People all over the world have become habituated with the terms ‘social distance’ over the past year and a half. However, this term hides within itself a very problematic concept. At the root of the Capitalist system entrenching itself among the people lies the idea of what Marx called the ‘Theory of Alienation’. Capitalism seeks to alienate individuals from themselves, from the work that they do and eventually from their peers as well converting an intrinsically social being into an individual atomised unit, a mere tool for ensuring increased profit. The term ‘Social Distancing’ is thus, unsurprisingly, being interpreted by today’s atomised individuals as being norms of not only distancing themselves from others physically but also mentally thereby making them not even come out to help neighbours or friends in distress. The term should have been, from the very beginning, ‘Physical Distancing with Social Solidarity’ but the ultra - right conservative government which has been ruling India since 2014 along with the vested interests of ultra - rich capitalists which funds it seems verily intent on alienating people from each in a real case manifestation of what Marx had spoken off around two centuries back. It is in this scenario that the ‘Red Volunteers’ have become a prominent force to reckon with during the second waves in the worst affected country.
The Red Volunteers are primarily young, student cadres affiliated to the two major communist parties of India – the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPIM) and the Communist Party of India (CPI). Apart from building up an enormous corps of government volunteers thereby involving the whole civil society in tackling the virus in the state of Kerala which the communists run by drawing from primarily its huge well oiled cadre base adept at handling crisis situations, the two parties have built up a vast network of over two hundred thousand volunteers in my home state of West Bengal. Although the communist movement in India is most prominent in Kerala, Tripura and West Bengal (with communists having run these states for large swathes of their history) enabling the Red Volunteers to have an all - encompassing reach in these three states along with some more state units like Bihar, Tamilnadu etc. who have also followed suit, albeit with the limited organisational bases that they have.
The actions and the work being done by the Red Volunteers have multi - faceted implications. It exposes completely the gross government negligence leading up from the First Wave to the Second Wave. By going door to door in response to distress calls with oxygen cylinders, medicines, provisional ration kits and even makeshift ambulances, it points out to people that the government both at the centre and in most states (including my home state of West Bengal) have not bothered to stock up with enough vaccines, oxygen supplies or even basic medicines and ambulances to cater to people in distress in this COVID Inferno where close to twenty hundred thousand cases per day were being reported at one point of time. Communist run Kerala is probably the only place in India which has managed to handle the crisis somewhat well enough in spite of shortage of funds and vaccines from the central government.
In such a scenario, the one – on - one interaction done by the Red Volunteers is not only saving as many lives as can be saved but also opening up a space where it can be pointed out to the people that the present system in which they live in only has resources for those who can afford it – the affluent upper middle class and the super -rich. The system has always been for the few at the top of the socio - economic ladder in disguise but this crisis has exposed that and at a time when the communist movement in India is at its weakest, the Red Volunteers and their activities can go a long way in preparing the turf for making communist ideas credible among the masses again. It also strikes at the very basic Capitalist ploy of keeping people alienated from each other in order to push through with their ‘profit at any cost’ agenda by reinforcing and making mainstream the idea of society which existed in a pre - globalisation era – a society where individuals live in unison as a whole and not as atomised units who are mere tools of profit hungry exploiters. Massive de-politicization of the Indian working class has led to the emergence of a ‘ I have nothing to do with politics’ millennial generation. The Red Volunteers through their activities might just be opening up the space to make the idea of ‘Politics determines everything, therefore we must determine our politics’ mainstream again and thereby re-politicization of society.
India is reeling from a recession like situation from well before the pandemic and the millions of workers being laid off by corporate companies as well as government agencies coupled with astronomical figures of farmer suicides due to one after the other draconian laws aimed at changing the character of agriculture, industry and even the definition of the Indian state through NRC – CAA might just be the situation for the communists in India to rise up as a force again. The Red Volunteers are preparing that ground by showing the human side of politics in this era of massive political bankruptcy in India. Whether the communist parties can politicise the groundwork laid down by the Red Volunteers and turn around, though, is something only time will tell.