Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Right Wing Politics and attacks on Academic Freedom and Democratic Rights


Professor Sugata Marjit has written an article in the Times of India, attacking students' participation in politics. Having started with a disclaimer that since the issue is sub-judice it would not be right to comment about the specifics of the Jadavpur case, he goes on to make ample innuendos, and while the article heading talks about banning gheraos, in fact goes much further to demand: “first strategy will be to ban politics among the teachers, officials and non-teaching staff with exemplary punishment in case of violation”. (ToI, Sept. 27, 2014).

Professor Marjit has been quite well known as a right wing scholar, a supporter of all the standard neo-liberal positions, and given his stature (former Director, CSSSC, editor of academic journals, a wikipedia article on him which is basically his publication list), one of the more well known academic faces of the current Trinamul Congress regime in West Bengal. Having served as a chair of the State Higher Education Council, and having been in the search committee that created a short list of names for the next Vice Chancellor of Jadavpur University, his involvement with West Bengal's academic politics is extensive. It is therefore interesting that this consummate politician wants a ban on politics – obviously because it is politics of the wrong kind. And is it not interesting, too, that while Marjit writes in sophisticated languages, the Trina Mul Chhatra Paridhad has actually demanded a ban on the Jadavpur University Teachers Association? Is it also not interesting that the JU administration has been issuing orders (later described as appeals) that appear as first steps in the direction of a show cause notice to the President and Secretary of the Jadavpur University Teachers' Association?

So it is necessary to go beyond the perfunctory disclaimers and read Professor Marjit's essay as an “intellectual” component of a multi-pronged war on democratic rights. With the subtlety of a rampaging hippo, the article is titled Gherao a criminal act, it should be banned. Professor Supriya Chaudhuri has responded to it in her own way. I differ from her in some respects. Professor Chaudhuri has begun by looking at the significant academic achievements of Jadavpur University, and wants her readers to understand that all this is under attack. I too have had a long association with this University (student 1976-1981, working at my PhD from 1982, a teacher since 1984 with experience of teaching in the Departments of History and Comparative Literature as well as the School of Women's Studies) and therefore feel proud of how JU students, scholars and faculty have achieved excellence. But I believe that the response to attacks on democratic rights must focus on the wider communities, and not on special cases. Marjit attacks JU, at times in a vicious and utterly unproved manner. But he uses the current JU agitation to launch an attack on academic freedom and democracy itself. The #hokkolorob movement has generated support and solidarity from across West Bengal, because people in educational institutions across the state have been under attack.

I would like to draw attention to the ease and complete lack of rationality of any kind other than rightwing politics that enables Professor Marjit to move from gherao as a specific weapon of struggle to the right to political agitation itself. I doubt people would think it an ad hominem if I reported that back in 1978, long before our learned doctor had picked up his degrees and obtained the position of Chairperson of the State Higher Education Council that he held for some time under the current dispensation, he had been a Chhatra Parishad candidate at Presidency College, where he was defeated by Supriyo Chatterjee contesting for the post of Union Secretary. So I submit that the antipathy to democracy has roots in the reality that open advocacy of far right elitist politics does not garner adequate support. But one would also be keen to know, whether it was in an introspective and autobiographical mode that Marjit wrote: “students are naturally vulnerable to political and under-the-table manipulations”.

Marjit goes on to make the following propositions:
a. Student politics is akin to herd behaviour.
b. JU students are substance abusers.
c. Teachers get paid by the government and therefore they must be banned from doing politics.

Substance Abusers as Agitators?

To take up the complete manufacture first – the issue of JU being a hotbed of substance abuse. I would advise all students (and indeed have always advised them), that when making sweeping claims, one needs to document one's assertions. Marjit simply says, “It is also well-known that various academic spots and surely the JU campus have become a hotbed of drug addicts”. Had someone made a similar accusation about, say, the West Bengal cabinet, they would have faced a lawsuit. So why should Marjit not face the same? How may cases of substance abuse have been registered against JU students over the last five years? By using terms like “well-known” and “surely”, Marjit gives an impression of confidence, when the truth is, he has absolutely no hard data. One is tempted to digress and re-tell a story about economists one heard many years back – an ancient box that could not be opened, was found in an Indus Valley site. The archaeologist talked about its dating, the art historian about the skills that had gone into its making, while the economist commented – assume the box is open. Marjit makes a slanderous comment, and urges us (not openly, but by implication) to look at his status, printed beneath the article, and assume that whatever he is saying must be true. In the last 38 years, I have seen some students who take alcohol, many more who smoke, some who use other substance – in JU, in Presidency, in St. Xaviers' College, in Scottish Church College where I taught for a while, as well as in other sections of the population. I have never found that it is monopolised by one institution, location, age, or any other category. Surely Marjit could have provided us with the data base. His failure to do so is evidence that he is presenting his readers with what may be called a falsifiction (fiction, uttered as if it is reality). And even if JU had indeed been haunted by substance abusers, can he show any logical link between that and the agitation? Suppose we found that in Stockholm the incidence of storks and the incidence of births had a correlation of almost 1. would he agree, without looking at anything else, that babies in Stockholm are delivered by storks?

Democracy, and the Right to Political Space

So we move on to the more substantial issue – democracy and the right to politics. Marjit is effectively pushing a line that people have only one political right – to periodically take part in elections. Once a government is put in place, all political rights pass to it. This was also the argument of Partha Chatterjee, the Education Minister, who said that students cannot choose who will be the Vice Chancellor. The students were of course not demanding the right to select the VC. They had been demanding the right to assert that someone who sees students as slaves to be roughed up cannot be a VC. Behind this lies extremely divergent conceptions of democracy.

Democracy was created in ancient Greece – in the city-state of Athens. It had major limitations – slaves (of both the sexes) and all women, were deprived of political, and even most civil rights. But what was significant about ancient democracy was that those who were considered citizens did not simply cast their votes and push off to watch the tragedies of Aeschylus being performed. Law making, execution of decisions, and judicial functions, all saw a wide range of public participation. Laws could only be passed by the Popular Assembly, which met at least 40 days in a year, with a quorum of 6000. Drafts of laws could be proposed by anyone at Assembly meetings, or at meetings of the Boule or Council of 500 by members of the Council. Trials were heard by dikasteries (the dikasts were both judge and jury) of between 200 and 1000 persons. All this was in a place where the size of the citizen population was 30,000 or perhaps a little more. Right-wing historians and philosophers, ever since Plato, have condemned this democracy. And they too have talked about herd mentality. Yet it must be understood that this democracy, once created by a revolution (508), was strong enough to survive for nearly two centuries, till an immensely more powerful Macedon defeated Athens. It is the student movement, which started in late August, took on mass dimensions from the second week of September, and has been based on sustained democratic general body meetings since then, that exemplifies real democratic practices as well as an understanding of what democracy means in theory. The movement has received support from students outside Jadavpur, and in an absolutely correct widening, the students have insisted that such so-called outsiders must be allowed their voices. 

In modern times, liberalism resisted democracy. John Locke was absolutely clear on this issue – only those who owned property, those who did not sell their labour power, were to be considered politically fully authorised. Even so, they were to create the government. Thereafter unless government violated its pact with the propertied, it alone acted. When votes had to be given to the poor, as in the USA after independence, democracy was radically redefined, so that casting one's vote periodically seemed to be the be-all and end-all. It is this, highly watered down “democracy” that Marjit or Chatterjee favour. What the JU students movement has shown is something that major social upheavals over the last few centuries have repeatedly done – namely, breaking the barriers between the representers and the represented, creating new structures of democracy. There have been mass meetings, called General Body meetings – GBs by the separate faculty, GBs of the entire student community of JU, and yes, conventions that have allowed the so-called bohiragotos to come and speak as well.

Gheraos

Before going on to Marjit's strictures about teachers, I would also like to address the question of gherao. All political battles are, at one level, attempts by opposed or differing groups to gather power, use power. It would certainly be more humane if one could exchange opinions and take decisions. But if one ignores the facts in the name of not discussing a sub-judice matter, and then makes sweeping comments about criminal actions and the need to ban them, then one is also playing politics – of a dirty kind.

So let us again recapitulate some events. A young woman alleged she had been sexually harassed. She went to the Vice Chancellor to complain. According to her version, the University response was tardy. She also claimed improper behaviour by certain members of the Internal complaints Committee. These were matters that the University administration, led by the VC, should have sorted out very quickly. When a student agitation began to form, they were alternately ignored and threatened. Marjit sweeps the events under the carpet with a misleading comment about how a mob mentality led students to demand that the same person should lodge a complaint, investigate, and punish the “guilty”. The use of the quotation marks round the word 'guilty' suggests Marjit opines there was no sexual harassment at all.

Then, a month ago, on the night of 16-17 September, the gherao did develop. There have been dozens of gheraos. Without looking at the specific context in which a gherao has developed, without looking at the demands, a how far students had attempted sincere negotiations and other forms of agitations, to simply make a sweeping comment that gheraos are criminal actions show that one is taking a formal stance,but hardly one that investigates social realities. For about 150 hours before this, students had been on a peaceful sit-in. There had been ample opportunity to call them in and negotiate. Has the VC produced even the merest shred of evidence that he tried to do so?

During my brief stint as a member of the JU EC, I was among the EC members once gherao-ed – by the TMCP. The then VC, Souvik Bhattacharyya, took the position that he was willing to talk with anyone who was his student, regardless of party colour, or even regardless of whether they were official leaders of the Union, but he would not talk with Professor Shonku. The gherao petered out with no further consequence and no further agitation, because it had no significant base among the students. The current agitation is going on even after one month, and despite the vacation in between. I do not believe that any agitation should begin with a gherao. Nor do I believe that even if there is a mass support, a gherao, for any demand, is necessarily right. Yes, there can be mob violence. But that is why it is necessary to look at what the JU students were demanding and how they were behaving. They were demanding, for example, a reconstitution of the ICC. If their specific demand was wrong, one could have explained to them where they were wrong in law, and sought to come to an agreement. They were demanding prompt action from the University. If today there is some police action, why did it require a march by anything between 50,000 to 1,00,000 people on the streets of Kolkata and a province, country and world-wide solidarity action before the police finally did something, whatever ? Anyone reading Avishek De Biswas' article in Ebela, or the FETSU's very first statement on Facebook, would have known that students took quite a careful position. FETSU, for example, wanted proper investigation. By quoting truncated passages, one newspaper has even managed to portray the FETSU as pro-sexual harassment. So when students did come out in a gherao this time, it was after exploring other avenues over a long period of time and meeting with total opposition from the VC.

Ban all Campus Politics?

So why are we supposed to ban all politics? Marjit provides no rational (or even irrational) argument about why student politics should be banned. He makes sounds about how herd mentality is the cause of wars, riots and economic crises. Oh really? I will come back to this. But why does he want the ban?

Here is the passage from Marjit: “Academic institutions are only for academic activities. First strategy will be to ban politics among the teachers, officials and non-teaching staff with exemplary punishment in case of violation.

They accept public money and must not indulge in political activities on the campus. Students are not public servants, but to make sure that the willing students are allowed to attend lectures and those inside or outside the campus who physically and through campaign prevent such action must be apprehended and prosecuted. "Gherao" by any group must be identified as a criminal act. These are necessary steps to make ourselves civilized and care for public money and society at large. This wish list is so politically incorrect that it must be pursued at all costs”.

Note the construction of sentences. He calls for a ban on all politics by paid employees. Now, what is politics? If we are talking about parties, historically, universities have provided freedom of thought and expression, and all party viewpoints have been expressed. So is it because Marjit's party is totally marginalised, despite the thunderings of so many Vice Chancellors, that ban is now seen as necessary? Second, while governments pay the money for our salaries, we are not defined as public servants. Third, of course, is so what even if we were? It is a hang over of the colonial era, when people who drew salaries from the colonial government were not allowed to express themselves politically. We are given a set of instructions here, not any argument about WHY they are necessary.

Academic spaces are for academic work, says the professor. So what does academic work mean? Would we teach Socrates, or the French Revolution to the students, and tell them, but do understand, all this is purely hypothetical. You may not question received wisdom like Socrates, for that would be politics. You may not demand equal rights, for that would be politics.

Leaving such things aside, for I suspect that anyone capable of writing the passage I have quoted will not have the capacity to understand the interconnections I am trying to make, let me move down to concrete issues. The academic excellence of institutions depend on autonomy of teachers, scholars, and students. Ever since the TMC government started passing new University Acts and the like, these have been curtailed in a number of ways. In the very specific case of Jadavpur University, the JUTA is engaged in compiling a White Paper, showing how the current VC has harmed the academic work in JU by unwarranted interference, some using the law, some going beyond what the law permits. By the strictures of Marjit, such an act of JUTA is politics, not academics, and so we will perhaps see one more missive from the Registrar to the President and Secretary of JUTA.

Then there is the sentence about students. I quote it again. “Students are not public servants, but to make sure that the willing students are allowed to attend lectures and those inside or outside the campus who physically and through campaign prevent such action must be apprehended and prosecuted”.

Willing students – yes? Who are they? Where are the willing students who were prevented? If Marjit, writing on 27 September, had even one concrete case, he would have documented it. The absence of documentation is evidence that all talk about stopping willing students is a bunch of lies.

Moreover, Marjit wants action not only against those who physically prevent “willing students” but also those who campaign. In other words, any poster, calling for a complete strike, can be treated as proof, and the person writing, or putting up the poster, can be punished – including if such persons were acting outside the campus. With such rapidity and skilled (!!) writing does our professor move from the campus to the entire province. Even Mussolini would have found little to quibble with Marjitian democracy after this.

A few more comments on herds and history:

I want to remark briefly on the ig-nobel award winning discovery of professor Marjit. He tells his readers, “there has been considerable research on this topic” [herd behaviour]. We learn that herd behaviour is the root cause of “riot, financial crisis, war”. Oh, wow!!. Where are the citations? 

Having taught History, including histories of wars, revolutions, crises, between 1982 and 2009, I never came across these researches, and would have benefited. There have been massive studies on the causes of wars, both fundamental causes and immediate ones, and “herd behaviour” figures in marginally. Personally, I have taught Thucydides for a quarter cetury, along with commentators on Thucydides, and did not find this explanation figuring. Among other examples, one can talk of William Mulligan's 2010 book on The Origins of the First World War, which looks at historiographic debates. Ernest Mandel's book, The Meaning of the Second World War, presents a wide-ranging summary. The same author wrote The Second Slump, dealing with the crisis of 1974. One could read, agree, disagree, argue, with them. But one would not find the simple explanation that herd behaviour was at the base. 

So the claims of scholarship through the author identification at the bottom of Marjit's essay only serve to assist the presentation of false claims to buttress ultra-reactionary conclusions. And yes, we know all too well the means by which they can be pursued. Students are being called a herd, so that mass action, the exemplary democratic means employed, can be portrayed as manipulations by alleged outsiders, supposed party interests. This must be known for what it is – a deep right wing attack on democracy.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Solidarity with the People of Gaza

Speech in Solidarity with the People of Gaza --21st July

[I spoke for the first time in my life in a meeting organized by the SFI. I had gone to listen, not to speak. Because it was a protest over Gaza. But some of the students requested me to speak. So I did. Below is an edited version of what I said.]

Thank you for inviting me to speak. I had not come at all prepared, so I may be less than fully coherent. I want you to excuse me if that happens.
My first and crucial point is, such protests need to recognise that we live in a different world than the one I inhabited when I was a student in this very University. In those days the left was stronger, anti-imperialism and anti-racism were stronger. Today, the right is stronger by far. As a result, its ideology has reached out to vaster masses and confused them. When we protest over Palestine, as I have been doing, we must pay heed to this reality and respond to false issues and non issues that they raise, because not everyone spouting those arguments is a diehard Hindu communalist, Zionist, or imperialist agent. Rather, a great many are reeling as a result of the huge rightwing ideological offensive.
A standard argument is so called humanist pacifism. We are attacked, and told that all violence is violence, so why are we not condemning Hamas and its violence. This calls for a response at several levels. First, it is untrue that Hamas has started the violence. I am not talking like children, about who hit first. I am saying this for a deeper reason. As long as you cannot prove, in a court of law, who killed the three Israeli youth, it is fraudulent to blame Hamas. It is being done simply because Hamas and Fatah were about to come to an agreement, and Israel wanted to block that.
Second, there is a clear difference between Israeli violence and anything any Palestinian is doing. Israel has adopted a policy that is called collective punishment. This is a policy we know too well. After the revolt of 1857, the British killed youth by the entire village in Awadh and other areas, not because they were convicted of anything, but because they were young people of target regions. For Israel, the most important parallel does not come from India though. It is a shameful and tragic thing, that those who say they are Jews, are adopting the policy adopted by Hitler. In retaliation for the killing of the Nazi leader Reinhard Heydrich, the Nazis carried out collective punishments in Czechoslovakia. One village wiped out was Lidice. On 10 June 1942, all 173 men over 15 years of age from the village were executed. A further 11 men were killed a few days later. 184 women and 88 children were deported to concentration camps. At the end of the war, only 17 of the children and 153 women returned alive.
Third, to reduce the debate to yesterday, to forget at least the whole post 1948 situation, is criminal. Israel was created through a UN intervention. But why? If it is because Jews needed a homeland, why here? The only claim the Jews had to Israel was that it is their biblical homeland, and supposedly one that God (Yahweh or the Tetragrammaton) had promised to Koses. As a firm atheist, I accept this no more than I accept any fable of promises made by Vishnu or others in the Hindu pantheon, or the promises of Allah.
The historical record says Jews were thrown out of this area by the Romans, not the Arabs. The first significant Jewish resistance was stamped out with ferocious brutality in 66-73 CE. Simon Bar Kokhba’s rebellion was also defeated. As a result, Roman violence was considerable. This only increased when the Roman emperors became Christian. It was only after the conquest of the regions where the Jews lived by the Arabs that things changed for the better. When the Christians in the middle ages wanted to conquer the “Holy Lands’, that was not for the benefit of the Jews, but of /christinas. Jews were mercilessly treated by them.
From the First Century CE, Jews had been driven out in large numbers from Israel, and till 1948, the bulk of Jews lived outside their so-called homeland.
Jews had been systematically repressed in Christian Europe. The nature of repression changed. In the middle ages it was based on religion. Modern racism, where a descendant of a Jew was considered a Jew even if the person was not a practicing Jew, has links with the past, but is distinct. If you want to check who was more hostile to Jews in the middle ages/ early modern times, remember, Jews lived under Moorish protection in Spain. After the reconquista, 200,000 Jews were thrown out of Spain, and 50,000 or more forced to become Christians. A few years later, Torquemada would torture and murder some 2000 of them for real or assumed crypto-Judaism. The climax came with Hitler and the Nazis, who killed six million Jews during the Shoah. Partly to put an end to the guilt feelings of Europeans, partly to keep West Asia under control by installing a colonial-settler state, imperialists agreed to the Zionist demand for creating a Jewish state of Israel. While it is supposed to be a democratic state, in fact it is a religious state where Jews have priority, proved above all by the so-called Law of Return, by which anyone who is a Jew or is married to a Jew has the right to return (ha) to Israel.
Even the 1947 UN proposal called for handing over 55% of the land to the Jews (bad enough as at that time they owned only 7%). But by the end of one round of wars by Zionist armed forces, they captured 77%, and eliminated at least 418 Arab villages. After the 1967 war, most of Palestine was controlled by them and even more Palestinians were refugees.
So if, after moderate agitations failed, the Palestinians did become violent occasionally, it cannot be compared at all with the systematic Zionist violence on the Palestinians.
I will not speak at much greater length. But I want you to think about a few other issues raised. Where were you when the Boko Haram was killing people? Where were you when Bangladeshi Hindus were being tortured and driven out? Where were you over the ISIS? these questions keep coming. We need to understand that these are red herrings, but explain it carefully. Some of us have protested. For example, when under Khaleda Zia Hindus were persecuted, it was raised in the Indian Parliament not by a BJP leader, but by CPI MP Gurudas Dasgupta. The real issue is, why are these questions being asked NOW? Because, this is an attempt to attack the mobilizations over Israel’s attacks on Gaza. I have no objection to someone organising a protest over Syria, for example, or Bangladesh and ill treatment of Hindus by Zia. But I will look at the nature and slogans of the protest. Even over Israel-Arab conflict I will look at the language of protest. I will not oppose and condemn all Jews, but only Zionism and the Zionist state. I am anti-Zionist, not anti-Jew.
Finally, I want to stress – we often belong to organisations and I see no objections to that. I am myself a member of a political organisation and those who know my politics will know it is far distant from the politics of those who have arranged today’s meeting. I came because of the issue, not the banner. So I appeal to students – if there is a possibility of similar positions, keep your banners separate, but mobilise forces jointly. The people of Gaza need such united protests. And in India, where pro-Israel forces are welcomed and pro-Palestine demonstrations are brutally attacked by the police, united, mass shows of resistance are essential.
Thank you

Monday, April 14, 2014

Communal Fascism and its Dangers


Edited version of my speech at the Calcutta Press Club during the National Seminar on Communal Fascism seminar on 12th April. In view of Hindu’s garbled report, all the more necessary. This incorporates things I said in response to questions, but omits certain responses to Nazrul, who went into very complicated identity politics.

Friends,
It is necessary to be passionate about the issue of Modi being projected as PM, but also to reflect coolly. Let me start with a few common positions that have been developed. I want to start by saying that we have to be careful in using the term fascism. It is often used indiscriminately. When the police beat up striking workers or agitating students, ultra left groups issue leaflets talking about “the barbaric fascism of the police”. What is a bourgeois democratic baton charge, please? I remember when I was a student, graffiti on Calcutta walls could be seen condemning Jyoti Basu as a new Mussolini. And of course, we have the regular attacks on Indira Gandhi’s ‘fascism”. Make no mistake, we have had despicable, very right wing, authoritarian governments. Like Indira Gandhi, especially during the emergency. But it was not fascism. If we do not get this right, we will be crying wolf so often, that we will be diluting the gravity of the meaning of fascism, and making people feel, oh, then fascism is not that bad. If the emergency was fascism, then you survive a degree of terror but then vote it out roundly. Keeping this in mind, we need to understand why it is the Sangh Parivar, including the BJP, that we call fascist, not others.

In doing this, we however have to note something else. Bourgeois liberal intellectuals are rapidly coming out and declaring that the Sangh is not that bad, or, if the Sangh is, Modi is not. There are many examples, but for lack of time I want to talk about just two of them. Both are well known, and have Wikipedia articles on them, which means they are not recognized only among intellectuals, but much more widely. One is Ramchandra Guha. Guha is a smooth, supposedly Gandhian intellectual, who, as befits a modern time Gandhian, is quite anti communist. He is the one who attacked Arundhati Roy as “the Arun Shourie of the Left”, alleging she was trying to take away credit from Medha Patkar. Now that Medha Patkar is contesting as AAP candidate, where is Guha? He is telling his readers that Indian democracy is so strong that the coming to power of a Modi will not damage it. Even while democratic institutions are already reeling, and as I hope to show, despite the evidence that wherever the RSS enters it systematically attacks democratic institutions, our learned scholar tells us, institutions are so strong we do not have to take strongest measures to save it. Then he goes on to make lying comments, drawing a parallel between Chavez and Modi.

Another person is Rudrangshu Mukherjee. Wikipedia tells the world that he is a leftist historian who opposed the left after Singur-Nandigram. I remember him as turning bitter anti-communist the moment the crisis of the Stalinist system made it evident there would be no more grand patronage from left circles, writing worn out charges against Lenin even while recent research was proving them to be sheer falsifications. He has made his name as a thoroughgoing anti-communist for whom democracy and liberalism have to be defended from communists.  But he is very keen to teach us that there is no fascist threat. Modi? Oh, we have seen all that before, such as Indira Gandhi. So do not call Modi fascist – that is the message he dins out, as Opinion page Editor of The Telegraph, one of India’s leading newspapers for the upper class.
Why does this happen? Because the liberal is at bottom much closer to the fascist than to the left. You may find this difficult to swallow. But liberalism bases itself on the free market. And therefore it finally opposes itself to any kind of communism, even if it pretends that it is doing so because of the crimes of Stalinism. The proximity of liberalism to fascism, and the suppleness of liberal intellectuals and their readiness to submit to fascists is being documented anew with these writers, and standing behind them, the institutions of Indian liberal civil society, the media, the academic institutions, and others. The bourgeois dynamics of rising fascism eventually forces liberals to accept it.

However, I want you to understand also that fascism has an autonomous dynamics, and we would be wrong to reduce fascism to economic determinism. I. G. Farben may have delivered Zyklon-B as per contrtact and received payments from the state. But IG Farben did not dictate the Holocaust.

So in that case what is fascism and why do I say that the RSS is really fascist while others are not?

a)      The rise of fascism happens during periods of deep social crisis of capitalism in the age of imperialism. In the era of globalised markets and sharp competitions, when the “normal” processes of capital accumulation slow down, the structural crisis of capitalism demands a violent solution through shifting the balance of class forces in favour of monopoly capital, which is what the fascist seizure of power does.
b)      Normally, bourgeois democracy is advantageous for capitalism, because it allows tension to be released through periodically voting out a government party, as well as in the form of periodic reforms. Also, in this system a wider part of the ruling class becomes co-sharers of power. But this is not true for periods of crisis, when the bourgeoisie needs extreme surgery in its basic class interests.
c)      This calls for acute centralization, which cannot be achieved through state power alone. Even military dictatorships do not always have the required effect, because the primary level class conflicts in the market economy would daily reproduce proletarian class consciousness and allow it to grow to higher levels. What monopoly capital needs is a force that can be mobilised against the working class, that will organise and fight against the forces of the working class, create regular terror, demoralise the class-conscious elements, and after the fascist seizure of power smash all organisations of the working class and atomise the unity of the class conscious proletarians. This calls for a counter-revolutionary mass movement.
d)     The main constituents of such a force can only be the petty bourgeoisie. Deep economic crises create despondency and desperation within the ranks of the petty bourgeoisie. There are certain generally identifiable elements in the ideology of the petty bourgeois mass movement, including chauvinist nationalism, verbal hostility to capitalism, a deep and abiding hatred of the organised working class and the struggle for socialism, a sense of pain for a lost golden age, and a deep psychological malaise. This  kind of a movement can only be built up if it begins as an independent one, not just an instrument of ruling class manipulation.
e)      Fascism can succeed only if even before the seizure of power it can make the working class retreat considerably. The balance must tilt in favour of the fascists before their seizure of power. The installation of fascism in power is a way of declaring civil war. That is a dangerous gamble, and so the bourgeoisie would like to have some guarantee of the superior strength of the fascists. In the initial stages, only the most aggressive and marginal elements among the petty bourgeoisie join the fascist bands. The “respectable” petty bourgeoisie do so only when it is reasonably sure that it is jumping in the right direction.
f)       When fascism smashes the organised proletariat with its hammer blows, it has rendered its services to the bourgeoisie. Thereafter, monopoly capital desires to bring it to heel. This involves a complex process, including the bureaucratisation of the leading layers of the fascist cadres, as well as the destruction of those layers who take too seriously the social rhetoric of the fascist movement. The fascist state also has international repercussions. The desire for change which pushes monopoly capital in the direction of an accommodation with the fascists involves an overcoming of economic downturns through a sharply inflationary policy. Military investments become an important part of the project of economic recovery as well as political strategy. So an aggressive foreign policy also develops.

Why do we call the Sangh, and Modi, fascist?

To start with, in its origin, the RSS consciously modeled itself after the fascists. The shakhas were modeled after Mussolini’s Blackshirts. When the Nazis attacked Jews all over Germany on Krystallnacht, M. S. Golwalkar wrote approvingly in his We, or Our Nationhood Defined, : “To keep up the purity of the Race and its culture, Germany shocked the world by her (sic) purging the country of the Semitic Races — the Jews. Race pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has also shown how well nigh impossible it is for Races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindusthan to learn and profit by.”  In the same work, he explained the political conclusion that needed to be drawn: “The foreign races in Hindusthan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but those of the glorification of the Hindu race and culture, i.e., of the Hindu nation and must lose their separate existence to merge in the Hindu race, or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu Nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment — not even citizen's rights. There is, at least, should be, no other course for them to adopt. We are an old nation; let us deal, as old nations ought to and do deal, with the foreign races, who have chosen to live in our country.”

The avowal of the Nazis as an ideal was further explained by Anthony Elenjimittan, a Christian convert to the RSS outlook. “The RSS from the very inception of the movement hoisted Bhagva flag, Dharma Chakra and  Satya Meva Jayte as their symbols, and have grown around these patriotic ideals. Hence, the RSS youth, given more favourable circumstances can be in India what was Hitler youth in Germany, fascist youth in Italy. If discipline, organised centralism and organic collective consciousness means fascism, then the RSS is not ashamed to be called fascist. The silly idea that fascism and totalitarianism are evils and parliamentarism and Anglo-Indian types of democracy are holy, should be got rid of from our minds ….” (The Philosophy and Action of the RSS for the Hind Swaraj, p.197).

Though the RSS today pretends that the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha were totally distinct, in fact there was both considerable overlap between the two organizations, and a great degree of ideological overlap. The key Hindu Mahasabha ideologue, V. D. Savarkar, put forward many of the crucial aspects of present day RSS doctrine. It was Savarkar who first argued that territorial nationalism was a wrong concept. Those who did not have their punyabhumi at the same place as their pitribhumi could not be equal citizens. This ruled out Muslims and Christians. Golwalkar later added communists, asserting that they were all people having their punyabhumi in Russia. In place of territorial nationalism, Savarkar argued, what was needed was cultural nationalism, equating religion with culture. Likewise, it was Savarkar who advocated flatly the need to push Muslims into second-class citizen status. It was Savarkar who created the basic ingredients of the picture of the Muslim as the eternal enemy who must be fought by a so-called Hindu awakening. And it was Savarkar, again, who made raping Muslim women sound like a holy task for Hindus (read his Six Glorious Epochs of Indian History).

However, it is not this alone that makes them fascist. We could then have simply equated them with the Taliban or with Ayatollah Khomeini. This is where I would disagree with people who would be willing to extend the term fascist to most Islamic fundamentalist movements and regimes. It is the specific relationship that the Sangh combine aspires to develop in relation to the Indian bourgeoisie that must be kept in mind. The RSS on one hand aims to clearly keep its agenda intact, and it has shown itself willing to let go of temporary advantages like ruling through coalition governments. But at the same time, the RSS has a definite class agenda in its own way. Right from the 1930s, Moonje made it clear that for the forces of the Hindutva right, communism and socialism were fundamental enemies. M.S. Golwalkar for his part explained this equally bluntly. In the aftermath of Gandhi’s murder, when the RSS was banned, Golwalkar’s exchanges with Patel show him offering a pact to Patel, on the basis of a shared hostility to communism. And when Golwalkar and his followers talk of communism, we need to understand it very ecumenically. Just as when Hitler ranted against Marxism, he made no distinction between Social Democrat, Communist, dissident Communist, or just trade unionist with a degree of proletarian class-consciousness, the same is true of the RSS. From the faintest pink to the most ultra-red, all come under its scanner. The RSS-BJP bloc is willing to fight in its own way against the working class. It is willing to smash every form of independent proletarian organisation. In his ‘Introduction’ to Bunch of Thoughts, Prof. M.A. Venkat Rao writes: “Another advantage of the Indian [read RSS] view of society is that it eschews class war. It postulates social harmony as a potentiality, if not as a fully actual order of laws and customs, observances and enforcements. The state is not a class agent of the upper class. Not is it an exploiting agency. It is an agent of morality or dharma”. (pp. xxxii – xxxiii).

So first, a violently aggressive model of Hindu nationalism lies at the root of RSS ideology. Second, it had in the past openly proclaimed itself fascist. Because it was forced to operate within a bourgeois democratic set up for decades, it concealed the past utterances, but it has NEVER repudiated them.

Third, there has been a fundamental difference between the role of the Jan Sangh in the past and the rise of the BJP in the last three decades, and particularly the anointing of Modi this time round.

The RSS had been seeking to promote its agenda, by whatever means, all these years. But by and large, the Indian capitalist class had preferred the congress, its historic party. This is what has changed. So why does the ruling class prefer the fascist alternative, and why does it think fascism will be useful?

The Gujarat Model:

First, we need to look at how Modi has consolidated, how BJP and the Sangh have consolidated in Gujarat.
There are several dimensions to the Gujarat Model, and they all tie in. it is not that there was a so called aberration of 2002, and there is a since then one decade long story of growth in Gujarat. The Pogrom of 2002 was not an accident, not an aberration, and not a reaction to what happened at Godhra. At that time we put out and helped to put out many books, and I would suggest you look at some of them. I edited The Genocidal Pogrom in Gujarat: Anatomy of Indian Fascism, and Inquilabi Communist Sangathan published it from Vadodara itself. Maitreyee Chattopadhyay and Soma Marik edited a Bengali volume, Garbhaghati Gujarat, containing translations of a number of reports on the gendered nature of communal fascist politics, something about which I will not have time to speak, but which needs discussion. Soma Marik, Tanika Sarkar, and others have written on that subject.

The pogrom was built on years of preparation. Hindus had had hatred preached to them by the RSS. The BJP, once it came to power in Gujarat, wasted no time before declaring that its police would monitor all cases of Hindu-Muslim marriages, because it suspected that these were conspiracies. The post-Godhra pogroms showed sustained preparation. Electoral rolls were used to find out Muslims. Municipal records were used to identify shops and establishments owned by Muslims. Lies were peddled by gujarati newspapers, to the effect that women had been taken away from the train and raped inside a Madrassa. Then the pogrom was fanned, and allowed to check unchecked. As the Ehsan Zafri case and the Best Bakery Case both show, the police did nothing, and even encouraged. All this was done to consolidate a strong Hindutva sentiment. And as there is a myth, a lie being peddled, that no communal vuiolence has happened in Gujarat since 2002, let me make two quick points. First, there was a serious issue in Vadodara in 2006 -- just one example out of several. The reason Modi was forced to act, to even accept the army, was because, this time he did not have Advani as Union Home Minister covering his rear. Second, so called Islamic terrorism and fake encounter deaths now took over. And they also helped in building the fake 56 inch image. We are fortunate to have with us today a member of the Jamia Teachers Association. They played an important role in fighting Modi over the fake encounter deaths in Gujarat. Ishrat Jahan, Sohrabuddin, Tulsi Prajapati, these are all supposedly people who were terrorists trying to kill Modi because he is the soul of India’s Hindus. They were all murdered. And now, investigations have put many of the leading police personnel, the killers, behind bars. They have shown that these were innocent people murdered so that an anti-Muslim rage could be whipped up.

So the communal politics, including the frenzy, has been an integral part of the Sangh strategy, of Modi’s strategy. Now we need to relate it to “development”, Gujarat style.

Certainly, as I said, there is a difference between Modi’s bid for power this time, and the previous efforts. Modi was anointed by the big honchos of Indian capitalism at the Vibrant Gujarat programme. This makes his bod different from the Vajpayee-Advani efforts of earlier years. This also shows why Modi had the clout to brush aside – more accurately, kick aside – everyone in the BJP challenging his absolute power.

What has happened, is that the Indian capitalist class can no longer do with its traditional instrument, the Congress. This is not because the Congress has become a leftist, or even a centre-left party. It is deeply right wing. It has passed most of the reactionary laws in operation in India. The era of globalisation was initiated by a Congress government, and a Congress government has presided over the economic policies for the last decade. And what have we seen? In the last one decade, despite overall inflation, the rupee prices of motor cars, air conditioning machines, and PCs and Laptops have come down. Taking 2004 as base 100, on the other hand, the price of food has gone up in the wholesale market to 233 by February 2014. And as you all know, what we buy is the retail market price, which is higher. This means that we, the well off middle class, managed to make a trade off, and gain slightly. Our consumer goods – the laptops, the smart phones, the cheap flights, all cost us relatively, and sometimes in absolute terms, less. So we could shrug when we had to pay more for carrot, capsicum, or tofu, saying that the laptop and the new TV cost less. The poor, who spend the bulk of their earnings on food, fuel, room rent, and transport, with very little for education, health or even less for luxury, were being increasingly pushed to the wall.

But given that we still have a democratic political system, within limits, people can and do protest. We have had some of the world’s biggest working class fight backs over the last few years, with huge general strikes which the Congress could not stop.

Between 2008 and 2011, the productivity of labour in India has gone up by 7.6 per cent. In the same period the real income of workers went down 1 per cent.  The ILOs Global Wage Report 2012 shows the foregoing, and punctures the myth of “reforms” as aids to the poor. So the toiling people have responded sharply. We have had powerful general strikes in 2010, 2012, 2013.

In response to the strike of February 2013, The ASSOCHAM or The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry, in its press release, it stated, inter alia, that Against its initial estimates of Rs 15,000-20,000 crore, the GDP may be eroded by about Rs 26,000 crore, it is apprehended based on the damaging effect of the Bandh on the industrial activity and the services sector like banking, finance” .

This is where Modi and his model are being welcomed. Modi has no fear of trade unions and is willing to use force to put them down. And Modi is willing to walk the extra, not just mile but hundred miles, for the benefit of capital.

The Gujarat government claims that it has generated vast numbers of jobs. This was investigated by our comrades. When an RTI was filed, the Gujarat government was tardy in replying, and instead of providing collective data, data came in bits and pieces. Instead of 65,000 beneficiaries, the number of jobs provided based on information given by the authorities in 23 districts, totals only to 51,587. Out of that 11,172 are apprentices (30.4%). i.e. the actual figure is 40,415 and not even 51,587. But, the names of only 32,372 were provided to us. Collating all the information, we got some important facts. Nobody had been given an ‘Appointment Letter’. What they got was a piece of paper called ‘Employment letter’, which is bad in law.

Thus, we get a picture that some 32,000 to 40,000 (at best) got some sort of unspecified jobs, while another 11,000 odd got apprenticeships. Thus, the ‘employment’ given ranged from apprenticeship to private sector employment for temporary jobs, with very few being skilled workers. The state was using its finances and officers to procure low paid workers for private capital, for example the GIDCs.

As an important aside, let me add that Gujarat holds the distinction for killing the biggest number of RTI activists in India. Not surprising, then, that Modi shouts against the RTI.

Another story we are told is, Gujarat has a geat advantage for industry. So we need to understand what that advantage is. At whose cost is it coming? Tata relocated from Singur to Sanand, only partly because of agitations. The CPI(M) government was willing to use a good deal of force to put down agitations. But Modi offered  a combination of force and sops. The total sops to the Tatas have been estimated at around Rs. 30,000 crores. This included 1100 acres land, and against a Tata investment of 2000 crore rupees, an interest free loan from the Gujarat Government worth 9570 crore rupees. By contrast, the CPI(M) led government of West Bengal had offered to take away peasants’ land but give it to the Tatas at a subsidised rate, and give subsidy on power, tax paybacks, and some 200 crore rupees soft loan.

It should also be understood that Gujarat has long been a developed capitalist province in India. That is not to Modi’s credit. What is to his credit is the way he is pumping wealth from the poor to the rich.

At this point, let me make a point to this audience. We are speaking in English, a fact that shows this is an audience of relatively educated, relatively well to do people in the main. What people of our social position are constantly told is, our taxes go to provide subsidies for the poor, who are supposedly poor because they are lazy. In fact, the poor work hard and still get nowhere, and the tax you pay goes very little for these people. To illustrate this, I want to provide data from Gujarat. An end of 2012 data showed, Gujarat had a debt of Rs 13,89,78,00,00,000 and was paying interest worth Rs 3550 crores. Certainly it was not Ratan Tata, or Mukesh Ambani, or the Adanis, who were being bled dry to pay this interest.

So if Modi represents the leadership of a fascist force, and if Indian capitalists want this force to augment their profits, what are we to do? How do we fight them?

We must begin by becoming aware of what is being done. We are being presented with absolutely imaginary information. Look at the media. Modi to your left and to your right. Never has the BJP been so flush with funds. But look at the reality by probing just a little. Every mainstream media, printed, TV or online, has been predicting a Modi wave. This is a manufactured lie, and its aim is to make opponents of the fascists give up the battle and to get the wavering to jump on the BJP cart. Why do I say this? The Indian Parliament has 543 seats. The best of predictions, so called, do not give even the entire NDA a majority (272). Then where is the wave? Secondly, it has been recently revealed how data distortions are done, so that a trend can be artificially strengthened. Remember 2004? AC Nielsen had predicted an outright majority for the NDA on that occasion. Instead, the UPA formed a government with Left Front support.


Secondly, we are being presented with a supposedly straight choice—vote in Modi or defeat Modi at any cost, which translates into vote Congress. Yet Congress, inpower, has done all it could for the ruling class. It is Indian capitalism that needs a so called “stable government”. We need to vote every candidate whose victory will in fact strengthen people’s struggles for rights, for justice, and to destablise all parties who will ensure greater profits for capital and greater exploitation for the vast majority.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Edited version of speech delivered at a student protest on 3 February, Jadavpur University, on the issue of the murder of Nido Taniam

I had come to this meeting, not to speak, but to express my solidarity with those of you who are protesting. I agree with you that racism, casteism, are among the most frightening forms of hierarchies, oppressions, that still exist among us. It is necessary for each of us to stand up and be counted in our protest, our resistance to such oppression.
We all like to think that racism, like halitosis, is something only others have. We are quick to point fingers at US and European whites at all real or perceived cases of racism. But we ignore the racist behaviour found among us.
In India, all Indians are not equal. Apart from issues of class and gender, though intersecting with them, there is the issue of who is a real or proper Indian and who is not. If you are an adivasi from almost anywhere in India, you are less of an equal Indian. And if you are from the North East, you are less of an Indian. Those of you who are by birth Indians from the non-North East – all of you studied history in school. Think, if the North East is truly an integral part of India, when did you ever study its history? The only occasion you get its name is when the Azad Hind Fauz, under the leadership of Subhas Chandra Bose, enters India. We are all gung ho about Arunachal Pradesh, bitterly complaining at the perfidious Chinese, when they issue visas with a different look for people who live in Arunachal Pradesh. But the man or woman from Arunachal is suspect, a figure of fun, in Delhi.
Racism is not restricted to Delhi. But because it is the capital, it has the biggest concentration of India’s elite. And their values and outlook are transmitted lower down as well. The Delhi middle class is ideologically conditioned to believe that it alone matters in India. So the vices, including racism, are also present in large doses.
We have two governments in Delhi. The one in charge of the cops is supposedly a fresh broom that will sweep away all the muck of ages. So we need to question it – why had the police, instead of taking the complaint and putting the boy to hospital, asked him to go back and pay a fine? A lot of bull is being said and written about how since he was the son of an MLA there must have been other considerations as otherwise the cops would never have done something like this. So did he have a red light on his head, that he would be instantly recognised as the son of a VIP? He was racially profiled, twice beaten up, murdered. And why has the officer in charge of that particular Police Station not been suspended yet? Where are Kejriwal’s histrionics here? Or is it the case that the so called aam aadmi of Kejriwal is also an upper caste Hindu from lands that do not suffer the AFSPA, do not suffer from being called chink or targeted by army, police, all as fair game?

Those of you, who have gathered to protest, let this be, not the end, but just the beginning of a process. Please ask yourselves, if India’s vaunted democracy fails to live even by its own rules, why would it be wrong for the people whose rights, dignities, even their very existence, are constantly under threat, to rise in protest and use any form of struggle? If you are really concerned about that, fight for the equality of all Indians, for the annihilation of the oppressive system.


Thank you again for joining this protest.