The law of killing: a brief history of Indian fascism // Fascism as a Mass Movement // A Subaltern Fascism ? (on V.D. Savarkar & the Hindu Mahasabha)

The life-impulse can exist without fascism, but fascism cannot exist without the life-impulse. Fascism is the vampire leeched to the body of the living, the impulse to murder given free rein, when love calls for fulfilment in spring..  Wilhelm Reich in The Mass Psychology of Fascism (1933):

The essays below are part of a printed volume Fascism: Essays on Europe and India Edited by Jairus Banaji (Three Essays Collective: 2013) . Some introductory extracts are presented in this post.   
For more information on the hard copy of the book see:

by Dilip Simeon

The permanent militarisation of society requires a permanent enemy
Hoodbhoy & Nayyar

Politics is the plastic art of the state, just as painting is the plastic art of colour. This is why politics without the people or even against the people, is sheer nonsense. To form a People out of the masses, and state out of the People, this has always been the deepest sense of a true politics: Joseph Goebbels in his novel Michael (1929)

The nation-state, incapable of providing a law for those who had lost the protection of a national government, transferred the whole matter to the police:                                               Hannah Arendt in 1948

Is the term “fascism” relevant to India? The rhetorical use of the word has led to a semantic devaluation which is regrettable, because it can lead to a refusal to confront the reality of a fascist movement. In addition to this overused rhetoric, there is another problem, the reduction of politics to the platforms or doctrines of existent political parties. This essay is an effort to go beyond such rhetoric, to understand the origins, forms and activity of authoritarian politics in India, and to examine whether they approximate to the fascist phenomenon. Historically, fascism has three aspects to it, viz., ideas, movements and regimes. I use “fascism/fascist” to refer to right-wing populist dictatorships marked by ultra-nationalist ideologies, the abolition of the rule of law (or its subjugation to ideology and/or the will of a supreme leader), and the destruction of democratic institutions. I also use it to refer to movements that aspire to such regimes, and the ideologies that propel and accompany such movements. 

In some ways the movement and its ideas count for more than the regime, because fascist activity depends upon overt or covert official support for its successes, and its complete or partial control of organs of state power only accentuates tendencies that were already present beforehand. These tendencies – dynamism, the substitution of ideas by propaganda, the constant deployment of violence, the worship of power and a capacity for self-destruction – can lead the state itself towards disintegration. Which political interests benefit from this? Why does society allow this to happen? How are these matters related to Indian political reality? These are complex questions, admitting of no easy answers.

   The notion that fascism may be properly recognised only when it seizes absolute power is dangerously misleading. This is because its hold on power arises primarily from intimidation and ideological influence, and is exhibited at the very first moment that organs of state tolerate or enable illegal and violent activities of fanatical cadre or crowds. Fascism invades the public sphere with controlled mobs. It represents an assault on politics, a replacement of democratic dialogue by violent intimidation, spectacular acclamation and automatic behaviour patterns. It is a cult of struggle, violence and war; a perversion of democracy towards ‘directed’ and theatrical activism in which charismatic leadership, perpetual motion and myth are essential ingredients.

   A further peculiarity is that fascist ideology is a mixture of archaic and modern elements - but nevertheless, one that could arise only within mass democratic politics. This politics faces the question of legitimation in an age when the state is no longer grounded in the notion of divine right. Any state that appeals to this (divine) concept of sovereignty is faced with the problem of defining the agent who ‘properly’ represents divine law. Such an agent will automatically be above and beyond the control of the demos, or people, and hence such a polity will be something less than a democracy. 

In the absence of divine legitimation, conservative politics can take a populist turn which seemingly embraces democracy, but perverts it by means of a mythic ideal of the People, of the Nation, seen as a monolith with a unique world mission. Nationalism here takes on the aspect of prayer. The more it assumes such an aspect, the more it, too, moves away from democracy. Historically speaking, fascist leaders have tended to be those who are successful at deploying myths and sentiments as a means of defining the Nation. Such myths are generally militarist in nature and interpret history as a saga of victories and defeats. the the Nationalism, then, is the principal ideological ground of fascism. In an era of nation-states, fascism has emerged as an immanent tendency – not always successful – of so-called nation-building projects. 

Download the full article: 
Jairus Banaji's translation of Rosenberg's theory of fascism:-
Arthur Rosenberg was a major historian and Communist Reichstag deputy best known for his booksThe Birth of the German Republic, 1871–1918 (1928) and A History of Bolshevism (1932). The three broad phases of his life as a Marxist are the years from 1919 to April 1927, when he played an active part in the KPD Left, the period from May 1927 to March 1933, following his resignation from the KPD (the years that best define him as a ‘Communist without a party’), and the tragic final decade of his life when he fled Germany along with his family, would find himself stripped of German citizenship, and lead an impoverished life as a tutor in Brooklyn CollegeNew York, having failed to find any sort of academic position in England. All of Rosenberg’s major works stem from the last period of his life, except for The Birth of the German Republic, which he published in 1928.

Extract from Jairus Banaji's introduction to the essay: Fascism as a Mass Movement is an essay about the origins and growth of fascism, not fascism in power. Though much of the humongous bibliography that has grown up around the subject particularly since the late sixties deals overwhelmingly with the latter (with Neumann’s Behemoth as an early and outstanding example of the kind of issues that would dominate subsequent historiography), the essential themes of Rosenberg’s argument stand fully vindicated by recent scholarship. ‘The error of the Italian Communist Party lies mainly in the fact that it sees fascism only as a military-terrorist movement, not as a mass movement with deep social roots’, Clara Zetkin warned in 1923. It is this conception – of the capacity of the Right to mobilise mass-support – that forms the central thread of Rosenberg’s essay, where the key to its interpretation lies both in the political defeat of liberalism and its rapid retreat across most of Europe in the nineteenth century and in the virulent nationalisms that emerged to buttress the rule of traditional élites against the threat of democracy and Marxist socialism.

If the singular brutality of the Nazi genocide remains a watershed in the history of the modern world, one that Rosenberg could scarcely have anticipated in 1933, the racial myth of the Volksgemeinschaft that paved the way for it was far from novel, its roots firmly embedded in the ‘integral nationalism’ of Treitschke and Maurras and the visions of national redemption preached by Schönerer and Lueger (against both Slavs and Jews) to pan-German constituencies in Austria that Weiss has described as ‘one of the most anti-Semitic publics west of Russia’. Thus the argument, cited above, that ‘the ideology which is today called “fascist” was already fairly widespread throughout Europe before the War’ is thoroughly convincing. It is a major insight into why the fascist movements could expand so rapidly, both in Italy and in Germany (in the early and late twenties respectively), against the background of war-hysteria and assaults on the Left (in Italy) and of a powerful nationalist Right in Germany that prepared the ground for the Nazis.

The centrality of racism to Nazism in particular emerges more forcefully in Rosenberg’s essay than any other Marxist writing of the twenties and early thirties. So does the argument that the success of the fascists depended crucially on the connivance or active complicity of the existing state-authorities, many of whom would of course have been active members of the PNF and NSDAP. This was starkly obvious in Italy where the squadristi ‘succeeded because they could always count on the state’, but no less so in Germany where, as Neumann noted, not one of the conspirators in the right-wing Kapp Putsch of 1920 had been punished even 15 months later, ‘the Weimar criminal courts were part and parcel of the anti-democratic camp’, and the ‘courts invariably became sounding-boards for [Nazi] propaganda’; and where, as Rosenberg points out, ‘a whole series of government-officials, especially in the army, . . . maintained close contact with the Freikorps and [other] counter-revolutionaries’.

Finally, a major part of the essay sets out to discredit the so-called ‘middle-class theory’ of fascism. Rosenberg was convinced that fascism was not a petty-bourgeois movement nor was the mass-base of the fascist parties confined to the petty bourgeoisie... Even if fascism today is not and will not be the return of old-style fascism but more eclectic and variegated versions of extreme-Right politics, Rosenberg’s essay loses none of its relevance for us. In particular, the increasing support drawn from the working class by parties of the extreme Right in countries such as France, Austria, Denmark and Norway, or the ability of the Sangh Parivar in India (the RSS/BJP combine) to create mass-mobilisations based on hate-campaigns and strategies of tension should be some of the more pressing reasons why the Left needs to return to the issue of fascism in a central way... 
Read more: 
Download the full text of Jairus Banaji's Introduction and Rosenberg’s essay below:

 This is an examination of certain aspects of the history of the Hindu Mahasabha and the political career of its sometime leader, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. By the time he came to head the Mahasabha in 1937 it had been in existence for two decades, but his agenda directly opposed to the Congress and the Muslim League and to the national movement for independence. A former revolutionary terrorist, Savarkar had been incarcerated in the Andamans Cellular Jail after being sentenced in December 1910 to transportation for life and forfeiture of property for masterminding the conspiracy to assassinate A.M.T Jackson ICS, Collector of Nasik in Bombay Presidency in December 1909 and conveying the revolver employed for that purpose. 

In prison he became persuaded that the enemy was not the British but the Muslims and accordingly won increasing privileges. Released from imprisonment to detention, he asked for and was paid a pension, and was permitted to conduct anti-Muslim propaganda. Released from detention by the provincial Congress Government, he headed the Mahasabha from 1937 to 1942, when it set out a programme to arm Hindus against Muslims by recruiting them to the Indian army, promoting military education, influencing the administration of the princely states including their armies, gaining access to weaponry from their state forces to harass Muslims, obtaining arms licenses from sympathetic Congress ministers, attempting to set up a munitions factory at Gwalior in the expectation of support of the Darbars and the Birla industrial group, and exploring contacts with European fascists. 

None of this was discouraged by the British, who at the very same time suppressed anti-Nazi propaganda by left and liberal organisations. Despite its earlier praise for Mussolini and Hitler the Mahasabha hailed the proclamation of the new state of Israel in 1948 and promised it support. I shall argue that the Mahasabha pioneered what might be termed a subaltern fascism

Savarkar’s exemplary conduct in jail won him favour. When World War One began, he protested his desire to serve the war effort and asked for amnesty: 

The siding of Turkey with Germany as against England, roused all my suspicions about Pan-Islamism and I scented in that move a future danger to India. I...feared that in this grim struggle between two mighty powers the Muslims in India might find their devils opportunity to invite the Muslim hordes from the North to ravage India and to conquer it."

To combat this he proposed a new British union with her imperial subjects where, from Ireland to India,

an empire would emerge from the process, which can no longer be the British Empire. Until it assumed any other suitable name, it might well be called “The Aryan Empire”.

Savarkar’s petition of 30 March 1920 claims that since he was ‘without danger to the State’, he should be granted a reprieve; for, far from espousing

the militant school of the Bukanin (sic) type...I do not contribute even to the peaceful and philosophical anarchism of a Kropotkin or a Tolstoy.

Accordingly, he promised that his release would be

a new birth and would touch my heart, sensitive and submissive to kindness, so deeply as to render me personally attached and politically useful in future

George Lloyd, Governor of Bombay, later Lord Lloyd, an influential British imperialist who later  administered Egypt and a supporter of fascist movements in his subsequent political career, was persuaded not by Savarkar’s grand designs but by the use to which he could be put as a former revolutionary. Accordingly, the Government periodically reviewed his loyalty. Only its assurance ensured each improvement in his living conditions and successive reductions in his sentence.

To disarm any suspicion that may yet linger in the Government Quarters, the petitioner begs to solemnly pledge his word of honour that he shall cease to take any part in politics whatever.

Thus Savarkar is said to have renounced all

methods of violence resorted to in days gone by and I feel myself duty bound to uphold law and a constitution to the best of my powers and am willing to make the reform a success in so far as I may be allowed to do so in future.

A new politics
He was released on 4th January 1924. He then published the lessons of his experience in the Andamans, which were that through his struggles he had managed to overcome every humiliation inflicted by the Muslim staff and prisoners and persuaded the prison management to appoint him to run the key operations of the prison and subordinate the Muslims to him, thus creating ‘Hindu rule’... 

Also see: 

I as a German prefer much more to see India under British Government than under any other...I must not connect the fate of the German people with these so-called ‘oppressed nations’ who are clearly of racial inferiority (Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, p. 747)
RememberingGehal Singh, who gave his life for communal harmony
Anil Nauriya: Portrait as mirror The Hindu, March 3, 2003
Hannah Arendt: Reflections on Violence (1969)
Rethinking Secularism by Bhagwan Josh, Dilip Simeon, and Purushottam Agrawal

Popular posts from this blog

Third degree torture used on Maruti workers: Rights body

Haruki Murakami: On seeing the 100% perfect girl one beautiful April morning

The Almond Trees by Albert Camus (1940)

Satyagraha - An answer to modern nihilism

Rudyard Kipling: critical essay by George Orwell (1942)

Three Versions of Judas: Jorge Luis Borges

Goodbye Sadiq al-Azm, lone Syrian Marxist against the Assad regime