Mainstream, VOL LII No 18; April 26, 2014
Why We Can Never be Hindus or the Struggle against Fascism in India
Tuesday 29 April 2014#socialtags
by Murzban Jal
Every rise of fascism bears witness to a failed revolution.
Now in your own interest and in the interest of this great country you must learn to listen and to read what we say. A people who refuse to listen to new questions and learn new answers will perish and not prosper.
Whose sentiments are really being hurt? Are we going to stagnate as a culture that continuously touches the feet of intolerance?
Fascism and the Phule-Ambedkarite Cultural Revolution
Religious fascism is built on areas of culture where the manipulability of popular symbols leads to their conversion into ritual functions which leads, on the one hand, to the formation of a totalitarian state, the personality cult, the hatred of religious minorities and the cult of riots and wars; and, on the other hand, to the sanctioning of these into the form of what Walter Benjamin calls the “aura”.1 And with religious fascism surrounded by this aura, a rational understanding is largely forgotten for a collective form of hysteria. What happens with this form of religious fascism is not so much the rendering of politics as some form of aesthetics,2 but what happens is the de-politicisation of politics and then its reification it into a hysterical symbol. Fascism then does not aestheticise politics (this was Benjamin’s stand), it makes politics hysterical. Communism responds by politicising hysteria.3
It is from this epistemic space where one claims that one needs a much larger nodal point to enter the space of popular democratic politics in India (especially a nodal point when democracy is continuously being discredited by the RSS Parvivar, and fascism and the ideology of a totalitarian managerial state is celebrated) than the mere nodal spaces of economism and parliamentarism. And since this managerial totalitarian state claims the status of an anti-secular Hindu state, modelled after the classical European fascist state, the demand for a popular democratic politics of the popular classes becomes more urgent. And if this emergence of a fascist state is becoming obvious with the construction of the image of a totalitarian messianic leader, the question remains as to what is to be the nature of this politics of the popular classes that come into the scene of action, that is able to disrupt the hegemony of the fascist elite.
We begin with where we left of in the previous essay: ‘Why we are no Hindus: A Reply to the Indian Fascists’.4 (Mainstream Annual 2013, December 28, 2013) We start with the proposition of classical Marxism that whilst fascist politics is driven by the logic of late imperialism in permanent crisis, we take up Arthur Rosenberg and Jairus Banaji’s proposi-tions that fascism is a mass movement having popular support.5 And since we hear once again of the alleged splendour of Hinduism from the cacophonous media industry set up by the RSS, and also since we hear that the Indian fascists are going to restore the illusory pride of the once-upon-a-time “India living in the Golden Age” after the crown of parliamentary democracy is placed on the head of the Minister of Genocide, we need not only critique the fascist politics of “Hindutva”, but we also need to recall Jyotiba Phule and B.R. Ambedkar on the phantasma-gorical character of Hinduism. Thus we need not merely say to the fascists that their idea of political Hinduism is total nonsense, but we also need to say the same about Hinduism proper.
This essay is both on the critique of political Hinduism and Hinduism proper. Our argument claims that Hinduism (in whatever form) is not an exotic religion of the “splendour of the marvelous east” (as the Orientalists thought it to be), but the ideology of petty commodity production and that genuine democracy is impossible when caste and its religious weapon, called Hinduism, exist. That Hinduism has lived on even in the era of modernity is the tragedy of Indian history. Our argument is also based on the line of reasoning that the Communist Revolution has to understand the Phule-Ambedkarite revolution.
It is thus that one can say that the Phule-Ambedkarite Cultural Revolution has to be a necessary part of the Communist Revolution. What the European Enlightenment was to the European revolutions, the Phule-Ambedkarite Cultural Revolution is to India. Here we are replacing the traditional term used by the established Left, namely, “bourgeois democratic revolution”, with the idea of the Phule-Ambedkarite Cultural Revolution. What we are implying here is that early capitalism in India coming in the form of colonial capitalism abandoned the revolutionary legacy that was embedded in the European revolutions, especially of the 1789 French Revolution. This makes us re-think the idea of the bourgeois democratic revolution and its role in India. This also leads us to re-think the project of parliamentary democracy which itself leads us to think the questioning of Indian liberalism, their almost stubborn refusal to annihilate caste and their refusal to directly fight the fascist RSS.
What is meant by the Phule-Ambedkarite Cultural Revolution is the reminder to the radical Left that the Indian bourgeoisie could not continue and complete the anti-feudal revolution that it was supposed to do, since it was embedded deeply within India’s pre-capitalist formations. There has to be a word of caution: this Phule-Ambedkarite Cultural Revolution is not a form of Indian bourgeois democratic revolution. Yes it is an anti-feudal Cultural Revolution, but a revolution that is not bourgeois in nature. It has to be socialist through and through. In fact one will have to state that not only India, but all of South Asia will have to go through an anti-feudal Cultural Revolution, a revolution that synchronises immediately with the Communist Revolution.
There are not going to be stages as has been imagined by forms of Left politics: the bourgeois democratic revolution followed by the socialist revolution. In fact the latter will operate in terms of a form of simultaneity, a form of a revolution in permanence. Thus, what one also needs to say is that, there can be no bourgeois democratic revolution for India. And this is because capitalism in India has failed, and will continue to fail to universalise, fail to perform the historical (anti-feudal) task that it executed in Western Europe. Capitalism in India is not the capitalism that emerged in Western Europe. It does not have within its cranium a form of Protestant ethic and the spirit of rational inquiry. What happens in India (as in South Asia) is that the Protestant ethic and the spirit of rational inquiry would live side by side with caste-based ethics and the spirit of total irrationality. Indian modernity would be a kitsch between these two: the rational and the irrational. What we have in India is neither pure capitalism, nor pure feudalism, but what we may call “feudal-capitalism”, a particular mode of production that developed with the coming of colonial capital. The mode of production prior to the coming of colonialism was the Asiatic mode of production with the caste mode being the main vehicle of extraction of surplus. In this sense, one has to note that there is nothing called “Indian feudalism”. There is something called “cultural and political feudalism in India”.
Therefore we must insist that when we are using these term “feudalism”, we are implying something very different from what thinkers from D.D. Kosambi to R.S. Sharma and Irfan Habib meant. “Feudalism” in our sense is a subset of the larger Asiatic mode of production that Marx talked of. What we call “feudal” (in relation to Hinduism and the emergence of fascist forces) is a cultural concept, not an economic one. The concept “feudal-capitalism”, on the other hand, is constituted within the Marxist critique of political economy and thus applies to both the economic base as well as to the political and ideological superstructure.
And this is where the narrative of Hinduism comes in. The main line of argument goes thus: Hinduism, that was part of the ideology of the dominant castes in pre-capitalist India, is now being nurtured by the Indian bourgeoisie and its culture industry. This culture industry of manufacturing Hinduism has now led to the construction of political Hinduism. And since the anti-caste and anti-feudal revolution was not completed in India (as in South Asia in general), the phantasmagoria of Hinduism keeps rising again and again. The Phule-Ambedkarite Cultural Revolution has to deal with the anti-feudal revolution as also with the construction of Revolutionary Marxism in India. The production of the revolutionary agency—the subject of the Indian revolution—shall be its main focus. Strictly then we must talk of the Marxist-Phule-Ambedkarite Cultural Revolution.
It is in this perspective that first, we claim (in the classical Marxist style) that the community of free human beings precedes everything else. Thus it also claims that the triad of liberty-equality-fraternity is central to this politics of human emancipation, a triad that is lacking in both the Asiatic-feudal societies and in what one may call “Hinduism as such”. Second, we claim that the very idea of a “Hindu society” is a total myth. (There can be “Indian society” but not “Hindu society”). The second point that locates the mythical status of Hindu society is constituted in the great contribution of both Phule and Ambedkar. Understanding the contours of this logic of de-ritualisation (a logic borrowed from Benjamin), one understands that Hinduism is most certainly not the religion of tolerance and peace that we are made to believe.6 It is what has recently been pointed out as “the toleration of intolerance”,7 where humans are considered “more bestial than beasts”.8 It is devoid of the public spirit and shorn of all ethics.9 It is what Jyotiba Phule called a “greedy religion” of the “unscrupulous beggars”: the cunning Brahmans and Bhats—the ritualistic priests of totalitarian dominance.10 This contex-tualising of the cultural politics of ‘Hinduism’ in the radical politics of Phule and Ambedkar is of great importance for democratic politics in India. It is this duo who will serve as the main politico-cultural battle with the Indian fascists.
Let us begin with the myth of tolerance in Hinduism, a myth that runs from Gandhi to Amartya Sen, a myth that has been exploited both by the Indian liberals and fascists:
Tolerance, of course, is an English word, expressing the outsiders’ view of what they think happens in India. There is no word in any of the Indian languages that corresponds to the English term ‘religious tolerance’, which covers everything from mere ‘endurance of’ or ‘putting up with’ religious difference (as one ‘tolerates’ pain) to a more active endorsement, even celebration of religious difference....There is no Sanskrit or Hindi word for ‘tolerance’ in that sense, as a good to be sought in the world; there are words only for passive and negative words for endurance.11
This essay ‘Why we can never be Hindus’, whilst sounding to be an extension of Kancha Ilaiah’s work Why I am not a Hindu, is actually an investigation of Right-wing cultural politics in contemporary India. It is thus, at the same time, a political attack on not only the propo-nents of Hindutva, but also an attack on the liberal democrats. The question of not being Hindus is then transformed into the ethical question of never wanting to be Hindus. We thus begin with the question of religion, namely, the question of Hinduism that Ambedkar had critiqued as the worst form of anti-humanism that could ever be found. We begin, however, with the questions: Why does one say that the “critique of religion is the prerequisite of all critiques”?12 And how does one concretise this critique in radical politics? And since we have been told by the political Right in India that the Indian state ought to be a ‘Hindu state’, we are concretely setting the agenda of revolutionary politics to understand the possible alternatives to not only the fascism of the Hindutva Parivar, but also the politics of liberal democracy that is itself nurturing this form of fascism. Our concern is democracy, and by democracy we mean real democracy, not formal democracy that parliamentary democracy advocates.
Let us continue with our proposition that if “Hinduism proper” or “Hinduism as such” is a myth, then the politics of Hinduism and Hindutvavad as propagated by the Minister of Genocide (now dressed as the Minister of Development) are both based on totally false and illusory premises. One begins with Wendy Doniger (the latest to be on the hit list of the RRS) who says that the name Hinduism “that we now use” is a European invention and thus a recent invention that appears as Rudyard Kipling’s depiction of the Armadillo, part hedgehog part tortoise.13 The summary of this strange creature, part something, part something else, is best given by Ambedkar:
The first and foremost thing that must be recognised is that Hindu society is a myth. The name Hindu is itself a foreign name....Hindu society as such does not exist. It is only a collection of castes.....A caste has no feeling that it is affiliated to other castes except when there is a Hindu-Muslim riot.14
This is the first thing that one needs to tell the masses. Hinduism as such, that is, as a rational societal order or a rational doctrine of the Indian masses, does not exist. And yet Hinduism exists—exists as an irrational cluster of castes and even as an irrational doctrine. The summary is that what we may call “Hinduism as we know it” is nothing but the rule by the totalitarian force of the upper castes. There is another issue that Ambedkar raises: the almost psychotic character of ‘Hinduism’, where people trapped in the iron cage of this political and culture industry get to be totally oblivious to the objective world, especially totally oblivious to the sufferings of humanity. According to this logic, people have no qualms about a Minister of Genocide becoming the Prime Minister. Consider Ambedkar once again:
Why is the Hindu so indifferent? In my opinion this indifferentism is the result of the caste system which has made Sanghatan and cooperation even for a good cause impossible.15
That this passage corresponds to the one made by Marx in his celebrated ‘The British Rule in India’—where he talks of the alienated or what he calls “idyllic village communities” that are not only the solid foundation of “Oriental despotism”, but where these stratified commu-nities restrain the human mind, enslaving people “beneath traditional rules” devoid of “all grandeur and historical energies” worshiping animals and hating humanity16;—should be highlighted.
The central issue is: how these estranged communities, governed by the logic of lordship and bondage, have made cooperation (for a good cause) impossible, but have made the corporate fascist state possible. This is the tragedy of Indian history.
Hinduism as the Estranged Signifier
One continues with a sort of confession that we laid bare earlier, a confession where we noted that alienated and cruel borders define our cultural and political unconscious.17 For in saying that one “can never be Hindus” one could be said to be implying that a type of confusion reigns where the borders of the descriptive, explanatory and the normative are set up. After all, if borders are the essence of all class societies, they are the Essence (with a capital “E”) of the Indian caste society. Borders, in fact what we called after Etienne Balibar as the “borders of cruelty”, become a type of Hegelian essence (Wesen)that is so deeply ingrained in Indian society that to imagine a casteless (and consequently democratic) society seems to be improbable. It is our concern to turn this improbable into the probable and to link the Marxist philosophy of the dictatorship of the proletariat with the very important idea of annihilation of caste.
Despite these deep-rooted borders whereby the fascists have dug deeper trenches into the political life-world with the political signboard that reads “Hindutva”, we insist that we say: “why we can never be Hindus”. We do not say: “why we ought not to be Hindus”. We do not intend to insert a Kantian norm of the meta-physical “ought” onto the reality. On the contrary one is thus trying to stretch the possibi-lities of Marxist science of historical materialism into the social and political life-world on modern India where the Indian subaltern thinkers, especially Phule and Ambedkar along with Freud, form the basis of our theory of radical democracy. Radical democracy has to under-stand how and why humanity in India has been converted into the strange creature: part hedgehog, part tortoise.
Unlike the form of historical materialism sanctified by the Stalinist counterrevolution and which worked in a bland form of meta-physical positivism, our understanding of historical materialism is to re-think it as a “Revolution with a Revolution”. Now one knows that this term of Robespierre is recalled presently by Slavoj Zizek. One also knows that it evokes a certain form of radicalism where Lenin and Gramsci’s philosophy of praxis are reworked in the context of the understanding of social formations in India, especially the context of the caste question. Not only will the caste question be part of our discourse, but also the critique of the Indian nation-state that was built on the inherent communal Brahmanical ideas of a reworked neo-Hinduism.
It must be noted that by ‘Hinduism’ we imply the very concrete context that Ambedkar worked in. Whilst our understanding is built on rigorous forms of Revolutionary Marxism, we will also be involving what we call a “Marxist-Ambedkarite” understanding of social formations in India and the role of the Indian liberal state. In this sense we are revisiting the sites of radical praxis—of a re-invention of the radical Left in the age of neo-liberalism. Again in more than one sense we are re-visiting the sites of extremely serious social sciences, a seriousness where the voice of radical subalternism of what I call “Marxist-Ambed-karism” is heard. This form of “Marxist-Ambedkarism” firstly relates Indian society in terms of caste-class and then brings in the Leninist idea of learning insurrection as art. Unlike the established Left in India that has by and large ignored the caste question (or simply has not been able to understand it largely because it could not understand Marx’s idea of multilinear history where caste, based on the theory of the Asiatic mode of production, was Marx’s main idea of Indian history) and also unlike the established Left that has operated at the level of the state, forgetting Marx’s dictum on the smashing of the state, we take this idea of multilinear history with caste-class as its basis as also take Marx’s anti-state understanding of radical politics.
This brings us to the first of our propositions: there can be no real revolution without a Cultural Revolution where the old anti-humanist morality, determined by the class-caste system, is transcended. In a very Ambed-karite sense it also means that this Cultural Revolution needs a transcendence of not only the caste system with its absolutely outdated sense of morals, but needs a transcendence of what one calls ‘Hinduism’ itself.
This is what the Phule-Ambedkarite Revolution with a Revolution says: “Hinduism, as we know” it since the last century, has two main motifs: (1) one that originated in Brahmanic-Kshatriya (priest-warrior) society, but whose imagination largely developed from a type of romantic idealism that began possibly with William Jones and was perfected by Max Muller, a motif that culminated in Gandhi and Nehru, and (2) the Right-wing sense that began with Bankim Chandra which culminated with Savarkar in the discourses of Hindutva. ‘Hinduism’ as we know it today is a kitsch of these two types of discourses: the romantic and the fascist. To those who think that Hinduism is an innocent doctrine as found in the works from Schelling and Winternitz to Vivekananda and Gandhi, it must be noted that the Nazis took Hinduism very seriously and Heinrich Himmler (the notorious Nazi Reichsfuhrer) was a devout follower of esoteric and occultist Hinduism where, aided by Houston Stewart Chamberlain, he stressed the warrior inter-pretation of Indian history. One must note that Himmler imagined himself to be Arjuna and Hitler as Krishna. It must also be noted that the Brahmanic-Kshatriya (priest-warrior) base will remain as the core of both these versions—the romantic and the fascist.
Origins are always said to be problematic. To trace the origins of Hinduism would also be problematic, though one knows that the historical source of Hinduism lies in the Indo-Iranian migrations and the separation of two groups: one that would settle in Iran and the other in the Gangetic region of South Asia. The first would exalt the asuras (that would then mutate in the idea of Ahura Mazda) and condemn the devas as devils; the second would worship the devas and condemn the asuras.
One needs to highlight two things. First, that the Indo-Iranian genealogy is forgotten by the Indian fascists and a bizarre form of cultic-territorial nationalism is constructed. This point was repeatedly stressed by Phule who condemned all types of Hindu nationalism as forms of pretentious nationalism, whilst stressing that the Brahmans were descendents of the Indo-Iranian warring tribesmen who attacked and colonised India with their bizarre type of caste hierarchy, ideology of ritualism, patriarchy and anti-humanism.
Second, the origins of the caste marker in Hinduism lie in the 10th mandala of the Rg Veda where a certain form of not only class and race based stratification, but also a form of schizophrenia was written on its banners. And since we have been told, more than once by the established order of things, of that ‘we’, the ‘we’ that comprises the Indian-nation state is basically the ‘we-ness’ of Hinduism, the ‘we-ness’ that is said to lie as the metaphysical basis of the so-called ‘Indian civilisation’, we turn once more to the seriousness of the site of radical praxis that seeks to overthrow this ‘we-ness’ of classes-castes along with its inherent racism and schizophrenia. If the Indian collective is said to be a ‘Hindu collective’, then it is truly a false collective, a collective that refuses to think.
Consider the foundational myth of both caste stratification as well as Hinduism where the Brahmans are said to be the mouth whilst the other social groups are said to be the arms, thighs, feet and other unmentioned parts. The foundational myth does not talk of the brain or the heart. It thus does not (and cannot) talk of thinking and feeling. Take this case and relate it with Ambedkar’s radical thesis of a Cultural Revolution not only against the social structures of caste stratification, but also against the system called ‘Hinduism’ that protects and nurtures not only this form of stratification, but all forms of stratification in India and all forms of Indian regressive thinking.
The point therefore is to study the false sense of the ‘Hindu collective’ that makes impossible the construction of an ‘Indian collective’, a true collective where the unity of the popular classes is possible. It is also a critique of this false sense of Indian liberalism, especially of the parlia-mentary system that protects and nurtures this false collective. In this sense we agree with another observation of Zizek:
Fidelity to the democratic consensus means the acceptance of the present liberal-parlia-mentary consensus, which precludes any serious questioning of how this liberal-democratic order is complicit in the phenomena it officially condemns and, of course, any serious attempt to imagine a society whose socio-political order would be different.18
Here one also needs to recall Ambedkar who had said that:
There is great need of someone with sufficient courage to tell Indians: ‘Beware of parliamentary democracy; it is not the best product as it appears to be.’19
Imagining the world whose socio-political order would be different is also to imagine the re-politicisation of the world by what Antonio Negri after Marco Revelli calls the “New Militants”.20 Who then are these New Militants and what do they do? What is their relation with Marx’s proletariat and Ambedkar’s annihi-lators of caste? How is this proletariat-multitude to be realised as the New Militants? What do they do with the metaphysics of Indian civili-sation and how do they create the New Physics of the “commons”—a radical New Space—which dissolves the old structures of caste stratifi-cation? This essay is on the construction of these New Spaces. It critiques liberalism and argues for a different form of radical Left politics which operates neither in the spaces of civil society nor the state. Instead it argues for the struggle being carried out in the space of the “commons”, the “commons” where liberty, equality and fraternity (or “equa-liberty’ as Etienne Balibar calls it) unleashes its attack on the caste-class system, a system where modern classes are yet “trapped in castes”.21
Hinduism as the Psychotic Symptom
of Late Capitalism
How Hinduism becomes a symptom and fetish of an underlying anti-democratic social system is the point that one now needs to analyse. How Hinduism appears as the strange creature, part hedgehog, part tortoise; and then transforms itself into the even stranger creature: the fascist leader in the form of the Hindu superman (Narendra Modi) is the main point to be consi-dered. This symptom/fetish called ‘Hinduism’ is similar to Kafka’s Metamorphosis where the hero, the traveling salesman, Gregor Samsa, is transformed into a terrible insect. The difference between the Kafkaesque narrative and Indian fascism is that the Indian fascist is happy in becoming a strange creature.
Now this form of conversion of humanity into some strange creature is decoded in the text of the value form that Marx outlines in Capital where the process of metamorphosis of commo-dities determined by the trio: (1) alienation (implying the loss of humanity), (2) reification (meaning a form of “thingfication” or the de-humanisation of humanity), (3) fetishism (or the succumbing of humanity to this monstrous thing) rules the roost not only in market economies, but also in the ideological practices of post-colonial nation-states. We say that in capitalism and the production of commodities there is a loss of human and material form and the production of a dubious double where a type of a monstrous machine is produced that itself creates another double that Marx calls the “ghost”22. What neo-liberal capitalism did since the last two decades in India is that it unleashed both the monstrous ghost of monetarist economics as well as the ghost of communal-fascism.
Now we have just said that this entire discourse called “Hinduism” is both very political (in the very Right-wing sense) as well as very fuzzy. Taking Ambedkar, we say that it is not merely a Right-wing fuzzy myth, but also a form of psychosis since it involves an almost withdrawal from reality. Consider this case of what psychoanalysts may call “Hindu psychosis”:
The ideal Hindu must be like a rat living in his own hole refusing to have contact with others. There is an utter lack among the Hindus of what the sociologists call ‘consciousness of kind’. There is no Hindu consciousness of kind. In every Hindu the consciousness that exists is the consciousness of his caste. That is the reason why the Hindus cannot be considered to form a society or nation”.23
One then needs to ask: “If Hinduism is a fuzzy Right-wing myth with its deeply embedded psychotic character, then why would one not want to be identified with this fuzzy mythical character a la Narendra Modi as some sort of crazy messiah who has just emerged from the rat hole that Ambedkar pointed out?” There are two basic explanations: one that takes us back to the 10th mandala of the Rg Veda that serves as the foundational myth of the caste system where caste implies estranged clannishness + class + race + neurosis-psychosis-schizophrenia.24 From this psychoanalytic observation of caste and from Ambedkar’s observation that Hindus can in no way form a nation, we move to the late 19th and early 20th century observations on political Hinduism. Note three observations: the first by Aurobindo, the second by Keshab Chunder Sen and the third by Vivekananda:
Nationalism is not a mere political progr-amme. Nationalism is a religion that has come from God. If you are going to be a nationalist, if you are going to assent to this religion of nationalism, you must do it in the religious spirit. When it is said that India shall expand and extend itself, it is the Sanatan Dharma that shall expand and extend itself over the world.25
In the advent of the English nation in India we see a reunion of parted cousins, the descent of different families of the ancient Aryan race.26
This is the great ideal before us and everyone must be ready for it—the conquest of the whole world by India. We must go out, we must conquer the world through our spirituality and philosophy.27
One should relate these observations with a distinctive fascist version of Sanatan Dharma:
Hinduism, once, used to extend over what is now Afghanistan, over Java, over Cambodia. Powerful Hindu India could reconquer these lands and give them back the pride of their Indian civilisation. She could make Greater India once more a cultural reality, and a political one too.... She could teach the fallen Aryans of the West the meaning of their forgotten paganism; she could rebuild the cults of Nature, the cults of Youth and Strength, wherever they have been destroyed; she could achieve on a world-scale what Emperor Julian tried to do. And the victorious Hindus could erect a statue to Julian, somewhere in conquered Europe, on the border of the sea; a statue with an inscription, both in Sanskrit and in Greek: What thou hast dreamt, we have achieved.28
Consider the classical psychoanalytic under-standing of psychosis as the complete with-drawal from reality. Consider how the psychotic now completely deranged, completely oblivious to both the political economy and culture of poverty fantasises on the fascist conquest of the world. Consider also how this fantasy of the Hindu superman embodied in the mythical figure of Narendra Modi creates and recreates the borders of cruelty. The point now is to understand how these borders of cruelty create new untouchables, new forms of exclusions and new forms of alienation. The new forms of exclusion are based on the fascist’s hatred for progressive thought, based on the complete manipulability of the mind and the falsification of history.
But this fascist form of exclusion, whilst emerging from the caste-stratified society, is re-vitalised by a basic liberal understanding of history—namely, that history (rather bourgeois history) will progress—leading to a bizarre type of “end of history” that Francis Fukuyama talked of, where neo-liberal capitalism will bring in peace and prosperity. But this form of fantasised myth of development where an equal fantasy of inclusion is postulated, also brings in the idea of the New Untouchables—the democrats in general.
What the Indian fascists are doing is through their attack on the “corrupt” Congress party (rather it should be “unclean” and “impure” Congress party, according to the fascist imaginary), they are re-drafting the caste-markers: pure/impure, high/low, clean/unclean, corrupt/uncorrupt into the new spaces for political action in 2014. What the RSS is thus doing is to put the Congress party and the entire bourgeois democratic tradition as the unclean and corrupt other (or to borrow Sartre’s term the “hellish other”). One has literally to purify India (Savarkar’s fictitious “holy land”) and thereby cleanse India by attacking the Congress. Remember, for the RSS, the crimes or rather sins of the Congress emerge from their subscribtion to the ideologies of secularism and socialism. For the RSS, the secularists and socialists are untouchables. And as we shall see, for the Congress, it is the Communists that are untouchables, people who are, as Sonia Gandhi just said, trapped in the ideology of the 19th century (“a party sticks to ideology that became irrelevant”), as if the liberals and the fascists in their ode to “Indian tradition” are living in the 21st century!
What Indian fascism under Modi will do is that it will let neo-liberalism attack workers’ rights whilst simultaneously letting the Cong-ress attack the Communists. But what fascism will do the most is to fuzz up the caste hierarchy—after all, is Modi not the “chaiwalla”, the son of the OBC proletariat?—and in doing so also try to bring not only the OBCs in the bandwagon of fascism but also renegade Dalit leaders like Ramdas Athawale and Ram Vilas Paswan. But this fascist logic is built on the liberal logic of concealment where the fiction of “Dalit capitalism” is created. What is not understood is that this form of Dalit capitalism will not transform the untouchables into democratic citizens, but primarily brush under the carpet the complete project of Dalit liberation in particular and human emancipation in general.
“Dalit Capitalism”, the Indian State and New Untouchables
What the RSS type of fascism will do in its attempt to mobilise Dalits and other margina-lised groups is that it shall cover the caste system with the blanket of hysterical blindness, thus postulating an imaginary ‘Hindu’ comm-unity devoid of caste. It will try to incor-porate sections of Dalits, tribals and OBCs in their various paraphernalia, whilst building a fascist state mechanism and appearing to attack liberal democracy (here the Congress party).
What one has to do is de-mystify the relation of the fascist RSS with Dalits and other subaltern groups. But in this de-mystification of fascist illusions one also has to de-mystify the liberal imaginary of capitalism emancipating the Dalits. Recall Lenin’s understanding of liberals as civilised hyenas who “whet their teeth on Asia” and liberalism “rotten within” that tires to revive itself in the form of “socialist opportu-nism.”29 What one needs to do is not only attack ‘Hinduism’ as the culture of pre-capitalism in India, but also actively attack liberalism in the attack on fascism. One cannot tie up with liberals and social opportunists in the struggle against fascism.
And since the New Illusion of “Dalit capitalism” is created by a motley crowd comprising sections of the big bourgeoisie, neo-liberal economists and members of both liberal and fascist parties, it is also necessary to de-mystify the illusion of “Dalit capitalism”, whilst de-mystifying the phantasmagoria of Hinduism. It must be noted that capitalism always creates a large section of the Industrial Reserve Army (what Marcuse called the “Great Refusal”) whilst claiming to be democratic. And that is why one must also say that liberal capitalism will make claims of inclusion (does not Rahul Gandhi say this in his meetings???) and equality, it will be primarily be based on real inequality (the inequality between capital and labour).
Whilst the question of the “untouchables” as the excluded other being sociologically placed in the site of casteism is best understood in Ambedkar’s radical theory, the philosophical critique of exclusion is best understood in Marx’s theory of alienation that constructs the extreme borders of cruelty. What we know now (made fashionable by contemporary academic sociology) as the discourses of exclusion is in actuality based in the very serious site of Marx’s theory of alienation. One knows that at least since 1844 with Marx’s Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 this theory of alienation entered radical critical theory, despite the structuralist critic of this theory as exemplified by the works of Louis Althusser. This very strange forgetfulness of Marx’s theory of alienation has blunted the radical politics of Revolutionary Marxism which forgot Marx’s historicism and humanism for a bland theory (one should say theory converted to theology) of historical evolutionarism. One knows that Gramsci and Lukacs had critiqued this form of anti-humanism within the Left movement.
Locating the question of the politics of exclusion and the political “untouchables” in the field of alienation is now the urgent task that we need to perform. In more than one sense one can locate the period after the 1857 war of independence against the British Raj as holding the manifold contradictions from which both the idea of the modern Indian state as well as the many types of reactionary nationalist ideo-logies developed, many of them having within them the political logic of exclusion in the early bourgeois era. Now it is both well known and well documented that the primary ideological contradiction, as spelt out by the contemporary neo-Hindu Right, was the spurious opposition between the imagined ‘good Hindu’ and the even more imagined ‘bad Muslim’. The fact that this form of neo-fascist ideology has seeped so deep in contemporary India, with the help of imperialist Islamophobia, that one needs to rearticulate Marx’s theory of alienation for contemporary times. Liberalism has done nothing to confront Islamophobia, has done nothing to confront the politics of Hindutva. All the liberals are interested in is worshiping at the foot of the Towers of the World Bank.
Turn to contemporary times and recall the contemporary Prime Minister (Manmohan Singh) landing in England in 2005 and literally telling the imperialist government of the Brits that their role as colonialists in India was not only progressive, but literally to be celebrated. Turn now to the discourses of the Neo-Adam Smiths in India (Chandra Bhan Prasad, an ex-Maoist, is one of the proponents of this fiction) which talk of “Dalit capitalism”, a form of phantasmagorical version of capitalism that is pure fiction, a fiction devoid of the bloody history of primitive accumulation, devoid of what we know since David Harvey as “accumu-lation through dispossession”. Remember that for this form of neo-liberal sponsored fiction, we now do not talk of “victimhood”, we “don’t ask for doles, reservations, favours...(and) complains”.30 Instead of the struggle of the oppressed, a struggle that is between master and slave—rather lordship and bondage (a struggle as in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Mind where lordship is bound to be overthrown)—the oppressed are seen, as Chandra Bhan Prasad claims, to have “risen on their own”.31 The struggle of the oppressed has “outlived its potential and power”, as the ex-Maoist-turned-neo-liberal claims.32 That this neo-liberal narrative echoes the narrative that India is the subordinate partner of American imperialism should be stressed. That Dalit capitalism is made up of small and medium enterprises, based largely on family labour, and subservient to the needs of big capital, should also not be forgotten. This reflects the Brahmanical 10th Mandala, where the Dalits (even as imaginary Dalit capitalists) remain as the feet of the upper-caste big bourgeoisie.
It should be noted that Ratan Tata and Adi Godrej are mentioned by the pioneers of “Dalit capitalism”. Chandra Bhan Prasad forgets that “Dalit capitalism” is both a commodity (needed by the Tatas and Godrejs to produce the spare parts for these global magnates) as well as a spectacle. Chandra Bhan Prasad also forgets that the Tatas and Godrejs do not belong to the clan of the varna-fetish worshippers, but belong to a faith that has been diametrically opposed to caste and Brahmanism for well over two-and-a-half millennia. Thus whilst equality (albeit only formal equality) is possible for faiths other that Hinduism, it is impossible for Hinduism to accept any form of equality. Yet the proponents of “Dalit capitalism” like the proponents of “Islamic capitalism” (many of whom are friends of Narendra Modi) forget that capitalism both sweeps the remnants of pre-capitalist societies, as well as re-imagines and re-builds these same primordial social formations. Therefore Rosa Luxemburg’s argument that there can be no neat picture of capitalism devoid of pre-capita-lism and that capitalism needs pre-capitalist societies for the realisation of surplus value is of great importance.
And since this neo-liberal narrative blames Marx for not understanding that capitalism does sweep pre-capitalist societies with brutal force, it must be stated that the neo-liberals have not even bothered to read Marx, forget able to understand him. Consider the dialectical and critical reading of history by Marx and Engels. It must be noted that whilst on the one hand certain forms of pre-capitalism are retained by the storm of capital accumulation, there is, on the other hand, another part where capitalism sweeps anything that comes in its way creating a world after its own brutal image. This dual role of capitalism—destroying pre-capitalist social formations and retaining them—should be contextualised in the two stages of capitalism: the earlier revolutionary stage and the later decadent stage. Consider Marx and Engels:
The bourgeoisie, historically, has played a most revolutionary part. The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchcal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his “natural superiors”, and has left remaining no other nexus between human and human than naked self-interest, than callous “cash payment.” It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies (die heilogen Schauer) of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm (der ritterlichen Begeisterung), of philistine sentimen-talism (der spiessburgerlichen Wehmuth), in the icy water of egotistical calculation (egoistischen Berechnung). It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom — Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.
The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage labourers.
The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation.
The bourgeoisie has disclosed how it came to pass that the brutal display of vigour in the Middle Ages, which reactionaries so much admire, found its fitting complement in the most slothful indolence. It has been the first to show what man’s activity can bring about. It has accomplished wonders far surpassing Egyptian pyramids, Roman aqueducts, and Gothic cathedrals; it has conducted expeditions that put in the shade all former Exoduses of nations and crusades.
The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutio-nising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.
The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connec-tions everywhere.33
One will however have to re-contextualise the passage in the era of rising fascism: “It (capitalism) has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervor, of chivalrous enthusiasm (der ritterlichen Begeisterung), of philistine sentimentalism (der spiessburgerlichen Wehmuth), in the icy water of egotistical calculation” into a new light that sees this insane chivalry of feudalism returning once again. With regards the translation: “chivalrous enthusiasm” (der ritterlichen Begeisterung), it needs to be stated that ritterlichen could be “chivalrous”, but this “chivalry” is intrinsically related to “knightly”, that is inherent in Marx’s idea of feudal Europe. This same phrase: der ritterlichen Begeisterung is also related to Marx’s idea of Don Quixote, the ideal idyllic-feudal. Marx here means that the revolutionary bourgeoisie “drowned” this “knightly inspiration” (my translation) or “chivalrous enthusiasm” (the standard trans-lation) and “heavenly ecstasies” (die heilogen Schauer) of feudalism into “egoistical calculation” (egoistischen Berechnung). What happens in India is that capitalism would not completely destroy pre-capitalist social formations, but would incorporate these ancient caste-communities into modern capitalism. The ghosts of the chivalrous Don Quixotes of pre-capitalist India would return as the not so chivalrous Narendra Modi.
What we are doing now is changing the phrase: “the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervor, of chivalrous enthusiasm (der ritterlichen Begeisterung) and philistine sentimentalism (der spiessburgerlichen Wehmuth)” being drowned “in the icy water of egotistical calculation” into the new phrase: chivalrous enthusiasm and philistine sentimentalism are mixed with egotistical calculation. What we are doing is transforming the term: “philistine sentimentalism” (der spiessburgerlichen Wehmuth) into the new term: “bourgeois (or philistine) melancholy”.34 The translation: “sentimentalism” could be innocent, if not totally wrong, especially with Narendra Modi around. The word “Wehmuth” indicates a form of woefulness or melancholy which, if I am not mistaken, Walter Benjamin brings in his works. That Benjamin talks of this melancholy in the era of rising fascism ought not to be missed. What the fascists are best at doing is able to manipulate the process of melancholy.
Two things happen: (1) that fascism appears with the technique of manipulating melancholia, and (2) neo-liberalism and the liberals forget history totally. The politics of the neo-liberals is vulgar to the extreme. When Chandra Bhan Prasad tells Shekhar Gupta that “Montek (that is, Montek Singh Ahluwalia) is a friend of Adam Smith and Adam Smith is an enemy of Manu, so therefore, Montek is our friend”,35 and one must shift one’s ideal from Mao to Obama, then one needs to state that if in any possible way the Indian neo-liberal wants to imitate the history of American capitalism and imperialism. One also wants to know what Prasad did when the 2006 Khairilanj massacre happened and when Dalit activists are being arrested as terrorists. The neo-liberals want to be conscio-usly blind to real history, especially blind to the threat of fascism.
But what one needs to stress the most is that not only is Ambedkar’s original philosophy of annihilation of caste conveniently forgotten in the blindness to the threat of fascism and for the lust of the fetishism of commodities, but also that in this phantasmagorical narrative the Indian liberal state has called one section of the radical Left the “single biggest threat to India’s internal security”. In other words, one must try to understand how the Indian liberals are totally oblivious to fascism and fixated against Revolutionary Communism. That the radical Left is being stamped by the Indian state as the “New Untouchables” is a sign-post that the Indian state is moving to fascism with (what we say with great irony and contempt) the “peaceful transformation from liberalism to fascism”.
This is the new battle-front of the “New Untouchables”. And in this new battle-front one needs to de-think Indian ideology: from the 10th Mandala of the Rg Veda and Manu to Gandhi, Savarkar, the neo-liberals and Indian fascists. And it is in this process of de-thinking the entire “Indian ideology” (if we may be permitted to borrow this phrase from Perry Anderson) that the struggle between lordship and bondage must be fought out.
The battle against Indian fascism is simultaneously a battle against this “Indian ideology” that begins with the Rg Veda and ends via Manu with the various chambers of commerce wherein roams the ghosts of the Indian fascists seen with holy ashes smeared on their not so holy brows.
1. Walter Benjamin, ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ in Illuminations, trans. Harry Zohn (Glasgow: Fontana/Collins, 1979), p. 226.
2. Ibid., p. 243.
3. Walter Benjamin said that: “This is the situation of politics which fascism is rendering aesthetic. Communism responds by politicising art”. Ibid.,
4. See my ‘Why we are not Hindus: A Reply to the Indian Fascists’ in Mainstream, Vol. LII, No 1, December 28, 2013.
5. See Jairus Banaji, ‘Fascism as a Mass Movement: Translator’s Introduction’, and Arthur Rosenberg, ‘Fascism as a Mass Movement’ in Jairus Banaji, Fascism: Essays on Europe and India (New Delhi; Three Essays Collective, 2013).
6. B.R. Ambedkar, ‘Annihilation of Caste’ in The Essential Writings of B.R. Ambedkar, ed. Valerian Rodrigues (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2008), p. 273.
7. Wendy Doniger, On Hinduism (New Delhi: Aleph Book Company, 2013), pp. 126-41
8. Ibid., pp. 426-37.
9. B.R. Ambedkar, ‘Annihilation of Caste’, p. 275.
10. Jyoti Phule, ‘Cultivator’s Whipcord’ in Selected Writings of Jotirao Phule, ed. G.P. Deshpande (New Delhi: Left Word, 2010), pp. 120, 122.
11. Wendy Doniger, On Hinduism, p. 126.
12. Karl Marx, ‘A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. Introduction’ in Karl Marx., Early Writings, trans. Rodney Livingstone and Gregor Benton (London: Penguin, 1992), p. 243.
13. Wendy Doniger, On Hinduism, p. 3.
14. B.R. Ambedkar, ‘Annihilation of Caste’, p. 267.
15. Ibid., p. 274.
16. Karl Marx, ‘The British Rule in India’ in Marx. Engels. On Colonialism (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1976), p. 40.
17. See my ‘Why we are not Hindus: A Reply to the Indian Fascists’.
18. Slavoj Zizek, ‘A Plea for Leninist Intolerance’ in Critical Inquiry, Winter, 2002.
19. B.R. Ambedkar, ‘The Failures of Parliamentary Democracy’ in Thus Spoke Ambedkar. Volume 1. A Stake in the Nation (ed.) Bhagwan Das (New Delhi: Navayana, 2010), p. 46.
20. Antonio Negri, Reflections on Empire, trans. Ed Emery (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2003), p. 29. Also see my The New Militants (Delhi: Aakar Books, 2014) for an entirely different rendering of the “new militants”..
21. Javeed Alam, Classes Trapped in Castes: Left’s Ongoing Predicament in India (Centre for Scientific Socialism: Nagarjuna Nagar, 2011).
22. Karl Marx, Das Kapital, Erster Band (Dietz Verlag: Berlin, 1981), p. 52.
23. B.R. Ambedkar, ‘Annihilation of Caste’ in The Essential Writings of B.R. Ambedkar, p. 267.
24. See my ‘Why we are not Hindus: A Reply to the Indian Fascists’ in Mainstream, Vol. LII, No 1, December 28, 2013, p. 110.
25. Quoted in Romila Thapar, Past and Prejudice, p. 12.
27. Ibid., pp. 14-15.
28. Savitri Devi, Warning to the Hindus (Calcutta: Hindu Mission, 1939), p. 142. Also see my ‘In Defence of Marxism’ in Critique, Vol. 40, No. 1, February 2012.
29. V.I. Lenin, ‘The Historical Destiny of the Doctrine of Karl Marx’ in Lenin, Selected Works (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1975), pp. 18-19.
30. ‘Capitalism is Changing Caste much faster than any Human Being. Dalits should look at Capitalism as a Crusader against Caste’ in The Indian Express, June 11, 2013.
33. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, ‘Manifesto of the Communist Party’ in Marx. Engels. Selected Works (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1975), pp. 37-8.
34. I must thank Arun Patnaik for making me think on this passage.
35. See ‘Capitalism is Changing Caste much faster than any Human Being. Dalits should look at Capitalism as a Crusader against Caste’ in The Indian Express, June 11, 2013.
Murzban Jal is with the Indian Institute of Education, Pune. He is also the author of The Seductions of Karl Marx, The New Militants and Zoroastrianism: From Antiquity to the Modern Period (ed.)