25 years ago: Indian general election sweeps the Congress Party out of office
The Indian general elections, held from April 27 to May 2, 1996, replaced the Congress Party as the largest party in parliament with the Hindu-Chauvinist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The election resulted in a suspended parliament, with voters eventually returning to the polls in 1998. However, the right-wing alliance between two Hindu-chauvinist parties – the BJP and Shiv Sena – won the most seats in the Lok Sabha (the lowest chamber of parliament) and the leaders of this grouping were invited to form the government.
On May 16, under the eyes of outgoing Prime Minister of the Congress Party, Narasimha Rao, BJP leader Atal Behari Vajpayee was sworn in as the new prime minister. The BJP held the most parliamentary seats of any party, but the victory was short-lived. The United Front, a group of regional parties backed by the Congress Party, nominated HD Deve Gowda as prime minister after securing a majority. He was then replaced by IK Gujral.
The election was a historic defeat for the Congress Party and marked an important turning point in class relations in India and internationally. The political authority of Congress, the party that has ruled India almost continuously since Britain granted it formal independence in 1947, has collapsed like never before. The congressional vote share – less than 30% – fell below even that recorded during the electoral debacle of 1977, when the Indian electorate retaliated against the imposition of a state of emergency by the former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
For over 110 years, the Congress Party has been the primary instrument through which the masses were controlled and manipulated by the national capitalist class in India. Under Rao, the first Congress leader not from the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, the party experienced many divisions and defections, mostly from regionally-based bourgeois leaders from particular religious and ethnic communities.
The party’s decline was symptomatic of the breakdown of economic and political relations after World War II on a global scale. During the previous five years, Rao opened the Indian economy to foreign investment and privatized state industry. As a result, different parts of India and rival sections of the ruling class competed increasingly fiercely for foreign funds and investment.
Against this backdrop, the right-wing BJP and fascist Shiv Sena managed to garner support for their Hindu chauvinist campaign against Muslims, with Congress itself resorting to communalist politics to divide its opponents. The party suffered a great loss of Muslim voters, previously one of its main constituents, despite the Hindu chauvinism of the BJP.
50 years ago: Nixon orders mass arrest of May Day anti-war protesters
Beginning on May 1, 1971, tens of thousands of anti-war protesters gathered in Washington DC to call for an end to the Vietnam War. The protests lasted for several days and included marches, sit-ins and rallies outside government buildings. The protest was heavily suppressed by President Richard Nixon who mobilized nearly 20,000 federal police and soldiers to attack and arrest the protesters.
The protest was organized by a collaboration of anti-war groups, including the Popular Coalition for Peace and Justice, the War Resisters League and the Youth International Party. Individual leaders of the protest included Rennie Davis, David Dellinger, John Froines and Abbie Hoffman, all members of the Chicago Seven who had been charged with inciting a riot during the 1968 Democratic National Convention and whose convictions were currently pending. call.
The protest organizers were not geared towards the working class, which was then mounting a major strike wave against Nixon. Rather, they charted a theatrical approach designed to pressure part of the ruling class that was increasingly skeptical of America’s murderous war on Vietnam, which was clearly failing. Thus, the organizers planned to block the main roads and bridges in Washington under the slogan “If the government does not stop the war, we will stop the government”.
This played directly into the hands of Nixon, who responded by turning the U.S. capital into a police state in a trial for the imposition of a full-scale dictatorship. Nixon has deployed thousands of soldiers and police, including the Marines and the Army’s Airborne Division, to guard virtually every public park, monument and intersection in the city. Police swept through the city, deploying a huge amount of tear gas and arresting anyone suspected of being a protester.
In five days of protest, more than 12,500 people were arrested, making Nixon’s crackdown the largest mass arrest in U.S. history. So many people have been arrested that the city’s prisons have exceeded their capacity and makeshift detention centers have been built in DC’s sports arenas. After being parked in cramped premises, the demonstrators pressed against the fence in an attempt to push it. Police fired tear gas and other chemicals that caused breathing difficulties and vomiting. No food, water or other basic needs were provided to those arrested.
Nixon defended the crackdown on the protest saying he “would not be intimidated” and that “in this country politics is not done by protest.” His justice ministry accused the leaders of the demonstration of conspiracy. Ultimately, the charges were dismissed by the Federal Court due to violations of basic constitutional rights and clearly illegal police methods.
75 years ago: May Day celebrations since the end of WWII
On May 1, 1946, millions of people gathered on the Day of International Working Class Solidarity for the first time since the disasters of World War II, which ended in Allied victory the year before.
Massive protests took place in major European capitals, including those that had been occupied by the Nazis. Huge mobilizations took place in Paris, where a New York Times correspondent reported that everything “except subways and basic public services has been closed”, as well as in Berlin and Vienna.
In Japan, which was then under US occupation, and which had been affected by the first use of atomic weapons less than a year earlier, about two million people marched. This included more than 500,000 in the national capital Tokyo. The protesters reportedly carried placards demanding minimum wages, regulating food prices and condemning “inflation caused by capitalists”.
May 1 coincided with a wave of working class struggles around the world, as workers sought to resist a return to depression-era conditions and to express their hostility to war. On May 1, for example, nearly 800 Aboriginal pastoral workers in the Pilbara area of Western Australia went on strike for three years. Hundreds of thousands of workers in the United States were also on strike during the first half of 1946, demanding better working conditions and better wages.
The Fourth International, the leadership of the world Trotskyist movement, noted the powerful response evoked by May 1. It was, however, “the darkest May Day in European peacetime history.” The statement continued:
“There is hardly a city that is not indelibly marked by the second imperialist war. Countless workers walk among the debris and ruins that still need to be cleaned up. In Germany, Austria, Hungary, Poland, the Balkans and other occupied areas, workers celebrate their feast of action and solidarity under the bayonet of the “ democratic ” imperialists on the one hand, and military detachments of the Kremlin, on the other. In the Soviet Union, the Stalinist traitors of Bolshevism once again organize their hollow and cynical ceremonies, suspended during the war years.
100 years ago: Jaffa riots begin in Palestine
On May 1, 1921, the Socialist Workers Party, a forerunner of the Palestinian Communist Party, planned a May 1 march from Jaffa to Tel Aviv in British-controlled Palestine. The party, which was predominantly Jewish, distributed leaflets in Arabic, Hebrew and Yiddish calling for the replacement of the British colonial madidate with a Soviet Palestine.
On the road, the demonstrators clashed with a demonstration by the semi-official Zionist labor organization Ahdut HaAvoda (“Unity of Labor”) led by David Ben-Gurion. While the Socialist Workers Party supported the Arab national struggle against British imperialism, Ahdut HaVoda advocated the formation of a separate Jewish economy.
Police attempted to separate the two protests, but a scuffle ensued and rumors began to circulate that Jews were attacking Arabs. The clash turned into a general riot with Arab attacks on the Jewish population at 1 p.m. At 3 p.m. British troops arrived.
Over the next few days, the British declared martial law and Egypt’s Special High Commissioner Edmund Allenby sent destroyers to the coast of Palestine. The dead included 47 Jews and 48 Arabs. Most Jews were killed by Arab rioters and most Arabs were killed by British troops.