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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 41 New Delhi October 1, 2016

Fascism Has No Universal Characteristics

Monday 3 October 2016, by Barun Das Gupta

A debate is going on in the Left circles in India whether fascism, or ‘communal fascism’, has arrived; whether the BJP rule is fascist rule or authoritarian rule; whether the BJP is a fascist party or a party with a ‘semi-fascist’ ideology. One of those Left intellectuals who contend that fascism has not arrived in India is Prakash Karat, former General Secretary of the CPI-M (whose article was reproduced in Mainstream’s last, September 24, 2016, issue). He quotes Dimitrov to say that the “classic definition of fascism leaves no ambiguity: Fascism in power is ‘the open terrorist dictator-ship 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.... No section of the ruling class is currently working for the overthrow of the bourgeois parliamentary system.”

The quotation forms part of Dimitrov’s main report to the Seventh World Congress of the Communist International (Comintern). What Karat omits is what Dimitrov said five paragraphs later: “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 inter-national position of the given country. In certain countries, principally those in which fascism has no broad mass basis and in which the struggle of the various groups within the camp of the fascist bourgeoisie itself is rather acute, fascism does not immediately venture to abolish parliament, but allows the other bourgeois parties, as well as the Social-Democratic Parties, to retain a modicum of legality.” (Italics in original)

Mr Karat’s other contention that no section of the ruling class is currently working for the overthrow of the parliamentary system can be contested on different counts. First, overthrowing the parliamentary system is not the sine qua non of fascism. When Hitler became the Reichs-chancellor in 1933, he did not annul or amend the Weimar Constitution. What he did was to pass a one-paragraph Enabling Law under the Weimar Constitution itself. The Enabling Law disabled the Weimar Constitution and made it possible for the Third Reich to raise its ugly head on the ruins of the Weimar Republic. The Enabling Law gave Hitler plenary powers to abolish most civil liberties and establish a de facto legal dictatorship.

Secondly, Karat concedes that brutal methods are being used to suppress the religious minorities, dissent and secular intellectuals by branding them as ‘anti-national’. If Hitler’s persecution of the Jews was fascism then, by the same yardstick, suppression of religious minorities and secularists in India should be treated as fascism.

Thirdly, Mr Karat resorts to casuistry to draw a fine distinction between authoritaria-nism and fascism. The BJP, he says, is authoritarian but not fascist, though it ‘poses a grave and present danger to democracy and secularism’. Such intellectual exercises will only spread confusion among the people who will tend to underestimate the fascist danger. He goes on to say that religion-based communalism or political mobilisation is accompanied by the imposition of extreme Right-wing economic policies. India is one such country. Pray, tell us how is it qualitatively different from fascism?

As Dimitrov correctly said, fascist dictator-ship takes different forms in different countries. The Indian variant of fascism is naturally different from German or Italian fascism for historical reasons. Fascism has to be judged by its content, not by its form. When all research institutions like the Indian Council of Historical Research or government-controlled bodies like the Film and Television Institute of India or universities set up by the Centre are packed with people subscribing to the RSS ideology, the ‘freedom’ that these bodies enjoy becomes a myth.

Objectively, Prakash Karat and his ilk are helping the BJP and the Sangh Parivar by creating the impression that the BJP and its mentor, the RSS, are not ‘fascist’ but ‘authoritarian’ without drawing the line that distinguishes one from the other. At a time when the biggest nationwide mobilisation of secular and democratic forces is the need of the hour, spreading illusions about the non-fascist character of the BJP will only confuse the people and weaken the struggle against forces which are sworn enemies of the Constitution and the secular and democratic polity of this country.

Actually they have all become purveyors of a particular ideology—and an unscientific ideology at that. This ideology creates and spreads false claims of scientific achievements of our forefathers thousands of years ago. India, it is claimed, had developed advance aviation technology to make 40-engine aircraft that could undertake inter-planetary travel 7000 years ago. Or that plastic surgery was known to our ancestors. Else how could an elephant’s head be transplanted on Lord Ganesha’s shoulders? Spreading superstitions, encouraging unscientific beliefs and belief in the supernatural—all help create a climate which is conducive to the growth of mass support for a fascist order.

Fascism, per se, is anti-science. The first target of fascists is writers, intellectuals, the Press and the free-thinkers. Fascism wants to cast everything in one mould—the fascist mould. Those who refuse to fall in line are hounded out or physically eliminated. Robert Jungk narrates an interesting incident in his Brighter Than A Thousand Suns. In the Germany of the nineteen thirties, the Gottingen University was the place of pilgrimage for physicists from all over the world. Most of the professors were Jew including Einstein. As Hitler came to power, the ‘purging’ of the University of the Jew teachers began.

About a year later, the new Minister of Education, Rust, chanced to meet Prof Hilbert, the eminent mathematician, at a banquet. “Is it really true, professor,” he asked, “that your Institute suffered so much from the departure of the Jews and their friends?” Retorted Hilbert: “Suffered? No, it didn’t suffer, Herr Minister. It just doesn’t exist any more!”

How many of our own institutions will face the same fate in the years to come, if the Hindutvavadis can take over the entire Indian state in future?

The need of the hour is to preserve and protect the Constitution against attacks from the Hindutva forces which openly claim that their aim is to destroy the secular polity of India and build a HinduRashtra on its ruins. If these forces succeed, it will mean the fragmentation of India. Instead of engaging in hair-splitting arguments about whether India is an authoritarian state or a fascist state, the need of the hour for all those who value the ideals of democracy and secularism, irrespective of their political differences, is to come together and build a nationwide front of all secular and democratic parties, organisations and individuals against fascism.

In conclusion, I may be excused for inflicting on the reader a rather longish quotation from an article that Friedrich Engels wrote, entitled On the History of Early Christianity, which was published in the Die Neue Zeit a hundred and twenty years ago. Wrote Engels: “. . . those who have nothing to look forward to from the official world or have come to the end of their tether with it—opponents of inoculation, supporters of abstemiousness, vegetarians, anti-vivisectionists, nature-healers, free-community preachers whose communities have fallen to pieces, authors of new theories on the origin of the universe, unsuccessful or unfor-tunate inventors, victims of real and imaginary injustice who are termed ‘good-for-nothing pettifoggers’ by all bureaucracy, honest fools and dishonest swindlers—all throng to the workers’ parties in all countries...”

I leave it to the reader to judge whether Prakash Karat is an honest fool or a dishonest something in believing and trying to make others believe that the BJP is authoritarian but not fascist. The high priests of Hindutva at Nagpur must be sniggering in their sleeves!

The author was a correspondent of The Hindu in Assam. He also worked in Patriot, Compass (Bengali), Mainstream. A veteran journalist, he comes from a Gandhian family and was intimately associated with the RCPI leader, Pannalal Das Gupta.