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The Fascist Trade Union and the Derailment of the Working Class Movement

“After analyzing the basic tenets of Communism, he foretold way back in the 1950s that Communism is going to fail and his prophecy came true in his lifetime itself, when the Berlin Wall fell and Soviet Union got disintegrated in the 1990s. Similarly, he held that to attain the goals of communism, it is necessary for the communists to keep workers oppressed and exploited because this exploitation and oppression shall pave the way for bloody struggle, which shall ultimately usher into era of communism. Hence, they would go to any extent to keep workers impoverished and in pathetic conditions. Hence, as per Shri Dattopant Thengadi [founder of Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh], the ideals and strategy of communism were fundamentally anti-poor and anti-worker.”

Excerpts from 19th Triennial All India Conference – General Secretary Report of Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh

The Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) is the trade union of the ruling Brahmanical Hindutva fascist octopus of organizations stemming from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). As the above excerpt explicitly makes it clear, the BMS is a trade union premised on anti-communism, instead it aims to rouse workers in support of the fascist project. Yet, the BMS in the last few years has been conducting protests against the politics of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, part of the same family of organizations stemming from the RSS. In terms of on-ground practice and protest demands, the BMS is indistinguishable from other major trade unions, all of them affiliated with so-called communist parties, like Centre for Indian Trade Unions (CITU, associated with Communist Party of India Marxist), All India Central Council for Trade Unions (AICCTU, associated with Communist Party of India Marxist-Leninist Liberation) and All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC, associated with Communist Party of India).

As we elaborated in one of our previous articles, Imperialist Development: The RSS Economic Model, there is a contradiction within brahmanical Hindutva fascism itself where one camp within the RSS clings onto the post-modernist (particularly the ideas of Edward Said) understanding of indigeneity and ‘rule of the native.’ The BMS represents this aspect of the contradiction within fascism and as the other aspect, that of the rampant neo-liberalization and privatization thought intensifies its politics, BMS has seemingly fallen more and more against the policies of the BJP than in support of them. Yet, this should give one no illusions about the reactionary and Brahmanical Hindutva fascist nature of the BMS itself. What is then indicting for the trade unions like CITU, AICCTU and AITUC is that they have most in common with this trend of fascism, then with anything minutely related to communism in the present. This political ineptitude and the grip of fascism and revisionism on the trade union movement has stifled working class union politics to mere economism and an inability of building a sustained mass movement against fascism. Here we will elaborate on the the ideological framework of the BMS, its political practice and its commonalities with other major trade unions of India and their collective role in entrapping of a large section of the workers from waging class struggle.

Anatomy of a Fascist Trade Union

Before delving into the politics of these trade unions and the setbacks caused by them, it is first necessary to dissect the ideology of BMS. The General Secretary of the BMS states the following, reminiscing about the founder of the union Dattopant Thengadi,

“While on the one hand he was disillusioned by Indian Trade Union Movement on the other hand, he praised trade union model of Scandinavian countries. He stated the fact that industrialization in Scandinavian countries was a later phenomenon in comparison to that of Europe. This provided them the opportunity to study existing trade union models. They clearly understood lacunas and merits of existing models world over. They drafted their trade union models on the basis of observations of this study. Their Trade Union policy was inclusive one. While focusing on industrial production and wellbeing of market, they focused equally on labour issues and their welfare. In a way they developed their model of Labour movement on the basis of their tradition, culture and indigenous circumstances. He wanted the same for India. He wanted to develop an indigenous “Bharatiya” model of trade union movement, which was not founded on the basis of struggle but on basis of cooperation. Instead of Class Struggle he defined National Development and prosperity as the ultimate goal of Trade Union Movement. In a nutshell he defined “benefit of all is good for all” as guiding principles of Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh.”[1]

Along with the anti-communist beginnings as elaborated above, it should hence be clear that the BMS is firmly a pro-imperialist trade union which looks towards the world over “successful” examples of bourgeois democracies like those in Scandinavia, functioning welfare states. The BMS clearly negates the question of class struggle, while claiming to be a pro-worker organization (thus negating the reality of the proletariat as a class) and uses Hindu nationalism, masquerading as indigeneity, as the ideological grounds of justifying this pro-imperialist character. The BMS calls this a third way, in contrast to the prevailing communist and liberal trends of other trade unions. As the General Secretary openly highlights, “we are not here to prepare for class struggle or bloody revolution as is the case with Left-wing Trade Unions, but for national development.”[2] In reality, the BMS is part of the imperialist trend which hopes in vain for the return of the Keynesian welfare state which has disappeared across most of the third world. The imperialist crisis is now forcing even the imperialist nations in Europe and America to cut down on the welfare measures which they were able to sustain due to the super-profits that imperialist exploitation of the third world brought them. An example of the same is the on-going militant protest in France. There is no ‘third way’ out of the crisis of imperialism which BMS claims to have, their position is rooted in mere idealistic analysis of India, detached from the prevalent reality of an impoverished peoples exploited under imperialism.

“Non-partisan” BMS rally virtually indistinguishable from any BJP rally, with the characteristic saffron tinge

After this, the BMS now claims that unlike all other trade unions which serve a political party and their program and are thus centralized, the BMS itself is free from such ties and is built upon grassroots democracy. Of course, this principle of building democracy through co-ordination of lower units and their subjugation to the higher units is actually the communist principle of democratic centralism, the language of which the BMS cleverly co-opts. In its long list of political visions, the BMS accepts the diminished nature of the labour movement in India and hopes to revive it through ‘non-partisan’ politics, propaganda that makes the masses aware of worker issues, bring unorganized workers into unions through the demand for universal unionization and a demand for just relationships between what they call the three stakeholders in Indian society (government, employer and worker).[3] The rest of the report by the general secretary elaborates on their programme in achieving these goals, the primary target of which is to create “an aware worker.” But what kind of political awareness is the BMS aiming for? Instead of aiming for class consciousness, the BMS actively cuts the aspect of class struggle and instead aspires to create a worker who subjects themselves to the ideology of Brahmanical Hindutva through this notion of “Bharatiya national development,” that is, nationalism and development premised on the notions of the manufactured Hindutva nationalism. The BMS therefore becomes a major force for Brahmanical Hindutva fascism in derailing the working-class movement ideologically and intensifying the reactionary trends among the workers in a manner where their political demands are limited to mere economism and social welfare. Ironically, the trade unions that BMS formed in opposition of are indistinguishable in political practice.

Political Practice and Revisionism’s Ideological Bankruptcy

Since the BJP’s victory in 2014 and Narendra Modi’s ascension to power, the fascist project is one which has seen large scale privatization of industries, demolition of public-sector undertakings (PSUs) and erasure of most remnants of the welfare state. The rampant valorization of foreign finance capital across all spheres and the implementation of an imperialist model of development, driven purely on the logic of privatization and expansion of foreign capital, has led to a massive crisis for the working class, peasantry and the petty bourgeoisie. The working class has systematically seen the formalization of the erasure of its nominal rights through the new Labour Codes introduced in 2020, which legally empower the employer to fire workers at will and keep them in a constant insecurity, reduce the power of the right to strike and the negotiating ability of unions and includes various loopholes which allow for employers to exploit the workers, even going so far as to create space for establishing a 12-hour workday.

The BMS had conducted pan-India strikes against the labour codes, pointing out that, “this is unheard [of] in history and is rare even in most undemocratic countries. BMS state units have written to state chief ministers but only Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh has shown the courtesy to meet BMS delegation.”[4] The BMS goes so far as to call the labour codes anti-worker and recognize the foreign nature of the codes, “the imported predatory economic and labour reforms and defective policies of the capitalist paradigm are responsible for landing our job generation in a sorry state of affairs.”[5] The BMS has also recently demanded the expansion of the social welfare scheme Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005 (MNREGA) to urban areas.[6] Finally, the BMS also raised its opposition towards “the process of privatization aggressively pursued by the central government like the commercialization of coal sector, corporatization of defence ordinance factories board and railway, strategic sale of PSUs, merger and privatization of banks, insurance and increasing Foreign Direct Investment cap.”[7] On the face of it, BMS has openly opposed foreign capital, privatization and demolition of welfare measures.

“It is high time to extend MNREGA into urban areas but the BJP-led Central Government which is busy spreading communal hatred on one hand and assisting the corporates in looting the resources of the country has different priorities,”[8] says CITU, the CPM-affiliated trade union. Sounds similar? “AICCTU strongly condemns the proposal of 12 hours working day and demands withdrawal of this proposal,” says the trade union associated with CPI (ML) Liberation. On the Indian government’s budget, the CPI-affiliated trade union AITUC says, “the Budget is woefully hollow without addressing the crucial issues of unemployment, health, education, price rise etc. Except that there are some handouts with an intention to woo the electorate, there is nothing aimed at moving towards a people centric economic growth and human development. The speech was laced with falsehood and jugglery.”[9] CITU General Secretary Tapan Sen stated, “look at the speed with which our PSUs are getting privatised. Ministers are saying that we are getting rid of the debt. Super-rich today believe that they need strongmen like Trump and Modi because only they break the unity of working people on pre-existing fault lines – be it class, caste or race. There are changes in visa policies, bans on international workers’ migration and sinister propaganda to justify racial discrimination. Are they saying that workers should just vanish? No, but they should not ask for social security, limited hours of work and decent working conditions. Thus, it is our duty to bring together these sections based on the real experience of workers.”[10]

CITU leaders paying tribute to former Chief Minister of West Bengal with CPM, Jyoti Basu. Basu infamously found the Zionist state of Israel to be “the only example of working model of communism.”

It should thus be very clear that in terms of political demands and practice, these organizations have nothing to differentiate themselves, apart from the acronyms on their flags. In terms of practice, all of them engage in protest through strike or they negotiate with the ministers and bureaucracy. None of these organizations have made any aspiration towards class struggle, Tapan Sen, in the above statement even goes so far as to say that class is a category created by the bourgeoisie to divide the workers! Therefore, the leader of CITU has no intention at all to organizing on the lines of proletarian class struggle and transforming the existing relations of production from their current nature. To be clear, CITU is an organization that claims to aspire for socialism and communism. This revisionism of basic principles of Marxism while drowned in communist aesthetics is insidious in nature and derails the workers. AICCTU plays an even worse ploy against the masses by raising the slogan, “Turn 2023, into a Year of Militant Struggles of the Working Class![11] On one hand AICCTU claims to aspire to engage in ‘militant’ struggles, in the same article AICCTU elaborates that all it has practiced in the name of militant struggles is calling for a strike. AICCTU’s so-called militant struggle is nothing more than the same practice that CITU, AITUC and BMS practice.

The most decadent aspect of these organizations is that they are unable to pursue anything in a protracted nature. Comrade Marx had clearly stated, “it takes actual communist action to abolish actual private property. History will lead to it; and this movement, which in theory we already know to be a self-transcending movement, will constitute in actual fact a very rough and protracted process.” As it should be apparent from the facts and statements provided above, there is no protracted struggle being waged by these unions. Instead, the practice is that of movementalism, that of continuously calling for protests in reaction to certain issues and going back to sleep the next day after a day full of sloganeering, reacting again to something new the next day in a disparate nature and chasing the idea of building a movement without any larger political assertion beyond the immediate present which they react to.

The Need to Unshackle Marxism from Revisionism

Comrade Lenin had clearly laid out the task of a revolutionary trade union when he said,

“[The Bolsheviks have] always included the struggle for reforms as part of its activities. But it utilises “economic” agitation for the purpose of presenting to the government, not only demands for all sorts of measures, but also (and primarily) the demand that it cease to be an autocratic government. Moreover, it considers it its duty to present this demand to the government on the basis, not of the economic struggle alone, but of all manifestations in general of public and political life. In a word, it subordinates the struggle for reforms, as the part to the whole, to the revolutionary struggle for freedom and for socialism.”[12]

As elaborated above, the practice of trade unions associated with revisionist parties like CPM, CPI and Liberation group only raise the reform-based and economic demands of the workers and are even falling behind the likes of a fascist trade union like BMS on many subject matters even when it comes to raising these reform-based economic demands. In practice, the revisionists are therefore in line with fascism than with communism as they claim to be. It must be noted that the ideological bankruptcy of these unions has led to a derailment of lakhs of workers who are entrapped within the frameworks of these unions. The historic failure of these unions has also pushed a large section of the working class into the hands of fascism. If we recall, the BMS claimed that it is non-partisan, in that it does not arbitrarily serve the interests of a party. This it has also proved by its token protests against the BJP’s policies. This demand directly capitalizes on the historic practice of unions like CITU being complicit and serving as agents of their compromised parties.

Empty buses of KSRTC workers

For one example, CITU, which is continuously raising its political demand against the legalization of the 12-hour workday, had nothing to say when the CPM government in Kerala institutionalized 12-hour workday for workers in Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC)! CITU only demanded that these workers be paid their unpaid wages, but had nothing to say about an issue that is supposedly one of their major political demands on a country-wide scale. This partisan character which favours the state over the workers it claims to fight for allows for fascist unions like BMS to present themselves as an alternative. The gradual deterioration of the trade union movement on a large scale has been a result of revisionism’s inability to move from reform to revolution. This is also the reason as to why India has seen no mass movement against the new Labour Codes from the trade unions, in contrast to the three farm laws introduced in 2020 which saw the protracted mass movement of the peasantry.

For resolving this issue, Marxism must first be unshackled from the entrapments of revisionism, a struggle which the Bolsheviks had successfully won even a century ago. The revolutionary trade union practice must involve the training of workers in revolutionary activity and this must be learned not just by an economic struggle of their own needs but out of political consciousness that responds to the need for transformation of society as a whole, in relation to all the classes and their struggles within it. In the present, no successful struggle against Labour Codes can be built without a broad united front against Brahmanical Hindutva fascism. Only a Marxist perspective, not a revisionist one, can lead the working class in its historic role of shattering imperialism.

by Shri Rishi, student of law, Jindal Global Law School

Download PDF of this article here


[1], page 9.

[2], page 9.

[3], page 13.










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