“Fascism is not defined by the number of its victims, but by the way it kills them” – Jean Paul Sartre
There has been a debate for the last several decades on whether it is appropriate to term the offensive of Indian ruling classes against Indian masses as fascism, given its Italian and German connotations. There are certainly undeniable differences between the inter-war context of fascism and the present, but I would like to argue that the essential conditions which gave rise to fascism in Italy, Germany and elsewhere are similar to Indian economy and society today and ruling class response is also similar.
Fascism is essentially a ruling class response to the imminent or ongoing crisis in any society. The crisis may occur fundamentally in economy and get reflected in society, politics, culture and governance. Gradually the symptoms of crisis become apparent in all walks of life as the crisis becomes all pervasive. As the crisis deepens and gets more and more visible, the state and ruling classes cannot but indulge in fascist policies to address and attempt to crush the crisis. They will not be able to resolve the crisis and hence indulge in fascist methods to divert the people from the crisis, and use violence to silence all the dissenters. Beginning with Italy in 1920s to India of 2010s, the ruling class response to crisis has always been fascism. Of course, there are some differences as well as some similarities between the fascist rulers, depending on time, space and the personal traits of the fascist leaders.
There have been a number of studies on fascism as it appeared in the 20th century as well as in the present day. Here we do not have sufficient time to make a comparative study between various types of fascism and I would like to restrict myself to three issues: the economic scenario of crisis that is spreading, the fascist offensive as a result of the economic and social crisis and the tasks of progressive and revolutionary forces in the face of the growing fascist offensive.
While the existence of class society itself is a crisis, a number of developments on the way exacerbate the crisis. We do not have time to go far into the past history but the crisis of Indian society since the colonial times is very well documented. As the colonialists transferred power to a section of the feudal, big bourgeois and comprador ruling classes in 1947 the crisis entered a new phase. The collusion between imperialism and feudalism gave rise to a continuing crisis, which can be termed in political economy terms as semifeudal and semicolonial society, which is crisis-ridden. This society could not complete the tasks of a bourgeois democratic revolution to fulfill the genuine anti-feudal aspirations of the people and stagnated in its semifeudal stage. The old colonial rule of one imperialist power was replaced by neo colonial plunder by several imperialist powers thus making it a semicolony. From a land ruled by one power on which sun never sets, India was turned into a land ruled by MNCs on whom sun never sets. This actually is the real crisis and to hoodwink people from this real crisis and prevent them from a search for real solutions, the Indian ruling classes needed fascism. As the people’s discontent grew in both quantitative and qualitative terms, state began using fascist offensive, roughly from the late-1960s. Simultaneously, as a response to the crisis and also on the directions of the international financial agencies, Indian ruling classes began following Liberalization – Privatization – Globalization policies from the early-1980s which became the order of the day in 1991. Thus by the time Sangh Parivar took the reins of power in 2014, India was already neck deep in experiencing crisis and the ruling class responses in the form of fascist suppression and integration with globalizing forces.
The following five years of Sangh Parivar rule has witnessed further aggravation of the economic crisis, which can be seen in various sectors such as agriculture, industry and services. The government’s attempts to ostensibly address the situation in fact led to further exacerbation of the crisis, as each of the attempts was aimed at protecting the interests of both feudal and imperialist forces and their compradors.
The fact that Indian agriculture is going through a severe crisis does not need any elaboration as it is quite palpable. The ever increasing number of farmers’ suicides, growing input costs, stagnation in real price farmers get for their output, agriculture becoming unremunerative for small and middle peasants, more and more land being diverted to non agrarian sector, particularly real estate, new legislations and policies to snatch land away from the real farmers and giving it away to corporate firms, unemployment and underemployment are a few symptoms of the larger agrarian crisis. The so-called palliative measures announced by the governments like Minimum Support Price and Fasal Bima Yojana are either insufficient or beneficial to the vested interests but not to the real farmers. If the agrarian sector in a country where 70 per cent people depend on it is experiencing such a severe crisis, that actually means that the entire country is in crisis. This large crisis in base naturally spills over to superstructure sectors and that’s why we are witnessing crises in society, politics, culture, governance, education, religion, arts and literature.
Then if we look at the industrial sector, it also shows up several symptoms of severe crisis like stagnation in manufacturing sector, meager share of formal sector, more and more dominance of MNCs, more penetration of FDI and FPI, growing share of footloose capital and stringent labour laws. Service sector, though demonstrating double digit growth and bandied in high decibel propaganda, its benefits to MNCs, its nature of volatility, its jobless growth and unreliable jobs and uselessness of a larger part of the services to the real needs of people show its unsustainable nature.
Put together, these three elements of Indian economy are giving us a picture of an all-pervasive crisis and most visible aspect of this crisis is unemployment. The government under Narendra Modi has implemented demonetization and GST in this scenario and involved itself in various corrupt practices including banking scams and Rafale deal. Each of these policies and practices have directly or indirectly impacted the employment scene in the country by not creating new employment opportunities and throwing existing employees out of jobs. Thus a significant portion of India’s working population is without work and as the proverb goes, “their hands are empty to work or to hold guns”. The ruling classes that cannot provide work and afraid of them taking guns, are trying to stuff their minds with fear and hatred, thus leading to fascism. In any country there has been a direct correlation between the rise of unemployment and the rise of fascism. India exactly fits into that unemployment-fascism model
This all pervasive crisis is so widespread that even the government statistics of growth rates, averages, GDP and per capita, FDI inflows, balance of trade, investment-GDP ratio, wealth generation, growing number of billionaires are unable to cover the actual crisis that is ready to explode anytime.
Thus the obtaining reality of Indian economy or society is that of crisis, getting manifested in inequality, poverty, regional imbalances, unemployment leading to discontent, unrest and rebellion. In classical sense a crisis is defined as a situation where old is dying and new is yet to take birth. This interregnum gives out morbid symptoms like fascism. Classical analysts equated fascism that emerged in Italy and Germany with growing corporatism and spread of an environment of hatred and fear. As people suffer from everyday problems in social and individual life, they are prevented to go to the root causes of the problems, but forced to identify or accuse some “problem makers’ and to hate and annihilate them.
Fascists try to use this kind of volatile, explosive situation with two strategies: One, trying to fool people with attractive slogans, false prejudices as well as creating scapegoats. Two, using violent methods to silence dissenters. The fascist rulers in India just copied these strategies from the fascist textbook and adhered to same strategies. Narendra Modi in particular and all Sangh Parivar leaders in general expressed attractive slogans like Achchedin, Sab ka sath sab ka vikas, Make in India, Stand up India, Start up India, Minimum government and maximum governance and pronouncements against corruption (Na khaaungaa, na khaane deoonga) and at the same time created several scapegoats and enemies like Muslims, Dalits, Adivasis, women and Urban Naxals. After creating such enemies, the next logical step is using violence against them. In Italy and Germany also, “problem makers” were identified as Jews, workers, socialists and communists and in India they are Muslims, Dalits, Adivassi, women and Urban Naxals. In other words all those who think and critical towards the ruling class policies and practices are termed as anti nationals or enemies.
In fact, in this respect the present Indian brand of fascism is similar to both Italian and German types of fascism. In Italy under Benitto Mussolini also dissent and criticism are treated equivalent to treason. Mussolini in 1934 categorically asked to “end intellectualizing” and said “intellectuals are a threat to nation”. Italian state infamously wanted “to stop the brain (of Antonio Gramsci) functioning”. In Germany, Adolf Hitler also gave importance to “heart, faith and inner voice” than intelligence. In present day India, thinkers and public intellectuals are either killed, like Govind Pansare, Narendra Dabholkar, M M Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh or imprisoned, like in the case of G N Saibaba and others in Gadchiroli case, Sudha Bharadwaj, Shoma Sen, Varavara Rao, Surendra Gadling, Sudhir Dhawle, Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira and Mahesh Raut in Bhima Koregaon violence case. Muslims like Aqlak and Dalits like Una victims and Adivasis of central Indian forests and women all over India are being subjected to the fascist offensive. It is no coincidence that all these targets of fascism in India are actually the targets of Brahminical Hindutva. The new term, originally coined by the failed film maker and Sanghi Vivek Agnihotri, has become the buzzword for Indian fascists.
Since fascism is associated with a higher stage of capitalism, there are some scholars who hesitate to treat Indian brand as fascism per se. But I think some of the essential characteristic of capitalism and Brahminical Hindutva resemble each other and with the collusion of finance capital and feudalism in India, globalised corporatism and Hindutva under Modi, it becomes easier for this mixture turning venomous and violent. The similarity is in the capitalism’s insistence on invisible hand of the market and Hindutva’s invisible, omnipresent hand of god. The fatalism and immutability preached by capitalism and fatalism of karma and rebirth preached by Hindutva are similar. Capitalism divides people and breeds hierarchy and Hindutva is also known not only for its division and regimented hierarchy of caste but brutal discrimination and oppression. The greed for expansion is also similar in capitalism and Hindutva. Thus Brahminical Hindutva can easily and comfortably breed fascism developed on capitalist corporatism elsewhere. The collusion of feudalism and imperialism in its finance capital stage in India is a fertile ground for the growth of fascism in its ugliest forms and that’s what we are seeing under Modi’s regime.
Beginning from Georgi Dimitrov’s days, a lot has been said about the only option before the progressive sections of society, that is setting up a broad anti-fascist united front and during the World War II that experiment was successfully undertaken. I think in Indian context at the present, we have again entered such a phase and we should use all our resources to build such an anti-fascist united front as broadly as possible, postponing all our minor differences to a later date. To my mind, a broad anti-feudal and anti-imperialist perspective alone should guide us in this mobilization. To mobilize and strengthen this front, I think we can use as many forums as possible from our personal one-to-one conversations to drawing room discussions to expressions of art and literature to seminars and meetings to demonstrations to fights on streets to counter offensive.
I would like to remind you that in similar times, Gramsci said “to tell the truth is revolutionary” and now is the time to be revolutionary. I would also like to remind you Brecht who said Hitler’s lies forced him to write poetry and he wrote about dark times. Friends, we are indeed listening to the blatant lies of Adolf Modi and all his followers day in and day out and it is our duty to expose those lies. We are really living in dark times and it is our imperative task to speak and write denouncing the dark times and become a part of any decisive act to overthrow the dark times. Thank you.
(Based on the speech delivered at the All India Convention against Fascist Offensive in New Delhi on February 21, 2019)