Indian farmers strike

June 2024 Forums General discussion Indian farmers strike

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    The figures in the latest link cited by YMS give the picture:

    “Small and marginal farmers with less than two hectares of land account for 86.2% of all farmers in India, but own just 47.3% of the crop area, according to provisional numbers from the 10th agriculture census 2015-16 released on Monday. In comparison, semi-medium and medium land holding farmers owning between 2-10 hectares of land account for 13.2% of all farmers, but own 43.6% of crop area, the survey showed.”

    I daresay that the farmers’ protests are led and supported mainly by the second group of “semi-medium and medium land holding farmers” who will also be those who employ, exploit and even oppress the landless or virtually landless agricutural wage labourers. If the cap of “kulak” fits then so be it.

    Actually, this issue has arisen as a practical one in the history of our own movement, in the pre-WW1 Socialist Party of Canada. As the Preface to the SPC pamphlet The Slave of the Farm by Alf Budden (which can be found here on the site of the SPC as well as elsewhere on the internet) put it:

    “THE SOCIALIST PARTY OF CANADA, in its treatment of the agrarian question has so far maintained the revolutionary position, counting it more than good tactics to attack the minds and ignore the feelings of those whom it sought to enlighten. Operating, as it does, in a country largely agricultural, and being composed, in the main, of those who having glimpsed both sides of the shield as wage worker and farmer, are enamoured of neither form of exploitation, it has naturally given a great deal of attention to the status of THE SLAVE OF THE FARM.

    For some years a polemic raged through the columns of the Official Organ of THE SOCIALIST PARTY OF CANADA, the “WESTERN CLARION,” involving various views and opinions, most of which, however, gradually settled down into two opposing groups.

    The position maintained with vigor by the older school was that the farmer stood in the same category as the wage worker, that farm machinery was but an extension of the carpenter’s tool bag or the plasterer’s hoe, and that farmers did not sell wheat, oats or live stock, as such, but labor-power crystallized into these forms.

    The younger group, on the contrary, pointed out the impossibility of offering for sale so evanescent an article as the aforementioned, because it was apparent that the commodity labor-power – the thing offered for sale – was not the release of energy, or energy in motion – kinetic, known as labor or work, but was the ability to so perform, the passive or latent energy potential in the physique of the slave. It was contended, therefore, that the commodity, e. g., wheat, was a finished product sold by the farmer in the same way as a merchant sells his goods. And, further, that the view of the farm machine being a mere extension of the wage worker’s tools, was in violent opposition to that very dialectic upon which the Socialist position so impregnably rests. “If,” they argued, “the power loom by growing up, changed not only the form of ownership but reversed its position to the worker, growing from helpmeet to oppressor, why was this not also true of the farm machine?””


    Small farmers are not the enemy, but state subsidy and price fixing is not the answer to their problems, and certainly doesn’t advance socialism.

    The social democrat program, and the one in the communist manifesto makes sense: nationalise big estates where possible (even per Marx above) through compensation; form ‘agricultural armies’ (i.e. organised employment for agricultural labourers); offer assistance and inducements to collectivise and co-operativise land-ownership.

    This seems to be in the same category as the truckers strikes and Poujadism, not every anti-state movement is progressive.


    126 million farmers together owned about 74.4 million hectares of land — or an average holding of just 0.6 hectares each — not enough to produce surpluses which can financially sustain their families.

    I daresay that the farmers’ protests are led and supported mainly by the second group of “semi-medium and medium land holding farmers” who will also be those who employ, exploit and even oppress the landless or virtually landless agricutural wage labourers. If the cap of “kulak” fits then so be it.

    This article suggests that:
    “…for the first time in Indian History the barriers of religion, caste and class have been eliminated. Not only farmers from all the religions (Hindu/ Sikh/Muslim) are together in this fight but also the caste divisions that were deeply engraved in the rural areas have been negated; leading to the emergence of a massive united farmers front. These protests also saw the merging of the gap between the urban and the rural populations as the youth and general public of the nearby towns and cities regardless of their caste or creed have over fervently fully empathized with the farmers and have extended all kind of required support. This humongous support extended to the farmer’s protests have never been witnessed in any of the movements or protests carried out in recent past.”

    This isn’t a conflict between medium sized farmers and the landless but between corporate farming and traditional farming.

    “…the Modi government wants a new model of farming in India. Having been under tremendous international pressure from the World Bank IMF, US and Europe, the BJP government wants to replicate American or Australian model of farming in India, where corporates will own vast swaths of land and they will do the farming…”

    Farmers protests: why India’s agriculture problems are much deeper

    Unity is the biggest strength of this movement. The strike and protests rather than fighting each other has brought a fresh understanding that brought the different communities closer together.

    “…This sense of unity has come through the transparency and control over leadership of common but awakened and conscious masses/farmers, which make leaders take all decisions democratically and not over the heads of the people… through this unity, farmers’ organizations have not only strengthened themselves; they have also helped defeat many sectarian movements and trends… Unity has been developed between so called high caste Jats and Dalits as well. People of all castes and religions are cooking and eating together… The equality between men and women has also been the shining part of this movement. Men are doing services like cooking and cleaning, while women are addressing supporters from stages. Men and women are sharing all work without the gender divisions practiced inside the homes…”

    This is a class struggle and class solidarity that now pushes back against the Modi’s Hindutva programme.

    Your analysis reflects the government message that the opposition to the new laws is coming from large, prosperous, and politically powerful farmers, who dominate Punjab’s farmers unions and who benefited the most from the old system. It ignores the wide social support for the protests which has cut across class, caste and gender divisions. On the demonstrations a prominent slogan is mazdoor-kisan ekta zindabad (“long live labour-farmer unity”).

    In past decades, it is true, the Punjabi farmer unions brought together Jat Sikh farmers to suppress Dalit agricultural labourers organising. But today small farmers and farm labourers both strive to make ends meet under debt burdens and that economic reality is now the basis solidarity between farmers and labourers in the state.Punjab’s largest farmer union, has overcome the caste divide and have supported Dalit resistance and their demand for land rights.

    Sure we can say conditions in India are not perfect, that there is still a long way to go, but this struggle is a definite first step in that journey. To discourage it is to side with India’s ruling class but also with the global corporations. It is a struggle mirrored in Africa and Latin America. It is also identified in the decline of family farms in North America and in Europe. We take the side of the exploited and the oppressed and our definition of who is a capitalist does not include those working a few acres of land, hiring a couple of labourers or even owning larger farms. We view class as a social relationship.


    From your observations, YMS, i can guess that if the welfare state was dismantled and there was a return to laissez faire capitalism, the Party’s response would be que sera sera and our fellow-workers criticised for resisting the loss of those state protections.

    I do have a weakness at writing screeds so sometimes some things are missed such as when i said:
    “…Once again, workers are combatting the consequences and effects of the operation of the economic laws of capitalism. Once again, they place their illusory hopes in the regulatory power of the State…The present law has not prevented poverty and land-grabs but the proposed new laws will exacerbate the problem, in the interests of the capitalist class. It is ultimately a futile fight but if they don’t resist, they may as well roll over and be walked all over.”


    When the Countryside Alliance marched through London, many of them were small farmers, and the employees of farmers: they were most certainly not on our side. It is a struggle to preserve the existing conditions, not to overthrow them.


    There’s more on the farmer controversy within the early SPC in J. Milne’s History of the Socialist Party of Canada. Note tht even those who thought that small farmers were “slaves of the farm” akin to wage slaves still thought that the only solution to their problems was socialism (and not, for instance, price support or a guaranteed market):

    “Canada at the beginning of the century was mainly agricultural, the prairie provinces overwhelmingly so. To bring about the conquest of political power, which the early Socialists saw rapidly approaching, the position of the farmer had to be considered, since the farmers could be a substantial stumbling block to the Socialist aim unless they threw in their lot with the workers.

    To many Socialists the farmer was a capitalist, a small one, true, but trying to become a big one. He owned means of production (land and machinery) and he employed wage workers, paying the “going wage” which, customary to capitalist practice, was the lowest wage possible.

    That many in the farming population were desperately poor proved only that they were far down in the ranks of exploiters and could be readily shaken into the ranks of the working class. They were in the meanwhile part of the exploiting class, inclined to think and behave as exploiters.

    But it was also believed that the farmers were destined to continue, with limited exceptions, an existence in poverty and must, to improve their lot in life, set aside their own class interests, adopt the Socialist case and work for the ending of capitalism.

    Together with this interpretation of the farmer’s position in society, there grew another set of ideas which disagreed that they were capitalists. The farmer’s position was essentially the same as the worker’s: he was a wage slave. This attitude became the general one in the Party and was detailed in a pamphlet, The Slave of the Farm, written in 1914 by a prairie member, Alf Budden, published by the Party.

    Quotations here are from this pamphlet [9].The farmer, it was reasoned, was a capitalist in name only. He owned the farm and machinery but this ownership was “a grim joke”. He owned neither. “The benefit of capital came to its owners . . . The beautiful things of the earth are theirs, the choicest of labor’s creations, the servility of the courts, the subservience of the press; the parliaments are but their executive committees; the soldiery, police and judge, their obedient slaves” (p. 19).

    The farmer neither shares in the bounties nor benefits from the subservience. His means of production had outgrown the limited tools of earlier times, have grown into the great machines needed in increasingly competitive production which he must have to remain in production. But he gains nothing from the greater amounts of goods produced, for he obtains his machine only by placing himself at the mercy of the mortgage companies, machine companies, etc. “The larger the machinery grows the longer he must toil to obtain it, until the point is reached where the last vestige of independence drops off him, and he reaches the status of a wage slave, or at best, manager for a machine company” (p. 33).

    There was no escape for the farmer other than the Socialist one, for the greater his production by improved methods the greater the tendency for prices of farm products to go down, the greater the need for even more improved production methods and the greater the hold of the capitalist class on his farm and home. The Socialists carried this message across the plains and locals appeared in farming communities.” (pp.15-16)


    When the London dockers downed tools to support Enoch Powell, nor were they on our side. Alf Garnetts of the world exist. My family connections is with the forelock touching, cap-tipping subservience to the local landowner. And relations eager to join those anti-worker organisations of the Freemason and Orange lodges. Throughout working class history examples of our fellow-workers acting against their very own interests abound.

    But I find this type of arguement pointless.

    The working class are at this moment in time not socialists and not on our side, voting repeatedly for pro-capitalist parties. No-one is saying what is occurring in India is a socialist movement. But it is contributing to a change in political and class consciousness within the rural communities, where people are identifying shared problems and engaging in a common cause to resist government policies that they perceive as a threat yto their livelihoods and standard of living

    My post tried to suggest that the farmer strikes are the expression of a process bringing previously antagonistic elements together. I’m sure it is not going to be all smooth sailing ahead and there will be hic-cups but i feel the general trend cannot be halted.

    Are we to dismiss a popular movement as big as this and although the attention is on the Punjab and Delhi blockade, similar actions are nation-wide and sympathy for the goal was shown by 250 MILLION strikers and across India and in many industries. The fact that an authoritarian such as Modi is hesitant to use force signals to me that that he is well aware of where peoples’ loyalties lie and it is not with his government. And nor am i surprised that his rivals in the Congress Party and the CPI(M) are jockeying for influence within the farmers strike movement. Some reports say this is a relatively leader-free protest, or perhaps multi-leader is better way of describing it, too many leaders for one to dominate.

    Whether the farmers succeed or not is not the issue. We know all resistance to the capitalists is eventually doomed if they and their State are determined to prevail and fully incorporate India’s farming into the world market where the global businesses hold the power over food production. It is unstoppable and can only be delayed. India is not the only region facing the exact same attacks on tradional small-holder farming methods.

    But it is the struggle to fight back which is important as it is in this strike that people are discovering solidarity and unity against the religious and cultural differences which had been used previously to keep people divided.


    There is speculation that the raising of a Sikh flag at the Red Fort was a deliberate attempt to foster sectarianism.

    The person who carried out the act, Deep Sidhu, is a prominent BJP activist, not a farmers’ leader


    “This is a class struggle”

    Just because a struggle involves millions of people doesn’t make it a class struggle in the sense of a struggle between the working class and the capitalist class. The protagonists are medium-sized landowning farmers against a government that wants to introduce measures that will harm their interests and benefit Big capitalists. It’s not anti-capitalist. I can’t see what working class interests are involved. Incidentally, I never suggested it was a struggle between medium-sized farmers and their labourers (even though such a struggle goes on).

    I think, Alan, you might have gone a bit native from reading all these activist journals like Countercurrents, Dissident Voice, Common Dreams, etc. 😊


    I have emailed the World Socialist Party (India) to see if they have something on this. One of their members is a retired professor of agricultural economics so even if they are based in a big city they should know something about what goes on in the countryside.


    ALB, and perhaps you have gone a bit too purist and forgotten how class consciousness is acquired and expect people to wake up with the Declaration of Priciples inscibed in their hearts and minds. People learn from experience and the education it is never a straight course.

    You keep saying it is a movement controlled by the better-of farmers. You have provided little evidence of this and disregard that the vast majority of the farmers are small-holders, many are tenant-farmers and most are in debt. Is there any movement opposing the farmers, other than the government and its ruling party? So the reason for mass solidarity is that the poor and the landless have been duped by the well-off and it is not that they also perceive that they have something to lose and that the strike is in their interests too.

    The WTO, World Bank and IMF have for years tried to end what they consider India’s unfair trade rules and introduce the free market and end its protectionalism. What is happening in farming is also taking place in all other parts of the economy. It is the feature of globalisation being imposed by a government offering an open-door welcome to the multinationals so to lift the burden of state spending, facilitating that new investment with repeal of restrictive regulations and customs.

    I explained that the farmers unions are changing to become more inclusive. Perhaps i have picked up info on local problems such as caste which even in the liberal mixed state where i lived, was deeply engrained in everyday life and relationships. Casteism, despite all the laws forbidding it, is a major issue in India particularly now there is a hindutva government which is encouraging its return. The farmers movement is acting to reduce the influence of caste (and the anti-muslim sentiments) because the threat of the new laws calls for unity of action. Of course, such grassroot cooperation could be recinded in future but much of it will last in some orm or other.

    They also have the wide support of non-farmers since the laws will effect the subsidised food urban dwellers receive. Most Indian citizens get cheap or free food through its Public Distribution System (PDS) programmes. The changes is the privatisation of the food chain which will raise the cost of living for many more than farmers. While the farmers seek a minimum price guarantee from the government for their crops to protect incomes, workers seek to retain maximum price controls in the retail outlets. All retail products in India must be marked with Maximum Retail Price (MRP). Shops cannot charge customers over the MRP. So for the competitive edge, some shops charge below MRP to draw more customers to their shops.

    Workers everywhere organise and resist within the retraints of capitalism. It means accepting the laws of capitalism and as i said eventually they prevail. The farmers may win a battle but will lose the war. But they might learn an important lesson that could be a step in their emancipation. Certainly they will not be able to avail themselves of any instructive advice from the WSP(INDIA). Indian workers will have the responsibility to educate themselves.

    The Farmers Strike is not a socialist struggle but nor is it a Punjabi or a caste conflict and it is, as i believe, indeed, a class struggle. We have to live under the rules of capitalism and try to weather its storms the best we can. Trade union are sectional and the right-wing critics accuse it of protecting the privileges of the better organised workers, particularly in the public sector, using strikes as a black-mail tool to harm the interests of the non-unionised and the self-employed and the population at large. We resoundingly reject such notions and understand the wider picture, don’t we? We also reject the concept of better-of workers as “middle-class” or the euphemism for the more comfortable, “middle-income”, when we consider class relationships.

    India has never been ideal but often its problems have been exacerbated by outside factors such as the British Raj looting it, something Marx highlighted. Malnutrition may still exist but no famine has happened since India implemented food security policies.

    Corruption remains. Inefficiency persists. Wastage widespread. But the new laws are not primarily being introduced to address those. It is to provide the incentive of higher profits to global conglomorates. And again as i stated, we cannot treat what is happening in India as an isolated example. Africa, Latin America and Asia it is the same. And also in North America and Europe too, but because of the existing welfare state, the economic pain is softened, leaving the crisis invisible to most. India is having that safety-net removed and many other countries don’t even have any social protections. The strategy and tactics we now see in India, could offer an example of how other peoples elsewhere can postpone the inevitable to sometime in the future and permit a breathing space to exact more elbow room when it comes to demanding social services from the State.

    Again i reiterate i hold out little hope of any remedy. Socialism or Barbarism.

    But is the answer is to judge that such resistance being shown by a broad alliance, no matter how futile, does not have our sympathy. Do we dismiss any potential of them gaining knowledge from how they are resisting?

    Finally, you seek comparison with Canadian farmers. Perhaps closer to home would be a better analogy – the Crofters War


    As people know i am not a fan of the BBC news but here is its observations.

    “…This agitation has been a “non-party political protest” whose rallying point has not been religion or caste, as is usually the case with agitations in India. It’s primarily an “economic movement” by a group of unions…The farmers’ agitation is led by dozens of unions of all political persuasions…”

    The BBC in all its wisdom has its better solution.

    “…mass movements need a unified political leader…’When you have a large following, the following can begin controlling the leadership’ ”


    Similarly, from our home history: the bondagers.
    “a system peculiar to the Eastern Borders and Northumberland. A married ploughman (known as a hind) would require to engage another person willing to work long hours in the fields in order to get a contract of employment with a farmer. This was normally a woman. It could be his wife, daughter or a complete stranger. In the case of a stranger being taken on, the hind was required to provide bed and board for the woman and pay her for work done.” So that is one agricultural labourer paying for another, of course, since it was an obligation of his contract, her pay came out of the money advanced by the farmer. Obviously, it was to his advantage when he could get his wife or sister to work the farm.

    And his cottage often would belong to the farmer, so, yes, agricultural structures can be complex, and in that instance, pushing the wages system forwards was a type of advance (see under Thompson’s “Making of the English working class”, the working class made itself and there are/were progressive elements to the wages system).


    Just back to Canada. I’ve often wondered what effect Canada had on the introduction of universal suffrage in the UK. Adult male suffrage existed in Canada, but what happened in the vast rural districts is that the small farmers tended to vote for the local big farmer (who had the best social connections, local economic muscle, etc.) i.e. democracy became a way of entrenching social hierarchy rather than overturning it. I wonder, to what extent that gave the British ruling class the idea that it was safe to extend the franchise (yes, it was demanded from below, but they must have had Canada in view when they conceded).

    Anyway, back to struggle: not all struggle has the potential to educate: take the Euston Gardens protestors, yes, they’re coming into contact with state forces, but there is no struggle there as workers, neither as a class for itself nor in itself.

    Finally, I often invoke Thompson’s distinction between proletarian and plebeian politics: plebeian politics demands action from the powerful, proletarian says we can do it ourselves. Making trouble that leaves state and social structures in place is not a brilliant learning event.

    I’d suggest overall the Indian strike looks to me like a fairly conservative movement: certainly, this is what democracy looks like, and it has reminded the BJP that there is power in the streets.

    But, I will add, this is interesting:
    Women take a lead role “In addition to protesting, women have taken on the entire responsibility of managing their farms and households back in Punjab.”


    I don’t think there is any doubt that the protests are economic. The question is whose economic interests are at stake. It would seem to be medium-sized farmers who fear they are about to lose a guaranteed market. The demonstrators seem in a position to afford tractors which suggests that there are not from the poorest farmers. In fact I think that the poorest farmers are producing for local markets and not to sell to the government to stockpile and so are not concerned by the new laws. See this about poor farmers in West Bengal (where our Indian party is based):

    As to the workers in general, as far as I can see their participation has been limited to a one day general strike or general shutdown (bandh) last November or December as a gesture of sympathy and no doubt also a political manoeuvre by opposition parties.

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