Tunis, Algiers, Cairo, …Shahajanpur? – The Social Significance of an ‘Accident’

Submitted by wojtek on December 27, 2011

There is no lack of triggers, there is no lack of social explosives…

Rising ‘graduate unemployment’, massive hike in food prices, increasing signs of capitalist decadence in the form of rapidly aggravating ‘inequality’ and its symbolisation in a rich new oligarchy with strong links to the political class (corruption)… if these were the basic ingredients of the popular uprisings in North Africa, we find the same social explosives here in India. Both regions also share similar rhythms of debt crisis, (IMF) credit regimes and popular discontent: 1974 (“Bihar Movement”), 1981 (IMF loan and re-structuring), 1991 (external debt crisis). The rhythm becomes global. Desperation and anger of the youth spreads from the ‘illegal’ vegetable markets of Tunis, to the Parisian banlieus, to the textile industrial suburbs of Mahalla… across this world of widening contradictions between what is and what could be. The Shahajanpur accident – see below – could have been a sad trigger, there are hundreds of triggers every day. If we had to name the two main social aspects distinguishing the current social situation in India from the conditions in Egypt or Tunisia we would come up with:

a) a still more dynamic tri-angle relation between temporary village fall-back, rural industry / seasonal labour and scattered attracting/ejecting industrial boom regions; the rural-urban-rural migration, the back-and-forth between short stays in the village and another round of job hunts still expresses and diffuses the vast amount of social unrest – see report of village visit in this issue of GurgaonWorkersNews; the fact that labour migration from North Africa to the Euro-zone has become more difficult, crisis and all, has contributed to the explosion;

b) a still more dynamic economic and political middlemen culture; this culture reaches from modern ‘democratic’ and legal mediation of industrial disputes, to frequent usage of paid thugs to quell workers’ discontent; the local state in form of the modern ‘village council’ combined with ‘old’ forms of caste dominance and micro-credit liquidity; the state in form of middlemen in each slum and ‘state run ration shops’ (subsidised food shops); a vast ‘entrepreneurial’ and ‘empowering’ NGO sector and liberal ‘civil society’ sphere in combination with mass bases of paramilitary forces and ‘fake encounter culture’; a multi-layered ‘contract system’ which enables many permanent factory workers to become ‘small contractors’ themselves, or turns ‘local peasantry’ into landlords for migrant workers; a state-defined ‘reservation/promotion’ for middle(wo)men of all castes and gender; in summary: the ‘individualisation’ of misery here in India, e.g. in the form of mass suicides of small peasants, has little to do with the ‘cultural heritage of fate-obeying Hinduism’, but a lot to do with the brutal internalisation of ‘liberal democratic individual freedom’ in an ‘upwardly/downwardly mobile’ modern market society, which leaves us isolated when facing the systemic crisis;

In the following we summarise the news on the Shahajanpur ‘accident’:

“On 1st of February 2011 – while riots rocked the Kasbah and downtown Cairo – around 150,000 young people arrived in Bareilly, near Shahajanpur in Uttar Pradesh, India. They came in order to apply for 416 vacancies at the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP). Facing the enormous mass of applicants the local administration called off the hiring procedure. The angry youth started smashing the place up, burnt cars, government and media buildings. Around six state-owned buses and several other vehicles were set on fire and several shops were damaged and looted by them. The agitating youths also pelted stones at AIR and Doordarshan offices (public media). They then tried to return home. “The Railway staff were taken by surprise when they found the station swarmed by thousands of young men, who looked very agitated,” a senior Railway official said on condition of anonymity from Bareilly. “We promptly got the Railway police into action, but the station was jam-packed with these young men who went about damaging Railway property while raising anti-ITBP slogans,” he said. “No sooner did the Himgiri Express roll into the station than a large group climbed over it, clutching on to all sides of the train, including the rooftop and the engine. There was no way the youth could have been prevented from crowding the train and no one realised that barely 60 km ahead they would fatally encounter a low overbridge,” the official added. Many young people died when the train hit the bridge. The accident triggered violent protests as angry youths torched the train and attacked the station.”

Facing the Uprising, Facing the Daily Accident – What to be done?

The insurrection is permanent – from Argentina to Egypt we see that it does not take much to chase away the police or management, to take the things we need (homes, food, items), to break out of prisons or to fraternise with soldiers, in short, it does not take much to overthrow a government, but what comes next? The uprising asks the question whether we will we continue to live and work in a way, which leaves us having to buy the products we produce, which separates us from bread and roses by price; in a way, which puts a price tag on our time and energy itself and forces us to sell it on the market, competing with others; in a way, which leaves it to the development of prices whether a ‘we are pushed into a job’ or whether a factory is closed; in a way, which – in the end – will force us to call for the ‘good politicians’ to do something about the ‘bad market’: the very same politicians we have just chased away because they are useless – confronted with the global crisis of a system…

It is ironic to see how the regime – be it in Greece, the UK or in Egypt – uses the ‘democratic appeal’ in order to contain social discontent. While in Egypt the uprising is publicly reduced to ‘strife for democracy’ and rulers and twitter rulers to be call for a ‘return to work and return to the ballot box’… in Greece, in the UK or in other ‘democratic’ states the anti-government protests against the austerity measures are told that they will have to let the ‘elected parliament do their work, in the spirit of the democratic process’ – hinting at the fact that otherwise there are other forms of rule waiting in the back rooms…

The uprising, the strike waves have to become the process of discovery of our social cooperation; a cooperation, which so far has been organised as the fragmented ensemble of the ‘capitalist social production process’. The discovery will be both, appropriation for immediate needs and material transformation of production itself. Each struggle will meet the limits of imposed capitalist division of labour: in form of company walls, sector boundaries, ‘institutionalised’ knowledge separation, ‘political’ division between rural and urban. Each struggle will cause its unexpected chain-reactions, will cause shortages and ruptures of social life beyond their ‘capitalist’ boundaries, as proof of its previously hidden social dimension. The struggles will raise the question of direct, instead of mediated cooperation in order to overcome shortages and to make plans for the new day – the economic and political social separation dissolves. The extension of struggles along these lines of social cooperation might take violent forms, but given the historic degree of socialisation of labour (intertwinement of ‘science’ and industry, of ‘administration’ and production’, of agriculture and the industrial complex/market), ‘separate power’ has turned into a mere obstacle which has to be pushed aside; it has lost its productive function and is not worth fighting over.

The managers of capital can only succeed in ‘legitimating their power’ as long as they are able to make ‘capital’ appear as the pre-condition of social cooperation, as long as they are able to separate the social experience of over-productive labour from the poverty of un-/underemployment. Obviously this separation does not take a pure form of working-class on one side, proletariat on the other. This separation appears in its various shades of development and underdevelopment, of high-tech and labour intensity, of regional deprivation and boom centres, of respectable workmen and lumpen, of hire and fire. This separation will appear in all imaginable ethnic colours. With the disappearance of the old buffer-classes, with the social death of peasantry and artisans in the global South, the demise of the self-employed educated middle-classes and petty bourgeoisie, capital has to face up to it’s living self. While being in it’s essence the violent coordinator of social labour – globalisation, international supply-chains etc. – in this crisis more than ever capital has to hide and segment the global character of social cooperation from the emerging global working class. In the attempt to segment and re-combinate capital becomes a burden to social cooperation. It gets in its own way.

Therefore the challenge for working-class communists is to discover and point-out this ‘general global character’ of labour in the concrete local disputes, to discover and point-out the ‘political separation’ of development and underdevelopment, the potential of abundance in the face of stark misery. That means to argue not from the abstract level of ‘class consciousness’, but from the perspective of the collective worker. The challenge for ‘communists’ is not separate from what workers’ themselves are forced to do: As we can see in front of our eyes, most current workers’ struggles have to find answers to their own global dimensions – not to proclaim their communist demands – but to simply avoid being defeated.