Volume 5, No. 12, December 2023
Editor: Rashed Rahman
Eric Hobsbawm, one of the greatest Marxist historians, described the crash of 2008 as a “sort of right-wing equivalent to the fall of the Berlin Wall” (Seumas Milne: The Revenge Of History). The crash, according to Joseph Stiglitz, forced the capitalist cat to clamber up a tree and since then it refuses to climb down. Despite several steps taken by the bourgeois economists to counter the recession, the outcome is not very promising. Taking a leaf from history, the hegemonic capitalist powers, duly favoured by the objective conditions, have preferred a convenient way to realise capital. Imperialism – according to Rosa Luxemburg “a product of a particular stage of ripeness in the world development of capital” (Junius Pamphlet) – is using an age-old strategy of imposing war on the rest of the world, i.e. the periphery. The objective is to emaciate the proletariat through massacre and raise the dividends to bring overproduction of human labour and that of commodities under its control. For the resurgence of fascism this process invariably augurs well. Under a similar situation in the 1930s, the affliction came to haunt the Germans and Italians both.
In the recent past, much has been stated about the probability of the cultivation of fascism in Pakistan. To acquaint ourselves with the type of monster looming over our heads, we need to revisit history to discern the nature of the Nietzschean abyss confronting Pakistan from the dragons that coiled Germany in the shape of the Fuhrer (National Socialists) and Italy in the shape of Il Duce.
For Antonio Gramsci, who toiled under this wrath, fascism happens to be a cross-class phenomenon commanding a powerful set of social and cultural forces. These forces are incapable of solving the crisis of capitalism but they have the ability to understand the crisis of revolutionary tendencies, which they manage to counter effectively. In his Prison Notebooks, Gramsci rejects any identification of fascism as a mere agent of the bourgeoisie or a form of Bonapartism. For him fascism is not a standoff between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat but reflects the outright defeat of the proletariat in the political setting where despite the intrinsic weakness of its political institutions, the bourgeoisie still plays the dominant role. He later developed a new thesis comparing fascism to Caesarism, a balance of forces between two belligerent powers that can lead to the total destruction of both, hence increasing the strong possibility of the emergence of a third force led by a charismatic man of destiny who helps to avoid the utter devastation based on this confrontation. “The idea of the charismatic, authoritarian leader,” Marcuse says, “is already performed in the liberalist celebration of the gifted economic leader, the born executive” (Herbert Marcuse: Negations).
The change that results from this crisis can be progressive as happened in the case of Bonaparte and Caesar when the crisis led to a change in the structure of the state. For Gramsci it was a revolution/restoration that ushered in an era of qualitative change. Caesarism can be reactionary when despite the upheaval there is no qualitative change in the system or structure of society because the reason for the conflict rests in the “momentary political deficiency of the traditional dominant force”. The regime of Napoleon III and Bismarck reflected the latter, in which the reactionary forces prevailed. The era of Hitler and Mussolini followed a similar pattern when restoration overtook the revolution. In the end, the status quo prevailed (Antonio Gramsci: Prison Notebooks).
It is hard to compare a developed society of Germany having an industrial base with a relatively underdeveloped society of Pakistan. Yet when we discuss fascism, we need to take full account of both societies. While explaining society under National Socialism, Herbert Marcuse states: “The National Socialist society was the direct government of the most powerful social groups which conquered or abolished all the intermediary legal and political institutions that stood between their particular interests and the common wealth. Their regime, far from suppressing the human individual, emancipated him in his most sinister instincts and aspects. National Socialism was neither an absolutist nor a socialist nor a nihilist revolution. The New Order had a very affirmative content: to organize the most aggressive and destructive form of imperialism which the modern age had never seen before. It transformed the free into the safe economic subject, and obscured the dangerous ideal of freedom with the protective reality of security…Economic security, if it is any compensation at all, must be supplemented by some form of liberty and National Socialism granted this liberty by abolishing certain fundamental social taboos.”
E R Pope highlighted the state-sponsored orgiastic Nights of the Amazons under the official patronage of the National Socialists by stating: “That which was formerly guarded carefully and offered to a select few behind high walls, today comes to life for all of us – in the nocturnal magic of Nymphenburg Park…in the scanty clothing of the Muses, in the undressed freedom of beautiful figures…Those who shout exultantly, filled with the joyful enthusiasm of action and gazing, are the German youth of 1939.” “This was the entertainment of men,” Marcuse adds, “who were allowed to revel in their prison, to release themselves in the park of their former kings, to act and to ‘gaze’ at previously forbidden wonders. The glamour, beauty and license of the National Socialist pageants retained the features of submissiveness and domination…They transformed stimuli for protest and rebellion into stimuli for coordination. They merged into the image of an order, which succeeded in coordinating even the most hidden danger-zones of individualist society, and they induced the individual to like and perpetuate a world which used him only as a means for oppression…In ‘nationalizing’ the sacred privacy of individual satisfaction, National Socialism conquered the last position which man still held against a repressive public order, the last domain in which he could live up to his potentialities and desires” (Herbert Marcuse: Counterrevolution and Revolt).
It will be interesting to examine the largely agrarian, backward society of Italy at that point of time. Northern Italy, especially the area around Turin, was industrialised, where large numbers of radical workers were fighting to build socialism, yet they were clearly outnumbered by the massive peasantry of the south. According to Gramsci: “In Italy capitalism was in its infancy…the law was the modern excrescence on an ancient edifice. It was not the product of economic evolution, but of international political mimicry, of the intellectual evolution of jurisprudence, not of the instruments of labor…Behind the façade of democratic institutions, the Italian state retained the substance and framework of a despotic state (the same can be said of France). There existed a bureaucratic centralist regime, founded on the tyrannical Napoleonic system, with the express aim of crushing and containing any spontaneous drive or movement. Foreign affairs were conducted in the highest secrecy – not only the discussions were not public, but even the terms of treaties were kept from those whom they nevertheless affect. The army (until the war made the antiquated system untenable) had a career structure: it was not the nation in arms. There was a state religion, supported financially and in other ways by the state: there was neither separation of church and state nor equality of all religions. Schools were either non-existent or the teachers who came from a restricted number of needy folks, given the paltriness of wages, were not equal to the demands of national education. The suffrage was…far from giving the nation the capacity to express its will. Free competition, the essential principle of the capitalist bourgeoisie, had not yet touched the most important aspects of national affairs. So we had a position where political forms were mere arbitrary superstructures – they lacked any effectiveness and achieved nothing. The seat of power were still confused and interdependent…hence there was no class state in which the principle of free competition ensured efficiency with great parties…in order to keep the country united dictatorship of one man was preferred…[That was] A system of colonial domination…[which was] collapsing” (Gramsci: Selected Writings [pre-prison]).
Unlike Britain and France, Italy never experienced a bourgeois democratic revolution. The Italian Risorgimento was a revolution from above. The political system was parliamentary but it was based on elitism known as Transformismo. The bourgeoisie was a weak collaborator with powerful landowners and the Vatican. Yet, to secure the interests of the bourgeoisie, the Banca Commercial, Federation of Industry and Federation of Agriculture pushed Mussolini into power. Germany on the other hand had a sound industrial base with a strong capitalist class. Akin to Italy, the conflict there too was between light and heavy industry. The latter was fighting for the resurgence of the military-industrial complex and nothing but fascist leadership could have provided it with an instant boost. The slogan of ‘guns before butter’ swiftly brought a new impetus to its sagging energy.
To begin with, the fascists never claimed themselves to be in the service of the existing order; on the contrary they gave an impression that they were looking to overthrow it. They professed themselves as anti-capitalist, even revolutionary, yet their hostility to Goebbels’ ‘degenerate communist human beings’ was never hidden. Behind the scenes, the bourgeoisie had an iron grip on the power structure, which could be assessed by the fact that despite assimilating all powers, the fascists could not domesticate the bourgeoisie. On occasions the bourgeoisie was humiliated by the Nazi Plebeians, but once the former found it incommensurate with their purpose, they decided to dispense with the regime. On July 20, 1944, the assassination attempt on Hitler and the arrest of Mussolini on July 25, 1943 by the King and Marshal Badoglio were proofs enough that the ruling capitalist class was never absorbed by the self-styled totalitarian state. After the assassination attempt, Hitler was virtually finished. Neither big business nor top military officials followed him. He survived due to an atmosphere of terror, fear of Germany’s dismemberment, and the scare of civil war leading to the possible revival of the Red threat amidst the international war. This reality is indicative of the fact that no regime can govern without the consent of the class that holds economic power.
Gramsci has not only analysed fascism as a phenomenon but the individual personalities of the Fuhrer and Il Duce as well. Gramsci, compared to the leading psychologist Eric Fromm, has dealt with them more objectively. For the latter, Hitler was a necrophilic, ano-retentive sadist and narcissist, an individual suffering from a psychological malaise (Derived from Eric Fromm: Anatomy of Human Destruction). On the other hand, Gramsci takes a dialectical view of these personalities. “Like any corrupt despot,” he states, “Mussolini and Hitler were the manifestations of the specific relations of immediate political, organisational and military forces that they did not create themselves and they failed to correct – if at all they attempted to do so or was there any room in the system – despite their desperate efforts.” For Gramsci both individuals were not anomalies but the real face of a pathological system (Prison Notebooks).
Another Marxist historian, Daniel Guerin adds, “Fascism is not only an instrument at the service of big business but at the same time a mystical upheaval of the pauperized and discontented petty bourgeoisie” (Daniel Guerin: Fascism and Big Business). Fascism, being a cross-class phenomenon, includes people from all social categories belonging to different classes having certain common economic interests. In 1932, Germany had massive unemployment; nearly 26 percent of the unemployed were under the age of 24. They became the cannon fodder for fascism. In addition to that, the lumpen element added another hue to their ranks; they clustered to become the storm troopers of the Fuhrer. From there arose Horst Wessel, a vulgar pimp transformed into a national hero, which gave fascism its first ‘Brown martyr’, a much needed cadaver to further its designs.
Mussolini’s ‘Squadrons of Action’ were a mélange of ex-convicts and tramps. They adopted names such as ‘the damned’, ‘the savages’, and ‘the desperate’, which reflected their lumpen characteristics. Even Il Duce and the Fuhrer were no exceptions; they too were the images of their troops. They had a plebian aspect and a plebian mentality that accurately suited the fascist tendency (Derived from Daniel Guerin: Fascism and Big Business).
The leaders backing fascism presented it as a panacea for all ills. Hence it could not escape gaining a touch of vulgar religiosity that offered its people both stoicism and courage. The youth embraced Hitler’s dictum of enduring sufferings and adversities in silence. Belief was the Alpha and Omega of National Socialism and was depicted by Hitler while addressing his troops as, “You were the guards that followed me with a believing heart. You were the first partisan who believed in me…it was not the hair-splitting intelligentsia that led Germany out of her distress but your faith…Why are we here? By command, not because your heart ordered it, because an inner voice directed it, because you believe in our movement and its leadership. Only the force of idealism can accomplish this. Reason would have advised you against coming to me and only faith commanded you to do so.” “The man,” he continued, “who for his satisfaction in life, needs nothing but to eat and drink has never understood him who sacrifices his daily bread to appease the thirst of soul and hunger of spirit. Our task is to give the dictator, when he shall appear, a people ready for him.” This message sounds familiar to the ears of the Subcontinental masses.
One does not need to be an Einstein to discover the similarities between the state structure of Pakistan and that of Italy of yesteryear. In recent times, the Pakistani ruling class in transition is going through a new phase of capitalist mutation, a phase of ‘momentary political deficiency’. The deteriorating economy and the struggle for a bigger slice of the pie from ever-reducing resources have brought the warring ruling factions into a collision course with each other. All three state pillars are contesting for their institutional hegemony over the other. However, as Gramsci unequivocally mentions, in this struggle for dominance, “the interplay of relations between the principal groups (of various kinds, socio-economic and technical-economic) of the fundamental classes and the auxiliary forces directed by, or subjected to, their hegemonic influence” play a significant role in this struggle. The same is replicated here in Pakistan in letter and spirit.
To the detriment of all other factions, the army, itself an embodiment of Pakistani capitalism, is in possession of the implements of violence. Hence in relation to other groups it is in a better position to secure help from or even create auxiliary forces. It did not hesitate to unleash these forces in the present scenario. In the name of religion and patriotism, a huge lumpen proletariat, backed by the economically threatened middle class, is available to hound the people into submission. The establishment of Salafist and Deobandi factions as brands had left another void, a gaping ideological wound to be filled by the most powerful brand of Sunnis (Barelvis), a denomination owned by the majority of the Pakistani populace. Another factor that lies at the root of these groups is the sense of powerlessness. Their emergence is an indication that the middle class is not only seeking an escape from the bad reality but from the very thought of resisting this reality as well.
The gory murder of Governor Salman Taseer had set the precedent for an orgy of killing ablaze. Now this killing has become the trademark that is branded and sold in the name of blasphemy. No one has the slightest idea about the nature of this pathology, least of all those who inflict it. However, the more humanity bleeds the better the trade flourishes. Finding it beneficial, once the state itself comes to promote the pathology, it becomes a national commodity that can be used in local and international markets not only for the satisfaction of the clergy but for the consumption of international Shylocks as well. Notoriety akin to villainy has its own exchange value. One merely needs a company of repute to advertise it. By artfully sanctioning the demand for trash, the system has inaugurated total harmony. What is new is the exclusion of the new.
The lumpen elements promoted as auxiliary groups would most likely end up in forming multiple warring factions that will bark and bite at the behest of the military. This fact is known to the mentor but what is little known is that every command carries a date of expiry. After that the subservient force tends to become autonomous and out of its ashes a Frankenstein is invariably born who comes to haunt its own creator. “The insane sects,” Theodor Adorno says, “grow with the same rhythm as big organizations. It is the rhythm of total destruction.” More significantly, the chaos that these auxiliary forces create does not emerge in a void but in concrete historical conditions, which have their bearing on the consciousness of the masses. This last mentioned factor carries repercussions that are more lethal for the hegemonic interests.
In the latest fiasco, the anti-people or Caesarist character of the military and all its auxiliary forces, including that of a political party widely alleged to be its product or cohort, have been completely exposed to the masses. The corrupt civilian authority, after losing its hegemony and even its credibility to dominate, has come to another grief, but the defeat is not utterly futile and nor is the victory of the praetorian guard untainted. People have seen the undisguised face of the power that breeds terrorism according to its own needs. One cannot fool all the people all the time; even indoctrination has its limits.
In Pakistan, the blatant use of obscenities in the verbal arsenal of those who champion the cause of the faith has replaced the Eros offered by National Socialism. This not only reveals the real face of the lumpen proletariat that pretends to dominate the so-called rebellion but the extent of its helplessness too. This language pertains to the language of repressive desublimation, which provides a catharsis to aggressiveness and debases sexuality itself. The verbalisation of genital gratification indicates how powerless its user is that in his meekness he is left with only the freedom of stooping to the level of breaking the petty bourgeois taboos. This self-inflicted masochism deprives it of whatever little political impact or legitimacy it has. Suicide, instead of becoming a philosophical problem as Albert Camus suggests, can mutate into a political debacle or possibly a bargaining chip. This validates Max Horkheimer’s diagnosis that “what is decisive today in no longer Puritanism…but the necessity inherent in the system of never releasing its grip on the consumer, of not for a moment allowing him or her to suspect that resistance is possible” (Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno: The Cultural Industry).
Under the given conditions, these ragtag warring factions having a nuisance value will be kept alive with the infusion of fresh blood to shed more. They will be unleashed on any political government that refuses to conform to the established norms laid down by the praetorian guard. In this economic phase, a new history is in the process of being written, the history of monopolies, of gang wars and rackets led by the storm troopers wearing colourful turbans. Once again, this is the key to capitalist reason and not the bell on the fool’s cap that jingles as the last laugh. This is the punishment of a society that fails to advance the impulse of a revolution. States that lack a revolutionary situation are condemned to face a civil war in the shape of Caesarism, which itself remains a class war albeit its forms can be deceptive. For long Pakistan is wallowing in it and despite suffering misery, the utter lack of consciousness is making the plight protracted and long. Any possibility of redemption can be assessed and measured by the extent of consciousness gained by the people while emerging from the perdition of the expropriators responsible for keeping them in misery. The soft voice of Shelley is dying or getting stifled, but as Freud states: “If lips are sewn the finger-tips chatter” (Sigmund Freud: Introductory Lectures On Psychoanalysis). In this cacophony of insanity, the advice of Horkheimer cannot be ignored: “It may not be entirely unrealistic to speak in a language that is not easily understood,” because “one day we may learn that in the depth of their hearts, the masses secretly knew the truth and disbelieved the lie, like catatonic patients who make known only at the end of their trance that nothing has escaped them” (Horkheimer: Critical Theory). If only they would realise it first!