Prof Akeel Bilgrami writes-
'In the Europe of the 1930s and 1940s, the term “fascist” came to be associated with two defining features. First, the finding of an external enemy within a nation (in the case of Germany, the Jews, the gypsies) and despising and subjugating them. Second, what Mussolini offered as an explicit definition of fascism: the fusion of the interests of corporations and the state. I ask the reader to look at Modi’s record with Muslims and his avowed economic programme and decide for herself where the lack of intelligence really lies. '
Is Bilgrami correct?
Let us look at the facts. The word Fascist, in the 1920's, as popularized by Mussolini had nothing at all to do with Jews. It did however have everything to do with
1) Defeating the Communists and other Leftists who
a) had opposed Italy's participation in the War
b) aimed at Bolshevik style Revolution. Mussolini was a former Socialist who supported the War and had the backing of the Army for this reason.
2) Stressing the role of the Military and seeking for a revival of Imperial glory. This was to be done by making Business Corporations and Trade Unions and other elements of Civil Society- including the Education system and, after the signing of the Lateran treaty, even the Church- subordinate to the interests of an expansionist State. Mussolini's 'Corporatism' meant subordinating, not fusing, the interests of the Capitalists to the greater glory of the Nation.
Which other European countries could be described as Fascist?
1) Hungary. Bela Kun had led a Communist Revolution. With help from the armies of neighboring countries like Romania and Czechoslavakia, Admiral Horthy launched a 'White Terror' and became Regent. Kun and many of his comrades were Jewish but Horthy wasn't Anti Semitic because Jews had traditionally been loyal to the dynasty.
2) Germany also faced the problem of Red Insurrection which was put down by 'Freikorps'- disbanded soldiers. The size of the Army had been drastically cut by the Peace Treaty. Hence, the German Army wanted a 'force multiplier' in the shape of a Mass Movement. They were also keen on projecting the 'stab in the back theory' so as to absolve themselves of War guilt. Hitler was a paid agent of the Army when he joined the Nazi party. Luddendorf was beside him during the Munich Putsch. But, the mentally unstable Luddendorf refused to go to jail to pose as a martyr and so Hitler gained salience. Hitler's path to power was paved by Generals like Schliecher (whom Hitler killed) and Blomberg (whom he hounded out of the Army in disgrace) and all this happened when Hindenburg was President. Hitler had no particular love for the Corporates. They and the German Army however agreed to subordinate themselves to the State- which, thanks to them, Hitler came to embody.
3) Spain. The Left came to power and went a little crazy. General Franco, with help from Mussolini and Hitler, invaded from Morocco having first declared the Virgin Mary to be the Captain General of his Army. But Franco wasn't serving Corporate interests. Primo de Rivera's idiotic Falangism hurt Corporates. Unlike the First World War, the Second War was a period of stagnation for Spain. It was only after ditching the ideologues that Spain, from the Fifites onward, took a Technocratic direction under American tutelage. Franco wasn't particularly anti-Semitic.
4) The Romanian Iron Guard- vicious anti semites but they thought they were serving the Archangel Michael, not the Corporations. They considered Capitalism sinful.
5) Pilsudski's 'Sanation' in Poland featured massive State action. Hiter's Germany did see Privatization but Corporations had to serve the interests of the State. Had German Capital been in the same parlous state as Poland's, Hitler and Blomberg and so on would have gone the Pilsudski route. Indeed, to a certain extent, they did.
One can multiply instances but one conclusion is inescapable. Inter-war Fascism was a product of-
1) Fear of Communist Revolution and/or invasion or subversion by the Soviets. The Military had a disproportionate say and they considered Capital to be a junior partner. Some military men, but also some Business men like Henry Ford, came to believe in the 'Protocols of the Elders of Zion'- i.e. a paranoid fantasy in which the Jews controlled both the Kremlin and Walll Street and were aiming to destroy Spiritual 'Christianity' or 'Aryan Values' by 'Materialist' ideologies like 'Capitalism' and 'Communism'.
2) Anger at or anxieties arising out of the Peace treaties. Defeated powers looked to get back territory by Armed Might; Victorious powers sought to keep their gains by the same means.
Some 'Fascist' countries had an 'internal enemy', some did not. What they shared in common was Militaristic rule and a willingness to abandon International Treaties and the League of Nations in pursuit of their National Interest. When people thought of Hitler or Franco or Mussolini, they didn't think- 'oh that fellow is in the pocket of Big Business and his only other passion is killing some specific minority'.
Instead, what people thought was 'that nutjob is willing to start a World War to expand his territory. He will ruin his own country- including its Businessmen- but he doesn't care.'
Suppose Hitler was a puppet of Big Business. Then, there would have been no War. Just pay the German industrialists to rein in Hitler. After all, money is what those guys care about, right? France and England had plenty of money to buy peace. They didn't use their money in that way because it couldn't be used in that way. Big Business wasn't in charge in Germany. Hitler was- but only because people like General Blomberg had come to see that he would push through the Army's maximal program better than they could do so themselves because
a) he was simply more ruthless
b) he could pose as the Charlie Chaplin like 'Little Corporal' whom the English assumed would be anti-War because he'd experienced its horrors himself.
Now let us look at Modi. Is he in the pockets of Big Business? No. Adani is a junior partner in the development of Gujarat. Jindal, the former Congress M.P, wasn't anybody's junior partner. Manmohan scarcely wanted Coalgate. Yet it happened. The country got no benefit whatsoever.
Some people can make money even in a failed State. However, the Business Sector as a whole goes down the toilet.
It is undeniable that Corporates, as a class, backed Modi this time round. What was the alternative? If the Economy continues to stagnate- which it would have done because Congress didn't even have a P.M candidate- then many of them either go bankrupt or have to severely retrench. If Growth gets back on track- which it will under Modi simply because he isn't a senile idiot- most of them will be able to raise money and get back to profitability. It is an Existential question.
What about Bilgrami's second assertion- viz. Modi has risen to power by attacking an 'external enemy within the Nation'? Surely the secret of his electoral win is that he himself was attacked by all other parties as that very 'external enemy'? This split the Muslim vote. Furthermore, there was a 'counter polarization' amongst Hindus because 'Secular' politicians, with great cynicism, were claiming to have given Muslims a special most favored status.
Still, the fact remains, people have voted for Modi because they believe he's a 'Good Governance' man who will treat everyone equally and not play caste/creed vote-bank politics.
If Bilgrami were correct, wealthy Muslims would now be fleeing the country. To my certain knowledge, they are not doing this. Instead, we see Muslim N.R.I businessmen ramping up their investment plans and planning to spend more time in India and not just Gujarat or Rajasthan or M.P or the N.C.R either. People are talking of opportunities in U.P and Bihar.
Bilgrami is a nice guy. He writes well. But, if he wants to challenge Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum on their own home turf, he will have to up his game. I suggest he make a deep study of my blog. That will enstoopidify him sufficiently to come into his own.