25th anniversary of the Bhopal mass murder

It is now 25 years since, in Bhopal, the state capital of Madhya Pradesh in Central India, in the early hours of the morning of 3 December 1984, forty five tons of escaping gas, methyl isocyanate (MIC), from the Union Carbide pesticides plant surged through the little streets of the shanty town that had grown up around it. On through the city and into the surrounding countryside it drifted. For some, death came as they slept, others woke with burning eyes and throats. And as the panic set in among those who had not already succumbed to the poison all around them, they ran, gulping even more of the toxic gas into their lungs leaving trails of dead and dying in the most horrible contortions as they writhed their last moments in unspeakable agony. Before the week was out the death toll stood at around 3,000 (the number of deaths directly attributable to the ‘accident’ has risen over time to over 20,000) with more than 300,000 affected by the deadly poison. About 2,000 animals had died and 7,000 more were severely affected along with most crops in and around Bhopal.

Every year we are forced to listen to remembrance services and news broadcasts on television and radio going on about 11 September 2001 when representatives of the third world victims of US imperialism hit back at the beast that sucks the life from them and their children.  Every year the bourgeois newspapers drag out this tale and wave it around for all to see, yet again, in justification of the invasions, occupations and blockades that imperialism is carrying on throughout the world.  But what about the huge carnage that imperialism visits upon the poor of the world?  Not just the unspeakable cruelty that is used in their wars of brigandage, no, we mean the carnage that ensues every day all around the world as workers and their families are sacrificed on the altar of maximum profit – the only god that is recognised by any and every imperialist nation without exception. The names are far too many to remember, the ‘incidents’ of industrial murder too numerous to record even if one only includes the worst cases, but Bhopal should be remembered because it is a story that shows exactly how exploitation of third world nations and workers is carried out.   It was described at the time as the worst-ever industrial ‘accident’, but the very word accident paints a picture of something that could not have been foreseen, an unintentional, unfortunate chance occurrence, something for which no one can be blamed. Let us be quite clear, this was imperialist genocide of the type that happens everywhere, admittedly, to a far greater degree in the third world than in the imperialist countries, but even in their home countries the imperialists commit industrial murder against workers.

Industrial murders in developing countries

Union Carbide, the American multi-national that owned the plant had opened it in Bhopal because there was a workforce available that could deal with the high tech needs of the company; the Indian Governments both local and national had agreed to minimise any controls or interference with the running of the plant to get these jobs for their people; and, with the low cost of living, wages and other overheads would be minimal compared to their existing plants in the USA.  It must be pointed out that in the US these plants were never allowed to be built near residential areas for safety reasons; yet in India it was built not only in the middle of a large city but a shanty town of workers dwellings was allowed right up to the plant’s fences.

The ‘accident’ happened because of cuts in the workforce, cuts in safety procedures, cuts in costly safety apparatus; in fact, anything that could be cut was cut to increase profits as the logic of imperialism dictates the necessity of any cuts, any action which  produces profit, for in the imperialist world profit is the sole reason for all production.

And after the industrial mass murder at Bhopal, within days in fact, the company restarted production, on safety grounds they said, to use up the MIC before the plant could be closed down. But if they were so safety conscious, one has to ask why so much chemical waste was left to drain into the soil or evaporate into the air, and why the company could not or would not tell the local authorities what these chemicals were?

It is obvious that Union Carbide were intent on getting the last penny’s worth out of Bhopal before walking away. Again we have to stress, imperialists don’t cut corners because they necessarily have to, they cut them whenever and wherever they can to increase profits to the maximum possible.

In that same year of 1984 there were two other cases of industrial mass murder by imperialism in the third world. The first was in Cubatao, Sao Paulo, Brazil, where a fractured pipeline caused a petrol explosion which ripped through a shanty town killing 508 people. The company, Petrobras, claimed that ‘only’ 90 people died and even tried to blame the victims for illegally being on company land. The second was in San Juan, Ixhuatepec, Mexico, where an explosion of liquid nitrogen gas (LNG) reservoirs, holding some 90,000 barrels, engulfed the shantytown surrounding it killing 452 and injuring 4,284 inhabitants.

Aftermath of Bhopal

The aftermath of the Bhopal tragedy was years of wrangling in courts, both in India and America, as Union Carbide sought to avoid paying anything at all initially (at one point they even tried to claim that terrorism by Sikh extremists was to blame) and as little as possible eventually. Although they agreed a settlement in 1989 ,not a penny reached any of the victims until 1992 and then only selectively. Twenty Five years on there are still victims of that day living in poverty and agony, there are people who either were not yet born or who have moved to Bhopal since that ‘tragedy’ whose health is ruined because of the massive amount of pollution Union Carbide left behind at the plant as they just walked away. 

India, as a whole, and Bhopal in particular, had extensive systems of laws governing industrial production, occupational health and safety, labour relations, trade practices, and pollution control. Bhopal possessed a large pool of skilled labour trained at local technical institutions. These attributes created a unique ‘industrial culture’ that supported a wide range of technologies. But effective regulation of technologies was inhibited by ‘political and practical considerations’. The government was reluctant to place a heavy industrial safety and pollution-control burden on industry for fear of losing job opportunities.  Once again proving that under imperialism it does not matter what laws are in force or how many of them there are, when they stand in the way of profit for the imperialist they are ignored and discarded.

It has to be said that that both the local and national government behaved in a thoroughly corrupt and disgraceful way.  Instead of pursuing Union Carbide, they did everything to frustrate the attempts of the victims and their relations from getting justice.

Opposition to imperialist brutality

Imperialism is the killer in the workplace. Imperialism is the monster that starves children to death. Imperialism is the slaughter machine on battlefields and in places like Bhopal. But imperialism is also the cunning fox, which will pay workers in one country a few pennies more to keep them divided, create a labour aristocracy to divide them and spread the evils of racism and sexism to keep them apart. However, in Bhopal a movement has grown up over the years, fighting for proper compensation, fighting to have the murderers tried for murder in India, fighting to prevent the same thing happening again.  This movement recognises that the continuing poisoning that goes on in Bhopal from eating locally produced food, and even just by living in and around the city, is a direct result of imperialist exploitation, it recognises that the only way to stop this ever happening again is to overturn imperialism. 

Following a month of events to highlight the murders and the unaccountability of the murderers, the continuing contamination and the cover-ups, a massive public meeting was held on 3 December this year outside the Union Carbide plant. 

According to a report in the journal Peoples Democracy, the weekly organ of the CPI(M), when addressing this meeting the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) President, Dr M K Pande, said that “even after 25 years of the worst ever industrial tragedy, people are continuing to die due to the poisonous gas effect, but neither correct and efficient treatment is being given them nor is there any planning for rehabilitation of the affected”. 

He told the gathering that not only were the gas-affected not given justice but there also exists the danger of the entire nation becoming a camp-follower of the USA.

Imperialism is indulging in inhuman exploitation of the developing countries and meting out brutality to the hapless people, and it is the main source of injustice to the people of third world countries.  He further said “we must remember the lesson derived from the struggle of the last 25 years that without intensifying the struggle against imperialism the struggle of the gas-affected people would never fructify.”

The meeting culminated with those present demanding entry to the plant to see if the government claim that there is nothing poisonous left inside was true.  The police and the ‘Rapid Action Force’ were on hand to forcefully stop them doing this, which can only be taken as an admission that toxic material in large quantities remains inside that plant and will continue to poison the soil and water around the plant.  The protesters, however, will not go away and are determined to have justice.  The imperialists have made another army of anti-imperialist fighters to help with its eventual downfall.

For our part in Britain we must learn everything there is to know about imperialism, We must stand alongside any and every enemy of imperialism whatever their colour or nationality. At times this will make us deeply unpopular but we must try to teach the proletariat the truth, not as an academic exercise but in order to create the one thing we need more than any other, a party of the proletariat which  has the confidence of the proletariat and which understands the world we live in through Marxist-Leninist analysis and is also steeled to lead our class on the only road that will destroy imperialism, the road of socialist revolution!

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