[With the unleashing of the reign of terror by the RSS/BJP rulers against working-class, peasant organizations, women organizations, student movements, intellectuals, writers, poets and progressive social/political activists, India also witnessed a series of resistance programmes organized by the pro-people cultural organizations in different parts of the country. My address in some of these programmes is reproduced here. Shamsul Islam ]
Before sharing my views on the tasks of artists-writers-intellectuals in the times of Fascism, let me; briefly define Fascism and how it is different from totalitarianism. Totalitarianism is political concept, a dictatorship of an individual, family or group which prohibits opposition in any form, and exercises an extremely high degree of control over public and private life. It is also described as authoritarianism. Whereas Fascism while retaining all these repressive characteristics also believes in god-ordained superiority of Race, culture, religion and language of the rulers. It is the rule of the Aryans over pagans or malechas, where the latter belonging to an inferior Race (which Hitler described as “no-Race”) should be eliminated as these corrupt the superior Race, its culture, religion, and language.
The capture of the Indian state by the Fascist RSS/BJP rulers should not be confused with the rule of Nazi Party in Germany and the Fascist Party in Italy after the World War I. The rise of Nazism and Fascism in Europe was the outcome of a severe crisis of capitalism globally. Since Germany and Italy had powerful working class movements, the capitalists, bureaucrats, military elite and the Rightist political leaders decided to crush the Left and impose totalitarian rules in the two countries.
India, on the other hand, had always been a breeding ground for the totalitarian ideology with Brahmanism or Hindutva Fascism as a favourite ideology of the Hindu high Castes with the arrival of Aryans to Indian peninsula. The Brahmanism codified into Vedas, Codes of Manu (Manu Smriti) and Chanakya’s Arthshastra. These are the fundamental documents of Brahmanism which preach Hindutva brand of Fascism.
What this Fascism amounts to can be understood by glancing over some of the dehumanized elements contained in these documents of Brahmanism. According to VD Savarkar who played important role in chalking out the modern Hindutva Fascism in India only those could stay who belonged to a “common Race”, “common blood”, and “common civilization” known as Aryan Race which spoke holy language, Sanskrit.
The Hindutva Fascism’s other prominent ideologue, MS Golwalkar while fully supporting the cleansing of the Jews by Hitler and Mussolini in their countries. He went on to declare shamelessly that cleansing of Jews by Hitler and Mussolini was “a good lesson for us in Hindusthan to learn and profit by” for eliminating non-Aryans.
We should not miss the fact that Hindutva Fascism in comparison to the German/Italian Fascism is multi-dimensional, multi-faceted and insidious. Whereas in Europe it was Aryans versus Jews, the Hindutva version denigrates adversaries at two levels. On one level minorities, specially, Muslims and Christians have to be cleansed, at the other level Sudras through imposition of Varna system have to be enslaved. According to Hindutva ideologues, Hinduism, Hindu nation and Casteism are synonymous. Manu Smriti blatantly decreed that Brahma created the Kshatriya, the Vaisya, and the Sudra from his mouth, his arm, his thighs and his feet. The lord prescribed for Sudras one occupation only that was to serve meekly the other three Castes. If a Sudra criticizes a twice-born man his tongue would be cut out; for he is of low origin. If Sudra arrogantly taught Brahmanas their duty, the king would cause hot oil to be poured into his mouth and into his ears. If a low-caste man tried to place himself on the same seat with a man of a high caste, would be branded on his hip and be banished, or (the king) shall cause his buttock to be gashed.
As per the Manu Code if Sudras are to be given most stringent punishments for even petty violations/actions, the same Code of Manu is very lenient towards Brahmins. Manu decreed:
“Let him never slay a Brahmana, though he have committed all (possible) crimes; he should be asked to leave, leaving all his property to him and his body unhurt.”
The fact is that Hindutva ideology is the original Fascist system and with Modi’s coming to power in 2014 India began its journey under the Hindutva Fascist rule. However, it would not be correct that before Modi’s becoming PM India was a peoples’ democracy. It was an anti-people rule under the garb of democracy. The rulers of all hues despite running the country for the benefit of imperialists, capitalists and feudal rule continued their public affirmation to the so called democratic-secular polity of India. But with Modi’s coming to power this facade was abandoned. The RSS/BJP rulers declared Hindutva as their ideology under which India would discard secularism and democracy and convert India into a Hindu rashtra. This current vision of the Hindutva rule is direct borrowing from Golwalkar who as early as 1940 Golwalkar while delivering a speech before the 1350 top level cadres of the RSS had declared: “RSS inspired by one flag, one leader and one ideology is lighting the flame of Hindutva in each and every corner of this great land.” This slogan of one flag, one leader and one ideology was directly borrowed from the programmes of Nazi and Fascist parties of Europe.
GLORIOUS LEGACY OF RESISTANCE AGAINST FASCISM BY WRITERS-ARTISTS-INTELLECTUALS
The world history is witness to this amazing fact that whenever the Fascists tried to suppress peoples’ aspirations, crush humanity and impose silence of the graveyard on the society, writers-artists-intellectual stood shoulder to shoulder with other sections of the society in resisting the march of Fascists. Some of the glorious examples are worth remembering.
OLYMPE DE GOUGES
Olympe de Gouges (1748-93) was a French playwright, activist and feminist whose powerful polemics against racial and sexual injustice won her a wide audience in the years before and during the French Revolution. Her most vital 17 point, The Declaration of the Rights of Women and of the Female Citizen (1791) was written in response to the revolutionary Declaration of the Rights of Man (1789), highlighting its inherent sex bias and addressing key issues of women’s rights that it had failed to cover. For this ‘crime’ she was beheaded in Paris on November 3, 1793, at the age of 45. Before being slaughtered she roared: “Since women already have the right to climb the scaffold, they must be given the right to mount the rostrum so that they can speak their minds.”
Eugen Berthold Friedrich Brecht (10 February 1898 – 14 August 1956), known professionally as Bertolt Brecht, was a German theatre practitioner, playwright, and poet. He was the main proponent of the genre named epic theatre (which he preferred to call “dialectical theatre”). During the Nazi period and World War II he lived in exile, first in Scandinavia and then in the United States. During the Nazi rule, Brecht expressed his strong opposition to the National Socialist and Fascist movements in his most famous plays: Life of Galileo, Mother Courage and Her Children, The Good Person of Szechwan, The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Fear and Misery of the Third Reich, and many others.
Brecht even today remains the greatest dramatist and poet against Fascism and his teaching can play great role in fighting the Hindutva fascism. His advice to the artists that “Art is not a mirror held up to show reality but a hammer with which to shape it”. Thus he wanted the artists to use art as a political tool to revolutionize the society. He wanted writers-artists-intellectuals not to be cowed down by the Fascists repression, by telling: “In the dark times will there be singing? Yes, there will also be singing. About the dark times”.
Fascism plays havoc with the truth. Brecht gave five-point programme to uphold the truth and confront lies. “Nowadays, anyone who wishes to combat lies and ignorance and to write the truth must overcome at least five difficulties. He must have the courage to write the truth when truth is everywhere opposed; the keenness to recognize it, although it is everywhere concealed; the skill to manipulate it as a weapon; the judgment to select those in whose hands it will be effective; and the running to spread the truth among such persons.”
Charles Spencer ‘Charlie’ Chaplin was born on April 16, 1889 in London. His childhood was fraught with hardship and poverty. Chaplin was sent to a workhouse at the tender age of seven. At the age of 13, Chaplin began his slow and arduous climb in the world of entertainment and not only became one of the greatest entertainers of the silent movie era but also a great an artist who confronted directly through his satires Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, anti-Semitism, and the Nazis. One of his productions, The Great Dictator had this long speech, written in lyrics and delivered to perfection by Chaplin, that has surprisingly gone down in history as one of the most inspiring and evocative orations against Racism and Fascism.
I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be an emperor.
That’s not my business.
I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone.
I should like to help everyone if possible.
Jew-Gentile (non-Jew) – Black Man, White.
We all want to help one another, human beings are like that.
We want to live by each other’s happiness.
Not by each other’s misery.
We don’t want to hate and despise one another.
And this world has room for everyone, and the good Earth is rich can provide for everyone.
The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way.
Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate…stepped us into misery and bloodshed.
We think too much, and feel too little.
More than machinery, we need humanity.
More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness.
Without these qualities, life will be violent, and all will be lost…
To those who can hear me, I say – do not despair.
The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed – the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress.
The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people.
And so long as men die, liberty will never perish. ….
You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure.
Then – in the name of democracy – let us use that power – let us all unite.
Let us fight for a new world – a decent world that will give men a chance to work – that will give youth a future and old age a security.
By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power.
But they lie!
They do not fulfill that promise.
They never will!
Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people!
Now let us fight to fulfill that promise!
Let us fight to free the world – to do away with national barriers – to do away with greed, with hate and intolerance.
Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness.
in the name of democracy, let us all unite
Martin Niemöller was a German Lutheran pastor and theologian born in Lippstadt, Germany, in 1892. Niemöller was an anti-Communist and supported Adolf Hitler‘s rise to power at first. But when Hitler started pogrom of cleansing Jews and working-class turned against Nazism He became the leader of a group of German clergymen opposed to Hitler. In 1937 he was arrested and eventually released only in 1945 by the Allies. An excerpt from his long poem which remains one of the greatest anthems against Fascism.
First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak out for me.
Antonio Francesco Gramsci (22 January 1891 – 27 April 1937) was an Italian Marxist philosopher and communist politician. He wrote on political theory, sociology and linguistics. He was a founding member and one-time leader of the Communist Party of Italy and was imprisoned by Benito Mussolini‘s Fascist regime. He was released from jail a few days before his death when the Mussolini regime knew that he would not survive.
He wrote more than 30 notebooks and 3,000 pages of history and analysis during his imprisonment. His Prison Notebooks are considered a highly original contribution to 20th century political theory. The notebooks cover a wide range of topics, including nationalism, the French Revolution, fascism, civil society, folklore, religion and high and popular culture.
Gramsci is best known for his theory of cultural hegemony, which describes how the state and ruling capitalist class – the bourgeoisie – use cultural institutions to maintain power in capitalist societies. The bourgeoisie, in Gramsci’s view, develops a hegemonic culture using ideology rather than violence, economic force, or coercion. Hegemonic culture propagates its own values and norms so that they become the “common sense” values of all and thus maintain the status quo. Hegemonic power is therefore used to maintain consent to the capitalist order, rather than coercive power using force to maintain order. This cultural hegemony is produced and reproduced by the dominant class through the institutions that form the superstructure.
He argued that capitalist power needed to be challenged by building a counter-hegemony. By the need to create a working-class culture and a counter-hegemony Gramsci meant for a kind of education that attempted to help students question and challenge the beliefs and practices that were dominating. In other words, it was a theory and practice of helping students achieve “critical consciousness.”
Those of us who are committed to challenging the hegemony of the culture of the Fascism must learn from Gramsci. His message in the note for the editorial staff of l’unita (The Unity, official Organ of the Italian Communist Party which Gramsci was editing) at the time of the arrest (November 8, 1928) is as relevant for us at it was for Italian comrades in 1928: “It is necessary to think and study even under the most difficult conditions…to keep the risk of intellectual degradation at bay”.
At the end, I would remind you of words of Comrade Lenin who emphasized that cultural activists must have a grasp of politics of the rulers as well as revolutionary politics. When asked to suggest, he responded by saying:
“We must at all costs set out, first, to learn, secondly, to learn, and thirdly, to learn, and then see to it that learning shall not remain a dead letter or a fashionable catch-phrase (and we should admit in all frankness that this happens very often with us), that learning shall really become part of our very being, that it shall actually and fully become a constituent element of our social life…In order that it may attain the desired high level, we must follow the rule: ‘Measure your cloth seven times before you cut'”
Please learn from this magnificent heritage, do not replicate it only, carry it forward with revolutionary creative innovations added so that we are able to resist the current Hindutva fascist onslaught more meaningfully. Let’s hasten its demise, we can do it.
WE SHALL FIGHT, WE SHALL WIN!
Link for some of S. Islam’s writings in English, Hindi, Urdu, Marathi, Malayalam, Kannada, Bengali, Punjabi, Gujarati and video interviews/debates: