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Mainstream, VOL 62 No 5 February 3, 2024

Democratic fascism | Sukumaran C. V.

Saturday 3 February 2024, by Sukumaran C.V.


Democracy has developed into an inclusive ideology by seperating faith/religion from the state. The founders of Indian democracy—Gandhi, Nehru and Azad—took special care not to be part of religious rituals and ceremonies in order to respect the diversity of the nation and not to hurt the nation’s unity in diversity. The state-sponsered pran pratishta ritual in Ayodhya seems to end the seperation of faith and state hurting the unity in diversity. To see the PM of democratic India in the consecration rituals of a temple is not something to be proud of, I presume being a secular democrat.

Why secular democracy stands in such a wretched plight in India today and its trajectory to its present condition are subjects to be deeply delved into. But instead of analysing the omissions and commissions of the secular parties which paved the way to the Hindu majoritarianism, we generally call the religious politics of the BJP and Mr. Modi fascism. Modi has not imposed President’s Rule suspending any democratically elected State government by using the notorious Article 356 of the Constitution as done by Indira Gandhi. He came to power democratically and he rules without subverting democracy. India is a secular democratic country and Mr. Modi is not a secular democrat and the BJP is not a secular party either. And yet, under the Modi-led NDA rule, we can’t point out any outright state-sponsored atrocities like the Turkman Gate massacre India witnessed under the rule of Indira Gandi.

Fascism as a seperate entity from democracy ceased to exist with the fall of Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin. And fascism inside democracy existed long before Hitler, Benito Mussolini and Stalin. In the Second World War, with the defeat of the Axis powers (Germany, Italy and Japan), fascist powers were destroyed, but not fascism. As Howard Zinn says in A People’s History of the United States, “The fascist powers were destroyed, but what about fascism—as idea, as reality? Were its essential elements—militarism, racism, imperialism—now gone? Or were they absorbed into the already poisoned bones of the victors?”

That is what really happened. And fascism was in the blood and bones of democracy even before Hitler and the Nazi Germany and Mussolini and his fascist Italy were born. As Deborah Root, author of Cannibal Culture says: "We must face the possibility that something is dreadfully wrong with society and that this is somehow connected to the bloody history of Western culture, a bloodiness that surpasses all others.” This bloodiness is deeply rooted in medieval Europe, its ghastly institution of Inquisition and its witch hunt, and the so called democracies developed in Europe adopted the culture of medieval violence and practiced it in their colonies.

Black Elk, one of the great Native Americans, says about the Wounded Knee massacre perpetrated by the U.S. army on December 29, 1890: "By now many other Lakotas, who had heard the shooting, were coming up from Pine Ridge, and we all charged on the soldiers. They ran eastward toward where the trouble began. We followed down along the dry gulch, and what we saw was terrible. Dead and wounded women and children and little babies were scattered all along there where they had been trying to run away. The soldiers had followed along the gulch, as they ran, and murdered them in there. Sometimes, they were in heaps because they had huddled together, and some were scattered all along. Sometimes bunches of them had been killed and torn to pieces where the wagon guns hit them. I saw a little baby trying to suck its mother, but she was bloody and dead." (Quoted from John G. Neihardt’s book Blak Elk Speaks, Chapter 24—The Butchering at Wounded Knee).

This same U.S. is the nation which is always called the greatest democracy of the world. Wounded Knee massacre is only one of the hundreds of massacres the European settlers who created the "democratic" nation called the U.S. and the U.S. army committed in the making of the nation. See the Sand Creek massacre, one of the hundreds of massacres through which the millions and millions of Native Americans have been eliminated: “Only the year before the two chiefs (Black Kettle and Lean Bear) had been invited on a visit to see Abraham Lincoln in Washington. President Lincoln gave them medals to wear on their breasts, and Colonel Greenwood presented Black Kettle with a United States flag, a huge garrison flag with white stars for the thirty-four states...Greenwood had told him that as long as the flag flew above him no soldier would ever fire upon him.....The Cheyenne camp lay in a horsehoe bend of Sand Creek north of an almost dry stream bed....Robert Bent who was riding unwillingly with Colonel Chivington said that when they came in sight of the camp “I saw the American flag waving and Black Kettle tell the Indians to stand around the flag, and there they were huddled—men, women, and children. This was when we were within fifty yards of the Indians. I also saw a white flag raised. These flags were in so conspicuous a position that they must have been seen. When the troops fired, the Indians ran, some of the men into their lodges, probably to get their arms...I think there were six hundred Indians in all. I think there were thirty-five warriors and some old men, about sixty in all...the rest of the men were away from camp, hunting....After the firing, the warriors put up the women and children together, and surrounded them to protect them. I saw five women under a bank for shelter. When the troops came up to them they ran out and showed their persons to let the soldiers know they were women and begged for mercy, but the soldiers shot them all. I saw one women lying on the bank whose leg had been broken by a shell; a soldier came up to her with a drawn saber; she raised her arm to protect herself, when he struck, breaking her arm; she rolled over and raised her other arm, when he struck breaking it, and then left her without killing her. There seemed to be indiscriminate slaughter of men, women, and children. There were some thirty or forty women collected in a hole for protection; they sent out a little girl about six years old with a white flag on a stick; she had not proceeded but a few steps when she was shot and killed. All the women in that hole were afterwards killed...Every one I saw dead was scalped. I saw a woman cut open with an unborn child lying by her side. I saw one woman whose privates had been cut out. I saw a little girl about five years of age who had been hid in the sand; two soldiers discovered her, drew their pistols and shot her, and then pulled her out of the sand by the arm. I saw quite a number of infants in arms killed with their mothers.”” (Quoted from Dee Brown’s Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West, Chapter 4—War Comes to the Cheyennes).

The U.S. was not under fascist rule when the U.S. army perpetrated the Wounded Knee massacre.

The Santee Sioux Indians of Minnesota resisted the white settlers encroaching further and further into their lands, depriving them of their hunting lands. The resistance is called Dakota uprising of 1862. It was oppressed ruthlessly and about 600 male Santees were chained together and imprisoned in a log building. Long Trader Sibley who led the war against the Santees "had chosen five of his officers to form a military court to try all the Santees suspected of engaging in the uprising. As the Indians had no legal rights, he saw no reason to appoint a defense counsel for them...303 Santees had been sentenced to death..."

Abraham Lincoln allowed 39 ’convicted Santees’ to be executed and on December 26, 1862, 38 Santees were publicly hanged to death. One man was spared as he ’was given a reprieve at the last minute’. Dee Brown says that a "spectator boasted that it was "America’s greatest mass execution." A few hours later, officials discovered that two of the men hanged were not on Lincoln’s list, but nothing was said of this publicly until nine years afterward."

"In the meantime Sibley decided to keep the remaining 1700 Santees—mostly women and children—as prisoners, although they were accused of no crime other than having been born Indian. He ordered them transferred overland to Fort Snelling, and along the way they were assaulted by white citizens. Many were stoned and clubbed; a child was snatched from its mother’s arms and beaten to death." (Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee, Chapter 3—Little Crow’s War.)

When such atrocities were being perpetrated by both the army and the civilians alike, the U.S. was not under fascist rule. That is why the Native American scholar Ward Churchill says that Adolf Hitler’s role model was the United States of America. In his book Struggle for the Land: Indigenous Resistance to Genocide, Ecocide and Expropriation in Contemporary North America, Churchill says: "It is probable that more than quarter-million Native Americans perished as a direct result of U.S. extermination campaigns. By the turn of the [twentieth] century, only 237,196 native people were recorded by census as still being alive with the United States, perhaps 2 percent of the total indigenous population of the U.S. portion of North America at the point of first contact with Europeans... Admiring its effectiveness, later, Adolf Hitler would explicitly anchor his concept of lebensraumpolitik ("politics of living space") directly upon U.S. practice against American Indians. The idea was to destroy the untermensch ("subhuman") populations—Slavs, Poles, Jews and Gypsies among them—of Eastern Europe, replacing them on the lands thus vacated with "superior" Germanic "settlers"... In Hitler’s Secret Book he made it even more clear that, "Neither Spain nor Britain should be models of German expansion, but the Nordics of North America, who had ruthlessly pushed aside an inferior race to win for themselves soil and territory for the future."" (Part 1, Chapter 2—Perversions of Justice).

If we leave the tragic history of the Native Americans and come to the Native Africans who were enslaved by the citizens of the southern states of the "democratic" U.S., we will be further horrified by the cruelties the slaves were subjected to. The owner of a slave could beat him/her, cut away his/her limbs and even kill him/her. The laws of the "democratic" nation wouldn’t arrest the owner or accuse him of murder, let alone punishing him!

W. Fitzhugh Brundage says in his book Civilizing Torture: An American Tradition: "Moses Roper, in one of the earliest narratives by a former slave, recalled a South Carolina planter who drove nails into hogsheads, with the points of the nails protruding inside of the containers. He would force slaves selected for punishment into the hogsheads and then roll them down "a very long and steep hill" so that the confined slaves were punctured by the exposed nails. Roper himself experienced a horrific litany of abuses, including undergoing severe lashings and beatings, being forced to wear forty-pound shackles and chains, having his feet and fingers crushed and his finger nails pulled out, having tar poured over his head and then being set on fire, and being suspended by his manacled hands from a cotton press ten feet above the ground. Maddison Jefferson recounted being kept shackled in chains for months at a time and being contorted in excruciating positions as punishment. James Smith, a field hand in Virginia, was branded on one side of his face and on his neck with the initials of his master. John Brown, a fugitive slave from Georgia, described slaves being suspended by their hands from beams with sharpened stakes below their dangling feet so that if they tried to reduce the pain in their stretched arms by standing on the stakes, their feet would be pierced to the bone. After flaying the backs of his slaves to "jelly," Brown’s master rubbed their wounds with red pepper and salt and water. An anonymous runaway recalled the terrifying array of whips and tools of torture in the incongruously named Sugar House in Charlestown, South Carolina, where slave owners could request punishments calibrated to maximize pain...William Wells Brown recounted that a Virginia slave owner would tie his slaves up in a smokehouse, whip them, and then build a fire of tobacco to "smoke" them." (Chapter 2—Cruelty and the Paradox of Slave Property).

These are only a few methods of the slave masters’ cruelty towards the hapless slaves. The so called American democracy not only didn’t prosecute the slave masters for such cruelties but also aided them for punishing the slaves with further inhuman cruelty.

Brundage continues: "When a slave’s actions posed a perceived threat to society at large, formal legal institutions replaced the master’s informal methods. State-sanctioned punishment imposed on slaves and the violence inflicted by masters differed little in severity. Among the penalties were nailing ears to a pillory or whipping post and then cutting them off, branding, whipping, castration, execution by burning, hanging, hanging then burning, castration then hanging, and hanging then decapitation. The degradation and dehumanization of blacks during their executions were stark. These state-inflicted punishments were intended to heighten the prisoner’s agony. A slave in North Carolina, for example, chained alive to a gibbet to die slowly and in torment. Sometimes courts ordered white authorities to place on public display the severed heads or mangled bodies of executed slaves. The intent of these public spectacles of state-sanctioned violence was clear: to instill terror in slaves."

While such unimaginable cruelties have been perpetrated on the hapless slaves for nearly a century, the United States was not considered a fascist nation. But the cruelties described above are the same things that happened in the Nazi concentration camps of Germany towards the Jews.

Fascism has always been an essential ingredient of democracy as democracy is closely connected with colonialism. As Indian democracy is a "gift" to India from colonialism, we inherited the inherent violence of colonialism too, it seems. The 1984 riots against the Sikhs in which 3000 innocent Sikhs were murdered happened in our democracy. The demolition of Babari Masjid and the consequent Mumbai riots of 1992 December and 1993 January happened in democratic India while secular Congress party ruled. 2002 Gujarat carnage happened in democratic India.

Fascism was there inside the democracies before and after Hitler. Fascism, if comes out of democracy, will easily be discernible and hence vehemently be opposed. But aligned with democracy, it can survive and flourish.

The tribal people of India have been subject to the state-sanctioned and sponsored oppression under the rule of UPA and NDA alike. Both the Manmohan Singh-led UPA goverments and the Modi-led NDA goverments prefer corporate interests to the interests of the tribal people and the Environment. Therefore, there is no qualitative difference between UPA and NDA rules, except that the NDA garners votes of the people by using religiosity of the people and strengthening majoritarian religious sentiments. Fascist traits could visibly see there in the UPA goverments when Mr. Chidambaram, the UPA Home Minister, started Operation Green Hunt against the tribal people of Central India to grab their lands for corporate mining industry. And the same fascism is there in the NDA rule too. Fascist traits will disappear from our democracy only when and if we can bring the wellfare of all sections of people including the tribal people and the Environment too into the sphere of democracy. No political party does have such an all inclusive agenda except to grab power. To grab power, votes of the people are needed. For the time being the best vote-catching technique is to rake up majoritarian religious sentiments and that technique is the talisman of Mr. Modi. The Pran Pratishta we witnessed on Jan. 22, 2024 is the grand manifestation of that technique and we will see the rich dividends it gives him back in May 2024.

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