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The Fascistic Turn in the World’s Largest Democracy: Part II

In recent months, there has been unprecedented acceleration by the right in India. The second article of this two part series examines recent events and the prospects of the left.

Raju J Das

March 25, 2020
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Danish SiddiquiI/Reuters

This is Part II of a two-part series. Read Part I here.

Since Modi’s re-election in May 2019, a series of events have happened that are blatant communalist provocations by the BJP government, signifying a further slide towards fascistic rule. This is part of a political-economic process that has both national and international dimensions.

On August 5, the government undemocratically abrogated the semi-autonomous status of India’s only Muslim-majority state (Jammu and Kashmir), which was provided for in Article 370 of the Constitution. The central government put the erstwhile autonomous province under their own permanent control. This region has been under occupation by more than half a million troops, under BJP and Congress-led governments alike, for the past three decades. Since the constitutional coup in August and during preparations for it, tens of thousands of additional security personnel have been deployed. Police have detained thousands of citizens, including political leaders, some of whom the BJP had until recently allied themselves  with in order to remain in power in the province. Cell phone and internet access has been suspended for months. With the continuing lock-down, common people are suffering from a lack of healthcare and other facilities and from the slowdown in economic development activities amidst the newly-created chaos. The Muslim-dominated Kashmiri’s right to self-determination has been totally crushed. Kashmir, a disputed territory, has become an internal colony of Hindu India.

As if this wasn’t enough, in December 2019, the Modi government made use of its brute numerical force in the Parliament and influenced the smaller parties to pass the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), under which all people — except Muslims — who migrated to India from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh before 2015 are granted automatic citizenship. This means that one’s citizenship now depends on one’s religion. This manifestly conflicts with India’s constitutional commitment to secularism. Worse, the CAA is the preparation for an even more communal project: forcing all of India’s 1.3 billion people to prove to the authorities’ satisfaction that they are entitled to Indian citizenship and using it as a tool to harass and discriminate against Muslims.

The CAA has faced widespread protests that have grown beyond its original scope. University students along with hundreds of thousands of common people from different religious, caste and occupational backgrounds in several cities across India are protesting against this deeply discriminatory Act. Among the protestors are those in a predominantly Muslim low-income south Delhi neighborhood (Shaheen Bagh). The protest at Shaheen Bagh, led largely by working class women, has become a symbol of the opposition to the CAA. The protesters have raised not just issues of communalism but also wider issues such as joblessness, low wages, and rising prices that concern the workers and small-scale producers. These protests have been met with retaliatory anger from the government. The protestors have been subjected to brutality by police and the fascistic foot-soldiers of the BJP. At one university campus (Jamia Milia University in Delhi), dorms were closed, with no provision of alternative accommodation. Students were picked up by the police from the library, whose CCTV cameras were mysteriously smashed. Police indeed entered the Jamia campus without the permission of the university authority and used wooden batons, water cannons, and live bullets on students. Some students received bullet injuries, while many more have ended up with broken bones and limbs at the hands of the police charged with protecting them.

Attacks on anti-CAA protestors, including women, reached their peak when a communal riot was engineered by fascistic forces in Delhi. Over the month of February, dozens of Muslims have been killed by Hindu mobs. Police officers, under the control of the central government of the BJP, allowed Hindu thugs to attack Muslims, their homes, and their small businesses. Before the riots began, BJP leaders publicly advocated violence against anti-CAA protesters, leading their supporters in chants of “shoot them down.” This was the worst outbreak of communal violence in Delhi since 1984, when Congress Party leaders instigated an anti-Sikh riot killing close to 3,000 people, following the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. 

In India, people have a degree of trust in the courts’ ability to defend democratic rights, a trust that is a part of the people’s trust in the state as such. That any such trust is undeserving is partially indicated by the fact that the courts, complete with their learned judges, have done nothing to defend the democracy and secularism enshrined in their books. Whether it is the abrogation of Article 370 that has dispossessed the Kashmiris of their limited autonomy, or the courts’ approval of the CAA, the courts have fallen in line behind the BJP government. None of the democratic institutions, like the courts or the election commission, have stopped or penalized politicians and ministers from making hate speeches. Besides bowing to the demands of the Modi government and the RSS, the Supreme Court ruled recently that a Hindu temple must be built with government assistance in Ayodhya in northern India, in the same spot where Babri Masjid, a centuries-old mosque, once stood. This was the mosque that was demolished in 1992 by Hindu fanatics at the instigation of the BJP leadership, while all the institutions of the Indian state (and the forces of the left movement) watched without intervention. The Supreme Court judgement amounts to a retrospective stamp of approval of the demolition of the mosque by the fascistic mob.

The current tensions, representing fascistic tendencies from the top and from below, while on-going for decades, have been abetted by the coming of the BJP government in 2014 and its re-election in 2019. Minorities, including and especially Muslims, won’t be the only ones to live in fear. The 2019 electoral verdict has also been an endorsement for a strong, authoritarian government; the citizen must yield to the demands of the state, especially its national security requirements. On August 1, 2019, the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act was amended to allow the government to designate any person as a terrorist, even for their political views, without formally being tried and found guilty (Khare, 2019). Anyone, Hindu or non-Hindu, who supports the democratic rights of workers, peasants, indigenous people, and women now lives in fear of repression. Indeed, as Roy (2019) says, “As the world looks on, the architecture of Indian fascism is quickly being put into place.”

The events of the last few months have an international dimension. While peaceful protests against the CAA, an illegitimate and undemocratic Act, were met with ruthless counter-attacks from the BJP and its forces, the same BJP-led government was displaying its obsequiousness to the U.S. president during his visit to India, the aim of which was basically to sell American goods (including military goods) and to cement a strategic partnership with India to contain China. Trump reciprocated in his brazenly right-wing style. Even as Delhi was burning in communal fire, Trump, who himself has implemented U.S. travel bans on residents from many Muslim-dominant countries, praised Modi because “he wants people to have religious freedom.” 

Just as the entire political establishment within India has failed to defend the democratic rights and secularism, similarly, it is not just Trump who is behind Modi on the international stage. The entire U.S. political establishment, including its two main parties, the military bureaucracy, and the bourgeois media, considers the Modi-led BJP government a crucial ally. When imperialists are in pursuit of money and power, they can close their eyes towards crimes of their servile allies. Under Modi the nationalist, the Indian nation has been transformed into a frontline state in America’s anti-China war drive; India’s ports and bases are open to U.S. warships and warplanes. India under Modi has also supported the U.S. in its campaign against Iran by stopping the purchase of cheap Iranian oil, despite the resulting inflation of the nation’s oil bill.  

India’s turn to the right has a European dimension too. This is partly because India’s right-wing movement gets support from right-wing elements in the Indian diaspora, including in countries such as Britain. When a draft resolution criticizing the CAA was brought by six groups representing 626 of 751 members of the European Parliament and the Kashmir lock-down, leaders in the European Union parliament voted to postpone a vote on the resolution. The decision to postpone the vote was floated by a right-wing party, the European People’s Party. Europe’s interest in India, similar to America’s, will shape how Europe reacts to the CAA and the oppression of Kashmiris. 

After the summer of 2019, the government’s offensive, the anti-government protests, and BJP’s electoral defeat, all show the following: under conditions of economic crisis, social inequality, intensifying class struggle in different countries, and inter-capitalist competition for markets, natural resources, and geopolitical advantage, the capitalist class — whether in imperialist democratic countries or less developed countries such as India — is turning to authoritarian methods of rule and promoting fascistic forces as the ultimate baton against the politically organized masses. 

Unlike before, BJP’s rise in the last few months hasn’t gone completely unchecked. Since their re-election in May 2019, there are two things to be noted. First, there has been increasing extra-electoral opposition through protests and strikes against the BJP’s policies. Second, there is the BJP’s electoral defeats, representing electoral opposition. Its recent loss in the provincial elections in Delhi, a microcosm of India in many ways, is the latest in a series of state election losses for the party since it won national re-election last May. The state election results are a reflection, however inadequate, of the mounting social anger among India’s workers that has prompted the anti-CAA protests and a wave of workers’ strikes against the Modi government’s neoliberal policies. The wave of strikes included a general strike on January 8, supported by 10 central trade unions and 200 peasant organizations. In this strike, about 250 million men and women from rural and urban areas reportedly participated. The Left parties (through the unions) played an active role in organizing the strike.

Finally, there is the matter of unevenness of fascistic tendencies. This unevenness is in two forms. First, here is no doubt that among masses of workers, students, and middle class educated urbanites of different religions and castes, there is anger against this threat to the idea of India as a secular democratic nation. The Modi government’s communalist offensive (combined with its anti-people interventions) symbolizes the rotten character of Indian bourgeois system. This is the Indian expression of a phenomenon that is truly global in nature. Of course, global processes are manifested unevenly across countries and regions, displaying a degree of geographical unevenness. In some countries, the right-wing movement is much more powerful than in other countries; the BJP is the largest political party in the world. 

There is a second form of unevenness. This is in the sociological sense. Political processes are ultimately based in economic processes, and yet political processes (e.g., right-wing communal government policies) have a degree of autonomy vis a vis the economic. It would be economic-reductionist to suggest that the correspondence between the economic and the political is 100%. While economic crises and related economic matters (e.g., the deterioration in the living standards of petty-bourgeois people and sections of the working class) prompt a turn to the right, the degree to which the turn happens can be more severe in specific times and specific places than the local economic processes warrant.

This might be happening in countries such as India. There is possibly far more putrid communalism (communalism in the Indian sense of politics based in religious divide) than capitalism really needs, and this is why sometimes, segments of the capitalist class meekly complain about the lack of peace and harmony. After all, too much public disturbance is not good for business. Communal riots destroy businesses and stop people from going out and buying things. The political is relatively autonomous in capitalism in another sense too: the capitalist class does not necessarily create the fascistic mob, which can arise, more or less, autonomously. The fascistic mob can arise because of reasons other than the “need” of capitalist economic and political structures (for example, because of pre-capitalist sentiments around religious differences), but once the mob exists, segments of the capitalist class can make use of the mob to destroy working class and democratic movements.

What is to be Done

While there have been large scale protests against the current BJP government, many of these are led by bourgeois and petty-bourgeois forces, thus providing legitimacy to the bourgeois system itself. Their protest is on the basis of bourgeois notions of development, nation, democracy, etc., and their protest is in defense of the post-colonial bourgeois constitution, one that has granted some rights to the common people but has served as the very foundation for capitalist private property, which is ultimately responsible not only for the economic problems but also for the fascistic tendencies. Truth be told: in countries with belated capitalist development, the bourgeois forces will not defend democracy and secularism beyond a point (and in fact, even in developed countries, bourgeois forces are turning to the right), and therefore, the genuine defense of democracy and secularism falls only on the task of revolutionary socialists. 

Some people might turn to the left for a response to the turn to the right. For example, Professor Prabhat Patnaik, who is associated with the CPI(M) also happens to be one of the best political economists in India says: “With neither of the neoliberal formations being able to provide an answer to the burning material problems of the people, it is only the Left, which can go beyond neoliberal capitalism, that can provide a way out of the crisis, though this way out would take us eventually beyond capitalism itself. This is true not only in India but in the rest of the world as well” (Patnaik, 2019). But the question is: what kind of Left? While current left parties have played a role in establishing some progressivism and pro-poor policies, they are at best social-democratic in practice and are too weak to launch a challenge to the BJP and fascistic tendencies. This is the case even if these parties have consistently opposed communalism and even if they have organized numerous strikes against neoliberalism under both the BJP and the Congress regimes. 

Wedded to the goal of a form of democratic revolution, as opposed to socialist revolution, socialism for these parties is a “far cry” (to quote one of their leaders), a distant dream which is why there is no strategy of transitional demands, which connect the present level of class consciousness and of preparedness of the masses to the socialist project, and which therefore stem “from today’s conditions and from today’s consciousness of wide layers of the working class and unalterably leading to one final conclusion: the conquest of power by the proletariat” (Trotsky, 1938). More or less focussed on getting small concessions, they forget that economic and political concessions are generally obtained as by-products of revolutionary movements, and not from the demand for what the system says is grantable. India’s communist parties are far from Lenin’s and Trotsky’s conception of revolution.  As Lenin says: “We solved the problems of the bourgeois-democratic revolution in passing, as a ‘by-product’ of our main and genuinely proletarian -revolutionary, socialist activities. We have always said that reforms are a by-product of the revolutionary class struggle. We said—and proved it by deeds—that bourgeois-democratic reforms are a by-product of the proletarian, i.e., of the socialist revolution” (Lenin, 1921).

Conducting principled electoral activities is necessary in order to count the left forces and to be able to use the legislature to highlight the attacks on the economic and social rights of the masses. But the existing communist parties are too electoralist. They have under-stressed extra-parliamentary activities as well as ideological-socialist education of the cadres. A principled collaboration between genuinely progressive social movements and the left formations (e.g. left parties and left mass-organisations) can be useful, but that is not enough either.

As Lenin argued, socialists must maintain organisational and programmatic independence vis a vis bourgeois forces, and yet they can make use of any conflict within bourgeois politics and utilize any temporary allies as a part of the fight for socialist movement and socialist government. In launching class struggle, “to renounce in advance …any utilisation of a conflict of interests (even if temporary) among one’s enemies, or any conciliation or compromise with possible allies (even if they are temporary, unstable, vacillating or conditional allies)—is that not ridiculous in the extreme?” Lenin (1985) asks. Of course, any use of temporary allies must always be a part of the fight for socialist movement and socialist government, and nothing must be done that does not raise the class consciousness of the masses.

However, it is also true that as long as capitalism persists, the genuine and permanent fulfillment of economic needs and political rights of the masses is an impossibility. This is because there are irreconcilable contradictions in class interests between the working classes and the capitalist class. 

So what is it that really needs to be done? At a general level, we need the political mobilization of the 400-million-plus Indian working class people, allied with petty producers, independent of all bourgeois forces (BJP or non-BJP parties, including parties that represent regional propertied classes or regional interests of the big business) as part of an international working class offensive against capitalism. Such an independent mobilization of the exploited and oppressed masses in India can further be advanced by a similar movement in advanced countries such as the UK and the U.S., and the latter will in turn support the movement in India (and other parts of South Asia). There is simply no section of the capitalist class that will defend democracy and secularism. That task falls on the shoulders of socialists.

The independent mobilization of the masses on the basis of a socialist program requires that efforts be made towards a reforging and regroupment of revolutionary socialist streams. It requires individuals and groups to form a democratically-organized party of class-conscious workers. This process must be informed by principles of non-sectarian class politics and the avoidance of the left version of the personality cult and petty-bourgeois ego clashes (Das, 2019b).  It is problematic that groups of a few people in a city or a country consider themselves a party of the world working class yet unceasingly focus on permanent aggressive abrasive criticisms of one another in pursuit of the defense of their own pure program. The building of a united revolutionary socialist movement requires the strategic and/or tactical coming together of all socialists who are against not only the fascistic politics and Hindu majoritarianism of the BJP but also against caste-based identity politics and liberal and social democratic politics and who are critical of the mainstream communist parties’ politics. The leadership of the existing communist parties, given their history, theory and program shaped by Stalinism, is incapable of mobilizing the masses for socialism. It is not inconceivable, however, that there are individuals and factions within the current communist parties who can join a new revolutionary socialist movement.

This revolutionary socialist movement requires genuine socialists imbued with what I will call “the Marxism of the mellt” (mellt = Marx, Engels, Lenin, Luxemburg and Trotsky). The movement must encompass three interconnected fights. First is the fight for a secular-democratic society, a society without the BJP/RSS agenda and a society where the democratic questions are resolved. In particular, the RSS/BJP agenda must be ideologically and politically countered, as militantly as possible, by workers and semi-proletarians mobilized locally and nationally as a part of the socialist strategy. Second is the fight for economic concessions, including those based on transitional demands (e.g., an inflation adjusted living wage, the right to secure employment, and ecological sustainability). These two interconnected fights must be fought as a part of the fight for socialism in India, in South Asia, and around the world, for a society that is democratic in every sphere of life, that is ecologically sustainable, and that practices solidarity with the oppressed and the exploited in every country of the world. It is a society that is without the rule of bureaucrats, capitalist or non-capitalist. It is a society where the dictatorship of the proletariat comes to prevail and replaces the current dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, respecting the democratic rights of the masses while crushing the rights of the overthrown classes by all means possible. 

Let me end with some lines from Lenin’s What is to be Done, with which I profoundly agree. Marxists must draw the attention of workers and peasants, the majority of the nation, to all “manifestations of tyranny… such as: the flogging of peasants, the corruption of the officials and the police treatment of the ‘common people’ in the cities…the suppression of the popular striving towards enlightenment and knowledge, the extortion of taxes and the persecution of the religious sects, [and] the humiliating treatment of … students and liberal intellectuals” (Lenin, 1977:136; italics added).  “When we do that (and we must and can do it),” Lenin says, “the most backward worker will understand, or will feel, that the students and religious sects, the peasants and the authors are being abused and outraged by those same dark forces that are oppressing and crushing him at every step of his life” (Lenin, 1977:146).

Marxists, in word and in action, must be “the tribune of the people,” and they must generalize all the manifestations of tyranny “and produce a single picture of police violence and capitalist exploitation.” They must “take advantage of every event, however small, in order to set forth before all his [her] socialist convictions and his [or her] democratic demands, in order to clarify for all and everyone the world-historic significance of the struggle for the emancipation of the proletariat.”  (Lenin, 1977: 153-154).  

These principles that Lenin laid out are as much relevant to the autocratic Russia as to today’s India, and other such countries that are exhibiting strong fascistic tendencies.

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