Aakar Books in Delhi, India, have recently published a new edition of Fascism - what it is and how to fight it with a new introduction by Anindee Banerjee and Saurobijay Sarkar.
Introduction to Indian edition of “Fascism, what it is and how to fight it
By Saurobijay Sarkar
“Fascism, which was not afraid to call itself reactionary…does not hesitate to call itself illiberal and anti-liberal.” (Benito Mussolini)
The proud announcement of Mussolini, the former socialist party leader and later the leader of the fascist movement in Italy, characterizes partially the nature of fascism. The seeds of fascism were planted in Italy, but later it appeared in a more gigantic form in Germany and took an international character. We have all heard of the Nazis, but our image is usually a caricature of a brutal goose-stepping soldier wearing a uniform emblazoned with a swastika. Technically the word NAZI was the acronym for the National Socialist German Worker’s Party-the party of Hitler. Nazism was a fascist movement that used German nationalism as weapon and developed a grotesque biologically determinant view of so called “Aryan Supremacy”. (The term national socialism is used to refer to the early Nazi movement before Hitler came to power and the term “NAZI” to refer to the movement after it had consolidated around ideological fascism).
The experience of Germany and Italy had shown that Fascism, which is the most reactionary and dictatorial rule of the bourgeois, functions in an ideological fashion to dominate all spheres of life namely political, social and cultural. While functioning as an ideology, it promotes counterrevolutionary mass movements within society aimed at destroying class unity and all resistance of the proletariat. Hence what is most important regarding fascism and the fascist movement is to have a scientific understanding and analysis, which in turn will determine the strategy and tactics of anti-fascist struggle. However Marxist analysis is not simply a formula nor a dogma, rather a scientific analysis based on concrete objective conditions. Hence it should take into consideration different point of views regarding fascism and engage in open polemics with those.
Bourgeois liberals and a significant section of the left practicing liberalism tend to define ‘fascism’ simply as ‘some kind of dictatorship or the tendency to be a dictator’.
Instead of analyzing the whole phenomenon from a class perspective they analyze it from a personal angle like ‘Its Hitler who brought fascism’. Bourgeoisie liberals even denounce Stalin and the Stalinist regime as ‘fascist and as a fascist regime’ respectively. No doubt both of these analyses are devoid of any class content. The objectives of the liberals and the left practicing liberalism are very clear. Since they serve capitalism directly or indirectly their theoretical horizon remains confined within the bounds of bourgeois democracy. Hence, consciously or unconsciously, they deny analyzing fascism from a class perspective by challenging capitalism. But unfortunately many of the radical left both within India and abroad failed to analyze fascism from a class angle i.e. from a Marxist point of view. They oscillate between an ultra left position like “Any right wing rule even social democratic rule is fascist” and a rightist position of terming other bourgeois parties as ‘progressive’ and forming a block with them against fascism. These erroneous positions are due to the fact that much of their heritage comes from the Comintern in the 1930’s when fascism was scoring victory after victory. In brief in Comintern’s line, fascism is the dictatorship of the most reactionary elements of finance capital and it tries to secure a mass basis. Apparently this analysis may sound progressive, but it fails to explain how and why fascist movements attract a mass following and at the same time it ignores the fact that fascism is the most reactionary rule of entire capitalist class of the nation instead of a particular section of capitalism. The implementation of this fallacious theory has been manifested in the anti-fascist struggle where, in the name of ‘anti fascist popular front’, the official communist parties under the direction of Moscow made pacts with the so called progressive sections of the capitalists and subordinated the struggle of the proletariat to bourgeois democracy. This was not a continuation of Marxist-Leninist line, but a violent retreat that saw its disastrous effect in the tragic defeat of Spanish revolution.
But the conception of popular front came in the period after Hitler secured his victory. However one of the reasons for the victory of fascism in Germany could be attributed to the devastating ‘social fascism’ line of the Comintern during the period of NAZI rise. The Sixth Congress of the Comintern, in 1928, made the resolution that social democracy and fascism are twins. Following this resolution the German Communist Party, instead of making a united front with the social democrats against fascism, termed the social democrats as social fascists. After the Nazis came to power, the Stalinists boasted that their line had been 100 percent correct, that Hitler could last only for a few months and that a Soviet Germany would then emerge. The time limit for this miracle was extended from three, six to nine months and the idle boasts dwindled into silence. Thereafter the Seventh Congress of the Comintern showed a dramatic 180-degree turn, when it put forward the conception of popular front. As a result the communist parties throughout the world took a sharp right turn following Moscow’s line in 1935. The tragedy was that in spite of innumerable sacrifice of honest communist cadres, the struggle could not go beyond a certain point due to the consistent maneuver of the Moscow leadership. However, alongside the anti-Marxist analyses and consequent practice, there is a Marxist analysis of fascism with which thousands of Bolsevik-Leninists fought against fascism and became martyrs. This analysis was made by Leon Trotsky during the rise of fascism. He began the task after Mussolini’s victory in Italy in 1922 and brought it to a high point in the years preceding Hitler’s triumph in Germany in 1933. He had correctly shown how the crisis of capitalism had aroused discontent among masses and the absence of a revolutionary wave and/or the consistent betrayal of the traditional left parties paved the way for fascist movement and the fascist party to gain a mass base. The form of fascist movement may differ from country to country, but essentially the fascist ideology bases itself on national chauvinism. It gathers the frustrated petty bourgeoisie and even a section of the working class, the lumpen proletariat, as its core activists.
Fascism uses this activism to create hatred in racial, communal or in other forms in order to divide the masses and often creates atrocities against the minorities to increase the hatred. The philosophy of binding the common people into a single national identity based on race or religion and the phenomenon of promoting social hatred have the same objective and notion. As fascism represents the interests of monopoly capital, its ultimate objective is to destroy working-class unity and prevent the masses from expressing any sort of anger against the oppression of capitalism. Hence fascist ideology creates an artificial enemy based on race, religion or other forms and turns the anger of the majority of the people against this enemy which is often the minority race or religion. While doing so, it provokes the masses to create several atrocities and often bloody massacres. But its main enemy is the working class since it is the ideology of the working class that is ‘Marxist ideology’ which can challenge capitalism and show the roots of the entire problem in society. Due to this fascism uses its core activist groups against the ‘left parties’ and left individuals. It aims to smash all sorts of resistance of the proletariat. As fascism creates lots of social unrest, it is not preferable to the bourgeoisie in normal stable conditions, when the bourgeoisie prefers to rule via ‘parliamentary democracy’ i.e. bourgeois democracy. Both in advanced and backward countries this ‘parliamentary democracy’ represents the reactionary rule of capitalists and through different bureaucratic apparatus namely police, military, bureaucracy, the bourgeoisie suppresses the resistance of the masses against capitalist oppression. That is the nature of bourgeois democracy, which while giving the masses the ‘one day voting rights’ etc, shows its real anti –democratic nature while suppressing the movement of the working class. Still this is not fascism, because it neither promotes fascist movement within the society, nor it does represent totalitarian rule by smashing all sorts of ‘democratic norms’ that is available even within bourgeois democracy. But when the crisis of capitalism sharpens and it becomes impossible for the bourgeoisie to balance different kinds of forces through parliamentary tricks, it can promote a dictatorial regime in form military dictatorship etc, for example the rule of Pinochet in Chile or the regime of Congress I under the leadership of Indira Gandhi during the emergency. This type of regime is utterly reactionary and brutal and more suppressive than normal bourgeois democracy since it refuses to give the masses the right to organize themselves also. Although it is some sort of totalitarian regime, it bases itself mainly on bloody suppression of mass resistance but not on fascist ideology and practice. Hence there is always a danger from the capitalist’s point of view to face the reactions of the masses. There lies the importance of fascism and fascist movement in the interests of monopoly capital and big business. Fascist dictatorship like other totalitarian regimes abolishes all sorts of democracy and smashes the working class organizations and even sometimes the petty bourgeoisie or liberal organizations in brutal forms, but the main difference with the bourgeois military dictatorship and with bourgeois democracy is that it bases itself on the counterrevolutionary ideology and mass movements within the society. It is therefore more detrimental to the working class and the communists. It was not Hitler who implanted fascism in Germany rather was the fascist movement and the German monopoly capital, which brought Hitler to power. The Stalinist regime however brutal and anti Bolshevik in politics and form, still based itself on some fruits of the Russian revolution and at the same time paralyzed soviet democracy in the interest of bureaucracy. Hence that was not at all a fascist regime, rather an anti capitalist regime in form of a ‘degenerated worker’s state’. Trotsky didn’t stop at simply analyzing how the fascist dictatorship differs from other forms of bourgeois rule, but pointed out that collaboration with the sections of the capitalist class in the name of popular front would weaken the anti-fascist struggle and proletarian internationalism. Instead he advocated the policy of proletarian united front i.e. united front with other worker’s parties. The irony is that in spite of his innumerable struggles against fascism, Trotsky was termed as a ‘counterrevolutionary’ and ‘fascist agent’ by the Moscow bureaucracy, which had taken control of the party and state apparatus. The Moscow leadership in its ‘social fascism’ period, branded Trotsky as a counterrevolutionary because Trotsky advocated the thesis of ‘united front’ with social democrats. At that time the strength of the German Communist Party and its mass organizations could be compared with those of social democrats and if really joint actions could be forged, probably the victory of fascism could be prevented within Germany itself. But the ‘united front’ action didn’t mean that Trotsky, while being still in the Communist Party, wanted to shutdown criticisms of social democrats. It is true that social democrats were traitors and agents of the bourgeoisie. They had earlier murdered Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht to put the German revolution in the graveyard. But still they didn’t operate around the core ‘fascist’ ideology, neither was it a fully transformed bourgeois party. It was basically a ‘worker’s party with the leadership collaborating with capitalism. But the crisis of capitalism produced lots of discontent among the rank and file workers of social democrats. Hence practicing the tactical line of ‘united front’ could dissociate these rank and file workers and youth from their rotten degenerate leadership. But the privileged Moscow bureaucracy maintained its supremacy forcefully and instead of engaging in an honest debate with Trotsky, they distorted his ideas ruthlessly and used all undemocratic norms to abolish his ideas. Although the revolutionary Marxists fought heroically armed with Trotsky’s ideas, in the 1930’s and thereafter, they could not succeed beyond a certain point.
However this Marxist analysis is relevant today both from the international perspective and from the Indian one. The theory and practice of ‘social fascism’ and ‘popular front’ still echoes among several honest left intellectuals, party activists and leadership. Hence it is always essential to explain the Marxist ideas advocated by Trotsky to the broad layers of the left and organize the working class, peasants and youth in an anti capitalist orientation.
Before analyzing fascism and the fascist movement in the Indian context, we should look at the heterogeneous complexity of the Indian society. In India, apart from the class exploitation, we have caste exploitation, exploitation based on religion and gender exploitation also. Thus as a culture we are replete with examples of subterranean repressive cultures in our society. Although class and caste exploitation are intermingled in most of the cases, the Indian state as a representative of Indian capitalists always sides with the Hindu upper castes as exploiters because of their social status and domination. The capitalist class in India like those of other underdeveloped countries hasn’t solved the tasks of bourgeois democratic revolution, rather consumed in itself the remnants of feudalism as well as caste exploitation and other forms of exploitation, which often presented in a barbaric manner more in rural areas than in urban areas. Communalism and communal politics, which are phenomenon of modern politics, have its base deep rooted in this social division and exploitation. In India while the Muslim communalism was and is an expression of minorities through communal leadership, Hindu communalism always used anti-Muslim politics to exert influence over the majority of Hindus. The main reason why Hindu communalism did not grow beyond a particular point even before 20 years is that the traditional bourgeois party Congress-I still used to exert influence over the Indian population and gained full reliability of Indian capitalists. Congress-I while implementing the antipeople rule of the bourgeoisie and suppressing worker’s movement brutally, used to play the communal card in the elections. Even the regional bourgeois parties have used Hindu or Muslim communal cards often to gain in the elections. Although as a representative of the Indian big bourgeoisie the Congress-I used to preach the concept of bourgeois nationalism and played the soft cards of ‘Hinduism’, they never placed ‘Hindutwa’ as their main agenda. These parties as agents of capitalism and imperialism never showed any desire to solve the basic problems of the common people and always sided with the exploiters. Hence when crisis of capitalism sharpened and alongside the different forms of exploitation took more severe forms, it was not possible for Congress-I or any other bourgeois party to exert the same influence on the masses. The majority of the Indian left practicing parliamentarism shamelessly and often making pacts with bourgeois parties denied to focus the roots of the problem and failed to organize a strong working class movement against the class enemies i.e. capitalism and imperialism. These objective and subjective factors paved the ground for fascism. Earlier Hindu communalism was confined in propagating communal propaganda and played active role in riots like Muslim fundamentalism. Now it emerged as a strong ‘anti-Muslim’ movement within the society. This didn’t happen automatically, RSS and its different wings whose longest-serving sarsangch, lak even glorified ‘German race pride’ and the extermination of the Jews purposefully put the agenda of ‘Hinduism’ in front of the Indian people and consistently propagated anti-minority hatred and mainly anti-Muslim hatred to show that the roots of all problems are Muslims. The frustrated masses finding no alternative began to gather around the RSS, the Bajrang dal and its political wing, the BJP. As Jairas Banaji writes:
‘Hate propaganda clears the ground for physical attacks and mass killings by producing a climate of violence where communal ‘riots’ (i.e. pogroms) can ‘flare up’ (be organized) at any time. The “climate” is worked matter, the object of a concerted praxis.’ The fascist movement organized by the RSS, the Bajrang dal and other fascist wings aimed towards binding Indian masses in a singular entity of ‘Hindu nationalism’ with a notion of destroying working class movement and all other resistance which can affect Indian capitalism and imperialism. Although the RSS raised the slogan of pseudo-swadeshi to utilize the anger of masses against imperialism, the BJP after coming to power implemented ‘open economy’ more vigorously and implemented several anti-working people laws to please Indian capitalists. It cannot be predicted that when the Indian big bourgeoisie will invite fascist dictatorship in a full-fledged manner. There may be divisions within the Indian bourgeoisie regarding when fascism will be implanted in power, but they clearly look upon fascist movement as an alternative and will invite it to power when they will fail to balance different kinds of forces through the parliamentary democracy and the bureaucratic apparatus. Herein lies the key danger for the Indian proletariat and the toiling masses as fascism intervenes in all arenas of society namely social, cultural and political.
When all these analyses are put together in terms of an agenda, we really need to look at the historical occurrences of fascism and justify the analyses in the Indian context. A significant portion of left intellectuals still believes that Fascism cannot triumph in underdeveloped countries. To counter this logic we need to look at the past where we can see that Italy was not at all a developed country. At the same time if we try to find the exact similarity between the fascist movement of the 1930s and that of today, it will be a gross mistake. The socialist demagogy of traditional fascism is absent today since ‘existing socialism’ has collapsed and the attraction of socialism has unfortunately diminished as far as the broad masses are concerned. Hence saffron fascism never uses even any ‘pseudo socialist’ word in its propaganda. Anyway the key ideology behind fascism remains the same. Alongside, the basic Marxist formulation of class struggle along with the strategy and the tactics of anti fascist struggle cannot change fundamentally. Collaboration with other bourgeois parties for parliamentary maneuver can prevent the fascist party to achieve power temporarily, but in the long run it paves the ground for fascism. Historically and in the Indian context also this is proved already. What is needed is true class perspective both ideologically and on the ground of struggle. Ideologically what is needed is to fight bourgeois nationalism wholeheartedly, as it constitutes a terrain which is the core of fascism and which is common to both the right and majority of the left in India. The Indian left still views the world economy as a collection of several autonomous national economies and denies that in the age of imperialism and in the era of globalization national economy is a part of world economy and national bourgeoisie from this perspective is an agent of imperialism. While evolving around the nationalist theory, the Indian left foolishly raises the slogan of autonomy or ‘swadeshi’, which has similarity with RSS’s slogan of ‘swadeshi’, although objectives are different. The other portions of the left although more radical, still subscribe to the point of view of collaborating with sections of the national bourgeoisie and challenge fascism and imperialism. Thus they fail to put forward a real class perspective, to turn the anti-fascist struggle into an anti capitalist struggle.
To oppose the bourgeois nationalism in practice what is needed is proletarian united front, which will not only struggle against economic exploitation at the trade union level, but also consistently put forward an anti-fascist political agenda, based on anti capitalist program from the internationalist perspective. Alongside class oppression, every form of oppression in Indian society namely caste, religion, linguistic, sexual needs to be addressed properly and all forms of anti authoritarian movement has to be linked with the program of revolutionary Marxism with the notion of sharpening the anti-fascist and the anticapitalist movement. We offer this new compilation – a small selection from Trotsky’s writings on the subject – as a weapon for anti-fascist arsenal.