The farmers braved the barricade

To loot, or to advance economy, farmers are encountered. Role in economy makes farmers an important question in countries. This sub-continent too can’t ignore the question.

Amit Bhaduri examines aspects related to recently concluded farmers’ movement in India in his The Emerging Face of Transformative Politics in India Farmers’ Movement (Aakar Books, Delhi, India, 2022, www.aakarbooks.com). The Emerging Face … stands with a backdrop: The unprecedented farmers’ movement in India, which had its center of gravity near the capital city New Delhi. The book, with 11 articles, according to Amit Bhaduri, “was written primarily in a campaign mode as the farmers’ movement went through various phases of ups and downs.” This statement tells about the book and its author, a teacher who worked in renowned universities around the world, and an economist.

farmers movementThe book while working as a campaign material provided a part of theoretical grounding, along with other writings by activists, economists, politicians. Claiming to be presenting the whole theoretical grounding will be aspersion of facts, as the book doesn’t claim that.

Because of role in economy, farmers turn out as a powerful political force. All political forces, pro- or anti-people, take farmers into account in all economies. Russia and China are glaring examples. The Peasant War in Germany by Engels provides deeper and significant meaning. Protesting farmers in many European countries are regular actors on the stage of political-economy spanning the EU. Peasant studies are an essential area of politics for radical change. Mao’s Report on an Investigation of the Peasant Movement in Hunan is a substantive study material to many activists organizing the poor peasantry in agriculture-centered economies. Amit Bhaduri’s The Emerging Face … is one such short study of the movement.

A major strength of the book is it was, while in formation, supported by the author’s “many former students, colleagues, friends regularly on the spot” – the center of gravity, which is thousands and thousands of farmers taking a stand for months and months, a duration, which is one of the characteristics of the movement’s tactics, and which is one of the reasons to cite the movement as unprecedented.

The facts cited and statements made by Amit Bhaduri in the book, and based on which he draws conclusions are, at least a part, from the field – the center stage of the farmers’ movement. The book, thus, helps get a real picture, and reliable material for further studies and interpretations of the movement, the peasants involved, and the agro-economy related to the movement.

Several newspapers rejected his articles. This info tells power of facts, arguments and analysis the articles carry. The economist, undoubtedly standing in the camp of the fighting farmers, had to, as he writes, “explore all possible outlets for reaching more people”. The articles were published between mid-December, 2022 and February, 2022 in The Telegraph, Countercurrents, Frontier, print and on-line editions, Arthashastra, The Global Economist, Citizen, Klassekampen (Norway), and The Hindu. Professor Chaman Lal is co-author of one and Kaustav Banarjee is co-author of another article in the book having touch of the protesting moments – months that was.

The farmers’ movement cuts across, Amit Bhaduri writes, “traditional barriers of gender, class, caste, religion and language in large numbers.” It’s a significant message the movement conveyed, and the author mentioned, but ignored by a group of theoreticians and organizers in the people’s camp. Its implication is deep and far-reaching. Anti-people forces, anti-democratic camp take note of the fact, and try to wipe out this force of unity that cuts across sectarian lines. Interestingly, a group of pro-people theoreticians and organizers persistently stand on the infamous sectarian lines, and unknowingly harm people’s democratic movement. Political developments teach, but a section of politicians deny learning!

Referring to a number of commentators, Amit Bhaduri identifies this movement as “unprecedented; even the anti-colonial struggle in India never reached this level of participation.” It’s also a significant issue related to the movement, as the issue comes out of play of a number of factors that sometimes go unnoticed by a group of politicians. In the colonized sub-continent, the peasantry rose in revolts, many times in many areas, from parts of Bengal to the southern region, in the central and northern parts. Those were, at times organized by the peasants themselves and at times by the revolutionary political forces. A few of the peasant movements were also organized/participated by a number of leaders from the Indian National Congress, as MK Gandhi and Nehru described. The Champaran, Partapgarh, Awadh Kisan Sabha, among others, movements/incidents/organizations are noteworthy. All these movements went along class lines, at times subtle and opaque, along the questions of friends and foes, alliances and targets.

A fact that Amit Bhaduri tells, and noticed by many is startling: “[W]hat is certainly unprecedented is the absence of any political party in organizing and leading the movement; instead the opposition parties are being led by the movement.” It’s a reality; it’s a dynamics of contradictions; and it’s a show of dialectics of an existing political reality. It shows one of the conditions of related political forces – limitations and incapacities that are to be overcome, otherwise, overwhelmed, possibilities of, or hindrances persisting to the rise of new political forces.

The teacher of economics dissected the movement in the following way: “Although the movement remained totally peaceful, it was not Gandhian.” He substantiates this statement with the following argument: “The farmers had a clearer understanding without fuzzy trusteeship where the rich hold the wealth of the nation in a trust for the poor.”

He makes a bold statement: “All important political parties are compromised to various degrees in this game of the competitive electoral politics of Indian democracy where money matters a great deal. Corporations are favored over the interests of the people in general, a general feature of capitalist democracies everywhere in the world.” The author draws a specific line of demarcation that some political leaders, even in the camp of the people, forget: Capitalist democracy. A few Left leaders get mesmerized with capitalist democracy, which to them is “Parliamentary Democracy”, “Liberal Democracy”.

The first article in the book is on Fascism, its aspects: political, social, economic. Probably, the author will, in future, focus on ideological and cultural aspects, aspect related to communication, and class roots.

“Poor grow poorer, and don’t even see it”, the second article, makes a comparison between India and China in term of inequality, and mentions the following facts of life:

The informal economy “gives livelihood to 93 per cent of India’s workforce and produces 45 percent of total output.”

“Successive governments irrespective of their political color have managed so far not to rattle the financial sentiment of the capital market by restraining severely public spending on health, education and housing. Naturally, the poor are the hardest hit.”

It’s a general picture in capitalist economy, which is sometimes identified as “liberal/neo-liberal economy”, sometimes as “market economy”. The reality of governments irrespective of political color pursuing the same path is the show of class rule – interests of a class upheld and secured by state machine, through its policies and actions.

The third chapter, “Faces in the mirror held up by farmers’ protest”, tells a bitter truth not noticed by many, and least discussed: “Economists of the establishment are known not for their expert knowledge but for their irrelevant half-truths, couched in jargon.” Probably, some scholars will dislike the statement. But, this is fact, and fact doesn’t depend on liking or disliking by anybody.

Amit Bhaduri refers to Milton Friedman, a holy figure to the mainstream, and a notorious character to the people in lands shaken by Friedman’s theory and the Chicago Boys’ practice: “The cornerstone of their argument, made famous by Milton Friedman, is that a free democracy requires a free market.” Amit Bhaduri cancels Friedman by raising the question: “Is it a democracy where the executor is also the judge? Is that the new definition of a free democracy? And then, how free is a market where a small or a marginal farmer faces Mr. Ambani or Mr. Adani in a bargain over prices?”

These are a few of the fundamental questions related to democracy, but sometimes some politicians/activists forget or ignore. Market and democracy can’t move together. This is found in countries, in political systems, in economies, in advanced bourgeois democracies, in neo-colonies, in transition economies in the central and eastern Europe, in political systems lumpen in essence, but touted as democratic, over years and decades. This is empirical finding. Jacques Attali, the famous French intellectual, economic and social theorist, European banker, an adviser to then French president Mitterrand, and not a Marxist, showed this fact: Democracy and market are incompatible.

And, what did the holy soul Friedman, once an adviser to the Chilean butcher-dictator Pinochet, show? “Friedman’s free-market rulebook, and his savvy strategies for imposing it, have made some people extremely prosperous, winning for them something approximating complete freedom – to ignore national borders, to avoid regulation and taxation and to amass new wealth.” (Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine, The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Allen Lane, London, 2007)

One problem in Amit Bhaduri’s statement is the word “free democracy”. Democracy is always free in comparative term. It’ll not be democracy if it’s not free. Democracy, the political system, arrangement and process, turns something else like autocracy, rule of the minority, dictatorship when it’s not free, when it serves interests of a minority class; and, at that moment it’s not democracy, it turns into dictatorship of a minority class over the majority classes.

The teacher, who is not part of the mainstream, makes a bold statement in the same chapter: “It is a badly kept secret of standard economic theory that the price mechanism does not work unless all buyers and sellers are price takers in the market. This means nobody has the market power to make prices. The high-powered general equilibrium theory had to invent a disinterested outside ‘auctioneer’ like Voltaire’s God who would set and revise prices to get at the market clearing prices.” It can be hoped that somebody from the mainstream will step forward with counter-argument.

The author, in the chapter “Encircling the encircled”, tells about spread of the movement: Not only in Punjab, Haryana, and western UP, but also in North and central India, to Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, south of the Vindhya in Andhra, Telengana, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, in east India.

The spread tells a lot – of time/situation, class/political forces involved and encountered, political nature, economic and political questions, contradictions, etc.

Anyone studying the movement will ask:

[1] How the movement made such a spread and stride?

[2] What was the driving force behind the spread?

[3] What were the class alignments?

[4] What was the message and spirit conveyed, and how were those conveyed?

[5] What were the organizational forms, and mode(s) of mobilizations?

More organizational and political questions, critical for review and for charting future path are there. Obviously, concerned political forces have formulated/are formulating the/similar questions, as framing questions, substantial, not superficial, is an important task for review and planning. The Emerging Face … helps find out such necessary questions.

“In times of doubt and despair,” tells “The Spring still comes” chapter, “remind yourself of a line from Pablo Neruda: ‘You can cut all the flowers, but you cannot keep Spring from coming’.” It’s Amit Bhaduri’s spirit expressed in the book, which he likes to convey to all. He, therefore, comprehends the situation: “Opposite political tendencies gradually build up almost in a dialectical development within a people’s movement, with action setting off reaction.” The author dialectically observes the situation and issues.

It reminds of the Spring Thunder, and the days following that political outburst by the poor peasantry and youth with revolutionary spirit in the 1970s.

He tells further: “As the circle of dissent widens, brutal severing of communications begins to create new bonds not visible before. [….] In this process, as difficulties are gradually overcome, what appeared impossible to achieve a while ago seems entirely possible now.” The farmers’ movement that he analyzes is the evidence of his statement, a statement about dynamics of protest and resistance. It was found in many other lands, in many other movements by people, in times of reaction and offense by retrogressive forces.

The “A lesson from an unprecedented farmers’ movement” chapter points out aspects important for review of the movement. He brings to notice: “Typically, the entire family of mostly self-employed peasants participated in the movement from nearby villages. They did work in the farm by rotation. Women came every evening after the day’s work, and their number swelled along with their determination, often beyond everybody’s imagination.”

It’s not a mere description of a type of action, but a tale of force and inner-mechanism of the movement.

The book, as parts of a number of articles analyzed, nullifies the proposed laws that triggered the movement with data and analysis related to cropping and market.

Debt acts like noose to many farmers in the land – a development in the agriculture life. The economist tells this fact of farmers’ life: “[M]ounting agricultural debt affects most farmers, but the poorer the poorer the farmer is the badly hit he is on this count. Inability to repay debt chokes off institutional sources of credit forcing reliance on private credit which results in a vicious spiral of exorbitant, unrepayable interest burden and informal land grab.” Does this fact show another fact: at least one aspect in farmers’ life hasn’t changed since the colonized days, and that’s indebtedness? Anyone can recall:

[1] The Famine Commission (1880): “One-third of the landholding classes are deeply and inextricably in debt, and at least an equal proportion are in debt, though not beyond the power of recovering themselves.”

[2] The Simon Report: “The vast majority of the peasants live in debt to the moneylenders.”

[3] M L Darling’s The Punjab Peasant in Prosperity and Debt: “By 1880 the unequal fight between the peasant proprietor and the moneylender had ended in a crushing victory for the latter […] For the next thirty years the moneylender was at his zenith, and multiplied and prospered exceedingly, to such good effect that the number of bankers and moneylenders (including their dependents) increased from 53,263 in 1868 to 193,890 in 1911.”

[4] The Report of the Agricultural Commission, 1928: “[T]he total rural debt has increased in the present century.”

[5] The Report of the Central Banking Enquiry Committee, 1931: “[T]he indebtedness has risen considerably during our [the colonial masters’] rule, and more especially during the last half a century.”

It seems time “is” standing static. No, time changes every moment. Here, capital active in the area appears as a major character. The indebtedness Amit Bhaduri cites with anguish tells two aspects: of farmers – suffering and exploitation, and, of related capitals, and of a capital – role(s) and capacities/incapacities of these/it. The question of market comes invariably, which Amit Bhaduri discusses in detail in the book. The two aspects provide ground/rationale to cancel the related exploiting capitals. At the same time, the capitals’ play signify something more going in the agriculture economy with far-reaching implications identifying of which helps formulate program/slogan.

“It was a collection of thirty-six farmers’ unions that came together […]”, writes Amit Bhaduri, “continuously engaged in debates and discussions among themselves, and united as a rock once a decision was taken. […] they showed to the world what democratic centralism actually means and achieve in practice.” It was one of the strongest factors that took the movement to such an exemplary level.

He brings to notice another aspect of the movement, which is also exemplary to the future adherents of mass line: “The movement remained open and transparent […] It imposed the notion of party discipline imposed from the top into voluntary participation with self-imposed, coordinated discipline for a cause.”

The fact that comes out from the points Amit Bhaduri tells is these didn’t happen automatically and spontaneously. There were [1] a concerted practice by the leaders and organizers for a comparatively longer period prior to the mobilization at the center of gravity; [2] a process was initiated and practiced; [3] a two-way – top to bottom and bottom to top – active participation of all; and [4] specifying methods of participation and decision-making. A few of the media reports during the movement’s negotiation phase told that it was difficult to pinpoint a specific, single leader, which made it impossible to create confusion and division within the negotiating team by the contending party.

“This movement is unique in its tenacity, and staying power […]”, writes Amit Bhaduri. It is undeniable fact. The movement’s tenacity and staying power, if compared, is unique not only in this sub-continent, but also compared to other similar movements in other countries. The movement was essentially an Occupy Movement, a method of movement first emerged in Spain – the Indignados. In a number of countries in Latin America, similar movements are organized. The Occupy Movement in the US is exemplary and significant. But, none stayed so long in term of time.

The movement, in essence political, not only claimed a physical space, it also claimed spaces in politics, publicity, propaganda and agitation, method, alliance. Despite mainstream’s efforts to silence the movement’s voice, its words reached not only to far corners of the land, but also to lands far away crossing political frontier.

In term of method, as gathered from news reports and interviews, the movement, as a whole, followed mass line. Mass line was its base and sole approach, and its strength. It got organized with the masses. It couldn’t have sustained hadn’t it been based on the masses. It’s an essential issue to be learned.

The method of organizing the movement, as gathered from news reports, from the base is exemplary, and an aspect to be learned.

The dynamics was also exemplary – it was not static: A two way action was moving on. While a huge mobilization was always at the barricade, not sitting idly, but actively agitating, discussing, debating, negotiating with flexibility, but not moving away from its mooring, and stubbornly sticking to its principled position, another part, a huge number was active in the rear – in villages, carrying out production activities, continuing publicity work, keeping spirit high, acting as reserve, and the reserve was coming to the barricades, relieving a section at the frontal position to go back to farm work in the rear.

The overwhelming major part of this mass force in the rear/as reserve was the women. In village after village, the women from the farming families took lead in organizing, agitating, spreading the message of the movement, and in the barricade, the women took active part in all aspects of the position including organizing day-today management of food, an important factor for such an Occupy Movement.

Participation of a part of intellectuals including teachers, journalists, lawyers, students, young and middle-aged, was a major mark in the movement. They were from different classes including the middle class – an enlightened part of that class.

None of the participants resorted to adventurous moves – a major success of the movement. There’re provocations by formal and informal actors. Disinformation and misinformation were spread to torpedo the movement. Weren’t provocateurs implanted there within the movement? But none in the movement stepped into those sinister plays. Even, no provocative slogan was raised by any from within the movement. Those were major successes. Such organized movement for so long time is rare in many countries, not only in the sub-continent.

Braving elements, rains, heavy cold, high temperature, by the entire position at the barricade, a significant part of which was the aged, was unimaginable. But, the fighting souls survived and sustained.

However, the lives lost, so many, throughout the movement can never be forgotten. Not many movements made such a huge sacrifice within such a time period. But, victory was there.

The program it formulated helped it forge alliance – classes came together, winning the majority, which doesn’t blur class line.

One issue raised in the book requires reconsideration, as the chapter “The necessary framework for MSP” said: “It [the farmers’ movement] has shown the limitations of class analysis […]” The chapter adds: “[R]elatively better off farmers […] often led the movement should teach us that class position is not always the determining factor. [….] [S]mall and marginal farmers, landless agricultural laborers mostly Dalits, men and women […] joined the movement.” In the next paragraph, it’s said: “It would be wrong to say that the farmers were unaware of the class character of the state and its policies.”

Does the movement, with this sort of alliance, show limitations of class analysis, or the opposite? Classes sometimes enter into alliance(s), and in the alliance(s) one class takes the lead; and, class alliance doesn’t put into question class analysis. If, due to historical or for some other circumstance, one class, not the landless and poor, takes lead, that also signify class related issues that include class power, maturity, interests dominating the alliance(s). This doesn’t limit the approach of class analysis. Moreover, the class analysis doesn’t appear limited, when class character of state and its policies are not lost from view. As a ready reference, Mao’s Class Analysis in Chinese Society can be cited. In Russia, immediately after the October Revolution, rural Russia found such alliance.

The Emerging Face …, with observations and analyses, helps study of the movement with many questions including facing the state and organizations. For further study, essential task for organizers of mass initiatives, Amit Bhaduri provides a foundation on which to stand, a bench mark which will act to have a measurement – a lot of measurements are needed. Any researcher interested to dig deeper the movement, essential for future planning, may like to move to the interior – the villages that sent its citizens to the barricades, that sent its mothers and sisters to the barricades and mobilized in the rear in an organized way. Case studies of leaders and organizations involved with the movement may be a tool for learning. Even, interested learners from other countries can also take help from lessons of the movement. The Emerging Face … acts like a tool, and a stepping stone in these endeavors essential for future similar and bigger mobilizations, thus it turns out as Amit Bhaduri’s participation in the movement. With Amit Bhaduri’s pen, the brave live.

Farooque Chowdhury writes from Dhaka, Bangladesh.

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