Students and youth must prepare for protracted struggle against the worldwide reactionary wave.
As in the 1930’s, fascism is once again becoming acceptable throughout the world. Of course, this is not new: both Herbert Hoover and FDR, for a time, had kind words for Benito Mussolini and his fascist regime in Italy. For students, we also encounter shameful precedents in the university setting.
Under Nicholas Murray Butler, Columbia University president from 1902-45, the school’s Italian Department became a platform for fascist Italy, with Mussolini himself personally promising to send aid.
In 1934, City College president Frederick Robinson invited a group of Italian fascists to address the CCNY student body and then suspended 26 students and the entire student government for protesting the assembly.
In post-World War II mythology, “everyone was an anti-fascist.” However, in reality, one can fill books with the names of political cowards in high places like Butler and Robinson. Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s UN address this Friday is an occasion to revisit this history and to reflect on the nature of the present. This past Sunday, Modi shared the stage with Trump at a mass rally in Houston. Later, he addressed the Bloomberg Global Business Forum in New York.
In a country containing a sixth of the world’s population, or 1.3 billion people, Modi, the fascist BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party, or Indian Peoples’ Party), and the larger RSS Parivar (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh Parivar, or Family of the National Patriotic Organization) have the winds of the political moment behind their sails. Between Modi’s initial victory during the 2014 general elections and his even bigger win in Spring 2019, the BJP’s National Democratic Alliance(NDA) has increased its presence in the 545-seat Lok Sabha (lower chamber of the Indian parliament) from 336 to 353 seats. The NDA also held onto its positions in the governments of India’s three largest states (Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Bihar). The BJP’s closest competitor on the political scene, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) of the Indian National Congress (INC, or Congress for short) today commands less than a fifth of the seats in the Lok Sabha and is in government in only four of India’s 29 states (Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Punjab, and Chhattisgarh). Led by Rahul Gandhi, the great-grandson of India’s first prime minister Nehru,Congress was dominant from 1947 until the late 1960s. Aside from India’s Northeast, the remaining five states with non-BJP and non-Congress governments—West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Telangana, and Kerala—are in the hands of smaller regional parties.
Through the example of India we hope to demonstrate the severity of the current situation on a world-scale and the challenges facing students and youth. We speak of two kinds of young people:
—The minority of students and youth who are combative, who are quick to protest and quick to defend the rights of the people in demonstrations and marches; and just as importantly,
—The great majority, born during the ‘90s and 2000s, who grew up assuming certain elemental notions of justice and equality, and did not imagine that one day we would be living in a new ‘illiberal’ age, marked by the return of fascism, even with certain of its classical features.
The future of our world belongs to these young people, the great majority. And it is also upon them that the future of our world depends. Therefore, certain unavoidable facts must be recognized:
(1) Fascism is on the rise. In some places like India, it is in government, carrying out threats that are decades in the making (e.g., the abrogation of Article 370 deepening the Indian State’s politics of national oppression in Kashmir). In the US, the rise of the arch-reactionary Trump corresponds to an expansion of the ideological and political space for organized fascism.
(2) Once-powerful capitalist parties—“mainstream,” “traditional”—are in crisis (e.g., Congress suffered its worst defeat ever during the 2014 election when an unparalleled turnout of 66% put Modi in office). In the US, the GOP has become the party of Trump and the disorientation of the Democratic Party is apparent in the uninspired candidacies of its traditional center.
(3) Politics is undergoing a sharp reactionary turn in many countries and regions.
Those who consider themselves progressive find that their values, their hopes for the future, and their life plans are increasingly dissonant with the new reality.
The student manifesto of protest of a prior generation—the 1962 Port Huron Statement of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS)—began, “We are people of this generation, bred in at least modest comfort, housed now in universities, looking uncomfortably to the world we inherit.”
All progressive youth today sense the same discomfort. In it lies the truth of the moment: the reactionaries are cynical and confident, advancing from position to position, while those who believe in justice and equality increasingly feel the ground disappearing from under us.
Do not ignore your discomfort! We cannot be complacent and repeat the mistakes of the past in the face of a rising fascism. Join us in rebuilding a revolutionary student movement in the US: against fascism and against the conditions that produce it.
MDSO leaflet on the occasion of Modi’s address to the 74th United Nations General Assembly.