Historical specificity of fascism and the working class
Parliamentary democracy and capitalist contradiction
Both the left and the conservative right viewed the universal suffrage and its concomitant development of parliamentary democracy with almost equal scepticism, albeit in two opposite directions, when growing political democracy became the ground reality in Western Europe in the late nineteenth century capitalism. Marx, in his account of 1848-50 working class upheavals in France, argued that the logic of universal suffrage would lead political to social emancipation of the workers ultimately through the social ownership of all the means of production. On the contrary, in the House of Commons debates of 1866-67 conservative politicians like Cecil argued passionately against the impending electoral reforms that would empower the workers to vote. In their eyes, democracy would inevitably lead to socialism. But capitalism in its heydays after its more than long two hundred years of history could accommodate universal suffrage when the reform act of 1867 which empowered electorally a significant section of the British working class, was passed in Britain. Whether the view of the revolutionary left to consider the universal suffrage for working class as the way for unchaining class struggle or the view of the parliamentary left to consider it as the opportunity of achieving a commanding economic position for the working class is correct, is a different debate altogether. But the historic specificity made it imperative for capitalism in reconciling with working class right and accommodating them in a democratic set up to avert the transformation of working class from ‘class in itself’ to ‘class for itself’. The contradiction between the capitalist economy of profit and accumulation for its own continuous reproduction and the rights of the working class was so inherent within the parliamentary democracy that it strives to shed its democratic essence in favour of authoritarian or fascist rule in the time of crisis arisen from the contradiction within the capitalism
The contradiction of capitalism arise, as Marx expressed it, ‘from the fact that capital and its self-expansion appear as the starting point, as the motive and aim of production; that production is merely production for capital, not vice versa, the means of production mere means for an ever expanding system of the life process for the benefit of the society of producers. The characterization holds good for fascism, but there is this difference, conflicts between the different branches of capital are largely suppressed in the interests of capital as a whole, and heavy risks are pooled through the instrumentality of state.’ (Facsism, sweezy 2002 : 342). Actually the contradiction of capitalism consists in its inability to utilise the means of production ‘for ever expanding system of the life process for the benefit of the society or producers’. (ibid, 343). The fascist movement grows with the sharpening of this contradiction as the economic crisis breaks out.
Karl Marx dwelt on the dual nature of labour under capitalism. On the one hand, argues Marx, labour is abstract labour, involved in producing commodities for the market, objectified as value, expressed in the exchange of commodities for money, from which capital extracts profit. On the other hand, labour is also involved in the production of use value, concrete labour, both individual and social. Under capitalism, the two forms of labour are, he argued, in constant tension with each other: creative, purposeful activity is subordinated to labour disciplined for the maximization of profit. Potentially, this tension is one of self-determining activity versus alienated labour (Elson 1979). In this tension lie a source of agency and the transformative potential of labour (Transformative resistance – The role of labour and Trade Unions in Alternative to Privatisation.- Hilary Wainwright : 82)
Neo-liberalism and democracy
Triggered by the threat of privatization in this neo-liberal phase of capitalism, the working class struggle for power which rests on the enhancement of democratic control over the labour process, and the purpose of labour, including accessibility to public service and utilities is a possible outcome. So in this phase, working class struggle must underpin the move from a struggle simply to defend workers’ livelihood to a struggle over a service that should be for the benefit of all.
The representative democracy in the face of the pressures from mobile global capital is in crisis. In India, unlike the west the parliamentary democracy was adopted at a time just after the Independence when India’s per capita income was very low and the capitalist development was very weak in comparison to that of western countries. The extent of parliamentary democracy that could be adopted by the political class in a premature and dependent capitalist country like India was perhaps due to the accommodative stream of freedom struggle that strived to address Indian cultural diversity, and the democracy deficit in the bourgeois parliamentary sense was due to the accommodation of obscurantist, casteist and communal stream of freedom struggle by the Indian ruling class at the time of independence. The achievement of independence with truncated democracy was in the interest of British imperialists. But Indian democracy and the pluralism not only survived but also thrived within the framework of uneven capitalist development despite occasional disruption. But at this juncture of political change and economic crisis, the disruption of parliamentary democracy which is on the verge of collapse leaving space for fascist forces to reign in is all-pervasive.
The weakening of democracy is the result of political change caused by the gradual dismantling and loss of efficacy of institutional structures that hitherto ensured the involvement of the union of organised labour. Though the organised labour in India is less than 10 percent of the total workforce, but this economically active labour has been the backbone of the welfare state that has to embrace a broader section of society through its welfare measures within the ambit of a nationalized capitalistic development policy.
Neo-liberalism and the labour
But through the neo-liberal policy of privatization and contractualisation from the eighties, the majority of the economically active population is becoming either unemployed, their work is casualised, or they are hired through labour brokers. The majority of the rural population who were hitherto engaged in agricultural activity has been transformed into unorganised labour-force in service sector, and the majority of them have become migrant workers. The wage-earners by selling their labour power are brought under the real subsumption of capital. The agricultural labourer is getting gradually transformed into the sellers of their labour-power for making profit for the capital in agri-businesses. Moreover, an 8 percent growth rate in India since 1991 has created no absolute increase in manufacturing jobs. As Patnaik pointed out, “corporate industry not only generates little additional employment; but in addition it uses its monopoly to carry out primitive accumulation of capital (or more generally what I would call accumulation through encroachment): by demanding concession from the state exchequer; by imposing ‘conditionalities’ on the state government to the detriment of the people, including dispossession from their land and displacement from their habitat; and by engaging in land speculation.” (Vijay Prasad: 2015, page 249,). The welfare state was a struggle within capitalism for a transfer of value led by the workers themselves for whom the insufficiency and insecurity of wage is a threat to survival and reproduction (Wayener 1986: 56-84). The globalization and restructuring of the state has set into cumulative causative process that brings down the price of labour even below its real cost for super profit. (Working Class and Insecurity Hypothesis – Anuradha Kalhan)
The philosophy of managerial control system of labour process is separation of intellectual work from the work of execution. There is no spread of knowledge or skill; there is polarisation of knowledge and skill. A few have it and the vast numbers are deprived of it. Such a separation of intellectual work from the work of execution is indeed a technical condition best adapted to a hierarchical organisation, best adapted to the control of both the hand and the brain of worker, best adapted to profitability, best adapted to everything but the needs of the people. In the time of capitalist crisis, much emphasis is given to increase the intensity of labour by mechanisation, lowering wages or by increasing labour-time. According to official statistics, between 1991 and 2004 employment fell in the organised public sector, and the organised private sector hardly compensated for this. The economic policy to achieve growth is driven by a mechanism by which growing inequality drives growth, and growth fuels further inequality. To delineate this predatory growth, Amith Bhaduri wrote, “not only is there little growth in the purchasing power of the poor, but the reduction in welfare expenditures by the state stunts the growth in demand for necessities.” So, to achieve this target of growth, the legal and institutional structures those have been historically developed to protect certain rights of the labour and its concomitant societal welfare need to be dismantled.
Caste, cultural cleavages and labour
Under capitalism, social reproduction refers to the reproduction of the capital – wage labour relationship, and thereby, the construction of labour power as commodity. However, there are three peculiarities of labour, first, the commodity labour power is inseparable from the human being, as Marx said that labour power is the capacity of a living person to labour, which in turn, depends on labour’s productive consumption. Second, there is a historical, social and cultural basis of determining the value of labour power. It would differ in time and place. Third, of all the commodities produced in a capitalist society, labour is the only one that cannot be produced capitalistically based on wage labour and the extraction of surplus value. It is produced outside the ambit of the market in the household and family, which may be penetrated, by the market and state but lies outside it.
But the question is how the Indian caste system which has an Indian historical specificity is getting accommodated in the uneven developmental framework of global capitalism. One of the dominant views of the social scientists is that Indian Society is hierarchical but, at the same time, segmented. The logic of hierarchy and of segmentation is provided by one and the same ideology and a deeply ingrained institutional structure supporting that ideology, namely, the caste system. ( Amiya Kumar Bagchi 2002 : 141). But this is not something to say that Indian society is sui generis and the capitalistic development which is characteristically uneven cannot accommodate the institution of caste in the framework of extracting relative surplus value as profit from the Indian hierarchical but segmented labour force. Furthermore, both the capitalist domination and hegemony or coercion and consent are more glaringly visible in the post-colonial countries than the western Europe, the birth place of capitalism, but this also does not mean that the hegemony of the Bourgeoisie is the only characteristic trait of capitalism in the western countries. This becomes apparent when Amiya Kumar Bagchi writes in his book “Capital and labour redefined: India and the third world”
“…. But Marx and Engels certainly did not believe in mind-body dualism, or in the thesis that workers, as soon as they become sellers of labour power, miraculously shed all their other identities except in relation to their fellow-workers, and the capitalist control they have to confront daily. In his astonishingly precocious book on the working class, Engels fully recognized the cultural identity of particular groups of workers -- the Irish as against the English, for example – and similar references recur in their works and correspondence in later years also.” (Dualism and Dialectics 2002: 208-09)
From the colonial period to the present neo-liberal phase, the capital is utilising the diverse socio-cultural specificities in two different ways – one, cultural affiliation to a certain community gives the labourer a support system to his/her living condition that allows the capitalist to squeeze more surplus value than the completely alienated labourer bereft of such cultural community affiliation. Second, the primordial values of the cultural specificities are used to divide the working class, and this is the sphere where the objective of the obscurantist forces and the capitalists coincide.
This phenomenon is visible both within the manual labourers as well as new employees in the service sector. One of the reason of the IT industry’s success is that it has been able to tap the existing cultural capital of the urban middle classes (which consist primarily of high and middle classes) – including their educational attainment, knowledge of English, and some degree of westernized social orientation and habitus. The IT workforce is drawn mainly from this section of society, and by providing new and lucrative employment opportunities it is in turn contributing to the reproduction and consolidation of middle class/upper caste domination. The middle class is certainly expanding in size and diversity, and the IT industry has been an important force behind this process by pulling at least some people from non-dominant social group into the middle class. Yet, in the final analysis, the industry cannot be said to have contributed to overcoming the social and economic division that continue to characterize Indian Society. (Employment, Exclusion And ‘Merit’ in the Indian IT industry – Carol Upadhya ( Esssays from EPW edited by Satish Deshpande)
Migrant Workers : Colonial Experience
Industrial capitalism and the colonisation ofAsia, Africa, the Caribbean and other parts of world by the British Empire triggered a massive mobilisation of marginalised agrarian communities from the Indian subcontinent, to serve as labour both within and in overseas colonies. Between 1834 and 1937, over 30 million migrants from India, 98 percent of them as labourers, are estimated to have gone to overseas British colonies like Burma, Ceylon, British Malay, Mauritius, Fiji, the Caribbean and East Asia. The first major colonial capital investment was in Indian plantation sector. In Assam Tea plantation, the planters preferred the migrant workers from Bengal and other adjoining regions to the local tribal workers who were engaged for clearing the jungle. This preference was primarily based on the observation of the planters that the local tribal workers were culturally against confinement and coercion that was principal aspect of getting workers allegiance and servitude to capital. Since Assam was a wholly strange place for a migrant labourer who came from great distances to work on the plantation, he was placed in a relation of complete dependency vis-à-vis the manager. The manager occupied a special position in almost every aspect of garden life. He was the provider of accommodation, subsidised rice and space for recreational activities to the labourers, and also acted as arbitrator of their internal feuds.
Rana P. Behal in his book ‘One hundred years of servitude – Political economy of tea plantation in colonial Assam’ wrote, “The structure of the planter’s power hierarchy based on coercion and authority, aided and abetted by the colonial state, which was to dominate production relations in the Assam tea plantation for long, evolved in the 1860s with the introduction of the indenture system at the height of the speculative boom of the ‘tea mania’ years. Over the next couple of decades this power structure developed and operated at two levels. At the top level, the tea companies, with their headquarters in Britain and managing agents in Calcutta, instituted a centralized authority in the form of an apex body in 1881, the Indian Tea Association. ……………. At the ground level, these strategies and policies were enforced through a hierarchical power structure centered around the managerial authority of European planters and their assistants.” This power structure developed on the premise of capital-labour relation has been undergoing certain modifications during late and post colonial period to ensure super profit for the plantation capital.
Fascism and new labour
Every capitalist nation, in the period of imperialism, carries within it the seeds of fascism. The question naturally arises whether it is inevitable that these seeds should take root and grow to maturity. Fascism arises out of a situation in which the structure of capitalism has been severely injured and yet not overthrown. The approximate class equilibrium which ensues at once intensifies the underlying difficulties of capitalist production and emasculates the state power. Under these conditions the fascist movement grows to formidable proportions, and when a new economic crisis breaks out, as it is bound to do, the capitalist class embraces fascism as the only way out of its otherwise insoluble problems.
Social scientists see society deeply divided into three knowledge based classes – the symbolic analyst who creates and manipulates knowledge, a service class to support them and a large number of people who have no economic role at all. There is a tendency like never before to polarise the working class.
From the Indian perspective, the huge unorganised and un-unionised labour-force along with pauperised and unemployed reserve army of labour are amenable to fall in the trap of fascist movement which addresses the primordial and narrow traits of cultural specificities and exclusionary tendencies. In the absence of an alternative strategy to address the material interest as well as the cultural contents which are particular in form but universal in essence, the fascist ideology and the political force will have enough space to extend their sphere of influence to reign in the state power. This alternative programme for democracy must include the democratic control over the labour process and the purpose of labour, including accessibility to public service and utilities. To achieve this end, working class struggle must underpin not only the wage struggle simply to defend workers’ livelihood but also the struggle over a service that should be for the benefit of all. The workers struggle must also address the cultural specificities that support the existence of the labourer as human being and the labourer’s livelihood as a member of a particular community.
1. The theory of Capitalist Development : Principle of Marxian Political Economy : 2002 – Paul M. Sweezy.
2. Capital & labour Redefined : India And The Third World : 2002 – Amiya Kumar Bagchi.
3. Critical Essays on the Dynamics of Capitalism : Macroeconomic Theiry & Practice : 2010 – Amit Bhaduri.
4. Alternatives to Privatisation : 2012 – Edited by David A McDonald, Greg Ruiters.
5. Working Class Movement in India in the Wake of Globalization : 2012 – Edited by Jose George, Manoj Kumar, Dharmendra Ojha.
6. The Problem of Caste : Essays from EPW : 2014 – Edited by Satish Deshpande.
7. One Hundred Years of Servitude : Political Economy of Tea Plantations in Colonial Assam : 2014 – Rana P. Behal. i