On second thought: a conversation about fascism and the 2014 Indian elections

In the aftermath of the Indian elections, South Asia Labor Watch was one of many groups and individuals to be dismayed by the victory of Narendra Modi based upon an analysis that emphasizes the role of the RSS as the shock troops of prospective fascism.

I recently had the opportunity to discuss the issue with Shamik Sarkar, a Kolkata-based activist, who put things in a different light.  Sarkar argues that a true understanding of the idea of fascism in India has more to do with state-media-corporate collaboration than it does with the foot soldiers of Hindu nationalism.

As you’ll see, ‘fascism’ can have very different meanings to different people, and their analyses for the process for making change can differ alongside that.  On to an edited transcript of the conversation:

SALW:  Greetings, Shamik.  I’m very curious what you make of the elections.

SS:  For us, election is not a big thing, you know. Whoever comes to power, life of the working people in this country will remain same. Moreover, electing, and electing a ruler, and electing a powerful ruler in this election are agenda of powerful middleclass (almost 30 pc of total electorate/population) in our country. They always decide the election, as they swing to here and there. In most of the time they are fractured, thanks to their attachment with regional powers. In this election, in most of the states they overwhelmingly opted for a ‘strong’, ‘decisive’ ruler in the Center (barring a few, like TN, WB, Odisha, Punjab, Kerala). Their idea of being governed by a stick-yielding one, of being ruled by a strongman, of getting f**ked by a hot rod in the a** is indeed an indication of fascist mindset. Our electoral democracy and party system has every element of making this wish fulfilled. But I think their lust of self-repression will not get a go as a diverse country like us cannot be governed with iron hand, and BJP is wise enough to understand this. Rest of the people are least interested about electioneering apart from casting their votes, sometimes calculating immediate material gain out of it.

Thus, I am not in the chorus of Fighting Fascist Ruler, which in my opinion is more ideological than practical or real life. But we will surely fight the fascist tendencies of middle class and common working people, not only in their politics but in everyday life as well, and will watch the liquidation and reform of fascist ideology of RSS by their own man.

SALW: What do you think is the answer to the kind of class tyranny you describe and won’t conditions for organizing worsen under RSS-rule?

SS: We are in favour of organizing at grassroot level, with whatever popular issues are in hand. It is not wise to fight them face to face. Actually, for some years (2008 onwards when people’s movement against land acquisition subsided), face-to-face fight against any ruler has become almost impossible for common people. Perhaps since 2001. The State has turned into a fascist direction since the War on Terror has arrived. The RSS today is not more powerful than State-Corporate-Media, and thus people are under a systemic fascism and a little change would occur if RSS is made a little more powerful organisationally. Left in India is still visualizing RSS as the face of fascism and doesn’t see the actual structural fascism through state-corporate-media combination. That is pity.

SALW: But aren’t you worried about the state and media apparatus joining with the RSS?  It seems to be the conjunction of varying forms of reactionaries and fascists to me.  In any case, have you written about these issues anywhere in English or Bangla?

SS: Actually the fascist Media-State-Corporate alliance which is running for more than a decade now, is trying to co-opt RSS within it. Our elite social position compels us to consider RSS as harmful fascist and the Media-State-Corporate fascism as democracy. What I am trying to say that working people or common people in India is already under fascism. Yes, middle class would suffer under the new regime, but that has already started few years back, through deregulation of Petrol price etc.

No I/we have not written about it specifically but all we do is a kind of fight against the Media-State-Corporate fascism which is rooted in our elitist middle class, through our publications, networking, agitations. The structural fascism is a kind of thing which needs engagement and fight, rather than description in written form.

SALW: When you say middle class, do you mean the wealthy (say, top 10%) such as professionals?  or do you mean the true middle? Why do you link this fascism to institutions (media, state) rather than class? Why does structural fascism require engagement and fight rather than description?  Is it because description is usually meant for the middle class?

SS: I mean middle. In my surroundings, I can identify the middle class, they are not within top 5% with hereditary wealth, nor they are professionals with hefty pay packages. People who work in govt., semi govt, and private sectors, having medium business etc. They constitute 30-35 % in my surroundings. THe top 5% mostly dont vote.

Your second question : It is a long story. All I can say here that, fascism we witnessed in 1930s have become a perpetual phenomenon, especially post 2001. Now a days, waging sustained radical mass-movement has become almost impossible. Post 2001 state will gift you multiple cases at the very beginning, media will ensure that either your voice doesn’t reach out to other or a distorted message spreads, corporates (as a class if you prefer to call it so — embodiment of the interest of capital) will lobby with ministers and governments against it. We have seen it in Nandigram-singur-posco-Raigad days, and the classic example is Anti-Koodankulam struggle. Forget about radical mass movement, if you do anything other than they (state-media-corporate) prescribed, you are in danger then. Be prepared for either sent in jail and subsequent legal hassles, or be insignificant. The idea of organized intervention of people is almost over. That’s why I am calling it perpetual and structural fascism, which is not coming as a history book style : capitalist response to crisis to outdo working class challenge. May be the reason behind it is perpetual nature of crisis in capitalism since late 70s.

Being someone from middle class, which we are in 99 out of 100 cases, we may not be able to understand it fully through description. It needs engagement and fight in order to understand it properly. 

SALW: It is interesting because, I think, what you are describing as ‘fascism’ is what we think of as ‘normal’ in the U.S.

One final question: what can I do from here, particularly with this website South Asia Labor Watch, to help?  Thanks again – I very much appreciate your taking the time to answer all these questions.

SS: I don’t know how you can help. All I know is that even a comprehensive knowledge of this ‘normalcy’ is not possible without sustained engagement, collaboration. You may pick up one two country in south east asia, follow a people’s issue (may be SEZs in China, taiwan-china free market pact etc), and write something on it in your blog. Following an issue from distance means : reading English language texts in big media to get a primary idea, having more detail through google translate local language big media//blog etc, follow Facebook/twitter to understand the various shades (with obvious dominance of higher strata and potential ‘more active in Facebook means less active in reality’), having a grasp on the vernacular language in course if possible, communicate directly with the people through net with questions you think pertinent. … Then write updates. I think this is a herculean task, an almost whole-time work, needs immense skill and passion. But this is a true organized intervention. … You know, the temptation of protest is counterproductive as capital and power have permeated all thorough the society, just like how heroins permeate through a human body. We need collective withdrawal.

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