Socialism was a product of the age of enlightenment. It sought to abolish slavery and bonded labour and to reduce the gap between haves and have-nots, the privileged and the underprivileged, the landlord and the peasant, the capitalists and the workers… It has had its violent face in the form of Leninist revolutions that put totalitarian communists regimes in place in many countries, starting with Russia. It has had its wholesome face in socialist democracies, including India. Marxist communism succumbed to its inbuilt flaws within decades in most countries where it had held sway. And it had its sworn enemy in capitalism, of which America was the torchbearer.
The boundaries of these forms of government have now blurred. China successfully engineered a live-in relationship of totalitarian communism with its antithesis liberal capitalism, which produced a sort of monstrous breed called totalitarian capitalism. Consequently, China now has 373 of the world’s 2047 billionaires, all cronies of the government. In America, Trump used his extensive presidential powers to introduce dictatorship into democracy by sidelining autonomous constitutional bodies that are meant to act as checks and balances on dictatorial tendencies. Other democracies like Modi’s India and Putin’s Russia have followed suit. Under Xi Jinping, ‘communism’ is now little more than a decorative nomenclature. Trump and Modi are in the meanwhile using communism as a scarecrow to ward off all forms of dissent.
The abolition of slavery by Congress in 1865 and the election of the first black president, Obama, in 2009, were landmarks in the establishment of social justice in America. Communism had no role to play in the first and the second was achieved despite the American hatred for communism. But they left a smouldering residue of white supremacists who seethed against these achievements and sought to undermine them. Some decisions of Obama like extending medical insurance to all, including those with pre-existing medical conditions, through Obama Care and legalising undocumented immigrants angered the better-off right-wing whites. They struck back by putting socialist-baiter Trump in the White House.
Trump is now hinging his bid for a second term on their hatred for blacks, immigrants and environmental and social activists, who for him are a threat to America’s liberal democracy. He denounces protesters of police brutality against blacks as communist terrorists and accuses Democratic presidential candidate Biden of condoning violence. He paints all those who clamour for social justice as communist anarchists, among whom he gives the pride of place to Antifa, an umbrella organisation for autonomous groups that militate against fascism and other forms of extreme rightwing ideology.
Under Jawaharlal Nehru, Independent India leaned towards socialism from the very start. His daughter, Indira, took India further down that road through the nationalisation of banks and petroleum companies and abolishment of Privy Purse. Through the 42nd Amendment of 1976, she inserted the word ‘socialist’ in the preamble of the Indian Constitution. Under Manmohan Singh’s UPA government, which relied heavily on communist support in parliament, socialism got a further boost through policies that addressed the concerns of poor and marginalised sections of India. A rightwing backlash to it led by the RSS brought Modi to power.
Modi lost no time in trying to dismantle the socialist character of Indian democracy and becoming a democratic dictator. Unlike in America, where constitutional bodies have stood up to Trump, they have to be a great extent surrendered to Modi or have been arm-twisted into falling in line. That, along with BJP’s robust presence in the Houses, has helped Modi to ride roughshod over parliament in a no-holes-barred campaign with the help of hired media to push dictatorial capitalism down India’s throat. Modi has taken a leaf from Trump’s hatred for social activists by branding them all as Urban Maoists. He has cut off financial aid to Human Rights groups and NGOs engaged in social service by enacting the The Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act. Activists who have dedicated their lives to the service of marginalised dalits and tribals are now treated as terrorists.
The National Investigation Agency has arrested Fr Stan Swamy, an 83-year-old Jesuit priest, accusing him of involvement in a national Maoist conspiracy against the state. In a video recorded a day prior to his arrest, the priest says he has been fighting for years “to ensure that Dalits and tribal Adivasis become aware of their rights as guaranteed by the Constitution.” He further said: “I fear that these activities have angered the powerful interests within the government… they now have included me with banned organisations… to discredit me together with other intellectuals, legal professionals and social activists raising our voices for the rights of the poor people in the state of Jharkhand and all over India.”
What Trump’s America and Modi’s India are witnessing is a war on the weak by the strong, of the reactionary far-right on the progressive left-right. But rays of hope have come from the Davids who are bravely taking on the Goliaths: the parents of the gang rape victim of Hathras have refused to be bought by, what by their standards, is an astronomical sum and have insisted on justice to their daughter instead; and Fr Stan Swamy refuses to be cowed down by foisted cases. The Jesuit priest has also brought the attention of the Indian Church back to its central gospel mission – “to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind; to set free the oppressed.”