With Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) saddled in power among Left circles discussion has renewed about the emergence of fascism in India. With release of the draft Political Resolution by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) towards its 22nd Congress, there has been ongoing discussion about Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), BJP and fascism in a developing country.
Prakash Karat, the former general secretary of Communist Party of India (Marxist) way back in 2016 initiated discussion by stating that the threat to Indian democracy is from authoritarianism which is semi-fascist in character. He also went on to state that there is no sign of fully developed fascism in India (as of now) and the RSS is set to develop into an authoritarian political entity. By stating this, Karat in effect clearly discounted the possibility of emergence of fascism in India.
Karat argued: “A correct understanding of the ruling regime and the political movement that it represents is necessary because it has a direct bearing on the political strategy and electoral tactics to be followed in order to fight the BJP and the Modi government.” While stressing the necessity for clarity in defining character of BJP, he added: “The BJP is not an ordinary bourgeois party. Its uniqueness lies in its organic links to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. The BJP is a right-wing party with respect to its economic and social agenda, and can be characterized as a right-wing party of majoritarian communalism. Further, given its linkage to the RSS, which has a semi-fascist ideology, it is a party that has the potential to impose an authoritarian state on the people when it believes that circumstances warrant it.”
For the benefit of readers, I am giving the web link from where it can be read in original rather than depending on my selective quotes from the article.
This understanding is a slight deviation from what was arrived at 21st Congress of the Party which concluded, “This (BJP emerging as single largest party with required majority to form the government on its own) has set the stage for a rightwing offensive comprising an aggressive pursuit of neo-liberal policies and a full-scale attempt by the RSS-led Hindutva forces to advance their communal agenda. Such a conjuncture presages growing authoritarianism.” The understanding pronounced by Karat in his article requires certain preconditions warranted to impose authoritarianism whereas the understanding arrived at 21st Congress is that the conditions are already presages growing authoritarianism.
The argument expounded by Karat not only rules out any possibility of fascism in India. According to him even authoritarianism is not warranted by circumstances. In support of his argument, he goes back to the classic definition of fascism and states that fascism in power is “the open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinistic and most imperialist elements of finance capital.” He further states, “In India today, neither has fascism been established, nor are the conditions present — in political, economic and class terms — for a fascist regime to be established.”
These are the key elements that led Karat to reach above conclusion. “There is no crisis that threatens a collapse of the capitalist system; the ruling classes of India face no threat to their class rule. No section of the ruling class is currently working for the overthrow of the bourgeois parliamentary system. What the ruling classes seek to do is to use forms of authoritarianism to serve their class interests.”
While affirming that so called chauvinist nationalistic Hindutva ideology at work does not constitute the establishment of a fascist order, at the same time he agrees that they pose a danger to democracy and secularism, and concludes that India today confronts the advance of an authoritarianism that is fuelled by a potent mix of neo-liberalism and communalism.
According to him, there are two components among the major source of authoritarianism at work in India, ie, Hindutva communalism and right-wing neo-liberal drive. The neo-liberal regime acts to constrict democratic space, homogenize all bourgeois parties, hollow out parliamentary democracy and render the people powerless as regards basic policy-making. The impact of neo-liberalism on the political system has led to the narrowing of democracy.
Several questions arise from the understanding advanced by Karat. He brings back the question of classical definition of fascism but goes on looking at its features instead. For any Marxist, the key to observe the developments when they are in motion, when situations are giving them a shape and identity and their characteristic features are under evolution. But Karat’s suggestion is to stick to the classical definition of fascism instead. If we accept his assertion we should stick to the capitalism as was seen and characterized by Marx rather than discussing about the 21st century variant, the global finance capital and its characteristics. Similarly the emergence of fascism as instrument of state power followed the very same principle pronounced by Lenin and Dimitrov who saw the things while they are taking shape. They changed the strategies and tactics to fight the enemy while it is emerging rather than waiting until it emerges to its fullest strength and adorns its true nature.
Another important limitation of his assertion lies in the linkages that were attempted to establish. That is about threat to rule of capital. He reads no threat to rule of capital and advocates that no section of ruling class is currently working to overthrow the bourgeoisie parliamentary system. It is surprising that the BJP itself hallowing out the bourgeoisie parliamentary institutions, which are key pillars to the parliamentary system, arriving at such a conclusion is surprising one for every one. Coming to the larger question of hegemony of capital, he explicitly feels, there is no crisis that threatens the capitalist system. But after a year since he wrote in the Indian Express, while delivering a lecture in memory of former politbureau member Moturu Hanumantha Rao at Vijayawada in October 2017, he changed his assessment.
He concluded: “But today there is a change. Neo-liberalism is in crisis which got accentuated and we saw the global financial crisis of 2007 and 2008. Today neo-liberalism is not able to overcome that crisis fully. In fact some people have already proclaimed that neo-liberalism is dead. So the contradictions coming out of this neoliberal setup is manifesting itself like emergence of Donald Trump. Nobody expected such a person to come up as USA president. It manifested itself in Brexit where in Britain majority of the people have decided that they don’t want to be part of EU. Because through EU neoliberal policies are imposed. It is the working class that said we don’t want to be part of EU. So it is manifesting itself in different ways. In some places, the right wing forces are utilizing the mass discontent. Many right wing parties have emerged in Europe. But the fact is that the neo-liberalism is on its death bed. Our ruling classes have adopted neo-liberalism because international finance capital everywhere they say this is the way to go but the situation has changed.”
From this it is clear that the working class still has the potential to teach a lesson to the neoliberal hegemony of global finance capital and Brexit is a positive example whereas rise of Trump to presidency is by way of ruling classes response to the working class challenge. In support of his assessment and changed understanding he quotes from an authentic survey in which public at large deplored the neo-liberalism which is basis for Jermyn Corbin’s announcement, “Neo-liberalism is Dead.”
But the draft Political Resolution that is out for debate also distances from shades of his understanding while dealing with the international situation. Confirming its assessment of international situation, DPR states, “1.1 The main features of the international situation since the 21st Congress are the following: (i) Though there are forecasts of a modest global economic recovery, the systemic crisis of global capitalism that manifested itself in the financial meltdown in 2008 continues. (ii) This is leading to further intensification of economic exploitation of the vast majority of the people and attacks on their democratic rights in all capitalist countries. Protest actions and struggles against these attacks continue to grow in various countries of the world. (iii) This continued economic crisis of global capitalism has resulted in further widening the economic inequalities both globally and in individual countries. (iv) In its efforts to consolidate its global hegemony and to overcome the negative impact of the economic crisis, US imperialism is displaying greater all-round aggressiveness, particularly through political and military interventions. (vi) The period has seen a further political rightward shift in many countries in the world with the rise of extreme rightwing neo-fascist forces in Europe. The ascendancy of Donald Trump as the President of USA, representing the most reactionary sections of the US ruling class, further strengthened this trend.”
From the above understanding we can conclude that the emergence of neo-fascist forces in the West and elsewhere is due to continued crisis of global capitalism rather than due to the threat it is facing from its class enemy.
Here we should draw our attention towards Samir Amin’s contribution towards understanding of fascism in contemporary capitalism. In his article in Monthly Review in September 2014 Samir Amin defined fascism as “a particular political response to the challenge with which the management of capitalist society may be confronted in specific circumstances.” He further clarifies the key aspects of fascism under contemporary capitalism: “the fascist choice for managing the capitalist society in crisis is always based on –by definition even – on the categorical rejection of democracy. Fascism always replaces the general principles on which the theories and practices of modern democracies are based – recognition of diversity of opinions, recourse to electoral procedures to determine majority, guarantee of the rights of minority etc.”
Here it is important to note that the reversal of values is always accompanied by returning to backward looking ideas which are able to provide an apparent legitimacy to the procedures of submission that are implemented. This approach of ruling class is also accompanied by a proclamation of return to the past, subjugation of State to Religion makeup the spectrum of ideological discourses deployed by the fascist forces.
The breeding ground for fascism includes real major crisis and collective trauma, authoritarian leader, aggressive defamation used as tactics, or even sometimes strategy, enforced political conformity, pretention to represent the will of the people, which are evident amply in today’s Indian situation. Lastly but not least, it would be educative to look at fourteen common threads derived by Dr. Lawrence Britt, who studied fascist regimes of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Franco’s Spain, Salazar’s Protugal, Papadopoulos’s Greece, Pinochet’s Chile, Suharto’s Indonesia. They are: powerful and continuing nationalism, disdain for the recognition of human rights, identification of enemies/ scapegoats as a unifying cause, supremacy of military, rampant sexism, controlled mass media, obsession with national security, intertwining religion with state, protected corporate power, suppressed labour power, disdain for intellectuals and arts, obsession with crime and punishment, rampant cronyism and corruption, fraudulent elections.
A word of caution is needed. One should not conclude that unless all these fourteen features are explicitly present in any national situation at a time, we won’t agree with the fact that fascism has arrived. We can conclude that fascism at the very minimum takes the form of a mobilizing mythic core of revolutionary ultra nationalist rebirth which is populist in the sense that it is directed towards moblising all authentic members of the national community. The fascist forces did not conveniently end in 1945. It has a protean quality, an almost Darwinian capacity for adaptation to its environment.
Unless we realize this quality of the genie called fascism and its ability to adopt new shapes and forms in climates different from each other, we will be failing to read the writing on the wall. While discussing classic fascism, which was referred by Karat, Samir Amin opines that “it was an evanescent in history that emerged as a consequence of specific types of relative deprivation caused by disorder, economic calamity and national humiliation and fascists won the power because of the direct or indirect support of all those who were afraid of expropriation in the event of communist or socialist victory.”
This is the specificity which Karat is willing to reject or unwilling to recognize. Surprisingly he dubs all those who argue about the emergence of fascism, or neo-fascism for the sake of discussion, as mere liberals un-rooted in reality! To remind people such as him, it is appropriate to quote historian, Adrea Mammone who said: “If someone thinks that modern fascism means exact copies of interwar black shirt militias then one is probably looking in the wrong direction.”
Thus the discussion inside the leading component of Left movement in India which is codified in the form of Draft Political Resolution and discussion presages to that, focused on economic struggles by disregarding the balanced approach it arrived at 21st Congress, that is the dual danger unveiled by the emergence of BJP as single largest ruling class representative. Thus there is an urgent need to read the writing on the wall and realign with the widest possible forces to defeat the emerging fascist forces.