Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....


Prof. D. P. Mukherji, M.A.

(Lucknow University)

Dictatorship, as personal or autocratic rule, is not a new phenomenon. But certain tendencies had of late developed in the world situation which led to its wide prevalence. The strain of the Great war made people, otherwise given to the pursuit of individual happiness or profit, ready for regimentation and centralised authority. When the war was over, it left, among others, the problem of unemployment and of periodical crises in production, which appeared to be beyond human control. The result was the generation of a mood of frustration and a sense of being victimised, particularly among the adults and the working classes. They felt that none of the values which they had been asked to fight for, and in which some of them honestly believed, were safe in the hands of the existing authorities. But values did not exist apart from institutions; if new values were to be cherished, the old institutions had to go. Of the older ones, Parliament had been the forum of public opinion and the instrument of the democratic process. Yet in England, the home of parliamentary democracy, it had become, so they felt, an agency for interests which were out of touch with, if not antagonistic to, the growing ones. With the gradual encroachment of executive functions, the forum became a pedestal for politicians in power. And they were akin to the owners of the means of production. Elsewhere, as in France, corruption crept in; in Italy and Germany, where parliamentarian ism was not rooted in the soil, political life was fragmented by various sectional interests in the absence of a solid middle class. The new countries created by the Versailles Treaty had other problems centering in the question of national construction at double-quick pace and out of heterogeneous elements. They too suffered from the fear of instability in the changing world. Only in Soviet Russia was there a chance for making a positive profit out of the lessons of general insecurity. Even then Soviet Russia was disorganised internally and threatened externally. The post-war period did not release Soviet Russia from the stern necessity of a desperate remedy which was found in the ‘dictatorship’ of the Party to get it over the critical period. Fear and fragmentation of normal social life created a vacuum which was filled by the Dictator.

He would have to be a doer and not a talker, a go-getter and not a legal formalist achieving success on files; a man whose word was action and action a satisfaction of immediate urgencies, and above all, a representative man, a hero who would symbolise the common aspirations and feelings. Once these roles could be fitted into a person, he would be a ‘charismatic’ or a spell-binder, a priest, a prophet and a king all rolled into one, the leader, the Duce, and the Fuhrer. It was in this way that the identification with the Father could be achieved with the people. The long-lost primal principle of oneness with the super-Ego was at last restored, and human beings could be rid of their responsibilities imposed by the Ego.

Not that it was always necessary that the strong man should be in clear possession of the laws of historical development. Sufficient unto the day if the dictator could deliver the goods, if he could mirror the average susceptibilities, if he could impress upon his people that they could not do without him. The goods wanted were self-respect and the removal of fear and guilt; the average demands were economic security, and the common sensibilities were not very cultured ones. When the mental climate is vague and simple, the leadership that it fosters has not the merit of a far-sighted comprehension of the inter-relatedness of events. What is wanted is effectiveness.

Some change was effected even before the dictators appeared. As older vested interests were not all liquidated, but only discontented, though for other reasons, dictators could always find support from them. They too wanted a change in form in order that the content of their motive might have a freer play. The new regime was, therefore, generally financed by the disgruntled among the older groups, and physically supported by the malcontents among the armed forces. This alliance took place in the countries where the old order persisted and the nature of the world-crisis was not understood. Elsewhere, dictatorship came on the wave of progressive forces, like national sentiment and the emergence of the dispossessed as a new political power.

Meanwhile, two other tendencies had been acting on the sly. First, the latest phase of the capitalistic production had created the black-coated gentry who, with their semi-education and their desire to be lifted up in the social scale, were a new mass of men eager to find in the dictator a symbol of their itch for power and good living. Because they were new, the older values had little or no hold over them. Nor could they re-orient the traditions and build up their substitutes. They formed the public, and, by sheer numbers, they moulded opinion which could not, in the nature of things, be informed. It was their anti-intellectual drive that supplied the emotional source of the strength of the dictators. Dictatorship in the industrialised countries recruited their ‘staff’ from the financiers and Big Business and their rank and file from the petty bourgeoisie. Even the national dictators could not but compromise with the new bourgeoisie, who, in the semi or undeveloped countries, found in national self-sufficiency an opportunity for making profits through expansion. In the former case, dictatorships were an adjunct to finance-capital even though the latter was formally transformed in the subsequent stages; in the latter case, they were the auxiliaries of industrial capital competing with foreign capital in the production of consumers’ goods.

Dictators could not remain as such unless the means of dictation were readily available. Quick means of transmitting information and emotions, and easier facilities of appeal had already been provided by a mechanical civilisation. The machine had further spread the mechanistic point of view and reduced variety into a standardised uniformity of taste catered for mainly by the trustified Press. Discrimination, the result of leisure, could not very well survive the onslaught of numbers and the hectic passage of moments. So when dictators came they found the ground favourable for dictation by mass suggestion. In fact, the new mass was more than half-willing. The overwhelming sense of economic insecurity and the deliberate application of devices for dictation are the features of modern dictators.

With the above ground in mind we may now analyse the specific aspects of dictatorship with an immediate view to discovering their types, if any, and the ultimate one of facing them with their opposite conception, which is not democracy, but Socialism.

We need not concern ourselves with the legal aspect, because every dictator draws his power from the active or passive consent of the sovereign body, who may be the people or the prince. Neither the ‘commissionary’ dictator like Mussolini or Kernal Pasha nor the monarchical dictator has inherent right to be such, and none can retain permanency against the wishes of the people. Politically, the dictator is an autocrat in so far as his rule is independent of the consent of the governed, though not without it. The independence is not absolute, being modified by the ruling interests that brought him to power and influenced by party or entourage. But the power is his, though the influence resides elsewhere. Technically, dictatorship must have a well-developed technique of dictation, positive and negative in scope, the sole object of which is to make dictatorship equated to the people, by crushing opposition and eliciting consent. The historical aspect depends very much upon the existence of liberal traditions. In a country where liberal ‘mores’ had developed, the unfamiliarity with autocracy breeds resistance. Here the distinction between liberalism and democracy may be noted. Concessions to the former may be curtailed during an emergency and lead to absolutism, but the democratic habits cannot be foregone. Beneath these aspects runs the thread of autocracy. Such autocracy may be personal or collective, and divide the political structure of dictatorship accordingly. The first type works out the principle of leadership to its logical conclusion. From the status of the first among equals, the idea of Fuhrer as the leader because he is the leader has evolved as an excrescence. The separation of the status from the political and economic functions invests the Fuhrer with spell-binding powers. He is the shaman-magician of today. Other Fuhrers are appointed by the Fuhrer in a descending series. On the other hand, collective dictatorship is usually of the Party, as in Soviet Russia, or of the administration irresponsible to the legislature, as in British India. None of these types have Fuhrers, though they have leaders. In the administrative type there is a hierarchy tapering towards the ‘chiefs’. The ‘Party’ is a school of leadership and, in its attempts to equate itself to the people, must needs consider qualities other than those of birth and privilege, e.g., positive achievement and subscription to the basic views of the Party as the primary qualifications. Obviously, the party structure tends to be democratic and mobile within the limits of loyalty to its guiding principle. The sub-type of administrative dictatorship, though it may be recruited by the rigorous test of competitive examinations, is immobile and sacrifices leadership at the altar of seniority. Usually, it degenerates into an exclusive group or caste with a set attitude towards attempts at opening its ranks. The real difference between the personal and the collective types of dictatorship consists in the greater facilities for information and discussion in the latter and more opportunities for ‘graft’ in the former. The administrative dictatorship on these points is more akin to the personal type, though graft as such is usually absent. Probably the code of honour and the high salaries which every administrative caste possesses make ‘graft’ unnecessary. Another difference is that while, after the death of the Dictator, nobody wields the original, personal, magical influence, the collective dictatorship may continue and raise any other person to a similar status.

A few pertinent questions may be raised here. What about the dictatorship of the proletariat of the Communist Party? Is Stalin the Fuhrer of Russia? What is the element of truth in the charge that the Congress Executive is the Indian edition of the Fascist Grand Council and that Mahatma Gandhi is the Duce? To which type of dictatorship does Mr. Jinnah’s leadership belong? Is the Muslim League a party-dictatorship at all?

The answer to the first question has been given by M. Laurat, a French anti-Bolshevik Marxist, in his book Marxism and Democracy. He has proved that in the Marx-Engels programme and theory, the dictatorship of the proletariat played a very minor part. Only in five places in their voluminous writings is there a reference to it. It was Lenin, however, who gave it a significance in view of the then prevalent situation, which was one of chaos and full of chances for the betrayal of the Revolution by men who were in possession of power after the Czar’s fall. M. Laurat concludes that though Marx envisaged a whole epoch of the dictatorship of the proletariat in the transitional period, he fully comprehended the democratic process in the advent of the new social order and was positively against the Blanquist tendencies towards insurrection by the spontaneous action of the masses. My own reading confirms this view. Lenin, with his acute sense of the realities, was more concerned with the transition period as it related to the Russian happenings and forged the Party that had to annex ‘dictatorial’ powers. Later events show that the stringencies, of the class dictatorship were not a permanent feature in Lenin’s programme but just an interim war measure. Such ‘dictatorship’ as it exists today in Soviet Russia is not of the industrial proletariat; nor is it confined to manual workers in cities and villages. When other classes have been abolished, the class that remains ceases to be a class.

The Communist Party does not and will not tolerate a rival party. It has sternly purged itself. Both these methods are anti-liberal. But they need not be anti-democratic when we remember that all important decisions are by collegiate decision, that people are very well informed in their discussions, which are surprisingly free, that the Executive are popularly elected for a given term and can be summarily recalled, that the Party as such is not constitutionally recognised, that in the decisions men other than the party-members do generally participate, even though they be under the guidance of the Party that confines its activities to the issuing of ‘general directions’. Above all, the main purpose of the Party is to evoke and formulate a general will among a large population that had neither the ground of democratic processes nor the support of liberal traditions. As the Webbs have written: "Thus, if we must interpret the dictatorship of the proletariat as exercised in the U.S.S.R. since 1918, we might say that it is not in the constitutional structure, nor in the working of the Soviets and the ubiquitous representative system, that anything like autocracy or dictatorship is to be found, but rather in the activities that the constitution definitely authorises the executive to exercise." Similarly, with regard to the government under the major influence of Stalin, their inference is that it has been, in fact, the very opposite of a dictatorship. It has been, as it still is, government by a whole series of committees. Even in regard to defence against Germany, Stalin has assumed the powers that were given to him. His rule is not undemocratic, nor personal, nor autocratic. Anna L. Strong has recorded how Stalin, then only a secretary of the Party, functioned: "Through his analysis he is the Supreme combiner of many wills." That seems to be the impression of Beavorbrook, Harrison and Cripps. Of course, Stalin is almost worshipped by his people. But personal adulation is an earlier trait of the people so long used to the Little Father, to the hold of the clergy and the nobility. Thus the Soviet dictatorship, in the execution of its commission, though illiberal, is not undemocratic. It is, therefore, wrong to use this term in the Russian connection, particularly when it is applicable to Hitler or Mussolini’s rule. The test of sociological analysis is in the discrimination between the leadership of the Party in the U.S.S.R. on the one hand, and of the dictatorial hold of the Fuhrer or the Duce in Germany and Italy. If, as Hans Kohn has it, the dictatorship of Fascism is charismatic, nationalistic, permanent and based on immutable inequality between men and men, while that of communism is ‘rational, international, temporary and egalitarian’, it is better that some word other than ‘dictatorship’ be found to describe the Russian phenomenon. That word should connote greater freedom and international order, meanings which are not conveyed by ‘democracy’ as it is bandied about today.

The Congress organisation, by its co-existence with other organisations, its constitution, its simple demands and wide latitude, the varied class-composition of its membership, and its professed motive and active programme of evoking a general will to freedom is the opposite of dictatorship. The charge was bandied when the Congress Government resigned. The fact was that the resignation took place when it was impossible to carry on. When the Congress Executive realised that there were two governments functioning at one and the same time, they issued the order to withdraw, in exactly the same democratic spirit as they had passed the general instruction to accept office when they believed in, and received, the assurance that it would be one administration that would function without let or hindrance. There is no recorded instance of the Congress Executive going beyond the limits of a loosely drawn general line. Provincial party organisations would occasionally exert pressure upon the Government, but in no case was it exercised except to bring popular grievances to the immediate notice of the authorities and to prevent them from allowing official procedure to over-ride the popular urgencies, so long delayed by feudal and administrative laziness. In all important matters the Government point of view was accepted by the Party. Nothing beyond temporary annoyance occurred. To what extent the Congress Party has exercised its ‘dictatorial’ powers towards other parties will be apparent by the fact that it has been accused of ‘appeasedness’ towards the minorities.

Gandhiji’s part in the Congress decisions has been misinterpreted by his admirers and critics alike. He has been called the Admiral, the General, the Captain, the Leader, the guide, philosopher and friend, without any discrimination. When he has demanded discipline and purging, he has earned bad names. Even his desire to be relieved of the leader’s responsibility has been compared to the holding of the revolver at his friends’ breasts. The constant use of military terms, e.g., the Dictator, by local organisations has led to the attribution of the qualities of the Great Dictator to him. But the essence of his position is that it is based on influence and not on power. This influence is mainly ethical and popular. People know him to be a disinterested man; they are aware of his services, and they trust his intelligence which is uncanny enough to be miscalled intuition. His means of communicating influence are poles apart from the methods of ‘dictation’ adopted by the dictators. Essentially, his influence is that of a ‘charismatic’ person, casting a spell upon his immediate followers, and others as well, with this singular difference, that his ultimate ‘power’ is not magical but ratiocinative. People have spoken up to him, and their differences with him have not always led to his triumph. He has recently gone as far as actively canvassing for those who vitally disagree with him in his most cherished convictions about non-violence. That aura which surrounds him has been created by his physical distance, his detachment, his asceticism, his frequent references to God and dependence on divine messages, his humility, saintliness of character and habits. That his absence or retirement is not likely to stop the Congress Party from playing its role throws serious doubt upon the dictatorial nature of his hold. If today his position is magical or messianic, tomorrow it will be only ritual. But, sociologically, rituals are democratic.

It is with trepidation that one can write about the Muslim League and its leader. Organisationally, the League has numerous points of similarity with the Congress. The differences arise from two factors: (1) While the Muslim League is an organisation of Muslim interests, it must needs have a basis in the solidarity of a religious body. Indian Muslims think that their religion cannot be divorced from politics and that solidarity is of the greatest value at this hour. (2) The corollary to the above is the stress on conflicts as the agency for securing solidarity. Conflict is primarily with the Congress and only secondarily with the administration. The first is immediate and contiguous, the second is in the ground. This double burden has disabled the Muslim League from being a crystallised body of the entire Muslim community. The urge for completing the arc is implicit in the disciplinary action against recalcitrant Leaguers. The first conflict is reinforced by a general feeling of denial of the ‘natural’ rights qua Muslims. Occasionally, the sense of frustration has seized upon ‘atrocity’ stories and nurtured the feeling of victimisation. When the inferiority complex manifests itself in the way it has done, collective behaviour leans towards the rule of a dictator. If there is a fund of religious emotion ready at the disposal of the party, the tendency gathers strength. Against this we note the traditions of social democracy which Islam enjoins. How far they will stand the pressure of power-seeking elements is a moot point. As yet, however, the Muslim League does not correspond to any type of collective dictatorship. In fact, it is not a dictatorship.

The relation of Mr. Jinnah to the Muslim League is intriguing. There is as much or as little caveat to his ‘dictation’ among his followers as to Gandhiji’s in the Congress ranks. But Mr. Jinnah’s hold is neither charismatic nor messianic. He has a greater proportion of power than of influence. The power is mainly derived from the disposition of British Indian politics. But his influence arises from the domestic conflict and his personal abilities. He is the only counter to Gandhiji; his distrust being the greatest, he and he alone can check the latter’s insidious moves for the Hindu Ram-Raj. In his absence, others will succumb to the subtle machinations of the Hindu Congress leader. On the other hand, his debating powers, his incorruptibility and his pride are universally accepted. He will not bend, every Muslim Leaguer knows. May we add, as every Indian knows? And then, he always keeps the necessary distance from his followers, so much so that he is regarded as an aristocrat. His immaculate dress, his grand manner, and his great charm have helped in the formation of this opinion. He cannot be called a deeply religious man, though he does not disdain to regard religion as an important item in his programme for solidarity. His political realism has no parallel in the recent history of Muslims in India. Perhaps his compeers are to be found in the pages of Mahratta history. His psychological affinity with the Hindu leaders of the earlier days is strong. It is a subject for fascinating speculation. But the stern fact is that both Gandhiji and Mr. Jinnah draw their puritanic strength from the desire for genuine democracy, and their personal hold from its frustration, that, sociologically, their common role is democratic, and that their values are more symbolic than subjective.

I cannot conclude this portion of the essay without attempting to answer another question. If the Congress and the League are not dictatorial organisations, if Gandhiji and Mr. Jinnah are not dictators in the sense accepted so far, how is it that the word ‘dictatorship’ is always associated with them in common parlance? A partial reason is imitation. But a whole class does not imitate unless it is ready for imitation. The readiness to adopt this word springs from the facts of Indian life. It is revealed by the following analysis. The Indian middle class is not the bourgeoisie of Victorian England. There it was recruited from the trading and the commercial class who made good in their business. The money they had saved could be, and was, invested in industrial enterprises. There an agrarian revolution had preceded the industrial changes and prepared the ground for further changes in the social structure. When the returns from industrial shares were higher than from land, the nobility was not above the temptation of becoming richer. In India, the commercial interests of the seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries did not get the chance of a transformation into industrial interests. On the other hand, they were made land-minded and job-minded. Various land-settlements and educational measures saw to it that the historical development was turned into another channel. How far this irrigation has been responsible for alkaline deposits in other spheres need not be discussed here. But it is safe to presume that a sense of humiliation gnaws at the heart of this spurious class, that specious emotionalism is its natural quality, that it seeks desperate remedies for common ailments, that its code of conduct, if pushed ahead, can become fascistic. I would recommend the study of Bengal politics and culture to those who doubt the above assertion. Gokhale’s statement about the Supremacy of Bengal may not be true today; yet Bengal, as a sociological laboratory, contains exaggerated cross-sections of the Indian life of today. Add to this other traditions like guru-vad and avatar-vad in religion, and a partial explanation of the common use of the word ‘dictator’ by all and sundry in India can be found. To complete the explanation, reference may be made to India’s familiarity with administrative dictatorship. Of late, her knowledge in this regard is becoming intimate. The previous analysis also throws light on the fact that Mr. Jinnah thinks that democracy is not suited to India. A frustrated class deprived of the chances to create a democratic order cannot be, by the nature of things, convinced by the advertised opposition of democracy to dictatorship, nor can it very well see that the real polarisation is between Socialism and Dictatorship. This is not the ineffectiveness of the publicity departments of democratic powers, but just the toughness of human material that has seen through this insufficiency of mere political democracy to secure social justice, and would think more than once before hitching their faith to the tallest talker.

A sociological analysis, therefore, shows that the classification of dictatorship on the political principle of its being contrary to political democracy is not satisfactory. In fact, this is partly admitted by Prof. Kantorowicz in his excellent monograph on the sociology of dictatorship. He mentions social forces as better differentia. By social forces he means the ruling or supporting ‘groups’ which in the case of the personal dictator may be the ‘staff’, and in that of collective dictatorship may be themselves dictatorial. On this basis, there are three types: the military, the party, and the administrative dictatorship. The last means the rule of the civil service and the police. "None of these groups," he concludes, "is a class (though each of them may rule dictatorially in the interests of a class)".

But if the sociologist’s task is to further analyse "the conditions for the rise, development, and decay of dictatorships", it is hardly proper to ignore, on the score of popularity, their connection with the economic interests of certain classes, if any such connection is historically sound. Using the word ‘force’ somewhat loosely, one would think that the sociological analysis consists in the study of the disposition of the social forces that lead to the particular phenomenon, rather than in the record of the rise and fall. When ordinary men and women associate two things, there may be something in it. Even if there is nothing, the sociologist cannot remain aloof from popular errors. In fact they offer a good starting point. Occasionally, the over-simplification of such popular ideas may turn out to be due to the crudeness of the factors involved or to the commonness of all essentials. It is not at all necessary to be a Marxist to believe that social forces are also economic, that economic forces also create classes, that classes collect strength from various sources, religion, culture and what not, and that once fully formed the relation between the classes furnishes an important motive for change or no change. Most certainly, economic relations are not merely a matter of bread; they do posit rationality’. What dictatorship has done is the substitution of rational values by irrational ones. In this replacement, the idea of the social forces and of the economic man, which is not a mean or ignoble idea, has suffered eclipse. Dictatorship cannot tolerate Economics or the economic man; it can only welcome unproductive expenditure on death-deals and the abandonment of ‘calculation’ before the call of heroic sacrifice. A sociologist of today can hardly hug the hypocrisy of the nineteenth century in calling the economic motives and processes sordid. Economic motives are rational urges; economic forces are not vulgar or popular drives; class-conflict is also impelled by the desire to live better.

Besides, history should offer a better social analysis than typology. Fascism in Italy mobilised the petit bourgeoisie at first; but in its full tide washed them out and developed a new ideology, viz., the national imperialistic. Even then, the economic appeal of settlement and higher standards in the empire did not disappear. What had dropped out was the early affiliation to Socialism. Mussolini sought to work out through his charm, "the immutable, beneficial, and fruitful inequality of mankind" (including economic inequality, of course) in his new empire, but the charm was countered in that land of magic. In Soviet Russia on the other hand, the Communist Party’s intimacy with the proletariat was close; even in this war the Party’s nationalism is of a different quality: its guerilla warfare is conducted by the people, as the democrats understand it. What is happening is that the Party is now fully equal to the nation. In that process of equivalence, the Party’s economic policy has proved correct and built up the morale of the armed forces. The Party’s steady and continued alliance with certain economic doctrines, and its vigilance over, economic interests, are also at the of Soviet resistance today. Each army unit had until recently a political commissar, proving that the Party leadership has not slackened. It was otherwise in Germany. Hitler first rallied the lower middle class, as Mussolini did. But his ascent was steeper. Though the ‘middle class’ (not of the English variety) were impoverished by the vagaries of the mark, there still remained more economic groups in Germany than in Italy to win over. The highest among them were exceedingly able and powerful. The army and financial groups, particularly the civil service and the police rendered silent service. Hitler leaned, in fact had to lean, more upon the new classes than upon his old allies. The latter had socialistic leanings and their leaders were purged. As in Italy, so in Germany, dictatorship could bloom freely, only when the weeds of Socialism were removed. Thyssen may have been shot today; the old Socialists may have been temporarily charmed into the devout rank and file of the Party by the magic of the Fuhrer; but the big trusts do continue to pull the wires, and the protective colouring of the Nazi citizen may as well disappear after the charm is broken. It is idle to think that the Fuhrer has completely digested the ‘friendly’ economic classes, his totemic tribe, to increase his shamanic powers. The Soviet propagandists know better than the Democratic propagandists. That is why they address the German working classes in a grimly realistic way and do not waste themselves in futile talks on the virtues of Democracy.

Once we agree that economic interests collect other interests and attitudes, reject some and select a few in their development, and change forms accordingly, we will have to admit that the proper sociological analysis of dictatorship should start by3:29 PM placing each case in the context of the stage of its country’s economic development and crisis, and proceed by a study of the consequent disposition of social forces. This method is more realistic and orderly, though less precise, than classification by types. That done, the sociologist will probably conclude that the essence of modern dictatorship as such is the betrayal, not of political democracy and liberal traditions, but of economic democracy with its innate rationality and its impulses to progress.

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