The Communist Party of India (Marxist) is holding its 22nd Party Congress in Hyderabad. The proceedings were inaugurated by Mallu Swarajyam, a veteran of the uprising in the state of Hyderabad in 1947-48. A young Mallu Swarajyam had been motivated to act by the freedom movement and by her militant family. But also, by reading Maxim Gorky’s Mother.
In Gorky’s novel, Pelageya Nilovna Vlasova – the mother – stands in court to defend herself for her participation in a 1902 May Day demonstration. ‘We are against the society whose interests you judges have been ordered to defend’, she says boldly. ‘We are its uncompromising enemies, and yours too, and no reconciliation between us is possible until we have won our fight’. This is the attitude of Mallu Swarajyam and of communists in general. Pelageya Nilovna’s next line is powerful: ‘All of you, our masters, are more like slaves than we are. You are enslaved spiritually; we – only physically’.
Our world, like that of Pelageya Nilovna in 1902, is plagued by the pests of hunger and disease, illiteracy and war.
Hunger. A new report by the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation and the World Food Programme shows that the number of those who are hungry has increased steadily. This is despite the fact that the world produces ample food. It is just that the hungry don’t have the money to buy food. Areas of great hunger are often also areas of sustained conflict – Congo, Myanmar, Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen. In India, the conflicts are of a different order. Here, hunger is endemic, rooted in the war between the classes. One in two Indians do not know where they will eat. Their situation is perilous, the ruling class indifferent.
Disease. The World Health Organisation has – for the past decade – argued that ‘most disease in lower-income countries is caused by poverty’. Malaria, tuberculosis, diarrhoeal diseases, respiratory infections and malnutrition wreak havoc amongst the poor. Each year, as a result of Vitamin A deficiency, half a million children go blind. Supplements that are cheap are widely available but those who need it cannot afford them. Nor can they afford clean water or smokeless stoves. They go blind or die because they have no money.
Illiteracy. Literacy rates, once on the decline, look like they might be on the rise. This rate is marked by the gender gap – two thirds of those who are illiterate are women (this global rate is mirrored in India). In Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, half the women are illiterate. Funds for basic education has been in decline, with gaps in public funding putting pressure on states to privatise education. This means that the commitment to global education is slowly falling off the table. Only a quarter of the world’s countries spend enough to deliver basic education. UNESCO recommends that 6% of GDP should go towards education, whereas many states spend less than 3% of their GDP on education. Pressure continues to push down this amount in the service of the privatisation of education.
There is no political will amongst the parties of the ruling classes in most countries of the world to solve these pressing problems. Indeed, the countries of the Global South now face a cataclysmic debt crisis (according to the Global Sovereign Debt Monitor of 2018) – 119 countries are currently critically in debt, 13 of them have stopped payments to creditors and 87 of them have found that their financial position has weakened over the past four years. Public finances are weak. There is little expectation that this situation will change any time soon.
Break the Tax and Investment Strikes.
What, then, does one do? What project is available to stem the haemorrhaging of humanity? Market-driven policies seem only able to offer charity-level solutions to these problems: tinkering at the margins for public relations effect. There is no comprehensive attempt to address hunger, disease and illiteracy.
That is where the Left comes in. We have to find solutions to the epidemics of hunger, illness and ignorance. A solution can only emerge after we break the tax and investment strike of the plutocracy (this is the theme of the first Working Document from Tricontinental – available for free download). To break these tax and investment strikes will require powerful movements of the dispossessed – to organise working people to make broad and humane demands on our social wealth which is currently privately accumulated by plutocrats. Wealth is not produced by entrepreneurs, but by society. It needs to be put to the use of society, not of the needs of the few. Clear-headed thinking is required to fashion bright visions for a future society that is not plagued by hunger, disease and illiteracy. Such a vision is needed by our fighting organisations as they go amongst the people and build the socialist majorities of the future.
Pelageya Nilovna says that the plutocrats are spiritually enslaved. She means that they cannot envision a world without the pestilence of hunger and disease. They suffocate the world by saying that ideals are unrealistic. But if ideals are unrealistic, then the working poor must forever suffer inhumanity. That is intolerable. The intolerableness of it is what continues to produce the necessity of communism.