(Introduction to a Hindi edition of selected works of Georgi Dimitrov, soon to be published by Samkalin Prakashan, Patna)
Talk of fascism and anti-fascist front – to be sure, there is a lot of such talk around these days in countries like France and Austria as well as in mera bharat mahan – and the one name that immediately rushes to one’s mind is Georgi Dimitrov. He was the brave communist who in 1933 challenged Goerring and Goeblles face to face in a fascist court in Hitlerite Germany and emerged victorious by the sheer force of logic and courage of conviction. In less than two years after that, he guided the seventh congress of the Communist International (July 25 to August 21, 1935) in finding the best ways and means of fighting fascism to the finish. Here we republish his keynote address and concluding speech at this congress along with an article (“The People’s Front”) he wrote later in 1935, in the hope that this handy edition will be of considerable help to all who are committed to fight the Indian brand of fascism.
Gerogi Mikhailovich Dimitrov was born on June 18, 1822, in Kovachevtsi, Bulgaria. A printer and trade union leader, he led the Bulgarian socialist parliamentary opposition to the voting of national war credits in 1915, and he played a major role in the formation of the Bulgarian Communist Party in 1919. Imprisoned for sedition in 1918, shortly after his release he moved to the Soviet Union. By 1921 he was elected to the executive committee of the Comintern (Third or Communist International). Two years later he moved back to Bulgaria where he led a workers’ revolt that was brutally crushed by the capitalist government. Sentenced to death, Dimitrov escaped from Bulgaria, and traveled to Germany. By 1929 in Berlin, Dimitrov was elected the head of the Central European section of the Comintern.
On February 27, 1933, the newly elected leader of the Nazi Party, Adolf Hitler, convicted Dimitrov and scores of other Communists as responsible for setting fire to the German parliament building Reichstag. Dimitrov was arrested and put to trial in Leipzig. Dimitrov’s aggressive defense coupled with worldwide attention on the proceedings of the trial, caused the court to find him not guilty and he was released.
Dimitrov moved back to USSR, where he was elected General Secretary to the Communist International. He would end up being the last general secretary of the Comintern (1935-43), as it was dissolved in 1943. Dimitrov played a strong role in the anti-Nazi movement, encouraging popular front movements and directing Bulgaria’s guerrilla resistance against its own Axis government. In 1945, after the military defeat of the Nazis and the following Bulgarian revolution, Dimitrov returned to Bulgaria and immediately became Prime Minister of the newly created socialist government. He left the post in 1948 and died next year on July 2 while visiting Moscow.
Such was Dimitrov, the proletariat’s organic intellectual (to borrow an expression from another great fighter against fascism, Antonio Gramsci) par excellence and a genuine communist who, just after escaping the clutches of death in his native land, did not hesitate to move over to Germany, a much more dangerous place, in pursuance of his internationalist duties.
The historical significance of the seventh congress of the Comintern rested in the fact that it marked the successful culmination of a struggle, started since 1933, against sectarian tendencies in the international communist movement and opened up new vistas for revolutionary advance. If the early 1930s witnessed a high tide in the working class movement directed against the bourgeois attempt to shift the burden of the “great depression” on to their shoulders, it also saw the most heinous imperialist response to both the workers’ struggle and to the capitalist crisis. This response was fascism, which by 1935 was firmly saddled in power in Italy and Germany and had become a very serious threat in France, Austria, Spain etc. There was growing appreciation of the need to develop, as an antithesis to fascism, a broad unity of all political forces threatened by it. The immediate backdrop to the seventh congress was set not only by the failure to resist fascist takeover in Germany, where the working class remained divided between communists and social democrats, but also by the success in repulsing the bloody onslaughts of fascist forces in neighbouring France in 1934, thanks to a formal pact signed by the communist party and socialist parties providing for unity of action against fascism. A step forward in the unification of all anti-fascist forces at the international level had been taken when, on the invitation of more than 30 European nations led by France, the Soviet Union joined the League of Nations in 1934.
Naturally this mixed bag of experiences supplied the basic theme of the congress. Dimitrov’s “main report” gave a detailed theoretical analysis of the genesis and class essence of fascism and put forward a pair of slogans: (a) for capitalist countries, broad anti-fascist front on the basis of united proletarian front; (b) for colonial or semi-colonial countries, broad anti-imperialist united front.
Dimitrov’s speech generated a very lively discussion. Delegates from different countries came up with their rich experiences and valuable opinions. There was no delegate from India and the CPC leader Wang Ming in his official report entitled “The Revolutionary Movement in Colonial Countries” dealt with the Indian situation in some detail. Apart from criticizing the CPI for left sectarian mistakes and repeating what Dimitrov had said (see the first text in this edition), he suggested a six-point programme for anti-imperialist united front. On 13 August Dimitrov summed up the discussion in his closing speech.
In the works assembled here, Dimitrov covers a vast range of topics from the class character of fascism to communist party education to cadre policy. Among these, two subjects stand out as the most urgently relevant for us at the present stage of our struggle against the Indian brand of fascism.
On understanding fascism in essence and appearance, Dimitrov warns against schematic constructs and lays particular emphasis on the specifics in each particular country and at each stage of development. This must be the point of departure, he asserts, if our struggle against fascism is to be concrete and effective rather than abstract and empty. Thus he shows how “American fascism tries to portray itself as the custodian of the Constitution and ‘American democracy’” and states that under certain conditions (e.g., weak mass base of and sharp internal wranglings in the fascist bourgeois camp) fascists may tolerate parliamentarism. Referring to the “colonial and semi-colonial countries” as very special cases, he said that there too “certain fascist groups are developing, but of course there can be no question of the kind of fascism that we are accustomed to see in Germany, Italy and other capitalist countries” and called upon the concerned parties to thoroughly investigate the peculiar forms and features of fascism in these countries.
Irrespective of whether Dimitrov was aware of it or not, India’s RSS was one of those fascist groups. It was the product of an evil integration of Hindu majoritarian communalism, which developed as a corollary of our half-baked colonial modernity, and the fascist programme imported directly from Italy and Germany. BS Moonje, a associate of Bal Gangadhar Tilak, and RSS founder KS Hedgewar’s mentor, visited Italy, met Mussolini and propagated the need for a Hindu army. VD Savarkar, father-figure of aggressive Hindutva, openly endorsed fascism and Nazism just before and during World War II. MS Golwalkar, RSS supreme after Hedgewar, eulogized the Hitlerite model of racial cleansing and took it as his own. Following independence, the RSS spread its tentacles through a host of mass organizations, a ‘mainstream’ political party and a band of avowedly communal organizations like VHP and Bajrang Dal, thus giving rise to the Sangh Parivar. Looking back on its more than 75 years of bloody existence, we can observe that, in addition to certain glaringly manifest attributes – like virulent anti-communism, organized terror against “internal enemies” (minorities in India in place of Jews in Germany), rumour-mongering and whipping up a mass frenzy – which associate the Parivar with fascism, there are several other common features.
As Dimitrov pointed out, “Fascism acts in the interests of extreme imperialists but presents itself to the masses in the guise of a wronged nation and appeals to outraged ‘national sentiments’.” Thus Hitler declared that Germany faced defeat in the First World War because it was “stabbed in the back” by the communists and Jews. On this basis he succeeded in organizing thousands upon thousands of slum-dwellers and other sections of downtrodden people in frenzied attacks on communists and Jews and in mobilizing the broad masses in support of his ambitious project of installing the “master race” once again on top of the world. In our case, the constant refrain of Sangh leaders is that the inhabitants of “Bharatvarsha, the oldest and greatest nation on earth”, led a happy, prosperous and religious life, but everything changed with Muslim and then the British invasions, which succeeded because the Hindus were not united. Now Hindus must forget their internal differences and take revenge, must set right the historical wrongs. And we all know how revenge is taken against Christian missionaries and minorities, how “historical wrongs” are remedied by demolishing masjids and desecrating historical monuments and how Pak-bashing is projected as the best proof of patriotism. We must counter all such distortions by upholding the tradition of our freedom struggle and the banner of progressive Indian nationalism against growing imperialist intervention.
One also takes note of revivalism, i.e., revival of the ancient traditions of the race – of imperial Rome in the case of fascists, of ‘Aryan pride’ in the case of Nazis, of Vedic glory in the case of Sangh Parivar. And of course, absolute statism. As Mussolini put it, “All in the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state”. The Sangh’s penchant for a powerful, hard state as an expression of the power and glory of the nation is well known, ‘POTA’ being the latest instance. An expansionist foreign policy, so obvious in European fascism, is manifest in the saffron goal of creating an “Akhand Bharat, which means an undivided India ranging from ‘Himalayas to Kanyakumari’ and ‘Gandhar to Brahmadesh’ (i.e., from Tibet in the north to the southern tip of India and from Afghanistan in the west to Myanmar, Laos, Thailand and Cambodia in Southeast Asia).
When we look at the matter more closely, we discern three basic sources or ingredients of communal fascism (see box). The third component, stemming from the class character of the big bourgeoisie, marks only one major point of departure from the European cases. Naturally there are several others, for the Indian brand of fascism evolved in a very different socio-political context. Among these, a few are quite significant in relation to formulation of appropriate tactics of the Left.
1. In this semi-feudal, semi-colonial society of ours (communal) fascism also represents the most aggressively anti-poor, anti-dalit and patriarchal sections of landlords and kulaks. It is the intense class hatred of these sections that finds the most ominous expression, inter alia, in the onslaughts of the BJP-sponsored Ranvir Sena in Bihar, and in the central and various state governments’ elaborate arrangements to crush the revolutionary representatives of the rural poor. In our country, the struggle against the Hindutva brigade can therefore be successful only if it is based in agrarian India.
2. Unlike the rocket-like rise and fall of Mussolini or Hitler, the saffron brigade gathered strength over some seven decades before attaining power at the center. The rise is much less frenzied, much less dramatic, but the support derived from the tradition is much stronger. For the communal approach developed in our society as a poisonous weed along with our national movement, along with the development of a healthy national unity against the British rulers. Respected leaders like Tilak, Lajpat Rai and Gandhi – not to mention the more communal ones – as well as a host of national revolutionaries and many of our literary giants like Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay contributed to this process, directly or indirectly, to various extents. After independence the anti-Pak chauvinism (with its inherent anti-Muslim bias) propagated by the state as well as practically all the parties in ‘the mainstream’, combined with the communal card played by them in overt and covert ways, helped keep the age-old animosity alive in the new situation. The orchestrated alarm over “national unity and integrity in danger”, raised by all these parties right from the 1980s, also helped the BJP market its Hindutva brand of nationalism. The cumulative effect of all this was that the communal outlook – in various shades including pseudo-nationalist ones – firmly embedded itself in the Indian subconscious, not sparing even the otherwise democratic, even left-leaning sections. In normal times the virus lie dormant, but get active and begin to multiply as soon as conducive conditions are there. This prolonged diffusion of the communal approach throughout the society at large – this ‘mass base’ so to say, of the communal appeal far surpassing the organized mass base of the communal organizations – constitute their greatest source of strength. So our war against fascism will be more protracted and the task of developing an ideological counter-hegemony more challenging.
3. The BJP is still far away from enjoying power single-handedly at the national level, not to speak of setting up a full-scale fascist dictatorship in the sense of negation of bourgeois parliamentarism. Rather a process of “gradual fascistisation” – to use a term from the Comintern lexicon – is going on, a process that was, in some sense, initiated during the autocratic Indira regime. In fact, it is quite possible that the saffronites may find it more advantageous to appropriate the parliamentary form for an indefinite period of time. In this respect the saffronites’ unique strong point consists in their remarkable skill in combining parliamentary and extra-parliamentary activities. Thanks to a fine division of labour within the Parivar, the BJP can operate in the parliamentary arena observing all the constitutional rules of the game even as the VHP, Bajrang Dal, etc. openly carry on their unlawful activities with impunity while the RSS directs the entire show from behind the scenes. It is to such extra-parliamentary communal activities that the BJP owed its rich electoral harvests over the last 12 years or so, and they are now hell-bent on repeating the feat in Gujarat. To defeat an enemy like this, obviously it is necessary for the Left forces to discard parliamentary cretinism (of which one finds not an iota in the BJP) and put the main stress on the vast extra-parliamentary arena of struggle.
4. Quite unlike their European forefathers, the BJP has a long-term and extremely flexible UF policy, which helps it not only to hold on to power and penetrate the state machinery, but – more importantly perhaps – to saffronise the political mainstream itself, as manifested in the slavish conduct of the NDA partners. Even beyond the NDA, there is near total consensus among all ruling class parties – frequently shared by regional ruling parties like the CPI(M) – on crucial questions of domestic (especially economic) and foreign policies. At the level of essentials, the present dispensation thus represents a very broad platform of the ruling classes; so any policy of “all-inclusive front against communal fascism” can only prove ineffective and counter-productive. And this brings us to the question of a correct approach to united front.
On the communist approach to anti-fascist front in general and unity with social democrats in particular, Dimitrov’s point of departure is the need to overcome “the isolation of the revolutionary vanguard from the mass of the proletariat and all other working people”. At the same time he calls for enhanced “vigilance toward Right Opportunism”, which “will increase in proportion as the broad united front develops” and warns against the tendency to “effect a reconciliation with social democratic ideology”. Within this overall framework, he makes a series of most pertinent observations.
Regarding united front government, Dimitrov says that communists advocate formation of one “only” when “certain special prerequisites” (emphasis in the original) are present, e.g., the bourgeois state apparatus is “disorganized and paralyzed”, there is a “vehement revolt against fascism and reaction” and so on. He makes it clear that such a government would not be a proletarian socialist government, but a step towards that – a “transitional form of government”.
No one would imagine such a situation in India today. The NF and UF governments formed in the past were destined, for reasons cited at the end of Part-I above, to end up as “transitional forms” toward installation of governments dominated by either the Congress or the BJP. And so they actually did, in the process further crippling the Left parties which joined the bourgeois bandwagon. This experience reconfirms Dimitrov’s contention that a genuine united front against fascism must be built up basically from below, in the heat of class struggle (in our specific situation, in the course of mass movements directed generally against all the major players in reactionary politics and neo-liberal economics, and spearheaded particularly against the Sangh Parivar.) If a broad-based unity of Left and genuine democratic forces is the national need of the hour, that can develop only on the basis of an independent assertion of the Left.
Regarding the role of social democrats, Dimitrov says, “The Social-Democratic leaders glossed over and concealed from the masses the true class nature of fascism … . They bear great historic responsibility for the fact that, at the decisive moment of the fascist offensive, a large section of the working people … failed to recognize in fascism the most bloodthirsty monster of finance capital, their most vicious enemy, and that these masses were not prepared to resist it.”
Social democrats in India bear even greater responsibility because they not only “glossed over” the fascist threat but helped the fascists gain power. Right from the late ’60s through the late ’80s they forged one political alliance after another – direct or indirect, including government formation at the state and central levels, with the Jan Sangh and the BJP. This helped the communal fascists masquerade as an ally of the left and democratic forces – for example, as a constituent of the broad front against Indira autocracy in the early ’70s – and thus expand its appeal.
Dimitrov, however, does not take a static view of social democrats. He takes note of a “process of differentiation” under the impact of fascist onslaughts – “… side by side with the reactionary elements … there is beginning to emerge a camp of revolutionary elements …”. To what extent this process is currently going on in our country is hard to say, but communists should be conceptually clear about the prospect and must do all they can for furthering the process mainly through, as Dimitrov advised, local level joint activities. Call it united proletarian front, as Dimitrov did, or Left Confederation, as we in the CPI(ML) do, the main purpose is essentially the same. It is winning over the bulk of the proletariat – including, in our case, the rural proletariat and semi-proletariat – from the position of class collaboration to that of class struggle. In order to facilitate this process, says Dimitrov, “Our criticism of Social Democracy must become more concrete and systematic, and must be based on the experience of Social Democratic masses themselves.” He gives a firm rebuff to the “Right Opportunists” within communist parties who advocate “the unprincipled tactics of forming blocs with Social Democratic Parties on the basis of purely parliamentary combinations” and repeatedly upholds the movements of the working people themselves as the core idea and material foundation of all forms of united front.
But is it advisable to have united front activities with social democratic parties where they are in power? This is a question often asked in our country with reference to West Bengal. Yes it is, “on certain issues”, says Dimitrov – notwithstanding “our attitude of absolute opposition to Social Democratic governments which are governments of compromise with the bourgeoisie”. So on and so forth the dialectical approach of unity and struggle runs like a scarlet thread through the entire discussion on social democracy.
It is above all this approach, the basic principles and proletarian class line, and the Marxist-Leninist method of formulating specific UF policies based on a sober analysis of the balance of class and political forces obtaining in a particular country at a particular period, that we must learn from Dimitrov. In other words we must go in for a creative study of Dimitrov as an aid to understanding and fighting fascism on our soil. The saffronites have thrown down the gauntlet, we have picked it up, now let us draw inspiration from this fearless son of the international proletariat and surge forward to the front.