A Decade of Reaction
By Prabhat Patnaik
The last decade has seen a remarkable transformation in the social, political and economic landscape of the country. A bunch of communal-fascists with closed, medieval minds have taken charge of the country, and, as one would expect, promptly begun the process of surrendering this charge to imperialism. The minorities are terrorized, and, in the latest instance, Gujarat, butchered in large numbers; the demand for a dictatorship called the Hindu Rashtra is openly articulated; all progressive and democratic opinion is made a target of attack; patriarchy is apotheosized; artistic endeavour not to the liking of the fascists is sought to be throttled, with the country's best-known painter being personally victimized; communal propaganda is pushed through a set of new text-books for school children; and a leading light among the fascists demands the closure of the country's best-known university. And all this happens even as unemployment, especially in rural India, soars, the peasantry faces large-scale ruination, the public food distribution system is dismantled, public sector assets are handed over at throwaway prices to a few favourites, multinational corporations are wooed assiduously even though with little effect, and the economic "governance" of the country is handed over increasingly to the World Bank, the IMF, the ADB and other such organizations.
Two points however need to be noted about this transformation. First, anti-democratic movements resembling in some ways the Hindutva phenomenon have mushroomed all over the world; the assault on reason, and the accompanying attack on democracy, are not specific to India. Second, communal fascism, even while promoting its own agenda, is, very definitely, engaged also in promoting the agenda of imperialism. The Hindutva part of the transformation is ensconced within a larger transformation through which the economy comes increasingly under the sway of imperialism. The Indian experience over the last decade therefore is neither an isolated sui generis phenomenon, nor one understandable except in the context of a much larger world-wide process involving the re-assertion of the hegemony of imperialism on a new basis.
This new phase of imperialism is based on the emergence of a new form of international finance capital. This emergence has to be located, of course, within the particular growth trajectory of post-war capitalism, but it has been helped by, and has in turn contributed towards, two parallel phenomena: the progressive weakening of socialism, and the progressive disillusionment of the people with the rule of the third world bourgeoisie that came to power after decolonization. Whether it is India or Algeria or Pakistan, the hegemony of the bourgeoisie, notwithstanding the diversity of its routes to power (e.g. the fact that in Algeria it came on the crest of an armed liberation struggle, in India on the basis of a repressed freedom struggle, while in Pakistan it came to power without ever having been an anti-imperialist force), became associated over time with pervasive corruption, primitive accumulation of capital, arrested development, and the persistence of mass misery. The process of bourgeois development within a protected national economy, relying on the support of the domestic State to carve out a space for the bourgeoisie, came to a dead-end everywhere. The domestic bourgeoisie's frustration with the path of development it had itself chosen, coincided with the drive of the new form of international finance capital to open up the world to its unrestricted flow. The rapid propagation of neo-liberal economic policies was a result of this confluence. And the masses, disillusioned with the years of bourgeois rule, were reluctant to defend the dirigiste economic policies, even though neo-liberalism was later to cause havoc to their livelihoods.
This scenario of mass disenchantment with bourgeois rule had been anticipated by the Left movement, but, when it came, the Left was unable to take advantage of it, because socialism itself had got weakened in the interim and was to collapse in large parts of the world. This left the way even clearer for the hegemony of international finance capital to assert itself.
This hegemony was, for a number of reasons, accompanied everywhere not just by a political shift to the Right, but by the emergence of divisive tendencies among the people. First, the very circumstances in which this hegemony asserted itself, circumstances associated with the weakening of socialism, gave rise to a massive rightward shift. The disillusionment with bourgeois rule in the third world for instance often took the form, in the absence of a strong progressive challenge, of a disillusionment even with such bourgeois democracy as existed, and a yearning for a messianic authoritarianism. Secondly, the attack on the livelihoods of the masses that the hegemony of international finance capital entailed, through deflation, unemployment and cuts in social wage, often gave rise to a refracted form of anger, not against the oppressors but against some other segment of the oppressed themselves, breeding ethnic, religious and communal conflicts. Thirdly, even when there was anger against the oppressors, this itself often took the refracted form of an anger against their skin colour, their religion, their culture, their customs, and their commodities, breeding fundamentalisms in an atavistic quest for piety and purity. But a consequence of this was that others among the domestic population with the same religion and cultural affinities were made targets of attack in an irrational frenzy.
All these are well known. The fact that accentuating unemployment provides a fertile soil for divisive tendencies among the people is well known; the fact that Hitler came to power taking full advantage of the mass unemployment engendered by the Great Depression is well-known. But one has to distinguish between different forms of divisive tendencies. Islamic fundamentalism for instance is very different from the Hindutva variety of communal-fascism: the former represents today a protest against imperialism while the latter's essence is a capitulation before imperialism. To say this does not mean that Islamic fundamentalism would always remain an oppositional force to imperialism. It was itself originally a creation, largely, of imperialism. It has changed since then, and it would change further, no doubt, depending on the circumstances, and in particular the changing class configurations and class interests. But there can scarcely be any dispute about the difference between the attitudes of Hindutva communalism and Islamic fundamentalism towards imperialism today. In terms of methods the two may be similar but their positions vis a vis imperialism are at present vastly different.
The reason for this difference cannot lie in the fact of historical proximity to imperialism. As already mentioned, several strands of Islamic fundamentalism, in particular, ironically, those very strands that are today the most virulently opposed to it, have been much closer to imperialism in the past than Hindutva has ever been. Osama Bin Laden was propped up by US imperialism to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. The Taliban enjoyed the patronage of the US for a long time, when the latter was hopeful of using the clerics for its pipeline project to carry gas from Central Asia. (Now Hamid Karzai promises to deliver what the US wants). By contrast, the Hindutva forces have never had that kind of historical proximity to the US or to any other imperialist power. To be sure, the reason for this comparative lack of proximity has to do with the fact that imperialism has never had to face a Communist government on Indian soil the way it had to in Afghanistan. Nonetheless, the question remains: why, despite historical experience pointing in the opposite direction, Hindutva developed a capitulationist character visavis imperialism, compared even to the other irrational tendencies like Islamic fundamentalism.
Needless to say, all these irrational ideologies do not ever address themselves to the question of improving in any way the conditions of the downtrodden. Even if they sometimes sway the masses, they remain essentially ideologies that serve to buttress the position of the ruling classes; indeed this is the function of all irrational ideologies. Why one ideology promoting irrationalism is pro-imperialist while another, equally committed to the spread of irrationalism, is at a certain moment opposed to it, must ultimately depend therefore on the nature of the class which makes use of the ideology to buttress its position. In an era when the domestic bourgeoisie, having reached a dead-end with the dirigiste strategy, is willing to become a junior partner of metropolitan capital for its further growth, the irrational ideology it promotes in order to divide the people to ensure that they acquiesce in this strategy, necessarily takes on a pro-imperialist character. Hindutva's genuflection before imperialism therefore reflects the class interests of a significant section of the Indian big bourgeoisie on the basis of whose support it has come to power, and without whose support it cannot stay in power, given the social weight of this section. (In contrast one can argue that Islamic fundamentalism represents an irrational ideology that is promoted by feudal-mercantile elements in a society where capitalist development has remained particularly stunted, where the social weight of the modern bourgeois class is correspondingly less, and where the old order presided over by the feudal-mercantile interests feels threatened by imperialist penetration. This would explain both its current hostility to imperialism as well as its chamelion-like nature, since its attitude can always change if imperialism offers it a suitable "deal").
It follows then that we cannot accept either of the following two positions: we cannot support imperialism, and the sundry irrational movements that hitch their bandwagon to it, in their attack on such irrationalism as is hostile to it, in the name of "modernity" and "civilization"; equally, we must eschew support to irrationalism, that is hostile to imperialism, just because it is "anti-imperialist", overlooking the fact of its being a handmaiden of feudal reaction. This dual opposition is all the more necessary since mutually confronting irrationalisms strengthen and sustain one another. The task of the Left is to mobilize democratic opinion against all irrationalism, and to link this mobilization with a movement against imperialism, since the phenomenon of imperialism is what underlies the flourishing of all irrationalism in the contemporary epoch.
Since the government formed by the Hindutva forces enjoys the support of significant sections of the big bourgeoisie and the blessings of international finance capital, and ardently pursues neo-liberal policies towards this end, it follows that the dictatorial moves it undertakes are, objectively speaking, moves to usher in a dictatorship of finance capital, which is why the term "fascism", which represents essentially a modern phenomenon in an irrational medieval garb, is an apposite description of this tendency.
This is not to suggest of course that its moves would succeed. Indeed there is a silver lining to the dark cloud, which consists in this: precisely because the pro-imperialist communal-fascism that we are faced with is the product of a context where bourgeois development has proceeded to a significant extent, there is a liberal bourgeois opposition to it which can be harnessed in the battle against it.
But winning the battle is not enough; the war has to be won. And that is not possible unless the anti-communal struggle is linked to the anti-imperialist struggle. The key element in this anti-imperialist struggle in the present conjuncture is the peasantry. An enormous amount of discontent is building up among the peasantry, not just the landless or poor peasants who eke out a precarious and marginal existence, but the middle and even the rich peasantry which has not escaped the depredations of the imperialist-dominated world market. If the peasantry is mobilized to fight the economic policies that are causing it so much distress at this juncture, then, together with the working class, it would generate a social force through which not only can the fascist onslaught be halted and reversed, but even the conjuncture that gives rise to the emergence of fascism can be transcended. And a significant step would have been taken in the struggle against imperialist hegemony.
Courtesy: People's Democracy