Interview with Naujawan Bharat Sabha (NBS), Part II

The first installment of our interview with Naujawan Bharat Sabha (“Youth Society of India”) can be read here. Read more about the situation in India in these articles:

Condemn the Attacks on Activists by Delhi Police!
Solidarity with the Protests in India Against the CAA and NRC
Down with Modi and the Fascist BJP!
Stand with the People of Kashmir

The program of the MDSO calls for the realization of full democratic rights for students, including freedom to organize, freedom of speech, and an end to all forms of inequality based on race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, religion, immigration status, etc. What is the assessment of NBS regarding the question of democratic rights of youth in India, and how do you mobilize around these issues?

In this regard, we share all the agenda points of MDSO, which we consider a close fraternal organization in the US. The issue of democratic rights for youth in India is equally serious. Especially since the rise of Modi to power, all of the democratic spaces have shrunk. There used to be open spaces for assembly, cultural performances, seminars, debates and discussion, demonstrations. All these spaces have either been closed or they have put heavy fees on booking those spaces, and thus have commercialized them. Most progressive organizations cannot even think of affording these places for their programs. Thus, one important issue is of democratic public spaces, which are being finished by the Modi government.

Second is the issue of police presence inside the campus. Traditionally, police in India never dared to come inside of the campus, until and unless called by the Vice-Chancellor of the university. Now, the police don’t care to ask the VC for any permission, nor does the VC ever interfere with their brutality and oppression inside the campus, as the BJP [the Bharatiya Janata Party is the ruling Hindutva fascist party in India—Ed.] has planted their own as VCs in most of the universities in India.

Third is the issue of police brutality and oppression in the neighborhoods of the working masses. We have raised this issue a number of times and have been fighting against the police’s arbitrary actions in these neighborhoods. They can pick up anyone according to their whims and fancies. They often do it on the order of BJP leaders or local capitalists, contractors, etc. 

Another important issue is the legal changes that the BJP is introducing in the legal-constitutional structure of India. The Congress government also introduced draconian laws like UAPA [The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act of 1967], but the fascist BJP government has gone many steps forward and introduced a number of new laws or amendments to old laws, which have shrunk civil rights and democratic rights (CRDR) like never before. There is no hope of justice as well, as the entire judiciary has been totally infiltrated by the fascists and it is working at the behest of Modi and Shah. Thus, there is no hope for any legal remedy. This, in the long term, is not simply negative, as the democratic illusions among the masses are decreasing with every passing day.

Building a militant, mass-based CRDR movement is a big task in India, as this movement is largely confined in the campus spaces, elite circles.

It is our assessment that the far right and fascism have been on the rise globally, as evidenced by figures like Trump in the US, Orbán in Hungary, Bolsanaro in Brazil, and Modi in India. How does NBS assess this trend and how can we organize youth and students against it?

We totally share the assessment about the rise of extreme right-wing governments, including fascist regimes, as in India, due to the global crisis of capitalism, especially in the 2010s. We are still finding new ways to fight against such regimes and organize youth against such regimes, but on a few points we are more or less certain. First, we must consider the youth a class-differentiated community. Second, we must principally focus on the youth of the working class and lower echelons of the petty bourgeoisie in our work, though not ignoring the progressive sections in the youth of upper echelons of the petty bourgeoisie as well as sections of bourgeois youth-students, even if there are very few of them. Third, we must incessantly run propaganda on the issues that are affecting the youth the most, namely, unemployment, commercialization of education and issues like universal health care, housing rights, etc.; we must expose the capitalist system as the culprit in their job insecurity and uncertainty as well as their overall socio-economic insecurity. Fourth, exposure of the capitalist system on the above material and economic issues will be more effective only when we have a wide network of institutions in the neighborhoods of the working masses, from gyms, libraries, martial arts clubs, sports clubs, Janta [medical] clinics, hiking parties, etc. Without a network of institutionalized revolutionary reform work, neither can we face the immediate danger of fascist attacks nor can we make our propaganda more effective. 

In the view of NBS, does the specifically fascist character of BJP/RSS [the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a cadre-based fascist organization, is the parent organization of the BJP—Ed.] demand a tactics different from those needed to confront other types of far-right governments?

We think that the most important differences between any far-right government or any exceptional form of bourgeois dictatorship on the one hand and fascism on the other hand are threefold. First is the fact that fascism is a reactionary social movement, though behind any far-right government often the support of petty-bourgeois classes does stand, but they are generally not organized reactionary social movements of the petty bourgeoisie, but pathological scattered support base of right-wing governments. The second important thing that has extremely important consequences for our strategies of resistance is the fact that fascism is characterized by a cadre-based organization, and it makes them particularly efficient in leading a reactionary social movement of the petty bourgeoisie in a very organized and efficient way. Third is the particular unity of fascist ideology, whose historical function is to weld the interests of big monopoly capital and the blind reaction of the petty bourgeoisie, or rather putting the pathological petty-bourgeois reaction in the service of big capital, which is done through the ideological device of construction of an imaginary enemy, by othering a community, creating a fetish in the figure of the ‘other.’ This is done through establishing myths as common sense; this in turn, is done through organized, large-scale fascist propaganda, relying on repetitions of myths ad infinitum, until they become common sense, especially for the petty-bourgeois masses, who are living in constant frustration and blind reaction.

This modus operandi of fascism makes certain changes imperative. First is the need to build an organic social base through institutionalized revolutionary reform work. Second is the need to have a revolutionary party as the vanguard of the working class and leader of the masses; NBS believes that such a party must be built, though we directly cannot play a role in it. Third, the biggest enemy of fascism is their history; it is essential to do constant propaganda about their history; in India, this is easier, as the nationalism of RSS is on very thin ice as they collaborated with the British. Fourth is work among children, which we take very, very seriously; we call it the front of ‘generation building.’ Educating children about rationality, militant materialism (without atheistic propaganda), humanism, secularism, about the martyred revolutionary, history of the working-class movement, etc. is extremely important to make them immune to the communal fascist propaganda of the RSS-BJP.

These are a few specificities of the anti-fascist resistance strategy which differentiate the needs of anti-fascist resistance strategy from resistance to any extreme right-wing government, though there can be no water-tight compartments and there always will be partial overlapping.

What are the various elements that make up the popular camp of resistance to the Modi-Shah regime today, beyond progressive and revolutionary youth? What elements in society constitute the social base of the BJP/RSS, and has that base changed (in terms of composition, size, stability, etc.) since Modi first assumed office in 2014?

From our experiences we have reached a tentative conclusion that as far as the issue-based alliances against particular fascist acts/actions, etc. are concerned, the broadest possible joint fronts should be formed, including revolutionary forces, progressive and democratic forces, social-democratic parties/groups, anarchists, etc.; but as far as a general anti-fascist united front is concerned, today only a united front of the revolutionary forces is possible. Social democrats weaken any such anti-fascist alliance by suffocating it with their “legalism”; anarchists don’t let it be organized and systematic; bourgeois democrats do not even want to be a part of such a general anti-fascist front. The only forces willing and capable of forming a long-term, general, anti-fascist united front today are the revolutionary forces of the youth movement, student movement, and the working-class movement. Therefore, we firmly believe that the strategy of ‘popular front’ can’t be considered as the horizon of anti-fascist revolutionary strategy today; instead, a more nuanced approach is warranted.

The social base of the Modi regime in a certain sense has remained constant: it is the different sections of the petty bourgeoisie, entrepreneurial as well as salaried; certain sections of the lumpen proletariat, especially the non-industrial footloose informal workers; and also, certain sections of the working class, though this section is now negligible, as their support base among the working class has declined steadily in the last 6 years. The reason is economic ruin, state repression, and changes in labor laws.

The internal composition of their support from the petty bourgeoisie has changed, though the overall absolute size of this support base remains more or less the same, or maybe it has decreased, but not substantially. Among the salaried petty bourgeoisie (the so-called well-off, urban, educated, salaried ‘middle classes’) has declined somewhat due to the retrenchments in the public as well as private sector. Support among the entrepreneurial petty bourgeoisie has increased in the upper echelons but has decreased in the lower echelons.

A part of the bourgeoisie, too, has voiced its opposition to certain policies of the Modi government, but their best bet still remains to be Modi, because of the crisis of declining profitability. They need what they call “strong leadership” to change the labor laws, suppress workers’ militancy and dissent from other classes as well. Therefore Bajaj, a leading Indian capitalist, voiced some concerns over certain economic policies as well as the divisive politics of the Modi government. But since economic considerations overrule all these reservations, Modi still enjoys overwhelming support of the Indian big bourgeoisie.

What were the principal concerns of youth and students in India before the coronavirus crisis, and how has the crisis transformed them?

The most important concerns of youth and students in India in times of Corona epidemic are the extreme loss of employment, unplanned lockdown due to which the working masses are faced with starvation, lack of testing and treatment by the government, and increased repression using the time of lockdown.

Our demand is to provide food, cash allowance, medical protection, and all essential goods and services to the working masses, so that ‘physical distancing’ does not become the privilege of the rich. We are also opposing certain groups (for instance, the Punjab’s national chauvinists) who, in the vein of Trump and Bolsonaro, claim that the Corona crisis is no crisis at all, that it is a conspiracy (of some kind) and lockdown should immediately be ended so that economic activities can be restarted. They believe that it will give relief to the working class from unemployment, etc. This is precisely the argument of all right-wingers across the globe, whereas we should be demanding a well-planned strategy of the government to do mass scale testing and treatment so that the lockdown can be lifted without causing a huge cost of lives of millions of working-class masses. As Engels had shown almost one and a half centuries ago, the bourgeoisie exacts the heavy price of every epidemic from the working class, because it is the workers who die in millions whenever an epidemic enters their dense shanty towns and slums. However, a few groups are demanding what the right-wingers are demanding. It is essential to expose the stand of such groups and this too is an important task of the present conjuncture, because desperate workers sometimes find this line appealing due to the hardships that they are facing during the lockdown.

Our argument is that lockdown in itself is not a solution. If community transmission starts, partial or total lockdown may become necessary based on the particular conditions of different areas. However, they make sense only when they are well-planned (like universal food rationing, cash allowance, provision of all essential goods and services, so that the working masses, too, can practice physical distancing) and secondly, when they are accompanied by mass-scale testing and treatment. Without these two steps, lockdowns are not only useless, they are harmful. Most of our demands stem from this position and demand equal rights for workers, common youth, and masses.

How has the coronavirus crisis impacted your ‘normal’ organizational work and your current ability to organize youth?

Yes, undoubtedly, the Corona crisis has affected our organizing. Since all colleges, schools, workplaces, and public transport are closed, and in many areas a curfew has been imposed, it is difficult to meet with people, contact them, etc. The only contact that we have with the masses right now is through two mediums: one, in the process of relief work that we are doing in the neighborhoods of working masses and secondly, through social media like WhatsApp, Facebook, etc.

However, as clearly indicated recently by the government, they can’t go on with the lockdown indefinitely as the bourgeoisie is mounting pressure to end the lockdown, even if without mass-scale testing and treatment, we will see another large spike in the cases. Therefore, in some form, social life will begin, and our normal activities too will resume.

The internal organizational work is also continuing through other mediums like online reading sessions and meetings.

What do you see as the principal tasks for progressive and revolutionary youth in India in light of the current crisis?

The answer to this question has partially been given. The first task is to articulate the correct demands of the youth and working masses based on the correct analysis of the present situation, which we mentioned above.

The second is to prepare the youth and working masses for the offensive of the capitalist class and resist it effectively. The early signs of this offensive are already visible. The Modi government has proposed to extend the legal working day to 12 hours. Some states like Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh have already done that. Uttar Pradesh government has suspended all labor laws for 3 years. It is clear that the bourgeoisie is going on a big offensive because they are faced with the most serious economic crisis of Indian capitalism since Independence. It can be expected that the working class will resist spontaneously. The youth will fight too. What we need is to prepare ourselves for this political situation. We need to be in a position to steer the movement in the correct direction. That is the biggest challenge right now, given the fact that we are still a small organization. We have started preparing but we know it is going to be very, very tough.