Mainstream, VOL LIV No 51 New Delhi December 10, 2016
Hegemony of Ultra-Nationalism as a New World Order
Sunday 11 December 2016
by Arun Srivastava
The word ‘nationalism’ was the unwritten sanction for Hitler to kill six million Jews as the Germans cheerfully watched. In recent times the global fraternity is witnessing nationalism once again raising its head but this time in a more ugly and ferocious manner in the form of ultra-nationalism. What is significant is that the Right reactionary forces, articulating the interest of capitalism, have been fostering this resurgence. Whether it is the USA, India, or any other country, the scenario is the same; it is a global trend. While the victory of Donal Trump points to the surfacing of this menace, in India too the BJP and Modi Government have been indulging in the same game. Even in Russia, Putin has emerged as the public face of nationalism.
Ultra-nationalism owes its birth to nationalism, but it is the political leadership that allowes it to happen. Distinguishing ultra-nationalism from nationalism is illogical because nationalism is an ideology that invokes loyalty and devotion for the nation-state and claims to maintain the nation as a unified entity. It is a mechanism to suppress the people’s voice of protest against the anti-people manipulations and manoeuvres of the Rightist and anti-people forces. The threat of being levelled anti-national always scares the voice of protest.
Long back Noble Laureate Rabindranath Tagore had mentioned: “It is the ‘logic of the nation’ that it will ‘never heed the voice of truth and goodness’ and will continue to go on in its ring dance... trampling under its tread all the sweet flowers of simple faith and the living ideals of man.” We are witness to how the political class and institution have been misusing nationalism to serve their own vested interest. They have been using it to measure the nature and depth of the loyalty of an individual, especially the dissenting voice. This mechanism is purely the nascent form of an autocratic dictatorship.
Surprisingly this enjoys mass appeal. The common people, unaware of the real intentions of the political class and the elite rulers, often endorse this catchphrase. A closer look at their machinations would reveal that these people in reality do not subscribe to the concept and ethics of nationalism. They resort to it only to fool the people. They are in fact not bound by the ideals of nationalism. It is their economic interest that guides and shapes their approach to nationalism.
British political theorist Roger Griffin described fascism as “a palingenetic form of populist ultra-nationalism”. The term “palingenetic” referred to an idea that instantly struck a chord with the masses and gave a populist base for the rise of totalitarian regimes in the name of national prosperity. Significantlypalingenetic statements formed the central part of the Narendra Modi-led BJP’s election campaign in 2014.
The political rise of US President Donald Trump has revealed the dictatorial core of the conservative movement, brought back into the political mainstream racism which many believed had been relegated to the past, and raised serious questions among the US’ allies about the quality of American democracy.
Trump is great at capitalising on the neo-conservsatives’ belligerent ultra-nationalism, but he has little use for their ideas. Trump has not seriously challenged the neocons’ control of the elite institutions. Britain’s Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, was politically correct when he said: “Trump is a ‘rich white man’ who pretends to be against the elites and ‘whips up’ anger against migrants. Politics is too often presented as a spectator sport, something obscure done by a few people in Westminster. Now politicians are important, but politics is about the reality of life for all of us, and that’s far more important.”
How right Karl Marx was when he wrote that, while people make their own history, “they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past”!
Putin has promoted a Eurasian Customs Union. If successful, it would be a major step towards rebuilding the empire, Moscow calculates, while undermining West European capitalism. That is why Moscow has stepped up his rhetoric against the European Union. The Russian Federation’s double-eagle coat of arms derives from an earlier Czarist emblem abolished after the Russian Revolution of 1917. “It’s a new Russia,” Putin had told the audience during an interaction. Europe’s far-Right parties like the National Front in France, Ukip in Britain, Golden Dawn Greece embrace Putin’s nationalism and the promotion of traditional values.
Every state needs a defining view of its place in the world that it can transmit to its population through the media, education and political systems. This is crucial if the state is to maintain and sustain legitimacy in the eyes of the people it rules over. The British capitalist state system has evolved in a centuries-long conflict between different sections of the ruling class and the struggle of ordinary people for democracy.
A significant political development is taking place throughout the globe. Irrespective of their political and ideological leaning and belief, the countries are witnessing emergence of authori-tarian governments and rulers. These govern-ments are out to terminate the Opposition. They are reluctant to show the minimum elements of liberal approach and liberalism. They in fact try to maintain the skeleton of the Opposition so as to keep alive the stupefaction of functional democracy. These governments had asphyxiated the people’s aspirations and the Opposition through the effective use of the global media and IT. They have been resorting to misinformation and despicable propaganda to tarnish the image and credibility of the Opposition. The media, which is supposed to be the fourth pillar of democracy, has turned subservient to the rulers and is a partner in the nasty game of fulfilling the capitalist design to malign the image and integrity of the democratic forces. The governments have been following a new type of censorship. Earlier censorship was resorted to gag the voice of the rebel media, now it is used to stifle the voice of the rebel and distort the facts, as we have been witnessing in India in recent times. The TV channels particularly have been trying to exploit their effectiveness to cater to the needs of their political masters. This has been also helping them by raising their TRPs.
The style of governance and development priorities are undergoing a major change. The shift has been towards capital formation. The urban middle class, which have been promoting the market forces, have come to acquire the character of market for the governments as they personify the social, cultural and economic interest of the market economy. The approach of the government towards the people, especially the poor, has substantially changed. This has also invoked a transformation in the people’s perception. This perception is the new ground for emergence of a new polity. In fact the expansion of this perception provides the ground for the emergence and spread of neo-nationalism which is the other face of ultra-nationalism.
In the existing situation the media is the new front of the governments propagating the ideal and idea of neo-nationalism. In fact the governments have been striving hard to incorporate liberalism in their machinations. The governments are resorting to all capitalist modes of appeasement to win over the media which has turned gullible. The changes that were first injected in the media in the form of multi-editions in 1985 in India have now started yielding the gains. They have been simply trying to maintain the façade of being liberal and democrat but in actuality they have been the creators of the authoritarian and autocratic nation-state.
The BJP’s campaign slogan “acche din aane wale hain”, meaning “good days are about to come”, attempts to create an impression of a sharp break from the previous period of “bure din”, or “bad days”, hinting as much of a cultural revolution as of a new-era economic development. The saffron aficionados claim that the Modi Government has been approaching fast its goal and the latest initiatives were the harbingers of the triumph; however, the fact remains that they have been simply communalising the political system and institution of the country by raising the issue of nationalism and patriotism. For them, anyone curious about the performance of the Modi Government was questioning its patriotic integrity. This is the most dangerous approach which would invariably weaken democracy and strengthen the element of fascism.
Palingenetic ideas not only create a fascist state but, infused with an aggressive Hindu nationalist agenda, make the functioning of democratic philosophy and culture quite difficult. Nationalism then becomes the nationalism of the Right-wing which uses the cultural ethos of the majority population as a shield for its political agenda. It is then used for crushing any form of dissent. As the next step nationalism acquires the character of ultra-nationalism. No doubt this raises the political stock of the elite ruler.
Vladimir Putin’s government has also sought to forge its own state nationalism—and used elements of the ultra-nationalist agenda in its increasingly anti-Western and neo-conservative ideology. Scott Fitzgerald was right when he declared: “The rich were different from you and me.” But today’s super-rich are also different from yesterday’s: more hardworking and meritocratic but less connected to the nations that granted them opportunity and the countrymen they are leaving ever further behind.
The idea of “two Americas” was a central theme of John Edward’s 2004 and 2008 presidential runs. What made the argument striking was that it was being offered by none other than the former Federal Reserve Chairman, Alan Greenspan, a pre-eminent defender of the free market. When the high priest of capitalism himself is declaring the growth in economic inequality a national crisis, it indicates something has gone very, very wrong.
This widening gap between the rich and non-rich has been evident for years. In a 2005 report to investors, three analysts at Citigroup advised that “the world is dividing into two blocs—the Plutonomy and the rest”: In a plutonomy there is no such animal as “the US consumer” or “the UK consumer”, or indeed the “Russian consumer”.
Ultra-nationalism has been the machination of the capitalist economy, rather capitalism, to wipe out the liberal form of politics and socialist nature of economy. What is quite noticeable is that ultra-nationalism has been acquiring a global pheno-menon with the spread of globalisation. Globally connected economy has given rise to a new super-elite class. Its members belong to the transglobal community who have more in common with one another than with their countrymen back home. Whether they maintain primary residences in New York or Hong Kong, Moscow or Mumbai, today’s super-rich are increasingly a nation unto themselves. They embody the spirit of ultra-nationalism.
It is interesting to watch that these people have been harping more on nationalism than socialism or secularism. Having become a part of the capitalist economic system, for them the catch-phrase of ultra-nationalism has been the most expedient mechanism to achieve their goal. During the last 20 years the Non Resident Indians, who had virtually abandoned India and also severed their relations with their kin in India, have become quite active to find and strengthen their family connections and identify themselves as Indians. The reason is that the liberal ethos has been of much help to them to further their economic interest and establish a plutocratic hegemonic state replacing pluralism.
The rise of the new plutocracy is connected to two phenomena: the revolution in information technology and the liberalisation of global trade. In a globalised world technological innovation, people, money, and ideas travel more freely today than ever before. From a global perspective, the impact of these developments has been overwhelming. This has boosted the per capita income. No doubt this helped create and strengthen the middle class, it actually helped the super elite to grow exponentially. With this income inequality has also increased in developing markets like India. Since the early 1980s, a neoliberal agenda of global capitalism has established itself as a hegemonic mission within the global political economy.
In other words, the perceived failures of globalisation, and what is largely seen as the failure of the political establishment across the world, has resulted in a growing revolt against the existing capitalist system. It is this failure that has emboldened ultra-nationalist and Right-wing political leaders such as Donald Trump, Nigel Farage of the UK. The anti-establishment, nationalist and anti-immigrant rhetoric of Farage actually echoed with the majority of the British voters while supporting Brexit. Already the Right-wing leaders in France and the Netherlands have been opting for similar demands in their own countries. Apprehensions are expressed that the rise of populism and ultra-nationalism and anti-establishment sentiments could pose a serious threat not only to the European Union but also to the survival of existing political establishments.
The victory of Trump has simply complicated the situation. It manifests success for the anti-establishment rhetoric and its ability to propel leaders such as Trump from the fringes into the political mainstream. His ability to tap into the anger and frustration among the general population against political elites and forces of economic globalisation has enabled him to galvanise a massive army of supporters.
In India also the situation is the same. The BJP has successfully managed to exploit the people’s anger against the Congress. Recently the special conclave of the RSS held in Madhya Pradesh has raised questions on globalisation. The leadership has been critical of globalisation. Decrying globa-lisation makes it explicit that this has ceased to function as an economic instrument to boost the political needs of capitalism and the capitalist economy. They are searching for a more effective instrument and ultra-nationalism has surfaced as that instrument.
One of the underlying assumptions of the globalisation hypothesis is that nationalism is on the rise. Resurgence of nationalism is rarely disputed and is seen as a defining feature of the post-Cold War world. A closer look would however make it clear that nationalism has been used according to the needs of the time. In the fifties the world witnessed the rise of nationalist politics in the developing world for national liberation and establishment of new states. Nationalism during those years represented the anti-imperial emancipatory force that helped legitimise the struggle of the oppressed peoples.
But today its dynamics has changed completely and it is being used to protect the interest of the anti-people forces and hegemonic policy of capitalism. Marx perceived the rise of nationalism in his native Germany as an outgrowth of Germany’s political weakness and economic backwardness. He was highly critical of German nationalism, because it ended up glorifying the nation with all its regressive and backward features instead of fostering healthy self-criticism and promoting reforms. Marx foresaw that national identities forged in response to the global expansion of capitalism might appear to be particularly divisive.
Nationalism is the belief that the country is superior. After the victory of the BJP in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections the nationalism debate in India has been coloured by ‘Hindutva’ politics. The essence of secularism is gradually being lost. Ultra-nationalism manipulates people and their feelings. This manipulation may happen simply because the nation is looking for a strong leader, because the ultranationalist is a strong charismatic speaker. Modi is being packaged and presented as the macho leader with a high-pitch vocal cord. He resorts to theatrics and this is something people like. Never in the past has any Prime Minister resorted to this kind of machination to win over the psyche of the people. Obviously this type of approach and body language is liked by the people, especially the urban middle class, for whom the body language is more important than the actual face and approach of the leader. People did not like Manmohan Singh as he lacked this element. Even Rahul Gandhi has not succeeded in garnering a large following
In the period of reforms and liberalisation this has become the major ingredient for good governance even if the rulers have no basic idea of governance. Adolf Hitler was elected because he was a strong leader and also promised a better life for Germans. He was an extreme ultranationalist. The fact remains that ultra-nationalism is intolerant. Intolerance places democracy under siege. A liberal democracy accepts the fact that in a free country one can have different opinions and should have equal rights. This is pluralism, and tolerance is its ultimate rationale. But an intolerant society does not accept dissent. It always suppresses the voice of protest through the mechanism of nationalism. Suppression of dissent is key to its survival.
The necessity for tolerance has been internatio-nally recognised. Even the Preamble to the Charter of the United Nations underlines the need to “practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours”.
The author is a senior journalist and can be contacted at sriv52[at]gmail.com