World in View: A tale of two democracies in crisis

June 26, 2019

From the July-August 2019 issue of News & Letters

by Gerry Emmett

India and the European Union are the world’s two largest democratic electorates. Recent election results in both show the deep crisis in bourgeois society. It is worthwhile to view them together, as two poles of the post-colonial world.


One of the most popular Indian films was the 1977 classic Amar Akbar Anthony, about three brothers, separated at birth; one is raised as a Hindu, one Muslim, and one Christian. They come to learn that they are all one family and work together to overcome corruption.

Hindutva mob wields swords and sticks in attempt to attack a small group of Muslims in Ahmadabad, India.

This was one idea of Indian society. The April 11 to May 19 general election manifested an opposite idea. The Hindu chauvinist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and its allies won 353 of 543 seats in the Lok Sobha.

This is terrifying. The BJP has rewritten history books to exclude India’s 200 million Muslims. Critics have been threatened, and some jailed or killed. When journalist Gauri Lankesh was assassinated, a Modi ally called her “a bitch who died like a dog.”  Student leader Umar Khalid, who survived an assassination attempt, was refused police protection.


Like Modi’s BJP, Europe’s Far Right is making an effort to redefine civilization in its own image.

Too many commentators have taken the 25% (as against an “expected” 30%) vote for Far Right, anti-immigrant parties in the May 23-26 European Parliament elections as a reason for complacency. But these parties actually led the voting in the UK (Brexit Party), France (Le Pen’s National Rally), Italy (Salvini’s League), Poland (Law and Justice Party) and Hungary (Orban’s Fidesz). This happened in post-colonial, post-Holocaust Europe, the Europe of the martyr-heroes of the Resistance to fascism.

As Natalia Banelescu-Bogdan of the Migration Policy Institute wrote, “A decade ago, the most important check on the influence of populist radical-Right parties was the fact that they rarely entered office…Regardless of the actual legislative (or disruptive) power they will possess in the European Parliament, radical-Right parties have shrewdly used last week’s elections as a vehicle to continue to reposition themselves away from the fringes and into the mainstream.”


There is a worldwide resonance to these elections. The existential question, “What does it mean to be human?” has now become a universal question: “What kind of society is fit for human beings to live in?”

It isn’t simple. Some “Left” parties have adopted the Right’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, for example; and the Right has flirted with “populism” that co-opts some Leftist positions.

The U.S. Left is hardly immune from these issues. Indeed, the most notable feature of the renewed interest in socialism here is its effort to come to grips with the country’s history of racism. This latest generation has both a right and a duty to work this out as internationalism.

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