97th Anniversary Of The Great October Revolution
SEVENTH November this year will mark the ninety seventh anniversary of the Great October Revolution. It was on this Day in 1917 that a new world free from exploitation and poverty was ushered in. The great advances made by people in the Soviet Union under socialism inspired generations of people and the workers all over the world. However, the young workers born or brought up in a world dominated by imperialist dictated neo-liberal globalisation, in a world where the Soviet Union ceased to exist, might not be able to fully realise the significance of the October Revolution. Remembering the contributions of the October Revolution and understanding its great significance for the working class of the world becomes even more important today when the working class all over the world is facing immense onslaughts by international finance capital and the national and multinational corporations. These attacks, significantly, are carried out with the full and total support of the governments in most of the countries. Many of the governments which have come to power with popular slogans and the votes of the common people and the workers, have been executing policies for the benefit of the national and multinational corporations heaping huge burdens on the very people who voted for them. This is the case in our country too. In this situation, the anniversary of the October Revolution should be an occasion for the working class to analyse the contrast between two social systems – the capitalist system that is based on exploitation of one human being by another and the socialist system free from exploitation. This is an occasion for the working class to remind itself of the path it needs to tread in its quest for true emancipation. WIDENING DISPARITITES UNDER CAPITALISM Capitalist system has today exposed itself as being totally incapable of meeting the basic needs of vast sections of the people, despite the availability of all the necessary resources. The world today produces enough food to adequately feed all its people. But one in seven people in the world still go hungry. One in eight people have been estimated to be suffering from chronic hunger in 2011-13. Poverty is the main cause of hunger because the poor do not have either the land to grow their food or the income to purchase it. The world’s resources are concentrated in the hands of a few, the 0.1%. Decent employment is one of the basic needs for survival. The material and cultural needs and aspirations of the people can be satisfied by ensuring education and full employment opportunities. But under the present system, based not on the need to meet the requirements of the people but on the greed for profit of the capitalist class, unemployment is a necessity to push down the wages and bargaining capacity of the workers. Unemployment, particularly youth unemployment, has reached unprecedented proportions since the present global economic crisis. In some countries like Greece and Spain etc, more than half of the young are unemployed. According to the Global Employment Trends 2014 report of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), at present 74.5 million people below the age of 25 are unemployed. This is in addition to the 23 million workers who have dropped out of the labour market. Unemployment rate of the youth at the global level is over 13%, two times more than the overall global unemployment rate. More and more of the potential workers are getting discouraged and remain outside the labour force. This not only impacts their living conditions but is a huge wastage of human resources and loss to the advancement of the society as a whole. Vast majority of those who work, particularly in the developing countries, are not able to lead a decent life despite working for long hours all their lives. In 2013, around 839 million workers lived with their families on less than 2 USD a day and an estimated 375 million workers lived with their families on less than USD 1.25 a day. According to the ILO, vulnerable employment has rapidly increased in 2013. The austerity measures being adopted by various governments have resulted in cutting down the social welfare measures imposing further burdens on the working people. Disparities between countries and between people within countries have greatly widened. Almost half of the world’s wealth is now owned by just one percent of the population. In India too, inequalities have highly increased. The world’s most expensive house is owned by Mukesh Ambani, a resident of Mumbai, where Dharavi, the biggest and poorest slum of Asia is also located. India today is home to around 30 percent of those living in extreme poverty in the world. The very people who produce most of the wealth in the world are forced to live in poverty, misery, superstitions, and ill health. It was under the socialist system that such problems confronting humanity like poverty, illiteracy, unemployment were eradicated. All working people were ensured a decent and dignified living. The productive capacities of the people at large were unleashed by socialisation of the means of production. The State ensured that the benefits of this reached the toiling masses. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) granted its citizens the right to work, education and health. Women and children were given priority. The colossal development of industry and society and the living standards of the mass of the people under socialism, in a country that was poor and backward, were unprecedented. The dramatic improvement in the conditions of the workers under socialism in the Soviet Union, particularly the system of social security to the workers, inspired workers all over the world. This compelled the ruling classes to rethink their attitude towards labour globally. While till then labour struggles were sought to be ruthlessly suppressed, ruling classes now started to think about providing certain concessions to the working class to prevent them from being attracted towards socialism and to create illusions that their conditions can be improved within the capitalist system itself. In Great Britain, the Whitley Commission was appointed in 1917 to report on ‘the relations of employers and employees’. In 1918, it gave its report recommending a system of regular formal consultative meetings of workers and employers. This was reportedly to offset the demand of ‘workers’ control’, a demand which was rapidly gaining ground after the Russian revolution. In 1918, the then US President Woodrow Wilson created the National War Labour Board to formalise a federal policy for dealing with organised labour during World War I. Before this, the government’s involvement in labour disputes was in the form of breaking strikes, keeping surveillance on radical workers in the labour movement, enforcement of injunctions etc. The NWLB is said to have curtailed some of the most flagrant anti-union practices like forcing the workers to sign contracts that prohibited them from joining unions. In February 1918, the third Inter-Allied Labour and Socialist Conference, with representatives from Great Britain, France, Belgium and Italy issued a report that advocated among other things, the establishment of an international labour rights body. The International Federation of Trade Unions called for a meeting in Berne in July 1919 and demanded an end to wage labour and the establishment of socialism. It said that if these could not be immediately achieved, then an international body attached to the League of Nations should enact and enforce legislation to protect workers and trade unions. These were the developments that preceded the establishment of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in 1919, as an agency of the League of Nations following the Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War I. The first annual conference of ILO was held in October 1919 and adopted the first six International Labour Conventions, which dealt with hours of work in industry, unemployment, maternity protection, night work for women, minimum age and night work for young persons in industry. The ILO became a member of the United Nations system after the demise of the League in 1946. The sacrifices of more than 20 million Soviet people who lost their lives in the anti-fascist struggle unleashed liberation struggles throughout the world. The victory of the Soviet army over Hitler’s Nazi forces facilitated the collapse of the colonial system, victory for the national independence movements in many countries including India and the historic victory of Chinese revolution. Soon a socialist camp evolved encompassing more than one third of the world. The concept of ‘welfare state’ emerged and was adopted by several countries in the world. Thus, it is clear that it was the ‘workers’ control’ of the State in the Soviet Union and the social security system established there to ensure the basic rights to employment, education, housing, health, old age etc that forced the developed capitalist countries to concede certain benefits to the workers in their countries. It was not with a new found love for labour or conviction towards human rights that some basic rights were granted to the workers. It was the struggles of the workers, the coming into existence of a working class State, the Soviet Union, and over one third of the globe in the socialist sphere that forced capitalist countries to enact certain legislations – lest the workers in their countries get influenced by socialist ideas. Many of the social security benefits and labour legislations in India are also the results of these conditions. Following the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the serious setback to socialism in the late twentieth century, the balance in the correlation of class forces shifted in favour of imperialism. The neo-liberal policies of privatisation, liberalisation and globalisation gained momentum all over the world. Simultaneously a powerful ideological offensive against the theory of scientific socialism, against all progressive values and forces was unleashed globally, by imperialist forces. The infamous theories of ‘end of history’ and related campaigns led to large scale confusion among large sections of workers and the people. Major changes have taken place in the political, economic, social and cultural spheres all over the world as well as in India. The collapse of the USSR and the setback to socialism had its consequences for the people struggling against exploitation and domination by imperialist forces. Attacks on the hard won rights and benefits of the workers like their right to organisation, working hours, minimum wages, pension and other social security benefits etc, have intensified. International finance capital and the multinational corporations are today dictating the policies of the developing countries. ONSLAUGHT ON THE WORKING CLASS With the advent of neo-liberal policies in our country in 1991, attempts to amend labour laws to provide employers the right to ‘hire and fire’ have gained force. While these could be resisted by the united trade union movement to some extent till now, the present BJP led government has hastened the process of amending the labour laws in favour of the employers. The Factories Act which was enacted in 1926 is one such Act which is set to be amended along with several others like the Contract Labour Act etc that were enacted as a result of the protracted struggles by the working class, facing untold of sufferings and making huge sacrifices. The onslaught on the working class globally has further intensified with the onset of the global economic crisis. Governments in almost all the advanced capitalist countries have been trying to shift the burden of the crisis onto the working class by implementing the policies of ‘austerity’. The wages, pensions and other social security benefits of the workers are being cut. They are forced to work longer hours without overtime benefits. Public expenditure on education, health etc is being curtailed. The same policies of curtailing public expenditure on welfare measures and ‘austerity measures’, started by the Congress led government have been followed by successive governments at the centre during this period and have been greatly intensified by the present BJP led government. The present global crisis from which the world is still not able to come out, despite repeated assertions that there is a ‘turn around’, has once again demonstrated the unsustainability of the capitalist system. It is now well known how the ‘too big to fail’ giants in the corporate world fell and had to be bailed out by the governments. Billions of dollars of public money had to be invested to rescue these giant financial corporations which were responsible for the crisis while imposing further burdens on the people for no fault of theirs. In the process, many countries fell into ‘sovereign debt crisis’. Today workers, unemployed youth and other sections of the people all over the world, including in the citadels of capitalism, are coming out in large numbers against the attacks on their livelihoods and living conditions. Many are raising questions on the effectiveness of the capitalist system itself. Slogans like ‘99 percent against 1 percent’ later changed to ‘99.9 percent to 0.1 percent’ are being raised to expose the increasing disparities in the capitalist system. The discontent against the attacks on the workers’ rights in our country is also growing. All the central trade unions irrespective of their ideologies have come together to unitedly fight against the attacks on the workers. Yet, the international finance driven neo-liberal policies for maximisation of profits continue in different parts of the world. The countries in Latin America where huge struggles of the working class led to the defeat of imperialist supported governments and formation of governments inclined towards the Left, which have been trying to implement pro-people measures, are increasingly finding it difficult to carry on with their welfare programmes. While the workers and other toiling sections of society are struggling to protect the governments that have initiated the pro-people welfare measures, the big business and corporations with the backing of imperialist forces are making all attempts to dislodge these governments by various means and regain State power and withdraw these measures. This situation poses a serious challenge to the working class movement all over the world including in our country. Such onslaught on the workers and the people cannot be effectively faced and defeated unless the working class is ideologically equipped and is capable to understand the class character of the forces that push for these policies and their class interests. These have to be understood in the international context of the unipolar world that came into being after the dismantling of the Soviet Union and the setback to socialism and the rise of international finance capital. The question is, has the class oriented trade union movement in India been able to create this ideological consciousness among the working class in the country? By hindsight, it can be said that the way in which socialist principles were implemented in the USSR had several weaknesses although it is also a fact that establishing a socialist society was on an uncharted path. But the failures were of such magnitude that they led to the collapse of the system itself. At the same time, experiences after the 1990s have confirmed that what happened in the Soviet Union and in the East European countries was not the failure of socialist ideals and principles, but the way socialism was built in those countries. It is a scientific truth that socialism is the only alternative to the exploitative capitalist system. The goal of bringing about a change in the correlation of class forces in favour of the working class can be achieved only by raising the ideological consciousness of the working class, by exposing the class basis of the neo-liberal policies and mobilising the mass of the workers in the struggle against these policies. The class oriented working class movement must be able to mobilise the other sections of the toiling people also – the agricultural workers, poor peasants and other economically exploited and socially oppressed sections in this struggle. November 7 is an occasion for the class oriented working class movement to rededicate itself to this task and march ahead in its goal towards an exploitation free society, towards socialism!