THE EXTINCT LIBERALS
RESISTANCE against fascism has always come from two quarters, the Left, and the liberal bourgeoisie. The Second World War was fought between the fascist powers on one side and an alliance of the Soviet Union with liberal bourgeois States on the other. Even in anti-fascist resistance movements in Europe, there was, apart from the Communist contingent, a liberal bourgeois one as well, whose leading personality in France for instance was Charles De Gaulle. Whenever fascism has been around, there has always been in opposition to it not just a Left formation but also a liberal bourgeois one. What is striking about the current situation in India when an alliance of corporate capital and communal-fascist elements is making a strong, and classically fascist, bid for power, is the remarkable absence of any opposition from the prominent non-left liberal intellectual voices in the country. Opposition from other non-left bourgeois political parties of course is there, but liberal intellectual opposition which one would expect to have been particularly vociferous, is strangely muted; and many liberal intellectuals are even extending support to this alliance. There are no doubt honourable exceptions. But if one looks at the galaxy of liberal intellectuals who are most visible in the media, then this generalisation about the lack of opposition of liberal intellectuals to the fascist surge remains valid. One cannot pretend that the forces making this bid for power are not tainted by fascism. In fact, almost to make sure that not a shadow of doubt remains on this score, they are being led by a person of impeccable fascist credentials, under whose chief ministership in Gujarat in 2002, a pogrom against the Muslims was launched that claimed a minimum of 2000 lives. His cabinet ministers have been indicted for being involved in this pogrom. The so-called “clean chit” given by the SIT to him is known to have been based on his own testimony that clearly cannot stand scrutiny, such as for instance his claim that he was unaware of a communal massacre in Ahmedabad for five whole hours after it had occurred, despite being present in the city. He has expressed no contrition over his acts of omission, even assuming they were merely acts of omission, and not of commission. His chief henchman in Uttar Pradesh at present, has openly incited the Hindus against the Muslims in the course of his election campaign. And he himself has been a life-long activist of the RSS, an organisation whose basic objective is the establishment of a Hindu Rashtra. Despite all this, there is hardly any repudiation of this alliance from the leading lights of the liberal intelligentsia in the country, including the well-known NRI economist from Columbia University, who, on the contrary, is busy lauding the “Gujarat model” and endorsing “the leader”. Arguments have been advanced of the following kind: we should not cry wolf by calling this alliance “fascist”; Indian democracy is so strong that it can withstand this challenge; the Left is unnecessarily creating a fear psychosis; and so on. WHERE IS THE RESISTANCE ? Now, it could well be the case, and it most certainly is, that this bid for power would not succeed; and even if perchance it does, the constellation of forces could well prevent the new rulers from imposing their will to the extent they would like, at least in the immediate future; and it could well happen that the new rulers, if they do come to power, cannot hold on to it for long and will soon forfeit it. All these could happen; but the question is: where is the resistance from the liberal intelligentsia? These are predictions which may or may not turn out to be true; but predictions that the consequences of the current fascist surge will not be dire cannot be a substitute for resistance. And of course in the case of several leading liberal intellectuals, who have made common cause with the communal-fascists, the predictions themselves are actually of a happy and cheerful future! How can one explain the Indian liberal intellectuals’ ostrich-like indifference towards, if not actual support for, the communal-fascists? Let us be charitable and leave out explanations like individual personal ambition (desire to curry favour with an emerging new establishment); or the ingrained inequality that afflicts most well-heeled Indians, who are typically from the so-called upper castes and look down upon the so-called lower castes including the Muslims, and hence are not too concerned about their fate. Let us take the most charitable explanation, namely that there is a “trade off” involved here, that one has to accept a “leader” despite his being communal because he is going to usher in rapid “development”. Even this most charitable interpretation however betrays a shocking self-centredness. First, with intellectuals, no matter what their political affiliations, one would expect some respect for evidence. The claim that the “leader” being projected would actually bring greater “development” must have some factual basis to be credible. But if we take the period 2004-05 to 2011-12 (the latest year for which Gujarat data are available), we find not only that Gujarat’s GSDP growth rate (8.19 percent) was exceeded by that of several other states like Bihar (15.3 percent) and Tamilnadu (8.65 percent), but also that it was not much higher than of Kerala (7.91 percent). So, the “leader” has no particular claims to be a “development man”. Secondly, during the same period its achievements in terms of “human development” were quite abysmal compared to several other states. Almost every day there is some self-styled liberal intellectual claiming the contrary in the print and electronic media; but simple common sense would suggest that all such claims must be bogus. Everyone knows that Gujarat has been the most corporate-friendly state in the country; in fact this is what is advanced as an argument in favour of the “leader’s” being a “development man”. Now, if you have two states, Kerala and Gujarat, which have more or less the same growth rate, but one of them has provided more “incentives” to the corporate sector than the other, then it stands to reason that the resources devoted to the non-corporate segment of the economy must be larger in the other one; it stands to reason in other words that the “human development” achievements of the other one must be more impressive. And if there are states with even higher growth rates than Gujarat despite offering less “incentives” to the corporates, then their “human development” record must be better than that of Gujarat. A TISSUE OF LIES So, a tissue of lies is being presented to project “the leader” as a “development messiah”, which is a typical fascist ploy; and a whole group of liberal intellectuals, instead of exposing this tissue of lies, is complicit in spreading it on behalf of fascism, which brings us back to the question: why are the liberal intellectuals complicit in or silent over the rise of fascism? All this talk of “development” is just a red herring. What is really at stake is the future of the neo-liberal strategy which has brought the economy to a crisis (with industrial growth being even negative for February). The so-called liberal intelligentsia would like a continuation of neo-liberalism, and is willing to have even a communal-fascist government to ensure such a continuation. It has long been held by many economists, including economists of liberal persuasion like (reportedly) the late Paul Samuelson, that economic neo-liberalism can be sustained only on the basis of political authoritarianism. It must be said to the credit of the liberal economists who hold this view that they have tended to oppose economic neo-liberalism for this reason. What is striking about the liberal intelligentsia in our country is that, far from opposing neo-liberalism on the grounds that it needs fascism to sustain itself, which they should if they were authentically liberal, they actually become silent over, or even complicit in, the rise of fascism, in order to sustain neo-liberalism. But the neo-liberal strategy, as is well-known, gave rise to an increase in the incidence of hunger even when it generated high growth; and in the current period of crisis it is making the living conditions of the people even more miserable. There is no earthly reason therefore for anyone who is concerned with the lives of the people at large for supporting this strategy. Only those would support this strategy who have been its beneficiaries, and hope to remain its beneficiaries. And the group that tops this list consists of those linked to the Indian corporate-financial interests, including those occupying lucrative positions in the corporate-controlled media; members of the “global financial community”; and intellectuals belonging to the new globalised elite. Since any deviation from the neo-liberal strategy must mean some degree of delinking from the global economy, it would necessarily mean some restraints on the privileges of the globalised elite. An influential section of the liberal intelligentsia alas, has not only become part of this globalised elite which has emerged as a consequence of neo-liberal economic policies, but actually barters away its adherence to liberal values (among which anti-fascism has always been one) for retaining its economic privilege. From Willian Digby, the first British writer to draw attention to the immiserising effect of British rule in India, to JA Hobson whose trenchant expose of imperialism provided material for Lenin’s path-breaking contribution on the subject, to John Maynard Keynes who dissected the contradictions of laissez faire capitalism, liberal intellectuals have in the past played a stellar role in critiquing injustice, even while retaining a perspective that does not visualise any transcendence of capitalism. They have also played a stellar role as critics of fascism, though their critique has been different from that of the Left. In the era of neo-liberalism, it appears, the liberal intelligentsia, a beneficiary of the economic regime, puts its own interest above that of the people, and is willing to “adjust” even to fascism for retaining its privilege. There is however a short-sightedness in this position. The Japanese liberal intelligentsia in the early thirties, led by its Finance Minister Takahashi, had gone along with Japanese fascism in increasing military expenditure, with the objective of raising employment in a depression-hit economy. Though its objective was laudable, its supping with fascism was not, as became evident when Takahashi was murdered and Japan moved to full-scale fascism and war. There is a lesson in it for the Indian liberal intelligentsia in whose case one cannot even say that the objective behind supping with fascism is laudable.