Marxist Theory

Gandhism and the Myth of Liberal Tolerance

 Murzban Jal

[We publish this essay, with the hope that this will stimulate a debate on several necessary issues -- Administrator, Radical Socialist website]

In the age that imagines that sedition is the “in thing”, almost a somewhat form of postmodern fashion, one must stress the importance of free argument. The defenders of the nation like the defenders of faith usually do not think that arguments are of important. After all (for all bourgeois imagination), when one attacks the nation one simultaneously attacks the father of the nation. For Ambedkar, Gandhi was no “Mahatma” and no father of the nation; just as for Trotsky he represented colonial interests. Mr. Gandhi, the alleged “father of the nation and his elevation as “Mahatma” is an elevation in a fascistic sense and he being called the “father of the nation” is nothing but a form of sadomasochism where the father (as shown by psychoanalysis) brutalizes his children. What this literally means is that Mr. Gandhi literally sodomized the entire nation and we are all unfortunate children of this sodomy. After all, if he is the father, then we are all his unfortunate children. And just as the biblical god procreated out from himself creating Adam (and then Eve), so too we Indians seem to be procreated out from this alleged “father of the nation”.

What one needs is a radical critique of this form of quietism that Gandhism has preached. Ambedkar was critical of Gandhi and the essence of Ambedkar’s critique was Gandhism. Quite often it is said that the threats come from the neo-conservative quarters and it seems in this narrative that there are two neat halves: fascism which threatens and kills and liberalism which loves and promotes tolerance.  India, it seems according to this imagined narrative, is torn into two halves. We either have to be a fascist or a liberal. And according to this imagined narrative Gandhi becomes the apostle of tolerance and democracy—never mind his active support of the caste system and all the regressions that followed.

            What I am saying is that this eulogizing of Gandhi is not merely an imagined narrative, but a myth, in a very dangerous fascist sense. What I would also say is that fascism cannot be monopolized by any one group. It is an “open” discourse which swallows everyone. And to emphasize, we live in the age of fascism. We cannot escape it.

What I would also like to say is that liberalism and Gandhism are not answers to India’s problems. What I would also say is that Gandhi is more of a myth created by the Congress party to leave the masses disempowered. Ambedkar knew this. For him the epitome of reaction and counterrevolution in India was Gandhi. His critique of Gandhi cannot be treated as some type of “side critique” to be put as a footnote in books that no one reads. Ambedkar’s critique is the very essence of emancipatory politics in India. Devoid of a critique of Gandhi and the Congress there can never be any form of emancipatory politics. The critique of Indian fascism cannot take refuge in Gandhi and Nehru.  

Not only would emanicipatory politics emerge from the critique of Gandhi and the Congress, but also the revolution. And to those who imagine that the Indian right-wing is critical of Gandhi and the Congress, I will say in a very Ambedkarite tone that Indian fascism (while abusing Nehru) is nothing but different manifestations of Gandhism and the Congress. What does this mean?  Does this mean that Savarkar and Gandhi are the same? Does this mean that Hind Swaraj and Essentials of Hindutva are the same? 

The answer that needs to be given is that one needs a rigorous Marxist philosophy to get a proper and coherent answer and merely pattering on with random statements will simply not help. Merely claiming that RSS is fascistic and Gandhism is about all the virtues of the world will simply not solve the problem. The masses for instance are neither interested in the RSS nor in Gandhism. And we need to talk to the masses. And when we talk it has to be philosophical. It has to talk of humanity and human freedom. And as we well know Gandhism, was and is, neither interested in humanity nor human freedom. Merely mentioning Tolstoy and Ruskin and then imagining that Gandhi was another great novelist is out of question.

The first point in this rigorous Marxist philosophy is that Marxism is not an ideology. Instead as I had said first in an article in Economic & Political Weekly then followed by an article in Critique that Marxism has to be understood as “desireology” and that authentic dialectical materialism moves from the realm of “ideas” to the core material body. What defenders of Gandhi have done is that they have become merely “ideological” and in this realm of ideology there is a great fight taking place between the tolerancewallas and those against it.

While I am clear that Gandhi stands for the Indian counterrevolution and that not only did Ambedkar theorize on the same, but also was pointed out by revolutionaries like Trotsky. This is how the argument goes. There are three parts of the argument. They go thus:

1.      How does one theorize on the Ambedkar-Gandhi debate in the age of global fascism? Does Ambedkar’s radical critical of Gandhi as counterrevolutionary avant la lettre have meaning in his age of global fascism? Or can Gandhi be mobilized against fascism just as he (as the myth created by the liberal goes) fought against British colonialism? Can one make a bridge between Gandhi and Ambedkar? Or would such a manufactured bridge be a mythical bridge like the bridge that leads the immortal souls to the even more immortal and imagined heaven?

2.      I then moved to my second point and say that Marx scholarship should be a model and the work done by the Marx-Engels Gesamtausgabe  or the Collected Works of Marx and Engels started by David Riazanov in the 1920s in Moscow and now carried out at the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam is an example of how research ought to be done. Another example is Freud Studies where studies in psychoanalysis are done. My point was that serious research involves scientific thinking and scientific organization. Ideology will simply not do. And what does scientific thinking do? It moves from the realm of ideology and ideologies to the material basis. It thus goes directly into the economic mode of production and thus claims that ideologies of manifold kinds are mere manifestations of this economic basis. Thus it is to the critique of political economy that one needs to turn ones attention. For Gandhi, the economic basis was capitalism, and he was the staunchest supporter of capitalism both theoretically and also as mobilizer for funds. Even then Gandhi’s type of capitalism was a brutal form of agrarian, pre-machinery capitalism where caste had necessarily to exist.

3.      My third point that in the age of global capitalism where “post-truth” prevails and where the truths of Marx and Ambedkar are buried, liberalism and fascism which are both the manifestations of the same economic base of capitalism appears as different. Both seem to sell different commodities, when in actuality they sell the very same commodity. I also said that instead of dealing with actual problems of the masses when one turns one’s attentions to stupid assertions as to who killed or did not kill Gandhi seems an extremely pervert point of view. I said that liberals would only be writing manuals tilted The Liberal’s Guide to Perversion.  What I then said is that for Revolutionary Marxism there is no distinction between liberalism and fascism, I said that liberalism is nothing but fascism without a gun, just as fascism is liberalism with a gun. Likewise there is no difference for Ambedarite philosophy between Gandhi and Godse. Thus Gandhi was nothing but Godse without a gun, just as Godse was Gandhi with a gun. For both liberalism and fascism, Gandhi and Godse guns are of vital importance.

It was Goebbels the propagandist of the Nazis who had said that when he hears of culture he reaches out for his gun. But here it were the Gandhians reached out for their guns against communism long before fascism became a fashion in India. “How dare”, so the Gandhians say “can one insult the father of the nation?” After all, does not one know (according to their very tolerant imagination) that the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost can never be critiqued?

            Yes we live in the age of fascism. But we see many types of fascists. But then we do not even know what fascism is. After all, we know that when the liberal is in power he becomes a fascist and when not in power he even becomes a socialist. But this has not yet answered our questions: “What is fascism? Is not fascism merely potent liberalism or liberalism charged with a dose of Viagra?”

            We need to conclude: fascism is not the problem, capitalism is. Capitalism is the brute reality that we live in and fascism is its inevitable manifestation. It is liberalism that squashes all desire for revolutionary resistance. Fascism unwittingly hastens the revolution, but for that it is communism that should learn the fine details of dialectical materialism. We know that fascism globally has given way to communist seizure of power and the consolidation of left movements. But for the growth of the left, one must not borrow from the ideological cranium of Gandhism, must stop sheepishly defending Nehru. After all, the left can grow only from a real understanding of dialectics. It can also grow with revolutionary commitment. Liberalism and Gandhism destroy the will to revolution.