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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 35, New Delhi, August 14, 2021

The Peasants’ struggle needs widespread support | JVS Murthy

Friday 13 August 2021


by JVS Murthy*

Among the struggles going on all over the world, the Peasants Struggle in India has a distinction of its own. Though the farmers are fighting for their rights since a long time, it is only last year that it has attracted national and international attention. It is a popular perception that it is only the working-class that had lead most of the great revolutionary movements, and peasantry played only a supportive role. But history tells us that one single section of the people have never been able to achieve a social revolution, without the co-operation and active participation of subaltern sections. This is the experience right from the Paris Commune till the Cuban Revolution.

We are all aware of the fact that the peasants are agitating since one year against the Three Black Agricultural Laws, which were unilaterally imposed on them to serve Private Corporate interests. They dare biting cold, scorching summers and pouring rains, but still their struggle is surging ahead unabated. Though the alliance of peasantry and working class was mooted, it has not gained strength to the required level to wage a more powerful struggle. This is not a new concept. Lenin had proposed it at the turn of the 20th Century and successfully waged a revolutionary struggle in Russia. Later The Chinese Communist Party and other communist parties in many countries followed the same path and were successful in some countries. But the role of peasantry was always seen as secondary to that of the working class. A lot of misconceptions used to be in circulation even during the period of socialist construction about the role required to be played by the peasantry and rural poor. The misconception was that they constituted an unorganized anarchic mass and will act as a brake on the transition to socialism.

In his book, “The Peasant War in Germany (1850)”, Engels had stressed the need for the coalition of working-class and peasantry. For the peasants to liberate themselves from the chains of exploitation, they have to build a lasting alliance with the working class. There is no alternative to this. Political power can be won by such an alliance, in the fight against bourgeois – land lord power. Engels explained that in countries that are mainly agricultural, it is the peasantry and its allied rural poor who will form an important force in the revolutionary struggle. Marx’s stress of the vanguard role of working class in the revolutionary struggle has to be viewed in a broad perspective. The working class, who have to sell their labour power to survive, and the social nature of their labour also creates conditions for creating a cohesive fighting force against their exploiters on the basis of shared values and common interest. As Marx however said, the historic-social conditions in each country may lead to different forms of struggle and it is not an iron-clad rule that only the working class should lead the struggle. The ruling classes in France were able to quickly erase the gains of the Paris Commune after it was crushed. The working masses constituted hardly 19% of the total population at the time of the October Revolution in Russia. The peasants and labourers of Russia at the turn of the 20th Century had no rights and were severely exploited. And all the other nationalities were subservient to the Czarist regime. Tenancy, semi-slavery and oppressive feudal domination had made the situation hopeless for the peasants and labourers. Many of them fled to cities in search of livelihoods. By 1898, Industry began to grow in Czarist Russia. While about ten million families were engaged in agriculture and allied activities, the working class constituted hardly 2.7 million. Sensing their anger at the Czarist oppression, Lenin correctly estimated that revolution is the only option open to the working masses to emancipate themselves. What is important to note is that a majority of the laboring class is still peasantry at that time. It is imperative that the peasantry will have to play a crucial role in such a revolution. By the time the revolutionary movement took root in Russia, Sensing the growing militant role of working-class, Lenin authored a book, titled, “The Development of Capitalism in Russia.” He stated that Russia can no longer continue to be a feudal state with bonded peasantry in the iron cage of Czarist oppression. The growing working class will have to play a historic role in transforming Russia. In his work: “Who the Friends of the People Are and How they Fight the Social Democrats (1894)”, he had heralded a revolutionary movement in Russia. Though the leadership role has to be played by the working class, it is obvious that in Russia, the peasantry which constitute 83% of the working population, will have to assume a significant role. The fact that the First Decree issued by the victorious Revolutionary Government was aimed at the Agricultural Reforms. That itself shows how much stress Lenin had given to the need to harness the revolutionary energies of the peasantry

In the Chinese Revolution, the peasantry played a leading role as the working class was miniscule at that time. The ‘Long March’ of the Peoples Liberation Army had endured enormous difficulties, but finally succeeded in overthrowing the power of landlords. It is essentially a peasants led movement. Chiang Kaishek played a dubious role by aligning with the landlords. The Long March lasted for 370 days over 6000 miles (10000 Kms) with no historic parallel and finally culminated in the establishment of the Peoples’ Republic. The struggle for the liberation of the people of China from poverty and backwardness is an ongoing process. So also, in Vietnam, the heroic fight for the liberation of Vietnam from foreign invaders was led by peasantry. In this context, it might not be correct to assume that in some countries, only the industrial working class can lead the struggle against exploitation and can bring about a revolution on its own. But at the same time, the working class has the advantage of the social nature of their work and understand the need to fight against a common enemy, the capitalist. Though the prevailing conditions in each country are unique, due to economic, cultural and historic reasons, what can be said with certainty is that a strong alliance of the working class with the peasantry and rural producers is an essential element of any revolutionary struggle. And this is what Marx and Engels stressed. And a more significant role has to be played by the working class, however miniscule it is.

It is to be examined, whether India satisfies these requirements at the present juncture. The era of liberalization had effectively neutralized the resistance power of trade unions. Especially, in the last ten years, the ruling capitalist classes have succeeded in wielding their oppressive power through the state apparatus to crush the working class movement and take back many rights won through decades of struggle. Today, we are left in doubt whether the working class can rise to the occasion to put up an effective fight. The Three Black Laws had effectively brought the peasantry under the control of monopoly corporates. The movement against the Black Laws, was started by the peasants of Punjab had spread throughout the country. At the same time, the movement of the workers against the oppressive Labour Codes could not gather enough steam. The failure to build a sustainable struggle is seen as a weakness on the part of trade union leadership by many political observers. The call for the historic “Bharat Bandh” had seen the participation of tens of crores of workers in all industrial and service sectors. But at the same time, we have to admit that it could make only minimal impact on the general population. This requires introspection by the working class activists. And also the call for Peasant-Worker Alliance also has minimal impact. The need is to realize the fact that it is the working class which has to take up the torch and galvanize all other sections of the working population including the peasantry. Only then can there be a real impact. Let us work earnestly to realize this goal.

*(Author: JVS Murthy* is Joint Secretary of the Communist Party of India Andhra Pradesh State)

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