Massacre of workers in India

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The following unsigned leaflet was recently sent to the ICC by an unknown source in India. We are reprinting it because it re­lates to an important and tragic episode of the class struggle in India. This event has lessons for the whole international proletariat. The massacre of the workers at the Swadeshi textile mill in Kanpur will remain for many years a brutal testimony of capitalist barbarism, and it will remind all workers of the only brutal answer capitalism can offer to humanity in this epoch.

The massacre at Kanpur is only one of a num­ber of acts of brutal repression by the ‘democratic’ Desai regime. In recent months, demonstrating workers, students, and pea­sants have been cut down by the police in many parts of India: in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil, Bihar, and Punjab, etc.

The Kanpur massacre also is similar to the mass killings of nearly 200 workers, their wives and children in the ‘Aztra’ sugar mill in Ecuador last October. Just like in Kanpur, the army there if not the police, dished out the only consistent policy of capital today when confronted with militant workers: cynical and bloody repression. Recent events in Peru, Nicaragua, etc confirm this trend which inevitably accompanies the proletarian resurgence in the Third World. In India the re-emergence of the working class was announced by the huge railway strike of 1974 which the Gandhi regime could only crush with the most extensive repres­sion (25,000 workers were thrown in jail) and with the most heinous connivance of the unions and government. The Janata regime was brought in in 1976 to replace the ‘dic­tatorship’ of Gandhi and bring the workers under control with the promise of ‘democracy’ and ‘human rights’; but almost as soon as it came to power the Desai government was met with a massive wave of wildcats in the tex­tile industry, and the ferment in the class has not stopped since then: dockers in Bom­bay, Kajhara miners, government employees and many others have fought bitter strikes, often outside of union control, and frequ­ently dealt with in the same bloody way as the Kanpur strike described in this leaflet. The Indian workers have paid many lives for the privilege of learning what lies behind the facade of Janata democracy: the terror of the bourgeois state.

But the leaflet contains certain weaknesses, inevitable in a recently awakened interna­tional proletarian movement. These are ref­lected in the statements the leaflet makes criticizing the ‘revolutionary’ leaders of the working class movement for their respect of legalism and supposed class collaboration with the Janata regime. Similarly, it fails to recognize that the divisive role of the unions is the result of the unions being organs of state repression within the working class. The so-called ‘working class’ Communist Party (M) and the other assorted leftist organizations are capitalist parties which fully support the needs of state capi­talism and economic austerity. They are not ‘betraying’ anybody nor do they ‘collaborate’ with capitalism. They are part and parcel of the political apparatus of capitalism, just like the unions. If they speak a ‘work­ing class’ language, they do so to better mystify the workers. But in real life they contribute to the physical repression of the proletariat by duping it, dividing and isola­ting it, all in the name of the ‘national interest’. The leaflet’s strength assuredly rests somewhere else. In its unconditional and poignant defense of the murdered workers, and its elemental appeal to the internatio­nalism of the working class: Workers of the World Unite. It is for this that this leaf­let brings with it a breath of fresh air from the Indian sub-continent. And it will serve as an inspiration for revolutionaries and their class everywhere.

At a time when the world is more than ever being ravaged by inter-imperialist blood­baths dressed up as ‘national liberation wars’; when revolutionaries in the advanced capitalisms are being told that they must support these national wars because the working class ‘doesn’t exist’ in the third world, because such wars can pave the way to a ‘progressive capitalist development’; this leaflet tells us very clearly that there is a working class in the Third World, that it is already fighting its own autonomous struggle, and that in that struggle it con­fronts the same enemies as the workers of the metropoles: democracy, the left parties, the unions, and above all, the nation state, whose historical bankruptcy in all parts of the world is starkly underlined by its rec­ourse to terror and massacre against the proletariat.

Janata ‘democracy’ and the working class

December 6, 1977: 1:50 p.m.:

About 1,000 workers of the Swadeshi Cotton Mills, Kanpur, gherao (surround) two officers to demand payment of wages held up for 51 days.

3:30 p.m.:

Large contingents of armed police and the Provisional Armed Constabulary (PAC) surround the mill from all sides.

3:50 p.m.:

Police open fire without any warning.

5:30 p.m.:

Over 150 workers are dead, hundreds injured, 237 arrested.

December 6, 1977 will go down in the workers’ history as black tuesday, the day on which capital launched an armed and open war on the working class, the day of cold-blooded butchery, the day of a workers’ Jalianwala Bagh.

The scene of the blood-bath will be remem­bered: Swadeshi Mills, one of India’s largest textile mills, whose 8,000 workers are having to pay for a crisis they did not create by being forced to forego pay­ment of their wages.

At least the number, if not the names, of the workers who were killed by police bullets will be remembered. And the murderers’ names will be remembered too, above all those of the Janata leaders and Ministers who sanctioned and justified the firing.

None of this will be forgotten because December 6 was the day of the most barbaric and cold-blooded butchery of Indian workers since Independence. The exact numbers of workers shot dead will probably never be known since the dead bodies flung into the Ganges and the Batwa rivers will never be traced or identified, nor those reduced to ashes in the boilers of the mill. The total it appears could easily be as high as 200. While officialdom blacked out the news completely, the ‘free’ press has remained silent.

What exactly happened at Swadeshi?

We give below the police version and the facts reported by hundreds of workers, eye­witnesses and a few independent journalists.

Police claim: The firing was resorted to because the violent workers were killing the two gheraod officials -- production manager Sharma and chief accountant Iyenger; and they viciously attacked the police when they tried to intervene. Superinten­dent of Police, Rai is supposed to have been knocked unconscious.

The facts: The officers were gheraod in the compound of the mill, near a fountain, whereas their dead bodies were found in a small room upstairs. The three to four persons who were seen dragging the two officers upstairs had never before been seen in the mill premises. A newspaper of Kanpur has reported that Sharma was heard shouting to the police to stop firing and that the officers were alive after the firing had started. A weekly claimed that the officers were killed by the police afterwards to find a good reason for their own orgy of murder. The CID has so far failed to furnish any proof of the involve­ment of any worker in the killing of the officers. It is also believed that the two officers knew too much about the black deeds of the management which had hired some agents (the three to four persons referred to above) to do away with them.

According to the report of a number of news­papers, the Superintendent of Police Rai was not seriously injured. Sarin, the security officer of the mill, has stated to a magazine, that Rai “walked out of the mill on his own and was not carried”.

Police claim: The firing lasted “at the most five or ten minutes”. Only twelve workers were killed and some twenty-odd injured.

The facts: The firing started at 3:50 p.m. and ended around 5:30 p.m. At least 150 workers were killed and well over a hundred injured. Owners of shops bang opposite the mill gates testify to the police firing full blast till close to 5:30 p.m.

Workers who survived claim they were forced to load the dead bodies of their fellow workers on the trucks. They say they loaded “scores of bodies”.

(Five weeks after December 6, the authorities finally started making the due payments to the workers. 238 workers never came forward to collect their wages. Where are the 226 workers gone, allowing for the official admission of 12 deaths?)

The police fired inside the mills and also outside, indiscriminately and in all direc­tions. An eight year-old boy named Pappu and a twelve year-old boy were shot. They were both standing in their bustee, a good 100 yards away from the mill gate. Sign­boards of shops and houses were punctured by bullet marks. A one kilometer stretch of road was completely blocked by the police for three days to wipe off all traces of their savagery. However, the shutters of Arvind Cloth Stores still carried bullet marks. A correspondent of Aaj, a daily of Kanpur, was beaten up and his camera snatched while he was trying to take photo­graphs outside the mill on the evening of December 6.

All evidence forces us to the conclusion that the police claims are false and base­less and that the firing was not provoked by “workers’ violence”. The firing was also “illegal”, according to India Today, a prestigious magazine, not known to have left-wing sympathies. The police did not even go through the necessary steps of lathi-charge, tear-gassing, rubber bullets Sbefore opening fire. Where is the place for procedural niceties in the handbook of barbarism?

Why this cold-bloodied butchery of Swadeshi workers?

The backdrop to the massacre is the present crisis of the textile industry in India in general, the particular ‘resolutions’ to this sought by the Jaipuria management of Swadeshi with the sympathy and support of both the Congress and the Janata regimes, the experience of the Kanpur workers (Kanpur is not unique in this respect) with their trade unions and the recent history of the workers’ growing militancy and attempts at self-organisation. The period of the Emergency was, of course, a general license to the capitalists to ‘discipline’ labor and to step up the rate of exploitation of workers. Jaipuria took a further step and, since August 1975, kept wages of workers pending for 45 to 60 days. While the wages of workers in this way became an additional amount of interest free capital for him, to the tune of Rs.500,000-600,000, workers were forced to live on borrowed money, with interest rates going up to 120% per annum in many cases.

Since September 1975, workers have had to gherao management no fewer than six times, simply to ensure payments of wages, long after they had been due. It may be mentioned in passing that in none of these cases was there any case of workers attempting murder of any official. In the course of these tortuous battles for mere survival, the workers came to lose faith in the concilia­tion machineries of the state on the one hand, and those trade unions of ‘theirs’ who proved incapable of breaking out of the bounds of ‘bourgeois legality’ to carry the movement forward.

The most important of these gheraos was that of October 26, 1977 of the mill secre­tary, Agarwal. The gherao lasted 53 hours, and was only lifted when the workers’ demand was conceded. While ostensibly a struggle for overdue wages, the real significance of the gherao lies in the exemplary class-unity of the workers and their militant combativity. On the day of the gherao, workers armed themselves with stones, brickbats, iron-rods and above all, chlorine gas cylinders. The mill was surrounded from all sides by the workers making it impos­sible for the armed police to carry on their job as usual, to break the gherao. The workers threatened to explode the gas cylinders if the police made any attempt to break up the gherao. For 53 long hours, the armed might of the state stood still, helpless, humiliated and paralyzed.

The response of the trade unions (most of the national unions of India have their units in Swadeshi) to this degree of class preparedness was to tell the workers to ‘call off the gherao’ warning them ‘not to provoke the state too much’. Workers of Swadeshi had had more than their share of the pathetic politics of negotiations, arbitrations, compromise, resolutions and delegations. On this occasion, they beat up the trade union leaders and chased them away. It is noteworthy that, alongside the gherao, the workers took charge of production in their own hands, and the organization of food supplies etc to the workers involved in the gherao.

This victory of the Swadeshi workers in October created history in Kanpur. In one single swoop of militant activity, workers had simultaneously challenged the capital­ists, the state and their ‘own’ institutions of the past, now hopelessly enmeshed within the grooves of “responsible” unionism and “bourgeois legality”.

It is this demonstration of their capacity for self-organization and militant combativity, that the real roots of the December 6 massacre lie. The working class challenge had put the wheels of the state’s repressive apparatus in motion. Just a few days after October 26, the Home Secretary and the DIG (the police of UP) in an interview on Lucknow television, had warned that the government is prepared to take ‘definite steps’ to prevent the recurrence of the Swadeshi incident at ‘any cost’. On November 29, hired goons attempted to convert a minor quarrel between two workers into a communal riot to break the unity of the workers. The opportunity for ‘definite steps’ did present itself fin­ally, to take ‘definite steps’ at a ‘counter-demonstration’ staged against the example of October. It is even held in certain sections that though a real anger of workers prompted the workers into the gherao of December 6, the gherao could well have been stage-managed to deal with the workers when they were totally unpre­pared. Because of a power breakdown in Kanpur, only 1,000 workers were in the mill that afternoon as against a workforce of 8,000.

(Since the massacre of December 6, the factory has been under an illegal lockout which continues till today...March 3rd. Even the ‘Socialist minister’, George Farnandes, is reported to have said that it would take at least one to two more months to start the mill again. After 15 January, wage dispersals were begun in the presence of hundreds of policemen armed with sub-machine guns inside the factory and the main road outside. Wages paid some ninety days after they were due have dis­appeared in the squaring of past loans. The situation of workers and their families is extremely precarious. As reported above, 238 workers never ‘reported’ to collect their wages for obvious reasons. A one-man commission set up by the government to enquire into the firing has come to the conclusion that the firing was totally justified. If anything, it is a bit criti­cal of the Dy. Magistrate for not having ordered the firing a bit earlier. At the same time, a Citizen’s Rights Committee in Delhi has come out with its challenging once again, all the contentions of the officialdom. The Chief Minister of UP has continued to flatly refuse even the holding of a judicial enquiry.)

Janata ‘democracy’ and the working class

Undoubtedly, the butchery of the Swadeshi workers has no parallels in the history of the Indian working class movement. But this naked repression cannot be seen as an exceptional case unique to Swadeshi. Nor is it simply an act of a trigger happy District Magistrate. It is only the most naked demonstration of the increasingly repres­sive attitude of the Janata regime to the working class movement. Ever since it got itself installed in power, it (Janata) has explicitly stated that gheraos will not be tolerated, agreements arrived at through gheraos will not be honored, definite steps will be taken to prevent the occurrence of gheraos, etc. Not only that, in the last eleven months, at the instigation of the Janata regime, police have opened fire even on ordinary strikes that were ‘lawful’ even in the eyes of ‘bourgeois law’. Dilli-Rajhara mines (M.P), IISCO and Bokaro (Bihar), Sahibabad and Lucknow (U.P.), Muland (Maharashtra) are some examples of this. Scores of workers have lost their lives and hundreds have been badly injured. In the villages, where agricultural labor is much less organized, the repressive machinery has been even more ruthless. According to official admission, in Bihar state alone, police have opened fire on agricultural workers eight times in which eleven people have lost their lives. Armed to their teeth, the landed interests in the countryside have declared an open war on the wage-earners.

It is a further demonstration of the ‘democratic character’ of the Janata regime that the repression is at its maximum pre­cisely in these states where the Janata regime holds power. A ‘mini-MISA’(?) was introduced in M.P. to crush the impending struggle of the power supply workers. In the strike of 80,000 secondary school teachers of U.P., 23,000 have been imprisoned while some 5,000 have lost their jobs? A legislation to suppress the working class movement, ‘disguised’ as a law to deal with criminals is on the point of being passed in Bihar.

Riding the wave of mass discontent against the regime of the ‘garibi hatao’ (remove poverty) party, the Janata catapulted itself into power, posing as the ‘party of demo­cracy’. It was necessary to give some meaning to its slogans. It restored the formal right to strike, scrapped the Compul­sory Deposit Scheme and restored the 8-1/3% minimum bonus for one year. The Janata regime could afford to be ‘sympathetic’ to the working class movement so long as it could believe that the workers’ struggle is merely for ‘democracy’ and a ‘free’ atmosphere for its exploitation; that it is struggling merely to re-establish those terms of its wage slavery that obtained prior to the proclamation of the Emergency. It is becoming increasingly clear today that the struggle of workers is not for this or that condition of its wage-slavery, but the very uprooting of the system based on wage-slavery. The revolutionary struggle of the working class is not simply for capitalist democracy, but an end to capitalism and with it capitalist democracy based on exploitation.

The rhythm, with which the class character of the working class movement and its revolutionary aim becomes explicit, is the rhythm with which the ‘democratic character’ of the Janata regime stands exposed, its class character becomes clear too. However opposed the Janata regime may have been to the Congress, in its slogans of democracy, in the recent strike of the Maharastra State government employees, the Janata Prime Minister and the Congress Chief Minister confronted the struggle from a united plat­form. While the Maharashtra unit of the Janata, with its eyes fixed on the coming elections, supported the strike, its Presi­dent was openly demanding that workers getting ‘fair’ wages should be prohibited from going on strike. Whatever wage can be ‘fair’ for the slavery under capital?

Today the language and the politics of the Janata regime are changing very rapidly. Today there is talk of banning strikes, maintaining provisions of the Preventive Detention Act, cutting of wages, etc.

For the ‘champions of democracy’, the constitution, the legislature and the industrial courts are the ultimate judges of the ‘legitimacy’ of the demands and the forms of struggle of the workers. For the working class every form of struggle is ‘legitimate’, including and in particular that which stands to put an end to the very ‘legitimacy’ of bourgeois society. It is equally clear to the working class that when it suits its interests, it takes little effort for the champions of capital to throw aside the veil of legality and democracy. How much does it take for the defenders of capital to reframe laws in the ‘parliament of the people’, after all? The imposition of the Emergency, the argu­ment of retention of Preventive Detention by the present Home Minister, the massacre of the Kanpur workers, the introduction of the ‘mini-MISA’ in M.P., are just a few of the recent examples.

The ‘socialist left’ of the Janata Party

It is worth asking why the ‘left’ within the Janata is silent in the fashion of the deaf monkeys of Gandhi, on this ruthless killing of the Swadeshi workers. The re­pression of the working class and agricul­tural laborers is increasing continuously and these Gandhian-socialists choose to remain silent? It is becoming clear that the Janata-left is today forced to play the same role vis-a-vis the working class movement that in the past the ‘progressive’ and the ‘socialist’ sections of the Congress did...churning out ‘left’ schemes for the exploitation of labor, while the ‘right’ continues its operations.

The ‘communist’ left and the working class

Matters don’t end there only. Some questions need to be addressed to the established ‘Communist’ parties as well. Intervening in the debate in Parliament on the Swadeshi incident, Jyotirmoy Besu, of the C.P.M. claimed that the Swadeshi incident was the result of a deep-seated conspiracy on the part of agent provocateurs of a certain political party to defame the Home Minister and to defeat the Chief Minister of U.P. in the coming elections (Times of India, December 8, 1977). According to a worker of Swadeshi, a C.P.I. leader, Harbans Singh, in a public speech in Kanpur called the Swadeshi workers ungrateful. (In obvious reference to the October gherao and beating up of trade union leaders by workers.)

Of course, the bourgeoisie always understands the militancy of the working class as the result of a conspiracy of some ‘anti-social’ elements. Has the ‘revolutionary’ leader of the working class movement arrived at the same standpoint? If the demands of its class situation and experience in the context of the national and international crisis of capital, require that the working class movement break from the bounds of ‘legal’ forms of struggle to shift the struggle on to its own class terrain, and the leadership remain entrapped in the politics of the past, what do they expect from the workers? Naturally, initiatives by the class towards its class unity must appear to the erstwhile leaders as ‘dis­loyalty’.

Admittedly, the papers of these parties have denounced the killings in Swadeshi. The question is what is denunciation and resolutions going to amount to? Is it not clear that, if this ruthless treatment by the state of a section of the class goes unchallenged by the Kanpur workers and the Indian working class movement, it can only end in shifting the balance of class forces decisively in favor of capital and its representatives? How much more time is required for the realization to come that any illusion by the working class in any representative of capital, can only have the most disastrous consequences for the working class movement? To what end, and for how long, this alliance with this or that section of the bourgeoisie?

There is only one way out for the working class today. Against its division within dozens of unions, the establishment of its class unity and on the basis of this class unity, a militant challenge to the Congress, the Janata regime, and every other repre­sentative of the bourgeoisie. It is also becoming clearer in the last few months that if only discreetly and sporadically, sections are emerging within the class who are alive to the historic task facing their movement. The struggle of the Swadeshi workers of Kanpur was not the result of a “deep conspiracy” but an initial moment in its historic preparation for a revolution­ary challenge to the entire bourgeois order. In this respect it is integrally a part of the new phase of the international movement of the working class. In this coming period, only those can play a revolutionary role who can grasp the inner dynamics and the revolutionary content of the class’ aspirations.

Workers of the world unite!