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The Victory of the Indian Peasant Movement Against the Three Black Farm Laws

By Joe WA, on behalf of the Agricultural and Rural Commission of the Party of Communists USA

In November 2021, Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi announced that the Three Black Farm Laws – once fiercely defended by his neoliberal government against the peasantry– would be withdrawn.1 These laws represented further exploitation of an already immiserated peasantry for the profit of the monopolies and multinational corporations. Thus, their withdrawal was a great victory for India’s peasant movement, led by the Socialist Unity Centre of India (Communist) (SUCI(C)) and their peasant organization, the All India Krishak Khet Majdoor Sangathan (AIKKMS).

The process of globalization, liberalization, and privatization in India has accelerated ever since the success of the counterrevolutions in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe in 1991. Consequently, the price of agricultural inputs that peasants need to buy to make their living has risen steeply, and the peasants have typically had to resort to accepting highly exploitative and usurious loans to afford them. It is not unusual for these loans to have interest rates of 8% to 10% a month, causing the peasants to frequently fall into debt that they have no hope of repaying. As a result, deaths of despair are a common occurrence, with over 442,800 peasants committing suicide in the last 15 years. These neoliberal reforms have also resulted in massive wealth inequality, with 73% of the country’s wealth being held by only fifteen individuals2 while 800 million Indians live on 20 rupees (about 26 cents) a day.  Unemployment has soared with 6 out of every 10 educated persons having no stable work.3

The Three Black Farm Laws were meant to sink India further into globalization and privatization in the agricultural sphere. The first law was the so-called “Farmers Empowerment and Protection Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act.” This would legalize peasants entering into direct contract farming agreements with the big agribusiness, selling crops at prices which would be determined by these multinational corporations and thus exposing the peasants to being undercompensated for their labor. The second law, the “Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act,” represented another neoliberal “free trade” reform that would facilitate private monopoly control of the agricultural market. This would replace the already existing mandi system, created under the Agricultural Produce Market Committee Act, which provides state-regulated markets for the procurement of crops at “MSP” – a guaranteed minimum price floor. The third law was the “Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act.” The original Essential Commodities Act of 1955 gave the government greater regulatory abilities for the production, supply, and distribution of essential agricultural commodities.4 The Essential Commodities amendment would hand more power to the private multinationals, which would reduce the profit made by the peasants and increase the price of the commodities once sold to consumers.1 2

The demands of the peasant movement – beyond repealing these laws – would reverse the neoliberal reforms of the past few years and move towards greater state control under what has been termed “all-out state trading.” Government-controlled trading would give peasants the necessary agricultural tools at a reasonable price — with private monopolies and multinationals excluded. Furthermore, the government would then buy the resulting produce from the peasants at a price that would be profitable enough for them to have a decent standard of living. There would be no trade of essential and food items on private markets. This is what the peasants demand.2

Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government has not conceded ground to the peasant movement without immense struggle. Many of the government’s tactics will sound familiar to those who fight for the rights of the working class worldwide. Peasant marches are met with barricades, baton charges, water cannons, tear gas, and bullets. They have also tried various methods of sowing division within the movement and the broader peasant and proletarian base of India to prevent unity. The government has portrayed members of the movement as terrorist agents of Pakistan, rather than regular Indian farmers and workers fighting for their lives, as they really are. Differences in ideology have been exploited as well. Nevertheless, the movement has kept its unity, and therefore its power, in the face of the bourgeois dictatorship. Negotiations were delayed and deliberately drawn out by the government as the peasants were allured by false promises of change. Agent provocateurs were planted in rallies to encourage attendees to engage in adventurist activities, or even to begin those activities themselves, so that the movement could be shown in a bad light to the public. These are the obstacles that the movement has been able to overcome.2

The leadership of the AIKKMS in the peasant movement has been instrumental in allowing its victories. The AIKKMS campaign began the day the Three Black Farm Laws were first introduced, on September 5, 2020. Various methods were used to agitate, educate, and organize the people around opposing these laws, whether they be small street corner meetings, mass meetings, road blockades, volunteer recruitment drives, distribution of leaflets, and online webinars. Where the peasants had already begun to demonstrate, like in sit-ins and border gatherings, the AIKKMS was there to focus and direct their energies. Furthermore, the AIKKMS organized medical running camps to provide healthcare to the peasants who were demonstrating, often under extreme conditions, against the neoliberal reforms. When the BJP government proposed postponing the Three Black Farm Laws by one year, hoping to let some steam out of the movement, the AIKKMS said the laws must be repealed completely, and that the peasant movement cannot pause for a moment.2

Despite the immense victories of the peasant movement in India so far, the fight is far from over. The long period of struggle in India has caused a flourishing of class consciousness in the area, along with strengthening the bonds of unity and solidarity among the Indian people across divisions of caste, creed, religion, and ethnicity. Unity amongst the peasants, the ever-growing proletariat, and all progressive elements of Indian society will be necessary in forming a people’s front to fight fascism and fascist sentiment, the inevitable reaction of threatened capitalism under decay, which has already begun to develop under the rule of the BJP government.5 International solidarity from all proletarian revolutionary parties throughout the world should be extended to the SUCI(C) and the AIKKMS in their struggle for the final defeat of capitalism and the construction of scientific socialism in India.

References

  1. Srinvivansan, Chandrashekar [ed]. “Farm Laws To Be Cancelled, Says PM Modi. What Are The Three “Black” Laws.” NDTV, November 19, 2021. https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/farm-laws-scrapped-farm-laws-to-be-cancelled-says-pm-modi-what-are-the-three-black-laws-2617490. [2] AIKKMS booklet “Consolidate historic victory of Peasant Movement Resist all attacks of imperialism-Capitalism”
  2. All India Krishak Khet Majdoor Sangathan. “Consolidate historic victory of Peasant Movement Resist all attacks of imperialism-Capitalism.”
  3. Ghosh, Provash. “Strengthen Ongoing Peasants’ Movement; SUCI (Communist).” Red Patriot, November 6, 2021. https://redpat.org/2021/11/strengthen-ongoing-peasants-movement-by-provash-ghosh-general-secretary-of-socialist-unity-center-of-india-communist/.
  4. Legislative Department, Ministry of Law and Justice. “Essential Commodities Act, 1955” in Annual Report 2005-06. https://web.archive.org/web/20101218011231/http://fcamin.nic.in/Events/EventDetails.asp?EventId=1507&Section=Annual%20Report&ParentID=1507&child_continue=1&child_check=0.
  5. Subramanian, Samanth. “How Hindu supremacists are tearing India apart.” The Guardian, February 20, 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/feb/20/hindu-supremacists-nationalism-tearing-india-apart-modi-bjp-rss-jnu-attacks.