[A slightly shorter version of the full paper will appear in French and English from France in January]The neoliberal turn
My own view is that it is misleading, both historically and politically, to cite classical fascism to understand the recent rise of despotic and demagogic political leaders, and their typically reactionary fundamentalist organizations. As discussed so far, several crucial factors rule out any significant material similarity with original fascism: (1) global dominance of neoliberal capital after the breakdown of the Bretton Woods regime; (2) continuation of significant prosperity of developed economies with US in the lead, (3) almost total absence of any form of socialist or communist resistance. In a strong sense, the structure of political economy, especially in the West, is directly opposite of the conditions in Weimar republic in the 1920s.
The combined effect of these factors has led to an unrestricted capitalist world order in which astronomical increase in concentration of wealth has fostered unprecented inequality. As a result, even though the capitalist ruling classes are secure in their historical role unlike German big business in 1920s, increasing sections of the impoverished masses are beginning to be restive without access to classical forms of resistance. The global scale of concentration of wealth, and the absence of structured mass resistance to it, have created historically novel conditions of class war. As desperate sections of impoverished masses are trying to find new forms of resistance, conventional democratic forms are beginning to collapse.
Thus, to sustain the immensely unequal neoliberal order, new forms of authoritarian rules have emerged to control the restive masses within the structure of formal democracy, wherever available. It stands to reason that deeply inegalitarian societies, devoid of progressive forms of mass resistance, will exhibit sharpened forms of existing regressive fissures and conflicts inherited from their cultural history. It is no wonder that essentially unpopular authoritarian regimes will try to exploit these regressive conflicts—by promoting one side and intimidating others—to forestall united resistance. The character of these cultural aspects naturally varies widely across national communities, and within communities: Hindu vs Muslim vs Sikh in India, Immigrants vs blacks vs whites in the US, etc. It is natural that some of these regressive forces draw their inspiration from the cultural history of fascism and display some of its cultural practices expressed in looks, attitudes, ill-concealed feelings, ‘dislocation of language,’ and the like.
Much of the dynamics of this new neoliberal order is poorly understood. Therefore, conventional political thinking is often stumped with ‘surprising’ developments in the otherwise familiar post-Bretton Woods world order. Sometimes entire populations are characterised as racist, even fascist, if political outcomes do not match elite liberal expectations. In my view, the inability of the intellectuals to fully understand the political meaning of these new authoritarian forms leads to facile reference to handy historical precedence such as European fascism. Appeal to fascism by current political commentators is akin to the appeal to ‘dark matter’ by physicists; both appeals are expressions of ignorance.
Moreover, the neoliberal scenario, while causing progressive impoverishment of vast masses of people, has also given rise to a wealthy and powerful body of intelligentsia in the emerging ‘knowledge’-order. It not only includes establishment intellectuals directly serving the neoliberal order, but also a powerful section of elite left-liberal intellectuals who offer critiques of the order in an otherwise subservient academia. They enable the neoliberal order to highlight its sanctioned free democratic space. Given their elite location, it is plausible to infer that, as a subclass, they are not only unaffected by the neoliberal growth in inequality, they are in fact beneficiaries of the system. In that sense, their concerns about democracy and justice are far removed from the concerns of the basic masses.
As a consequence, they are likely to make fine distinctions within the ruling order to mark their progressive preferences: distinction between Microsoft and Monsanto, and Obama-Hilary and Trump in US; between Tata and Ambani, or Indira Gandhi or Narendra Modi, in India. Since the opposing ‘signifiers’ agree on the basic material order, intellectual attention is naturally focused primarily on the regressive cultural aspects of authoritarian regimes. In some cases, these regressive forces might even disturb the comfort-zone of the elites, such as attacks on freedom of speech, imposition of archaic rituals, or vilification of dissenters.
This is the general global picture in the 'democratic' world. Following Dimitrov's advice that the conditions in each country must be specifically investigated to understand the character of power, we turn briefly to the Indian scene in the next concluding section.
(To be concluded)