Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Spectre of Fascism

ANYONE familiar with the history of fascism will have little difficulty in characterising Narendra Modi as a fascist and the Modi led BJP bandwagon as a brazen attempt at a fascist takeover, the first such in post-independence India. Modi is the key figure behind the anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat in 2002; he is from the stable of the RSS, which, notwithstanding all protestations to the contrary, is driven by the central objective of establishing a Hindu Rashtra; and he is an indubitable communal fascist in his outlook. What is more, he is also closely linked to the leading elements of finance capital, openly promoting their agenda, which is a crucial ingredient of a fascist regime.


Fascism which begins as a petty bourgeois movement with an anti-monopoly capital rhetoric, gets progressively integrated with (and financed by) the leading monopolists who see in it a means of establishing their untrammelled hegemony over the economy, over society and over the polity. (Georgi Dimitrov in his book The United Front had in fact described it as the “open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary and revanchist sections of finance capital.”) Modi is into that phase now, pushing himself with the help of the leading elements of finance capital, and of the corporate controlled media, as the next prime minister of the country, and trying to get the approval of international finance capital for his ambition, by ingratiating himself with the American and British governments. He is for FDI in the defence sector; he advocates privatisation of public sector enterprises; and the so-called “Gujarat model of development” which he champions is marked not by any concern for the development of the people (Gujarat is way behind other states in most human development indicators), but by a carte blanche to corporates to do as they please: it is neo-liberalism without any pretensions to a human face.

He satisfies, in other words, the two key conditions that define fascism: its “class nature,” which, notwithstanding its origin as a petty bourgeois movement, is aggressively pro-big business; and its “mass nature” which derives from extreme “nationalism,” chauvinism, racism, and the conjuring up of some hapless minority as the cause of the ills that afflict people. (This “mass nature” in his case derives from rabid Hindu communalism.)

But while there will be little disagreement over the placing of Modi among the ranks of the fascists (and likewise of the Shiv Sena in its various current avataras, though collectively it has lost steam of late), questions may arise over the categorisation of another odd actor on the Indian political scene, Mamata Banerjee, and her Trinamul Congress (TMC). The fact that she is authoritarian to the core is obvious. But is she not against monopoly capitalists? Did she not oppose the entry of MNCs into multi-brand retail to the point of even walking out of the UPA government over the issue? Does she not appear to be on the same wave-length as the Left on a host of issues, notwithstanding her visceral hatred of the Left? How, then, can one place her in the same category as Modi who is the darling of monopoly capital?

Fascism, as already mentioned however, began as an anti-monopoly capital movement. Its going over to the side of monopoly capital was accompanied by a betrayal of its own original rhetoric and by a ruthless pogrom against its own rank and file: in the case of Germany the pogrom was against Ernst Rohm, at one time Hitler’s closest friend and ally, and the SA he commanded (the Nazi storm troopers), during what has come to be known as the “night of long knives.” This betrayal occurred when the Nazis acquired national political power, when the original anti-capitalist rhetoric that had served them well in opposition had to be abandoned for forging closer ties with finance capital which had financed their rise to power, and when the German army’s support, which had also helped them to power, had to be enlisted for the Nazi project, for which the SA was inadequate.


The anti-capitalist rhetoric of such political formations at some particular point of time therefore does not in itself signify much. In the case of Mamata and her TMC, there are indeed several features reminiscent of fascism. The first is the extraordinary authoritarianism, a ruthless desire not only to suppress political opponents, especially the communists, but to stifle all dissent, including from civil society at large, through the use of strong-arm measures. A symptom of this desire to stifle dissent, and hence any critical thinking, is the desire to ban student union elections, to ensure that students, who as a body constitute the most idealistic, uncorrupted and thoughtful group in society, are made to refrain from any critical political activity.

The second feature, already mentioned earlier, is a radicalism on economic issues that at the same time is opposed to working class struggles, to strike action and to workers’ rights, a radicalism that can therefore only be termed Right Radicalism. Such Right Radicalism is characteristic of fascism in opposition, at least before it comes to national power; when it does so, this Right Radicalism is replaced by a very close integration with the leading elements of finance capital. (In Germany the shift from Right Radicalism to alliance with leading coroporate groups was particularly sharp, since even Rohm’s SA had professed a certain pro-worker sympathy, supported certain strikes, and used strong arm measures on such occasions against strike breakers.)

The third feature is a total disregard not just for proprieties of public life but even for constitutional proprieties. The death of Sudipto Gupta in police custody should normally have immediately led to an inquiry deemed credible by the public at large, and neither the chief minister nor any other minister should have expressed any opinion about the cause of death until the report of the inquiry was completed. The fact of the chief minister not ordering any credible inquiry (a police inquiry into a death in police custody has zero credibility), and rushing to certify that the cause of death as mentioned in the police version was indeed the truth, is indicative of a complete lack of propriety in public life.

But this is not all. Not only is the state government engaged at present in a conflict with the State Election Commission over local body elections, but, upon the latter’s going to court for settling this conflict, has even complained that  the state government is being forced to provide funds for a legal battle against itself!

This shows a total disdain for constitutional propriety. The State Election Commission is a constitutionally rooted body, but it has naturally no income of its own, and should not have. Its expenses have to be paid for from the public exchequer, and if it needs to go to court then the expenses for its litigation have to be borne by the government, with no questions asked, and no matter who its legal opponent may be. To complain about such payment is not only to violate the constitution, but even to treat public money as if it is the private property of the state government, and to treat any expenditure of it as a largesse to be distributed at the mercy of the state government.


State governments behaving in a manner befitting the lumpen proletariat has also become quite common in India. But an understanding of the constitution on the part of a state government, which is no better than that of the lumpen proletariat, and an open airing of that understanding as if it represents the truth, is an authoritarian assault on the constitution. Such an assault, as distinct from dissatisfaction with this or that provision of the constitution and an effort to change such a provision through constitutionally legitimate ways, is a fascist trait.

The fourth feature is something that many writers, in particular writers outside the Marxist tradition, talk about, namely the centrality of one leader that is characteristic of fascism, de-emphasises institutions and rules, and permits situations where horrendous excesses are committed because of overzealous free-for-alls among lower level personnel of the fascist party or the state. (Some have even blamed the holocaust of the Nazi era to this complete undermining of institutions under the weight of the so-called charisma of the “Fuehrer.”) And in contemporary West Bengal, the absolute centrality of one individual is obvious, so much so that several prominent personalities of the TMC were on television in the wake of the death of Sudipto Gupta, defending the utterly thoughtless and tasteless remarks made by the “leader” about that heart-rending incident.

Notwithstanding these significant characteristics, however, the fact remains that the distance of that regime from monopoly capital has not yet been bridged, and also that no extreme chauvinism against any particular minority social group has yet been invoked by it for buttressing its “mass” nature. It may represent fascism in the making, or proto-fascism, or fascism before the “night of long knives,” but not yet full-fledged fascism backed by monopoly capital.

But then this whole exercise of categorising individual leaders and parties, of assessing whether they are fascist or not, may be a pointless one. Given the nature of the Indian polity, a political party and its leader in a particular state may well come in handy for a fascist dispensation wielding power at the national level, and act as its junior partner, complicit in its criminality but not necessarily identical in nature. Its credentials in suppressing the communists would commend it to such a fascist dispensation at the centre, and it would be expected to continue with what fascists would consider this “good work” for a certain sum of money which finance capital would not mind expending for the purpose. In other words, even when an outfit is not necessarily classically fascist, it can well serve the purpose of a fascist central government by being in power at the state level, if it uses that power for suppressing the Left. It is this spectre of fascism looming on the horizon that the Left has to struggle against.

Prabhat Patnaik പീപ്പിള്‍സ് ഡെമോക്രസി 14 ഏപ്രില്‍ 2013

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