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My comrade vs your comrade

My comrade vs your comrade

Author: Saubhik Chakrabarti
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: October 2, 2009
URL: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/my-comrade-vs-your-comrade/524062/0

Introduction: What have India's Communist and Communist trade unions and said about the Balco accident involving a project awarded to a Chinese company? Guess what they would have said if the company was American

China's ruling class - communists who are celebrating 60 years of absolute power with a panache that comes from presiding over an almost superpower - need to be analysed far better by India's chattering class. As was demonstrated recently, fear-fuelled flag waving is a terrible substitute for cool-headed comprehension. But here's the good news for comrades across the Line of Actual Control: if you felt some members of India's bourgeoisie are thinking rather poorly on the China issue, note that all members of India's communist organisations are thinking very creatively on the same subject. Please consider this a gift from our free society on the occasion of your revolution's anniversary.

There's so much confusion in the China-India discourse in both countries that this gift should be properly explained. Let's start by considering a hypothetical situation. Assume that a former Central public sector unit (PSU), which had been privatised amidst shrill protests by India's communists, hired an American engineering company for a key project. Assume that an industrial accident happened in that key project when the American engineering company was executing the work order. Assume that a large number of workers died in that accident.

How would India's communists and its communist trade union leaders have reacted? One, demand the arrest of engineers, managers of the American company working on the project. Two, demand that the CEO of the American company be brought to justice. Three, if one and two are not done then threaten to launch a nationwide agitation against India's capitulation to ruthless American capitalism. Four, issue strong press statements in Delhi that argue the tragedy is symptomatic of the price India is paying for its blind acceptance of neo-liberal economic policy and its US-centric foreign policy. Five, produce long think pieces, published in People's Democracy and in the bourgeois press, about how the tragedy ties in with characteristics of America's global political and economic designs, of which the India-US nuclear deal, opposed by India's communists, was such an eye-opening example.

Now, let's consider a real situation. A few days back, an ex-Central PSU, Balco, which was privatised amidst shrill protests by India's communists, suffered an industrial accident in a key project that was awarded to a Chinese engineering company, Shandong Electric Power Construction Corporation (SEPCO). There have been reports about Chinese engineers leaving the site and about the local SEPCO office being no longer functional. There hasn't been a clear statement from SEPCO's local senior management or its Shandong headquarters about the tragedy. Is SEPCO stepping up to acknowledge some measure of responsibility? (Balco's private management also has responsibility.) We don't really know, even though lives have been lost and workplace safety questions loom large.

In this real situation, what have India's communists and communist trade union leaders said? For symmetry, let's break up the response into five points just as we did for the hypothetical situation involving an American engineering contractor. India's communists have said: One, nationalise Balco. Two, nationalise Balco. Three, nationalise Balco. Four, nationalise Balco. Five, nationalise Balco.

This is what the gift from our communists to China's communists is all about. If an American company is involved in an industrial accident, then it is the fault of India's ruling class who suck up to America's ruling class. If a Chinese company is involved in an industrial accident, then it is the fault of India's ruling class who, because they suck up to America's ruling class, adopt policies like privatisation.

We, members of the Indian bourgeoisie, don't want our communists to launch nationwide agitations or to fulminate against global political economy every time an industrial tragedy involving a foreign company makes news. All that does not help, whether the company is Chinese or American. No one should demonise Chinese enterprise en masse because of the Balco tragedy. It will be terrible and stupid if the Balco tragedy feeds into the uninformed part of the Indian discourse on China.

But here's what puzzles us about India's communists. Okay, all of you really, really like China's communists. That's perfectly alright; this is a free country. But don't you also really, really like Indian workers; indeed don't you say you exist for them? What if an Indian worker who has survived an industrial accident in a project that was being executed by a Chinese company asks the following questions?

One: what is more important for those fighting for India's working class: strengthening China's communists in the "fight" against global "imperialism" or interrogating a company that happens to be Chinese? Two: is pretending there's no Chinese connection better than probing allegations that some (though by no means all) Chinese companies compromise engineering quality so as to offer lower prices? Three: why is "low quality for better profits" a huge issue when an Indian company does it (as some, though by no means all, do it) but not so when Chinese companies doing business in India are involved? Four: is it true that the working class operates under far more restrictions in China than it does in India? Five: if it is true, as it seems to be, then isn't the Indian communist approach to the China issue even more puzzling for India's workers than it is for India's bourgeoisie?

If I were a member of the China-based senior management of the Shandong Electric Power Construction Corporation I would now be celebrating the 60th anniversary of the communist takeover. I would be in the middle of an eight-day celebratory holiday. A holiday made special because our communists have transformed our country, and anyone sensible would have to agree to that. But I wouldn't have forgotten India's communists. They have made this holiday special, too - for me and for our communists.

- saubhik.chakrabarti@expressindia.com


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