Legendary Telugu poet Sri Sri aptly captured the essence of human history when he wrote:
We find nothing great whatsoever when we look into the history of any nation
The history of humankind is replete with immense repression and exploitation.
May Day or the International Workers’ Day commemorates the heroic struggles of the vulnerable working class, who fought against capitalist repression and exploitation. Today, when we visualise May Day, the things that come to our mind are the red flag, Communism, trade unions, strikes, former Soviet Union, China, etc.
May Day, however, has its roots in the Haymarket massacre of Chicago, where the workers who went on strike protesting against long working hours, were brutally suppressed. Their peaceful demonstrations were sabotaged by business interests and, as a result, many innocent lives were lost. The repression was followed by what was widely described as a sham legal process, which led to the execution of the trade union leaders.
Today, if many workers, especially in the organised sector, are enjoying better pay, safer working conditions and shortened working hours, it is the result of a long struggle and sacrifices of many revolutionaries.
Even now, the repression and exploitation are far from over and it continues unabated, especially in the unorganised sector. The wealthy continue to accumulate wealth at the expense of the working class and social justice remains a mirage.
Communism, which fought for the rights of the working class and the cause of social justice, appears to be on the wane. Many people, especially those who have a capitalist bent of mind, accuse the Communists of being authoritative and responsible for a lot of bloodshed in the name of fighting for the rights of the poor and the downtrodden. They even feel that Communism is actually a dead horse, which can’t be revived.
The situation, however, appears to be different. The world once again has gone into the hands of a small group of free market capitalists, who have accumulated enormous wealth. They influence governmental policymaking to create a world where they can operate the way they want.
Politicians and plutocrats, who are brought together by the ease of doing business and campaign financing, have managed to sabotage democracy resulting in the democratic processes getting reduced into mere rituals.
The situation has come to a sorry pass where the governments all over the world are forced to compete with tax havens such as Panama, Bahamas or Bermuda, which provide infinite ease of doing business, to attract investment. The world is effectively moving towards zero direct taxes and complete dependence on regressive indirect taxes, which impose unbearable burden on poor and lower-middle classes. Tax cuts and bailouts are becoming the order of the day and labour and environmental laws are being diluted.
Governments all over the world are allowing our planet to be turned into a toxic hellhole just to cater to the king-sized lives of a small percentage of the ultra-rich, whose gargantuan consumption has resulted in a sharp spike in pollution. Now they are even conspiring to do away with humans by replacing them with IoT-enabled and Artificial Intelligence-driven robotic hands to further maximise their profits.
In the garb of merit, the patrimonial capitalists are ruling the roost. The governments are unwilling to invest in education and health, which are essential for creating equality of opportunity.
There is also an intense effort on the part of the intelligentsia to create an impression that the neo-liberal economic policies, with their supposedly generous invisible hand and trickle down effects, are the only path the humanity has to tread. Economists, taking advantage of the lack of awareness among the people on economic matters, have almost manufactured people’s consent for the implementation of rampant deregulation.
The working class, therefore, should awake to the new reality and gear itself to defend its interests through democratic deliberation and political confrontation. It is ironic that in this rampantly inegalitarian society, the Communists are not in a position to provide leadership to the people, who are yearning for a better and more equitable world.
So the people, as a result, are tilting towards right-wing nationalists, who are guiding humankind towards an ultra-conservative, isolationist world. The emergence of many far-right leaders in various parts of the world is a manifestation of this phenomenon.
There are many people who don’t like any discussion or debate on economic inequalities and rampant poverty. They justify inequalities by stating that their intellectual abilities and entrepreneurial capabilities enabled them to grow rich. They also have the audacity to say that the poor stay poor owing to them being cognitively inferior and lazy.
Prof Thomas Piketty, in his widely popular book ‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century’ exposes their shallow thinking by stating, “We’re on a path back to ‘patrimonial capitalism’, in which the commanding heights of the economy are controlled not by talented individuals but by family dynasties”.
May Day is undoubtedly the true festival of the vulnerable people, especially the working class, and it epitomises the triumph of human spirit and dignity in the face of repression and exploitation. Now, humanity, once again, needs to put up a stiff resistance to the impending subjugation of the working class and the effort to transform societies into oligarchies.
To do that people should first come out of the narrow domestic walls such as caste, creed, and spurn all other distractive elements to get united to build an equitable and sustainable world.
(The author is a former Associate Professor)