Middleclass fascism in Pakistan

Muhammad Moiz A very strong, mob-oriented, authoritarian force has started to unfurl its wings

Middleclass fascism in Pakistan
Not very long after super-conservative American commentator Jonah Goldberg introduced the term “liberal fascism” in his 2008 book, our very own super-conservative commentator Ansar Abbasi, and many others, began using it. Despite being oxymoronic, and having been catapulted to fame by America’s deep phobia of the left, the term was happily used and applied to all and sundry by Pakistan’s conservatives.

As a silent recipient of the title, I do wonder if shades of fascism – which has historically been limited to Italy, France, Germany and Spain, to my understanding – can somehow be found in our own country’s politics, and in turn our national psychology.

Characteristics of fascism may vary if looked at from various perspectives, but there are a few fundamentals that have been observed in all the various fascist models seen in different regimes.

1.    Despite the focus on “totalitarianism”, the concept of one total state and everyone’s submission to it, fascism in history has mostly started off as anti-theoretical and opportunistic to appeal to many groups. Being anti-theoretical it refused to be classified as this or that, as leftist or rightist, or as proletariat or bourgeoisie. It called itself “the one whole” characterized by its “oneness” and not limited to a particular class or political ideology.

2.    “Mob power” has been a fairly universal feature of fascism. And deliverance through the disruption of the existing social order by the rule of a mob requires an authoritarian leader.

3.    That brings us to our third universal feature of fascism, the presence of an authoritarian leader – a leader who embodies the highest ideals of a nation. This leader is significantly idolized and taken as a hero, or superman. This romanticism of the masses for their leader reflects fascism’s rejection of reason and intelligence and its emphasis on “vision” and “will”.

Fascism has mostly been called a “middle-class” phenomenon. Leon Trotsky, after being exiled from Russia, came up with a theory on fascism. Deeply seated in his understanding of fascism’s hatred of worker-class movements, his theory calls fascism “a movement of the middle class backed by the big capital”. Trotsky observed that room for fascist growth is created by two factors: a deep social crisis that throws the middle class off balance, and the lack of a “revolutionary” authoritarian party that the masses can relate to. Hence, a fascist party would cater to the masses’ “despair” in the current system. He further observed that fascism had indeed opened up the depths of society for politics.

[quote]Social media is rife with imagery of Imran Khan as Batman saving Gotham[/quote]

In his words, “A hundred million people use electricity and still believe in the magic power of signs and exorcisms. The Pope of Rome broadcasts over the radio about the miraculous transformation of water into wine. Movie stars go to mediums. Aviators who pilot miraculous mechanisms created by man’s genius wear amulets on their sweaters. What inexhaustible reserves they possess of darkness, ignorance and savagery! Despair has raised them to their feet, fascism has given them a banner.”

This despair of the middle-class makes them look at the world in shades of black and white only. There is no grey area. The worker class is all bad as they are illiterate, thieves and beneath them. The elites are all bad as they are corrupt. They want a system which would “set an example” of the people they consider incorrect for the rest of the nation. A fascist party would hence represent this sentiment of theirs, but to be successful, it has to initially present itself as “the one” whole party that encompasses all of the nation comfortably.

This theoretical image of what a fascist party would look like, and how its major support would come inevitably from the middle class, brings us to what I call neo-fascism in Pakistan.

Which political party in Pakistan has in the previous year presented itself as the one and only Pakistani political party, free from all dogmas like rightism and leftism, and lack of any ethnic, provincial or racial attachment? Which political party has been resorting to mob politics to achieve its political ambitions? Which political party has a leader who is looked at as a hero, a superman, and as the embodiment of an “ideal Pakistani”?

The party has amassed a strong middle-class support, calling left-wing politicians illiterate thieves, and right-wing politicians corrupt and despotic. Its anti-theoretical mechanisms make it shrug off theories that don’t match with the “vision” of its charismatic leader.

The answer is Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf. It is an authoritarian party that depends on the charisma of its “one, true leader”. All the leaders in the party have time and again referred to themselves as neither the left nor the right, despite their serious right-wing inclinations and alliances. The party has been using sit-ins as their prime modus operandi. Doctors, teachers, workers are being fired left right and center to “set an example” for the rest. Social media is rife with Imran Khan’s imagery as Batman saving Gotham. And anything that doesn’t match the vision of Imran Khan has systematically been labeled as incorrect, un-Pakistani and treasonous.

Jamaat-e-Islami also gathers its support from urban middle-class religious zealots (many of whom have unsurprisingly wandered off to PTI). It uses mob politics, violence in educational institutions, and every other threatening strategy possible, to get its demands met. But as it carries a theoretical baggage, political Islam, it doesn’t qualify as fascist as such.

Have you ever heard the “I am voting for this political party because there is no better option” argument from any of the PTI’s voters? If the answer is yes, you have successfully identified middle-class despair. And middle-class despair in Pakistan finally has a voice. A very strong, mob-oriented, authoritarian voice, which has just started unfurling its wings.

The author is the National Coordinator of the Progressive Youth Forum, and an Executive Board member of Naz Male Health Alliance

Twitter: @moiz_says