NEW MODES OF EXCERCISING LOCAL POWER
PASCHIM BANGA’S PERSPECTIVE
Article 40 of the constitution of India says ׃ “The state shall take steps to organize village Panchayats and endow them with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as units of self-government.” Though, in ultimate analysis, self-governance in a bourgeois set-up serves the interest of the oppressor ruling class, yet, for long, there was no pressure from below upon them to put into effect even this modest and limited declaration of the constitution. Congress as the oldest organized party of the bureaucratic big bourgeoisie and feudal lords was at the centre of national and local level politics. Big jotedars in the rural areas were the vehicle of Congress-rule.
This was the period of individual authority of big jotedars in rural life. Panchayats were a de-facto non-entity. For obvious reasons, any anti-feudal peasant struggle during those days used to take a leap towards an anti-Congress struggle in no time. In our State, Gandhi-cap-clad Congressite Seva Dal much exceeded police forces, so far as the atrocity against the struggling peasants of Tebagha movement is concerned. In fact, this Seva Dal was a gang of goons of the then jotedars. From 1964 general election people throughout the country started challenging the one party autocratic domination of Congress. With it was juxtaposed the aspiration of the regional bureaucratic bourgeoisie of different nationalities. The one and half decade between mid-sixties to end-seventies was a positive turbulent period in Paschim Banga politics, much alike that in contemporary world politics. At one end, people took on the path of Dumdum Dawai against the ruling class-made artificial food crisis and famines throughout the country and on the other end, the heroic struggle of the Naxalite revolutionaries for the seizure of political power, erupted like prairie fire throughout the country.
Militant revolutionary anti feudal struggle of the Naxalites started finding place even in academic text books. Despite correct revolutionary orientation, the revolution had to face set back because of the failure of the CPI (ML) to resolve the problem of the military line correctly. The void was filled by the so called main-stream political parties through their parallel reactionary-revisionist practice. The so called left front came to power in Paschim Banga in much the same way. Taking lessons from the experience of the topsy-turvy past, the ruling class adopted new tactics – one aspect of it was to indulge in bargaining and reconciling with their regional counterparts and another was to reorganize the institutions of the self-governance at grass-root levels and to confer on them more power than before. The goal of the first tactics was to keep the happy family of the ruling class intact. The aim of the second tactics was to keep people deliberately away from the dream of the revolutionary transformation and to consolidate the yoke of the oppressor class rule at the root level. Immediately after assuming power in 1977, the left front took active measures for regularizing panchayat-municipal and corporation polls.
They went for the reorganization of the three tier panchayat system. A big chunk of Congressite jotedars became CPM-mentors overnight. CPM ousted the remaining hard-core section from power and started concentrating the same in the hands of the socially influential party leaders. In the pre-left front period, big jotedars used to carry on their political rule directly. The economic and political reins were in their hands. During CPM-regime there was an apparent separation between economic and political power centers. In the new phase party and panchayat duo became the tool of exercising political power. A neo-jotedar class started concentrating all powers of party and panchayats in their hands.
On the other hand these party bosses became local neo-jotedar class. They had woven under the garb of party a new cobweb of class rule at all levels of rural life. Because of state-backing they became like the fascist Gestapo in no time. The unwritten verdict was׃ staying in the village and disobeying CPM is like a foolish person fighting against crocodiles while staying in a river. From 1977 to 2006, this was how the State was moving. A sterile status quo of the burning Ghats. CPM’s homeopathic relief scheme was going perfectly hand in hand with the ruling class schemata of consolidation of power at grass root level. The situation took a u-turn because of Singur-Nandigram-Lalgarh.
As the revolutionaries failed to raise these struggles to a higher stage along the revolutionary line, Paschim Banga people ventilated their long-suppressed grievances through Panchayat, Loksabha and Assembly polls. All three elections became a kind of referendum on the land acquisition issue. Left front was ousted and people’s wrath against them brought TMC-combine to power. The new government has been in power for five months since then. Nothing has, however, changed. Except the slogans. This government has also taken the same CPM-path, which means ruling the rural people from party offices. It moves along the path of murders-infighting-suppression of opponents and autocracy. The old CPM party’s mega structure is to a large extent dismantled and the wing of TMC is very quickly taking its place. The major part of the CPM-led neo-jotedars is changing side overnight. Just like Congressite jotedars joining CPM camp three and half decade back. This is what we call the comic repetition of HISTORY.
The economic-social and political implication of the rise of the neo-jotedar class
This neo-jotedar class did not fall from the sky. This class has been created during the post-seventies period to serve the imperialist interest of penetrating deeper into the rural areas of a semi-feudal, semi-colonial country like India. The revolutionaries must have crystal clarity regarding how the neo-jotedar class is working as a tool of the penetration of imperialism and bureaucratic capital in our agriculture. Equally imperative is to understand the direction of change in the rural political power-structure. The nature of capitalism in a semi-feudal, semi-colonial country like ours is comprador as well as bureaucratic. It is comprador because it serves the interest of imperialism and develops under its tutelage.
It is bureaucratic because it survives and develops on the basis of semi-colonial state patronage. This capitalism is not confined only within industrial and service sector. It is not big bourgeoisie like Tata-Birla-Ambanis alone who are comprador-bureaucratic capitalists. With imperialist backing this capitalism has penetrated into agriculture as well. The characteristics of this bureaucratic capitalism, developed in agricultural sector, are:
1) imperialism has created this capitalism to serve its own interest; 2) this capitalism has developed on the base of feudalism; (3) it has developed on the basis of direct state patronage. Bureaucratic capitalism started developing in rural areas from early eighties. As a result, the old forms of caste-feudal exploitation changed and new forms took their place. Alongside, and in relation to this, new features also emerged in the rural political power structure. In the first section, we have tried to identify how imperialism has removed feudalism to serve its own interest at one end and how, on the other end, it has contributed to its survival in a new form. We have tried to grasp this removal / renovation dialectics in the transformation process of semi-feudalism. We have also tried to show how the bureaucratic capitalist and feudal production relations are remaining intertwined. In the second section, we have made an attempt to trace the path of the change of the rural political power structure. In particular, we have tried to understand the role of the parliamentary political parties in this process. Lastly, we have given our views on certain controversial issues.
1.Various aspects of neo jotedari exploitation ׃
Under the leadership of the Naxalites, people, in the sixties, demolished the authority of the Congressite big jotedars. CPM, after assuming power in 1977, further augmented the process. Imperialism directed and controlled land reform of eighties reduced the amount of land under the possession of the old lords (mainly higher caste) to a great extent. CPM played the role of local agent in this process. Besides, division of landholdings among jotedar households also resulted in a decline in the number of big holdings (Though we can still see big jotedars in some areas). But what are the results of all these? CPM and some intellectuals say that non-existence of big jotedars amounts to the extinction of feudal system and development of capitalist agriculture in our State. It is true that in many areas share-croppers are entering into monetary contract with the landowners instead of crop-sharing, peasants are buying fertilizer, seeds, pesticides etc. from the market; they are marketing their produce; the use of agricultural implements like tractors, power-tillers is on the increase; unlike in Congress period, the landless laborers are no longer remaining tied with the jotedars like bonded labor, they are receiving money wages. In short, money circulation has increased, commodity exchange or market has developed. Do these necessarily mean that caste-feudalism has disappeared from Paschim Banga? There is no denying the fact that capitalist production relations have made inroad in our agriculture. But what is the nature of this capitalism?
We should have very clear understanding on the nature of changes that have taken place in our agricultural sector. Only then we can understand which class in the rural areas is holding political power and what is the nature of this class? We have to find out what kind of changes have been brought about in the political structure of the ruling class by these changes in the economic scenario of the rural areas. Only then we can frame correct slogans for rousing the broad peasant masses against this class. Thus we shall be able to identify the concrete forms of their oppression and decide on the correct tactics for struggle. From the increase in monetary transactions and development of commodity exchange and market relations we cannot conclude that feudalism has been annihilated and capitalism is developing in an unrestricted manner.
We have to examine how the surplus left with the direct producers after the necessary deduction due to production cost and cost of livelihood, is extracted by the ruling class. Is this surplus extraction done with the help of extra economic power or by economic means? On the basis of this criterion we have to characterize our state’s agrarian economy. Capitalism is characterized by economic exploitation. A capitalist enters into an agreement with free laborer. Wages of workers are determined by the value of their labor power. Value of labor power is the cost of subsistence of a worker and his family so that a new laborer is born. Like the value of any other commodity being determined by its production cost, value of labor power is also determined by the production and reproduction cost of labor power. So here equal values are exchanged. No one is deceiving anyone. But, suppose a worker is working for 8 hours in the field of production. Suppose, in only 3 hours’ labor he is producing value equal to the value of his labor power. So the remaining value which he is producing in the rest 5 hours will be appropriated by the capitalist. This is his profit or surplus value. So, despite the fact that a capitalist may give wages to a worker equal to the value of his labor power in the field of exchange, the former can extract surplus value from the laborer in the field of production. However, in the capitalist system politics plays an important role in the determination of wages. That discussion is out of place here. Capitalists try to maximize profit through producing as much as possible at low cost. So they try to improve the technique of production. In brief, capitalists can extract profit through an economic way and without applying force. This way of exploitation is mainly economic.
But the thing is different in feudalism. Landlords/jotedars do not bother themselves about the method of production. Peasants cultivate while feudal lords try to extract as much rent as possible from them through social and political power. This is known as surplus extraction from the peasants through extra economic coercive measures i.e. through the force of power. However, extra economic surplus extraction may not always take the form of open application of brute force. For example, cultivation through engaging wage laborer may seem apparently to be a kind of capitalist mode of exploitation by economic means. But, we have seen in our discussion that jotedars may force the peasants to cultivate at a very low wages (lower than the value of their labor power) by applying various extra economic methods. It is also a kind of extra economic exploitation. As the peasants are not left with any surplus, they also cannot devote anything for the improvement of the technique of production.
So the development of agriculture is thwarted. To stop this surplus extraction from the peasants, eviction of jotedars/landlords and distribution of their land among the peasants is an important pre-requisite. This task cannot be accomplished without the new democratic revolution. During the Congress period big jotedars used to extract this surplus by means of their monopoly ownership of land. At one end, they used to use their private army (lethel bahini) for collecting rent from the tenants and on the other end, with the ulterior motive of exploiting the peasants they used the caste system. Big jotedars were mainly from high caste background (mainly from Brahmin, Kayastha and Baidya caste) and ‘low’ caste people like Bagdi, Bauri, Dome, Ruidas, Namoshudro etc. were landless peasants. Caste system was utilized to keep them away from landownership. They used to be compelled to work on jotedars’ land on nominal wages. In most cases wages were not paid in money.
They would be given paddy or rice and / or miserly half-meal in lieu of their inhuman and bone breaking labor. This is why dalits were the most struggling force in the Naxalite movement. After CPM assumed power some changes were seen in Paschim Banga situation. Though the path breaking struggles of sixties and seventies weakened the old type big jotedars to a large extent, a process of implementing green revolution under the imperialist directive by CPM was initiated during the eighties. Through this a process of transforming old type of feudalism was unleashed and development of capitalism of a new type was strengthened. In this process imperialist penetration in the agricultural sector was further deepened. A neo- jotedar class came into being through this removal and renovation dialectics of the transformation process of semi-feudalism. (This does not mean that old jotedars were finished. They coped with the new situation and transformed themselves into the changed format. Neo-jotedar means those using new forms of exploitation. Neo-jotedar class includes local party-panchayat bosses, co-op directors, social and religious institution heads etc. and also those old jotedars who transformed themselves.
In general, those persons who are at the helm of rural political power structure and are using new forms and methods of exploitation. Neo-jotedars came mainly from higher caste background, but some OBC and advanced dalit caste people were also added.) The neo-jotedars are not the owners of big landholdings like their old counterparts. The decisively important consideration is to determine the nature of this new class and also their mode of exploitation. We have to analyze the nature of surplus extraction and use of this surplus with reference to the relationship of the neo-jotedar class with imperialism and state. The mode of surplus extraction is the key factor in the determination of their mode of rule. The source and modes of exploitation of the neo-jotedars are varied and diverse and therefore, the mode of their rule is also complex and all-embracing. We have to understand the modes of exploitation and form of political rule in a mutually inter-related manner, which is a pre-requisite for the correct understanding about the local political power structure.
Though not the owners of big landholdings like old jotedars, the neo-jotedars also are the owners of most of the agricultural land. According to the official data, 4 percent of the rural households own one-third of the agricultural land. Like old jotedars, they also take the share of the produce of the tenants without devoting any labor at all. In our state, about 10 to 16 percent of agricultural land is devoted to barga cultivation. The tenants are predominantly poor and landless. In some areas of the state, the tenants are entering into monetary agreement with the owners instead of crop-sharing. As a result, some left intellectuals opine that old feudal share cropping system is being replaced by the capitalist land-lease out system.
They are looking only at the appearance of the thing and not into the essence of it. The amount of crop sharing or money rent payable to the owner depends on the social, economic and political power of tenants, no matter whether the rent is paid in kind or in money. In many a cases, they have succeeded in raising their share through struggle. However, the tenants in our state are largely poor and the owners extract surplus from them by virtue of their monopoly of landownership. As the tenants are left with no surplus, they cannot do anything for the development of cultivation. They subsist under tremendous hardship after whatever little is left after rent payment. More so because of exorbitant increase in the cost of cultivation and low prices of their produce.
The phenomena of reverse tenancy i.e. capitalist cultivation on large scale by the rich peasants by taking land on lease from the poor peasants are almost not found in Bengal. So we can conclude that share tenancy is capitalist in appearance but feudal in essence. Those who portray share cropping as capitalist, actually have the bad intention of denying the task of seizing land from landlords and distribute it among the share croppers. Their real aim is to keep this task out of the land reform program. During the last 34 years CPM did not give any land title to the tenants and TMC is also keeping mum on this issue. But, in the decades of 60’s and 70’s tenants in many areas snatched away land through struggle. In some areas jotedars themselves gave up a portion of land to the tenants to pacify them. That’s why, later, the big landowners switched over to cultivation by engaging wage labor in place of tenancy cultivation.
WAGE SYSTEM ׃
Change has taken place also in the system of cultivation through wage labor deployment. In sixties and seventies, the agricultural laborers were like bonded labor. In lieu of scanty amount of paddy or rice they used to work on the jotedars’ land throughout the day (Bandha or Mahindari system). Because of long drawn class struggle this system is no longer in vogue. Today they work on daily wage basis. The left intellectuals are over-prompt in their conclusion once again that landowners are cultivating their land by the capitalist method of free wage labor deployment. Free labor means free in both ways- free in terms of selling their labor power and also free from the ownership of the means of production.
We have to see: are they really free in both respects? In the rural areas of our state there are landless laborers to the tune of 90 lakhs. This figure is on the increase day by day. According to 1991 census 46 percent of the peasants are landless laborers. The figure has risen to 57 percent in 2001. Industries have not developed sufficiently to absorb this vast section of the landless peasant population. So they are compelled to accept very low wages in the agricultural sector. 2005-06 Government of India report shows that while agricultural sector wages are rising India-wide, they are falling in our state. Wages in cultivation are so low that one or two members of every family have to move either to other districts or to other states. The poor people of Birbhum flock to relatively developed agricultural parts of Bardhaman district during the peak season or are compelled to join the unorganized labor army of industrial zones of Bardhaman.
They also are engaged in illegal sale of coal from open coal pits or poppy seeds cultivation or in brick-kilns. The construction workers of Murshidabad can be found in any part of the country. People in large groups are migrating to Maharashtra, Tamilnadu, Karnataka, Kerala and Gujarat in search of jobs. The villages are almost devoid of youths. Planning commission report of 2008 says that about 27% of rural youth in Paschim Banga are unemployed. We can infer with certainty that in the agricultural sector the laborers are getting wages less than the value of their labor power. It is a fact that wages in the agricultural sector has increased. But Central government report of 2004-05 said that 94.5% of agricultural laborers in our state are getting wages less than Central government stipulated minimum wages. So we can say that, they are no longer tied with individual jotedars. But now their situation is that, they are like bonded labor to the whole agricultural sector. Many of them are forced to work as cheap labor in the bureaucratic capitalist industrial sector.
Thus semi-feudal agriculture and bureaucratic capitalist industry (and also service sector) are mutually contributing towards each others existence and reinforcing each other. Without semi-feudal agriculture the imperialists and their comprador capitalists could not exploit cheap labor in this manner. On the other hand, if uninterrupted growth of independent capitalism could replace the imperialism-induced controlled and limited growth of bureaucratic capitalism, the neo-jotedars also could not engage poor and landless peasants at such low wages (competition will equalize wages). Because of low wages and job-uncertainties (on an average, agricultural laborers get work for 112 days per year) the agricultural laborers very often enter into extra-economic agreement with the jotedars. These agreements include taking advance on the basis of a prior agreement that they will remain reserved to work at low wages during the season, to get credit also in the same terms. Those like SUCI who think that the increase in the number of agricultural laborers every year is a clear indication of the transformation of the feudal production relations into capitalist one, actually fail to see how the feudal relations are working under the capitalist guise.
CASTE SYSTEM ׃
A big chunk of the landless peasants are dalits. Brahminism had denied them property ownership rights throughout the ages. The same situation is continuing even today. The majority of 18 million dalits in Bengal are landless peasants. 55% of Bauris, 54% of Bagdis and 64% of Mals are landless. Dalits acquired some land through their struggle during 60’s and 70’s. But they were compelled later to sell off their small plots because of tremendous financial hardships or due to high cost of cultivation. In many cases CPM leaders used to control them through taking away pattas from them. These leaders used them against the small peasants belonging to OBC and thus acted consciously to create an ambience of caste-distrust with the ulterior motive of breaking the class unity among the poor. Dalit masses work as cheap labor in villages. Also they are engaged in the most dirty and dangerous occupations in the industrial and service sector.
Many intellectuals, ruling class media and parliamentary party leaders propagate that land reforms are already accomplished and seizing land today amounts to occupying the property of ryots. Thus public opinion is created to eternally deprive dalits from land ownership. A rich section has been created from among some advanced dalit castes, such as Namo shudro, Poundra kshatriya, Ruidas etc. By means of netagiri, business and government services they have prospered and become part of neo-jotedar class. Imperialism and state have thus degenerated a section of those who struggled against old jotedars into new rulers.
EXPLOITATION OF POOR PEASANTS׃
A vast majority (78%) of our rural population are poor and landless. This number is increasing every year. Neo-jotedars exploit poor peasants in various ways. They lease out pump sets, tractors and power tillers and lend fertilizer, seeds and pesticides to the poor peasants on condition that the peasants must sell their produce to them at considerably low prices. Poor peasants enter into such contracts because cultivation cost is increasing steeply day by day and secondly because neo-jotedars control the local wholesale trade of agricultural produce. Poor peasants cannot hoard grain for sale later at higher prices. Neo-jotedars who are themselves party or panchayat boss or purchased those post holders, control the local storages. Their control on potato bonds is a case in point.
“Those who grow potato through rain and sun can never gain. On the contrary… they are caught in debt trap… Potato business is exclusively under the control of storehouse owners and mahajans. They set potato prices. They are also able to create artificial scarcity during the time of necessity. They even gamble in the fertilizer market… They create scarcity in this market in such a way that a peasant will be given one sack of potato seeds if he buys two sacks of IFFCO fertilizer from them… where from a marginal peasant can secure so much money? Cooperative Banks play just a trivial role to rescue them. So money lending business goes on unabated. What are the terms of settlement here? You take as much credit as you require and cultivate. But you will have to sell 75 to 80% of your crop to the money lender on his terms. In case of crop failure the credit will be carried forward to the next year. This is the process how the credit accumulated and a time will come when the money lender will swallow his land by compelling him to give his thumb impression on a piece of paper. Government introduced potato bonds with much fanfare in order to protect the potato growers. Has any one ever enquired to know who actually controls these bonds? Potato business is of course remunerative. But 20% of this profit is going to the rich peasants, 40% to the moneylenders and the rest to the cold storage owners. Area wise the figures may vary slightly….” (Sambad Pratidin, Jayanta Sinha’s report).
The point to be noted in this connection is that these rich peasants, money lender and cold storage owners together constitute the class of neo-jotedars who exploit poor peasants with active support from party-panchayat and state administration. Poor peasants like their landless counterparts also work at low wages on the land held by jotedars or migrate to work as unorganized cheap labor either in cities or in other States. Those who discover independent capitalism in agriculture, ignore two facts. One, the number of poor and landless peasants is increasing every year, implying that consolidation of small holdings into big farms, thus paving the way for capitalist agriculture, is nonexistent. Two, even today 72% of the direct producers cultivate for subsistence and not for market. So, imperialism-guided and state-backed capitalism in agriculture (which is of bureaucratic nature) is working towards the persistence of the feudal relations, giving them new forms and internalizing these relations in its surplus value extraction process.
CONTROL ON LAND ׃
Though the neo-jotedars are not big landowners like old jotedars, they control quite a big amount of land with the active support from party, panchayat, administration and police. One way of controlling poor peasants is to take away their pattas and deposit them with the local party office. Patta of one peasant is sometimes given to another, thus pitting one against other and sucking both parties. We have got a new term in the process-‘pattadas’ (literally, patta-slave). In many instances, vest land instead of being distributed among the landless, is simply swallowed by the neo-jotedars. A report by Nirmal Mukherjee and Debabrata Banerjee reveals that towards the end of 1981, the undistributed vested land amounted to 3.5 lakh acres. From 1981 to 1993, 94 thousand acres were distributed. Out of these there is no trace of 80 thousand acres. Neo-jotedars have definitely stolen these lands with active party and state backing. 4 lakhs peasants and 15% of the tenants have become landless (Ananda Bazar Patrika, 8-11-2004). They are those who are compelled to sell off their land to the neo-jotedars as they are unable to bear the cultivation cost. These incidents show, how this party, panchayat, police and administration nexus is working and how this network is being used by the neo-jotedars to control the poor peasants and sucking their surplus through extra economic methods.
MAHAJANI SYSTEM ׃
Mahajani (usury) as mode of exploitation is continuing at large. However, its form has changed since eighties. Many cooperative credit societies were formed during CPM regime. Neo-jotedars are majority in all the managing committees of the credit cooperatives. A survey report has revealed that rich peasants, who constitute only 11% of the rural population, are taking 45% of the total cooperative credit. As the poor peasants are unable to repay their loans, they are denied further credit. 61% of the loan requirement of the poor peasants comes from the money lenders. Even the people on the top of the credit cooperatives are involved in money lending business by taking loans from cooperatives and other banks as highly favored clients. (The result of land reforms in West Bengal- Kartik Pal).
The system of giving credit to the poor peasants on condition that they will be liable to sell off their crop at a price lower than the market price to the mahajans is rampant in today’s rural Bengal. Peasants have no other way to take high interest bearing loans from these neo-jotedar cum mahajans to cover their cost of cultivation. So they have to sell off their grain at a lower price to this mahajans cum grain traders (distress sale). In this way this neo-jotedars have amassed large fortunes as middleman.
After assuming power, CPM, with much fanfare, initiated co-operative movement. Co-operatives are also an extra-economic tool of exploitation of poor peasants. Already we have discussed how credit co-ops are running as a surplus-suction machine. Government is presently thinking of opting out of the rural credit co-ops. Vaidyanathan committee has proposed that only those who avail co-op bank services will be allowed to stay in the co-op bank management. Government will have no representation in the co-op director board. This has the obvious implication that the influential neo-jotedars (i.e. party and panchayat big guns) will occupy the co-op bank director boards and in the process their grip over the rural credit system will be tightened.
During 70’s and 80’s the peasants in the fishery areas of Haroa, Shasan, Beleghata etc., areas of North 24 Parganas, struggled hard and ousted the big jotedars. Many fishery co-operatives were formed. CPM leaders came to the top of these co-ops (and now, TMC leaders). They gave meager sums of money to the poor co-op members and swallowed the remaining lucrative sum of profit themselves. Afterwards, these neo-jotedars leased out the same fisheries to the ousted old jotedars in a concealed manner. Of course, they got money as a token of gratitude from the ousted jotedars. To suppress any opposition against these conspiratorial acts they formed an armed gang of cadre force. The big palatial party offices are like old jotedars Kachari Bari (court-house). They are like police outposts to carry surveillance on the local people and outsiders. This incident shows how a section of the leaders of anti-feudal movement have degenerated and they themselves became new feudal lords.
EXPLOITATION AS IMPERIALIST AGENT ׃
Imperialist and indigenous comprador bourgeoisie exploit agriculture through price-scissors – they buy agricultural produce at low prices and sell industrial products at high prices. Neo-jotedars act as their local agents. Because of implementing the green revolution agenda during eighties in this state, the sale of hybrid seeds, fertilizer, pesticides and other agricultural implements of the imperialists and their agents increased manifold. As dealers and distributors of the domestic and foreign big companies, they earned a lot selling these agro-inputs. They lease out these inputs to the poor peasants on condition that the latter will sell their crop to the former at low prices. Then they sell the agro products to the industrial sector.
The industrialists also depend on these agents to get raw materials at cheap prices. Jute cultivation is one example. These agents in keeping with an understanding with the jute mill owners buy jute from the cultivators at low prices. The jute mill owners’ on the fake plea of dearth of jute supply declare lock out to stop wage increase of the laborers. And on the pleas that lock out is going on in the jute mills, these agents compel the peasants to sell off at low prices. Not only the markets for agricultural implements and grain are under their control, the markets for the daily necessities are also controlled by them. They control also the trade and trader’s organizations in the rural small towns. Imperialists and comprador bourgeoisie depend on the neo-jotedars, as reliable agents, for supplying raw materials to industry at low prices and selling industrial products in rural areas. Here also feudal relations keep working amidst capitalist commodity circulation. This proves that commodity circulation, in itself, does not give rise to independent capitalism. It requires the total destruction of feudal and imperialist production relations. Those who, with their long list of commodities in circulation, are keen on proving that independent capitalism has developed in agriculture, ignore these basic facts. For this reason, they are unable to grasp the real character of the (bureaucratic) capitalism that has developed in our agriculture.
NEW IMPERIALIST PLAN ׃
This new plan with reference to our agriculture in particular has the following aspects: First, commercialization of agriculture through contract farming. Peasants will now produce potatoes and tomatoes for Pepsi Company instead of growing paddy. Already Frito Lay Company (a subordinate company of PepsiCo) has purchased 12000 tons of potatoes in six districts through a contract with 18000 peasants. This contract farming has taken place on 1600 acres of land; the company is in complete control over the production process. They finalise a price agreement with the peasants beforehand. The peasants are forced to buy all implements of production from the company. Initially they are offered lucrative prices. When larger number of peasants will be drawn towards the contract, these big corporations will go for price-slash. Here also, as per government plan, the neo-jotedars (mainly party and panchayat bosses) will act as mediators between the company and peasants.
These neo-jotedars will, by hook or by crook, force the peasants to contract farming and thus they will faithfully serve the interest of big capital. Second, the target area of the government’s second green revolution is eastern parts of India. In the States like Punjab, Haryana, western UP- the pilot area of the first green revolution- the under ground water has been dried up. Land has become saline. So the imperialist vultures have targeted fertile and water rich eastern India. However, the situation in these states is also not ok. Boro cultivation in our State on large scale has almost exhausted underground water. Arsenic pollution, fertility erosion are the by products. Now, second green revolution (gene revolution) is going to be introduced. This revolution aims at introduction of terminator seeds which will greatly harm our ecology including human living but which will increase production dramatically to augment export.
The peasants, as a result, will be compelled to buy this type of genetically engineered seeds and also specific type of fertilizer and pesticides which goes with such seeds more and more from imperialist corporate giants like Cargill, Monsanto, Mahico etc. So it is clear that, here also, these neo-jotedars will play the role of mediator in this whole process of deeper penetration of imperialism. This mediation will benefit the imperialists because they can use these agents to evict small peasants from land so that big agricultural firms can be formed. Here one can notice a clear alliance between imperialism, state and neo-jotedars. Mamata has, for the time being, put a ban on the use of these harmful seeds. But there is yet no formal ban on contract farming. There is a strong possibility that its implementation will be legalized as a form of PPP model, the new Mamata mantra.
LAND ACQUISITION ׃
The collusion of imperialism, state and neo-jotedars had become most evident at Singur-Nandigram and whenever imperialists and their compradors have acquired or tried to acquire land. Jotedars and neo-jotedars have surrendered their land first and earned a big sum of money because they possess a big amount of village land. For land plunder by big companies, the neo-jotedars have formed cooperatives, syndicates and a strong army of goons everywhere. The local unemployed youths have been utilized specially for this purpose. They are earning fat sums of money as commission from the capitalists. After land acquisition, they have got construction material, soil, labor supply contracts for construction of housing, hotels, shopping malls, modern brothels etc. In the anti-land acquisition struggle, therefore, neo-jotedars are the first enemy defense line before the struggling masses. In this land looting activity, in general, CPM-TMC has worked in collusion. A few words must be said, in this regard, about the large scale land-dacoity at Rajarhat.
As compared to Singur-Nandigram issue there was very little furor around Rajarhat, despite the fact that, it was like stealing the whole sea in a very subtle and silent manner. But why? Let us turn a bit towards history. Left front government resolved to build up New Kolkata at Rajarhat in 1993. Out of 40 mouzas 35 were swallowed by the rich people who infested new city at the heart of Rajarhat. No one thought of the poor peasants, of the loss of paddy production to the tune of 5.5 lakh maunds per year, of the loss of supply of green vegetables, fish etc. to Kolkata and outside, of hampering food security etc. On the contrary, in the inaugural programme of Rajarhat New Town Pranab Mukherjee and Ajit Panja (co founder of TMC) highly appreciated left front’s city plan.
While TMC took CPM so strongly on to challenge in Singur and Nandigram, why did they remain passive at Rajarhat ? Why Mamata made a drama of presenting a large number of files in a mass meeting at Rajarhat but did not actually expose the corruption of the CPM leaders there which she claimed, is recorded in those files? There is only one answer: At Rajarhat TMC-brand neo-jotedars and their CPM counterpart had entered into a kind of cease-fire at the very outset and that too for the sake of making profit through sucking the blood of the poor people. It is as clear as day light, thanks to the united front of Gaffar-Kalo Babu-Arabul clique.
PLUNDER OF PEOPLE’S WEALTH ׃
Government sanctioned money for any panchayat area (which is, in essence, people’s money) is always handled by this neo-jotedars because they are at the helm of party-panchayat hierarchy and also administrative post holders.(At least one member from their families is either a govt-employee or a school-teacher. They can quite easily get such jobs by bribing their high contacts or family relations. Caste factor plays here a great role.) All project funds invariably leak out to them. In our country, after the second generation reforms, government has declared 19 projects for poverty-alleviation through employment-generation. Majority of the poor people have heard of only 4-5 projects. Funds on these projects are sucked midway by the party offices before they can reach the poor people. The decisions regarding the formation of self-help groups and their formal registration are taken by the ruling party. Poor people cannot retain the job cards with themselves. They are with party offices or panchayats. How many people have so far got compensation for not getting 100 days work round the year? This money also outflows to party leaders. They plunder money through controlling school committees.
At the heart of CPM-TMC clashes lies the contradiction among the two sides of neo-jotedars for establishing command over people’s wealth. They also control the process of distribution of this money. They control this huge money not only for economic gains; a political goal is also involved here. Neo-jotedars use a part of this money for purchasing a section of people to build their own mass base and also to form their private army of goons. Using this economic power they try to create contradictions among the masses and to make sure that these contradictions remain alive always. One important source of their income is ration dealership which they use to sell people’s food in the open market at high prices and thus earn quite a big sum of money. Now a days, those who live in two storied buildings are given BPL cards while those who live in mud houses in a precarious condition are given APL cards. One thing is clear as day light- one important aspect of people’s struggle against these neo-jotedars is this all-out plundering of people’s wealth.
USE OF SURPLUS ׃
Prior to 2000 agricultural production in our State increased to some extent-to which big landowners contributed very little. Mainly middle landowners contributed to it, taking the help of irrigational facilities (boro cultivation). (Manabendu Chatterjee and Atanu Sengupta). These middle level landowners are mainly rich peasants of our State. Big landowners (jotedars) contribution to this increase is very little. Because they do not physically participate in production and they are not bothered about the technique of production. We can clearly see the feudal nature of this neo-jotedar class, developed through imperialist and state patronage, from their method of using this surplus. While rich peasants’ labor themselves, they use also labor of others – try to earn more profit by using cost-effective and developed techniques.
They reinvest this surplus for furtherance and development of production. But neo-jotedars do not do this. They invest their surplus in money lending business, brick field trade, transport business, sending their children to high standard city schools or colleges, construction business, grain trade and hoarding and increasing their periphery of political influence ( purchasing a section of masses, maintaining loyal goons, contesting election etc.) So they use their surplus to maintain and enlarge the scope of extra economic exploitation at a higher level. As a result, agriculture does not develop- it remains in a morass. Because of this reason, agricultural productivity is showing a falling trend during the last few years. So it can be said that this neo-jotedar class is mainly a feudal class and the capitalist character developed within them is of comprador and bureaucratic nature.
CONTROL OVER MARKETS ׃
Neo-jotedars control simultaneously the land lease market, credit market and labor market. They are the common presence as land-leaser (i.e. leasing out land to share croppers) in the land market, labor-employer in the labor market and credit-supplier in the credit market. The rural poor find the same neo-jotedars in all three markets. As all three markets are interlocked, the jotedars have tremendously increased the scope for surplus extraction. The other side of the coin is that this interlocking increases the degree of exploitation of landless, poor and middle peasants a lot. With these three markets has been added another market- the market of agricultural inputs and output. Here also neo-jotedars are present as seller and buyer and with political power in hand they can impose their terms on peasants. By virtue of this interlocking of different markets the neo-jotedars are able to increase their surplus manifold than their older counterparts were able to do. Here again feudal essence is working under capitalist phenomena.
From the foregone discussion, we can draw the following three conclusions׃
Capitalism is developing in agriculture but not at the cost of caste-feudalism. Capitalism is helping towards the survival of semi-feudalism in newer forms. Feudal production relations are remaining intertwined with the capitalist ones and working even in the very process of capitalist surplus value extraction. The class of neo-jotedars are extracting surplus through their political power, monopolistic control over land and other agricultural inputs and by using the prevalent caste system. The ultimate outcome is that this capitalism is, by nature, feudal.
Capitalism has developed in our State in the interest of imperialism and under its active guidance and control. So its development is not uninterrupted, but controlled and subordinated. Neo-jotedars are acting as a medium of penetration of imperialist capital in agriculture and imperialists have created this class for this purpose. The old jotedars were failing in this respect. People’s struggle ended their regime and in this backdrop, imperialism came forward with their green revolution and controlled and limited land reform program. They degenerated a section (mainly from OBC and advanced dalit castes) who took part in the anti-feudal struggle. This section was transformed into their more dynamic agents. As a result, the capitalist nature of the neo-jotedars is of comprador type.
State as an agent of imperialism has exclusively backed this class. Starting from bank loan up to government funds- all accrue to them. As they are at the top of the party and panchayat, they can use this power to plunder government funds and exploit peasants. They are also at the higher level of state administrative hierarchy. They are not an independent capitalist class who emerged through competition. So, their capitalist character is of monopolistic and bureaucratic nature. Generally speaking, from eighties onwards, a particular kind of capitalism started developing in the rural areas of Bengal. This kind of capitalism is developed under the guidance of imperialism, based on feudalism and backed by the state. So the very nature of this capitalism is feudal, comprador and bureaucratic. This capitalism on the one hand removes the old forms of semi-feudalism and on the other hand renovates them. The ultimate outcome is the emergence of a new type of (bureaucratic capitalist) jotedar class. Today, when imperialism is penetrating more deeply into our agricultural sector, this class is acting as a tool in its hand.
2. Changes in the political power structure in the rural areas: Past versus Present
We have seen earlier that the neo-jotedars have multiple sources and modes of exploitation. As compared to traditional exploiters whose sources of exploitation were mainly land, money lending and crop trade. The thing is not so simple and open for the neo-jotedars. In many a cases, they do not own much land and land is not also their main source of exploitation. So when economists, while classifying rural population on the basis of the amount of land owned, very often, make the mistake of including neo-jotedars in the category of middle peasants or even rural unemployed people.
One report (Sudipta Bhattacharya) shows that rural households owning land up to 7.5 bighas, own 63% of the assets other than land and 49% of loans taken from banks and other institutions. This amounts to the fact that a section of these middle sized owners are, in fact, well-to-do. In order to sustain the multiple sources of exploitation by the neo-jotedars a complex and all embracing political structure has been built up. To initiate and sustain anti semi-feudal struggle in this State, it is imperative on our part to comprehend this political structure. During the period of old jotedars, political power was in the hand of big jotedars, money lenders and traders combine. They were the controller of socio-economic-political and cultural life in the rural areas.
Central state power used to exercise its authority through this class. These areas were somewhat like sovereign republics. Social polarization and class contradiction were intense and these enemies were very easily identifiable. People could be quite rapidly mobilized against their political and economic authority in the field of class struggle. Panchayat was a non-entity and jotedars themselves were ruling party heads in the locality. There was no party structure also. Things started changing since eighties. Now a day we see that neo-jotedars do not rule directly. They rule through party and panchayats. Their domination over these institutions is the source of their power. In the rural areas they have formed a complex clique of party-panchayat-administration and police which again is led by the party. These neo-jotedars are at the top of all these institutions and this is the source of their power.
Using this power they control every aspects of economic, political and social life of the rural areas. It appears outwardly that feudal style individual rule of the king or zamindars have been replaced by capitalist style rule of elected institutions, political parties and centralized state institutions. But, we have to keep in mind that none of these institutions are supra-class institutions. All these are controlled by the neo-jotedar class and through this control they exercise their political rule in rural areas. In essence, the apparent capitalistic power structure is aimed at surviving the rural feudal authority. So we should keep in mind that our conclusions should be based on the analysis of the essence of the thing.
Though panchayats were formed in the name of the decentralization of power, they have, at the one end, extended the central state control to the grass root level (the side effect being, a kind of self rule illusion among the people). On the other end, through their control on these institutions, the neo-jotedars established their command over huge amount of state funds and also over the area. A report of state government shows that the percentage of jotedars, traders, school teacher and service men among the panchayat members is on an increase. Even 30 to 40 percent are from unemployed and from those engaged in social service oriented activities. Actually majority of these are the party big guns. Though they own very little or almost no land, they control rural co-ops, school committees etc. They are in the charge or allocation of government fund. They capture government contracts and engage themselves in various businesses. They have, thus, amassed huge wealth (recorded or unrecorded). 60 percent among panchayat members are from such people who are not agriculturists. So we should not identify the rural rulers on the basis of the amount of land owned alone. We have to take into account the whole perspective of rural economic and political control and power. Party leads the other pillars of local power structure.
So we need to probe deeply into the role of party. Old jotedars’ party, Congress, did not have the octopus like party and mass organization network with branches and sub branches spread up to the grass root level (later, Congress and TMC learnt the organization building technique from CPM).
1. In our State, the ruling class had an additional advantage of getting a revisionist party like CPM for use close at hand. After coming to power in 1977, CPM used government power to build a vast party-mass organization network. CPM leaders themselves either degenerated into neo-jotedars or their agents. A sizable section of old jotedars changed their color and joined CPM. There are sharp contradictions among the neo-jotedars around government funds, contracts, control over co-ops and share over the proceeds of exploitation. In the past, when there was no opposition as such, these contradictions come out in the form of rivalry among two factions of CPM. Later, a big section of the neo-jotedars organized themselves under the banner of TMC. In most areas, the two rival groups peacefully shared among themselves the fruit of exploitation. The areas where CPM liquidated all opposition are now going for a trend-reversal – opposition party is now up with arms to wipe out CPM. Though TMC does not yet have an organized party structure like CPM, they are now forming armed gangs of goons in the rural areas. However, one thing can be said for sure, intra-class contradiction of rulers in rural Bengal is much sharper than in other States. Revolutionaries can utilize this contradiction.
2. The goons (armed mainly with traditional arms, lethal bahini) of old jotedars are being replaced by the organized party cadres (armed with sophisticated arms) cum lumpen force. Our State is well ahead of other States in this respect also. Ruling parties have used official reliefs to degenerate a section of the toiling masses into their cadres or goons or lackeys. These party cadres are much more organized with huge amount of modern weapons. We saw in the past how in Rajarhat the CPM and TMC armed goons had beaten, intimidated and evicted poor people in village after village and that too, to serve the interest of the big capital. However, in Singur and Nandigram, when they took on the same course of action, they were kicked out by the struggling masses. In any area, if the revolutionaries are not adequately prepared to counter this well organized armed party cadre force, they will have to suffer huge setback.
3. These party leaders decide on what portion of government funds will be spent and in which areas, who will be given loans and even which part of the village and in front of whose house tube wells will be erected. Through this they create their social base among poor people. They use this social base to quell any protest move against them. They send a section of the people to fight against another section. They establish their control over the area in this way. This is why we see that masses here, instead of struggling on the basis of class, are more divided on party line and up against each other. So we now see, after the change of power, that TMC led pattadars is up in arms to evict CPM led pattadars. In the past, anti feudal class struggle was organized directly against the authority of big jotedars. Though the big jotedars were backed by Congress party, yet the struggle, at the very outset, did not take congress versus people form. Class nature of the struggle was relatively open and direct: Feudalism versus poor people. Conversely, today the neo-jotedars themselves are party leaders in most cases.
So anti feudal struggle is taking the form of ruling party versus people at the very inception itself. The struggle is more complex because the entire ruling party cannot be physically liquidated. More so because in the ruling party, there are poor people also, winning them over to our side is an agendum of the revolutionary class struggle. With the changes in the situation we have to realize this new form of class struggle in the rural areas. Revolutionaries should take up the difficult task of uniting people on the basis of class and of dismantling the social base of ruling parties through class struggle. During the last 34 years rule, in many incidents, CPM had mobilized a section of masses to suppress revolutionaries (now TMC is doing the same thing). Today, fascist method of creating mass base and using it to serve the interest of the ruling class and party has now become an inseparable part of the ruling party operation.
4. Apart from building and using mass base, ruling parties also create and intensify contradictions among the masses and use the backward sections of them. During their regime, CPM mobilized local peasants of Haringhata to beat the retail traders, involved in an anti Reliance movement. Now, TMC is also doing the same thing. During CPM rule, many pattadars were deprived of pattas of their land. CPM leaders even forcefully grabbed the allotted land from legal pattadars and handed it over to their loyalists. Now, TMC is indulging in a kind of agreement between old jotedars and deprived pattadars that the latter will be given some portion of land after the former get their ‘due’ if the latter can evict CPM-led pattadars.
5. The main task of the ruling parties and their mass organizations is to act as the extended hand of the state. This party structure tries to suppress every form of people’s struggle prior to or at the time of direct state intervention of state forces. For this reason, the primary onslaught on the student’s movements come from the side of SFI; CITU plays the same role in the working class movement, peasants’ organization in the peasant movement and co-ordination committee in the employee’s moves. Now, TMC mass wings are preparing to take the same role. This party network also work as eyes and ears of the state machinery. They maintain strict surveillance on every one of the locality and report back in a time bound manner to the police. Special responsibility is given to some cadres for maintaining regular contact with the police and administration. So the revolutionaries also should build their organization so that these eyes and ears can be evaded.
6. This octopus like party organization controls every aspects of people’s life. Be it social, cultural and family centric. It has created a suffocating atmosphere in the rural areas. Party and panchayat offices are like the court house of old jotedars. Starting from rural arbitration to family feuds to social, cultural and religious contradictions, party pokes its nose into everything. To resolve these issues minus party is treated as a rebellion against party. The things which didn’t even concern the old jotedars have now come under the scanner of the party. Parties extends its mass base through these activities and also make sure so that the contradictions among the masses survive. Party maintains its tight control on temple – mosque director boards, youth clubs, school committees, trader’s associations etc. At times, they enter into armed conflict to resolve the issue of controlling these social organizations.
Party controls even the caste organizations also. One recent example is CPM – TMC struggle to be in an influential position in the leading body of Matua (Namashudra) community. (After TMC assumed office a new trend has started. In the past, the religious and caste organizations didn’t dare to intrude into political affairs. These leaders, instead, used to maintain their position through hobnobs with the powerful party leaders. But with the weakening of class struggle and left outlook, these leaders have started to intervene into political affairs, thanks to their pampering by the TMC (and also CPM) leaders. Like Imams and Moulanas in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, Matua leaders are also giving Fatuas regarding which parties to be voted for. We have to be watchful over this dangerous trend.) In short, neo-jotedars have built up an all-engrossing power structure so that they can control all the social organizations to secure every source of exploitation and maintain political authority. People’s rebellion against CPM is, in essence, a rebellion against this structure. TMC is now trying to organize such a structure.
7. Party plays a big role in weakening the edge of the class struggle and damping it. They do it in various ways. By purchasing the struggling elements, intimidating them, bribing them in the form of concession, channelizing the contradictions into legal paths, creating family pressure or pressure on the family, imposing social boycott, entangling them into non-political cases and non-political issues, using police in the appropriate time, even physically annihilating most determined elements at the very inception of the movement. Party controls the relationship between people and administration in such a way that masses can never get the job done from police and administration. Only after getting the necessary permission and information from the concerned persons, police and administration will act in a specific manner. This complex interweaving network of party-panchayat-police-state administration is the local power structure of our rural areas. Through controlling this structure neo-jotedars run their rural regime.
8. The vast organization and mass base of the party is helping the ruling class to influence rural people’s opinion politically in their favor. So the revolutionaries have to battle politically at the grass root level against the ruling class influence. Political intervention has, therefore, become much more important than before.
Generally speaking, as opposed to the situation prevailing during old jotedars rule, today, imperialism has penetrated in the rural areas in a bigger way and alongside this, the central state machinery has extended its structure in the rural areas. Party and panchayats are its tools. If one sees it superficially, it may seem that feudalism has been removed through this process. But we should not forget that feudal classes-both old and new- are surviving because of imperialist back up and control. When because of people’s struggle semi feudalism in its old from cannot continue, imperialism makes sure that it can survive in its new and renovated form. The breakdown of the old form and survival through new form – through this ongoing transformation process imperialism deepened and extended its penetration in agricultural sector. Historically, when old feudalism in our country was on the verge of breakdown, the emerging new British rulers created a new landlord (zamindar) class as their agent through permanent settlement at the end of eighteenth and early nineteenth century period.
Later, when people’s struggles called into question the existence of the zamindari system, absentee landlords were replaced by the class of village based exploiters (mainly erstwhile intermediaries), that is, jotedars. Even afterwards when the jotedari system was almost dismantled by the spring thunder of sixties and seventies, a section was chosen from among those who struggled against old jotedars and subsequently, this section was transformed into a neo-jotedar class. Taking the opportunities opened in every such crisis, imperialism and indigenous comprador capital have deepened their penetration in agriculture. This is obvious if anti feudal struggle does not culminate into seizure of political power (revolution) by the workers and peasants. So the main question is not whether the power of jotedars has increased or decreased. The relevant question is: in what form semi feudalism is existing. One point has to be borne in mind all the time: imperialism will never root out feudalism lock stock and barrel to pave the way for uninterrupted and free development of capitalism. Because, if it does so, it’s basic interest of extracting super profit through plundering of cheap labor and natural resources in semi colonial countries will be jeopardized.
Conversely, it is not correct to think that feudalism has only one form – extraction of surplus from direct producers by the landlords through open application of brute force. As many intellectuals do actually think this way and so they conclude that big landlords are non-existent and, therefore, feudalism has been wiped away. CPM also propagates this viewpoint. They refuse to see the interrelation of imperialism and feudalism. So they are unable to realize that feudal production relation cannot be done away without overthrowing imperialism and semi colonial state. Consequently, they are unable to grasp the removal/renovation dialectics of semi feudalism. (For the very same reason, they ignore the comprador-bureaucratic nature of industry and service sector capitalism and take it as independent capitalism.) They are unable to understand that without struggling against the neo-jotedar class which has emerged with imperialist back up and control, no true anti-imperialist struggle can be possible. If we deny this responsibility, we have to confine ourselves to only anti imperialist propagandist type activities in the urban areas.
3. A few questions: In quest of answer
Many intellectuals are categorizing this development of capitalism in rural areas as “distorted capitalism”. However, they are not identifying when and where capitalism was pure and undistorted. As capitalism is an anarchic system, it always leads to unplanned, head-heavy, one-sided and distorted development of productive forces. This is true even for capitalist-imperialist countries. Because of this distorted growth, the old (revisionist) form of Russian capitalism broke down (1991). Now we observe (in the capitalist-imperialist countries) unprecedented growth of financial sector and retreat of industrial sector. The main task is to determine the nature of capitalism in our country. These intellectuals either cannot see or intentionally hide the role of imperialism. Moreover, they are unable to see the interrelationship between this type of capitalism, feudalism and state. This is why they are unable to see the feudal, comprador and bureaucratic nature of our capitalism. These intellectuals confuse semi feudalism with feudalism. As soon as they do not observe the traditional features of feudalism, they conclude that feudalism is over.
Another important question is the question of laboring on land. Revolutionaries distinguish between jotedars and peasants on the basis of physical participation or the lack of it in cultivation. A jotedar is one who does not devote physical labor on land. But today, there are many among the neo-jotedars who work on land or used to work on land in the recent past or members of their families are still giving physical labor on land. (Generally speaking, the majority among the neo-jotedars who used to give labor on land in the past do not physically participate in cultivation any more at present.) Many of them have no land at all. Therefore, we should not dogmatically apply this criterion while going for class analysis in the rural areas. Though still the criterion of devoting labor on land is the main criterion of identification of jotedars, we have to take into account also the role played by them in the overall economic and political activities in the rural areas.
Particularly, we have to see whether they are exploiting the peasants in extra economic ways by using their social, political power. For this reason, those at the top of the political power ladder (particularly, the high party persons) should be treated mainly as neo-jotedars. When our cadres will go for class analysis in the rural areas they must bear this point in mind. They must distinguish between leaders and common cadres of the ruling parties and they must try to win the latter in our favor. Some intellectuals opine that cultivation is no longer profitable and therefore, peasants are not feeling attached to land any more. As a result of this lack of land hunger, they are not eager to launch land-seizure movement. So at the outset, there should be movement for decrease in input prices and remunerative output prices. In the process, when agriculture becomes profitable, they will start land-seizure movement. These intellectuals forget the experience of Singur and Nandigram movement in which the peasants sacrificed their life for a small piece of land. Moreover, these intellectuals concentrated only on rich and middle peasants. And that is why they measure the level of land hunger only in terms of the profitability of cultivation. But, at the same time, this is also true that during the last three decades there had been no mention- worthy land-seizure movement in our state.
What are the reasons behind this absence of land struggle and how this stalemate could be broken? There is no readymade answer to this question. Some preliminary thinking can be expressed. Firstly, like in the past, there are almost no big landlords at present and also we do not observe today the old method of open application of brute force for surplus extraction. So class contradiction around land is not that much sharp. Secondly, because of long revisionist propaganda and influence, revolutionary position regarding land seizure has become somewhat blurred among people. The legalist approach that capturing any land below legal ceiling is like intruding into ones personal property has been very strongly injected among the people. Thirdly, opportunities to get jobs in nearby or distant towns or states, have increased now a days. One or two members of a family, working outside, are able to send some money to their family. In this way, low income from cultivation is being compensated.
Fourthly, as the political institutions of the ruling class are extended to the bottom most layers of the rural society, they are able to distract the grievances of the peasants around land towards legal channels, administrative manipulations, reconciliation etc. Fifthly, in a generalized framework, it may be observed that the land-seizure movement in the past used to inspire the peasants to move forward to overthrow feudal authority (keep aside a few CPM led and CPM government sponsored controlled peasant movements which were deliberately restrained) or the peasants have moved to seize the lands of the jotedars after destroying their political authority. The history of these past peasant movements have clearly revealed that the seizure of political power and land movement are very intimately interlinked. Seizure of jotedars’ land means breaking their loin economically. For that matter, jotedars will resist with all their might. Also, state machinery won’t spare. Peasants do realize this from their past experience. So the possibility of launching land seizure struggle as a partial movement (as an economic demand) without conscious goal and organized preparation for power-seizure is really little. So, first land seizure movement, then resistance struggle to retain the acquired land and then struggle for seizure of political power – this type of gradualist approach will not work. (However, this does not rule out the possibility of land seizure movement in areas where big landlordism still exists. In these areas, the state will try to confine the movement into the acquisition of only ceiling surplus land.) The pseudo land reformists always present numerical data regarding how much land has been declared ceiling surplus, how much has been vested with the government and how much has been distributed.
Giving these figures, they declare that land reform is over. The ongoing peasant movement at Khanpur of Birbhum district has brought forward some interesting lessons for us. (1) A section of the old jotedars at Khanpur took a peculiar tactics. Whenever government has declared some land as surplus, they have sued against that move in the court and thus they have deferred the whole thing indefinitely. Peasants cannot touch these land plots. The government becomes deliberately passive. (2) Through bribing the government land reform officials they lease out these lands to a section of poor peasants (loyalists) and thus they are enjoying an unjust share of the produce on those lands. (3) They got a pseudo Waqf committee recognized formally by the State waqf board and they had been enjoying the proceeds of this property for 19-20 years or more. (4) They set up a fake Madrasa on vested land and collected huge sums of money from unemployed youths on the plea of giving them job as teacher or staff there. They, in reality, gave jobs only to their own relatives. Also, they pocketed a large sum of money granted for the provision of mid day meal. (5) They purchased the party and panchayat leaders in the locality. They actually control much more land than their legal holdings. Our lesson from this whole experience of village poor’s getting organized and struggle against this most atrocious and corrupt landlord clique of Khanpur is as below: if we go for intensive rural survey, we can find out many a concealed real demands of the rural poor beyond the tall claims of the ruling classes and parties.
Also, the lesson of how the old jotedars have taken the method of neo-jotedars and carry on their rule through controlling ruling parties. Seventhly, during the last few years, all the mass movements in Paschim Bangla have advanced very soon in the direction of challenging the political authority of CPM or these movements started, from the very beginning, through challenging CPM authority. Today, when TMC is capturing CPM party offices one after another, majority of the masses is supportive of them. Because, those offices were like old jotedars’ court houses and symbols of the authority of neo-jotedars. So, our main task should be to challenge all the aspects of economic exploitation and political power of neo-jotedars and in this process of overthrowing their power raise the land issue.
Moreover, in order to bring the land issue to the forefront and into people’s consciousness, we have to emphasize on the political education of the masses and in order to reach the desired goal we have to formulate correct tactics and slogans on this issue. However, like other partial struggles around other issues, land struggle cannot be launched so easily. The main point which we should constantly bear in mind is that inspiring people to be conscious about seizure of political power is the determining factor. The task is no cake-walk. But for them who endeavor to build struggle for transforming the society aiming at communism there is no other simple task left to be accomplished.