In an article in the Business Standard a couple of months ago, economic commentator T N Ninan pointed to some of the important emerging trends in the Indian economy, what he called the “mega trends”. In his words, these trends deserve to be called “mega trends” because they “cannot easily be reversed, have large ripple effects, and … therefore will define the future”. While these “mega trends” are important for throwing up interesting empirical regularities, these can be equally well, if not better, understood within a Marxist paradigm, a paradigm built on looking at reality from the perspective of labour. Adopting the perspective of labour is important for another reason: it allows us to see the incompleteness, the one-sidedness of bourgeois economic analysis. It is only by complementing Ninan’s “mega trends” with some important but neglected trends that are often invisible to bourgeois economists (which I merely point to at the end) that we can get a better understanding of the evolution of Indian economy and society.
The first trend – “acquiring of scale” in Ninan’s words – refers to the growing “concentration and centralization” of Indian capital, a process that inevitably accompanies the development of capitalism. The growth of concentration and centralization is leading to the much talked about growth of “self-confidence” of Indian capital, buttressed no doubt with incursions into foreign territories. As Ninan points out, Indian capital was acquiring “three overseas companies a week, through 2006.”
The second trend – “spread of connectivity and awareness” according to Ninan – refers to the technological development accompanying the growth of capitalism; Ninan limits himself to the technological developments in the communications sector but it can easily be extended to other sectors of the economy too. But there are several important reasons to focus on the transportations and communications sector. First, an increasing efficiency of communications and transportations is essential for a smooth and efficient completion of the numerous “circuits of capital”; the increasing volume of surplus value being generated in the economy needs well functioning circuits of capital to be realized into profit. Second, technological development of the communications technology, especially information technology, is important for the establishment of the networks through which finance capital exerts its influence over the economy. Third, and related to the earlier, is the necessity of swift and reliable communications to support all the processes that facilitates the “concentration and centralization of capital”.
The third trend – “the growth of the middle class” in Ninan’s analysis – if put into proper perspective, refers to two things: (1) the increasing inequality that inevitably comes along with the growth of capitalism, and (2) the changing nature of the Indian working class. What Ninan refers to as the “middle class” is really the fraction of the Indian working class (though it does not want to see itself as part of the working class) that acquires high wage employment in the “leading” sectors of the economy by acquiring skills useful for capital.
The fourth trend – what Ninan calls the “growing problems of growth” – refers to the serious environmental problems created by a regime dominated by the logic of capital accumulation. As the problem of global warming caused by increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere has come into focus, it has become clear that cosmetic changes and technological solutions will not be enough to deal with the whole range of environmental problems under capitalism. What will be required is a wholesale, radical socio-economic transformation, in other words, a transition to socialism. It will become increasingly important for radical political forces representing the interests of capital to come to grips with this issue in India and other underdeveloped economies undergoing rapid (dependent) capitalist development.
The fifth trend – “India’s growing openness to the world” according to Ninan – refers to the growing penetration of the Indian economy by imperialist capital; being supplemented by the growing “export of capital” from India to foreign economies, the two together points to the growing “interpenetration” of imperialist and Indian capital and the incorporation of the Indian capitalist class into the global ruling bloc. The penetration of imperialist capital underlies the oft-forgotten “dependent” nature of the capitalist development in India, a capitalism which cannot, almost axiomatically, benefit the majority of the population.
The sixth trend – what Ninan sees as “the continuing dominance of youth” – refers to the demographic backdrop of capital accumulation in India. The fact that a large proportion of the population will be part of the workforce (if they manage to get employed at all!) will mean that huge reserves of labour will be readily available for capital to exploit and extract surplus value. It will be a long time before these reserves dry up and increasing wages start eating into the profit rates, a process that seems to have already started in China.
It is not, as Ninan asserts, that these “mega trends” will “define” the future in a mechanical sense; it is rather the case that these trends will define the framework within which the class struggle will unfold. For it is the class struggle which will ultimately “define” the future of India. But even in the sense of defining the framework of class struggle, Ninan’s characterization is inadequate because it leaves out labour from the picture, other than in a marginal sense. How will India’s working class evolve over the next few years or decades? What are the trends, working silently but decisively, that can be observed in the evolution of the Indian working class? To even attempt to pose this question adequately, one will have to look at the agricultural sector of the Indian economy and all the forms of labour associated (directly or indirectly) with it. Ninan, quite remarkably, has nothing to say about the sector of the economy which continues to employ (directly or indirectly) the majority of the working people in India!