By P.M.S. Grewal
A few weeks ago, CPI(M) leader Prakash Karat wrote a brief article in the Indian Express that assessed the character of the RSS and the BJP. He argued that the BJP is not capable of fascism because the conditions that would require the ‘terroristic dictatorship of finance capital’ – as the Communist International put it – do not exist. At the Sabrang website, historian Jairus Banaji responded tartly, saying that indeed the BJP-RSS is a fascist ensemble. Joining the debate then was LeftWord Books chief editor Vijay Prashad, who responded to Banaji’s tone, and Newsclick’s Prabir Purkayastha, who pushed the idea that building a mass movement is a more important thrust than the question of electoral alliances.
In an editorial, the Indian Express belittled this discussion. For the editors, who had initially run Karat’s essay, the discussion showed how ‘disconnected CPI(M) is’. But the editors fail to see how significant this discussion is for the strategy and tactics of the Indian Left. This is a democratic debate about how to assess the ruling bloc and what alliances are made necessary by that assessment. It is, therefore, fitting that we – at the LeftWord Books blog – return to this theme with an important essay by CPI(M) Central Committee member PMS Grewal.
Grewal has written an important book for LeftWord Books – published in 2007 – Bhagat Singh: Liberation’s Blazing Star. It is a salute to an extraordinarily heroic figure of the Indian national liberation struggle. Bhagat Singh knew about fascism, about State terror and about the need to theoretically question one’s assessment and one’s strategy and tactics. This is the meat of his Jail Notebook, published by LeftWord Books in 2007 (edited by Chaman Lal, who had the last post on our blog).
The picture that accompanies this essay is of the Communist Party of Germany’s building – the Karl-Liebknecht Haus – during the rise of fascism. The comrades of the KPD covered their office with anti-fascist slogans. They knew their enemy and fought it with as much courage as possible. For an excellent introduction to the question of fascism, see the LeftWord Books fascism reader edited by Shaswati Mazumdar and Margit Koves – Resistible Rise.
Is Fascism Imminent? by P.M.S. Grewal
Over the past few months, several Left and liberal intellectuals have been criticizing the Left, especially the CPI(M) for not taking the initiative to form a united front of all Left and secular parties including the Congress to face up to the communal challenge posed by the BJP. They argue that victory of the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections in 2014 has resulted in a situation in which fascism is virtually knocking at the door. This viewpoint is not entirely without basis in objective reality. The fascistic character of the RSS, whose political arm is the BJP, cannot be denied. The Sangh Parivar attacks minorities and Dalits under different pretexts, attempts to create communal polarization for electoral benefit, and purveys obscurantist and reactionary ideas. The RSS-BJP does not hold the levers of state power lightly. It has backed fully the agenda of the ruling class. The BJP government has determinedly pushed to implement neo-liberal policies, it has tried to curb trade union and democratic rights, and it has attempted to topple opposition-led state governments. From all this, it may appear that fascism is imminent. This understanding is, however, erroneous, as we shall argue below.
Let us first address the issue of what constitutes fascism. There is a trend among many intellectuals that dubs any form of authoritarianism as being fascist. For Marxists, fascism is a specific form of the dictatorship of capital that requires a specific set of circumstances to come into being. Thus the Programme of the Communist International (CI) described fascism as being, ‘the most terroristic dictatorship of finance capital’. The essential preconditions for its coming into being were identified as, ‘the inability of the bourgeoisie to stabilize and perpetuate its rule’ through the system of parliamentary democracy in the face of ‘the constant menace of mass proletarian action’.
The Communist International framed its thesis on fascism with the experience of German and Italian fascism in mind. They were able to adequately capture the essence of this European experience.
In the post-World War II period, there are primarily two examples of fascist regimes – Indonesia and Chile. Their experience, however, does not dovetail entirely to the thesis of the CI on fascism. Thus these countries did not have a developed monopoly bourgeoisie like that of Germany or Italy. Nor can it be denied that imperialism played the key role in the ushering in of fascist regimes in both these countries. Despite these dissimilarities, the essential aspects of the CI’s thesis are upheld by the experience of both Indonesia and Chile.
The Indonesian Communist Party was the biggest Communist Party in Asia after the Communist Party of China. It had a huge mass base and a widespread and growing influence. This was seen as being a threat by both imperialism and substantial sections of the Indonesian bourgeoisie. The successes of the Communists in other parts of East and South-East Asia further aggravated this threat perception. These factors lay behind the massacre of over one million Communists and sympathisers by the Indonesian army with the help of the CIA in 1965 and the imposition of a fascist regime in Indonesia.
In Chile, a government consisting of Communists and Socialists had come into power through elections in 1970. This government attacked interests of the indigenous ruling classes and imperialism by nationalising the capital of multinational corporations and taking steps to make peasants owners of the land. It also had close relations with socialist Cuba. It is because of this that imperialism and the Chilean ruling classes conspired to overthrow President Allende and imposed a fascist regime headed by General Pinochet in 1973 which massacred thousands of Communists, Socialists and liberals besides depriving the people of all democratic rights and civil liberties for a prolonged period of time.
The CI’s thesis on fascism was formulated in the 1930s. International experience since then dictates that factors like the role of imperialism, the establishment of fascist regimes in countries that did not have a developed monopoly bourgeoisie, the varied ideological moorings of fascistic trends ranging from communalism of the RSS in India to the racist underpinnings of the extreme Right in several European countries must be kept in mind while assessing the dangers of fascism in any country today.
The most crucial aspects of the Communist International’s understanding about the character of fascism and the conditions necessary for it to succeed remain valid. Fascism, whether in advanced capitalism or in the third world, can be nothing but the ‘most terroristic dictatorship of capital’. Similarly, the presence of a tangible class challenge and therefore the inability of the bourgeoisie to advance its interests through parliamentary democracy remain essential conditions for the advent of fascism. In other words, the post-World War II experience, far from negating the Communist International’s thesis on fascism, tends to confirm its key aspects, often with a vengeance, as in Indonesia and Chile.
The above-mentioned conditions necessary for the advent of fascism do not obtain in India today. Despite the inherent and recurrent crises of the capitalist path of development embarked upon by it, the Indian bourgeoisie is able to defend and further its interests via the existing parliamentary system and the class challenge to it is yet not of the magnitude that threatens its vital interests. Why then should it opt for fascism? In other words, even if it is presumed that the RSS-BJP desires a fascist or fascistic regime this is not the class requirement of the ruling class today. As experience shows, it is the ruling class that ultimately calls the shots. Thus, the lifting of the Emergency by Indira Gandhi in 1977 was at least partly brought about by the growing opposition to this authoritarian regime from within the ruling classes. The secular and democratic nature of the majority of the Indian people and the diversity and plurality of Indian society in terms of language, culture, identity, and ethnicity also provide objective roadblocks in the way of the fascist project. While there is a definite increase in both communal and authoritarian attacks and tendencies since the advent of the BJP government at the centre, these by themselves cannot be seen as having ushered in or been in the process of ushering in a fascist or even a fascistic dispensation. This is not a matter of semantics, but one that has a crucial bearing on the tactics to be pursued by the Left.
Accepting the line of ‘imminence of fascism’ today means that the CPI(M) as the biggest Left party should take the initiative to forge a ‘United Front’ of all secular parties including the Congress and pit them against the RSS-BJP. Contrary to what is believed, this does not help the struggle against communalism that is seen by proponents of this line as the main manifestation of the ‘looming fascist threat’ in India. It involves inherently, a go-slow on the struggle against neo-liberal policies of ruling class parties and their governments. This, in turn, implies that mass discontent arising out of the ill effects of these policies will not be garnered by the Left, leaving the field open for RSS-BJP to mobilize it around communal and divisive slogans. The very limited presence of the Left in the Hindi speaking states (in which communal forces are relatively stronger), makes matters worse. Sectarian division within workers and other toilers weaken the struggle against communalism. It adversely impacts the struggle against neo-liberal economic policies as well because any effective opposition to these policies requires the strongest and widest unity of the toiling masses.
Rejection of the ‘barbarian at the gates’ thesis by the CPI(M) does not mean underestimating the serious communal challenge in any way. Thus the Political Resolution of its 21st Congress of the CPI(M) states that ‘The Party has to fight against the BJP and Modi government’s policies. This is the main task at hand. This requires a concerted opposition to the Modi government’s economic policies and its Hindutva-oriented social, educational and cultural policies. The Party has to conduct a political-ideological struggle against the BJP-RSS combine. However, the fight against communalism cannot be conducted in isolation. It has to be integrated with the struggle against the neo-liberal policies and in defence of the people’s livelihood’.
Keeping the assorted nature of the communal challenge in mind, the 21st Congress of the CPI(M) noted that fighting communalism merely in the political sphere is not enough. It has to be fought, ‘in the ideological, social, cultural and educational fields’ as well (as) ‘It is in these areas that the communal ideology and values are purveyed and gain influence’. Different measures to fulfil these tasks are also outlined including preparing popular anti-communal literature, initiatives in educational institutions, socio-cultural activities to propagate secular and scientific outlook and combat casteist and obscurantist values, especially in the working class and Adivasis.
The 21st Congress of the CPI(M) has correctly called for the formation of broad platforms to ensure wider and effective mobilisations against communalism. This is misinterpreted by some as a sanction to form electoral and political alliances with bourgeois parties. Bourgeois parties, whether national or regional, are today firm supporters of neo-liberal policies. Forming electoral or political alliances with them by the Left implies sharing blame for neo-liberal attacks on the people. Such tactics will impact adversely on the credibility of the Left and undermine its capacity to fight against both neo-liberal policies as well as communalism.
The Review Report on the Political-Tactical Line adopted by the 21st Congress of the CPI(M) was emphatic that, “Such platforms [of struggle] should not be seen as the basis for electoral alliances.” Similarly, the Political Resolution of the 21st Congress states that ‘While the main direction of the struggle is against the BJP, the Party will continue to oppose the Congress. It has pursued neo-liberal policies and it is the Congress-led UPA government’s anti-people policies and massive corruption which helped the BJP to acquire popular support. The Party will have no understanding or electoral alliance with the Congress’.
The broad platforms against communalism that the CPI(M) envisages will include not just Left parties and mass organisations but also secular organisations, individuals, and NGOs. In this context, it is important to keep in mind the proclivity of bourgeois parties and individuals to compromise with communal forces. Bourgeois secularists in India interpret secularism to mean ‘Sarva Dharma Sambhav’ that amounts to religious toleration accompanied by the license for all faiths to meddle in politics and vice versa. This kind of secularism provides the ideological underpinnings of compromises by the secular bourgeoisie with communalism and in the ultimate analysis tends to help those very communal forces it claims to oppose. The Left has a distinct view that regards the essence of secularism as being that of separation of religion and politics. The Left must forcefully propagate this viewpoint.
Certain ingenious arguments in support of the ‘all in unity against the BJP’ line have lately surfaced that need to be addressed. Thus, one respected Left intellectual states that the Left has no alternative to neo-liberal policies and its opposition to them consists of merely dubbing certain parties as neo-liberal and shunning them. This he claims has proved detrimental to the struggle to defend secularism and democracy. He goes on to advocate the Left becoming part of platforms and governments against Hindutva forces and for promoting an alternative to neo-liberal policies.
The view that Indian communists don’t have any alternative to neo-liberal policies is not true. The 21st Congress of the CPI(M), after a thorough review of the political-tactical line pursued over the past 25 years, came to the conclusion that the tactics of giving primacy to building a so-called Third Front with regional bourgeois parties have not paid dividends to the Party; instead it has led to erosion of its base in several states like Bihar, UP and Tamil Nadu. In light of this, the 21st Congress of the CPI(M) abandoned the tactics of political alliances with bourgeois parties. Instead, it set forth a line that lays emphasis on building the Left & Democratic Front comprising of Left parties and their class/mass organizations, socialists and democrats and organizations of Dalits, Adivasis, women, minorities, and social movements. Further, it underlined the importance of resolute struggle on demands of different sections of toilers on basis of a programme opposed to policies of the ruling classes. Building the independent strength of the Communist Party and widening and deepening Left unity are underlined as necessary factors in both forming the Front and its capacity to rally the masses in struggle against neo-liberal policies. It can be argued that such an alternative needs to be strengthened and fine-tuned on the anvil of practice, but to deny its existence is not correct.
The assertion that the Left’s opposition to neo-liberal policies comprises of mere name-calling and shunning different parties implies that it is not fighting these policies and their disastrous effects on the ground. This view ignores the massive and united all-India struggles unleashed by trade unions to fight the offensive of capital in both the organized and unorganized sectors, numerous struggles of the peasantry and Adivasis against forcible land acquisition, struggles of students of different universities in defence of the right to education and campus democracy, the various battles of women’s organisations against old and newer forms of patriarchy, or serious attempts to take up the issues of caste based social oppression. The Left is playing a leading role in most of these struggles. It needs to be appreciated that most of these battles, big and small are being waged under very difficult circumstances. Besides, experiences of these struggles have also helped the Left in evolving its alternatives to neo-liberal policies. That this reality is entirely ignored is surprising indeed.
The Left is called upon to even join governments (presumably of bourgeois parties) for fighting not just Hindutva forces but neo-liberal policies as well. The fact that the central and state governments (with exception of Left-led governments) are firm proponents of neo-liberal policies, seems to be of little consequence to those advancing such arguments. They also appear to be oblivious to the fact that the Left has a very limited presence in legislatures as well as on the ground in the country as a whole. Given this, the Left would not be in a position to decide or influence the policy of bourgeois governments joined by it in any meaningful manner. Instead, it would either be forced to become a party to implementing neo-liberal policies or quit. The call for joining bourgeois governments to present an alternative to neo-liberal policies, therefore, amounts to falling prey to the old revisionist illusion that the tail can wag the dog!
The CPI(M) is also charged by some of abdicating its historic responsibility to save the country and people from what they characterize as ‘communal fascism’. Those making this accusation demand that the CPI(M)and Left must direct their fire at communalism alone and put all else on the backburner. What this means in effect is that the CPI(M) and Left should abandon their fight against neo-liberal policies and convert themselves into snivelling social democrats! Such tactics are bound to further erode the limited strength of the Left. How reduction in the strength of the Left that constitutes the most consistent anti-communal force will help strengthen the fight against communalism is anybody’s guess. Nor is there any explanation about how a weakened Left can act as the glue that holds together the widest possible UF against communalism.
Communalism is, without doubt, a potent weapon in the hands of the ruling classes to divide the people and thereby prevent the emergence of any cogent class threat to their policies and rule. It, therefore, represents a very serious challenge before the Left to meet which the foremost requirement is that of widespread unity of toilers. Such unity cannot be achieved by merely opposing communalism to the exclusion of all else. Its realization is crucially dependent on the success in mobilizing the people against neo-liberal policies and their devastating impact. The unity forged in this struggle will be a powerful and effective weapon to combat communalism. Conversely, greater the success in fighting communalism the lesser it’s potential to divide struggles against neo-liberal policies into sectarian lines. In other words, the fight against communalism and neo-liberal policies is not mutually exclusive. Thus the Review Report on the Political-Tactical Line adopted by the 21st Congress of the CPI(M) states, ‘In our understanding, the fight against neo-liberal policies and communalism are interconnected. There should be an integrated approach of taking up the struggle of the people’s livelihood with the fight against the Hindutva ideology. Only by integrating these struggles can we mobilise mass support against communal forces and the Hindutva ideology’.
To conclude, the thesis of ‘imminent fascism’ is not borne out by prevailing reality in the country today. Similarly, the derivatives of this thesis, namely a one-dimensional fight against communalism and call for political alliances between the Left and bourgeois parties including the Congress, are counterproductive for both the fight against communalism and neo-liberal economic policies. They must, therefore, be rejected.