Sankar Ray is a senior journalist who has worked in various news and current affairs magazines, has spawned scores of good journalists and has in-depth knowledge of global issues, especially Left politics in India and abroad
A positive wave of violence and despair began to grow. The outlaw anarchists shot at the police and blew out their own brains. Others, overpowered before they could fire the last bullet into their own heads, went off sneering to the guillotine. ‘One against all!’ ‘Nothing means anything to me!’ ‘Damn the masters, damn the slaves, and damn me!’
“I recognised, in the various newspaper reports, faces I had met or known; I saw the whole o f the movement founded by Libertad dragged into the scum o f society by a kind o f madness; and nobody could do anything about it, least o f all myself. The theoreticians, terrified, headed for cover. It was like a collective suicide.
“The newspapers put out a special edition to announce a particularly daring outrage, committed by bandits in a car on the Rue Ordener in Montmartre, against a bank cashier carrying half a million francs. Reading the descriptions, I recognised Raymond and Octave Garnier, the lad with piercing black eyes who distrusted intellectuals. I guessed the logic o f their struggle: in order to save Bonnot, now hunted and trapped, they had to find either money, money to get away from it all, or else a speedy death in this battle against the whole o f society”.
The long quote is a vivid portrayal of social outcasts or outlaws under socio-economic compulsion. It’s from ‘Memoirs of A Revolutionary’ of Victor Serge (born as Victor Lvovich Kibalchich), originally written in French – ‘Mémoires d’un révolutionnaire’ between 1901 and 1941., published in Paris in 1951, four years after his death. He was one of most talented fiction writers of his time, collinear with Arthur Koestler, George Orwell and Franz Kafka, but never went to any school. He told his father, an anti-Czaarist Russian émigré intellectual with a revolutionary past, that he would educate himself: “study without being a student.” Serge had spent his childhood in an agonising poverty and, grown older, he lived among ‘the wretched of the earth’. He was jailed branded as a criminal but penned what he saw. A naturally anarchist, Serge joined the Bolsheviks Russian Socialist Democratic Labour Party and was subsequently picked up by Vladimir Ilyich Lenin to be deputed to the international secretariat of Communist International as a responsible executive. Romain Rolland who rated Serge as a gifted litterateur saved him from being executed by Iosif Stalin. The Russo-Belgium writer introduced modern readers whom Karl Marx termed as déclassé (mutated by post-Leninists as lumpen proletariat) in Europe of his times, allotropy of ‘niggers’ in the erstwhile colonies and ‘mahadalits’, Serge’s narrative on déclassé makes one rid oneself of an obsession that the Roma people – call them Romani or Gypsies are the main populace of Western Dalits. Just because they are believed to be of Indian descent, supported by a genetic study by a group of bio-scientists of Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad, India and those from Estonia and Switzerland, one cannot conclude that the ‘chill penury’ among people living in Europe are non-Europeans . However, published in ‘Nature’, the collaborative investigation, based on over 10,000 blood samples, including from members of 214 different Indian ethnic groups, found match with a South Asian Y chromosome type known as “haplogroup H1a1a-M82”, transmitted through male bloodlines, to Roma men in Europe.
Forget the downtrodden millions in the so-called ‘peripheral economies’. How they keep from a wolf at the door even in the West – or countries belonging to the OECD is at times incredible. But things were not rosy in the OECD countries either. Nearly a quarter century ago, the late Sukomal Sen, then secretary general, Trade Union International of Public and Allied Enterprises, a constituent of the World Federation of Trade Unions, expressed his concern over the fast conversion of workers both blue and white from eight hour working day- employment to hourly contracts, forced by the employers. Sen, representing the All India State Government Employees’ Federation and a Member of Parliament, as also a central secretariat member of the Communist Party of India, said in a state of pain and anxiety: “Imagine until five years ago they had an eight-hour-a-day full time but today they have two-three hours of piece-rated work and that too not for all days.” He was cursing the ‘neo-liberal Fund-Bank’ hegemony which tries to push hundreds down towards the poverty line. They became the New Dalits in the West. Between 2009 and 2017, the number of jobless people in the OECD states had shot up from 25 million to over 50 million, according to OECD data. In September 2013, Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A Osborn of the University of Oxford in a paper, ‘The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are jobs to Computerisation’, mainly pertaining to the USA, wrote: “The autonomous driverless cars, developed by Google, provide one example of how manual tasks in transport and logistics may soon be automated”. In “Domain After Domain, Computers Race Ahead”, they noted how fast moving these developments have been. The concern over technological unemployment is nothing new. Joseph Schumpeter warned 56 years ago that it is not the lack of inventive ideas that set the boundaries for economic development, but powerful social and economic interests promote the technological status quo. The planned job losses through intermittent lay-offs and covertly by slashing working hours are justified by employers and guilds as ‘verdict’ of market realities, the choice of endorsing such logic rests with non-market mechanism and political activism. Joel Mokyr, professor of sociology, cautioned 20 years back that workers were likely to resist new technologies, insofar that they make their skills obsolete and irreversibly reduce their expected earnings. The balance between job conservation and technological progress therefore, to a large extent, reflects the balance of power in society, and how gains from technological progress are being distributed.”
The Western Dalits have a compulsion to resist the onslaught of neo-liberal finance capital. Which is why some 250,000 cooperatives are functioning in the EU, owned by 163 million citizens, comprising one third of EU population and employing 5.4 million people. On principle, these cooperatives are an alternative to the corporate hierarchical businesses model. The participants unite in them voluntarily in a democratic manner with a view to injecting empowerment by meeting their economic and social needs as much as possible in the hostile capitalist system. Nonetheless, these are insignificant endeavours that generate just a tiny island of hope. But all doesn’t end up in failure and utter despair. The world’s largest workers’ cooperative is in Spain – the Mondragon Corporation, a conglomerate of 260 cooperatives and one of the best-managed Spanish firms with global sales of over $15 billion, employing close to 75,000 individuals. It is in Basque, once a very poor region. And now? Listen to Barbara J. Peters, professor of sociology: “In Mondragon, I saw no poverty, I saw no signs of extreme wealth, I saw people looking out for each other. It is a caring form of capitalism.” Based on democratic functioning, open admission, subordinate and instrumental nature of capital, value and importance of labour, participation in management decisions, fair payment, social transformation, cooperation, education and the university workers in Mondragon, it is a symbol of inspiration to workers of OECD countries in their struggle against socio-economic deprivation and disempowering. Mondragon’s investment methods insulated the workers from the gloom of global recession of 2008. Not a single employee was fired, remaining steady at around 84,000 worldwide, one-sixth of them Spaniards. Instead of firing workers, their employees’ average salaries dropped by around five per cent. Those who were left without work were absorbed at another co-ops – an illustration of ‘we-feeling’. The portion of profits of cooperatives that were in the black was invested in the weaker ones to prevent them from dipping into the red. Mondragon has been expanding its businesses to international markets since 1990. Now it runs 125 abroad, although few of them are cooperatives. In 2006 Mondragon began working with Mexico, Brazil and Poland to educate trade unions on how to properly run a co-op. But Mondragon is a rare example and it is no socialist model which cannot grow amidst encirclement by of neo-liberal capitalism.
There is an effort to protect the Western Dalits from social discrimination in EU and similar forms of discrimination based on work and descent. In 2012, the EU Strategic Framework on Human Rights and Democracy was adopted for enhancing the efficacy and visibility of the EU human rights policy that has a moral bearing on the EU foreign policy. The EU has a compulsion as it ‘faces revolt’. It’s official that one in four people inside the EU are on the verge of poverty. There is the slowly assertive International Dalit Solidarity Network, headquartered in Copenhagen, the Danish capital. Its motto is to influence EU policies, funding instruments and programmes, the success of which depends on coherent, comprehensive and effective action for the elimination of caste-based discrimination of member states. (The International Dalit Solidarity Network works on a global level to eliminate caste discrimination affecting human rights of over 300 million people.) These 300 million are caught in a poverty trap due to social discrimination and exclusion. The US Senator Bernie Sanders, presidential candidate for the Democratic Party, who grew up in old Brooklyn, saw white folks living in ghettos said bluntly: “What I meant to say is when you talk about ghettos traditionally, what you’re talking about is African-American communities,” Sanders told reporters. “I think many white people are not aware of the kinds of pressures and the kind of police oppression that sometimes takes place within the African-American community. We have 47 million people living in poverty in America, and in the wealthiest country in the history of the world, that is a disgrace, absolutely.” The task is extremely tough and complicated. Take the plight of migrants. Even French President Emmanuel Macron, by no means worker-friendly, expressed his veiled umbrage at Brussels’ stand on migration, a mismatch with spirit beneath the Strategic Framework on Human Rights and Democracy. He called out the “music of nationalism resounding everywhere in Europe,” and ridiculed the division. It’s “like leprosy,” he quipped. “Barbed wire reappears everywhere in Europe, including in the minds… yield nothing” he added in a cautionary manner. Needless to explain, the boss at the Elyse Palace has in mind the bad blood with Hungary and Poland over European values. However, he maintains an upbeat tone. “Let’s not celebrate yesterday’s symphonies. Let’s write a new musical score, Europe is Utopia” … (but) utopists are ragmatists, and realists.”
Final Question: EU
In a paper on migratory movements in the Mediterranean Basin and the way the issue is being tackled, published in the March 1995 issue ILO journal, Italian labour economists, Michele Bruni, University of Modena, and Alessandra Venturini, University of Bergamo, stated in a paper: “The term, pressure to migrate, illustrates migratory flows generically by means of a metaphor taken from hydraulics, according to which the arrival area is under pressure and the departure area is no longer able to contain its human resources.” Migrants have never been a threat to the host countries. The final question is whether the promises and commitment from the EU are merely on paper? Labour MP for Luton North in the UK Kelvin Hopkins is skeptical. “The EU is not at its core about employment rights, nor even is it about human rights. The EU has accepted employment rights to give the illusion that it is on the side of workers and trade unions – at least slightly – and to try to keep trade unions passive. The millions of unemployed in Spain, Greece and increasingly elsewhere, have seen no benefit from alleged worker and trade union rights. The EU is both antidemocratic and anti-socialist.” But where will the ‘Wretched of the Earth’, as Frantz Fanon named his legendary novel, go if they find themselves unwittingly rushing towards willow-the-wisp? If participation in terrorism becomes their occupational choice, can they be blamed? Involvement in terrorism may be viewed as a rational decision, depending on the benefits, costs, and risks involved in engagement in terrorism compared with other activities.