For Capital, the Calamitous Farm Reforms are an Opportunity
“Why send out murderers,” Brecht inquires, “When one can employ bailiffs?” And bailiffs being the executioners of the judicial orders of the capitalist state—for Nietzsche, “the coldest of all cold monsters”—execute the masses with legally-sanctioned brutality. If bailiffs are parliamentarians, the execution becomes constitutional.
In India, workers and farmers battling against the elected bailiffs are striving to stave off the process of accumulation through dispossession unleashed by a neo-liberal state. The calamity of COVID-19 and an overwhelming majority in Parliament have provided the state with a rare opportunity to open the agrarian sector to the corporate world. Aware of the fact that contesting the dominant mantra of progress through corporatisation has become non-negotiable, the farmers have made the minimum support price of the yield as their main slogan.
Land, for the feudal, has always been a source of expropriation and domination, but for the small landholding farmers land is a symbol of pride, the expression of ego. In rural Punjab, non-commercial household production and petty commodity production existed side by side for long. In village communities, the barter system and payment in the shape of the crop at the end of the season remained a dominant mode of exchange till the 1970s. By then, not many villages were electrified; besides rain, the primitive canal-based irrigation system was the only means to provide water to the lands. Water disputes among the farmers leading to loss of lives and permanent enmity were not uncommon.
Once the electrification of rural areas began, modest technological changes brought considerable advantages to the rich farmers. Tube-wells, tractors and harvesters freed the labour from the means of production. The construction of new cities attracted laid-off workers to the cities where, by providing cheap labour, they fulfilled the precondition of industrialisation.
In the subcontinent’s history, these technological changes were slow and gradual, but they brought a significant demographic change to the rural-urban divide. The relatively slow process of migration reflected the sluggishness of industrialisation in cities that lacked the necessary infrastructure and industrial base. Unlike Europe, especially England, and the United States, the massively expropriated subcontinent lacked conditions to enter the phase of rapid industrialisation immediately after Partition, and hence did not require Irish or Black slaves. Poverty and population were rampant, but the primitive accumulation of the British left few resources and scarce will in the ruling class.
The former Soviet Union provided the much-needed heavy industry to India. The help was unconditional with no hegemonic tags and predatory conditions, the traits of the IMF and the World Bank. However, the state structure of divided Punjab remained largely feudal. West Punjab, the hotbed of feudalism, remained in their iron grip, while the east divided into three provinces, remained agrarian and equally backward as its predominantly Muslim half.
To enact and implement land reforms, the Indian Constitution of 1949 gave the states the necessary powers, but the dominant class interests prevailed. States such as Uttar Pradesh, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, where the balance of forces were in favour of workers, took part in land reforms actively, but Punjab and Rajasthan saw only insignificant changes (Hemant Singh, 2015).
Besides the half-hearted attempts of different states, the parallel process of division and distribution of land through inheritance effectively reduced the size of big landholdings in most of central Punjab. The dominance of law of value was established but contrary to the urban areas the aggressive corporatisation of the agrarian sector could not materialise.
One or all three preconditions for corporatisation—freeing of labour from its means and instruments of production, the intensification of labour’s productivity through intensified exploitation and/or the introduction of technology, and the specification and specialisation of the labour force—were not met.
The Modi regime, through its brute majority in Parliament, has introduced new laws to enforce these changes. What would be their ramifications? How much suffering would they cause to the already expropriated peasants? Is the government justified in enforcing these laws? These are the immediate questions.
Human labour power is an inseparable activity inherent in every human being but capital eyes it as a commodity that can be sold in the market. Land being a part of nature is common property, but private interests have appropriated nature as personal property. Appropriation of social wealth as private property and alienating the producer from their own activity are the leading contradictions of capitalism, which advocates freedom but practices slavery.
The Indian government and Opposition are overtly neo-liberal, and they mince no words about it. Under the garb of providing alternative food through the corporate sector to one of the largest populations of the world, they have decided to expose the farmers to the barbaric laws of the market. It will lead to large-scale unemployment and forced migration to the overpopulated cities without the question of morality, which the exchange-value system never had.
The simultaneous assault on the working class is no coincidence. The prolonged working hours, the power of the capitalists to hire and fire workers at will and in large numbers and maintaining the inhuman working conditions are the time-tested tools of squeezing the maximum surplus value from the real producers. The capitalistic slogan of creating jobs is as spurious as that of creating wealth. Had this been true, the capitalists would have created their fortune without workers’ participation. It is not the capitalists but human labour that creates wealth.
Capitalism does not create jobs unless it is a must for its realisation. It separates the workers from their means of production—factory, land, farms, etc.—and creates an army of unemployed workers in the capital-intensive areas pushing wages even lower. While creating the world with its sweat and blood, human labour simultaneously makes itself redundant. By introducing the reforms, this is exactly what the Modi regime is doing now.
With the minimum support price gone, the peasant will be exposed to the chicanery of a middleman—the CEOs of the oligarchy; the curse the Indian Constitution of 1949 meant to shed off. Will the corporate sector initiate the process of technological change is open to debate. The capitalist wants to increase productivity and not their fixed capital. If a worker’s labour proves to be less expensive than technology, the capitalist would prefer not to enhance their fixed capital, likely to become outdated in a few years’ time.
The invasion of the corporate sector inevitably brings speculation to land prices. Land, being a commodity, is weighed to become profitable as an agrarian object or as a housing market. The idea of making the burgeoning population of India self-sufficient in alternate and “prosperous agriculture” can end up in a housing bubble. The peasants, after losing the financial support of the state, will have to negotiate with capital and having to be more compatible would need to rely on banks for loans. In either case, they will be exposed to the blind forces of the market.
In an interview about the ongoing reforms in India with The Wire, Prof. Ashok Gulati has not only confirmed the actual forces—the corporate sector—working behind the reforms but also the strength and balance between the two opposing forces. Being a staunch supporter of reforms, while he demands the government implement the process, his emphases upon shifting the balance from the supply side to the demand side, if taken on his words, creates an interesting contradictory situation. He not only stresses upon the government to give six months to the farmers of Punjab and Haryana to prepare for the ultimate reality but, lunging a step further, he asks the government to provide them with a package of Rs.20,000 crore (Rs.200 billion) to secure their income—an incentive to move away from the outmoded crops to the beneficial ones.
This sounds like Keynesianism, a concept borrowed from Marx. “Keynesian demand management—broadly consistent with Marx’s Volume 2—dominated economic thinking in the 1960s, whereas monetarist supply-side theories—broadly consistent with Volume 1 analysis—came to dominate after 1980 or so” (Harvey, 2014). Marx, in these two volumes, has highlighted the contradictory unity of production and realisation, and under neoliberal capitalism both processes have become equally important.
Gulati’s suggestion to the government, offering an incentive to the farmers, cannot be dismissed as a “bourgeois conscience laundering”; a definite rationale is working behind it. By incentivising the farmers, he is striving to overcome the crisis arising not only at the level of production but at the moment of consumption too. Failure to realise is the inherent flaw of capitalism: if farmers will be without money who will consume the surplus? Capitalists as a class cannot do it alone. They need consumers to do the job for them.
For bourgeois intellectuals, the world is nothing beyond competition and the capitalist economy alone contains the inherent feature of competition. However, people are not unaware that the contradiction between competition and monopolisation are the feature of the same system. How Google, Facebook, Nike, Apple, and many others, are monopolising the market is no more a secret. They are the brazen examples of the dead labour receiving rent and devouring the living labour working in China or other expropriated countries.
Any discussion about the role of the government in running the economy of the country has become taboo. Even when the American dream has gone where it belonged, to the dustbin of history, the American people, stung by the market version of freedom, do not want the government’s interference in public affairs. Deprived of health, education, superannuation, jobs, transport and the rest, they have passed everything meaningful in their lives to the web of the bondholders and bankers. The capitalists, however, have another opinion about the state—they cannot rule without it. The crisis of 2008 proved it again when the Bush government bailed them out to crucify ordinary workers on the altar of scarcity.
“Creative destruction” is one of the many clichés that fascinates the capitalist ideologues. Though the idea comes straight from The Capital, while analysing the capitalist mode of production Marx applied the progressive role of capitalism in dialectical terms, exploring both essence and phenomenon. For him, creative destruction was simultaneously a destructive creation. If capitalism produces in one area/zone, it destroys in the other as it captures space through time.
While growing paddy, Indian farmers are admittedly wasting plenty of water in one season, a crucial factor in the economy of a developing country, but it is worth noting that the Adanis of this world cause not only an abundant water wastage in places like Australia, Latin America, etc., but also a serious blow to the climate. Instead of abandoning the hackneyed and damaging process of mining, the Australian prime minister is promoting a clean-coal strategy. Capitalism creates its own climate where pollution credits are sold and violated with impunity. Nature, for capitalism, is a mere object, a means to the end which is profit. Al Gore’s investment in climate has allegedly made him a “carbon billionaire” with no significant decrease in climate pollution even in his own country.
Due to the shortage of rainfall, a significant part of Australia frequently suffers a drought-like situation that becomes extreme in certain parts of the country. This is often a matter of life and death for the farmers; quite literally, as revealed by the high rates of suicide among farmers of the inland. Conversely, the miners have never felt a dearth of water, and even during calamitous conditions, the process of accumulation through dispossession continues unabated. Some years ago, when the Newman government was in power in Queensland, they had “removed all farmers’ rights to protest to a mine and given mining companies the rights to take all the water they want from the Great Artesian Basin—and at no cost to them at all.” (Allan Jones, Dec 2014). Sounds familiar? So much for the destructive creation of the market!
Prof. Gulati has rightly complained about the undue administrative expenses, the leakage of money flowing through the official pipe, and overpayment to the unskilled labourer receiving a living wage while not being worthy of it. It is a structural problem related to a lethargic bureaucracy but replacing it with one motivated by a cutthroat profit-oriented kind will bring more harm to people than good. The recent incidents in Bolivia are a lesson to learn. Constant and vigilant critique of the bureaucracy can improve matters, but reforms are no revolution. Forced unemployment through austerity is another effective tool to rid of the unskilled labour and the state has always obliged capitalists by using it ruthlessly.
Instead of reforms, the system needs revolutionary changes. Land has to be collectivised and used to produce use value rather than exchange value. “After all, the free flourishing of individuals is the whole aim of politics” and this is only possible when “individuals find some way of flourishing in common,” as Terry Eagleton has said. Throwing the tub with the baby or decapitating a person for a headache will neither be an answer nor a sign of prudence. Barring a savage, no surgeon will approve such a therapeutic shock. Treatment may prove effective, but the patient will probably not survive.
Barring their chains, workers and peasants have nothing to lose. The success or failure will depend upon their organisation and will to stand against the power of a totalitarian state and its media that dances on the snapping of its fingers. The Indian economy is in a tailspin. The pandemic has merely highlighted its failures. The time to strike a lethal blow to fascism seems to have arrived and people will have to rely on their spontaneity; it is as Theodor Adorno said, “The… labour of the craftsman’s hands are not merely an assertion of an idea of the world, but the reflection of life unvanquished: as long as they challenge decadence, they will carry hope.”
The author is an Australian Pakistani writer, prominent columnist and academic affiliated with the Western Sydney University, Australia. The views are personal.
Get the latest reports & analysis with people's perspective on Protests, movements & deep analytical videos, discussions of the current affairs in your Telegram app. Subscribe to NewsClick's Telegram channel & get Real-Time updates on stories, as they get published on our website.