Fascism or Neoliberalism: What’s in a name?

CSR Shankar

Prakash Karat’s article published in The Indian Express in September, 2016 (in the printed edition of the newspaper, it was titled “Know your enemy”) seemed to disturb the left-liberal consensus in India. Karat insists that the political regime in India today is not fascist but authoritarian, which is, on the one hand, communal and, on the other, neoliberal. Those who questioned this characterisation, especially scholars like Jairus Banaji, have argued that Karat is not taking the fascist/communal mass mobilisations seriously. For them, these mobilisations point towards a fascism to come. Even those, like Vijay Prashad, who defend Karat insist that the moment is semi-fascist and not completely fascist yet.

Evidently, the word fascism has become a cliche which is never re-grounded and reworked in the contemporary context. It is used as an analogy which replaces any serious effort towards analysing and strategising the concrete present. It is one of the weapons in the depleting arsenal of the left-liberals (Marxist and non-Marxist) of the country to justify (in)activism and pragmatic compromises. One wonders whether the overuse of the word reveals a theoretical bankruptcy as well as a refusal to confront the novelty of the neoliberal situation. Neoliberalism appears to Karat as purely a set of policies enacted by the state. It is, however, a force far more dangerous and far more dispersed than Karat imagines it to be. It is not just a set of policies but a phase of capitalism so ridden with crises that only barbarism can keep it afloat.

I. Sovereignty and Neoliberalism

At the heart of Prakash Karat’s labours to know our enemy is to understand the form of sovereignty that is at play in India today. However, he asks the question “which sovereign rules us” much too much before he asks the question “what is sovereignty (the state)” itself. It is correct to differentiate between the state and a government, but only in the sense that the latter is produced in the conditions of the former. You cannot characterise a government without characterising the state. When we characterise a state as either liberal democratic, fascist, absolutist or neoliberal, we do so not only because of the policies the state enacts and enables but much more so because the characterisation of the state reflects the grammar of society and the exigencies of class relations. The state is both a crystallisation of class relations in an institution as well as an institutional maintenance and management of class relations. The question before us, therefore, is concerned not just with the nature of the state (fascist, liberal, authoritarian etc.) but also the nature of the dynamic of class relations.

The form as well as the contents of sovereignty at any particular moment in the history of capital are determined by the historical spatio-temporal dynamic of the law of value. All attempts to bracket the current political-form within the anachronistic categories of “liberal democracy” or “fascism” refuse to confront the change in the temporal rhythm and spatial organisation which characterise the neoliberal moment of capital. All the great men of Indian Marxism who took part in the debate ignited by Karat’s article shared a common error. All of them admit to the possibility of fascism in India but debated the degree to which it is already present. The two sides of the debate are in opposition only in their appearances. A closer look reveals that there is a fundamental agreement between Banaji, Karat and Vijay Prashad. If Karat and Vijay Prashad find the moment semi-fascist, for Banaji this moment is the pre-history of a fascism to come. For Karat, Modi’s government is not fascist because it is not a reaction to a crisis that threatens global capital nor a rebellion against parliamentary democracy, but rather an authoritarianism within a democratic structure. Banaji’s only disagreement is that Karat is not looking at the process of fascisation and is fixated on the end product or the form of sovereignty. He argues that if we were to shift our focus from the form of the state to the tactics of mass mobilisation employed by the RSS and the BJP we will see the beginnings of fascism.

It appears as though each theorist has a different recipe for the dish that is fascism. What is interesting however is that each is convinced that the dish isn’t entirely cooked yet, that it needs some more time, some more ingredients to be added. “It’s not fascism yet,” they say, as though they are waiting for it to become one. What this politics of “waiting for fascism” conceals is the novelty of the current situation, the conjunctural shift which has occurred with the arrival of neoliberalism. European fascism, social democratic welfarism and Stalin’s planned economy were all attempts to resolve a crisis in the capitalist order by bringing the market under state control. These were resolutions to the incompetence of classical liberalism to address this crisis that led to the First World War. What fascism and the command economies of the 20th century attempted to do at the institutional level or at the level of a national political regime (re-structuring class relations to resolve crisis) neoliberalism performs at every level of life in a diffused and decentred manner.

Karat, however, throws the word neoliberalism around as though it is just another ingredient in the dish (yet uncooked) but does not see it for what it is: another dish entirely, a new phase of capitalist accumulation and a new modality of its operations. He approaches authoritarianism, communalism and neoliberalism as several problems – one piled upon the other – and refuses to see the structural connections between them. It is because of this aggregative approach that he is able to also separate communalism and neoliberalism as two different problems which require two different solutions – “broadest mobilisation of all democratic and secular forces against communalism” and “a political alliance of Left and democratic forces based on an alternative programme” against neoliberalism”.

Further, Karat argues that since what we are faced with today is not fascism, the electoral route is still politically viable. While he acknowledges that the current political regime does not need to go against the democratic order to be authoritarian, what he does not confront is the fact that this paradoxical anti-democratic democracy is precisely the form sovereignty takes in the neoliberal moment. The liberal-democratic form of the state has been so re-configured in this conjuncture that it constantly creates moments of exception through the law. The Fascism of the 20th century was a productivisation of the limits of liberal democracy as a temporally separated and structurally reconfigured form of the state. G.M. Tamas (2001) argues that what fascism in the 20th century revealed was the crisis of universal citizenship as it linked citizenship not to general human dignity but with a culturally specific identity. In the 20th century, this change in the notion of citizenship could not occur without a rejection of liberal democracy. The current political order, however, constantly uses the liberal democratic legal nexus to create exceptions to universal citizenship. The growing proliferation of “anti-nationals” in India and “non-Americans” in America or “non-English” in Britain despite the electoral democratic structure being intact is precisely an expression of the distinctiveness of the current state-form. Attempts have been made to understand this apparent paradox by labelling Trump as a “democratic fascist”. What such characterisations miss, however, is the conjunctural shift which marks the neoliberal moment (in fact, they reduce the importance of the lessons of the fight against fascism to mere name calling). While earlier the liberal moments of the state form and its moments of exception (fascist moments) could be temporally and formally separated, now they are increasingly conjoined in one moment as well as in one form through the constant creation of exceptions. Thus, as Karat waits for fascism to arrive before rejecting the liberal democratic route, something much worse has already established itself as the dictatorship of neoliberal capital, or what Tamas calls “post-fascism”.

What limits Karat’s politics is his inability to confront the contemporary as a conjunctural shift in the modality of capital.

II. What is Neoliberalism?

To begin with let us admit that the neoliberal phase is first and foremost a phase marked by acceleration. The acceleration that defines this late capitalist neoliberal conjuncture is an acceleration in two senses. Firstly, digitisation and automation have increased the speed of the production. This translates into each unit of time producing more and more material wealth. However, this isn’t the only acceleration that is at play. This acceleration, as it reaches its limits, requires further transformations in productivity or in the labour process. As the speed and frequency with which capital reaches its limits increase, the process of its own recomposition accelerates. This recomposition happens as capital constantly attempts to commodify and proletarianise new aspects of life. To do so it must forcibly, through extra-economic means, separate workers from their means of production and reproduction. The neoliberal moment of capital is one in which the temporal separation between primitive accumulation and the accumulation of surplus value is constantly reduced and two moments are brought closer and closer together. This implies an accelerated change in the socio-technical relations of production and is what we experience today as precarity.

As the frequency of such transformations increases, the social form of the manifestation of the value-chain goes through transformations. As capital begins to move faster within its value-chains, it begins to be less and less dependent on or confined by territory. Before the conjunctural shift of late capitalism or neoliberalism, capital’s internal structuring was dependent on the pre-given hierarchy of discrete spaces. Such a period was marked by, at the level of appearance, the segmentation between centres and peripheries of the societal form. If “society” was the spatial dynamic of modern capitalism, the “network” is the spatial form it takes in its neoliberal mode. The network as the spatial appearance of the value chain is what gives rise to the social factory in which each moment of our lives is subsumed by capital (Hardt and Negri 2000). However, the network form must not be assumed to be absent of hierarchical structuring and segmentation, for value is still the law that governs production. It only means that the hierarchical structuring that capital imposes is now ever more precarious. Centres and peripheries keep shifting and are no more stable, but there still are centres and peripheries. It, therefore, is not a horizontal separation of different moments but a precarious vertical structuring of production processes and labour segments. This develops a new spatial dynamic between primitive accumulation and the accumulation of surplus value. While, in the traditional understanding, these two forms of accumulation were spatially, and temporally, separated, such a separation of the dynamic is becoming more and more untenable. Every moment of capitalist production involves primitive accumulation and the accumulation of surplus value together. This spatio-temporal coming together of various forms of accumulation mark the materialisation of the social factory. What the network mode of organisation of production enables is not just “business at the speed of thought” or the increase in the extraction of relative surplus value in the temporal sense but also the increase in the extraction of absolute surplus value by commodifying and subsuming previously “un-productive” or “re-productive” realms for the generation of surplus value. This dynamic requires constant disciplining and extra-economic coercion of the labour force to work.

While the temporal dynamic of the neoliberal moment is marked by unprecedented acceleration, its spatial dynamic is marked by unprecedented fragmentation. The technology which is at the heart of this twin spatial and temporal dynamic is digital and informational. It is the digitalisation and informatisation of production that allows for its temporal acceleration as well as spatial fragmentation. What this means is that both spatially and temporally economic accumulation and primitive accumulation are coming closer together. The effects of these twin processes on the labour force is what we have come to know as precarity.

The neoliberal moment has its beginnings in the profitability crisis of the late 1950s-60s which was marked by the inability of capital to perpetually recompose labour, overcoming territorialities and the limits of the Planner State in disciplining labour‘s political recomposition evident in the strikes, street fights and armed conflicts of the 1960’s and 70’s. Hardt and Negri point out that the capitalism of the early 20th century was marked by disciplinary power and material production. The post-war period saw high levels of productivity all across the world. Tired of the disciplinary mechanisms of modernity and their exploitation for high productivity workers, students, peasants and tribal populations began to rebel. Partha Chatterjee and the subaltern schools could write about the fragments of the nation and the subaltern only because the subaltern were already rising against the nation and other forms of modern-capitalist disciplinarity and work. Every disciplinary unity that modern capitalism attempted to create was fragmented by these struggles. These struggles questioned and demonstrated the exclusions of the liberal national identity and fragmented the nation along several identitarian lines.

Capital remerged insurgent with neoliberalism. It generated the collapse of the Bretton Woods system liberating money from its fixed commodity form, from the fetters of territory and substance. It deterritorialised and decentred itself through financialisation and the informatization/ informalisation of production. Hardt and Negri point out that

“The passage to Empire emerges from the twilight of modern sovereignty. In contrast to imperialism, Empire establishes no territorial center of Power”. (Hardt and Negri 2000, xii)

They point out that the neoliberal moment is defined by the movement of the sphere of production from the assembly line to the network. This deterritorialisation of production and its shift into the network is accompanied by the acceleration of time through digitisation of production. Unfettered by territories and physical spaces capital flows freely and rapidly. It flees areas of conflicts (worker’s struggles, environmental degradation) and occupies new areas through primitive accumulation. Hardt and Negri argue that the postmodern phase of production is characterised by a large scale but diffused real subsumption of labour processes. While, in its imperialist stage, capital constantly expanded territories by invading new areas (formal subsumption), now it is in the business of transforming and intensifying production in already conquered territories. As pointed earlier, this does not mean that Capital no longer needs primitive accumulation. On the contrary, it needs it now more than ever. But the nature of primitive accumulation is radically transformed. It is no longer just about forcibly accumulating the means of production of people who lie on the peripheries of capitalist production (tribal forest land etc), but also accumulating guarantees provided to workers in its very centre (industries and urban areas).

Every time capital commodifies a new aspect of life it also re-proletarianises segments of the working class. And in each such new venture, capital, to shake the vestiges of earlier modes of production and forms of work, must through violence, jurisdiction, law and war create a new working class which is in different ways separated from its means of (re)production. While in the Indian subcontinent there are various examples of the primitive accumulation of land, be it tribal or agricultural, what is often left unnoticed is the aspect of primitive accumulation in the generation of the precariat.

The working class, no doubt, was always precarious to some degree. However, precarity in the neoliberal age takes a far more dispersed and universal form. The creation of the precariat occurs through an intense process of primitive accumulation. What capital separates from the worker is not just land, tools and machines but also the guarantee of work and wage. In doing so, the wage as the worker’s means of reproduction are separated from him/her. The burden of the reproduction of the worker is transferred from one organisation or employer to many including the worker itself.
This fragmentation of the burden of the reproduction of the worker is true not just of urban India where such fragmentation has been a part of India’s urban history in the form of the informal economy for long now, but even its rural moments. Several sociologists have begun the study of what is termed “New Rurality”. They argue that there is a movement away from rural worker’s primary occupation being agriculture to many diverse non-farm activities. Satender Kumar’s study of this phenomenon in Western UP reveals the spread of what he calls a “subsistence non-farm economy” (Kumar 2016). The neoliberal assault on the commons (water, grazing land, forests etc.) is another way in which primitive accumulation expels people into the reserve army of labour or the informal precarious world of neoliberal work.

Precarity, therefore, is the shifting of the crisis in the sphere of production to the sphere of reproduction and the subsequent productivisation of the crisis in the informal sector. Precarity also ensures a recomposition of the reserve army of labour of which more and more are made a part but in a radically different way. Once the army of labour becomes precarious, the nature of the reserve army also transforms as the boundaries between the two begin to blur or rather keep shifting. If precarity is the shifting of the crisis from one employer or one site of production to the reproductive sphere, it is also a diffusion of the crisis into many different sites of production. The precarised workers don’t just sit idle, they find multiple kinds of work to take the burden of their reproduction thus diffusing the crisis.

Another form of primitive accumulation which dominates the neoliberal moment of immaterial production is what Hardt and Negri have called Informational Accumulation. They write,

“We should emphasize the central role that informational accumulation plays in the processes of postmodern primitive accumulation and the ever greater socialization of production. As the new informational economy emerges, a certain accumulation of information is necessary before capitalist production can take place. Information carries through its networks both the wealth and command of production, disrupting previous conceptions of inside and outside but also reducing the temporal progression that had previously defined primitive accumulation. In other words, informational accumulation (like the primitive accumulation Marx analysed) destroys or at least destructures the previously existing productive processes, but (differently than Marx’s primitive accumulation) it immediately integrates those productive processes in its own networks and generates across the different realms of production the highest levels of productivity. The temporal sequence of development is thus reduced to immediacy.” (Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri 2000, 258)

What this indicates is a new target of primitive accumulation. No more does primitive accumulation merely productivise the peripheries of capital, now it also attacks its very centre. The desires and energies released by worker’s struggles which bring capitalist accumulation in a crisis are immediately productivised through the fragmentation of the working class and the proletarianisation of these desires and energies by integrating them into the network and the social factory.

Neoliberalism being marked by this new spatial and temporal dynamic of primitive accumulation and the accumulation of surplus value is the generalisation of primitive accumulation, and its becoming more and more integral to the dynamic of capitalism is therefore the normalisation of crisis itself. This neoliberal productivisation of crisis results in bringing crisis to the heart of the capitalist dynamic. Increasing precarity, must therefore, be understood not as the result of a class will to increase profits but as a symptom of the normalisation of crisis within capitalism. Prakash Karat does not see the crisis because crisis is now the norm. It exists everywhere and is being productivised everywhere. Similarly, he doesn’t see fascism because unlike its original form, it is now everywhere or rather almost every moment of life is fascised. Modi, Trump and others are the monstrous expressions of the institutionalisation of the generalisation of crisis – the generalisation of the state of exception.

III. Politics in Precarious Times

One of the ways in which a crisis is productivised is the fascisation of the moment. To understand fascisation as a form of the productivisation of a crisis, one needs to pay heed to the words of Walter Benjamin (1936)

“The growing proletarianization of modern man and the increasing formation of masses are two aspects of the same process. Fascism attempts to organise the newly created proletarian masses without affecting the property structure which the masses strive to eliminate. Fascism sees its salvation in giving these masses not their right, but instead a chance to express themselves. The masses have a right to change property relations; Fascism seeks to give them an expression while preserving property. The logical result of Fascism is the introduction of aesthetics into political life.”

Benjamin’s argument implies that fascism is without doubt a moment of class struggle and an expression of a crisis, but it is at the same time an obfuscation of the crisis. It is the politics of giving a voice to the masses but not “their right”, to transform “the property structure”. It is this obfuscation of the crisis that allows for it to be productivised to segment the labour force further and depress wages and lower job opportunities for certain segments.

It is important to note the coincidence between informalisation, precarity and religious nationalism or fundamentalism. David Harvey (2005) writes,

“Workers are hired on contract, and in the neoliberal scheme of things short-term contracts are preferred in order to maximize flexibility. Employers have historically used differentiations within the labour pool to divide and rule. Segmented labour markets then arise and distinctions of race, ethnicity, gender, and religion are frequently used, blatantly or covertly, in ways that redound to the employers’ advantage. Conversely, workers may use the social networks in which they are embedded to gain privileged access to certain lines of employment.”

Fascism is the creation and strengthening of segmentation, but it is at the same time also the production of identities. A crisis is productivised in fascism for it obfuscates the crisis and shifts the energies of the masses towards the production of identities which are then sold to the market at different prices.

Furthermore, Harvey argues that there is a relationship between “the progress of fundamentalist evangelical Christianity in the US” and “proliferating job insecurities”. In the Indian context, Jan Breman (2013) argues that precarity or informalisation leads to the difficulty of organising around a professional identity due to which workers often shift to caste or ethnic identities. This is clearly a response to the crisis of reproduction that the worker faces. If the productive sphere isn’t providing stable means of reproduction, a desperate search for various forms of support in the reproductive begins, leading to the adoption of strong community identities. Breman writes,

“No longer mobilized on the basis of occupational identity, they see no alternative but to rely on their first-order loyalties of ethnicity, caste, race and creed. There was a tragic example of this in India, when the Ahmedabad textile mills closed down and forced the exit of 150,000 workers from the formal into the informal economy. The massive downward shock eventuated in a pogrom in which the Muslim minority, with state and Hindutva complicity, was hunted and massacred in the streets. Those who managed to escape were forced to vacate their mixed neighbourhoods and seek refuge in a ghetto.”

As capital deterritorialises and informatises production, it also immaterialises production. The commodities produced are increasingly of an immaterial character and the energies employed in their production are also increasingly cognitive energies. In this context it is not surprising that the rhetoric employed both by Trump and Modi centres around the decline of Manufacture or material production. One of the main promises made by both is to bring back manufacture to their countries. If Modi intends to “Make in India”, Trump intends to bring back the golden age of American manufacturing industries. This is an attempt to promise the “good old days gone by” to a people who have suffered at the rise of immaterial production and the deterritorialisation of capital. One could see how this nationalist rhetoric of “Make in India” worked in the context of the steel factories of Wazirpur. While the workers in the area were busy striking for higher wages and the Metro officials complaining about the pollution which results from the cleaning and purifying of steel, Capital brought in readymade steel disks from China. The entry of Chinese steel disks made a large part of the production process in Wazirpur and the workers employed in flattening, purifying and cutting of steel redundant. As the unrest against the entry of Chinese steel and the resultant unemployment rose, Modi’s promise of “Make in India” became more and more popular in Wazirpur. Trump’s tirade against the media and the liberal intelligentsia may appear to the self-centred liberals as a reflection of his stupidity or authoritarianism alone. It is, however, something that helps instrumentalise the frustrations of those laid off and precarised by the deterritorialisation of capital and a decline of material production against those who benefitted by the rise of immaterial production and the gig economy.

Karat, however, insists on separating the problematic of neoliberalism and that of Hindutva or communal/identitarian mobilisation. He sees both communal mobilisation and neoliberal policies as arising from the will of the ruling classes. He writes, “What the ruling classes seek to do is to use forms of authoritarianism to serve their class interests.” For him, neoliberalism and Hindutva are two different forms of right wing authoritarianism, one purely economic and the other purely cultural. This separation of the cultural and the economic on the basis of which he articulates his dual approach to roll back “India’s right wind forces” is a general political metaphysics that afflicts the Indian left. A refusal to see the relation between informalization, precarization and identitarian mobilisation directly leads to a stale politics calling for a “unity” against right wing forces, of fighting ideological battles, but without touching the material reality that generates such forces.

Stale though it is, this political formulation reflects precisely what Karat cannot see – precarity as a generalised crisis. His dualistic approach which calls for political organising on the basis of left, secular and democratic unity is precisely the call for an identitarian unity of parties and people whose political support the material condition of precarity is slowly but consistently diminishing. The parties themselves are becoming more and more precarious and are cringing towards farcical identities – secular, anti-communal. The “now-here-and-now-there” politics of the Communist Parties, the left alliance with the Congress in West Bengal and its opposition to the same in Kerala are reflections precisely of the precarised existence of the Left. The call for left, secular and democratic unity may appear old, but it is a new situation clothed in familiar colours. It is a reflection of how precarity as the material condition of neoliberalism has made political parties schizophrenic.

The semantic articulation which Karat and others employ with regard to neoliberalism betrays the fact that they have not taken it seriously. Fixated on equating neoliberalism with a “class will” and not seeing the structural transformations that determine that “class will”, Karat deludes himself in thinking that neoliberalism is merely a regime in the political sense. In fact, it is a regime like no other before it- a dispersed, diffused but intensive regime of accumulation. What characterises this regime of accumulation is the continuity of primitive accumulation along with the accumulation of surplus value at all levels of production and living. While earlier the moments of primitive accumulation and the accumulation of surplus value (or normative capitalist accumulation) were temporally distinctive or separated, they are increasingly becoming simultaneous today. Similarly, while earlier one could distinguish between normative capitalism or liberal democracy and its moments of crisis or reactionary periods, it is impossible to do so now. Crisis has now come to the heart of the capitalist dynamic and become integral to its functioning. It has been normalised and is being constantly productivised.

But what does Benjamin mean when he says that the “logical result of fascism is the introduction of aesthetics into political life”? Fascism, if it is to allow for an expression of class anger without changing the property structure or abolishing the law of value, must create identities, events and images which become the medium of the expression of class antagonism without abolishing the law of value. The production of these images is the aesthetisation of politics whereby the image becomes the focus as opposed to the class relations. While the fascism of the 20th century was a spectacular moment filled with spectacles, what characterises our moment is the fascisation of every moment of our lives. Our world is what Guy Debord calls “The Society of the Spectacle”. While in the period of classical fascism the aesthetisation of politics was centralized and state controlled, it is now performed not just by the state but by agencies immersed in our everyday lives and social interactions. If neoliberalism is the generalisation of the state of exception or the state of crisis, it is also the generalisation of fascism. What goes on in the sacred name of politics whether by the Hindutva brigade or the vast world of anti-fascist unity or in the various identitarian “political” fragments is precisely the constant production of the spectacle and therefore the aesthetisation of politics. This constant production of the political spectacle in the form of marches, dances, songs, banners, poster images national and anti-national, conferences, is a generalised phenomenon of the creation of illusionary identities to obfuscate the material relations of alienating and exploitative work. It is the expression of the universalised state of crisis, for a spectacle is the obfuscated expression of crisis. It is precisely through this obfuscating modality of the spectacle that the crisis which the spectacle expresses is productivised. The spectacle, is therefore, not just the obfuscated expression of the crisis but also its productivisation.

The increasing spectaclisation of the political reveals to us the rapidity with which any self-proclaimed anti-capitalist politics is already its own subsumption by the law of value. As politics becomes about the intensification of the production of spectacles or its own aesthetisation, it productivises the crisis from which it arose and renders the crisis valorisable for capital. The so called political, instead of opening out the crisis which is ever present and generalising the negativity which it unleashes, only helps in the recomposition of capital to manage the crisis.
Guy Debord (1967) writes,

“The unreal unity the spectacle proclaims masks the class divisions on which the real unity of the capitalist mode of production is based. What obliges the producers to participate in the construction of the world is also what separates them from it. What brings together men, women and others liberated from local and national limitations is also what keeps them apart. What pushes for greater rationality is also what nourishes the irrationality of hierarchical exploitation and repression.”

The pedantic calls for left and democratic unity against gundagardi or “fascism” create precisely this ideological unity of materially segmented units.

When the University Grants Commission (UGC) threatened to withdraw the non-NET fellowship, the “Education is not for Sale” movement monopolised by the institutional left in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and Delhi University (DU) demanded a slight increase in the fellowship of Rs 3000-5000. While such an increase may have been sufficient for a certain segment of JNU’s students, it certainly was not close to being sufficient for several others who study in universities such as Ambedkar University where the half yearly fees is itself around Rs. 22000, and where hostels are available for less than 20-30 students. Instead of opening out the segmentations which exist both inside and in-between different universities, the movement allowed for its own subsumption as it continued to leave the segmentation unchallenged. This instrumental unity while being an ideological one was also at the same time a repressive apparatus for it attempted to repress the voices and demands of its own lower segments. Here the so called political becomes a form of primitive accumulation or extra-economic restructuring and consolidation of the socio-technical composition of labour.

What is specific to these contemporary constructions of illusory unity is that repression is becoming more and more central to their construction and maintenance. Unlike the anti-fascist or fascist unities of the early 20th century, the contemporary political unities are composed of segments far more fragmented and precarious. The fragmented and precarious base of the contemporary political unities makes it harder for the leaders to keep the fragments together through purely ideological means. Repression, therefore, becomes more and more central to this form of politics than it was ever before. As crisis becomes the norm rather than the exception, the nature of politics also changes. It increasingly tends to become its own counter-revolution, its own subsumption into the law of value.

To struggle against the present, therefore, requires us to move away, without delay, from the politics of anti-fascist or anti-authoritarian unities and their spectacles. What we require instead is the political labour of opening out the social antagonisms these political spectacles tend to erase. If politics has become more and more about the production of spectacles, which are commodities, we need to perform the critical labour of demonstrating exploitation and alienation inherent in their production. This requires a militant self-inquiry and politics that burrow through the very foundation of the structure, constantly destabilising the vertical technicisation of our sociality, reducing it to its sediments, posing a horizontal political recomposition. Only by opening out each moment of commodity production, including the political, can we begin to unravel materially and through a political practice the law of value which governs us.

Karat’s argument implies that the current situation is not as dangerous as it looks, that it is not yet fascism. He thinks so because he can’t see an economic crisis. But he can’t see the crisis because crisis is now not a moment separate from normality but is something that has pervaded each space and each moment of life today. What confronts us today is not fascism, nor is it some benign authoritarianism within the democratic structure! What confronts us today is a crisis so generalised that it is difficult to distinguish from normality. Such a situation renders the whole society anarchic so much so that only barbarism can keep it afloat. This is as the Invisible Committee notes a “world held up by the infinite management of its own collapse”. (The Invisible Committee 2009) It is, therefore, also a world far more barbaric than merely authoritarian or fascist. This is why Karat’s articulations reveal both a theoretical and political bankruptcy.


Banaji, Jairus. 2016. “Stalin’s Ghost Won’t Save Us from the Spectre of Fascism: A Response to Prakash Karat.” sabrangindia.in. September 12, 2016. Accessed June 26, 2017.

Benjamin, Walter. 1936 [1969]. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” In Illuminations, edited by Hannah Arendt, 217-252. New York: Schocken Books.

Breman, Jan. 2013. “A Bogus Concept?” newleftreview.org. December. Accessed June 26, 2017.

Debord, Guy. 1967 [1994]. The Society of the Spectacle. New York: Zone Books.

Hardt, Michael and Antonio Negri. 2000. Empire. London: Harvard University Press.

Harvey, David. 2005. A Brief History of Neoliberalism. New York: Oxford University Press.

Karat, Prakash. 2016. “Fight against BJP cannot be conducted in alliance with the other major party of the ruling classes.” indianexpress.com. September 6, 2016. Accessed June 26, 2017.

Kumar, Satendra. 2016. “Agrarian Transformation and the New Rurality in Western Uttar Pradesh.” Economic and Political Weekly.Vol. 51, Issue No. 26-27, 25 Jun, 2016

Prashad, Vijay. 2016. “Time for Left Unity: Banaji’s Petty Prose Fails the Test.” sabrangindia.in. September 15. Accessed June 26, 2017.

Tamas, G.M. 2001. “What is Post-fascism?” opendemocracy.net. September 14. Accessed June 26, 2017.

The Invisible Committee. 2009. The Coming Insurrection. Semiotext(e). Massachusetts: The MIT Press.


  1. thank you, really insightful. a book was published recently titled The fascist nature of neoliberalism. might be of interest to you too.

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