Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Fascism, AAP & the Left. Jairus Banaji's talk at the P.A.D.S. National Convention on February 27, 2014

NB - I agree for the most part with Jairus' points in this note, but feel the need to comment on the formulations regarding communalism in the first para, below. My observations are made below the full text of the Notes.  I will expand on it shortly - Dilip

Jairus' Notes for his talk on fascism, AAP & the Left at the PADS Convention

Jairus' Note begins: Claudia Koonz’s phrase “genocidal consensus”; elicits the question - did any such widespread complicity evolve in Delhi post 1984?  It seems to me not, whereas much of Gujarat’s support for Modi is based on something like this. A tacit attempt to justify the violence of 2002 retrospectively. Hindu Nationalism is the main articulation of fascist politics in India, but all communalisms contain a fascist potential that is more or less evident depending on their distance from power; Taliban-style regimes replicate an “Islamic” model of fascism, just as the Sangh Parivar embodies a “Hindu” one. The agenda of the Hindu Right is to install a majoritarian state behind the trappings of democracy;  its essential strategy is what Gramsci called a ‘war of position’ waged on many fronts simultaneously. 

In particular note
1/ The molecular elaboration of a communal common sense;

2/ Mechanisms of domination that abuse and undermine democratic freedoms (the unrelenting attack on parliament, its relentless derangement, in the past 2-3 years, using the ‘anti-corruption’ platform; a powerful and growing domination of the media that includes a purge of liberal elements within it, witness the sacking of some 300 staff from CNN-IBN; the long-standing communalisation of the Indian state and penetration of the bureaucracy and intelligence services; the repeated assaults of a stolid cultural fascism that has targeted books, films, etc); 

Arthur Rosenberg’s argument that fascism only succeeds as a mass movement;  

The role of violence and propaganda in mobilising this mass base; 
Arendt’s thesis of the ‘banality of evil’ in the book on Eichmann’s trial; 
Fascism presupposes the widespread degradation of the human capacity to think and see: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/aug/29/hannah-arendt-adolf-eichmann-banality-of-evil

3/ the culture of gullibility in India (Ramdev, Asaram Bapu, Modi); mass manipulation through propaganda;

4/ The extensive impunity that fascist groups enjoy under the law; existing notions of ‘legal intention’ and national criminal courts make it next to impossible to indict politicians like Modi under the current judicial set up;

5/ The strength of nationalism in the middle class; the systematically inculcated obedience to authority that starts in the family and runs up, via school and college, into the workplace, and stays with the majority of individuals for most of their lives. This, as Wilhelm Reich argued tirelessly, plays a crucial role in the victory of fascism.  

6/The emergence of a rabid personality cult around a deeply authoritarian figure who secretly consented to a spree of genocidal killings and mass violence against women on this day 12 years ago; Modi disabled the state, ostensibly for a few days, but of course the violence was protracted over months and deliberately unchecked. 

AAP and the myth of popular sovereignty
Sartre’s argument that ‘There is no such thing as diffuse sovereignty’; inorganic multiplicities, that is, human multiplicities that remain dispersed and unorganised, have no means of either contesting the state or consenting to it. As dispersed, inorganic multiplicities they are inert, that is, lack the power to do anything, to act, and remain objects of manipulation by the only entities that do have the power to act, namely, organised groups. Thus unorganised masses (serialities) ‘do not have the power or nature either to consent to or to resist the State’, as Sartre argues in the Critique; only groups can do that. 

So popular sovereignty is a myth unless ‘the people’ have organised themselves to exert sovereignty. Also, AAP’s vaunted aversion to ‘ideology’ conceals a whole amalgam of largely middle-class ideologies such as the conception of capitalism as a basically sound economic system except for its proneness to cronyism; the idea of the khaps as institutions of self-governance blighted by gender bias; an obsession with symptomology that divorces the issue of corruption from the wider issue of the abuse of power; and so on. 

A month or two back AAP looked like a movement driven from below which lacked a cohesive leadership of any sort.      

The key fact is that AAP has built on widespread disillusionment with all the established parties, which raises the issue of what the Left has been doing all these years and why it has lost credibility on such a massive scale. AAP has galvanised a listless and apathetic middle class into almost unprecedented protagonism but the fact remains that in the coming elections it is likely to end up damaging Congress more than it will the communal parties. Unless we are going to equate the UPA and the NDA in a comical Indian version of the ‘Third Period’ (Social Democracy = social fascism), this is a fatal strategy, the reverse of a ‘united front’, which is what the Left and secular forces should be trying their best to construct. 

The amorphousness of AAP’s base is reflected in the amorphousness of its wider political ideas. For the AAP to survive in politics it has to move beyond its provisional oath (‘to fight corruption’) and transform itself into a full-fledged political machine. That will unleash its own dynamic, replicated a hundred times over in the past 2 decades. There is absolutely no sign as it does this (transforms itself into a machine for survival) that it also plans to move beyond its current fascination with symptomology and plunge into all the burning issues of Indian society, of which the most basic are those of inequality (so many different kinds!), violence and mass deprivation. 

The real amorphousness of AAP is not that of its heterogeneous mass base but the amorphousness that stems from the lack of a wider political understanding. The test case of course will be its ability to tackle the fascism of the Sangh Parivar head on. If it is true that one out of every three supporters of the AAP said a few weeks back that they were planning to vote for Modi in 2014, we are a long way from any such real confrontation beyond the usual lip-service about ‘communal forces’ that even the CPI(M) occasionally resorts to.

The conception of ‘the people’ as a chaotic mass. Yogendra Yadav tells Sagarika Ghosh that the big idea of 2014 will be participatory democracy but doesn’t say how ‘the people’ are supposed to participate if they are not organised. And ‘organised’ here means independently of AAP itself  Thus in the Vision Swaraj document there is a single reference to unions and this comes in the context of police reform. This is ridiculous, since unions are often the only mass organisations most ordinary people have any concrete experience of. And the vast bulk of wage earners in the country remain unorganised into them, hence vulnerable to domination by the organised groups of the Right.  Moreover, to talk about holding back agricultural wages because allowing wages to rise places a burden on farmers is the return of class politics with an absolute vengeance! How many so-called farmers are there compared to the mass of agricultural workers in the country?  

What perspectives do we have for the revitalisation of the unions and of the Left? I cannot even begin to discuss this here but only note that the Left has never been a truly national force in Indian politics. It has never repudiated the legacies of Stalinism or seen any serious process of internal reform; it has lost almost all contact with mass movements; and its present state of somnolence embodies a long-standing & fatal separation of Left parties from workers and from the economic structure, a separation that was already foreseeable in the critiques that Panzieri and the Italian Autonomists elaborated in the late fifties and sixties with respect to the Communist Parties in Europe. In all these ways the Left is too weak to challenge capitalism in India, too weak to mount a serious challenge to the fascist onslaught, and has consumed all its energies in a fruitless parliamentarism where it functions as the ‘B’ team of the BJP via insidious floor coordinations designed to paralyse the functioning of the ruling coalition. Jairus' Note ends

NB - My comments on Jairus' formulations on communalism
This is Jairus' first observation: "(the) phrase “genocidal consensus”; elicits the question - did any such widespread complicity evolve in Delhi post 1984?  It seems to me not, whereas much of Gujarat’s support for Modi is based on something like this. A tacit attempt to justify the violence of 2002 retrospectively."

When applied to 1984, this observation makes sense only if we see the the 'genocidal consensus' as referring specifically to Sikhs. What it misses is the normalisation of mass violence, the consensus regarding genocide as such, regardless of which community is targeted. It is a grim conclusion, but remains true (I think) that after 1984 the Indian public has become habituated to, or indifferent to mass violence.  Communal rioting in India dates from before Independence & includes the partition-related violence that cost nearly a million lives. So it would have required a far more firm public morality & far more effective justice system to prevent this indifference from growing to the current alarming level. It is no accident that both Rajiv Gandhi & Narendra Modi declared elections soon after the massacres of 1984 & 2002 respectively, in order to leverage mass complicity for political gain. This along with the deliberate corruption of the criminal justice system after the violence; and the appearance in it of bias & prejudice. 


The reality is that Indian (and South Asian) society has become accustomed to ethnic cleansing, genocide, compromised policing and enforced ghettofication of large groups of people. This is as true of the plight of Santhals in Bodoland as it is of the experience of Muslims in Gujarat & Muzzafarnagar. It is also true of the plight of Kashmiri PanditsThis is the painful background to the fact that a vast section of the citizenry including the educated middle-classes consider it quite normal for a person who presided over terrible atrocities to be presented as a legitimate candidate for supreme power over the executive. We are witness to the growing criminalisation of the state. The consequences will be grim for everyone, but especially for the labouring people who need democracy to be able to fight for their rights.


The next sentence, beginning 'Hindu Nationalism is the main articulation of fascist politics in India, but all communalisms contain a fascist potential..' is also in my view off the mark. I would say rather, that communal politics is the main articulation.. etc. Communalism cannot be understood as a Hindu version operating here & an Islamist one operating in Taliban regimes. Significantly, Jairus speaks of Islamist fascism only in the context of Taliban-like regimes, and does not refer to Bangladesh & Pakistan. How do we understand these polities theoretically? Are they democracies? Can they emerge as democracies? These are big questions, but they are relevant to Indian democrats and secularists. How do we understand the significance of the Objectives Resolution of 1949? Or of the fate of 'minorities' in Pakistan? I use inverted commas for 'minorities' because I believe the concept of 'majority' to be an ideological fabrication, as I have argued in my essay on fascism. 


If it is true as Jairus says, that "The agenda of the Hindu Right is to install a majoritarian state behind the trappings of democracy; its essential strategy is what Gramsci called a ‘war of position’ " - is this not equally applicable to the agenda of the Muslim League in the 1940's, and did not that agenda come to fruition in 1947? Was it ever overturned, even with 1971? Have not sections of the Pakistani establishment attempted to make communalist interventions in India? Why do we discard our internationalist approach when it comes to the post-colonial regimes in (what was once) British India? This is why I prefer an ideological rather than party-focused analysis. Thus, are the political attacks on Congress ('anti-Congress-ism') meant as a critique of a party or of the very platform of moderate, composite nationalism? Only the RSS sees it explicitly as the latter, i.e.; an attack on composite nation-hood - the rest of us get taken along for a ride whose destination we remain blind to, or chose not to see. However, the RSS is a manifestation of Indian fascism, not the sum total of it; fascism has deep social-economic & cultural roots. Rather than conflate the symptom with the phenomenon, we must arrive at the distinctions after seeing what is generic. Fascism works ideologically, as well as via organisations. As Rosenberg  rightly argues, it is primarily an ideologically-driven mass movement. This is what explains communal exterminism operating through the Congress in 1984, and through the RSS in 2002 & 2008


This is not to deny that the RSS has a distinct communal ideology of nationalism, and is thereby the most adequate representative of this ideology - an important component of which is militarism. Rather, it is to remind ourselves that it is precisely its nationalist position that gives it stamina; that fascism is a version of nationalism. (Nationalism is not destined to become fascist, but it contains authoritarian potential.) Religiously defined majoritarian-ism as the driver of a nationalist movement has, as far as I can tell, operated only in Palestine (Zionism) and the Indian sub-continent. The role of religion in Italian or Spanish fascism, and in Germany was different - it provided provenance (for example Christian anti-Semitism) to ultra-nationalist ideologies but religion was not the basis of nationalist self-definition as such.  (For those who wish to pursue the matter, there is an interesting essay by George Mosse on Fascism and the French Revolution in Journal of Contemporary History, v. 24 #1, 1989, which deals with fascism as a form of nationalism).


In my view, it is the contestation between competing majoritarian ideologies that was (and remains) the motive force for the endless reproduction of communalism. As long as we remain fixated by one or other pole of this contest, we shall remain incapable of confronting it. This is what we need to remember about the communal ideology behind the ethnic cleansing of Pandits from the Kashmir Valley in the 1990's. That process also involved mass complicity - though we may debate its extent. There's a powerful Islamist movement in India as well - only last year a huge demonstration in Kolkata called for support to the Bangladeshi razakars. The ethnic cleansing of Buddhists, Hindus & tribals continues to unfold with even 'secular' Bangladeshi governments unable to stem the tide. I have developed my argument about the generic (as opposed to discrete, as in Hindu+ Muslim etc.) analysis of communalism in my article here, and would welcome a debate. (The link also contains Jairus' translation of Rosenberg and Kannan Srinivasan's essay on Savarkar.) 


The law of killing: a brief history of Indian fascism