Tuesday 22nd April. On Monday night the world lost a brilliant and dedicated political activist, people’s movement leader and socialist thinker. Sunil Gupta, better known as Sunilbhai was the general secretary of the Samajwadi Jan Parishad (the Socialist People’s Council), a political party founded by the deeply respected socialist Kishen Pattnayak, and dedicated to supporting people’s struggles across India. As a political activist and people’s economist Sunil succeeded in sustaining the movement of the Adivasis, Dalits and other oppressed caste people’s movement for 32 years from 1984 till his untimely death in 2014.
Sunilbhai trained as an Economist from Jawaharlal Nehru University, but rather than follow a career in the city, settled in the remote Keshla village of Hoshangabad district, Madhya Pradesh in 1984, and organised the locals against oppression under the banner of Kisan Adivasi Sangathan (KAS). He was associated with Samata Yuba Jan Sabha, Samata Sangatahan and Samajwadi Jan Parishad since its inception in 1995.
A pamphlet written by Sunilbhai
He rose to prominence leading agitations for rehabilitation of Tawa Dam oustees in 1995 and established India’s most successful adivasi fishing cooperative in the Tawa Dam area. 44 tribal villages were displaced by the Tawa dam, and another 34 by an Army Proof Range Establishment and ordnance factory. Sunil organised them in a struggle for rights and proper rehabilitation, coordinating rallies dharnas and chakka jams which demanded that the fishing rights in the reservoir be given to the displaced tribals. Finally the Madhya Pradesh government conceded the demand and the Tawa Matsya Sangh (Tawa Fishermen Cooperative) was formed in 1996 with the right to fishing and marketing its product for five years. It was later broken up when the catchment area was absorbed by the Satpura Tiger Reserve.
Sunil was a mentor for many activists, some of whom have become prominent socialist lawyers and politicians. Sunilbhai will be deeply missed by his family, friends, colleagues and comrades, and by the thousands of farmers, fishermen and Dalits whom he worked tirelessly in service of.
Please see films of his speeches and interviews below
and read his dedication in the Hindu newspaper and on Anaarkali blog.
One of his articles on the ‘Socialism of the New Century’ is copied below.
INTERVIEWS and SPEECHES
People’s movement song with Sunil’s interview and images
On Globalisation and some of the Madhya Pradesh social movements led by Sunilbhai
on Tawa fishermans cooperative, set up by himself and others
on Bhaboot Singh and India’s forest policy
1hr speech in Hindi on the economic crisis, 2013
Videshi mudra ka phulta gubara : Asaliayat, khatre, ghotale.
(The foreign exchange bubble: Reality, dangers, scams).
2004, Samajwadi Jan Parishad, Varanasi. Art: Salam Khan.
Sunil bhai wrote this pamphlet in Hindi so that it will be read by many who can know how the elites of India have already sold their soul to the global capitalist forces. Arthur Dunkel took an active part in the Uruguay Round Negotiations of the GATT. As director-general of General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade his contribution to these negotiations was vital. When negotiations had passed the deadline and no agreement had emerged he took initiative in his own hands compiling the ‘Dunkel Draft’ in December 1991. The draft put together the results of negotiations and provided an arbitrated solution to issues on which negotiators failed to agree. Even though the United States and India continued to bargain for changes to the Dunkel Draft, only minor amendments were made in the sphere of agriculture. The Dunkel Draft was accepted and became the foundation of the World Trade Organisation.
Socialism of the New Century
Sunilbhai wrote this for a special issue of Janata weekly. The essay is an important statement from one of the leading activist-theorists of the socialist movement (i.e. non-Marxist socialism) which does not simply disavow the marxist legacy but engages with that experience as an essential component of socialist practice.
The tussle between capitalism and socialism as alternative visions of human society is not yet over. It is like the old fable of the race between a hare and a tortoise. At times one seems to be the winner. At other times the other seems to be leading. Capitalism is like the hare of the story. It looks fast, impressive and dynamic but after some time it is tired and resting with its own contradictions. In the end, we know, it is the tortoise of socialism which will prevail. But that end is yet to be arrived at.
Capitalism looked supreme and unchallengeable in the latter decades of the past century. With the disintegration of USSR, reverting of China, Vietnam and many other communist countries to the path of capitalism, and downfall of social democracy in Europe, there was no challenge to capitalism. Thus ‘end of history’ was arrogantly announced. Market fundamentalism of Reagan and Thatcher varieties started ruling over the world. But soon many crises arrived. Ecological crisis with the dangers of climate change and global warming on the one hand, and the global financial crisis with the worst recession since the thirties on the other, shook the faith in the supremacy and immortality of capitalist civilization. Added to these were the growing crises of hunger, malnutrition, homelessness, violence and war. The number of hungry people in the world kept growing and crossed the figure of 100 cores in the first decade of the twenty first century i.e. every sixth person on the earth today remain underfed and starved. This is perhaps the biggest and the most glaring failure of capitalism. Even after more than two centuries of the industrial revolution and miraculous progress of science and technology, it is unable to fulfill even the most basic need of the humankind.
The twenty first century therefore started with new doubts about the supremacy, desirability and invincibility of capitalism. Search of alternatives began with new vigor. The word ‘socialism’ once again gained currency and became a talking point. But what kind of socialism? What does it mean? How is it different from what was experimented with in the last century which apparently failed? There seems to be a lot of confusion.
In a way, we who want to change the world for a better tomorrow are more fortunate than our predecessors in the last century. We have a longer history of capitalism before us to understand its functioning better. We also have the experiences of communist–socialist experiments of the last century to learn from them. What are the main lessons? How do we look at them and analyze them? Are we wiser and clearer now? Do we have better insights now?
Observations and Lessons from the Twentieth Century
We may note certain developments and lessons of the last century.
1. Capitalism did not transform the whole world in the way its supporters claimed and even Marx expected. Rather, it transformed the different parts of the world in different ways. To some, it brought prosperity, luxuries and high levels of consumption. To others, it has brought misery, hunger, poverty and unemployment. Capitalism has been kind and benevolent to one set of people but discriminating and destructive to another. The adverse effects of capitalism in large parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America did not prove to be transitional as expected, but have persisted, continued and deepened. The industrial revolution that took place in Western Europe and later in North America and Japan could not be repeated in other parts of the world. Even where the state actively helped and planned industrialiasation could not take place to the extent of involving and employing a significant proportion of the population. That is true for USSR, China and India also. Even Marx was wrong when he saw in Western Europe the future mirror image of the rest of the world.
2. Revolution took place not in the most industrialized and capitalistically most developed countries of western Europe as was predicted by Marx, but in the countries that were relatively backward ( in capitalist sense ) and less industrialized. In countries like China, there was almost no industrial working class and it was totally a peasant revolution. This put a question mark on Marx’s expectation and prediction that industrial workers will be the ‘proletariat’ and the vanguard of the revolution.
3. Trade Unions of organized / industrial workers everywhere developed a kind of economism and lost revolutionary zeal and urge for radical change. In the setting of most of the developing countries, their wages and salaries were much more than the rest of the population. They felt privileged and did not identify themselves with the poor masses. A kind of ‘Labour aristocracy’ gradually developed in both rich and poor countries. The call of Marx and Engels for the workers of the world to unite did not materialize. It has to be redefined and reformulated in the new context.
4. Dictatorship of proletariat proved to be a misleading and dangerous concept that ultimately helped anti-socialist and opportunist elements. It arose from the mistaken belief that only industrial workers are capable of leading the revolution. Other sections of population such as peasants and artisans, not fully separated from their means of production, may have anti-revolutionary tendencies and at times may need to be disciplined to fall in line. This led to the enormous atrocities and repression on Russian peasantry in Stalin era. Such dictatorship and centralization of power was also necessary for the kind of industrialization (and military build up) the Soviet and Chinese rulers wanted to achieve requiring enormous level of capital accumulation and mobilization of resources. Another point to be noted is that violent revolutions have always led to some kind of dictatorship. Democracy could not be established after them.
5. Private ownership of property was considered to be at the root of the evils of capitalism. But abolition of private property in communist countries did not do the (expected) trick. It was not sufficient for establishment of an egalitarian socialist society. One,there remained an attraction in the minds of the rulers for the kind of development achieved in western capitalist societies, and an attraction in the minds of the people for its consumerist life style. This proved to be a major source of weakness of communist regimes. The institution of property was abolished, but not the‘Moha’ or attachment to the property and consumerism. Two, new hierarchies developed and the old ones (such as patriarchy) persisted. A surprising level of ethnic conflicts also emerged.
6. The various experiments of social democracy in Europe, or mixed economy in countries like India, did not prove sustainable and suffered from many contradictions. A ‘welfare state’ without radically altering the basic structure of society and economy may not solve the problems and may not sustain for a long time.
7. The so-called ‘free trade’, attempts of industrialization and ‘export led growth’ in what are called ‘emerging economies’ such as China and India have brought new conflicts and crises. Many of them, at local, national and international level, relate to ‘Jal-Jungle-Jamin’ or minerals. In fact, for some time, natural resources have come to the centre stage. Major conflicts of the world relate to them. The impasse at WTO, for example, is mainly related to agriculture, a nature linked economic activity. Oil and natural gas are behind the war in Iraq, Afghanistan and threat to Iran. Peasant movements, movements against displacements, conflicts over land, water, oil and minerals etc. today make more news than workers’ strikes. Ecological problems of global warming and pollution are only one dimension of this crisis. Another equally important dimension (but ignored in the West-dominated discourse) is the continuous aggression against the people whose lives are still intimately linked to nature.
8. Imperialism did not come to an end with the independence of colonies after the Second World War. Rather it continued in neo-colonial forms through trade, aid and MNCs. International Monetary Fund, World Bank, Asian Development Bank (and similar banks for different continents), World Trade Organization etc. actively promote, help and sustain this imperialist unequal world order. It is also effectively helped by the military power of USA and its allied countries. The USSR and China also tried, though not very successfully, to imitate the imperialist military ways of USA.
9. Globalization is another phase of this imperialism. It is another name for removing all restrictions, and enhancing command of capital over resources of the world. Capitalism has an unending and ever-increasing lust for exploiting labour and extracting natural resources at world level. It cannot survive without that. The globalization of finance is just another mechanism of fulfilling their lust. The latest financial crisis of capitalism should be seen in this perspective. It is wrong to regard it essentially an internal crisis of USA and industrial capitalist camp, as some Marxist scholars have tried to do. (See for example, John Bellamy Foster and Fred Magdoff, ‘The Great Financial Crisis: Causes and Consequences’, Monthly Review Press, 2009).
10. The latest experiments of socialism are from Latin America which do not fit orthodox framework of the left. They have not abolished private property nor have they driven out MNCs. But they have attempted redistribution of land, tried to cut MNCs and big business to size, and increased state control of national resources and strategic industries. These regimes have come in conflict with organized sector workers and established trade unions, and have relied more on the support of poor people belonging to the informal sector. They have focused on providing social services (education, health, ration etc.) to poor people and increased state budget significantly for them. They have opted for democracy and have successfully mobilized popular support for their reforms. Important experiments of local councils and workers’ management are also going on there. They have tense relations with USA. Natural resources, again, are at the root of this conflict and a rich endowment of oil, natural gas or minerals has proved a source of strength for them. An important development to note is about Cuba which has been forced, after the disintegration of USSR, to change its approach to modern technology and development. It has gone back from chemical to organic cultivation and from tractors to bullocks. This change has helped it in reducing its dependency and achieving self-sufficiency in food.
Analytical Implications and Insights
The purpose of outlining these events, developments, tendencies and lessons is not just to prepare a list of them. It will be a futile exercise if we do not link, interconnect and integrate them in order to analyse them and enhance our theoretical understanding of capitalism and its possible alternatives. We have to see how they reflect on the existing theories and assumptions and what corrections are needed. Some of them were already hinted by various thinkers such as Gandhi, Lohia, Rosa Luxemburg, Andre Gunder Frank etc. and lately re-emphasized by Indian socialist thinkers like Sachchidanand Sinha, Kishen Pattanayak and Bagaram Tulpule. They are further confirmed by later developments. A new vision of socialism in the twenty first century can only be based on such an analysis and updating of our understanding.
One: One important source of misunderstanding has been the single minded focus on exploitation of workers in factories by their capitalist owners and regarding it as the main (or the only) source of surplus value. It was like Arjuna of Mahabharat who focused only on the target of bird’s eye and did not see anything else. But the real dynamics of capitalism was never so simple. Another major source of surplus value, as pointed out by Lohia, has been the exploitation of colonial workers and peasants. Because of this exploitation, the workers of industrialized countries could get a share of it, albeit a small one and it became possible to postpone the conflict between workers and capitalists there indefinitely. Hence revolution did not take place there. This is also the factor behind labour aristocracy. Of course, Marx did take note of colonial plunder and loot and dwelt upon it in detail, but he did not integrate it into his analysis. It was like an after-effect of capitalism for him and not an integral and necessary element of it. One of his followers, Rosa Luxemburg, tried to draw attention towards this lacuna, but she remained mostly neglected and sidelined in the Marxist circles. Many of the Marx’s followers (like Paul Sweezy) still stick to this position that the main dynamic of capitalism is exploitation of workers within the capitalist society. But some Marxist economists from periphery like Andre Gunder Frank have, of course, challenged this orthodoxy.
Two: Another important source of surplus value and capital accumulation is nature, again noted by Marx but not given importance. From the beginning, the edifice of capitalism has been built on large scale loot and destruction of nature and natural resources. Displacement and deprivation of people whose life are linked with nature has accompanied it from the beginning. Marx noted it, but, alas, called it ‘primitive accumulation of capital’. But the adjective ‘primitive’ is misleading. The process has been continuously going out throughout the history of capitalism, in one form or the other, in one or the other parts of the world. It is not primitive or preliminary. It is still going on. Capitalism has fed on it. It cannot grow or survive without it. Some scholars have also pointed out that various forms of rent, and not profit, have been the main forms of surplus extraction in the history of capitalism (See Pranab Kanti Basu ‘Political Economy of Land Grab’. EPW, vol. XLII, no. 14, 2007). Elements of force, barbarism, domination and state supported monopoly have always been present behind the façade of the market.
The role of nature has also been neglected in the ‘labour theory of value’ propounded by Marx. While this theory rightly emphasized the role of labour in creation of value and wealth, it does not account for the contribution of nature. In fact, the present ecological crisis cannot be explained by sticking to labour theory of value.
Three: There are other forms of exploitation and hegemony such as patriarchy, race, Indian caste system, which jointly work with class and colonial exploitation. It was expected by both liberals and Marxists that Indian caste system, being a feudal institution, would gradually decline and die with the growth of capitalism, industrialization and modernization. It did not. Caste, class and patriarchy are interwoven and strengthen each other. It is erroneous to regard one of them as primary contradiction and others as ‘superstructure’. All have to be fought jointly and simultaneously. Moreover, blindly applying categories of European history (such as feudalism) to the rest of the world may lead to misplaced assumptions, expectations and conclusions.
Four: Imperialism is not the last and the highest stage of capitalism as professed by Lenin. It is rather the first stage and an essential ingredient for the development of capitalism. Modern capitalist industrialization did not and cannot take place at any significant level without colonial or neo-colonial exploitation. Therefore, the option of modern industrialization is closed today for poor countries, unless one tries to build its own empire as China is currently trying to do.
It is futile to follow a similar path of industrialization and development in the non-industrial world. It will bring its own contradictions and crises. Colonial exploitation is so fundamental to modern industrialization that attempts to bring it about without external colonies have landed up creating internal colonies. But even they are not sufficient for it. It requires colonial or neo-colonial exploitation at global level, or at least a share of it. Internal colonies could sustain only a limited industrialization creating a few islands of development and prosperity in the vast ocean of poverty, misery and unemployment.
Industrial colonies can be of various kinds and are not necessarily geographical – backward and tribal regions, the countryside, agricultural sector, other primary sectors, the informal sector etc. Their relationship to the modern-urban-industrial sector of the economy is essentially a colonial one. The fact and concept of internal colony is also helpful in understanding many regional, ethnic and tribal conflicts of today.
This mutually reinforcing relationship between capitalism and colonialism-imperialism also implies that capitalism cannot grow (and cannot be looked at) in isolation within the boundaries of a single country. To use the phrase of Gunder Frank, ‘development’ in one part of the world is necessary linked to the ‘underdevelopment’ in large parts of the world. No underdeveloped country at the periphery can really develop unless it breaks away and frees itself from this capitalist-imperialist relationship.
Five: Modern economics teaches us that what is required for industrialization is capital and technology. Sometimes entrepreneurship is also added as a factor. It is argued that poor countries are lacking them and therefore they remain backward. Invitation to foreign capital and technology transfer will remove this lacuna. But the actual history showed that even that could not help many countries in transforming into industrial societies. Now, with growing conflicts, we get to know the industrialization also requires land, water, minerals and energy on a large scale. Such requirements and conflicts were earlier unnoticed because the adverse effects were outside the industrializing countries. The link was remote and not clear.
Actually, modern industrialization requires several things – (1) supply of raw materials at cheap rates, (2) large scale natural resources (land, water,
minerals, energy etc), free or at throw away price,(3) cheap food grain to keep the wages low, (4) cheap labour, (5) huge capital created by earlier exploitation and transfer of resources and (6) a large and growing market for its products. Many of these requirements go beyond the borders of a country. They are never fully met through pure market mechanism, though keeping terms of trade in favor of industries can be regarded as one. They are actually facilitated, subsidized and supported by the state, at times even police and military power. Displacing peasantry or other primary producers, as noted by Marx in the context of Enclosure movement in England of 16th and 17th century, serves two functions in the interest of industries. It makes land and raw material available on one hand, and provides cheap labour by creating reserve army of unemployed labour on the other. It is for these reasons that modern industrialization is necessarily linked to colonial (or neo-colonial or internal colonial) domination and exploitation.
Six: Modern industries are often justified, supported and promoted in the name of generating employment and removing unemployment. Followers of various political and ideological streams (except Gandhians and a few Lohiaites) have been holding this faith in modern industrialization. A model presented half a century ago by a western economist Arthur W. Lewis still dominates the economic discourse, which assumed that modern industrial sector will develop and absorb the surplus labour in agriculture. But this model ignores the historical fact that this surplus labour (i.e. unemployment) was precisely created by de-industrialization and destruction of traditional livelihood to support modern industries in other parts of the country or the world. Net effect of modern industries is not to create, but to destroy employment. It is more visible now with increasing mechanization, automation and modernization of industries.
It should also be noted that even industrial revolution did not solve the employment problem in Western Europe of those days. It was basically solved by large scale migration to the ‘new world’ and the other colonies. In India also, more than five decades of industrialization has been able to provide formal employment to not more than six percent of workforce of the country. How long will it take to provide respectable employment in industries to any significant proportion of the population? Isn’t it a mirage? Isn’t it a case of modern superstition?
Seven: A similar kind of blind faith is exhibited in case of technology. It is assumed that the technologies developed in western capitalist countries are suitable for the whole world, and everyone has to necessarily imitate and adopt them. Some kind of divineness and universality seems to be attached to modern technology and industrialization. Every country has to first go through capitalism and western kind of development. That will develop ‘productive forces’ and then only, it is argued, a transition to socialism can take place. (In this sense, development of capitalism was seen as a progressive event taking the country forward in the history). No one can bypass this stage. Even if countries like Russia and China have opted for communism, they have to go through the similar kind of industrialization. History of the rest of the world has to necessarily go the European way. A kind of historical determinism is behind this absurd, but persisting, faith. It is high time that it is reviewed, re-examined and corrected.
Eight: It is this kind of obsession with modern (western) technology, modern industrialization and modern development and its contradictions with equality and other socialist ideals that is mainly responsible for the failure of soviet and Chinese experiments of socialism. Most of the commentators have focused on and highlighted the fact of dictatorship, regimentation, development of ‘new class’ of bureaucrats, managers and party bosses etc. But these were not the fundamental reasons. They were only symptoms and by-product of a deeper disease that is, obsession with modern development and modern life style. But that could not be achieved without depressing and exploiting large sections of the population. Hence came Stalinism. Lakhs of Russian peasants – the partners of revolution till the previous day – were killed, evicted, tortured and sent to Siberia or forced work in mines, railways or factories because they resisted forced levy of their products at low prices. Such tragedies are inherent in modern development, whether it is a capitalist or a communist system. Alienation of workers, hierarchy and centralization of power are also inherent in modern industrial society. Any attempt to remove these evils has to look for alternative kind of industrialization and development.
Nine: Democracy and socialism are inseparable and complimentary to each other. One is incomplete without the other. The phrase ‘democratic socialism” is a bit odd and the adjective is redundant, because there can not be an undemocratic socialism. Democracy is implied and necessary for any real socialism and vice versa. Perhaps it is used to differentiate and distance oneself from the communist regimes of USSR and China. But, as is clear now, they turned out to be neither socialist nor democratic.
Ten: An important element to make democracy and socialism real is decentralization of power, both in economic and political spheres. Small is not only beautiful, it is the only equitable, feasible and sustainable form of economic activity for a socialist society. To make democracy meaningful, it has to be brought to the grassroots, closer to the people, facilitating their active participation and empowerment. It should not be confused with the presentPanchayati Raj in India, which is actually an extension of bureaucracy raj without curtailing the power of those at the top in any significant way.
It is also necessary to stress on self – reliance and localization for breaking away from the chains of imperial – colonial process at various levels. A respect for diversity (diverse cultures, languages, traditions and religions as well as bio–diversity ) is also a must for building a better world.
Eleven: Unlimited growth, unending wants, high level of consumption and labour–less luxurious life style are some of the goals that have been idealized, glamorized and glorified by modern civilization. Private capitalists and corporations have promoted them through consumerist culture to boost their sales and profits. But even the communist rulers and intellectuals did not question these goals. There are at least three problems with them. One, this high consumption level cannot be available to the whole humanity. Rather it has been accompanied by growing disparity and deprivation of the masses. Two,even where available and achievable , it has not made the life and society happier and healthier. It has brought its own distortions and social crises.Three, it has brought the ecology and environment of the earth to the brink of disaster. The whole earth, for the first time, has become vulnerable for the luxuries of a few. It is estimated that if the whole population of the world is to achieve the US standard of life, we shall need at least five earths.
Twelve: While the debate of violence v/s non violence is never-ending (it has become more a matter of faith than logic based on actual experience), it is a historical fact that long armed struggles, it successful, lead to centralized dictatorial regimes. It is natural because they have to organize themselves on military pattern where there is no scope for debate and differences. They are always amidst a war where obeying the commander without questioning is necessary. As Gandhi pointed out, means start influencing and determining the ends. Thus, democratic and broadly non-violent means suit the goal of socialism, although one should guard against co-option and dilution. The worlds of ‘radical’ and ‘violent’ should not be confused. Non-violent movements can also be quite radical and revolutionary.
New Face of Socialism
With these observations and lessons from history, we can be now surer and confident about how the Socialism will look like in the new century. It will certainly be not like state capitalism of USSR. No one would like to repeat the mistakes and horrors of the Stalin era. Nor will it be like ‘market socialism’ of Chinese variety, where socialist principles have disappeared and what has remained is a total subservience to world market added by one of the worst dictatorships of modern times. It will also not be the social democracy of Europe that has little relevance for the poor underdeveloped part of the world. Socialism cannot also be equated to mere nationalization and establishment of public sector in an otherwise capitalist setup, as we have seen its limitation and failure in India.
Most of the leftists today reject all these past models of socialism, but they are not sure of what really ailed them? They are also not sure of what is the alternative path. There is a lot of discussion on forms of ownership and management. It is indeed important. But little attention is paid to the question of scale, technology, life style and development model, which have emerged as crucial factors. (See, for example , a recent book by Michael A. Lebowitz, ‘Build it Now : Socialism for the 21st Century’, Monthly Review Press, 2006 or a background note by Abhay Shukla prepared for a meeting on ‘Socialism in the 21st Century’, at Nagpur, in the last week of July 2010). The colonial question (with neo-colonial and internal colonial forms) also remains neglected and under-emphasized, and its full implications are not recognized.
It is clear now that socialism can be built only on an alternative model of development. We need radically different and alternative kind of industries, technology, life style and values than what have historically developed under capitalism. Small units, labor-intensive techniques, alternative energy, local management, respect for diversity and harmony with nature will be important elements of this development.
The state of neglect and exploitation of agriculture and other primary sector activities should be reversed. Assisted by nature, they are the activities that really produce and create values. Industries only reshape and reform them. Services only circulate and redistribute the values created by agriculture and industry. But, while giving prime place to primary activities, we need vibrant industries too. The present state of total dominance of (and dependence on) agriculture in village life is, in fact, a distortion. It is a colonial legacy, continued after independence and intensifiedfurther. A significant part of the village population has to be diverted to industries. But those industries will be small unit, labour-intensive and mainly village based. Villages and small towns have to be again made centre of development. Mega-cities with large slums are unmanageable and unsustainable. Some of the highly developed urban civilizations like Indus Valley and Maya could not sustain themselves and disappeared. If we want to avoid the same fate, a kind of de-urbanisation has to be planned and promoted by providing employment, prosperity and basic facilities to villages.
Dalit and women activists may not agree. They have a legitimate fear that they will never find an equal and respectable place in traditional village life. But then what is the option? Even after six decades of independence and planned development, large member of Dalits live in villages. In the cities, they are confined to slums. If we leave out reservations in jobs, which in any case can lift only a very small proportion of Dalit population and which are also now shrinking due to privatization, the place for Dalits in cities is only in slums and ill-paid informal jobs. At the time of independence, there were a number of factories in cities employing tens of thousands of workers such as textile mills of Mumbai. There was a hope that they would grow in number and Dalits and Shudras would get jobs in them and also a more egalitarian space. But even those hopes are shattered now. With growing mechanization, now there is no hope for providing respectable employment to Dalits and OBC in any significant number. There is no alternative but to struggle to transform the village society. Had Ambedkar been alive today, he would have perhaps reconsidered his call to Dalits to leave village. He would have certainly opposed the modern development and globalization which has destroyed village industry, handicrafts and traditional livelihoods affecting Dalits and Shudras the most.
Moreover, village in a socialist society will not be the same traditional village. Struggle to build a new society may get it transformed with less hierarchy, more equality and more freedom.
Each village and its Gram Sabha should be given autonomy and full powers to run the village administration and decide about their daily life matters including ‘Jal-Jungle-Jamin’, but adequate legal protection of civil liberties and fundamental rights of every resident including those belonging to weaker sections should be ensured. Most of the powers of central and state governments should be transferred to a district level elected government along with village and town councils. State will perhaps never wither away, but it can be radically decentralized, democratized, cut to size, and brought closer to people. Direct democracy should replace present indirect and incomplete democracy in India whose failures are too apparent to be ignored.
The dilemma of public v/s. private sector cannot be resolved without reference to the question of model of development. There is a third alternative of ‘people’s sector’ meaning ownership and management by community, but that is possible only when the structure of economy is decentralized and the forces of consumerism (promoting greed and individualism) are effectively banned. (1) If there are very few large units and the economy is mostly dominated by cottage, mini and small units of industries and services, they can be allowed to remain in private hands with strict discouragement to the tendencies of concentration and monopoly. An upper limit can be fixed to income, salaries, wealth and property as is done in India in case of agricultural landholding. There will be certainly no place for MNCs and big corporations and their harmful advertisements in a new society. Large units, if unavoidable, can be managed by workers with society retaining overall control. We can learn a lot in this matter from ongoing experiments of co-management and co-operation in Latin America. (2) In case of agriculture, collective farms and state ownership of land is not advisable but cooperation in various forms is. Collective use and ownership of natural resources (other than land) should be promoted, and we can learn from already existing (but now threatened) traditional forms of them. Absentee land ownership should be banned and ‘land to the tiller’ should be the norm. It should be noted that equal distribution of agricultural land among all rural families in India would be a foolish act making landholdings very small and uneconomic. (It may be a different case in other countries where population density is low and there are big landlords owning thousands of acres of land). Existing inequality in Indian countryside, conflicts over land, and the problem of high attachment to land can be removed and resolved only by industrializing the countryside and diverting a significant part of rural population to non-agricultural occupations.
After the experience of communism, we may not completely do away with market. It is also not necessary. Market may remain, but its powers should be taken away. It should serve as a servant of the society, and not the master. It should be controlled and guided in the interest of society. Markets should be more localized, competitive and equal. The poor countries of the world have to certainly break away from the present chain of international trade, investment and finance which is unequal, dominating, exploiting, crises-creating and a tool of imperialism. Trade and cooperation among the poor countries is preferable. ‘Exchange among the equals’ should be the guideline.
But there should be no market and no business of certain things like water, education and health. Allowing market for them means limiting access to them to the rich and denying the poor. It is inhuman and barbaric. Even if we allow a limited inequality of income (Lohia suggested that the ratio of maximum to minimum income should not be more than 10:1), there should be no discrimination in case of education, health, food, nutrition etc. A minimum of basic necessities should be ensured for everyone. Society and the state (including local governments) have to take up that responsibility. Cuba can be a modal for this. It has the best health service in the world, completely funded by the state. If a low-income, tiny island nation can do it, why not other countries?
If there are multiple sources of domination and exploitation in a capitalist system, the struggle against it also has to be fought by heterogeneous and diverse forces jointly. Unorganized and informal workers, peasants, artisans, fisherman, cattle growers, tribals, Dalits, coloured people, women, hawkers, displaced communities and such other victims of the system have to combine and fight together. It is not easy, but there is no other way. Because of this diversity and heterogeneity also, the struggle has to be democratic, participatory, non-dominating, broadly non-violent and with a collective leadership.
These are some of the broad principles, guidelines and hints for building a socialist society in the new century which emerge from the past experience. All details need not be chalked out in advance and should be left to the people to decide in the course of the struggle and construction.
‘Liberty, equality and fraternity’ were the ideals of French Revolution which inspired revolutionaries for last two centuries. Now in the twenty first century, other principles of decentralization, diversity, self-reliance, simple life and non-violence have to be added to them. And that will define the socialism of the new century.