and volunteered to take up the difficult task. The meeting of the ICC of the newly formed ICOR was also held along with it. Both these programs were great success. The 9th Congress elected a new CC and eleven member PB including Sivaram.
In 2001, Sivaram and Pramila decided to become life partners, and the event was organized by the party. Leaders of all parties except BJP and BJD, mass organizations and progressive forces active in all fields, a huge gathering participated in it. The simple way it was conducted inspired all. All leading comrades and friends congratulated Sivaram and Pramila for developing a communist culture not only in the people’s movements, but in personal life also. Soon Pramila developed as the leader of the Basti Surakksha Manch, AIRWO became active, and Gharelu Kamgar Sanghatan was formed. At a time when the communist movement had suffered severe setbacks and the party, trade union movement as well as other mass movements had become stagnant as a result of surrendering to economism, Sivaram took up the challenge of putting the party line explained in the new Party Program, Constitution and Path of Revolution adopted by the th Congress, addressing the new situation in to practice according to Odisha conditions, and successfully carried it forward. Sivaram has given immense enthusiasm to comrades to go forward, making bold experiments and searching for ways to develop revolutionary mass line. As many leaders from different organizations paying tribute to Sivaram after his departure has pointed out, by developing the class struggle in all areas and the challenging task of practicing communist culture both in the party and personal life, he was giving theoretical lessons to all.
A decade after the 2011 Party Congress, he has consolidated and further expanded the struggles and party building . Today if undoubtedly Red Star is the most active communist organization in Odisha, it is not only because of the party line, but because Sivaram relentlessly carried forward the organization building and struggles based on it with full dedication . During this process his family including Pramila and their son Sonu also became part of the party, showing what should be the communist culture. He was active in politicizing the party cadres and mass organization leaders, even trying to transform the workers; families in to communes wherever possible. As a result, in any strike or struggle call at state or central level, Sivaram with the whole organization will be in the forefront to make it a success. Based on party line, he organized many meetings with cultural activists, those who are active for caste annihilation movement, and environmental movement, inviting party leaders as well as intellectuals, scientists from outside to Odisha and launching these movements. Upholding Mao’s call on the need of developing Cultural Revolution as part of class struggle even from the pre-revolution days, to fight against all decadent ideas to create a new revolutionary consciousness among the masses, he initiated many discussions. Based on the call of the party, explaining how RSS could make the Manuvadi, Brahmanical ideas and practice as the dominant culture among the people, helping BJP to continue its rule with increased majority in 2019, he was very much concerned about developing ideological campaigns to combat it. He explained to comrades, that it shows the correctness of Marxist teaching that ‘ideas can become a material force”. When the Modi government is using Jai Sri Ram as its central slogan to polarize the people based on Hindutva concept diverting attention of the masses from all burning issuess, this counter revolutionary advance can be defeated and thrown out only through a very powerful offensive to make Marxism as the leading idea among the people so that it can become the most important material force guiding us.
Recognizing the importance of the struggle for making housing, education, healthcare and employment as fundamental rights, he was active in all these field. When some of the progressive minded took up the question of building a people’s health movement he extended all support to it. Advocating a people’s education system, free, equal, scientific and available for all, he became active in making the campaign of the AIFRTE campaign for it a big success. His presence was felt everywhere. When the Modi rule is intensifying fascist onslaughts, our party committee has become part of the broad anti-fascist movement of all parties except the BJP and BJD. In this way while showing the correctness of the party line through relentless struggles, he was humble, friendly with all, creating a fresh approach to develop the communist movement and the mass people’s movement.
The CPI(ML) Red Star is proud of com. Sivaram for the great work he has done in all fields. He was becoming a model for all to emulate. In 1993 when we went to Bhubaneswar, I was 55 years old, and Sivaram just 20. I wanted to see his reaction when we confront the different forces active in the slums, and the masses. We walked around from morning to evening for a week, and I could see his confident was growing day by day. Sivaram was very emotional. He was really touched while hearing how the bull dozers come and demolish the slums. I left him with the some of the new friends we got during this week with confidence that he will succeed. Now after his untimely departure when he has become a martyr in the valiant struggle against the naked unconcern shown by the Modi government, as well as all those who are in power, to save the people from this horrific pandemic, and destitution due to loss of livelihood for tens of crores, compelling activists like him to plunge in to relief work, exposing themselves to the danger of infection and its consequences.
So how do we see him? He was a dedicated communist, desiring the unity of all communist forces to build a powerful party capable of overthrowing the reactionary ruling system as early as possible and advancing towards people’s democracy and socialism. He was an untiring, relentless fighter till his last day. On 1st May he was active in organizing and addressing May Day programs. Next day, even when he had fever, till evening he was busy, till the time he went to hospital. On 3rd he was in ICU, then Ventilator. I used to console myself, he is a great fighter, he will resist and come out successful! But for once, he failed. This 48 year old young man has done so much, and now it is the responsibility of the party members, cadres in Odisha to get inspired by his revolutionary spirit and march ahead to fulfill the unfinished tasks. That will be the greatest tribute to him. It is not only the party in Odisha, but the entire party should take lessons from his practice, his daringness to make bold experiments and to realize them with determination, to put in to practice the path of revolution according to concrete conditions of India. Sivaram will be with us always inspiring us, as we move forward to revolution. He will be remembered always by the fighting masses of people. The best way to pay tributes to him is to become as untiring and determined like him, and dedicate ourselves to carry forward the tasks of revolution still left unfinished
Our Beloved Comrade Sivaram Never Dies! He Lives Through Us, Inspiring Present and Future Generations! Red Salute to Our beloved Comrade Sivaram.
The theoretical incapacity of standard neoclassical-neoliberal economics in analysing current international economic problems with country-specificities and in formulating appropriate policy prescriptions is not at all a new issue. And, in spite of the presence of innumerable economic research institutions having close proximity with neoliberal regimes, none of them is capable to offer any policy alternative to the irreversible crisis confronting the global economy today. This ideological bankruptcy of neoliberalism is self-evident in the 2020 World Development Report (WDR: Trading for Development in the Age of Global Value Chains) released by World Bank, the premier international body in charge of designing the basic contours of development policy, especially for the so called ‘developing world’.
The core theme of this year’s WDR centres around what is called Global Value Chains (GVCs) defined as “the full range of activities that are required to bring a product from its conception, through its design, its sourced raw materials and intermediate inputs its marketing, its distribution and its support to the final consumer.” Identifying GVCs as the new mantra of development, the World Bank proposes it as the available and affordable path for Afro-Asian-Latin American countries “to boost growth, create better jobs, and reduce poverty provided that developing countries undertake deeper reforms and industrial countries pursue open, predictable polices.” And the advice that is doled out to backward countries for achieving this GVC-led growth path is in conformity with the standard neoliberal prescriptions in coordination with other neoliberal agencies like WTO, MIGA (Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency of the World Bank group) and MNCs. As a whole, WDR unravels a labour-intensive trade-led growth path for developing countries through the setting up of SEZs to be achieved through a whole set of neoliberal policies such as investor-friendly reforms, liberal FDI, tax and labour regimes and other structural reforms.
In fact, much before the World Bank discovery of GVCs, the 2013 UNCTAD Report has also taken up the issue of GVC contribution to development, though in a less enthusiastic way. For UNCTAD which still bears a reformist camouflage, GVC forms only one part of a country’s overall development strategy on account of its several negative impacts such as harmful effects on environment and social condition, global relocation of production by “GVC governors” (a euphemism for MNCs), intensified exploitation of workforce, especially of female workers and other risks. On the other hand, the World Bank being ranged along with IMF and WTO, the other two neocolonial-neoliberal pillars, is very much enthusiastic about the upgrading prospects of GVCs for developing countries on the pattern of the East Asian countries.
However, the most conspicuous aspect in relation to the proposal of GVCs as the new medicine for the economic backwardness of dependent countries is the presentation of the phenomenon as a new-found one. To be precise, internationalisation of production and global assembly lines have been the most prominent trends in international economy for almost half-a-century. Through the invention of a new nomenclature of ‘global value chains’, the World Bank and other neoliberal agencies are simply trying to posit it as a new conceptualisation which is nothing but ‘the old wine in a new bottle’. For the very definition and all the various features that the World Bank (and UNCTAD) includes in its conceptualisation of GVCs have been there since the late 1960s and 1970s. And the new nomenclature of GVC is only to cover up the theoretical failure of neoliberal centres in identifying the issue at the appropriate time.
As a matter of fact, all the features identified by WDR 2020 in the new formulation of GVCs are integrally connected with a fundamental transformation in the global capital accumulation process that yielded the requisite material foundations for envisaging neoliberalism following the advent of the structural crisis called stagflation of the 1970s. It is a pity that neoliberal experts are very late in identifying the emergence of a whole set of new technologies pertaining to production and processing, transportation, information and communication since the late 1960s that immensely facilitated a dislocation and restructuring of the erstwhile centralized and nation-centred basis of production. This started altering the very structural foundations of international economy almost five decades back. The development and refinement of new production and processing technologies enabled MNCs to have a multi-stage decomposition of production and transplant different stages of production to remote global destinations using unskilled labourers who could easily be trained to perform even complex operations. Today the World Bank through its new conceptualisation on GVC is just trying to give a new interpretation as if it is a new thing.
The export-led development trajectory implicit in the formulation of GVCs that WDR 2020 suggests for backward countries is the very same panacea recommended in the 1970s by several agencies like UNIDO (United Nations Industrial Development Organisation) through a revival of the neoclassical slogan of “trade as an engine of growth” (see, for instance, “Redeployment of Industries from Developed to Developing Countries”, unido.org/publications/1979). This was in the context of the collapse of the euphoria associated with international Keynesianism and loss of faith in “import-substitution industrialisation” strategy together with the discrediting of the slogans like ‘welfare state’, ‘state-led development’, ‘public sector’, ‘self-reliance’, etc. in the neocolonially dependent Afro-Asian-Latin American countries. Thus, taking advantage of the emergence of new production technologies and post-Fordist organisation of production, replacing the import-substitution strategy, a new paradigm of “export-oriented industrialisation” was put forward for backward countries.
UNIDO was in the forefront of this neoclassical strategy with the slogan of “trade as an engine of growth”. Poor countries with their inexorable and inexhaustible source of cheap labour were exhorted to fall in line with the ‘new international division of labour’ and ‘global assembly lines’ to move towards an ideal situation of an integrated international economy so that backward economies, with the help of MNCs, could increase production, remove unemployment, boost export earnings, and overcome balance of crisis for ever. The UNIDO even went to the extent of characterising export-oriented industrialisation as a step towards interdependence between the rich and the poor countries, and a hopeful sign that MNCs and developing countries can work together for mutual benefits. Neocolonially dependent countries were asked to skip over the period of protectionist policies of import substitution and to throw open their economies for free trade and uninterrupted flows of both FDI and portfolio capital. As Keynesian illusions came to an end, neoliberal economists pleaded for unhindered entry of MNCs in the EPZs, FTZs, SEZs and similar export enclaves created in dependent countries in view of the possibilities emerging from global relocation of production. Along with imperialist centres, diehard anti-communists and neoclassical economists like Hla Mynt of the London School of Economics came forward advocating a liberal and flexible labour, tax and environmental regime in poor countries for the implementation of this imperialist-dependent new export-led strategy.
The outcome of this super-imposed, cheap labour based, export-oriented strategy was a gruesome situation in the 1980s called “lost decade” manifested through a deplorable impact on the social and human development indicators of Afro-Asian Latin American countries as measured by UN agencies themselves. The ruling regimes of backward countries started building up the economic infrastructures and social overheads for transforming specific regions or even the entire country as cheap “export platforms”. Highways and industrial roads connecting “export zones”, luxurious hotels, golf courses, amusement parks, townships, etc. sprang up forcibly displacing indigenous and aboriginal peoples from their habitat. MNCs, their junior local partners, money spinning speculators, etc. who are in search of making a fast buck flocked to these export zones for the uncontrolled exploitation especially of women and children. Large scale evictions and displacement of people in the name of export oriented industrialization had become a regular feature in all neocolonial countries since the 1980s. The FDI that came in to the processing industries in the export enclaves of ‘developing’ countries did not create any linkage effect in the economy; rather it resulted in an increase in social inequalities and widespread poverty in poor countries.
Ironically, at this critical juncture of the second decade of the 21st century when world economy is in recession, having no worthwhile alternative to put forward, the World Bank in its WDR 2020 is simply reviving this beaten track of export-driven growth in the new garb of “GVCs coordinated across geographies”, in the form of a new thesis. The international fragmentation of production or what is called relocation of production to neocolonially dependent countries aimed at the super-exploitation of the vast majority of low-paid informal/unorganised workforce there that the World Bank now proposes is an already failed project. Outsourcing, division, categorization, and fragmentation of workforce, availability of wide variety of consumer products, market diversification, autonomous profit centres and network systems, etc.—a process that came to be characterized as internationalization of production—all that World Bank explains with new jargons have been there for decades. The much trumpeted “East Asian Miracle” associated with that of “Asian Tigers” that it highlights in WDR has ended up as a tragedy in the past decade itself. Western MNCs and corporate speculators were the gainers of that model.
In this context, the “GVC-driven success of China” that is “delivered by combining competitive costs of production with high technology” (quotes from WDR 2020) that World Bank experts suggest as a model to be emulated by other countries needs a bit clarification. Unlike countries like India that depends on imperialist powers for capital, technology, expertise and policy prescription, after embracing capitalist path since the late 1970s, China transformed itself in to a bureaucratic state monopoly capitalism with Chinese characteristics. As an independent state-capitalist power standing on its own legs eventually transforming itself in to an imperialist power, China could effectively appropriate the gains from the inflow of massive FDI in to the cheap labour-based SEZs that generated around 60 percent of the Chinese GDP by the end of the 1990s. Effectively competing with US imperialism and other Western powers, Chinese monopolies were exporting capital to more than 100 countries (around 130 as of now) by the turn of the 21st century. No doubt, the working class, the peasants and the broad masses pay the price for China’s “success story” which World Bank highlights. All the remnants of erstwhile socialist achievements including the “iron rice bowl” being dismantled, China is subjected to all evils of uneven development associated with neoliberalism. Tens of millions displaced from self-reliant and self-sufficient communes swelling the ranks of the “reserve army” of unemployed provided the badly needed cheapest labour for super-exploitation by both Chinese and foreign capital in flourishing EPZs. Suffice it to say that similar to other neoliberal societies, large sections of Chinese people are also subjected to extreme forms of misery, destitution, corruption, sex trade, cultural degradation and so on. Hence the World Bank appeal towards poor countries to uphold China as an example in making use of GVCs “to boost growth, create better jobs, and reduce poverty” and “to catch up with richer countries” is only a pipedream and quite irrelevant to the context.
On the other hand, being the core neo-colonial institution (World Bank-IMF-WTO trio together) still controlled by US, the supreme global arbiter, World Bank is duty-bound to act as a facilitator of capital accumulation at a time when world economy is in an irreversible crisis. Through the misnomer of GVCs, the World Bank through its regional subsidiaries like the Asian Development Bank, African Development Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, etc. is working overtime to facilitate the large-scale transplantation of “global assembly lines” of production and trade controlled by MNCs to dependent cheap labour economies. Under the cover of expert opinions and through policy guidelines, pliable regimes are manipulated to super-impose pro-corporate laws pertaining to ease of doing business, flexible labour, environmental and tax regulations and similar other investor-friendly measures required for eliminating “local obstacles” for the refashioned operations and globalised capital streams of MNCs under the garb of GVCs. But instead of any improvement in the living conditions, the masses are increasingly subjected to extreme forms of deprivation, plunder inequality and poverty everywhere. In brief, the academic prognosis on GVCs now put forward By World Bank, rather than contributing anything in the direction of uplifting the broad masses of people, will be another tool in the hands of neoliberal experts and policy makers obstructing any efforts towards a pro-people development that is sustainable in the long run.