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Debate

    “Functional Substitutes for Fascism” in the Era of Globalization

    This journal published in 1998 (Vol. XVIII, No. 2) an article by David Pizzo, “The

    Museumization of Fascism: ‘Functional Substitutes for Fascism’ in the Era of

    Globalization,” that debated an important intervention by Achin Vanaik in the

    continuing discussions on Indian “fascism.” Vanaik originally presented his thesis in

    an article entitled “Situating the Threat of Hindu Communalism: Problems with the

    Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. XXIX, No. Fascist Paradigm,” which appeared in

    The Furies of 28, 1994, and was subsequently republished as a chapter in his book,

    Indian Communalism, London: Verso, 1997. We are pleased to publish Vanaik’s

    response to Pizzo, followed by some further thoughts on fascism by David Pizzo and

    Vasant Kaiwar.

Reply to Pizzo

Achin Vanaik

    In welcoming David Pizzo’s critique of my views The history of actually existing fascisms in inter-war on fascism I am not simply engaging in a formal cour-Europe has been “raided” at various levels — cul-

    1tesy. For I discern in that critique a motive and pur-tural, political, economic (sometimes with considerable pose that I respect and appreciate and which stands sophistication affording illuminating but partial insights) in striking contrast to the way in which most Indian to justify fascist characterizations in India. The Marxists have dealt with the issue of fascism here. number of Indian Marxist intellectuals who have been The latter have treated the issue of fascism in third troubled by the idea that this might constitute a se-world countries in an utterly unproblematic manner. rious theoretical departure from classical understand-

    ? 2000: Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, Vol. XX Nos. 1&2

116 Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, Vol. XX Nos. 1&2 (2000)

    ings of Marxism can barely be counted on the fingers This is something that I can only endorse and wel-of one hand. come and wish others, especially Indian Marxists,

    would emulate. But then, the starting point for their own Marxist

    theorizations is not the classical tradition represented I have many points of both agreement and disa-by the likes of Trotsky, Bauer, Thalheimer but the un-greement with Pizzo but I will not try to explore all or derstandings of fascism propagated by the Stalinist even most of these. Instead, I will isolate what I be-Comintern from 1924 onwards, with the 1928 thesis lieve to be the most fundamental points of difference plus amendments in the 1935 Congress, constituting so that contrasting perspectives in theorizing fascism, their basic pole of reference. Gramsci has been ap-even among Marxists, can be clearly posed. It is not propriated by Indian sympathizers, supporters and quite accurate to claim as Pizzo does, that I have re-apologists of Stalinism and Maoism for his specific legated the “fascist situation” to the museum of insights into the character of Italian fascism and his history, or that I believe fascism is a phenomenon general insights into the cultural-ideological dimension “that only applies to a narrow set of events in one of fascism but without using him to directly challenge place during one brief period.” Even for classical that Comintern theoretical tradition. Though Trotsky is Marxism, fascism was seen as a recurring possibility, the single most important reference point in the clas-i.e. capable of temporal extension. Both in chapter five sical Marxist tradition for an understanding of fascism, of my book and in the introductory chapter one, I ac-he is effectively ignored (when not excoriated) by knowledge this point and pronounce myself agnostic most such Indian Marxists. Such Marxists, uncon-but skeptical about the possibility of such temporal cerned as they are by the need for reassessing or re-extension. But I am not categorical in ruling out the visiting that classical tradition, when talking about In-possibility of such fascist recurrence in the capitalism dian fascism do not for the most part qualify their of our times precisely because I have great respect for characterization by talking of “neo-fascism” or the power of that classical tradition of Marxism which “semi-fascism” or of “functional substitutes for believed in this recurrent possibility. fascism.” With great confidence and self-assurance Pizzo is certainly correct in stating that my central they talk simply of fascism and the “fascist threat” point of reference in discussing the contemporary re-in India. levance of fascism is that tradition. But also because In refreshing contrast, Pizzo is much more cir-of my respect for the explanatory power of that tradi-cumspect and perfectly willing to emphasize the signi-tion I do categorically rule out any spatial extension of ficance of the differences between such “third world the applicability of the fascist paradigm outside the fascism” and “classical fascism” rooted in the metropolitan heartlands (its advanced and core re-study of metropolitan fascism by using such qualified gions of North America, Europe and Japan) to third nomenclatural forms even as he insists that commo-world dependent capitalist countries. This still does nalities justify their emplacement within a wider, more not mean that I cannot in any circumstances be per-universal and general theory of fascism. Moreover, suaded that I am wrong or that there can be no revi-fully conscious of the need to develop Marxist theori-sion of, or departure from, that tradition’s under-

    zations of fascism to suit our times, Pizzo self-standing of fascism to suit our times. But any effort to consciously tries to do just that. He recognizes that do so should respect and recognize the great there is a theoretical problem and seeks to address it. strengths of that explanatory framework, be explicit in

     Debate on Fascism and “Functional Substitutes for Fascism” 117

    confronting its core theses and persuasive in justifying minant national bourgeois bloc which therefore faces a departure from them. the possibility of revolutionary usurpation by a comba-

    tive working class, which, if it took place, would mark a A universal theory of fascism is what the classical

    world-dramatic shift in the relationship of class forces understanding aimed to provide. But it was adamant

     against capital. widethat this should never be confused with, or interpreted

    to mean, universalizing the possibility of fascism to That is to say, fascism is not just the most extreme any or every capitalist state. It is the Stalinist Comin-form of national political and class reaction but simul-

    tern which in 1928 as part of its “third period” thesis the most extreme form of taneously and inescapably

    made two basic theoretical claims, not held then or international reaction. This distinctive form of the fasc-subsequently by the main legatees of the classical ist dialectic of the international-national is possible Marxist approach to the study of fascism the trio of only because the national terrain over which the poli-Trotsky, Bauer and Thalheimer (along with the contri-tics of fascism is played out is one or more of the im-butions of Gramsci). perialist heartlands itself. In short, imperialist competi-

    tion of a most acute kind is also a feature of the fascist The first and completely new claim was that fasc-

    crisis. This was a crucial feature of historical fascism ism was a general phenomenon common to all capi-

    which gave it such gravity as a world-impacting phe-talist countries; the second, was a heteronomous and

    nomenon. The penumbra of fascism, it may be argued, highly instrumentalist understanding of fascism as the

    should be seen as capable of extending to other de-“open dictatorship” of monopoly capital. The theo-

    veloped capitalist countries which are not serious retical consequences of these two quite unwarranted

    players in the game of imperialist competition. Some claims have carried on to this day.

    may even wish to argue that this penumbra of the Pizzo says, “It is my belief that fascism is a radi-

    fascist threat be seen as capable of extension to de-cal form of ‘emergency surgery’ to save the most

    pendent capitalist countries. But even here some way fundamental structures of global capitalist accumula-

    of registering the qualitative differences between met-tion during periods of acute crisis.” I have no quarrel

    ropolitan fascisms and “peripheral fascisms” would with such a view. And yet the direction Pizzo subse-

    have to be made. quently takes from here is not mine. To put it another

    No wonder, in the post-war era those outstanding way, fascism is a last resort attempt to resolve the

    Marxist theorists who saw themselves as belonging to most acute crisis of capitalism as a world system, not

    traditions which were the legatees of classical Marxist of capitalism in one country! This is a crisis so acute

    theorizing of fascism at its best, insisted that fascism that the fundamental structures of world capitalism are

    2proper was a feature of imperialist countries only. gravely threatened. There can only be so acute a cri-

    Using notions of semi-fascism, neo-fascism, peripher-sis of world capitalism (given its combined and uneven

    al-fascism to describe brutal authoritarian-nationalist character) if there is such a crisis in one or more of its

    states in the third world should not become an attempt core metropolitan regions. The basic methodological

    to imply the existence of some “process” of point of departure for any assessment of an epoch or

    “creeping fascism” from the geographical periphery era or situation of fascist crisis must itself be the inter-

    to the center, or even as a symptom of the shape of national arena. But the political expression of that cri-

    things to come in this era of the Long Downturn (post-sis is revealed at the level of the nation-state in the

    1973) or what Eric Hobsbawm calls the Third Age of deep dilemma of a frightening fragmentation of a do-

118 Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, Vol. XX Nos. 1&2 (2000)

    3the “Landslide.” That this period of the Long and coherence of the dominant class bloc was impe-Downturn provides the objective foundation for the riled as never before because of its acute fragmenta-emergence of a new politics of barbarism-reaction tion and danger of decomposition in an ongoing class worldwide is an unobjectionable inference. That such struggle with a powerful and organized working class. forms of barbarism as may emerge bear significant The counterrevolution begins before the seizure of resemblances to the barbarisms of the past, namely state power and is completed after it. Crucial to the fascism, is also unobjectionable. I have made both mass movement process is the nature of fascism as a

    these points in my introductory chapter. But the me-of the petty bourgeoisie. When Barrington Moore cites

     starting point for even understanding the pre-war Japan as an example of Asian fascism or thodological

    validity and strength of the fascist threat today has to when Pizzo cites Indonesia (1965) and Chile (1973) be the investigation of the metropolis not the periphery. as candidates for the status of third world fascisms,

    this is effectively an endorsement of the possibility of I will come back to this point again, but let me take

    “fascism from above.” up now the second claim of the Stalinist Comintern

    the effective denial of the very considerable autonomy However, historical fascism was always a counter-of fascist state power from class power. Now there is revolution from below. It is not enough to cite middle-nothing in Pizzo’s critique that suggests any sympa-class support for the Chilean coup (or even the truck-thy with this Comintern approach. But nor is there ers’ strike) or for the Indonesian military coup. There

    anything which suggests that he is explicitly rejecting has to be a petty bourgeois mass movement and an

    such a heteronomous claim. That is to say, nowhere open, mobilizational politics of some duration (which

    does Pizzo face up directly to another central proposi-at least characterized what was happening in India tion of the classical Marxist understanding of fascism, from the late 1980s to the early 1990s and remains a even if it is for the purpose of rejecting its validity for repeatable feature of the contemporary political scene) the building of a more contemporary theory of univer-in which the key vehicle for that mobilization the

    sal fascism. The emergence of fascist rule fascist party grows. In the fascism from above represented the political expropriation of the bour-perspective, one can dispense with the necessity of geoisie and therefore, the most autonomous form that there being a fascist party or movement or both. The the capitalist state can take. This is the extreme end military, with or without a suborned party, can appar-of the spectrum represented by the Marxist commit-ently do the job.

    ment to the theory that in capitalism the state has only I will not totally dismiss such revisionist attempts to “relative autonomy” from class rule. It is precisely construct a new theory of fascism. But the last-ditch this understanding that inspired Trotsky, Bauer, Thal-character of fascism because of this fact of “political heimer (even Gramsci “Caesarism”) to try and expropriation” applies not just to any or every na-

    understand and explain this autonomy better through tional bourgeois bloc but only to the bourgeois bloc of their respective attempts to develop Marx’s views on dominant classes in dominant, i.e., imperialist coun-Bonapartism into a fuller theory of the fascist state. tries, not to dominated classes or dominated class What a contrast this was to the thinking of the Comin-blocs in dominated, i.e., third world dependent coun-tern! tries. The meaning of fascism as the emergence of a The fascist option had to be endorsed, indeed it world crisis requires nothing less. Pizzo agrees with became incumbent to do so because the political unity me that even the necessity for third world fascist reso-

     Debate on Fascism and “Functional Substitutes for Fascism” 119

    lutions resides ultimately in what first world bourgeoi-casual comparison between the phenomena of impe-sies, not third world ones, believe is in their interests. rialism/capitalism and fascism it is easy to forget that The latter, after all, are dependent bourgeoisies lo-there is a crucial distinction. Imperialism and capital-cated in dependent class blocs where the “hege-continuous processes while fascism is not! ism are

    mon