FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Pilgrimage Against Neoliberalism

by VIJAY PRASHAD

Delhi.

Early this morning, on the busy bylanes of Zamrudpur (Delhi), I passed a young girl being taken to school on a cycle-rickshaw. In her lap she held fast to her day’s homework. It was a three dimensional representation of “my town,” made with what looked like a cardboard base, with houses of card and paper mache, colored by pencils and paint. It reminded me of the projects I did when I was her age, the assignment alternatively civic and nationalist: Create a Model Town. Her town, like my own, was scrubbed clean of the anomie of capitalism: houses for citizens here, a factory for workers there, a bank and a town hall, a zoo perhaps or a playground, and, of course, a police station tucked away in the corner. This town is far from our own world, where unemployment is a structural feature and where slums are the main residence of our people; where the agricultural sector sustains high levels of social distress and migration has become the standard way for survival; where social harassment of women and oppressed groups rubs the sheen off the bright landscape.

Last week, a hundred million workers in India conducted a General Strike. Eleven trade unions with divergent political traditions and programs came together to bring out their members for two days (never before in India’s modern history have all the unions joined together, and never has the working-class held a two day strike of this magnitude). They were united by a ten-point list of demands, including checks on inflation, creation of a jobs program and of strengthened protections for trade unions, implementation of equal pay for equal work, and restrictions on contract work and casual work. The Financial Times saw the demand sheet in terms of a fight against inflation. But the real issues are about building working-class power. The powerful response by the people indicates that they are truly angry about price increases of goods to satisfy their bare needs; but what was also clear is that the demands for an end to contract labor, for the right to join unions and the right for women to be paid as much as men would go a long way toward strengthening the bloc of the People against the bloc of Money. The Strike was as much about power, therefore, as survival.

The intensity of the strike was not clear in the heart of the cities or in My Town. Industrial areas, ports, coal mines and oil refineries – here the battle-lines were drawn, such that in Ambala (Haryana), a cashier at a bus depot and a trade union leader, Narender Singh was killed when he tried to stop some buses from leaving the depot. From Assam’s Amingaon Bottling Plant to Tamil Nadu’s Kalpakkam Atomic power project, the machines sat idle as workers clashed with the police. Contract workers refused to enter the Rourkela steel plant in Odhisha and the anganwadi (day care) workers in Uttar Pradesh refused their charges. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had begged the unions to call off the strike to no avail. Trade union leader Gurudas Dasgupta pointed out that the cabinet ministers deputed to speak to the unions did not include the Finance Minister – Neo-liberalism’s Myrmidon.

Statistics suggest that the unions and the Left have read the tea-leaves correctly. Prices rise daily (food inflation in January rose by almost 11 percent) as the International Labour Organisation reports that structural unemployment is fated to increase across the world, with hundreds of millions off the grid. As the industrial North falls off the fiscal cliff, southern
poorerprashadeconomies geared toward export northward will face a necessary contraction. Left Indian economists, such as Prabhat Patnaik, suggest that the only course for India is for a massive expansion of domestic demand. The current government has neither the ideological disposition nor the class temperament to undertake such a set of policies. The Parliament Budget Session opened on the second day of the strike with an agenda that will be unable to manage the crisis to the people’s benefit.

That is why the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has inaugurated a massive left-wing pilgrimage from the four corners of India toward Delhi. Caravans of the people have already begun their journey from Kanyakumari, the southernmost tip of India, and will soon head out from Kolkata (in the east), Mumbai (in the west) and Jallianwalla Bagh (in the north), to arrive in Delhi by mid-March. This jatha or band of comrades will travel the countryside to rouse the people against the neo-liberal agenda.

The demands are six:

* Right to land and house sites.

* Curb price rise and ensure right to food.

* Right to education and health.

* Right to employment.

* Ensure social justice.

* End corruption.

The agenda is both modest (in appearance) and grand (in its claims against the neo-liberal policy and governance). Twenty years ago, the right-wing party, the BJP, organized a Rath Yatra whose agenda was the destruction of a mosque in Ayodhya and the construction of a Ram Temple. Its leader, L. K. Advani, bestride a converted Toyota van, masqueraded as a Hindu God on a chariot, as he went across the country. The Yatra fueled hatred and division and summoned the worst of humanity toward riots and death. I was in Seelampur, outside Delhi, when the destruction came in the chariot’s wake in early 1992; the carnage was spectacular, with young men eager to entry History as killers (one gang leader of the BJP, with blood on his sword, was so brave that he sent his mother out during the curfew to get his daily dose of smack).

This Jatha comes from the other end of the political spectrum. It promises not hatred but camaraderie, not division but unity. The BJP threatens to revive its yatra. Like the ruling alliance (the Congress and its allies), the BJP and its allies are not capable of taking the bull of economic distress by the horns – they are joined in their fealty to neo-liberal policy. The social pendulum swings toward uncertainty and anguish, into which wades the Left, whose message of class power seeks to convert bitterness to hope. Dekh raftaar-e inquilab, Firaq, “Witness the pace of Revolution, Firaq”; Kitni aahista aur kitna tez, “How slow, and how swift.”

Vijay Prashad’s most recent work is The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South just out from Verso Books.

Vijay Prashad’s most recent book is No Free Left: The Futures of Indian Communism (New Delhi: LeftWord Books, 2015).

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
May 27, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Silencing America as It Prepares for War
Rob Urie
By the Numbers: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are Fringe Candidates
Paul Street
Feel the Hate
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
Basic Income Gathers Steam Across Europe
Andrew Levine
Hillary’s Gun Gambit
Jeffrey St. Clair
Hand Jobs: Heidegger, Hitler and Trump
S. Brian Willson
Remembering All the Deaths From All of Our Wars
Dave Lindorff
With Clinton’s Nixonian Email Scandal Deepening, Sanders Must Demand Answers
Pete Dolack
Millions for the Boss, Cuts for You!
Peter Lee
To Hell and Back: Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Gunnar Westberg
Close Calls: We Were Much Closer to Nuclear Annihilation Than We Ever Knew
Karl Grossman
Long Island as a Nuclear Park
Binoy Kampmark
Sweden’s Assange Problem: The District Court Ruling
Robert Fisk
Why the US Dropped Its Demand That Assad Must Go
Martha Rosenberg – Ronnie Cummins
Bayer and Monsanto: a Marriage Made in Hell
Brian Cloughley
Pivoting to War
Stavros Mavroudeas
Blatant Hypocrisy: the Latest Late-Night Bailout of Greece
Arun Gupta
A War of All Against All
Dan Kovalik
NPR, Yemen & the Downplaying of U.S. War Crimes
Randy Blazak
Thugs, Bullies, and Donald J. Trump: The Perils of Wounded Masculinity
Murray Dobbin
Are We Witnessing the Beginning of the End of Globalization?
Daniel Falcone
Urban Injustice: How Ghettos Happen, an Interview with David Hilfiker
Gloria Jimenez
In Honduras, USAID Was in Bed with Berta Cáceres’ Accused Killers
Kent Paterson
The Old Braceros Fight On
Lawrence Reichard
The Seemingly Endless Indignities of Air Travel: Report from the Losing Side of Class Warfare
Peter Berllios
Bernie and Utopia
Stan Cox – Paul Cox
Indonesia’s Unnatural Mud Disaster Turns Ten
Linda Pentz Gunter
Obama in Hiroshima: Time to Say “Sorry” and “Ban the Bomb”
George Souvlis
How the West Came to Rule: an Interview with Alexander Anievas
Julian Vigo
The Government and Your i-Phone: the Latest Threat to Privacy
Stratos Ramoglou
Why the Greek Economic Crisis Won’t be Ending Anytime Soon
David Price
The 2016 Tour of California: Notes on a Big Pharma Bike Race
Dmitry Mickiewicz
Barbarous Deforestation in Western Ukraine
Rev. William Alberts
The United Methodist Church Up to Its Old Trick: Kicking the Can of Real Inclusion Down the Road
Patrick Bond
Imperialism’s Junior Partners
Mark Hand
The Trouble with Fracking Fiction
Priti Gulati Cox
Broken Green: Two Years of Modi
Marc Levy
Sitrep: Hometown Unwelcomes Vietnam Vets
Lorenzo Raymond
Why Nonviolent Civil Resistance Doesn’t Work (Unless You Have Lots of Bombs)
Ed Kemmick
New Book Full of Amazing Montana Women
Michael Dickinson
Bye Bye Legal High in Backwards Britain
Missy Comley Beattie
Wanted: Daddy or Mommy in Chief
Ed Meek
The Republic of Fear
Charles R. Larson
Russian Women, Then and Now
David Yearsley
Elgar’s Hegemony: the Pomp of Empire
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail