Imagining an Antifascist Coalition Today


The debate on the meaning of AAP’s victory in Delhi and the Hindu idiom that its spokespersons have adopted continues as indeed on the implications of its refusal to play the electoral game in the way the BJP was intent on setting it up. But to keep our perspective right, we need to remember that this was just one stop on the long and arduous journey that still lies ahead. We also need to remember that AAP is only one of the forces and Delhi only one of the theatres of the anti-fascist struggle.

The lessons of the antifascist struggles in Germany or in Europe at large clearly are of no use in our battles here. At one level, we are all destined to repeat the grievous mistakes of the German communists (and the Comintern) for concentrating their main blow at the Social-Democrats, pronouncing them ‘social-fascists’ – till it was pretty late in the day and Nazism was already on the way to consolidating its power. In states other than Delhi, there are instances where this mindset can be seen to be in full operation. In Delhi, thankfully, this is not the scenario and most non-BJP political parties assess the situation differently, though an entirely negative stance towards AAP’s victory can be seen among many people. However, I do not intend to engage them in a debate in this post, having already stated my position on AAP’s victory quite categorically.My attempt in this post, rather, is to raise two sets of issues that seem to me to be of capital importance for the long battle that lies ahead.

Forms of Organization and the Everyday

The first set of issues has to do with the question of what one might call the ‘forms of organization’ in a context where there is no single party or organization that we can depend upon to act even as a point of articulation (or a rallying point) for other forces to gather around. It is doubtful whether this was actually ever the case anywhere in the world (hence the need for a ‘popular front’) despite strident claims of parties of being the ‘vanguard’. Morever, as Gramsci points out, the crisis of traditional parties was the antecedent condition for the rise of fascism – implying thereby that their crisis of hegemony left little chance for anything but a larger coalition to resist the onslaught.

In contexts of huge diversity as in India, this is even less likely to be the case. One of the great ‘unthoughts’ of Marxism, let us note in parenthesis, has been the question of organzation, for it mechanically tried to foist a single model (of so-called democratic centralism) across different societies in the world. This model of a centralized, top-down organization of professional revolutionaries, rigidly controlled from one centre and almost military in its form, came up in a very specific context. Lenin in fact, gave up the idea of such an organization (expounded in What is to be Done? as early as in 1901-02) very soon. Within a few years, in 1907, he wrote in the collection Twelve Years,

The basic mistake made by those who now criticise What Is To Be Done? is to treat the pamphlet apart from its connection with the concrete historical situation of a definite, and now long past, period in the development of our Party. This mistake was strikingly demonstrated, for instance, by Parvus (not to mention numerous Mensheviks), who, many years after the pamphlet appeared, wrote about its incorrect or exaggerated ideas on the subject of an organisation of professional revolutionaries.

Today these statements look ridiculous, as if their authors want to dismiss a whole period in the development of our Party, to dismiss gains which, in their time, had to be fought for, but which have long ago been consolidated and have served their purpose.

I beg the readers’ indulgence for foisting this longish passage from Lenin, written more than a hundred years ago, but I quote it here to underline (1) that the author of this organizational form himself had very rapidly moved away from it, even though many of his followers swear by it even today. (2) To draw out the contrast between this form and the form adopted by the Hidutva organizations.

If  one compares this view of  a Leninist party with the organizational form evolved by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) – another secretive, paramilitary organization – in the ‘twenties of the last century, one can see how different and capacious it had to be, given that it was functioning in a society as diverse as India’s. The core of the RSS consists of something like an analogue of an organization of professional revolutionaries whose chain of command is totally centralized. But allied to it are a whole array of organizations that enjoy great leeway in terms of how they carry out their Hindutva agenda – say among the adivasis, the dalits, among different regional cultures with different food habits and so on. Indeed, it is not the political-electoral front, namely the BJP (earlier Bharatiya Jana Sangh) that has the command of the larger formation but is in fact subordinate to the RSS – even though at present we are witnessing a reversal of that logic under the Modi-Shah dispensation.

Two things stand out in this respect. First, the overall ideological frame of Hindutva notwithstanding, the discourse of Hindutva organizations is modulated differently to suit different contexts, connecting to local histories. Second, unlike the Leninist party that was formed with the idea of the imminent revolution and capture of state power, the RSS and Hindutva organizations neither prioritized capture of state power nor placed the ‘political’ agenda at the top of their priorities. The implications of this difference need to be spelt out a bit more. As a consequence of their fixation on immediate capture of power, Leninist organizations always functioned within the logic of immediacy and knew only one mode of being – protest, struggle, agitprop (agitation-propaganda). This form demanded only heroic activists who moved from protest to protest and had little space for the everyday and everything that the everyday entails – festivals, births, deaths, marriages, rituals, spirituality, joy, sadness and so on. Typically, the radical encounters ordinary people in extraordinary moments and is completely absent from their day to day lives.

The RSS and Hindutva orgnizations, on the other hand, functioned with the idea of long-term cultural transformation. You will rarely see them fritter their energies in struggle or protest. Their’s is a connection with the everyday lives of people, where there is no doubt that poison is slowly injected into lives which, in specifc moments, are then thrown into violent extraordinary situations like riots. These situations could even be cataclysmic as in Gujarat 2002 – but then you retreat into the everyday once again.

RSS and Hindutva organizations accomplish what they do through a wide range – indeed a network – of organizations from schools, social service organizations, political and cultural organizations and even through entry into religious ones like temples. In contrast, people like us want one single organization or party to accomplish that stupendous task – once again primarily because we are still thinking only of the next election, not of how to challenge Hindutva in the longer term, while fighting it in the immediate.

The Question of Spirituality

The second question that I want to discuss briefly is the question of spirituality and religion that is closely and intricately tied to the question of the everyday.  It may be an option for many of us to enter – or not – into the domain of religiosity and spirituality but for most people it is not. And by spirituality here I mean a whole way of being – it is not about the domain of knowledge, where mere inculcation of ‘scientific’ temper and ‘scientific’ ways of thinking can make people get rid of spirituality. They live on an everyday basis with their gods and demons, with their ancestors, with jinns and pirs – and they all play a role in their daily lives. They make people’s everyday lives more bearable and meaningful. This everyday lived spirituality is very different from what Ashis Nandy calls ‘religion-as-ideology’, where (as in the case  of Hindutva), religion is refashioned to serve a secular political purpose in the  domain of state.What Nandy seems to underestimate in his sharp counter-position of such lived religion and religion-as-ideology is that the latter still exists in the same universe, in everyday transactions with the former. This is a world secularists have no access to.

We cannot go into this  question in any detail here but it is important to understand how the transition from that kind of life of pagan spirituality – the ‘enchanted’ world in Max Weber’s language – to the ‘disenchanted’ world, was accomplished in the West over a couple of hundred years. It was accomplished not by secular warriors armed with the weapons of scientific thinking but by the Reformation, in the name of God – that is to say, in the name of a higher spirituality. You cannot simply take away people’s lifeworld (not just ‘beliefs’) by brainwashing them in some secular laboratory. The world without gods and these spiritual beings is a world bereft of meaning. How do we open out ways of communication with those millions of people who inhabit that world?

My answer here – speaking strictly for myself – is that I have no way of communicating, in any sincerity, with those who inhabit that mode of being. But there are people who can, simply because they themselves live in close proximity with those life-worlds and modes of being. These people understand these worlds better and can communicate, even as they try to bring about changes, gradually  and over time. There are many religious figures as well who are able to speak both languages and often act as bridges between the two worlds. My sense is that if there has to be any long term transformation of the kind that can resist the fascist onslaught in the long run, then this level of mediation is inescapable.

Imagining an antifascist coalition to me then means to imagine that there are perhaps hundreds and thousands of people who see themselves as part of a virtual network of organizations and movements, who march separately and work in different areas but where synergies can be developed over time. My dream network consists of AAP at one end, the CPI(ML) Liberation at the other, with so many Gandhian and Socialist inspired social movements, Jignesh Mewani’s Dalit Adhikar Manch or the Bhim Army somewhere in between. This is not, of course, a complete list of movements and organizations and one can think of many others across the country.

The key point here, to my mind, is the need to keep criticizing each other while we struggle to develop an ethic of solidairty and common struggle. No one is infallible and so, even when we join together in common struggle, we need to keep pulling up each other whenever it looks like we are on the verge of committing a mistake.

The hugely inspiring anti-CAA movements that have emerged and are relentlessly giving a fight to this regime of course, are the fulcrum of our struggles at this juncture and it goes without saying that it is  our solidarity with them that is the need of the hour. I say all this knowing fully well that there are serious limitations in bringing all these forces together on a common platform but it is certainly more plausible to imagine them as part of a loose network of movements and organizations that can, over time, develop greater trust vis-a-vis each other.

One thought on “Imagining an Antifascist Coalition Today”

  1. Anti – fascist struggle reflects in negating rightist forces in elections as well as independent mass struggles which are above mainstream proces of bourgeoisie neoliberal politics


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