For a Powerful Proletarian Intervention

in the Campaign against Corruption

(Highlights of the speech delivered by Arindam Sen at a seminar organized by the Assam Provincial Bank Employees’ Association (APBEA) in Guwahati on May 6, 2011)

The struggle for a strong, effective Lok Pal legislation has achieved a quick initial victory at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi, thanks to a vigorous nationwide popular support. It has now entered a new, more difficult phase in which the state and all vested interests are -- and will continue to be -- putting up all sorts of obstacles. Even if a good Lok Pal bill is eventually passed, that will play an important but limited role in checking the growth of corruption by instilling a sense of fear among the corrupt. So we must widen the ambit of anti-corruption struggle, we must attack the hydra- headed monster from all sides. It is somewhat like fighting malaria. Can you eradicate the disease simply by introducing more effective medicines or even by killing mosquitoes? No, you’ll have to cover up the open drains, you’ll have to remove stagnant pools of water, and adopt other measures to destroy the breeding grounds of the carriers of the disease. Similarly, we must try to eliminate, as far as possible, the conditions responsible for the abnormal, unprecedented growth of corruption in recent years.
All-pervasive liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation have thrown the floodgates of corruption wider open. With a distinct role reversal of the state from a regulator of private investment to its facilitator, with the rise of corporations too big to control, and the rapid influx of predator finance capital, the LPG regime now lies before us as the biggest breeding pit of corruption. It is this breeding pit that we must get rid of. Otherwise, if we just try to clean up the surface froth without touching the undercurrents that produce it, we will be indulging in a self-defeating exercise.
And in this struggle, the responsibility of the vanguard must be taken up by the working class. Because objectively it is best placed, best situated in the given socio-economic system to fight the aggressive policies of capital collectively called LPG. You know very well that workers and employees also have to counter specific cases of corruption and fraudulent practices in their own industries – say in the banking sector, in sick industries and so on. In a word, fighting back the onslaughts of capital is its class calling – the working class cannot just live without it. So within the broad people’s movement against corruption, it can – and it must – act as the backbone force, as the most organised contingent.
From a proletarian point of view and in the light of the discussion we have had, we can now concretise a set of demands:
•         No delay in putting in place an effective anti-corruption legislation and a credible institutional mechanism to prosecute and punish the guilty.
•         Blacklist and prosecute corporate houses – Tata, Reliance, Vedanta and others – that have been implicated in cases of corruption or violations of law.
•         Make public the names of all those with black money stashed in Swiss banks, bring this money back to the country to be used for public welfare, and plug every route (like Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement with Mauritius) for the daily outflow of black money.
•         Unearth and confiscate black money and ill-gotten wealth accumulated within the country.
•         Prosecute the top army officials involved in the Adarsh scam and other scams in defence deals and army land deals.
•         Confiscate properties of corrupt politicians and bureaucrats.
•         Ratify the UN Convention against corruption.
•         Roll back the LPG regime; ban corporate lobbying.
This is not an exhaustive list. We can include other demands like nationalisation of mineral resources. In Venezuela and certain other countries in Latin America they have done it; why can’t India? Anyway, as we raise these demands, we don’t hope for a quick victory. We also know that there can’t be a corruption-free capitalism. Corruption and cronyism are intrinsic to capitalism and only by transcending capitalism can we finally get rid of these evils. To be sure, that involves a long-term movement. But only those who have this long-term vision can fight on partial demands, on burning issues of the day, consistently, resolutely, as part of a bigger battle. The working class has this vision. It takes the campaign against corruption as part of the broader struggle for democracy, decent living and development with dignity, a struggle that is spearheaded against big capital and its state. This I think is the crux of the proletarian viewpoint on the topic under discussion.
From this perspective, three salient points stand out. First, corruption is not just a moral question, it is essentially political. Therefore, and this is the second point, fighting corruption is not merely a matter of punishing guilty individuals. More important, it is about struggle against central and state governments run by the Congress/UPA or BJP/NDA or by, say, a dalit-ki beti or self-styled Marxist party. It is about relentless struggle for basic course correction in policy, for a paradigm change in the very orientation and mechanism of ‘growth’ and governance. Third, the fight is to be directed not only against mega scams and macro issues, but equally against the all-pervasive everyday corruption at the micro level, such as in PDS, municipal and panchayat affairs, various schemes like the NREGA, and so on. This is crucial for building up the struggle from the grassroots, for involving the broad masses of workers and peasants in this movement.
Before I conclude, I must say we appreciate those who assembled at Jantar Mantar recently, lighted candles and twittered on the internet, but let us move ahead. Let us do something more substantial. In Egypt, if the facebook-savvy youth initiated the assembly at Tahrir Square and lent voice to the uprising, the strike struggle of workers provided the muscle needed to overthrow the corrupt and dictatorial regime of Hosni Mubarak. And now, after his ouster, it is the independent unions that are continuing the struggle for genuine democracy. In Tunisia too, independent unions played a major role in ousting the hated Ben Ali regime. Let the Indian working class emulate them, of course according to our own circumstances. And let us remain alive to another fact. The ruling classes in India and elsewhere are now equally adept at manufacturing consent and manipulating dissent. In this case, corrupt cronies donated generously to the Jantar Mantar programme while tele-services providers who benefited from the 2G scam gifted free SMS offers to supporters of the campaign. We must therefore keep our eyes and ears open, so as to pre-empt efforts to derail the movement from within, or to degrade it into media hype.

To sum up: the gang of four – monetary corruption, corporate plunder, cronyism and neoliberalism – must be fought together; and to mobilise the Indian people in this struggle is the advanced task before the advanced class, the working-class.