Marginalia On Radical Thinking: Interview with Tamal Dasgupta
Tamal Dasgupta is a founder of the Journal of Bengali Studies, and we recently discussed his journey out of Marxism and towards a Left Nationalism specific to Bengali Hindu people of India.
Skepoet: Tamal, would you like to describe your political journey to me?
Tamal Dasgupta: Sure Skepoet, I have been thinking along that line for some time. I guess my trajectory towards a formulation of a Hindu left needs to be mapped if i want to understand precisely where I stand now: I come from a family of communists. My grandfather joined Communist Party of India in early 1940s, my father is still actively with CPI-Marxist. I was in the students’ wing of CPI-M while studying in college.
A number of factors contributed to my conversion: first was a mix of Anarchism and Trotskyism to which I was exposed while looking for answers to what went wrong in the regimented communist movement. Then I noticed that mainstream left of India was never sufficiently indian, and I turned to Hinduism in order to understand why left is hinduphobic in India.
Then i came up with an idea of compradorship dominating the Bengalis who in turn were dominating the left movement in India.
T.D.: Skepoet, not just left nationalism, even certain varieties of rightist nationalism and almost all varieties of centrist nationalism oppose ethnic supremacism. Prioritizing and focussing on one’s own communal identity doesnt necessarily entail a belief in the superiority of one’s community vis-a-vis others.
Let me add that a sharp criticism of the Bengalis is a distinct feature of this left nationalism, or Hindu left that i am trying to postulate.Nationalism is not patriotism. Nationalism is in fact something very different from a narcissistic, naive and complacent masturbation of the self-aggrandizing parochial discourses of ethnic supremacism.
S.: What positions that the CPI-Marxist advocate that turned you off from that party?
T.D.: So far as the question of CPI-Marxist (and Indian communist parties in general) is concerned, I shall strongly suggest that you read my article “Understanding Hi-story” in that issue of JBS and tell me what do you think of my critique of the communist movement in Bengal. Particularly about CPI-Marxist, this has been a party of thugs and robbers and rapists and it has singularly destroyed Bengal through its regime for last 34 years. I mean we don’t need an academic discussion to prove that point that its misrule was a disastrous event in Bengal. It monopolised recruitments in all government offices and institutions including colleges and universities, and me and my wife had to get a job through their channels and thats how we came to New Delhi looking for university jobs.
S.: In some personal correspondence with me, you indicated that you are influenced by the Eurasian movement thinker Alexander Dugan. How do you see Dugan being useful for left nationalism?
T.D.: About Dugin: he is speaking of a fourth theory after the failure of liberalism, fascism and communism. I think his national bolshevism as opposed to western liberalism, his emphasis on the past traditions (though an uncritical celebration of the past is to be rightfully distrusted), natural traditionalism (green agenda) are interesting developments in nationalist thoughts. The entire Arktos experiment on myth, post-rational post-enlightenment mysticism are indeed important from the point of view of a new form of left/postleft communal, identarian, nationality oriented politics.
But I know so very little about Dugin. Am so eagerly looking forward to the release of his book in English.
Anyway, do let me know what do you think of Indian communist movement. I consider it (as you will find in that article “Understanding History” as well) as a movement of anti-national collaborators, not to speak of the standard regimented totalitarian intolerant quasi-fascist undemocratic structure of its marxist and maoist varieties (speaking from my previous anarchist-trotskyist viewpoints, which I have not yet discarded totally).
S.: Do you think the Marxism in India has been a source of lingering Euro-dominance?
T.D.: Not really euro-dominance. Soviet and Chinese, these two were the main spheres of influence, communist party of Great Britain initially acting as the courier of the Soviets.
S.: I see, so you think Indian interests were lost in the proxy war between the Soviets and the Chinese sphere? Also, what do you make of the Naxalite issue?
T.D.: In india, the mainstream left space went to staunchly anti-national communist parties since 1930s, a process that was complete by 1940s. Naxals are well within a continuous anti-national, hinduphobic tradition of the communist movement of India.
S.: Let’s refocus: What role do you see Bengali nationalism playing within the larger confederation of nations within India?
T.D.: Apart from the obvious function of protecting the interests of the Indic Bengalis worldwide, it should provide a template for similar movements (nationalist, post-marxist, post-enlightenment, revivalist, green) in other parts of the world. Within india, it should have the potential to provide the take-off point for a Hindu left, as I envisage.
S.: How would a Tamil left or a Punjabi left be different from a Bengeli left?
T.D.: It would be disastrous to use terms like Bengali left and Punjabi left, because of the inherent ambiguities in such phrases (any Bengali speaker who is also a leftist will come under that blanket category of Bengali left). I am least bothered about the existing left in India, there are many Bengalis and Tamils in that spectrum. They are not nationalists. and they are hinduphobic.
So first rephrase your enquiry and I shall answer.
S.: Okay, I see the concern there: how would a non-hinduphobic left nationalist movement differ in the various Indian national-ethicities?
T.D.: The cultural content will most obviously distinguish them from each other. also, their interests and concerns and focus areas will vary, just the way Russian nationalism will be different from Ukrainian nationalism. What Freud called “narcissism of minor differences” comes to play a role in differentiating neighbouring ethnic communities who otherwise may share some Witgensteinian ”family resemblances.”
S.: How do you see left nationalism in India differing from Hinduvta?
T.D.: Roughly, these differences will be along the lines of differences between, say, Christian left and Christian right.
S.: What are the most pressing issues for Bengalis in India right now in your opinion?
T.D.: Steady loss of identity, culture, heritage, history, nationality and sense of community because of the dominance of left-liberalism, and also grave threat from Islam (which can turn the hindus of Bengal into a minority, given the present trend of demographic changes and infiltration patterns form Bangladesh).
S.: Do you see the central government or the congress party doing anything about this?
T.D.: Congress has a long history of compradorship; and moreover it has been, since the days of the hegemony of M K Gandhi and J L Nehru and eversince the expulsion of Subhash Bose, a singularly anti-Bengali establishment, so whatever they’d do, it would be against the interests of the people of Bengal, that’s for sure.
S.: Anything you’d like to say in closing?
T.D.: In closing I would say that the Hindu left that I am trying to envisage academically and culturally (and may be later, politically) will restore the Bengalis to their context, their culture and history: it will revive the spirit of revlutionary nationalism that left an indelible mark on Bengal’s history and India’s struggle for independence, it will give birth to a forward looking, post-englightenment, cultural revivalist, naturalist/green and democratic Hindu discourse that may pioneer a new kind of understanding of Hindu and Indian identity in other parts of our country. That Bengaliness is a concrete manifestation of Hinduness, and we belong to a commonly shared space within indian history and culture along with other Hindu cultures and communities and linguistic nationalities (Slavs with a common Orthodox identity or Gaelic people with a common Catholic identity are some parallels which give a rough idea about what we Bengalis share with other Hindus) will constitute a focus area in the Hindu left discourse of Bengali nationalism. Hindu left can as well reverse the process by means of which the revolutionary space within Indian politics was occupied by the comprador forces of communists (the communist movement of India and its numerous derivatives, break-aways and satelites have been almost invariably collaborationists and staunchly anti-Hindu), and rescue the revolutionary and radical space from the ideologies of rabid Hinduphobia. Hinduphobia has been a characteristic feature and a pre-condition and a qualifying criterion of the left of India (and not Indian left, because this segment of Indian politics always doggedly resisted any “Indian” identiy, and the very word Hindu is a vulgar term for almost the entire existing left spectrum in India). Internationally, we may yet discover a revolutionary, postcommunist, nationalist, egalitarian, green side in the Hindu history, culture and identity. Hinduism is currently much maligned by the leftists of India as an unqualifiedly fascist and evil thing, and a Hindu left may be able to call their bluff, calling the compradors as compradors, and exposing the modus operandi of the bastard children of Macaulay and Muzaffar Ahmed.