Violence and National Consciousness | Prof. Manas Ghosh | Introspecting Nationalism Lecture One

Violence and National Consciousness | Prof. Manas Ghosh | Introspecting Nationalism Lecture One


Thank you for inviting me on “Introspecting Nationalism” to deliver the inaugural lecture. I would begin by saying that I am no specialist in this subject. A political scientist or a historian would perhaps have been more apt. Nonetheless, I can build on the one or two things that I have understood about the issue. In the present conditions prevailing in India, “What is Nationalism?” is the most pertinent question among the politicians and also among the academicians. We have been observing that the question has mainly risen from let’s suppose, a battle, in which in one side there is aggressive nationalism, and on the other side, certain voices which are protesting against them. Now seeing it in terms of this binary – the binary which has already been established – in the current political situation of our country, is, I feel, problematic in itself. It’s problematic because we can see that a large section of common people are actually rallying with jingoistic patriotism ..and.. definitely, though a small group, yet very powerful, the students and some intellectuals in India like the poet K. Satchidanandan are on the other side. But my primary question here is, what are the factors that drive so many common people to side with this proto-nationalism? Let us remember, they are not all ideologues. They are not even staunch believers of the politics framed by these proto-nationalists. Yet still, they are supporting them. Therefore, we can realize that they are siding with a form of fascist force, even though this variant of fascism that is now being propagated in India is still in its embryonic phase. It hasn’t completely expressed itself as of this moment. Maybe it will, in the near future. But why are so many people siding with them? Is it just a popular sentiment, or a form of mass-psychology which is, historically constructed and posited? This is where I encounter a question since, the cries of “Fascism! Fascism!” everywhere reminded me, of a German intellectual repeatedly, namely Siegfried Kracauer, one of whose texts we often study in our department, “From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of German Film”. To me, the “film” is not important at this point, what is important however, is the psychological history. As Kracauer and the Frankfurt school had pointed in a specific direction, we are thankful to them, namely a form of mass psychology of fascism, which definitely originates from a militant nationalism. Now Siegfried Kracauer or “From Caligari to Hitler” might not be entirely useful in the Indian context. but the point which draws me towards this book is that this book tries to discuss a mass psychology of fascism, how a particular kind of force, which later appears as a fascist force, manufactures many people’s consent, in the name of nationalism. There have been many theories on how nationalism becomes a vehicle for fascism: Dimitrov’s theory, Terry Eagleton’s famous text, Togliatti’s text, however, I am desisting from going into these as while reading into them I have felt that they have spoken about fascism in an European context, and that have considered it as a singular model for inspection because, every one of them have a common point to make, i.e., The Crisis of Capitalism, and how capitalism itself tries to survive by creating, a monopoly capital in the territory of a Nation-state, and finally forces the Nation, compels and lures the Nation towards authoritarianism and fascism. I am not delving into the differences between the two terms at the moment. Thus, I feel that beyond the politics and sociology of nationalism, we should throw some light on a slightly darker zone, that is, the psychology of militant nationalism. I would repeat once more than I am no specialist in this field, we have an eminent historian right here with us who could have spoken much more eloquently. I’ll be primarily discussing through the writings of a particular theorist, Frantz Fanon. Why Fanon, is because he was able to show us the relationship between colonialism, colonial rule and the colonial subject, and also observes how nationalism is formed through a colonial perspective. When we’re talking about India, we should first observe in hindsight if in the national consciousness that was formed under colonial rule, was there a fundamental mistake that has been glossed over? A mistake that has framed our consciousness, and has finally created a common psychology towards understanding nationalism. Secondly, we know that Frantz Fanon haven’t written a word about India, his writings concern Algeria and the French colonialism in Algeria. Then why are we citing Fanon in this context? One prime reason is that in post-colonial historiography, Fanon is one of the five major theorists whose theories are the absolute canon on which the field is based on, with the other four being namely Edward Said, Gramsci, Althusser and .. who else but .. Foucoult. In understanding the colonial world and post-coloniality, Fanon, illustrates a few interesting things, namely, how nationalism is formed in a colonial, ‘native’ world. Fanon draws out three phases, out of which one is After Independence, which has not been discussed much by him owing to his short life-span, Fanon died early, just before Algeria gained independence. He couldn’t work much after that. Fanon, in a few places, has made a few interesting remarks, These remarks should be our take-off ground. For example, in Fanon’s “The Wretched of the Earth”, there is a celebrated chapter “On National Culture” which many read. There is another chapter after that, which is hardly as widely read, namely, “Colonial Wars and Mental Disorder”. Fanon here writes about a few case studies, out of which one is really interesting, and it concerned namely of two Algerian boys were sent to Fanon for treatment, as he was a practicing psychoanalyst. He was a Black from the Dominican Republic, he took his education in France, and went to Algeria as a government doctor-psychiatrist. Later on, he left the government hospital and aligned himself with the Algerian Liberation Army. He was one of the ideologues of the Algerian nationalist struggle. The case is really interesting, the two boys were sent to him, one is aged thirteen and the other fourteen. They were first tried at juvenile court and was later sent to the psychiatrist. What was their crime? They had murdered a boy of their own age. The boy was the son of a French mason, and the mason was a poor person. He had to migrate from France because in France, he didn’t find work. The French mason’s son used to study with the two Algerian boys. He was also close friends with both of the two Algerian boys. They played together. One fine day, the two Algerian boys – they were brothers – they murdered the French mason’s child. They pushed him off a cliff, and he dies. Fanon questioned them on why they had commited such a deed, because he was a ‘good friend of yours, and he was a good good friend of yours’ [sic]. There was no form of hostility between them. The boys answered: Every Algerian wanted to kill a French then and it was the rhetoric of … it was the reality of … the independent struggle in Algeria. So they killed their friend. Fanon kept on asking them whether there was any hostility between them, “Was he your enemy?” They replied: “In reality, he was not our enemy, but since every grown-up Algerian was trying to kill a French colonial person, we could not kill a grown-up French person, so, we killed the small little child … the little boy … who was the son, eventually the son of a poor French mason, a poor man.” This is where Fanon ended his chapter. He could not continue any further. The impression one gets from reading Fanon, that Fanon is commonly understood as an ideologue of revolutionary independent struggle. The aspect which is not stressed upon enough is that Fanon ends on a question mark, which actually demands a revisiting of his own theory, which if Fanon might have himself done if he had lived on. Here Fanon posits a certain question – What is the nature of the nationalism that has been born in a colonial world? The French mason was a poor person, like an Algerian poor man. The boy that they had killed was a white person, racially French, but he was their friend. Then the universal notion of friendship, is nationalism even greater than that? Then what is nationalism? Does it have a proper grounding? Fanon himself was a Marxist and a Freudian psychoanalyst, he tried to incorporate Lacan to an extent in his theories, but the Lacanians believe that Fanon seriously misunderstood Lacan. We’ll not revisit that debate for obvious reasons. What is important however is where Fanon ambiguously ends his text, so then what is the nature of nationalism? Now let us step back somewhat, Fanon will be useful to some extent in the sense that in an Indian historical context, what role did colonialism play in building this concept of Indian nationalism? We can definitely understand one thing from Fanon’s case study is that nationalism sometimes, or rather most often in a colonial world, leaves behind a certain violence in its wake. on which Gandhi had a famous phrase, he used to refer to the British rule as a “British Lion”. While the British were leaving, there is an interesting phrase that Gandhi used, “The British Lion is departing India, but it’s leaving its anger here. What do we do with this anger?” This is perhaps what Fanon was pointing towards, that there is a violence, which often exceeds rationality, a violence which would often stoke racial conflict, communal conflict, and would create an embryonic phase by the colonial rule. This is being left behind. The remnants of the violence stays back with us. When a person begins to think that every Pakistani is my enemy, he feels exactly what the two Algerian children had felt, that nationalism is all-powerful and a most holy affair. There can be nothing greater than this, not even friendship, not even kinship, nothing. Now, how a space like this has been created historically in a colonial world, Fanon explains that there is initially a creation of an elite class, which at first tries to assimilate with the colonizers, and in the process they understand that, this assimilation is not possible because politically he is always a second-grade citizen in his own country, because the country is ruled by the colonizers. This births a second phase, which is an aspiration. What is this aspiration? The aspiration is that, the colonizer always tells the natives that they have no history. Thus in effect, they have no nation to call as their own. To have a nation, one must have a history of common cultures and common cultural forms. And the colonizer passes on a Hegelian historiography to the natives, a historiography which superposes over a particular journey in history. A Hegelian conception of history where there is, ancient, medieval and modern phases, three different developments, three different stages of advancement. Thus, there is this one and only model of history. This development of historical time is their history. This sparks an aspiration in the colonized native, an aspiration to reconstruct their own past, to frame it. But how will it be framed? If the only historiography known to the native is the Hegelian historiography, which was imported by the coloniser. This has been the case with our history too, if we look at the initial histories that were written about India. Later, some Marxist historians, as well as some post-colonial historians challenged these histories with legitimate reasoning. In these histories, one sees that the historian is struggling to, formulate a medieval. Medieval means the dark ages, as we have learnt from European history. Now what is this medieval in our case? The medieval is the Islamic history, the Islamic period. The Mughal period, the Sultani period. We see a big influence of this thought in Anandamath, where Bankimchandra arrives at this position. However, there is one positive point in Anandamath, which redeems Bankimchandra, where if one reads the ending of Anandamath, then one can observe that Bankimchandra couldn’t arrive at a conclusion. This inconclusive ending of the novel is very important. One can infer that, while writing this text, Bankimchandra understood the flaws in this discourse. Hence, its inconclusive ending. Now that Bankimchandra has become known to us as an icon of the BJP party’s lobby, while we on the progressive lobby, will discard him completely. Interestingly, Bankimchandra himself possibly, if one looks at the ending of Anandamath, he was not at all convinced of his own theory. Anyway, in order to bring out the medieval, a Dark age needs to be envisioned, and it is assumed that the Sultani, Badshahi and the Mughal periods were the Dark era. The funny part is, development is: modernity is: colonial rule. Hence the great faith of our 19th century statesmen in colonial rule, since they have assumed that the only way out of the Dark age is colonial rule, because colonial rule introduced modernity. It was assumed that before colonial rule, there was a pre-modern, long dark phase, before that of course there was a glorious phase, constructed as a Hindu past. Hence, the Hindu past is a glorious ancient age, the medieval is Islamic rule, and the modern is colonial rule. This is where a funny aspect materializes. The funny part is, let’s think how would Marx conceptualize India, China or even Asia in this context. There have been a lot of arguments about the ‘Asiatic mode of representation’. The way he has thought of India as a rural economy, reveals an Orientalist point of view. However, in one aspect, Marx’s argument was groundbreaking. Here Marx shows us why the Mughal era persisted for so long, and the reason he provides is, the awesome scientific taxation system, … and … a very scientific irrigation system. Marx says that, to completely sabotage the Indian economic structure, the first thing the British colonial rulers did was that they destroyed these two things: the taxation system and irrigation. Hence, the Mughal era has unfortunately been designated by the Indian historians, after having stayed in this country and under the influence of the colonizers, as a Dark age, this Mughal-Badshahi period. They identified a common enemy of India, that is, the Islamic rule. This is where a fundamental flaw had risen in our history. Completely under the influence of a colonial historiography, we have constructed a flawed history, which even till today passes for history in our common text-books, even though it’s directly not expressed in writing identifying who the common enemy was. However if we read the ‘unconscious’ of the text, we can realize the underlying texts, if we read between the lines, we can identify how a Hindu Indian past is being constructed. Another important observation here is that, before the 19th century, the Gita was in no sense, a so called holy text. It was only a part of the Mahabharata. Of course, the epics come in several versions. This is also one way of identifying with the colonizer. They noticed that all the so called modern religions have a holy text of their own. Be it the Bible, or the Koran, as there is a Bible, we (Hindus) would also need to create a holy text. So, this is the way the Bhagavad Gita came to be a holy text, which had no separate existence of its own in India before the 19th century. So, this way of forming a past, and in India’s history there has never been, though later on, Fanon suggests another phase where its a trap, he clearly states that this is a trap, for the colonial nationalist, that to think history in a fashion which was introduced by the colonial ruler. After the formulation of nationalism, Fanon re-works it further. He says that there needs to be a distinction between nationalism and national consciousness. Fanon says that it is here, that it needs a combative phase. Where in a colonial world, a nationalist intellectual needs to combat, the historiography that has been created, he must unlearn it and attain a new consciousness, which he calls national consciousness. What is this national consciousness? Unlike nationalism, national consciousness actually rests upon some kind of universal parameter. For example, sovereignty. What is sovereignty? Its not only the freedom of my nation, its also the freedom of the whole colonial world. Where India’s independence does not imply the subservience of Sri Lanka and Pakistan to India. Where the universal parameters are much more important than the imagined communities, the imagined national boundaries, the imaginary institution of Nation-State. To achieve this aspect of Nation, Fanon says that, we need a different kind of struggle. Which is a conscious struggle to unlearn the earlier phase. Otherwise, nationalism, finally after Independence, appears as a dominant … domineering discourse. Nothing else. From Fanon’s ideations, a French political theorist and sociologist Étienne Balibar posits a very interesting argument. Balibar says that … Balibar’s article is possibly called ‘France, Algeria: One Nation or Two?’ Balibar asks us to consider France and Algeria, speaking in this context. Later on he says that this context is equally important for England and Ireland. Or, if I may add, equally important for India and Pakistan. For example, let us consider one nation as 1 (digit), and another neighboring nation as another digit 1, So, 1 +1=2. Two different nations. Balibar says that this is not entirely the case. France can never shake off the burden of having colonized Algeria at one point. Similarly, Algeria itself cannot disown the fact that the French introduced modernity to them. Of course, there has always been a tragedy in French modernity. The tragedy which I often cite in my lectures, which is, Napoleon, who is considered the son of French Revolution. On entering Italy, the Italians actually received the motto “Equality, Fraternity, Liberty” from Napoleon himself. Whereas he was the man who completely destroyed the motto after coming to their country. Hence, “Equality, Fraternity, Liberty” had a completely different meaning for Garibaldi and Mazzini. It was similar for the Algerians as well, it can be said, that the spirit of the French Revolution appeared to them with a specific charge. It turned out to be completely counter-productive for the French. So anyway, can Algeria ever proclaim that they had had no communication with the French, and as there was no communication, could they ever aim for a pre-French modernity? Of course not. So Balibar says that, the two nations can never be 1, but will always be 1 and ½, that is, half of the other nation is already inside one nation. If we look at it from this perspective, then when our nationalists say that Pakistan is our enemy. Is it true? Pakistan is our enemy? Or is it the other way around, that in there has always been half of Pakistan inside of one India, India is always one and half. Similarly, the politics of Pakistan can also be seen in a similar way, that Pakistan can never say that it is a completely isolated territory, that does not share a relationship with the Indian subcontinent. Always, therefore one and half. If we think of a pre-partition India, then we can see that it has always been one and half, and in no way can a binary of one and one be theoretically or practically possible. Now, the point is that I was talking with someone, a professor of English here, Professor Santanu Biswas. Santanu Da said something which I think is really valid, that its good that classes on nationalism are being held in Jadavpur University. The point however is, that the people to whom we must reach out – meaning, those who are being used by militant nationalists to fill rallies, under the tricolor – is this message reaching them? I feel that it is extremely significant, and I also consider it an important task. Classes and studies inside the campus may continue as they do, but if we cannot take it outside, we’ll only have certain islands like for example, JNU, Jadavpur, Hyderabad Central University, certain elite campuses, and this discourse will never move beyond these islands, that the idea of nationalism that is being kept at the forefront, and is being used to psychologically stimulate so many people, is after all a practice in misguidance. It is of paramount importance that they should be informed that we have been taught a false history of our nation. I do not exactly know how to take it outside, this is all that I had to say today, the one or two things I knew about nationalism is this.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *