National Council, New Path: For some time now, some of us in a small collective, mostly from backgrounds in social movements and mass organisations, have been discussing how the work of people’s struggle and revolutionary transformation can be taken forward in the Indian context. Out of those discussions we have reached the decision to found a new organisation, tentatively called “New Path”, whose goal is to further the revolutionary process in India at its current stage. Below is our draft manifesto, which we are circulating for comments, criticism, suggestions and observations from comrades and friends. As the manifesto seeks to argue, New Path is not and does not aim to be a traditional revolutionary party. Rather, it is a political formation that seeks out opportunities, through struggle, to weaken bourgeois hegemony in this country. We are seeking to implement these ideas through a number of different programs as well as in our work in the various struggle groups that we are a part of. The manifesto is one of several documents that New Path has been working on developing; it aims to provide a synopsis of some of the key ideas that are important to our approach. We hope this will be of use and look forward to your responses. We can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
India today is a society scarred by immense poverty, terrible injustice and inhuman brutality. Crores of people cannot buy enough food to survive; there are more people living in hunger in India than in any other country in the world. Children are malnourished, people die like flies from disease, and real education and health care are out of the reach of millions. The majority of people struggle to survive, uncertain of making it from one day to the next. Yet, at the same time, a small minority of people has access to every luxury in the world and lives as if the poor do not exist. Any attempt to confront the horrific injustices that occur daily is repressed with inhuman violence. Every form of atrocity known to humanity has been carried out within this nation’s borders; the rape, torture, and slaughter of thousands is deemed part of normal life. A life of dignity is a dream for the vast majority of the people.
India is not alone in this. Across the world a handful of people reap all benefits, while the majority struggle against violence, poverty and oppression. In 2005, the top ten percent of people in the world consumed 60% of what the world produced and owned 85% of total wealth; the bottom 10% consumed 0.5%. In a thousand different forms, the majority is everywhere crushed by the small minority who control wealth and power. Women are beaten, tortured and treated as second class citizens. Oppressed castes and communities face terrible discrimination, deprived of their lands, their livelihoods, their rights, their freedoms and their dignity. Workers give their bodies and their souls for the profits of their employers. The aged are forced to work till their deaths while children are treated as objects to be brutalised and beaten into submission. The natural environment is being despoiled and destroyed at an ever accelerating rate. An environmental crisis is developing today that threatens the fate of humanity itself.
Those who benefit from this system proclaim that this is the way the world always has been and always will be. But no thinking person can accept that such an unjust order should be the fate of humanity, that most should suffer and die for the benefit of a few. Injustice is a creation of human will and human oppression. In every place where oppression takes place, there is resistance, anger and heroic courage in the fight for justice. The oppressors may rule this world but they do not do so unchallenged. What human beings can create, human beings can overthrow. We can build a new country and a new world, in which human dignity would be the centre of existence.
The Nature of This Society
Proposition 1: India and the world today are capitalist societies, in which production is done by nominally ‘free’ producers and workers for the primary purpose of exchanging the resulting commodities. In this world the dead hand of capital exploits the lives and bodies of the majority of people.
The ability to make things together – indeed, to produce and shape the world together – is the most fundamental feature of being a human being, the key point that marks our difference from other animals. No other animal has been able to transform the world through its collective action the way humanity has. We can no longer imagine living in a world that has not been shaped by the work of billions of people. For any group larger than a few people, the capacity of the group to work together provides the food they eat, the shelter they live in and the water they drink. Hence, if a society’s system of production is controlled in a way that oppresses people, that society will be oppressive. If it is controlled in a way that liberates people, then there is at least the possibility that that society will be truly free.
In today’s world the labour of the majority of people is not controlled by them, and they do not benefit from it. Instead a small minority takes most of the gains of the labour of others. Those who enjoy the benefits of this system do not do so because they work harder or more intelligently than others, but because they enjoy power over others’ labour. This power does not spring from force alone; it fundamentally comes from the economic system itself.
Today it is no longer possible for a person or a community to survive on what they have alone. The vast majority of their needs are met through purchase, by exchanging money with others for the goods they require for their own existence. To earn this money, a person has to produce something that they can sell. In turn, to produce things and sell them, people require the means to do so, such as factories, tools, transport or knowledge. These means of production are today owned by a small minority of people and are their property. In order to survive, then, people are left with only one thing to sell: their capacity to labour. Instead of working alone or together for their own benefit, they have to sell this capacity to work to someone else, who pays them directly or indirectly for working. Those who buy their labour power invest a certain amount of money – to purchase people’s labour power and the raw materials needed for production – and then sell the resulting products. Thus they invest money in order to get more money, but the revenue they “earn” is from the labour of their workers. The labour of workers and producers is not their own; the full gain of their work goes to someone else. Moreover, they have no choice in this matter. They may choose who to work for, but they cannot choose to not work for the benefit of someone else. If they do, they will not have enough money to survive.
While exploitation and oppression take many forms, in most parts of the world these basic realities now prevail. Society is built around buying and selling commodities for money, and a small minority of people control and extract the labour of the majority for their benefit. This group, the capitalists, possess capital, or money that is used to generate more money through the production process. Through their control over production, they are the ultimate beneficiaries of the current economic system.
For most of human history, this was not the case. The means of production, such as land and water, were used by everyone in common. People hunted, gathered plants, and (during a later period) worked the land together. The benefits were shared among the community. Such systems are still visible in a limited way in some adivasi societies. Over time, however, these systems changed. They were replaced by systems of classes, where some people gained from the labour of others. In most cases, people were subjected to coercion in order to work for the gain of others. Social custom, physical violence and religious tradition were used to lock people into their exploitation. The first group to be subjected to this oppression, in most societies, were women. In south Asia this was then extended through caste; in other parts of the world, slavery, serfdom, or other such forms were used.
These systems continued to evolve and change. In recent centuries they were in turn destroyed, or are being destroyed, in most of the world. They have been replaced in most cases by the capitalist system. In this system, on the surface, people are supposed to be free. People today, we are told, can leave their employers if they like; no one locks them into working for someone or forces them to work when they do not want to. But this is actually nonsense. In reality, some people continue to be oppressed by force; in India many continue to be crushed under caste, and women continue to be treated as subhuman. More fundamentally, whether people are oppressed by force or not, no one today is free from the need to work for the ultimate benefit of the capitalists (except the capitalists themselves and those they employ as their agents). As a result, despite the appearance of being free, human beings can still not be human. They must be servants, robots or slaves, even as they are fed the illusion that they are free.
Since they do not always use force, the capitalist exploiters today are not as obvious as they once were. Among themselves they fight and compete and try to pull each other down, each trying to get more profits than the other. They therefore appear very disunited. But the reality is that today’s exploiters neither always need to beat people, nor do they need to be from the same social group. Since survival will force the majority to work for them anyway, they can hide behind the illusion that they are merely ordinary people who were lucky or skilled enough to become rich. Those who can control the means of production can exploit others without even appearing to do so.
In a world where production is connected across countries and continents, the exploiter often does not even need to see the exploited. Capital today is truly global. Capitalists hold down wages and move across borders from country to country without any hesitation. A handful of giant companies control world trade in clothes, foodgrains and other key items. Very few of their workers know who their labour is benefiting, and the capitalists sitting in New York or Paris have no idea whose labour they are benefiting from. Capitalists dominate other entities and forces and bend them to the desires of capital. Similarly, in India, though the local mafia, landlord or upper caste person may appear to be the direct exploiters, society is structured such that the ultimate benefits flow to the owners and controllers of capital.
Proposition 2: Exploitation of people’s labour occurs through many forms, not only through direct wage labour of workers.
Indeed, today, those who do not even seem to be working for someone else are also often exploited by the same process. For example, a farmer with enough land to sell his or her produce, a chai-wallah or small hawker selling something on the road, and so on seem to be free of exploitation. But this is an illusion. Instead of taking their labour directly, the exploiters often take the labour of such people indirectly. Farmers are often in debt to the moneylender or the bank, seeds and fertilisers are increasingly controlled by cartels of big companies, and hence the price the farmer gets for selling produce is controlled by these other entities – who effectively live off extracting these farmers’ labour. Such persons seem more secure than the landless worker, but this is just a difference of degree; and their security is not enough to stop their exploitation. All such persons, as well as those who work for wages, who are forced to work as bonded labourers, etc. are part of different sections of the overall class of workers and producers.
This is of course not true of every farmer or shopkeeper. Those with control over a large amount of means of production become exploiters themselves, such as the tea estate owner or big capitalist farmer who cultivates his land for profit by hiring workers. There are also those with sufficient means of production to enjoy some degree of independence for some time, balancing between being exploited by capital and becoming exploiters themselves, but this is a precarious position that often does not last very long.
Further, there are others in society who may not exploit people directly, but whose duty is to operate, manage and control the system for exploitation. Managers, government officers and many others are paid a share of the surplus to ensure that the system continues to run. Some of them are exploited themselves – such as low level government servants – but they are made to work not in order to produce directly, but to maintain the system.
Finally, alongside exploitation through markets, wages and other means, there is another form of robbery – the use of force to simply grab for profit. This has increased in intensity with the recent rise to power of finance capital. It includes the grabbing of the land of the peasants and the poor; the eviction of urban slum dwellers; the takeover of minerals by force; and other attempts to accumulate capital by simply expropriating others.
Proposition 3: The commodification and expropriation of nature is also a fundamental part of capitalism today.
Under capitalism, the oppression of human beings is accompanied by the plunder of nature. When the driving force of society is the profit of a few, nature itself becomes a commodity to be bought and sold. Water, air, land and forests have no value to this system except as a means to earn money.
Besides the direct exploitation of these resources for money, the current system of capitalism, where large companies dominate (especially at the global level), directly encourages massive wastage and destruction in order to increase sales without lowering prices. Enormous amounts of money are spent to convince people to purchase products that they do not need, and that often perform the same or less functions than earlier products. Packaging and advertising are used to make functionally useless or even dangerous things seem appealing. While actually reducing people’s choices and control over their lives, capitalists create false and meaningless “choices” in order to encourage consumerism. The cost of goods rises to pay for all of this wastage, reducing the ability of workers and producers to purchase their requirements. These few large companies at the global level are able to keep prices for these goods high, since there is no competition. By keeping these prices high, they pass on the costs of their own wastage to the same workers and producers whom they are otherwise oppressing. Simultaneously, they shift their production to wherever it is cheapest to do so.
The result is massive pollution, water shortages, climate change, natural disasters and destruction of land and forests – even as the profits of the big capitalists rise enormously. This in turn has a terrible impact on workers and producers, who lose their health, livelihoods, families or lives. The whole basis of the existence of the human race is being swallowed by the greed of the exploiters.
These are the basic outlines of the system of production in the world today, where capital rules over human beings. Until this system is overthrown, humanity can never be free. The freedom of today is a cover for the crushing of the majority. But another world is possible, in which people collectively control their production together as free human beings, and use the benefits for all. Those who declare that such a world can never exist forget that exploitation and injustice are not laws of nature; both in history and today, we can see countless examples where people work together out of love, caring and a sense of common humanity. There was a time when this was true of all production. That time can come again, but now as a conscious new world in which all innovation, creativity and work will be at the service of expanding human freedom.
Proposition 4: Capitalism in India has devastated the lives of the majority of the people, and its brutality and exploitation are increasing. Divisions between urban and rural, between agriculture and industry, are decreasing in importance; instead an increasingly united ruling class exploits many disunited, dispersed and destitute producers.
The consequences of this kind of exploitation are particularly apparent in our society. No country in the world has more poor people, yet India also has some of the world’s richest people. The richer that the country grows, the more “economic growth” accelerates, the more that this inequality increases and the more that money, wealth, power and production are controlled by a small group of people. This has never been truer than after the 1991 “reforms”, which have empowered the finance capitalists – the banks, investment funds and speculators – at the cost of all of the rest of society.
More than 60% of this country’s people depend on agriculture for survival, but agriculture is now in a terrible crisis. Within agriculture, there is tremendous inequality in land ownership. There are crores of landless workers who have no land at all, along with as many small farmers who cannot live on the produce of the land that they have. Many of these have to work for wages in agriculture, construction or other kinds of work, sometimes by migrating over long distances. As men migrate and hunt for work, women have to run their households and often also take care of all agricultural work. Despite promise after promise, very little real land reform has been carried out since independence, and the number of those without land (or without enough to survive) goes up every year. In addition to this, both these groups and the middle and rich peasants, who own more land and who may not have to work for wages, today find themselves squeezed by other forces. These include the moneylenders, who have become more powerful as banks and government funding have decreased; the companies and big traders that control the trade in grain, vegetables and other crops, who pay farmers less while charging more from buyers, keeping the differences for themselves; and the government, which does not enforce its own laws on trading, and uses police force to grab land from forest dwellers, adivasis, the rural poor and those who are in the way of “development projects.” With the power of the private companies and financial investors increasing in India and around the world, prices go up and down as they decide, affecting both those selling produce and those purchasing it. Subjected to the increasing pressure of the market, farmers are using up water and destroying the soil with fertilisers, reducing the fertility of the land across India. The common lands that most rural people depend on for firewood, grazing and water are being taken over by private companies, big landowners and the government. For capitalists today, agriculture is no longer a key area for either production or profits. Instead, it is seen as a source of cheap labour, since workers with fields can be paid even less while depending on their fields to survive. Profits can be made by capitalists through controlling farmers with contract farming, moneylending and control over markets; in the process, much of the revenue and earnings of those in agriculture, even of large farmers, is extracted from them. Meanwhile, the farmer bears all the risk of failing crops and destroyed lands. As a result of all this, agriculture has been driven into such a terrible crisis that only the small minority of big capitalist farmers can survive; the majority of India’s people are thus seeing their basic livelihood and survival destroyed.
But it is not only those engaged in agriculture who are suffering. In the cities, the majority of people have no legal housing or shelter. Factory and industrial workers are hired on contracts, paid extremely low wages and thrown out of their work without warning. Export industries and other “new industries” exploit huge numbers of women because they are easier to repress and control in the factory. After agriculture, the largest group of workers in the country are those who work in construction, where they have no legal protection, work in extreme danger and live in illegal slums. Such workers and others who migrate into cities are treated like criminals and exploited brutally by the police, employers and other government agencies. Crores of women work as domestic workers, are paid very little and forced to face physical and sexual abuse by their employers.
Meanwhile, the ruling class across India is increasingly united. The big capitalist farmers, the senior government servants, and the big businessmen all have houses in the cities; they send their children to the same schools and try to get them into similar professions; and while the rural rich enter into construction and other non-agricultural activities, urban businessmen engage in contract farming and seek to expand into rural India. At the same time, the vast majority of millions of working people struggle to survive in both places, and many migrate between them. Many people do not occupy any fixed position. They may migrate to a city one year for survival, spend some other months as agricultural workers, and – for those who have land – spend the agricultural season trying to grow enough crops to survive.
Thus one key boundary in India – between urban and rural – is slowly breaking. Another such boundary, between Indian capitalists and those of other countries, has also greatly diminished. In the era of neoliberalism (“liberalisation”), finance capital has become truly global, backed by the power of the world’s most powerful states. These capitalists are those who control the supply of money itself, and include banks, mutual funds and other large private stock market investors. The largest Indian companies are so deeply connected to international finance, and so many international companies are now here, that the clear distinctions of earlier times are fading. Today’s imperialism is much more complex, with elements of the Indian ruling class joining the global ruling class in an alliance. Overall, rather than the earlier divisions, there is now a complex mix of exploiters, growing ever richer, more powerful and more unified, confronting a mass of exploited producers of many types.
Proposition 5: Relations of production and exploitation of producers in India are highly diverse. Under the overarching rubric of capitalism, exploiters in India use myriad methods to alienate the labour of producers. There is no sign of such diversity decreasing with the intensification of capitalist oppression.
The vast confusion and desperation of India is marked by another reality, in which too it reflects the world situation. The ruling class has always said that, with “development”, all in society will be treated as equal “citizens”. What they mean is that everyone will be a capitalist, an agent of capitalists, or a worker. In this view the distinctions of caste, religion, family and language would stop being important. For the capitalists and their supporters, this is considered a good thing, since it leads to greater “freedom.” Even some revolutionaries have said that this would be the trend in future; in their view, this will make it possible to finally overthrow capitalism, since the workers and the producers will see their exploitation more clearly and realise that they can unite.
But in practice this has not happened. There is no one way that people are exploited in India; there are hundreds. The form of the labour relation varies widely, and in many cases it extends to what are sometimes described as “feudal” methods. In some places, small farmers continue to be exploited by sharecropping when they rent land from landlords. In others, they pay cash rents, while in still other areas, they may be forced to give free labour to landlords. Often small farmers are exploited at one time through the market, when they sell their surplus produce from their land; at another time by their employer if they must work for wages; and in yet another way by traders and police when they are forced to migrate for finding an income. As a result, the nature of the immediate enemy also varies across the country. For adivasis in forest areas it is often the government that harasses and evicts them; for small peasants in Bihar it may be the landlord who extorts rent from them; for the farmer in Maharashtra it may be the trader and the moneylender; and for the urban construction worker it is often the big contractor. These differences have not decreased with time in India. Some differences have decreased, but others have increased. There is no overall trend towards people all being exploited in similar ways.
But even as these variations occur, it is equally clear that the overall benefits from society and the gains from the labour of the majority go to those who control capital. The system itself is clearly capitalist, but it does not need to bring all workers to the same position. The relationship between the exploiter and the exploited can take many different forms, even if the ultimate beneficiary is the same. Facing the capitalists is a vast and diverse class of workers and producers, most of whom do not even realise that they belong to the same class and that they are, ultimately, exploited for the benefit of the same people.
Proposition 6: Capitalism in India cannot be understood without also understanding caste, patriarchy and other non-class relations of oppression. These other systems are neither relics nor “outside” capitalism; they, along with capitalism, form an integral socioeconomic formation in India today. It is not possible to defeat capitalism without also fighting these relations of oppression. Equally, revolution against capitalism is the necessary though not sufficient condition for liberation from these systems as well.
Capitalist exploitation in India cannot be separated from several other kinds of exploitation. The most widespread of these are the caste system and the oppression of women, though there are other such systems of exploitation as well.
Caste as a system of exploitation is a central feature of Indian society. The rulers tell us that caste discrimination is disappearing in India today, but this is clearly not true. In many parts of the country, Dalits still cannot access water or temples used by upper castes; Dalits, adivasis and lower caste people are deprived of their land. They are humiliated in public and denied basic dignity; their children are marginalised in school or prevented from going to one. A person’s chance to get a job or enter a college is still heavily dependent on what caste they belong to. High castes continue to control the media, big business, the police, the Army and many government positions. Moreover, caste is also central to the way business and capitalism itself works, and caste is still central to the economy as a whole. Company owners and other exploiters rely on caste connections to get loans and to manipulate the political process and the government. Caste connections also help them to ensure that they act together to keep workers’ wages down, prices high and otherwise prevent competition with each other. Thus caste oppression and class exploitation are intertwined for the exploiters. At the same time, for the producers and workers, caste functions both ways. It serves to keep them divided and prevents them from uniting against exploiters. Even those who are otherwise exploited, but are from middle and high castes, try, often using violence, to protect the little power that they have against the lower castes. On the other hand, for many oppressed castes and Dalit communities, their caste or community is a major source of solidarity and unity. To imagine that these relations can be wiped out or are being “reduced” by capitalism is to ignore the manner in which Indian society actually works. The form of caste has certainly changed, but it is still a huge force for exploitation in India, and it will remain one in the future unless it is fought against.
The same is true of the oppression of women (or patriarchy). Women in India face several different kinds of oppression at the same time. They cannot move freely or speak freely. Their life is controlled by men from the moment they are born until the moment they die, starting with their fathers, followed by their husbands, and finally their sons or sons in law. Female fetuses are killed in their mother’s wombs before they are even born. Women face sexual violence and rapes, most of which are never punished, and at home they are routinely beaten by men. In the system of production, the burden of household work is fully put on them. They must run the house, raise their children and quite often work outside at the same time. Their work in the home, which is the basis for all of society to function, is never acknowledged and is treated as free both by the rulers and by the men of their household. Taking advantage of their oppression and the discrimination against them, employers pay them less for the same work; they are often given no rights in land, and what they have they are often forced to give up. As with caste, patriarchy is also closely integrated with production. More and more tasks are dumped on women in order to save money for the exploiters. Schools are not opened, medical care not provided, water not given, and fuel restricted, forcing women to cover for all these failures with their labour. Child care outside the family is unavailable except to the wealthy, forcing working women to bear double burdens. The lower wages paid to women permits employers to get more work out of them, and prevents both men and women from fighting for higher wages, since men who do so can often be replaced by women. As the oppression of the producers increases, women are forced to work more and more, and they are exploited more than the men of their class.
In the same manner, people in India are exploited based on ethnicity, religion, language, region, nationality and many other non-class factors. Oppression of minorities has increased greatly. The Indian state uses its military power to brutally crush any aspiration for national liberation and/or separate states, whether it be among the Kashmiris, the Nagas, or elsewhere, and in particular if they are led by democratic or progressive forces. With the passage of time such use of force has only increased and intensified. This paves the way for the emergence and strengthening of chauvinist or other authoritarian forces, who in turn are encouraged by local, national and regional ruling classes. As a result progressive and democratic movements are increasingly sidelined by the rise of militarism and mass violence, which then becomes the justification for more repression. The massacres, killings and torture are never reported by the mainstream media.
All of this shows that it is a lie to believe that India is moving toward a society where everyone will be equal and judged just on the basis of their work. If anything, the opposite is happening, and the gap is widening. As seen above, exploitation for non-class reasons continues on two levels. In all of these other systems of exploitation, as in patriarchy and caste, there is exploitation that is not directly related to one’s role in production. Even a wealthy woman, Dalit or Muslim does not have the same opportunities as an upper caste Hindu man with the same wealth. At the same time, these systems of oppression are directly linked to production and capitalism. Capitalists in India use the fact that they often speak the same language, belong to similar castes, are almost all men, and so on to also increase their unity and their power as exploiters of producers and workers. They use the social oppression of others to increase their exploitation of their labour; for instance, a Dalit woman or a Muslim woman is much easier to exploit for profit than a Brahmin man. At times, as in the Hindutva movement, they channel the anger and aspirations of producers into identities (such as being “Hindu”) that pose no threat to the real exploiters; instead, these identities offer the illusion of advancement and dignity to people, on the condition that they turn on others who are more oppressed than them.
All these systems are thus part of each other. At the root of this system, however, lies control over the means of production. Where caste, patriarchy, religious discrimination or other kinds of oppression have become a problem for capitalist exploitation, they have become weaker over time. Examples include caste restrictions on people performing some work; such restrictions may reduce availability of workers and competition among them, and hence they have eroded. Where these other systems have helped to shore up the power of those with capital, they have often become stronger. Indian capitalism cannot exist without caste, patriarchy and other non-class forms of oppression; it is built through them and with them. However, where they conflict with capital’s attempts to expropriate more from producers, they are weakened. The resulting system rules Indian society today.
Hence capitalism cannot be fought without fighting these other systems of oppression, for not only will injustice from those forms of oppression continue, they will strengthen capital. At the same time, the fight against these other forms of oppression will remain unsuccessful and incomplete unless it is also integrated with the struggle against capitalism. The leaders of oppressed sections that enter the ruling capitalist class almost always defend the interests of that class, even if it means exploiting their own community, religion, gender, etc. The overthrow of capitalism is necessary for real liberation from all of these forms of oppression, even as such liberation will also require dedicated struggle to eliminate each of them. Building the road to this is the task before revolutionaries in India today.
Power and Politics
People have fought against exploitation from the dawn of history. Whether it is Dalits fighting for their right to dignity, adivasis rising for their control over their forests, workers striking to demand justice, or women protesting against violence, the oppressed have never been silent and never will be.
However, the response of the oppressors has changed in some ways. Unlike their predecessors, today’s rulers do not necessarily say that such protests are wrong or unjustified. In fact, at times they accept that injustice is happening and people are exploited. But instead of denying injustice, today’s rulers deny the need for struggle; those who rise up are told there is no need to do so. After all, the exploiters say, there are courts, government officers, and the police, all running on the basis of the law. The law gives everyone an equal right to justice. If nothing else works one can try to use elections to change the government and change the law. Today’s Indian government is said to be a democracy that runs on the will of the people. The same things are said by governments around the world.
But this is clearly not true. Whatever happens with the law, the courts and the elections, the fundamental reality does not change. Those who work and produce continue to struggle. No election in India has ever made it possible for the majority of the people to control their own labour or to live a life of dignity. Instead the same system goes on.
This is not surprising, for there can be no real “rule of the people” as long as capitalism exists. In a capitalist society the system is driven by the needs of the capitalists, as they control the production process. Hence the desires of the majority can never be the real basis of decision making in a capitalist society. Therefore, the fight against capitalism is also the fight for real democracy.
Proposition 7: In response to the resistance of the oppressed, political power in capitalism has developed as a fusion of material, ideological and repressive power. It does not rely solely on fear, or on material dependence, or on cultural-ideological means alone; it is a complex, shifting mix of the three. This mix makes it impossible for people to imagine, believe in or build an alternative.
The combination of capitalist exploitation and limited democracy is made possible by a complex fusion of three basic systems. The first is the most obvious – the government breaks its own rules on “democracy” when it is threatened. Even as the rulers declare that everyone in India is free to protest, every person is aware that a mass struggle for justice in this country will be met with force. The limit is clear: do not come together in large numbers to demand your rights, and do not threaten the control of the capitalists over their production system, or the power of the government to enforce its decisions. When people actually do so, all law and justice are forgotten and the police use arrests, torture and guns to crush protests.
But what is equally clear is that this is not the entirety of the situation. The state does not always resort to force; in fact using force against people is the exception rather than the rule. It is not only force that makes it possible for capitalism to go on. The reality is that, even as the majority of people are oppressed, they do not protest. They do not struggle against this system. Instead, they knowingly or unknowingly give their consent to this society and this state.
This consent is the result of the other two systems of power. The second one is the promotion of ruling class ideas throughout society by the media, films, books, the schools and other institutions. Through these channels, everyone is told that this system is natural; histories, theories and analyses that go against this are not taught or propagated. Where they are mentioned, they are dismissed as impractical, idealistic or impossible. The constant refrain is that one has to be selfish, individualistic and exploitative, and that one has to accept exploitation at the hands of the capitalists.
But this too is not all, and the system does not only exist on the basis of lies. In reality, the ruling class does give in at some points, and shares a part of its profits and surplus. The most obvious form this “sharing” takes is government schemes like rations, government hospitals and government schools. While the government rarely tries to actually run these systems properly, it cannot shut them down completely; even though the businessmen and the international financiers howl that they are a waste of money. These and other public services are all signs of the struggle of the people, for they show the fear of the ruling class. Of course, even as they share this part of their surplus, the capitalists seek to regain some benefits from it, and indeed use it to boost their own markets. There is a constant tussle between the majority and the exploiters over such benefits.
Such “sharing” extends far beyond these obvious forms, though. Every institution of power in our society is marked by the constant attempt of the exploiters to safeguard and expand their power and the constant struggle of the oppressed to liberate themselves from it. Whether the idea of a “rule of law”, the system of courts, or the notion of equal citizenship promoted by the media, many systems seek to simultaneously legitimise the ruling class while conceding some dignity or benefit to the producers out of fear of their revolt. The one power that the ruling class will never concede, however, is the power of the producers to collectively control production.
All three of these systems – the repressive process, or the use of force; the ideological process, or the cultural battle over ideas; and the material process, or the sharing of material resources and surplus – function together to define the current system of power. They cannot be separated except in theory; they work as an integrated whole in reality. All of them contribute to the maintenance of the idea that the current system is good, fair, and just, and that nothing else is either desirable or possible. As a result of all this, the exploited cannot imagine another world; they cannot build another system that will give them greater security; and they cannot fight for it, because they are terrorised if they try to do so, and described as the enemies of society. Thus do the real anti-socials disguise their agenda as that of “development” and “welfare”, and maintain their hegemony over society.
This system is not fully stable, and it never can be. It is not the result of some perfect plan hatched by the ruling class. At all times the capitalists have to keep adjusting to new struggles and their demands, attempting to ensure that the lie at the heart of their “democracy” is not exposed. In response to every resistance, the rulers sometimes concede another material demand; sometimes respond with brute force; sometimes try to obfuscate and confuse the issue with new cultural responses. Most often all three are deployed. Each move by them produces its own new forms of struggle. This makes the system unstable, constantly changing and altering.
Proposition 8: A key function of the state is to help organise the rulers and exploiters and disorganise the producers and workers.
The limited democracy in India today is perhaps the most complex result of this struggle over power. Individual capitalists rarely desire to have even limited democracy for producers and workers; they would always prefer to run the government directly without “interference” and “unreasonable” demands by the oppressed. One can see this in the behaviour of sections of the financial press, which sigh about how democracy is interfering with the “economy” and the desire of the “investors.” Some capitalists even openly declare that a dictatorship would be better for the country.
However, the capitalists know they cannot bring about such a dictatorship, for they fear the consequences for their rule. Hence they permit some freedom of speech, assembly and action to all, since that will prevent an explosion. But at the same time, the system by which this freedom is permitted helps to actually disorganise producers and workers. The benefits and freedoms that are permitted out of fear are never given to the workers and producers as a collective or as a class, and are not given to them in a manner that would permit them to exercise any real control. The state and the system claim to treat every person as an individual, an isolated single person who receives benefits as a citizen. These “individuals” receive gifts from this system that claims to care for everyone. The reality of struggle is masked behind the talk of rights and law. Even where the individual is identified with a group – such as in the case of caste reservations, or BPL cards – the person is still treated as an eligible individual when receiving the benefit.
Moreover, unlike in earlier times, the modern state hides real power behind a labyrinth of institutions and appears to have no clear centre. There are courts, legislatures, local bodies, elections, committees, and many other institutions. On a constant basis, struggles against oppression are directed into one or the other of these institutions, even as the powerful use other institutions to maintain their control. As sections of workers or the oppressed gain power in elections, the ruling class moves to make elected bodies less powerful. Chance victories in courts are countered by changing laws or ignoring court orders. The ruling politicians may concede something to a struggle, only to have the government bureaucracy sabotage it.
Through this process the unity, struggle and consciousness of producers and workers is weakened. By treating them as “individuals” and fracturing their unity from the start, the state stops most resistance from forming; where movements do form, they are forced into endless battles with one section of the state after another, with each victory seeming to be undercut and undermined by some new attack. Thus they are isolated, coopted, divided or simply crushed.
Yet, at the same time, the same system has the opposite effect for the exploiters. Capitalism is not a planned machine; it is a spontaneous order in which there is constant turmoil. The ruling class under capitalism is a divided, chaotic entity with many fractions each seeking their own interests. It is not the case that all of these fractions share the same interests or are, indeed, aware of what their shared interests might be. Indeed, each has an immediate interest in pulling down the other. There are contradictions between the big finance capitalists and the small industrialists; between the capitalist farmers and the commercial companies that control trade; between some sections of capital from more powerful countries and some sections of Indian capitalists. Each one of these would benefit if it could make its rival weaker. These contradictions are not strong enough to threaten their unity in the face of an active movement of the producers and workers. When they see a real and immediate threat to their control over production, they will band together. But until then there is constant turmoil, competition and fighting within the exploiters as well.
However, the democratic system offers them ways to find common ground between their inconsistent interests. Through the free debate among political leaders, the struggle between political institutions, and the competitive elections, the system makes it possible for the exploiters to argue out their problems and differences and constantly seek to identify their interests as a class. The system permits the space for different ideologies to exist that offer different “solutions” to maintain the system; the conflict between these is sorted out in the political arena. This freedom is only partially extended to any ideology or political position that actually threatens the ruling class; these are marginalised, coopted, diluted, or simply crushed. Thus, even as different political parties clash, the shared understanding between them is simultaneously presented as the “national” interest. This interest is then upheld by every arm of the state and every political actor, defining and extending the unity of the exploiters. This unity, one must remember, is unstable. It always has to be made again and again.
We can see this dual function of the state in the way the interests of the warring classes are described. The interests of producers are described as those of private individuals, sectional interests and “citizens”; the interests of exploiters are described as the voice of all society. Thus this system turns the very demands of the producers against them; it organises the exploiters and disorganises the workers and the producers. This helps to maintain the balance of power in favour of the exploiters and to head off threats from the organisation and unity of the workers and producers. The very freedom and benefits that have been won from the rulers are used to prevent further victories.
The Path of Struggle
Proposition 9: The new society must be created by the collective action of the producers themselves.
The road to a society of free associated producers is a long one. Such a society can only be created by the producers themselves, not by replacing one set of rulers or leaders with another. The key issue is power – the power of producers to control their own production in a collective, democratic manner. Hence, no one can make a true revolution by acting on behalf of the producers and workers. For this reason, just taking over the formal state and its army will not in itself lead to justice, for the state is capitalist by its very character, not merely because it is being led by capitalists. Earlier experiments in revolutionary action – such as the Soviet Union and China – have demonstrated that seizure of the formal state is neither the beginning nor the end of revolution. Instead, the struggle goes on, and as in those cases, the new state can as easily become an enemy of human liberation rather than a revolutionary force. The revolution is a process, not a single event; it is a struggle towards collective control and human dignity. It must transform the entirety of society as well as the producers themselves.
Such a process would have several key characteristics. It has to be collective. It must be based on a spreading shattering of ruling class capitalist hegemony and its replacement with the hegemony of the producing class, where the producers establish that it is their interest that is the true interest of all of society. In the interim the revolutionary process has to focus on the demolition of ruling class power, including the state, but not only the formal state. Rather than seeking to replace ruling class control with working class control, it would seek to smash ruling class power and to build the collective power of the producers. It is only through such a process that social transformation can occur.
Proposition 10: The task of a revolutionary force in India today is not to seek to lead or to control the struggle. It is to work towards the weakening of ruling class hegemony and the sharpening of all struggles towards collective production.
Any revolutionary force must contend with these three features of Indian society at present: the diversity of the relations of exploitation; the integration of capitalist and other forms of oppression; and the existence of a capitalist limited democracy. All three of these make unity between the workers and producers both objectively and subjectively impossible, until they are confronted. Such unity cannot be brought about through the leadership of one organisation. Unity must be an organic process, and for this the producers must experience and perceive their common exploitation, while also respecting their mutual differences and their mutual autonomy.
The biggest obstacle to this true unity is the hegemony of the ruling class – its ability to make its own goals and interests seem to be those of all, while making all other demands seem to be that of one “section” or the other. The capacity of the system to continually disorganise, disunite and atomise producers and workers works to continually weaken and undercut efforts at unity. The existing differences are not merely continued, they are expanded and multiplied through the process of hegemony. Thus at present the Bihari peasant sees no common interest between him and the auto worker in Delhi, though both are exploited by the same capitalist companies; the construction worker does not regard the adivasi as his or her ally, though both are crushed by the same system. Their unity will come about only in the process of shattering the hegemony of the ruling class.
The task of a revolutionary force is therefore at this time to work towards weakening this hegemony and towards building the space for the revolutionary struggle. Each step in such a process must seek to create new contradictions which would drive the process forward. It is not sufficient to merely seek those demands that mobilise people and that will lead to greater support for the revolutionaries. Rather, at each stage the aim should be to build a mass democratic struggle in which, simultaneously, the possibilities of solidarity, unity and collectivity are expanded. In such a process the three legs of the rule of the ruling class – fear, production of disunity, and false ideas – are confronted together.
The contradictory nature of the existing system offers spaces for this process, but also limits what those spaces can achieve. Thus, every time people attempt to expand these spaces – to use gram sabhas as real spaces for control over natural resources; to build true production cooperatives; to build a union or occupy a factory – this triggers a direct confrontation with the state and ruling class power. The fight against this can then be used to build a new, wider solidarity and collectivity. Thus the demands and politics of such a struggle cannot be limited to seizing one or the other immediate benefit, though they must start from that, but must always imply, include and make possible a growing struggle towards control over production. At its most effective such a process will also expose contradictions within the ruling class and expand them. The rulers will seek to maintain the consent of the ruled, even as the basis for that consent is eroded by the struggle. In the process their own differences will become more difficult to resolve, even as unity becomes stronger among the oppressed.
The current era, in which finance capital dominates, is a particularly fertile one for struggle. Unlike industrial and other forms of capital, finance capitalists feed off the production that is already happening (through giving loans, trading in stocks, speculating on currencies, grabbing resources to sell them at a high price, and the like) rather than organising any production of their own. As a result, it is much harder for them to concede any demands or share any benefits with the producers, since any sharing leads to a direct reduction in their own profits. This makes finance capital far more short-sighted, brutal and politically repressive than other sections of capital. In such a context the hegemony of the ruling class is much harder to sustain. Every time a ruling political party or government tries to concede something to the producers, the finance capitalists raise howls of protest and try to destroy it. In the process they openly expose the fact that it is only through power over production that the oppressed can in fact win justice, since anything else will only be hijacked by the financiers. Thus they help to dig the grave of the very system that they so foolishly believe represents their triumph.
Such a situation will not continue indefinitely. But even if the ruling class returns to older forms of politics, or develops new ones that are more superficially democratic, we believe that it is through the steadily growing struggle for collective control over production that the way forward lies. Through such a struggle, the victories already won and the freedoms already gained can be built upon. The focus will be on the weak points of the exploiters. At each stage the struggle would aim to bring more power into collective control and the hands of the conscious producers, even as it confronts the brutality and lies of the ruling class. Over time, as the hegemony of the ruling class fractures, unity will come to develop organically among the producers. The limited democracy must be exposed for what it is and expanded into a real democracy; the crippled welfare system and benefits must be shown to be broken and expanded into a new system of collective provision; and most of all, the lie of capitalist production, the lie that society can only function for the profit of a few, must be smashed and replaced with the collective society, where production happens together for the dignity and welfare of all. Thus only will the liberation of each become the liberation of all.
New Path seeks to be a part of this process. The organisation’s work is to seek opportunities and spaces to build unity and to push for struggles against repression and all forms of exploitation, with the aim of building collective control over production. The organisation will be involved in its own process of mass struggle, and it will also engage and join with other struggles, in which the priority is to spread the idea of collective control and to sharpen struggles in that direction. It will always respect the democratic autonomy of those struggles.
Today, resistance by adivasis and forest dwellers against state and private land grabbing are creating possibilities of collective production and community control over forests. Militant strikes by workers in industrial belts make it possible to imagine occupation and takeover of factories. Small farmers’ struggles can lead to cooperative production. New Path will seek to build, ally with and participate in all such movements for liberation, and in particular in movements by toilers and workers to stake collective claim over productive natural resources, such as land, forest and water; movements to improve working conditions and to take control over the means of production; struggles for the liberation of adivasis, dalits, oppressed and subjugated communities and nationalities; movements to demand and obtain state intervention to reduce the power of finance capital, such as in agriculture; struggles against patriarchy and the oppression of women; struggles to defend the natural environment; struggles for public control and provision of education, health care and all basic services; movements for the protection of democratic and human rights; movements for creating democratic and political consciousness; cultural struggles for a culture of equality, freedom, dignity, reason and creativity; efforts to expand international solidarity among oppressed people and sections; and defence and expansion of experiences and experiments in cooperative and collective control. In each case New Path members will join in and work for the success of these struggles.
To reiterate, New Path does not seek to lead all struggles of the workers and producers; nor does it seek to be the vanguard of the revolution. It does not claim to be the bearer of the truth or of the sole true ideology. Not only does New Path not possess any such truth; there can in fact be no such thing in a divided class society. New understandings will constantly develop and change as the collective actions of the producers expands. Rather, the primary goal of New Path is always to contribute to the weakening of ruling class hegemony.
The manner in which this can be done will vary depending on the nature of the struggle as well as the political conjuncture. At each point New Path will seek to analyse the present situation and develop an analysis of the possible demands, actions and steps that can take the revolutionary movement forward. All instruments that can contribute to this, such as mass struggle, organising movements, and use of the electoral platform by friendly and allied organisations, will be used, while not falling into the illusion that any one such instrument is sufficient for the task. Elections will be seen as primarily a platform for public action and propaganda, and not as a means to power. New Path will not take up arms, as armed struggle within a functioning bourgeois democracy does not contribute to enhancing mass consciousness and weakening ruling class hegemony, which are the key tasks of the revolutionary movement; rather, it is a route to repression and isolation.
As a collective democratic organisation, New Path has no individual posts, only elected bodies subject to the right of recall by the Congress of its members. It seeks to operate through internal consensus and discussion, with majority voting being only a last resort in limited circumstances. New Path is not a federation or a coalition in itself, though it will seek to build such. Rather, it seeks to be an ideological focus, a disciplined hub of activists who – through discussion, work and struggle – share an understanding of the revolutionary process and seek to spread that understanding and that mode of work into every sector and struggle in society. In this way New Path will work for the struggle for a new world.
In memory of the martyrs of the struggles past, and in celebration of the victories to come, New Path stands with all those who fight for justice and dignity in the face of the oppressors, exploiters and plunderers who rule our planet today.