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India: Identifying today’s forms of fascism mediated by cultural-religious ideology

Saturday 17 September 2016, by siawi3

Source: https://sabrangindia.in/article/stalin%E2%80%99s-ghost-won%E2%80%99t-save-us-spectre-fascism-response-prakash-karat

Stalin’s Ghost Won’t Save Us from the Spectre of Fascism: A Response to Prakash Karat

Written by Jairus Banaji

Published on: September 12, 2016

While all authoritarianisms are not fascist, all fascisms are a form of authoritarianism. What is distinctive about fascist authoritarianism is its appeal to forms of mass mobilisation and attempt to create sources of legitimacy among ‘the masses’ – through cultural (e.g. pseudo-religious) and ideological domination

In The Indian Express (September 6, 2016) Prakash Karat, former general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has an opinion piece defending the BJP against its characterisation by sections of the Left in India as the external face of a fascist movement driven by the RSS and its vision of a non-secular, Hindu state. The threat that is sweeping through India today is one of authoritarianism, not fascism, he argues. Nor are the conditions present for a fascist regime to be established, even though a ‘determined effort is being made to reorder society and polity on Hindutva lines’. The crux of Karat’s argument is a conception of fascism lifted straight from the famous formula adopted by the Comintern’s executive committee in December 1933. “Fascism is the open, terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinist and most imperialist elements of finance capital”.

Why is it that every time mention is made of Prakash Karat powerful images of rigor mortis rush through my brain? Is it because the young student leader from JNU days always impressed me as the pure type of the apparatchik, the social type that flooded the Communist Party of the Soviet Union by the late 1920s, swamped it as the emerging base of Stalin’s rapid consolidation of power within the party and then in the country as a whole?

The apparatchik destroyed Lenin’s party but he couldn’t discard Marxism completely. He adapted to Marxism by converting it into a draw full of rubber stamps. Incapable of thought, much less of any more creative process like actual intellectual engagement, the building of theory, unfettered debate, etc., he (for we are dealing overwhelmingly with males) opened the draw to look for the right stamp every time some phrase or expression triggered a signal.

Photo: Stalin with Dimitrov

‘Fascism’, ah yes, what does the stamp say? It had Georgi Dimitrov’s name on it. A definition of fascism first adopted by the executive committee of the Communist International at the end of 1933 became famously associated with Stalin’s favourite Dimitrov when it was taken over and circulated more widely in his report to the Seventh World Congress in 1935. This is the one I’ve cited in the preamble above, ‘Fascism is the open terrorist dictatorship (etc.)’. It rapidly became orthodoxy on the Stalinist Left, the ‘official’ line on fascism.

Karat reiterates it with a profound sense of loyalty and timelessness, citing it in the Indian Express piece. The implication here, of course, is that nothing that has been said or written about fascism since 1933–1935 has any relevance for him. We have gained not a whit (in understanding, knowledge, analysis and so on) since those (pre-Holocaust!) years. Do we have a better understanding of fascism today? Obviously not as far as Karat is concerned. That definition is ‘classic’, as he says. ‘Classic’ here means cut in stone, impermeable to argument, eternally true like some truth of logic. As Karat says, there is ‘no room for ambiguity’ here.

The Comintern had deliberately narrowed the definition to ‘finance capital’ to allow other sections of the capitalist class to join the fight against fascism once Stalin decided he desperately needed alliances (‘Popular Fronts’) with all manner of parties regardless of who they represented. For Karat the reference to ‘finance capital’ suffices. It sums up the essence of fascism, and fascism for him is simply a state form, a type of regime that breaks decisively with democracy (‘bourgeois’ democracy).

The response to this is simple: how did such a state emerge in the first place? Fascism must have existed in some form other than a state for it to become a state? Since Karat stopped reading Marxism decades ago, it may be worth rehearsing some of this for him. Before fascism succeeds as a state it exists as a movement. And fascism only succeeds in seizing power because it first succeeds as a mass movement.

The question the revolutionary Left simply failed to address in the twenties and thirties (with a handful of exceptions such the German Marxist Arthur Rosenberg and the psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich) was why fascists are able to build mass movements. How do they create a mass base for the parties they form? As soon as we frame the issue in these terms (breaking with Karat’s myopic fascination with end results), the problem itself becomes a practical one. We have to look at the specific techniques used to generate mass support. We have to ask also how this ‘mass’ that fascism creates and dominates differs from, say, the social forces that Marx saw driving revolutionary movements forward.

To suggest that fascism is largely or entirely about ‘finance capital’, that a handful of bankers could have created the fascist movements in Germany and Italy shows how detached dogma can become from reality when it ignores the formation of culture and looks simply at the economy as a force that affects politics without mediations of any sort.

To suggest that fascism is largely or entirely about ‘finance capital’, that a handful of bankers could have created the fascist movements in Germany and Italy shows how detached dogma can become from reality when it ignores the formation of culture and looks simply at the economy as a force that affects politics without mediations of any sort.

Anti-Semitism, racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, Islamism, Hindutva, patriarchy, male violence, caste oppression, militarism, and (not least!) nationalism then become basically irrelevant; window-dressing on a beast (capitalism) that works in some purely economic way, as if the ‘formation of the authoritarian structure’ (Reich) which has everything to do with how reactionary ideologies come about in the wider reaches of civil society is not a process every bit as material as the economy.

What does Karat think he is debating? Is there anyone on the Left who claims that we are currently in the throes of a full-blown Hindu Rashtra in India, that the machinery of the law lies in ruins, that the media, servile as they are, have been taken over and remoulded by a self-defining Hindu state, that trade unions have been abolished, opposition parties banned, active opponents rounded up and murdered? That would be India’s counterpart of a fascist state.

On the other hand, is there anyone (on the Left especially) who is naive enough to think that there is no danger of any of this? That the rampant cultures of communalism, attacks on minorities and repeated violence against them (this includes unlawful detention) are not being used (consciously used) as tools of fascist mobilisation of a spurious ‘Hindu majority’? That the Indian state has not been extensively infiltrated by the RSS at all levels, even down to the vice-chancellorship of JNU?

That the Gujarat cases had to be transferred out of the state of Gujarat by the Supreme Court, no less, speaks volumes for the court’s view of the shamelessly compromised state of the justice system in Gujarat under Modi’s government there. That the mass violence against Muslims in Gujarat became pivotal to the consolidation of Modi’s support-base in the state and then rapidly in other parts of India, leading to his emergence as prime minister; that Modi financed his campaign for power with the explicit backing of big business groups who were looking for a ‘decisive’ leader; that nationalism is now being used to whip up hysteria among the middle classes to try and justify the repeated use of charges like ‘sedition’ and justify attacks on freedom of speech, thought and politics; that the Right-wing in India has repositioned itself in the more totalising and utterly sinister discourse of ‘nation’ and ‘nationalism’ to create the absurd sense of an Indian Volksgemeinschaft and construct definitions of the other as ‘anti-national’, a sort of fifth column of the nation’s enemies… if none of this reminds us of the way fascism emerges and builds itself up historically, then we have no memory, and certainly not a historical one.

“India today confronts the advance of an authoritarianism…”, Karat argues, wanting to distinguish this from fascism. The issue surely is what form of authoritarianism we are up against in India today. While all authoritarianisms are not fascist, all fascisms are a form of authoritarianism. What is distinctive about fascist authoritarianism is its appeal to forms of mass mobilisation and attempt to create sources of legitimacy among ‘the masses’ – through cultural (e.g. pseudo-religious) and ideological domination.

’The political struggle against the BJP cannot be conducted in alliance with the other major party of the ruling classes’. This of course reflects a major rift within the CPI(M) itself and may well be Karat’s way of posturing for control of loyalties in the web of factional conflicts that have characterised the party for years.

This is why Hindutva becomes a marker of something more sinister than just authoritarian politics. In Karat’s mental map, as I said, culture and ideology play no major role; they are simply tools to divide people to allow those in power to implement what he sees as the truly dangerous agenda of ‘neo-liberalism’. They are a sort of sideshow, pure excrescences on a largely economic programme where capital remains the chief instrumentality.

Karat agrees that the RSS has a “semi-fascist ideology (and) the potential to impose an authoritarian state on the people when it believes that circumstances warrant it”. Why ‘semi-fascist’? What is its other half? When Golwalkar praised the extermination of the Jews as a possible model for the way a future Hindu state might want to deal with its minorities, was he being ‘semi-fascist’? Is the growing culture of intolerance and forcible suppression of political views the BJP finds abrasive ‘semi-fascist’?

And the qualification ‘when it believes the circumstances warrant it’? How do people at large tell the RSS has finally come around to that belief? That it has so decided? The answer, alas, as with so much of the immobile Left, is – when it’s too late!

The German film director Alexander Kluge calls this approach to history and politics ‘Learning Processes With a Deadly Outcome’. If that mum with her three kids in the basement of this house in Halberstadt on 8 April 1945 had fought the Nazis in 1928 and millions of others like her had done the same, she wouldn’t be there now, on this dreadful day in April, sheltering from a fleet of 200 American bombers that will, in seconds, wipe out her entire town.

If Stalin and the Comintern hadn’t worked overtime to sabotage the possibility of a United Front between the German Communists and the Social Democrats and the two parties had fought fascism with combined strength; if the Left in Germany had campaigned more consistently and vigorously against anti-Semitism than it ever did and started those campaigns much earlier; if feminism had been a stronger force in German society and the patriarchal/authoritarian order less firmly entrenched in German families… and so on and so forth.

Learning processes that shape history, that affect its outcome, are those that strive consciously to learn the lessons that generate a politics that preserves and affirms life against the ‘deadly outcome’. Do we wake up one morning and say, India’s fascism was ‘majoritarian communalism’ after all!!

“The political struggle against the BJP cannot be conducted in alliance with the other major party of the ruling classes”. This of course reflects a major rift within the CPI(M) itself and may well be Karat’s way of posturing for control of loyalties in the web of factional conflicts that have characterised the party for years. So why was the CPI(M) in alliance with that ‘other major party of the ruling class’ in the first place?

The alliance broke over a nuclear deal with the US but doubtless no similar deal with Putin would have occasioned a major crisis of that sort. Since the United Front has come up and Karat prefers the safety of a ’Third Period’ position (short of calling the Congress, a former ally, ‘social fascist’; ’Third Period’ refers to the politics of the Comintern in the period of widespread economic collapse that was said to have started in 1928), perhaps we can leave him with Nehru’s more Marxist grasp of this issue than he himself seems to have:

“It is, of course, absurd to say that we will not co-operate with or compromise with others. Life and politics are much too complex for us always to think in straight lines. Even the implacable Lenin said that ‘to march forward without compromise, without turning from the path’ was ‘intellectual childishness and not the serious tactics of a revolutionary class’. Compromises there are bound to be, and we should not worry too much about them. But whether we compromise or refuse to do so, what matters is that primary things should come first always and secondary things should never take precedence over them. If we are clear about our principles and objectives, temporary compromises will not harm…” (Nehru, An Autobiography p. 613).

There is a constant sense in Karat’s opinion piece that neo-liberalism is as dangerous if not more dangerous than communalism. But this is a senseless position. To the extent that communalism leads to a fascist transformation of the state, it deprives working people of any basis for resisting capitalist onslaughts. Neo-liberalism disarms the working class economically, destroying its cohesion in an industrial, economic sense. Racism, communalism and nationalism (all nationalism, not just what Karat calls ‘chauvinist’ nationalism) do the same in more insidious ways, destroying the possibility of the working class ever acquiring a sense of its own solidarity and of what it really is.

The writer is a well-known historian and Marxist intellectual.