People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 38

September 18, 2011

Protests Galore – Varied Forms


R Arun Kumar

'MAY you live in interesting times' is an ancient Chinese curse. Curse or otherwise, it aptly captures the essence of the times we are living. Point to any region on the globe, you can witness some sort of a turmoil against the policies pursued by the concerned governments. The intensity of the angst, militant struggles and their simultaneous occurrence in many countries is what is making the times, 'interesting'. Some have compared the current happenings to the events of 1848 and to the late 1960's. Whether we agree with these comparisons or not, one thing is for sure – the events taking place around the world are certainly epochal.


Let us first trace the countries where the people are coming out to express their anger. Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Morocco, South Africa, Malawi, Lesotho, Botswana, Somalia, Sudan, Chile, United States, Britain, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Italy, Czech Republic, Poland, Germany, Kazakhstan, Israel, Yemen, Bahrain, Iraq, India, Bangladesh, name a few countries. Or simply, one in every six countries on our planet is affected by these events.


While these are the organised protests that had taken place in the countries mentioned above, there were a few riots too. Britain witnessed one of the worst riots in the recent past. Riots are taking place in German cities like Berlin and Hamburg regularly. In Greece, we find anarchists on the streets venting their anger. A German sociologist, identified certain common traits: “fundamentally aggressive position towards the state, dissatisfaction with their current situation and a vague feeling of rage that they sometimes direct against themselves and sometimes against something external, like cars”.




Any discreet observer will point out the reason for the 'dissatisfaction with their current situation': the neo-liberal economic policies. The global economic crisis, an off-shoot of these very policies is squeezing the life out of the common people. It had accentuated their hardships and is responsible for the current social unrest. The opportunities for education, employment, healthcare, secure post-retirement life, which were assumed as 'granted', are vanishing into thin smoke. While the common people are going down the socio-economic ladder, the lasting image before them is the top-rung officials of the bailed-out firms enjoying bonuses and high salaries – an example of the rich, getting richer. This had aroused their anger and made them come onto the streets protesting.


Corruption, against which we had witnessed a fast in our country too is related to the neo-liberal policies. The government committed to neo-liberal policies and at the service of capital, bends the rules and creates new avenues for profit maximisation. Sale of public assets at throw-away prices benefiting the private corporates becomes a favourite State activity. In this entire process, favouritism rules and huge amounts of money changes hands. All this happens in the background of dwindling opportunities for the common people, which once again is an off-shoot of the neo-liberal policies. In spite of what the sceptics want us to believe, the huge popular support to the anti-corruption movement is to be located in this broad socio-economic, political scenario.


Thus, as we see, there is a lot of questioning taking place on the validity of the neo-liberal policies and this is responsible for the churning we are witnessing. What direction this churning will take, will depend on the actors involved in the process – the exploited and the exploiters. Whether this churning will produce venomous vapours that turn perilous to the entire humankind or produce elixir, a society bereft of exploitation, depends on the strength, strategies and resoluteness displayed by these actors.


The exploiters, the ruling classes, have already deployed wide array of weapons from their arsenal to counter the threats to their hegemony. In explaining the reasons for the crisis, some apologists for capitalism, sought to explain it on the basis of morality or the lack of it. Now, once again when there is a lot of resentment about the growing income inequalities, they are trying to bring out this argument. Warren Buffet, lamenting the fact that he is not properly taxed, had recently stated that he does not mind paying more taxes. He also mentioned that some of his fellow 'mega-rich' too share this sentiment with him. Some of his French multi-billionaire brethren too echoed him. Apart from volunteering to be taxed more, efforts are on to further encourage philanthropy among their 'brethren' all over the world. Thus they want to wash away their 'sins' of exploitation, buy the silence of the exploited, by diverting their attention from the growing income inequalities. They do not want the exploited to analyse and understand the policies responsible for their deprivation.


The 'morality' argument is used in another way too – to blame the UK rioters for the lack of it. They are also pointing to the rioters 'greed', instead of acknowledging the discontent brewing amongst them due to the growing inequalities and attack on welfare schemes. Just as immorality of some financiers is responsible for the economic crisis, so is the immorality of the youth responsible for the riots! This classification, once again happily tries to shift the debate away from a thorough analysis of the economics and politics – the root of the problem.




Another way in which they are trying to shift the responsibility for the crisis from the exploitative system is by blaming a section of the people. The recent speeches of Angelina Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy accusing the European policy of 'multi-culturalism' to be responsible for the job losses and also their comments and actions on the growing number of mosques and Muslims are nothing but attempts to divide the society on the basis of religion and race. These acts are encouraging the growth of right-wing forces not only in their countries but in many countries. These right-wing forces are ensuring that the 'feeling of rage', is not just confined to 'cars', but is diverted upon human beings as we had seen in Norway. The shooting of innocent youth in Norway is an extreme expression of racial hatred that had caught the attention of the world. But there are many instances of growing racialism and hatred towards Muslims and immigrants in Europe that go unreported. The attacks on Romas, in France and Hungary are some such instances. It just goes on to show that ruling classes neither learn proper lessons from history nor shy away from creating another fascist Frankenstein.


Yet another way is by blaming the 'government' as an institution for the crisis. Advocates of neo-liberal policies, particularly the laissez faire vouching big corporates are campaigning against too 'big government'. Now that they are out of the hole, thanks to public money pumped in by the government, they are ready to put the 'government' at the altar. Their logic is simple – they want government only for their service and out of social welfare activities and 'public' spending. The Tea Party movement in the US is the most vocal advocate of this position. Formed as a loose conglomeration of neo-conservatives and other extreme right of the society and representing the interests of financial oligarchs, they have launched a vicious campaign across the country. Known for their rabid undemocratic attitudes, they are not only targeting the 'government', but also immigrants and working class actions.


Traces of this contempt for democratic procedures were found in the fast against corruption in our country. Importantly, they did not say a word against the neo-liberal policies or the corrupt practices of the private corporates. Playing on middle-class cynicism, they painted all the political parties with the same colour and refused to acknowledge the differences amongst them. In the process, they not only do a great deal of disservice to the working class movement and Left politics, but also intend to negate their very existence. No wonder the media is quite pleased with them, so are the ruling classes.




This brings us to the role of media, another weapon in the exploiters' hands. Media, which rightly prides its rights and extensive reach, is not totally unbiased. Most of the protests taking place in the world did not find favour with the media. As long as the protests were confined against the dictatorial rulers they won media space. The riots found a place because of their shock value and were never analysed properly. The media ignored the protests after they increasingly began targeting the economic policies and the working class emerged as the leader. This clearly points to the class-bias of the media – bias towards the ruling classes or the exploiters. The media used the occasion, whether they be the riots or the fast, for bashing the 'political class' not the policies.


The ultimate weapon in the armour of the ruling classes to crush the democratic aspirations of the people and firmly stamp its hegemony, still remains military intervention. This age-old technique is still put to good use as we have seen in Bahrain and Libya. In the coming days there will be more concerted efforts to capture and control the resources of the third world countries. Shifting the burdens on the people of the third world countries is one of their chosen way to come out of the crisis. All these efforts might not be able to save the sinking ship – capitalism. But it needs efforts to sink it.


The protests, riots and fast offer some important experiences to the exploited for succeeding in their aim of revolutionary transformation. The protests, riots and the fast undoubtedly showed us new techniques for mobilising people. However, some attribute the occurrence of recent events to the usage of the modern means of communication – a group of organisers decide and communicate, the people follow. Even if this happens to be true, which is not, it appears to assign people a passive role, mere followers. They are effective in transmitting information, but not in taking decisions. The democratic nature in which the working class decides on their course of struggle, organise meetings from the factory to the trans-industrial trade union level, is absolutely absent in this format. Another fact that needs to be remembered is that these modern means of communication, (internet specifically) are still accessible only to limited sections of the society. Community radio, using modern technology, as was put to use for mobilisation in Latin America appears to be more effective, cheap and widely accessible to large sections of the people.


Another important feature that needs to be identified is the participation of youth. Youth, who for the past few years appeared to be unconcerned about the developments around them and careerist, have not only participated in large numbers but also played an important part in organising them. This positive feature should be analysed by the Left movement and taken into consideration.


One important lesson that 1848 and 1960's teaches us is, to ensure that a revolutionary situation leads to a systemic change you need unflinching unity amongst all the exploited classes. Above it, they should be tempered with the revolutionary ideology and led by the revolutionary party. Only then can the genuine aspirations of the people be met.