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People's Industrialisation Needs Popular Struggles

The article by Medha Patkar and Amit Bhaduri offers a correct critique of the current corporate-led rapacious industrialisation which destroys nature and livelihoods. But it does not focus enough on strategies of mobilising people to take charge of the form and content of industrialisation. A programme of industrialisation of, for, and by the people will fructify only when it is predicated on popular struggles. And it is from these very popular struggles that the people can discover the possibility of revolutionary change.

DISCUSSIONmarch 21, 2009 vol xliv no 12 EPW Economic & Political Weekly78People’s Industrialisation Needs Popular StrugglesRabin Chakraborty, Meher Engineer, Soumya Guhathakurta, Subhasis Mukhopadhyay, Sumitra Purkayastha, Partho Sarathi Ray, Dipanjan Rai Chaudhuri The article by Medha Patkar and Amit Bhaduri offers a correct critique of the current corporate-led rapacious industrialisation which destroys nature and livelihoods. But it does not focus enough on strategies of mobilising people to take charge of the form and content of industrialisation. A programme of industrialisation of, for, and by the people will fructify only when it is predicated on popular struggles. And it is from these very popular struggles that the people can discover the possibility of revolutionary change. We offer this note as our response to the article“Industrialisation for the People, by the People, of the People”, written by Amit Bhaduri and Medha Patkar (EPW, 3 January 2009).The basic position of Development with Dignity (New Delhi: National Book Trust, 2005) – henceforth abbreviated to DWD – addresses the need of the hour. We agree with Bhaduri and Patkar that corporate-led industri-alisation, dominated by private capital, domestic and foreign, is not and cannot be an answer to the staggering unemployment inourcountry which is the immediate cause of persistent poverty. This brand of industrialisation generates very little em-ployment since, instead of seeking a balance between productivity and employment-generation, it sacrifices employment-gen-eration to productivity. It also lootsnatural sources like water, land, forest cover and minerals, and delivers a product-mix aimed at the export market and the market of the prosperous, while jhopris and chawls (slums) housing underfed children who drink con-taminated water, multiply underachanging skyline dominated by flyovers, extravagant residential complexes, and malls with soft and mineral water kiosks and Macdonald’s glow signs. These are major reasons which force us to look for alternatives.TheEPW article can be seen as an ex-tension of DWD which presents a thumb-nail version of a modern, forward-looking alternative. Despite our basic agreement, however, we feel that some issues have not adequately been addressed in the EPW ar-ticle and, hence, demand attention. These issues include the following.Peoples’ Control Essential(1) We endorse the need for creating (or, rather, expanding) a domestic market of products and services for the consumption of the toiling people, parallel to thoroughgoing land reforms and a National Rural Employ-ment Guarantee (NREG) like programme of employment and income generation to amplify and sustain demand. However, we also emphasise that the economyof the domestic market has to function under the control of the people, if it is to ensure income for the vast majority of our popu-lace via productive employment. (The people will use the expertise of engineers, scientists, accountants, doctors and teach-ers, whose posting at the village level will open up a huge space for employment of the educated youth.) Peoples’ control can be direct only if decision-making and its targets are decen-tralised. As we have argued earlier else-where, panchayats seem to be a very natu-ral agency for exercising people’s control over the contemplated scheme, working through the participatory democracy of the gram sabha/sansad (village councils).(2) However, we have no illusion regard-ing the hold of the private corporate sector on the governments at the centre and the states, and the sway of the landlord/kulak-political boss-official nexus at the pancha-yat level. It is only consistent struggle which will allow the people to intervene effectively in the panchayats. So, even after attaching importance to panchayats, we feel the need for appropri-ate political formations of the people. These will organise people’s activity in the gram sabha/sansad and the panchayat in order to address the issues arising out of the process of development and intervene therein effectively. It may be noted here that the kind of economic activities we are emphasising should be productive, in ac-cordance with long-term (and pro-people) local and national planning and generate adequate employment. The Nandigram committees (before the killings of 14 March 2007) can offer an appropriate model for such political formations (with coordination between committees in different areas).Organising Production(3) We agree to a large extent with Bhaduri-Patkar that it is necessary to concentrate on the immediate implementation of NREG-like schemes under people’s super-vision. But where people are empowered by development, as envisaged inDWD, they will intervene decisively in the model insofar as it affects them and the new situation will require a new perspective – Rabin Chakraborty (, Meher Engineer (, Soumya Guhathakurta (s, Subhasis Mukhopadhyay (, Sumitra Purkayastha (, Partho Sarathi Ray (, and Dipanjan Rai Chaudhuri (
DISCUSSIONEconomic & Political Weekly EPW march 21, 2009 vol xliv no 1279asBhaduri has remarked elsewhere, the tar-get is a moving one. Wherever their par-ticipation in the struggle against predatory growth has honed their critical faculties, people ask questions about the develop-ment trajectory and go beyond NREG to all the different sectors of the economy. It seems that some tentative directions must be mooted, under the caveat that the motion of the target might change perspectives. A large number of consumer goods and durables like bicycles and television sets, and also inputs for agriculture (tools, machinery, fertilisers) which would not be produced by the agricultural economy or the rural employment guarantee scheme, nor would they be available by local exchanges, but which are essential for a dignified and pro-ductive life for the rural workforce, will have to be supplied/delivered. In the spirit of DWD, the production of these items will need either small to medium scale industry based on the agricultural economy, or ex-changes must develop between rural agri-culturists and urban manufacturing units. Ways and means must be developed for people’s control over these processes, for example, by setting up rural and urban co-operatives for marketing and manufacture. The units of the latter type could perhaps be organised by small and medium size en-trepreneurs with effective workers’ partici-pation in their management, the independ-ence of the workers being promoted by an urban employment guarantee scheme. Peoples’ committees will be essential for organising the political struggle which will, of necessity, be required to adopt such pro-people policies, and for direction of the actual economic activity at the heart of the policy.For essential large-scale economic activity (sectors like the railways, steel and cement), we oppose subsidisation of the private cor-porate sector and revive the notion of the public sector again. Despite its shortcom-ings, which have been recorded in the lit-erature, a critical scrutiny of the public sector’s performances (for instance, of the Life Insurance Corporation of India vis-a-vis private insurers and the nationalised banks vis-a-vis private banks in the recent past), gives us hope that given a dose of competition they can function better than the private sector. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries have made a detailed study of the effects of privatisation in the telecom sector. They found that improve-ment arose from competition and not due to privatisation as change of ownership per se. We, therefore, suggest some re-thinking about the public sector, with a degree of people’s control over officials.Profit orientation in a competitive sce-nario with public and private enterprise competing in the same product market (for example, Steel Authority of India (SAIL) and Tata Iron and Steel Company (TISCO) in the case of steel) will imply a sharp focus on productivity as it leads to reduction in the unit cost of output. Increased productivity usually is a result of reduction in manpower. However, since 90% of employment originates outside the organised sector, the “development for the people” scheme will have ample economic space to generate employment and de-mand for the domestic market even if the public sector is revived.A Programme for the Struggle(4) Some friends might think that DWD or the Bhaduri-Patkar article requires pro-grammes to be placed before the govern-ment or the parliamentary parties. That is not the intention. The programmes are placed before the people and include de-mands to be fought for. In any state where laws are enacted in Parliament, the format of a charter of demands is that of a memo-randum to the government or for inclusion in party political manifestos. This does not imply parliamentary illusions but fol-lows the common sense notion that it is easier to build a struggle against political entities which have broken their promises. So, it is good policy to make them promise what will have to be struggled for. The revolutionary left often takes the view that (a) none of this is achievable without revolutionary change, and (b) panchayats are a needless distraction on the revolution-ary path, born of parliamentary illusions. The point we wish to emphasise is that peoplemake revolution and that its need and modalityarise from the activity and experience of the people themselves. Therefore, the Soviets were a Russian form which were not used in China. The revolu-tionary argues that if there is scope for direct revolutionary overthrow of vested power, even locally, then all other activi-ties become secondary. Even if we accept this for argument and that mass move-ments being witnessed in many parts of India are truly revolutionary activities, we still find vast tracts where there is no such immediate possibility. It is our turn to ask the revolutionary how the masses there can become active on their own behalf. DWD and the Bhaduri-Patkar article offer a way of deepening economic and political democracy under people’s control. If, in course of this, the people discover the pos-sibility of revolutionary change no doubt they will know what to do. By then, they would have gained experience, wisdom, self-reliance, determination and faith in the future, together with the knowledge of forms of struggle and organisation.On the basis of the arguments put forth till now, we would like to highlight the fol-lowing position: People should have a rea-sonable and easily understandable pro-gramme of change before them, some-thing which, they can modify and rectify and start implementing, or fighting to im-plement, on their own, right away.The words “on their own” must not be treated as mere rhetoric. People must have participatory bodies for formulation, im-plementation and monitoring of the locally and regionally organised economic activity discussed here. This is why activation of the gram sabha/gram sansad is of overrid-ing importance. These bodies, comprising all people within a panchayat, can be transformed into working (as opposed to talking) parliaments of the people. Even where a political party has fought for and established at the local level a degree of people’s power suffcient for undertaking independent economic activity, such activity must be undertaken by the people acting through participatory bodies and not under bureaucratic control of the party. Really pro-people political parties must learn that their real task is to develop a two-way dialogue with the people and not one-way control. In particular they must promote the people’s committees but not trytoturn them into pocket organisations.We hope this intervention leads to a further fruitful discussion among people actually working to bring about change in our unhappy society, of the important theses set out by Patkar and Bhaduri.

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