September 24, 2016

India: If Sangh isn't fascist enough for Prakash Karat, it's his problem

Daily O

If Sangh isn't fascist enough for Prakash Karat, it's his problem

Backroom parlour tricks by now mostly irrelevant CPI(M) leaders is something Indian democracy can certainly live without.

When comrade Prakash Karat decides to endorse the Sangh Parivar as an "authoritarian" entity rather than a "fascist" one, and says that they have no intention of "working for the overthrow of the bourgeois parliamentary system", he raised at least two larger questions - one of left characterisations of political orders relating to internal schisms that portend or reflect inner-party tensions, and another of the threat of fascism (or authoritarianism) that really confronts India today.
I shall address the first question first.
Comrade Karat insists that there is no fascist threat in India today; there is merely "an authoritarianism that is fuelled by a potent mix of neo-liberalism and communalism".
This, of course, could apply equally well, say, to the Left Front government in West Bengal in its last years until its spectacular collapse in 2011 (we could add casteism to the suggested mix here) - so perhaps comrade Karat needs to address the related question: "what makes the BJP not the CPI(M)?"
I doubt he knows the answer; perhaps he should ask the large numbers of CPI(M) members in West Bengal (soon to be Bengal) who defected to the BJP - that is, the ones who hadn't already defected to the Trinamool Congress.
Or perhaps the difference is that the CPI(M) didn't have the services of "the RSS, which has a semi-fascist ideology" - but what, indeed, is "semi-fascist"?
The RSS is, in fact, the longest-running non-stop fascist show in the world, the mousetrap of fascist paramilitary organisations, having been founded in 1925, and its leadership has never made a secret of its endorsement of fascist ideas: no analogies or quibbles about definitions are needed.
CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury. (Photo credit: PTI)
"The classic definition of fascism leaves no room for ambiguity. Fascism in power is 'the open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinistic and most imperialist elements of finance capital.' 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."
Ah, we should say to ourselves now, so we should wait till fascism has been established, leaving no room for ambiguity, before we fight it? Are we then to characterise fascism from its position of power and say that what we have is "not-yet-fascist" (and by the time we can agree that it is, it has arrived, we cannot effectively fight it, and it is too late)?
Do we not need instead urgently to see fascism as a mass movement of the right (as some non-party-line communists did, and as Jairus Banaji urges us to do now)?
And did not comrade Dimitrov, from whom comrade Karat selectively finds these words, also say: "The development of fascism, and the fascist dictatorship itself, assume different forms in different countries, according to historical, social and economic conditions and to the national peculiarities, and the international position of the given country"?
The thing about communist characterisations is they are also supposed to tell you what to do politically. If the rise of the BJP and the Sangh Parivar to power isn't about (Indian) capitalism in crisis inventing its own saviour in a fascist party, but merely an "authoritarian" party, then there is no need to ally with other parties against it, in the way that the Popular Front sought to mobilise all anti-fascist forces together against fascism after 1935 - when it was too late.
Italian fascism had long been triumphant, and the National Socialists had come to power in Germany by 1933, while the official Communist Party line was "class against class".
On the other hand, if the BJP is a fascist party, this would now justify alliances with other "bourgeois-democratic" parties against that fascist power. It all hinges on what the Communist Party should do.
But the CPI and the CPI(M) in India are now increasingly irrelevant: they control no trade unions, few governments, and can only celebrate a coalitional (and Popular Front) victory in a students' union election at one university.
In other words, what they choose to do, and how they characterise Indian political conditions - authoritarian, fascist, semi-fascist, or semi-circular, is of no concern to anyone but themselves.
The backroom arguments of comrades Karat and Yechury are being presented now as if they are at the core of the larger problems of Indian democracy.
By any "classic definition", then, to quote comrade Karat, these are not communist parties at all. They are not even the kind of social democratic parties despised by communists in the "class against class" years from 1928 to 1935.
What "communist" party aligns itself with its own nationalism when that nationalism is that of an oppressor? Which "communist" party regards Kashmir (or any other part of any existing state) as an "integral part" of India (or any other existing state) in defiance of any right to self-determination? Which "communist" party sells peasant land to multinational corporations? Justifies rape and murder by its cadre?
But all this is irrelevant to what is after all an academic debate based on doctrine, not really existing Communist Party practises in India. We must remember that we are dealing with arguments from a static view of history, imposed by Stalinism, and now imported from past to present without regard for context.
In rejecting a "popular front" strategy now, comrade Karat is suggesting this: if you can read today's circumstances in the light of past history, you can do the same things you did then once again.
No matter, then, that the first time round you failed. This is a strange version of the Marxian dictum of history repeating itself, as farce, parody, or slapstick.
It's ironic, in the interpretation of the "popular front" line for India in 1935, comrades PC Joshi, Victor Kiernan and Michael Carritt argued (as comrade Karat does now) that fascism was not an immediate danger in India; but as fascism was capitalism in crisis at "home", and imperialism the external manifestation of capitalism, therefore in India the popular front was to be interpreted as a popular front of bourgeois-democratic parties against imperialism.
This was soon to land the party in an awkward situation when fascism went to war with imperialism; but at the time they effectively worked around a Stalinist party line. Debates, however, continued as to what was to be done about fascism's influence and growth in India - in other words, even though fascism was not considered an immediate threat, it was not denied that fascism existed and needed to be taken seriously.
And to turn to the question of what we might be willing to consider fascism, and why we might consider it so: it is hardly to be expected that fascism today would appear to use the same forms that had been discredited after the Second World War: new positioning is necessary.
Fascist movements are not original, not ideologically consistent, and are clearer about who or what they are against than what they are for. They are also willing to improvise or to borrow popular (and populist) elements from other movements.
Fascism is not therefore to be seen as a specific European import which comes ready-made and relatively clearly formed. We need to see a "fascist repertoire" being used in different ways in new contexts.
The repertoire includes an organic and primordialist nationalism, a controlling statism that disciplines the members of the allegedly organic nation to act as, for, and in that organic (or völkisch) nation which must therefore be duly purified and preserved, purged of its non-völkisch elements.
In the service of that authentic völkisch nation, a paramilitarist national discipline is invoked; and the coherence of the repertoire is maintained by invoking a sense of continuous crisis and the potential for decay of the organic nation if that discipline and purity is not preserved.
If we would rather call this "authoritarian" than "fascist", fair enough. But we had better not forget to fight it before it is too late. At any rate, this will not be the last of what we have to say on the subject of fascism in India.


Benjamin Zachariah Benjamin Zachariah
Benjamin Zachariah is a historian at the University of Trier, Germany, and author of several books, including 'Nehru'and 'Playing the Nation Game'.