The Role of the Working Class
THE joint trade union movement of India has given a call for country wide general strike on January 8, 2020. This will be the nineteenth strike called by the joint trade union movement since the formal introduction of neoliberal policies in our country.
The sweep, the coverage of issues and the spectrum of participation in successive strikes have been continuously widening. Workers who are not members of any central trade unions have also been participating in the strikes. The demands raised today by the joint trade union movement include not only those of the workers but also all sections of common people as well as issues of communalism, attacks on human, democratic and constitutional rights of the people etc.
Over the last over two decades, the trade union movement gradually came to understand the need to gain support of wider sections of people for its struggles. This was particularly necessary with the BJP government led by Modi aggressively pursuing its neoliberal agenda, totally ignoring the demands raised by the entire trade union movement. This was the case with the ‘Workers’ Charter’ adopted in the national joint convention of trade unions on March 5, 2019, on the eve of the parliament elections and the national convention on September 30, 2019 that called for the January 8, 2020 general strike.
Thus the trade union movement was able to get the support of vast majority of the people of the country for the January 8, 2020 general strike. The peasants supported the call by giving the call for ‘rural bandh’; national organisations of students, youth and women also called upon their members to actively support the strike.
This shows the increasing maturity of the working class of India and its gradual realisation that it cannot succeed in its fight against the government’s policies, unless it mobilises wider support of various other sections of toiling people. The trade union movement of the country is slowly edging towards developing unity of not only the working class but also all sections of toiling people, though at this juncture, this unity is yet in a nascent stage.
In addition to the joint struggles by the central trade unions, united struggles have also been taking place in several industries like banking, BSNL, coal, steel, oil etc. National federations of beedi workers, construction workers etc in the unorganised sector have also led several joint struggles as the federations of scheme workers, on their specific demands. Communists working in the trade union movement have played a big role in developing this trade union unity. But they have yet to succeed in converting this unity into the class unity of the working class.
The trade union unity is also mostly confined to the national and to some extent state levels. It has not percolated to the grass root level. The united struggles, encompassing vast sections of the working class, have not made the working class of the country conscious about the exploitative nature of the present capitalist society, the need to overthrow it and the role of the working class in the struggle to replace it with an exploitation free society. Working class is yet to realise who are its friends with whom it has to strengthen its relations and who are its enemies against whom it has to wage a relentless fight, in class terms.
The coming to power of the Modi led BJP government for the second time, with increased votes and seats in the parliament elections and the results of many elections to the state assemblies is another indicator that the working class is yet to gain such consciousness.
In his article “On Strikes,” Lenin stressed how “every strike strengthens and develops in the workers the understanding that the government is their enemy and that the working class must prepare itself to struggle against the government for the people’s rights.” But while strikes and other battles make the unions schools for training workers to fight the capitalists, the unions have even greater tasks to fulfil.
Karl Marx made a historic formulation that, trade unions are schools of communism. The Communist Manifesto analysed the process of working class organisations leading to the formation of trade unions and the party of the working class. The ‘Resolution on the establishment of working class parties’ adopted at the Hague Congress of the International Workingmen’s Association (IWA) said ‘The constitution of the working class into a political party is indispensable in order to ensure the triumph of the social revolution and is ultimate end – the abolition of all classes’… ‘The lords of the land and the lords of capital will always use their political privileges for the defence and perpetuation of their economical monopolies and for enslaving labour. To conquer political power has therefore become the great duty of the working class’.
Thus the ultimate objective of a working class party, the Communist party, according to the Marxist understanding, is to ensure the triumph of social revolution and ultimate abolition of all classes.
Lenin strengthened Marxism and developed the concept of the political party of the working class. He said the Communist Party is the vanguard of the class, its highest political organisation and that this understanding has to be imparted to the working class.
But how does the working class gain this understanding? It does not come automatically. The trade unions, which are instruments of day-to-day struggles of the working class, organisations which make them realise their united strength cannot impart this socialist consciousness – of the inherent and inevitable exploitative nature of capitalism, not only the desirability, the inevitability of its end and the role of the working class in ushering in an exploitation-free socialist society. As Marx said, along with the capitalist society is also born its ‘grave digger’, the working class. This consciousness has to be imparted to the working class from outside the trade unions, by the Communist Party.
The strength of the working class lies in its unity, broadest unity across sectors, across the country. Communist Party has to emphasise the need for trade union and working class unity, help strengthen united struggles. Through its active and direct interventions, it has to attract the working class towards Marxist ideology. Supporting the resolution adopted in the International Socialist Congress in Stuttgart, Lenin emphasised the need for closer and stronger connections between trade unions and Communist parties.
Lenin emphasised the importance of the Communist Party taking correct stand towards the mass activities of the working class. He warned of the danger of the Communist Party getting divorced from the practical activity of the working class. He wrote ‘It is important that at the very outset social democratic party (Communist Party) should strike the right note in regard to trade unions and at once create a tradition of social democratic participation, of social democratic leadership’. According to Comrade BT Ranadive, member of the first Polit Bureau of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the founder president of CITU, what Lenin meant is ‘Arm the rising trade unions with a correct Marxist consciousness through the Party of the working class.’
The draft resolution on the economic struggle for the Second Congress of the RSDLP (1903) stated, “The Congress deems it absolutely essential in all cases to support and develop in every way the economic struggle of the workers and their trade unions (principally the all – Russian unions) and from the very outset to ensure that the economic struggle and the trade union movement in Russia have a social-democratic character. Referring to this, Com BTR wrote: This last phrase is nothing but ensuring the guidance of the Party for linking the trade unions with the revolutionary political struggle.
Lenin considered the economic struggles of the workers as an integral part of the revolutionary struggle of the working class. In his epic work What Is To Be Done, Lenin wrote: ‘In the initial stage the economic struggle, the struggle for immediate and direct improvement of conditions, is alone capable of rousing the most backward strata of the exploited masses, gives them a real education and transforms them – during a revolutionary period – into an army of political fighters within the space of a few months.” But, at the same time he pointed out that the consciousness generated through these spontaneous struggles, trade union struggles, could not go beyond trade union consciousness to challenge wage-slavery itself, unless it is enriched and trained by the Party on the basis of Marxism. The bourgeoisie and its state are not frightened by the narrow craft and unionism of the workers’ movement. ‘The spontaneous working class movement is trade unionism… and trade unionism means the ideological enslavement of the workers by the bourgeoisie.” He fought against the tendency to ‘imprison’ the trade union movement within its narrow circle, virtually depoliticising it.
Lenin taught that socialist consciousness has to be created by the Communist Party, by carrying on agitation and propaganda among the working class. The Communist Party has to closely follow, be associated with working class struggles and on the basis of the experiences gained by the working class in these struggles, conduct agitation and propaganda to create socialist consciousness. It is through agitation and propaganda alone that the working class can be freed from the reformist influence.
Today, neoliberalism stands discredited, when capitalism is in serious crisis. The working class across the world as well as in our country is up in arms against the attacks on its livelihood, working conditions and basic rights. It becomes the responsibility of the Communist Parties to link this crisis with the capitalist system and its efforts to protect its profits by pushing the entire burden of the crisis on to the working class.
The discontent among the working class and the common people is being made use of by the right wing forces across the world, as well as in our country, to divide people, disrupt their unity, divert their attention from the basic livelihood issues and weaken their struggle. The capitalist class have been supporting the right wing forces to weaken the Left. The socialist propaganda by the Communist Party has to expose the link between the rise of the right wing divisive forces, which have no alternative to the crisis ridden capitalist system and the support they receive from the big corporates.
Stalin explained the importance of the trade unions as ‘the main strength of the Communist Parties’ in their struggle to conquer political power, to ensure social revolution. He wrote:
“What constitutes the strength of social-democracy in the West? The fact that it has support in the trade unions.
“What constitutes the weakness of our Communist Parties in the West? The fact that they are not yet linked with the trade unions and that certain elements within the Communist Parties do not wish to be linked with them.
“Hence, the main task of the Communist Parties of the West at the present time is to develop the campaign for unity in the trade union movement and to bring it to its consummation; to see to it that all communists…work systematically and patiently to strengthen the solidarity of the working class in its fight against capital, and thus attain the condition that will enable the Communist Parties to rely upon the trade unions.”
This year, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) is observing the centenary of the communist movement in India. The centenary of the first national trade union centre in the country (AITUC) is also being observed this year. The Golden Jubilee of CITU, which was born with the slogan ‘unity and struggle’ and which has tirelessly worked for strengthening working class unity is being observed this year.
This is an opportune time to remember what the great teachers of Marxism Leninism taught the working class and the communist movements about emancipation of society from all exploitation and the leading role of the Communist Party, the vanguard of the class, in achieving this.