As the farmers’ protest amplify voices against big corporates like Adani and Ambani, who they say are benefitting from the government’s laws and policies, a group of left-leaning persons have launched a platform for the small traders and businessmen to resist “corporate exploitation of the economy.”
“We, who believe in communist politics, have been trying to convince the people that the corporates are ruling the nation and the government is merely playing the role of assisting them. We failed to convince, but the present farmers’ movement could do so,” the newly established Socialist Chamber of Commerce and Industry said in a statement. Their tagline is “Labour is the capital”.
Aiming to build a socialist economy, the Chamber says it will try to gain the support of small and medium businessmen, who may have initial problems with the word ‘socialism’, but would join them once acquainted with their ideology. They also expect support from this section in light of how the Modi government’s policies like GST and demonetisation have left such businessmen distraught.
Zafar Eqbal, president of the Socialist Chamber and a PhD holder from Delhi’s Jamia Milia Islamia, launched the initiative after years of work on the field with non-profit organisations and unions. He is also part of Kolika Collective Development Federation, an organisation helping in the upliftment of handloom weavers of Bhagalpur in Bihar. The Socialist Chamber of Commerce and Industry is also registered in and based out of Bihar at present.
“We have a problem and solution based orientation,” said Eqbal, adding, “There is a lot of space for alternative leftist politics in a place like Bihar. But to sustain that, one needs associated economic activities and resources. Kerala has shown example in this with the use of cooperative based economic activities.”
The reasons behind forming the Socialist Chamber of Commerce and Industry is that the traditional leftist movement in India has so far restricted itself to labour and farmer rights post liberalisation of the economy in the 90s, the statement says. Meanwhile, the movement missed out on a large section of small-time traders and businesspersons who have been affected by the rise of big corporates and multinational companies as the economy moved from being manufacturing-based to being service-based. It also points out that the self-employed population rose with the termination of jobs after liberalisation.
“There should have been an endeavour to establish some sort of communication with this section from our side. We should have stood with these smaller businessmen who had been brought to the margins by the new economic forces. And we should also have tried to refute the existing discourse of ‘development’ and establish that it was deceptive. The development that is taking place is nothing but a process that is meant to profit the multinational companies at the cost of sacrificing the interests of the smaller businessmen,” the group said, asserting that the initiative to start the Chamber is a move towards correcting this.
They believe this initiative would surface an opportunity to debate and discuss with the youth, especially the unemployed, the present economic conditions of the country. At present, India’s unemployment rate has peaked, retail inflation has reached over six-year high, and the economy overall is seeing a slowdown. “The discussion will lead us to questions like what causes Ambani and Adani to make huge profits when the economy has been hit hard by the lockdown and the pandemic?” Eqbal asked.
Supporting the farmer movement’s decision to boycott Ambani and Adani, the Chamber said they should prepare for the same. As an alternative, they plan to reach out to consumers with the goods produced by cooperatives, producer companies and non-profit companies. They are also focusing to begin their work in the agriculture and handicraft sectors, “where a large section of our population is engaged and where machines and processing play a minimal role”.
Eqbal explained, “These are labour intensive sectors and our tagline is labour is the capital. Without labour, capital cannot create surplus value or profit. We want to establish the importance of labour and thus, we are focusing on involving initiatives based on agriculture or artisan work and not big factories.” He further said, “It makes sense for a state like Bihar where the majority of the population is dependent on agriculture. We are looking at the alternative economic activities and want to spread it to other states too.” Eqbal added that the Chamber is also looking to create opportunities for jobless youth to engage in economic activities.