Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Understanding Socialism

A few days ago one of my colleagues had expressed the idea of decreasing the pay gap between the highest paid employee and the lowest paid employee in our organization. I didn't give a lot of thought to that at that moment.

Yesterday morning YouTube showed me a video of Sunil P Ilayidom in which he talks about Gandhiji. I'm embedding that one here. It is in Malayalam.


Somewhere in the middle he talks about how Gandhiji was in South Africa till his 40s and didn't know how the poorest Indians lived and then how once he returned from South Africa Gandhiji walked into the hearts of Indian farmers. He talks about how Gandhiji's political campaigns always started with the real life problems of the common person. And he talks about how Gandhiji's first Satyagraha in India - the Champaran Satyagraha - was fought with the simple demand that farmers should get compensation for their crops.

If you can understand Malayalam, Sunil Ilayidom's talks about Gandhiji (powered by YouTube recommendations) makes you sit and listen for hours and hours together.

Another point that Gandhi made which SPI reiterates is "The world has enough for everyone's need, but not enough for everyone's greed."

Yesterday evening we had our weekly ECHO session in the primary healthcare fellowship and Dr Vivek Kumar from BHS told the story of a lady who was diagnosed with Tuberculosis a second time in the last 1 year (after taking 6 months of ATT the first time). Her haemoglobin was 6.9, weight was just 35kg, and it seemed like even if she took ATT continuously forever, her body might not have enough strength to protect herself from tuberculosis. In that context he described how the average haemoglobin in men, women, children, everyone in the villages he serves in is about 8-9. For about 5 minutes I could simply not believe that this could be explained by nutritional deficiencies alone.

So I searched online and found out a paper by last years' Economics Nobel Prize winners about fortifying grains to reduce anemia. This study was done between 2002 and 2009. Which means this is a well-known problem. People live in abject poverty and there is absolutely nothing that seems to work.

Our discussion rightly turned to policy changes that maybe required to bring change. Dr Vivek mentioned Aajeevika Bureau as an organization that was working with farmers to help them secure livelihood.

We also talked about community based participatory research which is the idea that any kind of research should begin from the community, be designed and developed by the community, and be owned by the community to be ultimately useful for that community. People from outside have their limitations in understanding what works, and what doesn't. When I was making this point I was imagining Dr Vivek as an insider, and me as an outsider. But then Dr Vivek replied reaffirming the point and considering even himself an outsider. And I had the realization that even being co-located with the community doesn't make you an insider.

Today morning on the bus I was reading Che Guevara's "Global Justice: Liberation and Socialism" and a paragraph stood out at me:

"The way is open to infection by the germs of future corruption if a person thinks that dedicating his or her entire life to the revolution means that, in return, one should not be distracted by such worries as that one's child lacks certain things, that one's children's shoes are worn out, that one's family lacks some necessity.
In our case we have maintained that our children must have, or lack, those things that the children of the ordinary citizen have or lack; our families should understand this and struggle for it to be that way. The revolution is made through human beings, but individuals must forge their revolutionary spirit day by day."

I should probably be reading carefully the Pedagogy of the Oppressed soon. But this paragraph in the context of yesterday's discussion made me think about poverty and the reasons why we are struggling with elimination of poverty.

Two related points.

The "combined total wealth of 63 Indian billionaires is higher than the total Union Budget of India for the fiscal year 2018-19 which was at Rs 24,42,200 crore."

Pirate Praveen had once said this:

"Every privileged person thinks its their god given mission to help the poor and show their kindness. They do not want to acknowledge that their privilege is the result of historic oppression and they are part of the reason why they remain poor. They think poor people needs charity and kindness. What we really need is a conscious collective effort to end systematic oppression of people and that will need questioning of our own roles and privileges. Accepting our role in creating the poor is much harder than feeling good about helping poor."

Putting it all together made me finally understand the problem. The problem is us. The capitalists. The people who believe that a software engineer's time is worth 10 times more than the farmer's. The people who believe that it is okay to accumulate wealth and make profit.

The free market will never pay a farmer well. The free market is stacked against farmers. Why is it that way? Why are things priced based on their demand and supply rather than their intrinsic value?

Because that works well in favour of those few who are privileged to accumulate wealth. For things like food, they won't have to pay a lot. And they can use that money to spend on things like AC cars. They can hire a home-help for 4000 rupees a month and get them to cook for them. They can hire cheap labour and sell the combined thing for much higher value. And they can keep all the profit.

The farmer may spend all their time in the farm. Like a full time employment. But if you can pay not for that time, but for the onions they produce, it may turn out to be much cheaper. Which means you can buy more onions for the same money. And you sell those onions at a higher price. So, your profit increases. While the farmer remains poor.

This is how it works. The entire system of capitalism is based on rich becoming richer and poor becoming poorer. "Specialization" and "rare-resources" are ways to become rich. And once you are rich, you have the license to exploit the poor.

Socialism is where the farmer sets the price. (And not a "free" market). The farmer demands what is their due. The farmer does not have to give up their life to produce a season of crops. The farmer can say their "full time" is equivalent to that of a software engineer. And who would you be to deny?


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