History never repeats itself. Neither as tragedy, nor as farce. Every historical situation is a singularity, a product of its conjuncture and the opening out of different possibilities – thus irreducible to any other. What becomes farcical is the attempt of historical actors to borrow their slogans, icons and ideas from specific pasts and their attempt to reenact them in conjunctures that are radically different. Indian communists, of course, have long had a penchant for re-enacting (or believing they are re-enacting) other histories and other revolutions. And yet, more often than not, they have simply operated on the margins, engaging in violent and heated debates, as if the course of history depended on how these debates were resolved – while other historical actors took centre-stage, actually steering the course of history.
For decades Indian communists debated the ‘class character of the Indian state’ and even though their descriptions of its effects often differed little (except for an emphasis here or an emphasis there), they themselves split many times over in trying to name the beast. They became one another’s bitterest enemies, throwing about labels like “revisionist”, “neo-revisionist”, “sectarian”, “adventurist” and so on. Ask the CPI, CPI(M) or CPI(ML) Liberation, who fought the 2015 Bihar elections together and are trying to come together on issues of common concern today, how invested they are in those characterizations and how relevant they find them for their joint activity today? The really honest answer would have to be that it is of no relevance, whatsoever, whether the state is described as that of the national bourgeoisie, the bourgeois-landlord alliance or as a semi-feudal and semi-colonial one – especially where it concerns joint or common struggles. Indeed, many communists might cringe today if reminded of these characterizations over which not just barrels of ink but precious blood has been spilt in the past. And so it happened, that while communists occupied themselves with all this bloodletting, history passed them by. Not once or twice but repeatedly.
There is a sense of deja vu therefore, when the official Left (at least the CPI(M) and CPI) and many left intellectuals suddenly seem bent upon tearing each other to bits in simply trying to name the Modi/RSS/BJP phenomenon (hereafter referred to as Sanghism – a term I have explained elsewhere). It seems it is necessary to first “correctly” characterize the phenomenon before any fight can even be conceived – even though, I suspect, there will be little difference in the way the different protagonists actually describe it.
Kick-starting this great non-debate, former CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat wrote in The Indian Express, a piece so befuddling that it left many people gasping: The Sanghist/ Modi dispensation, according to him, is “right -wing authoritarian” but not “fascist” and hence there is no need for broader resistance against it (my paraphrase of what is in fact a simple question of whether or not to have an electoral alliance with the Congress!) What was worse, he referred to what he called the “classic definition” (yes, definition!) of fascism, in order to make his point. What was simply a formulation made by Georgi Dimitrov and the Comintern in a specific context, is turned into a definition. Here is Karat’s “definition”: Fascism in power is “the open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinistic and most imperialist elements of finance capital.” From this definition, he then proceeds to make his deductions about present day India:
In India today, neither has fascism been established, nor are the conditions present — in political, economic and class terms — for a fascist regime to be established. There is no crisis that threatens a collapse of the capitalist system; the ruling classes of India face no threat to their class rule.
Every bit of this statement is an instance of formulaic thinking. As Jairus Banaji pointed out in a sharp riposte, calling Dimitrov’s formulation a “classic definition” is merely a way of suggesting that it was a code graven in stone, and therefore, not open to any critical scrutiny or examination. After all, how can you debate a definition? Banaji, in fact, made an important point in his response: fascism is not merely a conspiracy of finance capital but as later Marxists like Arthur Rosenberg and Wilhelm Reich repeatedly insisted, it was, above all, a mass movement. If one seriously ponders the implications of this claim, fascism’s relationship to capital – finance or otherwise – can hardly be seen as simple and straightforward any more. We will return to this point later. Continue reading The Left Non-debate on Fascism or How Not to Fight the Hindu Right