Maruti Workers’ Struggle and the “Far Left” Fallacy/Fantasy of the “New Philosophers” of India

Abhinav Sinha

(Revised and extended version of the previously posted article)

In the recent years, we have witnessed a spurt in working class militancy in India. The relentless informalisation carried out by the Indian bourgeoisie since the late-1980s and especially after the introduction of the New Economic Policies by the Narsimha Rao government in 1991 has pushed the working class of India to the brink of near-starvation and has inflicted unimaginable hardships on their lives. This process has assumed a renewed momentum since the inception of global economic crisis since 2007. Everywhere, the forces of capital are hell bent upon cornering the working class in their quest of maintaining sustainable levels of profit, by minimising costs and “rationalising” public expenditure. All these attempts on the part of the ruling class have led to the exhaustion of the patience of the working class. And this very process of exhaustion is demonstrated by the recent spurt in the working class militancy in India.

The struggle of Maruti workers prior to the 18 July incident and, in a different way, after the July 18 is part of this very process. Undoubtedly, Maruti workers’ struggle could be regarded as a representative example of the present working class militancy, due to a variety of reasons. One of the reasons, obviously, is the fact that Maruti Suzuki is the leading car manufacturer of India with the greatest market share, in almost all segments. Secondly, the importance of the automobile sector in the entire capitalist system is beyond question, ever since the 1980s in India and since the 1960s in the global capitalist system; any upheavel or breach in the process of accumulation in this sector is alarming for the system for obvious reasons. That is the reason why the state government of Haryana, the Central government as well as the representatives of all electoral parties came in open, rather naked, support of the company in the most shameful fashion. The 18 July incident came as a shock to the Maruti management and the government, and even common citizens. The corporate media proactively portrayed the workers as criminals and the state adopted extreme repressive measures against the workers and established a “reign of terror” in Manesar area. Around a hundred Maruti workers were arrested immediately after the incident and the following days saw a witch-hunt against the workers and several more arrests. A recent PUDR report has confirmed that these workers have been subjected to the worst form of torture by the Haryana Police. The judiciary took no time in sending the leading workers to the police custody, instead of ordering a high-level inquiry despite serious allegations of the violence been instigated by bouncers hired by the management. All these facts clearly show how the bourgeois state throws its last mask of democracy in the garbage-bin once the workers start fighting for their rights, or oppose/resist the onslaught of capital, and how even the most liberal forms of bourgeois state are in essence the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. On August 21, the Manesar plant was restarted under heavy police protection, but 500 workers were fired by the company in completely illegal fashion. All this victimisation of the workers by the company and the state agencies is still going on, and is in complete disregard for labour laws, or any law for that matter. The legislative, executive and judiciary, and the media are openly safe-guarding the interests of capital.

The Maruti workers’ struggle undoubtedly is an extremely significant struggle of our time. The workers have shown exemplary courage and solidarity in their struggle. Right now, the workers might be demoralised and on the run to save themselves from the victimisation by the state agencies. However, their struggle has, certainly, frightened the forces of capital. The company before re-opening of the Manesar plant said in a statement that Maruti Suzuki will gradually eliminate the contract system in the company, or the majority of the workers will be hired on permanent contract. Such workers’ militancy, as shown by the Maruti workers, achieves something in the long run even if it is suppressed. Notwithstanding these positive fall-outs of the Maruti workers’ struggle, there is a need to understand the same with a radical and critical point of view. A critical assessment of the Maruti workers’ struggle becomes even more necessary, rather essential, and a task of immediate importance, because there is a tendency of uncritical celebration of working class spontaneity, and this tendency is particularly in vogue, within certain parts of the revolutionary communist movement as well as a variety of political nouveau-riche. Obviously, any revolutionary group of intellectual would welcome the spontaneous upsurges of the working class. However, the real responsibility of any such group or individual begins from this very point, namely, a critical engagement with the upsurge or movement, rather than uncritically celebrating and fetishising the working class spontaneity. The reason behind such celebrations seems to lie in the disintegration of the revolutionary Communist movement in India as well as the pessimism prevalent within the working class movement. As mentioned earlier, the recent spurt in the workers’ movements was preceded by a long period of lull. When this lull is breaking, there is an unmeditated euphoria in the revolutionary Left circle, including groups as well as individuals.1

Immediately after the 18 July incident various organisations jointly protested in various parts of the country. It was clear from the workers’ narratives and other evidence that the workers were humiliated and provoked by the Maruti management. They were attacked by the hired goons of the management and they resorted to violence in retaliation and self-defense. According to the workers, they were not the ones who killed one of the Maruti officials and it was the conspiracy of the management and its goons. They also claimed that the hired goons of the management had set fire to the company property. It is clear that the workers had been working and running production before the incident, and there is no possible way to comprehend why they would suddenly engage in such acts of violence. The workers were being humiliated and suppressed by the management right since the failure of the earlier strikes, which has been propagated as “victory” not only by agent unions such as CITU,  AITUC and HMS but also by the so-called “ultra-left” organisations and activists. There was a great amount of discontent among the workers and on 18 July this discontent exploded following the provocation by the management. Curiously enough, there are two kinds of people who see, with complete disregard of the facts, a planned/conscious action on the part of the workers: namely, the state and the hyper-optimistic “ultra-left” intellectuals. Some of the “Left” intellectuals and individuals are claiming that the Maruti workers’ movement has conceived the embryo of the future system; that this movement has gone beyond the so-called “reactive spontaneity” and it is the vanguard which is lagging behind the workers’ consciousness. That these claims are in complete disregard of the facts about what happened and what the workers themselves think, we will show later. The state is involved in propagating the same myth that some workers were associated with the CPI (Maoist) and they were the ones who committed the acts of violence; the intent of the state here needs no elaboration. But, what is the intent of these immensely overjoyed “ultra-left” intellectuals? To understand that, we need to look into the arguments that they are putting forward and also understand where are they coming from.

As we mentioned earlier, one of the principal arguments put forward by these intellectuals is that the Maruti struggle shows that the workers’ consciousness has left the consciousness of the vanguard forces behind. The workers have consciously organised themselves, without the vanguard; and the forces that are calling the actions of the workers as spontaneous and reactive, are mistaken; these forces are, in the opinion of the “new philosophers”, self-proclaimed vanguard; these intellectuals argue that the workers’ action in Maruti shows that the stage of spontaneous, reactive action is now a thing of the past; the workers have entered the stage of self-organisation and now they understand that the entire wage-system itself needs to be abolished; now, they know ‘what is to be done’! Of what we have read in the statements and speeches of these “new philosophers”, nowhere is it categorically said that now there is no need of the vanguard. What they are saying, at least formally, is that the vanguard, in this situation, is lagging behind the consciousness of class. However, when we go into the nuances of their arguments, it is in fact, a denial of the role of vanguard. Their euphoria knows no bound and they are ecstatic about the fact that the Maruti workers, transcending the limits posed by bureaucratic trade unions and management, have consciously organised themselves without any role of the vanguard. They are extremely angry with those who are reminding the role of the vanguard. One of the things that according to these intellectuals is a symbol of the advanced class consciousness, and even political consciousness of the workers, was the unity forged between the permanent, contract, casual, apprentice and trainee workers (though, this claim too needs a closer scrutiny). They are stupified and speechless! How can the workers forge unity across the sections of permanent, contract, casual, etc!! This according to them shows that the workers can organise politically as a class by themselves, without the agency of the vanguard, though formally they are not challenging the theory of vanguard party (it might be due to the fact that a number of such intellectual groups probably consider themselves as the new potential revolutionary centre of India (under-construction), and if they reject the very role of the vanguard, the rationale of their own existence will be jeopardized!). But in practice, they are rejecting the Leninist theory of the vanguard. Recently, some people have also attempted to prove that the theory of working class organisation needs a serious critical review. In this attempt, they have invoked the authority of Marx and theunderstanding of working class organization prevalent during his time. They strive to prove that the Leninist theory of party was in fact a subversion of the Marxist concept of working class organisation (though they do not even mention the name of Lenin and his theory of party, yet it is implicit in their theses). I would say that this attempt is tragically ahistorical in its approach. The period of Marx and Engels, the kind of workers’ revolution expected in that period, the nature of bourgoies state and the European working class consciousness at that time was completely different from the period of Lenin and is still more different from our times. Here, we can see an essentialisation of the concept of working class organisation. As soon as capitalism entered into the imperialist phase; the storm-centre of proletarian revolutions shifted from the West to the East; the first working class attempts of revolution in Europe failed, and bourgeois state became well-entrenched in the political society as well as the civil society and ceased from being an alien power over and above the massive majority of population with extremely narrow social support-base; a new theory of party was required. The debates within the Russian Social Democratic Party regarding the nature of the party were the recognition of this need. The emergence of the Leninist concept of Bolshevik party was the fitting reply to this need. If one completely forgets about the history of this process and simply goes back to Marx, then definitely the slogan of ‘back to Marx’ becomes an ahistorical retrogressive slogan as far as the revolutionary praxis of the working class in the present era is concerned.2 In fact, such “theses” invoke the authority of council communists like Pannekoek and libertarian Socialists like Cornelius Castoriadis, instead of Marx. They put the words of “philosophers of autonomy” into the mouth of Marx. However, we cannot dwell on this broad issue here due to lack of space and we would come back to the core issue.

Now, if we analyze the principal argument of the “New Philosophers” in some detail, we will find that it is an extremely strange argument in two ways. First, the facts do not support their theory! The 18 July incident precisely shows that the moment/stage of the reactive action has not passed! The workers’ narratives after the incident at various programs organised by different Left organisations in Delhi clearly demonstrate the fact that the workers’ action, in fact, was entirely reactive.3 A number of terminated workers at a program organised at the Indian Social Institute recently, said that they could not understand the conspiracy of the management; they resorted to violence only in retaliation to the violence of the goons of the management; of course, they also told about the continued misbehaviour of the management after the strike and that it filled the workers with indignation and what happened on 18 July was the outburst of the anger of the workers which had been building up for quite some time. When we say that it was a spontaneous, reactive action of the workers, it does not (and how can it!!) mean that the Maruti workers are not class conscious, they are politically illiterate, etc. It just means that one should respect the facts and should not misrepresent them according to one’s own ideological/political prejudices. Even class conscious workers can, and have in the past, resorted to spontaneous, reactive action. What the workers did was probably the only possible thing to do at that time. They were left with no other option but to retaliate.

The second way, in which the principal argument of the “new philosophers” of India is misplaced, pertains to the questions of theory. Most of these intellectuals still, at least claim to be Leninist. However, if we see Lenin’s stand on the question of multi-layered spontaneity and consciousness of the working class action, we also see what kind of “Leninism” they believe in:

“…and if we are to speak of the “spontaneous element” then, of course, it is this strike movement which, first and foremost, must be regarded as spontaneous. But there is spontaneity and spontaneity. Strikes occurred in Russia in the seventies and sixties (and even in the first half of the nineteenth century), and they were accompanied by the “spontaneous” destruction of machinery, etc. Compared with these “revolts”, the strikes of the nineties might even be described as “conscious”, to such an extent do they mark the progress which the working-class movement made in that period. This shows that the “spontaneous element”, in essence, represents nothing more nor less than consciousness in an embryonic form. Even the primitive revolts expressed the awakening of consciousness to a certain extent. The workers were losing their age-long faith in the permanence of the system which oppressed them and began… I shall not say to understand, but to sense the necessity for collective resistance, definitely abandoning their slavish submission to the authorities. But this was, nevertheless, more in the nature of outbursts of desperation and vengeance than of struggle. The strikes of the nineties revealed far greater flashes of consciousness; definite demands were advanced, the strike was carefully timed, known cases and instances in other places were discussed, etc. The revolts were simply the resistance of the oppressed, whereas the systematic strikes represented the class struggle in embryo, but only in embryo. Taken by themselves, these strikes were simply trade union struggles, not yet Social Democratic struggles. They marked the awakening antagonisms between workers and employers; but the workers, were not, and could not be, conscious of the irreconcilable antagonism of their interests to the whole of the modern political and social system, i.e., theirs was not yet Social-Democratic consciousness. In this sense, the strikes of the nineties, despite the enormous progress they represented as compared with the “revolts”, remained a purely spontaneous movement.” (Lenin, 1977: 113-114)

Also, Kautsky, when he was still on the right track, was clear about this too:

“Many of our revisionist critics believe that Marx asserted that economic development and the class struggle create, not only the conditions for socialist production, but also, and directly, the consciousness of its necessity. And these critics assert that England, the country most highly developed capitalistically, is more remote than any other from this consciousness. Judging by the draft, one might assume that this allegedly orthodox Marxist view, which is thus refuted, was shared by the committee that drafted the Austrian programme. In the draft programme it is stated: ‘The more capitalist development increases the numbers of the proletariat, the more the proletariat is compelled and becomes fit to fight against capitalism. The proletariat becomes conscious of the possibility and of the necessity for socialism.’ In this connection socialist consciousness appears to be a necessary and direct result of the proletarian class struggle. But this is absolutely untrue. Of course, socialism, as a doctrine, has its roots in modern economic relationships just as the class struggle of the proletariat has, and, like the latter, emerges from the struggle against the capitalist-created poverty and misery of the masses. But socialism and the class struggle arise side by side and not one out of the other; each arises under different conditions. Modern socialist consciousness can arise only on the basis of profound scientific knowledge. Indeed, modern economic science is as much a condition for socialist production as, say, modern technology, and the proletariat can create neither the one nor the other, no matter how much it may desire to do so; both arise out of the modern social process. The vehicle of science is not the proletariat, but the bourgeois intelligentsia: it was in the minds of individual members of this stratum that modern socialism originated, and it was they who communicated it to the more intellectually developed proletarians who, in their turn, introduce it into the proletarian class struggle where conditions allow that to be done. Thus, socialist consciousness is something introduced into the proletarian class struggle from without [von Aussen Hineingetragenes] and not something that arose within it spontaneously [urwüchsig]. Accordingly, the old Hainfeld programme quite rightly stated that the task of Social-Democracy is to imbue the proletariat (literally: saturate the proletariat) with the consciousness of its position and the consciousness of its task. There would be no need for this if consciousness arose of itself from the class struggle. The new draft copied this proposition from the old programme, and attached it to the proposition mentioned above. But this completely broke the line of thought…” (Ibid 120-21, quoted by Lenin)

In ‘What is to be done?’, Lenin added a clarification to this statement of Kautsky:

“This does not mean, of course, that the workers have no part in creating such an ideology. They take part, however, not as workers, but as socialist theoreticians, as Proudhons and Weitlings; in other words, they take part only when they are able, and to the extent that they are able, more or less, to acquire the knowledge of their age and develop that knowledge. But in order that working men may succeed in this more often, every effort must be made to raise the level of the consciousness of the workers in general; it is necessary that the workers do not confine themselves to the artificially restricted limits of “literature for workers” but that they learn to an increasing degree to master general literature. It would be even truer to say “are not confined”, instead of “do not confine themselves”, because the workers themselves wish to read and do read all that is written for the intelligentsia, and only a few (bad) intellectuals believe that it is enough “for workers” to be told a few things about factory conditions and to have repeated to them over and over again what has long been known.” (Ibid 121, in footnote)

Whatever the workers might have done during the Maruti struggle (for example, one of the hyper-optimistic intellectual describes how the common workers had subverted the leadership of the trade union in the Maruti plant; how they had organised shop-floor coordination among themselves to keep a vigilance on the trade union leadership, etc., etc.), howsomuch subversion of trade union bureaucracy they mighy have done, and howsoever organised they were on 18 July and at other times during their struggle; does not in any way prove there political and ideological autonomy. These amounts and forms of practical autonomy during workers’ struggle is not something new about which these intellectuals are overjoyed, and this in itself does not in any way show that now there is no need for vanguard, and/or the vanguard is lagging behind the class consciousness. Notwithstanding the extent of creativity, practical autonomy, solidarity, and militancy of the workers’ movement, the question of ideology and politics always comes to it with conscious effort from the Communist forces; to assume that a militant workers’ movement/trade union movement would itself become ideologically revolutionary is like living in a fool’s paradise; those who do not understand this basic thing, do not in fact understand a thing about Marx’s theory of alienation, Lenin’s theory of vanguard party and the difference between vangaurdism and the Leninist theory of vanguard party. Lenin writes in ‘What is to be done?’:

“Since there can be no talk of an independent ideology formulated by the working masses themselves in the process of their movement, the only choice is — either bourgeois or socialist ideology. There is no middle course (for mankind has not created a “third” ideology, and, moreover, in a society torn by class antagonisms there can never be a non-class or an above-class ideology). Hence, to belittle the socialist ideology in any way, to turn aside from it in the slightest degree means to strengthen bourgeois ideology. There is much talk of spontaneity. But the spontaneous development of the working-class movement leads to its subordination to bourgeois ideology, to its development along the lines of the Credo programme; for the spontaneous working-class movement is trade-unionism, is Nur-Gewerkschaftlerei, and trade unionism means the ideological enslavement of the workers by the bourgeoisie. Hence, our task, the task of Social-Democracy, is to combat spontaneity, to divert the working-class movement from this spontaneous, trade-unionist striving to come under the wing of the bourgeoisie, and to bring it under the wing of revolutionary Social Democracy.” (Ibid 121-122)

Numerous such quotes can be produced here, but we will move to some other points.

The argument of the “new philosophers” has in fact nothing new in it. It is the repitition of the old orthodoxies and heresies in working class movement from the late-19th century and the first half of the 20th century. They basically represent a curious amalgamation of different shades of non-party revolutionism. Before her reappraisal of the Bolshevik revolution and the Bolshevik party (though, Paul Levi has tried his utmost to make us believe that Rosa Luxemburg provides a radical alternative to Lenin’s substitutionism!), Rosa Luxemburg believed that the Bolsheviks are the victim of political vanguardism, which cannot replace the spontaneous action of the class. However, she later acknowledged her mistake, as Clara Zetkin has shown. Gyorgy Lukacs wrote about the mistake of Rosa Luxemburg in ‘History and Class Consciousness’ and it is extremely noteworthy at present. Lukacs says that Rosa’s attitude towards Bolshevik Party and Russian Revolution was here determined by an “overestimation of the spontaneous, elemental forces of the Revolution, above all in the class summoned by history to lead it” (Gyorgy Lukacs 1923: 279). Moreover, “[Luxemburg] finds exaggerated the central role assigned by the Bolsheviks to questions of organisation as the guarantees of the spirit of revolution in the workers’ movement. She maintains the opposite view that real revolutionary spirit is to be sought and found exclusively in the elemental spontaneity of the masses” (ibid 284). After that, Lukacs makes a valuable comment: “[t]he spontaneity of a movement…is only the subjective, mass-psychological expression of its determination by pure economic laws…[S]uch outbreaks come to a halt no less spontaneously, they peter out when their immediate goals are achieved or seem unattainable(Ibid 307).  Therefore, “what is essential…is the interaction of spontaneity and conscious control…What was novel in the formation of the Communist Parties was the new relation between spontaneous action and conscious, theoretical foresight, it was the permanent assault upon and the gradual disappearance of the purely post festum structure of the merely ‘contemplative,’ reified consciousness of the bourgeoisie” (ibid 317). This is where Lenin’s concept of the role of a revolutionary party organisation as leading the way and providing direction for mass movements became historically valuable. And here, Lenin was at his Hegelian best. In the preface of his ‘Phenomenology’, Hegel argued against what he called the philosophers of immediacy who do not understand the importance of consciousness and conceptual knowledge; he had nothing but disdain for what he called spontaneous thought, unmediated by concept, which was being advocated by the philosophers of immediacy. In his opinion, a theory which glorified an immediate consciousness easily falls prey to capriciousness and vulgarity. We can clearly see the parallels here if we analyze the arguments of Lenin against the Economist tendency in the Russian working class movement; he stood for an active understanding of the working class and its most advanced sections against the reification and uncritical celebration of merely a passive feeling.

In fact, what the “new philosophers” are preaching is not only a poor reproduction of Rosa Luxemburg’s earlier position, but also a bizarre mixture of autonomist/spontaneist theories of Mario Tronti, Antonio Negri, John Halloway, Castoriadis etc and the organisational trends associated with these philosophers, like the Italian Operaismo, the Dutch, German and French Autonome movements and also the Johnson-Forrest Tendency of the American Trotskyite movement. The common theme that all these trends share is negation of the need of vanguard and a non-party revolutionism, either openly or the other way round. Most of the above trends have now become almost openly anarchist. Another source of the ideologisation of the present “new philosophers” of India is the council communism of Paul Mattick which in fact had its roots in the Dutch Left Communism of Pannekoek et al. All of these trends have taken the famous statement of Marx literally, in their own particular way, ‘liberation of the working class by working class itself’! These organisations and their thinkers want us to believe that Lenin introduced a vanguardist tendency which necessarily results in substitutionism. Before Lenin, such a tendency was absent in the international communist movement. However, this claim too is baseless and unnecessarily and unjustly puts all the “blame” on Lenin! Marx understood the need of organisation and conscious central leadership, though party theory was developed to its full extent by the Bolsheviks under the able leadership of Lenin, and one can understand this process of development of party theory only historical. All ahistorical essentialisations about Marx’s view on party are not only completely useless but also reactionary. If one goes through the debates on the organisational question in the first decade of the 20th century within the Russian Social Democratic movement, the stand of Lenin on the question of spontaneity and organisation becomes clear.

There is also a third problem with the attitude of the “new philosophers”. They are refusing to see what even a blind man can see. The struggle of the Maruti workers’ struggle was a prisoner of the trade unionist politics, though it rejected the trade unionism of the central trade unions. However, the central trade union bureaucracy was replaced by a new trade union bureaucracy. That was the reason why MSEU became obsolete and it was replaced by MSWU. A new phase in the struggle of Maruti workers has started on 7-8 November, 2012 with one-day hunger strike and a rally on the second day. At present, it would be too early to say that the movement will break the boundaries of factory and progress towards a political unity of the working class of the Gurgaon-Manesar-Dharuhera-Bawal automobile belt; that it will break free of economism and trade unionism completely. However, this much is certain: the emergence of MSWU has shown the sheer groundlessness of early premature and uncritical celebrations and glorifications by a number of “ultra-Left” groups and individuals of whatever the MSEU had been doing. These “thinkers” fail to see the failures of this new trade unionism of the Maruti workers’ movement during the MSEU phase. Workers lost valuable opportunities to develop a class unity across factories of the Gurgaon-Manesar automobile belt, which, had it become a reality, would have created a crisis scenario for the state. But the workers under the impact of trade union bureaucracy (initially, of the central trade unions, and later, of the MSEU) and the pecuniary logic, preferred to concentrate on their plant only and various Left organisations had been butressing this tendency. As a result, despite the similarities in the issues of the Maruti workers and the workers of other automobile factories of the entire Gurgaon-Manesar belt, no serious effort to forge a unity across factories was made. So, apart from a few joint rallies attended by union leaders of some  other factories, the workers’ movement remained confined to the site of the Manesar plant. The MSEU leaders ignored suggestions to decide a concrete action programme  for their struggle and to actively call upon the lakhs of workers working  in similar conditions in the factories  of  Gurgaon-Manesar  Industrial  belt. When this blunder was being committed, various so-called “ultra-left” tendencies (those who are left of the CPM) were there and were enjoying the “moment of workers’ self organisation”; those who were trying to draw the attention of the leadership to the fact that the movement will not be able to deal with the management as well as the state if it remains within the bounds of the factory, were branded as pedagogues; some of the hyper-optimistic organisations and intellectuals accused them of demoralizing the workers; others argued that they were only sympathizers of the Maruti workers’ struggle, whereas, they themselves were its participants! Various kinds of accusations were hurled at those who called for expanding the movement outside the factory bounds and in the entire automobile belt of Gurgaon-Manesar. Most of the arguments that were being forwarded by the “optimists” and “new philosophers” were in fact a mixture of the arguments of the above-mentioned anarchist, anarcho-syndicalist, non-party revolutionist and autonomist trends within the working class movement.

Very few people were interested in a critical analysis of the development of the Maruti workers’ movement and the road that it was taking. Especially, the ‘Bigul Mazdoor Dasta’ was active in propagating the view that there must be a concrete programme to conduct the movement in a phased manner and it must be expanded to the entire Gurgaon-Manesar automobile belt transcending the narrow confines of factory. The activists of the Dasta repeatedly told the MSEU leadership that their fight is not against some corrupt officials of the management  and  the local labour department, as many of the workers were thinking. Their fight is against the Maruti-Suzuki Company, the Haryana and central government and the neoliberal policies. Japanese companies are infamous all over the globe for their fascistic management techniques and they are ready to go to any extent to crush the workers. In order to make Haryana a favored destination for foreign investment, the state government has constantly shown its blatantly anti-worker face, be it the brutal suppression of 2006 Honda workers strike or other recent workers’ struggles. The economic policies being pushed through by the Indian government cannot be  implemented  without the super-exploitation of the workers. The workers must also be made aware of the fact that workers’ rights, including the right to form a union are under attack all over the world. So this assault on the rights of Maruti workers can be faught back only through a broadbased  working class  unity  and  by conducting the struggle in a planned and organised manner.4

But at that time, most of the “ultra”-left groups were completely submerged in the euphoria created by the outbreak of the struggle. Anyone who talked anything critical about anything pertaining to the movement was to be damned. The MSEU leaders like Sonu Gujjar and Shiv Kumar were eulogised as new trailblazers of working class struggle in India. When the strike failed, and  the entire leadership of the Union was bought out by the management and backstabbed the movement, the workers were disappointed and frustrated. However, interestingly enough, the euphoria of the Left groups and intellectuals continued! They were still celebrating the spontaneity of the workers and the fact that the central trade unionism was rejected by them, though they overlooked the fact that the new trade unionism offered no novel alternative. Again, when the 18 July incident occured, it was reified and uncritically celebrated by the same organisations and the same intellectuals. It was being hailed as the renaissance of the working class movement in India, a new beginning which shows the way to the workers of India. It is ironic, rather tragic, that an unorganised, unplanned and retaliatory act of the workers of Maruti Suzuki plant, where the discontent and anger of the workers had been building up for months, is being hailed as something which shows the future path of Indian revolutionary movement. While any revolutionary individual or group will defend the rights of the workers against the fascistic Maruti Suzuki management and the State and Central governments, such unnecessary and ungrounded glorification and uncritical celebration of the spontaneous working class action will do only harm even the to working class movement.

It seems that this kind of euphoria is generated due to a sense of defeat prevalent among the revolutionary communist movement. The long period of silence and lull in the working class movement had filled the revolutionary forces and intelligentsia with pessimism and frustration. However, with the breaking of this lull during the last 7-8 years, there is a tendency among the Left groups and intellectuals to wallow in celebratory shrieks, every time workers struggle anywhere. People from universities start their ‘struggle tourism’, so-called “ultra-left” groups and “new philosophers” go on “philosophical vocation” in the words of Louise Althusser and theorize and philosophize about the spontaneity of the working class and how the vanguard has become irrelevant. This is only the deep-seated defeatism and pessimism of these intellectuals that lead them to such conclusions. Most of them have neither seen nor heard about (participating is a far cry!) a workers movement for a long time; now when the workers are taking to streets, now when their patience has run out and they are struggling; these “new philosophers” have become overwhelmed! The fact that workers are taking to streets, resorting to militancy and violence, stupifies them! And all of a sudden they forget everything about criticality, historicisation, and all other things, about which they had been talking and preaching the most all these years, even more than those who had been calling for a critical assessment of the Maruti workers’ struggle. Some of these intellectuals have strong influence of the post-Marxist thinkers like Badiou, Negri, Hardt, Zizek, etc, who are doing precisely the same thing: rejecting the need for the vanguard and preaching non-party revolutionism in an open or a clandestine manner. Suddenly, these Indian followers of the post-Marxist and autonomist Marxist theorists too, had their moment of epiphany and this new “realisation” was this: the working class has gone ahead of the vanguard; the vanguard is lagging behind; long live the working class spontaneity; “liberation of the working class by working class itself”! Such theorisations are being propagated by certain anarcho-syndicalist groups of West Bengal too who are talking about organising a “mass political centre” of the working class apart from the party (the Axelrod’s line which invited harsh criticism from Lenin who argued that there can be only one political centre of the working class, that is party, and its character cannot be that of a mass party.). So there has emerged a particular tendency which is an extremely childish mixture of anarcho-syndicalism, autonomism, Italian operaismo of Tronti-brand, anarchism, council communism, etc. These different alien political trends have merged to form one single tendency of anti-party revolutionism.

It is a matter of concern for the revolutionary communist movement presently that such a trend of what Lenin called “Left”-wing childishness is becoming fashionable in a certain parts of revolutionary intellectuals and students. There are other trends like Autonome movement and other syndicalist tendencies too, that are gaining ground among Left intellectuals and university intelligentsia (it is a relief that it is a failure among workers, who understand the need of leadership (vanguard) from their life experience!). There is an urgent need to refute these theorists and demonstrate the hollowness of their theorisations. Denying the role of vanguard is like denying any agency to the working class. The tendency of pitting the party against the class is dangerous. The people who propagate this fallacy forget the nature of the vanguard party. A communist party is the advanced detachment of the proletariat; it absorbs the most advanced elements of the class; it is the “embodiment of proletarian worldview”, to borrow from Lenin. We will not go here into a discussion on the questions of class, party and state. But this much is certain: the stagnation in the working class movement is breaking; we are undergoing a transition; capitalist system has reached a dead end; working class across the world is taking to streets spontaneously for their rights of livelihood and better living; however, it is precisely the time when we must emphasize, re-emphasize, iterate and re-iterate the need of a vanguard, a revolutionary communist party (which obviously does not mean the ossification of the concept of Bolshevik party; of course, the party theory also needs to be developed further; however, what the present autonomists/syndicalists/anarchists are doing is not development, but retrogression); the fact that, presently we do not see a revolutionary political party of the working class in India, must not lead us to conclude that now there is no need for the vanguard and the class will attain its liberation by itself. Such anarchism and anarcho-syndicalism has only done harm to the movement in the past. The increasing working class militancy and the sharpening of the class contradictions make it imperative for the radical revolutionary intellectuals and students to build a new revolutionary working class party as soon as possible. All the energies of the revolutionary intelligentsia today must be directed towards building such a revolutionary party. Lest, the moment of Socialism will pass, the “new philosophers” will continue to remain prisoners of their seductive philosophical ruminations, and our punishment will be fascism.

 

Endnotes:

1. http://radicalnotes.com/2012/09/12/maruti-a-moment-in-workers-self-organisation-in-india/

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o-3ep0Blktg&list=UUEk7o7hG_qWicGFpvlCKFvg&index=11&feature=plcp

(These are only few examples of such understanding. However, there are organisations which more or less, share this understanding. Since they have not published or expressed their views in printed form or video interviews, and only expressed them during various meetings of Left organisations and individuals or during talks/symposiums on Maruti-Suzuki workers struggle, it would be unethical to comment on them.)

2. http://radicalnotes.com/2012/11/21/on-the-organisational-question-of-the-working-class/

3.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VETJktQwZho&list=UUEk7o7hG_qWicGFpvlCKFvg&index=7&feature=plcp

4. Recently, when the Maruti-Suzuki workers movement entered a new phase under the leadership of MSWU, Bigul Mazdoor Dasta issued a four-page pamphlet and ‘Mazdoor Bigul’ (a workers’ newspaper) published a long main editorial article, calling for mobilisation of workers of the entire Gurgaon-Manesar-Dharuhera-Bawal industrial belt and forging class unity among workers of the entire region. When the 7-8 November hunger strike and rally was organised, the workers came to know that the workers of the Maruti-Suzuki’s Gurgaon plant wanted to come to their support, but could not come due to the union leadership of their factory. Similarly, in other factories too, there is a wave a sympathy for the struggling Maruti-Suzuki workers. However, the 16-member team consisting of central trade union federations makes sure that it pays lip-service to the cause of the workers by sending individuals to every demonstration or protest organised by the MSWU, but does not let the workers of their factories to come in open and direct support of the Maruti workers. Even the Maruti-Suzuki workers are now understanding the fact that without bypassing the central trade unions and mobilising their comrades in other factories, their struggle cannot achieve its aim.

 

References:

Althusser, L 1971, Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays (London: New Left Books)

Badiou, A 2010, The Idea of Communism in Douzinas and Zizek (ed.) The Idea of Communism (London: Verso)

Douzinas, C and S Zizek 2010, The Idea of Communism (London: Verso)

Hardt, M and A Negri 2000 Empire (Harvard University Press)

Hardt, M and A Negri 2004 Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire (New York: Penguin Press)

Hardt, M and A Negri 2009 Commonwealth(Belknap Press of Harvard University Press)

Hegel, GWF 1994, Phenomenology of Spirit: Selections, (Pennsylvania State University Press)

Lenin, VI 1977, Selected Works (in 3 volumes) Volume I, ‘What is to be done?’ (Moscow: Progress Publishers)

Lukacs, Gyorgy 1971, History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics, from the sections “Critical Observations on Rosa Luxemburg’s ‘Critique of the Russian Revolution’” and “Toward a Methodology of the Problem of Organisation”, (London: Merlin Press)

Luxemburg, R 1970, The Russian Revolution in Rosa Luxemburg Speaks ed. by Mary-Alice Waters (New York: Pathfinder Press)

Mattick, P 1978, Anti-Bolshevik Communism (London: Merlin Press)

Pannekoek, A 2003, Lenin as Philosopher, Revised Edition (Marquette University Press)

Sinha, A 2010, New Forms and Strategies of the Working Class Movement and Resistance in the Era of Globalization, paper presented at the Second Arvind Memorial Seminar, Gorakhpur, 2010, 26-28 July. This paper is available at the blog Red Polemique (https://redpolemique.wordpress.com/2012/02/02/new-forms-and-strategies-of-the-working-class-movement-and-resistance-in-the-era-of-globalization/)

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