The real obstacle to understanding, or even recognizing, contemporary fascism alas is the memory of the 1930s. The fact that we have fascists in power in India, at the helm of a liberal bourgeois State, is indubitable: the RSS, which they belong to and swear by, has made no secret of its admiration for classical fascism. But we do not have a classical fascist State, and are not moving towards it at break-neck speed, as the Nazis in power had effected. This is what makes many people question whether we are at all confronting fascism. From the prism of the 1930s it would appear that we are not.
But contemporary fascism must necessarily be different from the 1930s because of a basic difference in context. The fascism of the 1930s emerged in a world where different nation-based finance capitals were engaged in intense rivalry; today we have globalized or international finance capital under whose hegemony such rivalries do not exist. This has two implications: first, the ability of any particular nation-State, even a fascist State, to overcome the economic crisis that spawns fascism in the first place, is limited, unlike in the 1930s when German and Japanese fascist-States had overcome the Depression in their countries through borrowing-financed military expenditure. This is because, with relatively free cross-border financial flows today, borrowing-financed State expenditure, which globalized finance dislikes, would cause a capital flight from the country, nipping any such recovery in the bud. (The U.S. is one possible exception to this because the dollar is considered “as good as gold” by the world’s wealth-holders). Secondly, inter-power rivalry leading to a war unleashed by fascism, which burns itself in the process, is also out: globalized finance does not like any break-up of the world into warring powers.
Contemporary fascism therefore can neither proceed headlong into erecting a fascist State (since its social base would still be limited), nor exhaust itself through war. It threatens to be a lingering phenomenon, a state of “permanent fascism”, through which, with the fascists getting periodically into and out of power, there would be a progressive fascification of society, with even its opponents pusillanimously borrowing from its programme (as with the “soft Hindutva” of the Congress), unless it is overcome by transcending the very conjuncture that produces it. What is required therefore is both a recognition of its reality as fascism, and an appropriately innovative way of combating it.
The former should not be difficult once we stop insisting upon an exact congruence with 1930s fascism, complete with its Concentration Camps. The glorification of a muscular hyper-nationalism that sets the “nation” above the people (which is the diametrical opposite of the inclusive, people-centric anti-imperialist nationalism that informed our freedom struggle); the identification of this so-called “nation” with the government and the “Leader”, so that all dissent is treated as anti-national, seditious, and synonymous with terrorism; the unleashing of a combination of lynch-mobs and State repression (through UAPA arrests, and CBI cases in addition to the conventional instruments), not to mention “troll” armies, to terrorize and silence opponents; the close union between the State and the corporate-financial oligarchy (Mussolini, one must remember, had defined fascism as a “fusion of Corporate and State power”); the targeting of a hapless minority as the “enemy within”; the obliteration of any distinction between mythology and history, between science and prejudice, and between “fact” and fiction; and the general disparaging of all intellectual activity: these characteristics of fascism are amply evident in India today.
The counter-revolution that fascism invariably unleashes has particularly obnoxious implications in India’s case, since, while scuttling democracy and freedoms, it would re-furbish traditional caste-hierarchy and caste-oppression, which had been somewhat undermined by the combined onslaught of the anti-colonial struggle and the social emancipation movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It would push us back by centuries; it must be resisted.
Opposition unity, in any form that prevents a split in votes, is absolutely essential for this; but while such unity would unseat the fascists from the position of power they currently occupy, which would be a good thing, it would not change the conjuncture that produces fascism today. This conjuncture is one of neo-liberalism at a dead-end.
The glorification of a nationalism that places the “nation” above the people, demands sacrifices from the people for a “nation” whose supposed interests (such as high GDP growth or rapid capital accumulation) are best served by appeasing the corporate-financial oligarchy, and hence makes people subservient to the interests of this oligarchy, had already characterized metropolitan capitalism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (whence Rudolf Hilferding’s remark that the ideology of finance capital is the “glorification of the national idea”). It had already appeared in India in the neo-liberal era marked by the hegemony of the corporate-financial oligarchy. But with the crisis of neo-liberalism it is virulently promoted with the additional help of the Hindutva forces to ward off any threats to corporate hegemony. A corporate-communal alliance thus comes into being, even as the economic distress of the working people keeps getting aggravated.
If this conjuncture is to be changed, if 2019, even if it sees an unseating of the Hindutva forces from power, is not to result merely in putting the clock back so that these forces again come back to power the next time around, then opposition unity must be around a minimum agenda of action. This must of course include a scrapping of UAPA (under which innocent Muslim youths are arrested and jailed for years, their lives irreparably damaged), a scrapping of the sedition law, stringent measures against lynch-mobs, enforcing minimum ethical standards on the media, reining in the CBI so that it ceases to be a tool in government hands for settling scores, ridding universities and other academic and cultural institutions of the incubus of Hindutva-fascism so that they once again become sites of free discourse; and other such measures of damage-repair. In addition however it must both address the growing economic distress of the working people and strengthen the notion of common citizenship, by instituting a set of fundamental economic rights, among which I would list at least the following five: right to food, right to employment, right to free publicly-funded universal healthcare of quality through a National Health Service, right to free universal publicly-funded quality education, and right to adequate old-age pension and disability benefits. These measures should not cost more than 10 percent of the GDP, which a 4 percent Wealth Tax (such a tax no longer even exists in India) on the wealth of just the top 1 percent of households, should be quite adequate to finance.
Of course there will be specific measures for the different classes, such as reviving the market intervention role of Commodity Boards, restoring the profitability of agriculture, enforcing a minimum living wage, strengthening trade union rights, and such like. But the strengthening of “citizenship” through economic rights enjoyed by all, irrespective of caste, community, gender and other identities, will mark a sea-change. All these rights may not be introduced immediately; but some must be, while others follow over time. The immediate institution of even some rights would already help other objectives: an NHS for instance can generate much employment through “care work”.
The task of achieving opposition unity to defeat fascism is therefore even more complex than mere seat-sharing. The Left alone can take the lead in achieving this task, for at least three reasons: first, of all the forces in the country it is the one most implacably opposed to fascism (which the fascists themselves implicitly concede while dubbing all their opponents “Left”); second, it alone sees the link between neo-liberalism and fascism, or more generally understands the political economy of the rise of fascism, and hence can think beyond an opposition unity based merely on seat-sharing (important though that is); and third, in principle at any rate, what matters for the Left is not “Party interest” but “people’s interest” for which the Party can sacrifice its own perceived immediate interest. (And people’s interest now requires above all the overcoming of fascism).
Communism was primarily responsible for the defeat of classical fascism, one of its enduring historic contributions. Communism again has to rise to its historic responsibility and defeat contemporary fascism. I have no doubts that it will. Even on the earlier occasion it had been tardy in gathering itself for this historic task. Its current tardiness therefore should not make us think that it would not discharge its historic responsibility.
(This article was originally published in The Wire on October 9, 2018)