CPI(M) takes up a new task,
advising America on security

IN HIS article “Security Vs. Privatization Dogma” (Frontline, November 23, 2001), Prakash Karat, a Polit Bureau member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI(M)], dwells on security lapses that led to the September 11 episode.

What motivated this article? Is Mr. Karat concerned with US security or the adverse effects of privatization or both?

His contention that the hijacking of the planes on September 11 proves lack of skill of the airport security workers employed by private companies is quite erroneous since no technical expertise is required for looking at bags going through X-ray machines or persons passing between metal detectors. Any worker, hired a by private company or a federal agency, is equally competent, albeit unequally paid, to efficiently perform for eight hours a day, one of the most alienating jobs. On the other hand, given the large air traffic in the US, the capitalist efficiency of processing travel is not very compatible with cumbersome security checks. In any case the hijackers did not carry firearms – just box-cutters, which up to that time might not have been classified.

The logistics of airport security (as also of gatherings of dignitaries) is determined by the state of world politics. There was no such thing as a security check at airports till the ’60s. They were gradually introduced, and each new device took into account the cause of the previous accident. Ensuring that the baggage owner boards the plane was devised by the Indian authorities after the Air India tragedy. Israeli airlines always had an undercover security person in the plane. However, all security measures still presumed that terrorists want to kill but not die. When young people in large numbers are willing to die to accomplish their mission, there is no limit to variations in the techniques of terrorism. After all, the Indian parliament was guarded by public servants and not any private security agency. The shoe-bomber boarded the plane in Paris and not at Boston or New York. As newer and newer techniques of revenge evolve, newer security measures are introduced. Intelligence agencies are already suggesting more intrusive searches, perhaps even body- cavity searches. It would thus seem that Mr. Karat’s advice to the US airport authority is a bit hasty, if not naively formulated.

Instead of agonizing about the September 11 hijacking as a security lapse, Prakash Karat could take time to think of causes of terrorism. Being a leader of the CPI(M), he should know better than a regular intellectual that only a correct analysis can lead to a correct solution.

Why is it that the US, Israel and India are the main targets of terrorism? How is it that terrorism as a method of fighting for a cause, justified or not, makes a big start in late ’60s? And why is it that all the three governments want to fight terrorism with terrorism and refuse to recognize the existence of a political grievance that has led to terrorism? Why does Mr. Karat not talk of the plight of the Palestinians or the impoverished developing world as sufficient reasons for seeking revenge and therefore devising a method of accomplishing it? It is true that acts of terrorism cannot defeat imperialist domination of the world nor can they solve the Kashmir or Palestinian problems. It is despicable that fanatic leaders are working overtime to recruit young people to die and kill aimlessly while they themselves are sitting safe and perhaps in luxury. Yet, can Mr. Karat make provision for irrational actions by the aggrieved? And if so, would he care to look for causes of the September 11 episode elsewhere than in differences between skilled and unskilled workers at the security checks?

By the time Mr. Karat’s article appeared in Frontline, more than 3,500 Afghan civilians were killed by American bombs. More than 35,000 children died of preventable causes on September 11 alone and every day before and thereafter. All these are natural outcomes of capitalism and privatization. Why not then build a case against privatization on the basis of larger and fundamental issues rather than use the September 11 episode? Capitalism is based on private ownership and appropriation. Americans have extended this concept beyond imagination. Almost everything in America, with the exception of the military, FBI, CIA and other organs of repression, is private – schools, universities, hospitals, healthcare, toll-highways and so on.

A strong case can be made for public services even before the abolition of private ownership of means of production altogether but security concern or efficiency of operation can hardly be advanced as reasons. Public service institutions are the only way of providing citizenry such amenities as cannot be delivered on a profit basis.

In any case, Mr. Karat does not have to examine the US airport security or the malfunctioning of the British railways to make a case for public vs. private. Although he does touch upon Indian railways and postal systems, a much stronger case can be made by examining the disgraceful public educational system, healthcare, employment situation etc in India itself. For example, if hospitals-for-profit, private-healthcare facilities for the wealthy were abolished and all healthcare was made a public undertaking as exists in Cuba, India would be healthier than it is. The same can be said about the educational system and for many more needs of the Indian people.

Mr. Karat ends his article by an advice to “Left forces and the trade unions” to “improve their quality of service to the people” and not “provide impetus to the right-wing demand for privatization of these services.” Could it be that he is succumbing to middle-class vendetta against “lazy workers” protected by “unions controlled by left parties”? Among other factors, the drive for privatization in India is linked with significant political clout exercised by the affluent middle class, the base of Hindutva. No major economic change in any country, as in India, requires a pretext. Why did India start with a major role of public undertaking in the ’50s and switched to a major role for private ventures starting in the ’80s is an important issue, and the study of it is a relevant task for Marxist intellectuals. “Badly run schools, hospitals and public transport” might “discredit the public services” and might “provide the impetus for the right-wing demand for privatization”, as Mr. Karat sees, but for sure they do not lead to a policy for privatization at a scale undergoing in India. With sophisticated private and some public (luxury trains) transport available for the wealthy, public services for the common Indian people have been allowed to deteriorate to no dissatisfaction by the influential upper middle class.

It would seem that a note on “security vs. privatization” is less to do with the security or privatization but more to earn for CPI(M) a place among “respectable national” parties acceptable to the Indian establishment as well as to the West. For a party like CPI(M), this is not a bad thing to achieve after all!

– D. Gupta