Return of the Swastika: Hate and Hysteria versus Hindu Sanity
London: Arktos, 2015
Hindu nationalism is perhaps the largest and most successful nationalist movement in the world. They have steeled themselves over the past century fighting first the British, then the Muslims, then Nehruvian secularists. Along the way, they have endured incessant condemnation by Marxists and, later, postmodernists. Like White Nationalists, they fight for control over their homeland and their culture, and their political successes make for a very interesting case study in praxis. Though different in many ways from National Socialists and fascists, they, like any group that the Left sets their sights on, are regularly excoriated in academia and the media as–you guessed it–Nazis.
One of the very few Western historians of India willing to challenge these absurd claims is Koenraad Elst. Reading his work one becomes better acquainted with not only Indian history, which is fascinating in its own right, but Leftist battle tactics as well. We can also take some small comfort in the knowledge that we are not alone in our fight against Leftist cultural hegemony and that there are groups of people on the other side of the world who are actually making some very real progress in this long, uphill battle. Make no mistake, however: the specific concerns of Hindu nationalists are not our concerns, but they are sufficiently analogous to warrant study. We can only learn from their successes and failures.
First published by Voice of India in 2007, Koenraad Elst’s Return of the Swastika has recently been republished by Arktos as a high quality paperback (marred only by a dearth of footnotes). The book is interesting as a commentary on, and expose of, the lies and corruption within Marxist-dominated Indian studies as well as among “India watchers” outside of academia, and as an example of the ubiquity of the Jewish World War II narrative and postwar Jewish concerns within the discourse of a nation only tangentially connected to Jewish history. Although the title suggests a specific focus on the swastika itself, it is generally used merely as a metonym for the National Socialism and neo-Nazism discussed throughout the book. Those potential readers seeking an in-depth discussion of that particular symbol should look elsewhere. Those who are interested in India and Hindu nationalism will find this work squarely in the tradition of Dr. Elst’s other writings.
Return of the Swastika offers scholarly and persuasive correctives to the endemic anti-Hindu bias in academia, both in India and in the West. From the perspective of white nationalists, some of the methods and operative assumptions he uses when applying these correctives are thoroughly misguided and offer, to a large degree, little more than the usual emotion-driven apologetics in the face of an enemy-controlled narrative–the likes of which we are all so very accustomed. It should be made clear that Dr. Elst explicitly states that he has no intellectual connection to the New Right (or the Old Right, for that matter). Consider his statement on identity: “To my feeling, identities are just there and will take care of themselves, so that political action can be better theorised in terms of other concerns, such as the people’s prosperity and well-being.” Such statements will doubtless raise the blood pressure of some readers, but if we compartmentalize his work strictly within the field of Indian history, the value of his efforts can be readily seen.
Dr. Elst received his doctorate from the Catholic University at Leuven in 1999, having previously studied at Benares Hindu University and after having been, as he describes in this book, involved in his younger days with various New Age and liberal movements in his native Belgium. Upon arriving in India he awakened to the political crisis of Islam on the subcontinent, not through some kind of preexisting hostility as his detractors claim, but through personal interactions with Hindu victims of Muslim violence and the gradual realization that the dominant secular (read Leftist) narrative was misleading at best and outright false at worst.
Since publishing his early writings on the Ayodhya affair, he has been one of only a handful of Western Indologists to challenge the constant barrage of Marxist attacks on Hindu nationalism. This has, of course, garnered him infamy and derision within the thoroughly Left-dominated field of Indian history. He has published numerous books, the most well-known and most easily accessible being The Saffron Swastika: The Notion of “Hindu Fascism” and Decolonizing the Hindu Mind: Ideological Development of Hindu Revivalism, and he is a frequent blogger on Indian history and politics.
One simply cannot get a complete picture of the contemporary academic scene of Indian studies without being acquainted with his work. Sadly, even among those scholars and journalists who purport to be experts on India, few who criticize him or are hostile to Hindu nationalism in general seem to have actually read his work, as Dr. Elst documents in this book and elsewhere. His regular critiques of his detractors make for particularly delicious reading. He defends himself eloquently with cool, calm fortitude. He is also unafraid to venture into the lion’s den, as evidenced by his recent statements at “India Ideas Conclave 2014” in Goa, at which, referring to the Hindu nationalist desire to reconvert their formerly Hindu countrymen from non-indigenous religions, he remarked: “We need to liberate Muslims from Islam. Every Muslim is an abductee and must be brought back.” As one would expect, many Muslims and fellow travelers were terribly triggered.
As the above example indicates, in addition to his work on Indian history, Dr. Elst has become something of an anti-Muslim voice in India and the West. He writes:
I used to believe all the New-Age glorification of Sufism until I picked up my “Islamophobia” in India in 1988–89, particularly after talking with refugees from Bangladesh and after witnessing the astonishing spectacle of so-called secularists supporting the Islamic militant position regarding The Satanic Verses and the Ayodhya dispute.
He has even written a piece for the Jewish neoconservative historian Daniel Pipes’ book on the Salman Rushdie affair. Like many Hindu nationalists in India who are, quite understandably, reflexively anti-Muslim, he tends to position himself on the side of Jews and Zionists, with whom he feels he has common cause. This stance is superficially logical if one is an Indian Hindu but it is, at the very least, problematic if one is, like Dr. Elst, a non-Hindu European. That story, however, need not be rehashed here.
Return of the Swastika is a collection of essays devoted to diverse topics, most of which revolve in some way around refuting attempts to “tarnish” Hindu nationalism with accusations of fascist sympathies or even direct connections to German National Socialists and various other European white identity movements. The book suffers for its somewhat scattershot thematic approach (and would therefore require a review equivalent to the length of the book itself to do it justice), but everything in it is provocative and engaging. It is arranged in eight sections, each dealing with a specific theme: the first section is a collection of refutations of the accusation commonly leveled by Marxists that the party of current Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is a fascist organization; the second section is an analysis of Mohandas Gandhi’s two letters to Adolf Hitler; the third, a critique of attempts to discredit the concept of environmentalism by suggesting that it is some fantastical Hindu-Nazi conspiracy, or at least a mutually reinforcing religious-political orientation; in the fourth section, entitled “The Eternal Return of Nazi Nonsense,” the author criticizes Savitri Devi, Miguel Serrano, and Julius Evola for their “esoteric Hitlerism” and “integral traditionalism,” as well as dismissing the theory of Bal Gangadhar Tilak, an important early Indian nationalist and an influence on Savitri Devi, that Indo-European civilization originated in the Arctic; the lengthy fifth section deals with various approaches to religion and the occult in Nazi Germany; the sixth, a historical contextualization of M. S. Golwalkar’s We, the text most commonly used by anti-Hindus to assert an inherent National Socialist orientation within Hindu nationalism, as well as a critique of the clumsy public relations on the part of Hindu nationalists in dealing with these accusations; the seventh section tackles the problem of Islam in Europe and includes a discussion of the Nouvelle Droite; and finally, the eighth section, entitled “Return of the Swastika,” discusses the complications endured by religious and ethnic groups around the world for whom the swastika is a sacred symbol with no connection to politics whatsoever, let alone one brief period of 20th-century European history.
Anyone familiar with Dr. Elst’s previous work will recognize the principal theme of this book: that Hindu nationalists are in many ways the exact opposite of anything that could remotely be considered Hitlerian or fascist. As in his other works, he also argues that, contra mainstream discourse, secularism and Islam–not Hinduism–are the sources of much of India’s internal struggles and that Marxists deliberately lie about and misrepresent Hindu nationalism (when they bother to do proper research at all). There is no more effective defender of Hindu nationalism working today. The odd thing is that he has never deliberately sought to defend it at all, nor in any of his work does he refrain from criticizing the movement or its leaders. Indeed, Dr. Elst is a frequent critic of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the largest non-governmental Hindu nationalist organization in India. He devotes substantial space even in this book to doing so. But in this day and age when a historian tries simply to be an objective pursuer of truth and happens to land on the wrong side of the political fence or take the “wrong” group’s side in a historical debate, he finds himself the subject of scorn. This all sounds very familiar, doesn’t it?
Return of the Swastika must be read on two levels. First and foremost, it is a modern Indian history text. This is, of course, where Dr. Elst shines. As in his other works, he demonstrates that it is indeed a ridiculous proposition to position Hindu nationalism in the same orbit as National Socialism or any other of the various European Rightist movements extant either before, during, or after the war. There is very little connection of any sort between Hindu nationalism and National Socialism, despite the flirtation of some Nazi party members with a Hinduism that they believed, rightly or wrongly, to be a surviving remnant of ancient South Asian Aryan history, the evidence for which they thought was to be found in the Vedic texts and Hindu epics. Simply put, unlike National Socialism, Hindu nationalism has never had a racial component, has never been anti-Jewish, and tends to be pro-capitalist. To be sure, there was some Hindu sympathy for the Axis powers in World War II, but it was very rare and, as Dr. Elst rightly points out, needs to be contextualized within the struggle for independence from Great Britain. The Germans were, after all, fighting a nation that actually had boots on Indian soil. For some Hindus, it was simply logical to support the German cause. Yet even in the context of the decades-long struggle to remove the British from India, major figures of pre-independence Hindu nationalist movements, most famously V. D. Savarkar, urged Hindus to support the British war effort. When looking at the history, it is almost shocking that there was not a popular groundswell of support in India for the Axis powers, especially considering the warm reception the Japanese military often received by nationalists in other European colonies in the region. In contrast, consider the secular nationalist Mohandas Gandhi’s congenial letters to Adolf Hitler in which Hitler was addressed as “my friend” even as Gandhi pleaded for a non-violent solution to Europe’s political problems.
Mr. Gandhi’s naive but philosophically and morally consistent attempts at a non-violent solution to the war are now used by his detractors across the Indian political spectrum to tarnish his image. This leads us now to the second level on which this book must be read, and the one most relevant to the concerns of white nationalists and the New Right. We know that the Jewish narrative of “Hitler as the ultimate evil” is used by Gramscian Marxists as an emotional club to bash any and all collective white political consciousness out of the brains of whites the world over. But this narrative is also used to quash aspirations towards cultural and territorial sovereignty by politically inconvenient non-whites around the globe as well. Jewish political, historical, and cultural narratives have not only warped white identity but they have spread like a virus into regions containing peoples whose concerns and interests have little to do with the mad fantasies of the Western Left. This book is a perfect example of this phenomenon.
The entire field of Indian history is littered with postcolonialists who fail to see the irony in critiquing Hindu nationalism by the standards of dead Jews like Karl Marx (who, incidentally, had nothing but contempt for Indians) and dead Chinese mass-murderers like Mao Zedong. These scholars are the first to try to “provincialize Europe,” as a leading postcolonialist Indian historian has written, but fail to realize that they themselves are far less authentically Indian–in that they have not developed an organic political philosophy and merely parrot bits and pieces of Marxism and 20th-century European postmodernism to suit their political goals–than those Hindu nationalists they accuse of aping European-style fascism. The only real commonality between Hindu nationalism and National Socialism is that they can both be placed under the very broad category of nationalism. This term is more often than not erroneously used to refer only to Rightist political groups and is thus a source of (deliberate?) confusion when dealing with the topic as a whole. However, even though Dr. Elst tries rightly from a historical perspective to distance Hindu nationalism from charges of Nazism, he betrays his own prejudices and/or ignorance by accepting the standard Nazi-Hitler-Holocaust narrative bundle.
For those aware of the Jewish question, Return of the Swastika will be a frustrating read. It is one thing to demonstrate that the BJP is not a fascist political party. It is quite another to defer to the dominant narrative on the issue of National Socialism and to claim that people like Savitri Devi, Miguel Serrano, and Julius Evola were “dirty people” who did not understand Hinduism and who have generally done Hindus a disservice with their “esoteric Hitlerism” and “integral traditionalism” in so far as, through guilt-by-association, they have stoked the flames of the anti-Hindu forces in India. Of course, Dr. Elst’s primary goal is the objective treatment of Hindu nationalism but his attacks on “esoteric Hitlerism” do not help his cause. If, as he claims, the New Right (specifically the Nouvelle Droite) has been “getting even smaller and smaller for some time now,” why is it important to distance Hindus from them? After all, Hindu nationalists are not hated by the Left because they are Nazis but rather are called Nazis because they are hated by the Left. A truly “decolonized” Hindu mind would be utterly unconcerned with such accusations.
In dealing with this subject, Dr. Elst demonstrates more than a bit of hypocrisy. For example, he vilifies Savitri Devi for not having “direct contact with any important Nazi insiders who could have informed her regarding the inspiration, occult or otherwise, behind Nazism.” Yet in previous works he has questioned the fact that Hindus must constantly defend the antiquity and cohesiveness of their religious traditions in the face of postmodern deconstruction yet the same is not expected of Muslims or Christians, certainly not in India. Dr. Elst seems to think that Savitri Devi was a historian or a political scientist when in fact she was attempting to start, as R. G. Fowler notes, “a new National Socialist religion.” Surely, the standards for critiquing religious texts are different than those for works of history. This is not to say that the founders of new religious movements are exempt from criticism, but that they must be put in their proper context. If, as Dr. Elst claims, Savitri Devi had a tenuous grasp of Hindu doctrine (something he discusses in detail in this book), her interpretations must be contextualized within an entirely different discipline than the one in which he works. Why must “esoteric Hitlerists” constantly defend their faith? Why does Dr. Elst find it acceptable to refer to Savitri Devi’s spiritual vision as “sad and surrealistic buffoonery” when much the same has been said about Hinduism? Is it simply a question of dates of origin? If so, in what way is that different from what postmodernists and Marxists demand from Hindus regarding the origins of their religion? A clue to his position lies in one of his statements on European neo-paganism: “Neo-pagans, for all their shortcomings, are just seekers trying to make sense of it all, not very different from the rest of us, while neo-Nazis who dabble in religion and the occult are, as a rule, stark-raving mad.” And there you have it. It appears that Dr. Elst’s claim of objectivity is reserved solely for Hindus. Whatever one may think of Savitri Devi, Dr. Elst is not the source to turn to for an unbiased portrait. And, of course, the same is true with regard to Julius Evola, Miguel Serrano, and indeed Adolf Hitler himself.
It goes without saying that there is room for criticism of any of these major figures of the post-war Right. And it is certainly clear that someone must defend Hindu nationalism from the hordes of its Marxist detractors, but unfortunately Dr. Elst frequently opts for the “Hitler was evil but . . .” mode of argumentation. In his attempts to distance Hindu nationalism from Nazism, he sounds awfully like some of those mainstream conservatives who one suspects are secretly aware of the problems whites face in the West but who refuse to “step over” the Nazi issue and continually prostrate themselves before the gods of egalitarianism, equality, and multiculturalism in hopes that they will get a larger piece of the political pie and that whites, by disowning their past and practicing constant racial self-flagellation, will be treated fairly by the political establishment in the future. These creatures naively presuppose rationality and simple, good faith differences of opinion on the part of the enemy all the while ignoring the decades upon decades of unabashed lies and willful distortions of reality emanating from the Left. As we all know, a steady stream of apologies and attempts at redress only whets the appetites of the shameless and power-hungry, forcing them to resort to such ludicrous concepts as “microaggressions,” to cry crocodile tears over “hurtful” symbols, and to enforce personal “dignity” by law. And let us not forget “thought crimes,” now codified in law in many historically white nations. Dr. Elst is well-acquainted with similar types of political attacks on Hindus and has devoted his career to challenging them, so why is he so willing to accept such operations when they are directed at his own people?
To his credit, Dr. Elst does not take quite so simple a position on Adolf Hitler and Nazism. Within the confines of his acceptance of the Jewish historical narrative he does give credit where credit is due. For example, he is not afraid to acknowledge that Hitler had a strong environmental record or progressive animal rights policies. He regularly reminds readers that, even if the standard World War II story is correct (which, of course, he believes it is), Communism has been responsible for exponentially more deaths than fascism or National Socialism He also spends some time refuting the Nazi-Christian connection, specifically taking Jewish political scientist Daniel Goldhagen to task for his “biased and sweeping claims” that Christianity itself, and German Catholicism in particular, were complicit in the Holocaust. It is crucial to note, however, that his rebuttal is not that German anti-Semitism had something to do with Jewish behavior on German soil. His argument is that anti-Semitism is indeed inherent to Christianity but the Nazis were not Christian, ergo Goldhagen’s thesis is incorrect. This example typifies the approach Dr. Elst takes when discussing National Socialism as it relates to any of the subjects under discussion in this book. He is perhaps a few shades more objective than the standard mainstream historian but nowhere near what those in the New Right (or the handful of living “old-school” objective historians) would find acceptable. One does not doubt his sincerity or get the impression of any obfuscation on his part, however. He writes, for instance:
[The] Jehovah’s Witnesses proudly tell you that they had been locked up for refusing military service in Nazi Germany. True, but what they don’t tell you is that they also refused military service in countries fighting against Nazi Germany, and that this often brought them imprisonment in those countries too. They were indeed brave as steadfast pacifists, but it is not as if they were an anti-Nazi resistance movement.
It is fairly obvious from this amusing quote as well as other parts of this book that he tries to remain objective within his field of knowledge (he is emphatically not a historian of Europe), yet the reader cannot help but wonder what a conversation between he and, say, David Irving or Mark Weber might be like. For now, one can only hope that Dr. Elst will continue to learn and expand his understanding of the problems of 20th-century European historiography.
In sum, it is most certainly a positive development that Arktos has republished this book. Though it is a mere supplement to Dr. Elst’s two much larger and far more thorough works listed above, historians of India and Hindu nationalism will welcome its availability for the added ammunition it will provide when dealing with anti-Hindus. Those in the New Right will disagree with him about many things, but will also find value in his courageous expose of Marxist deceptions. With hope, Dr. Elst will not only gain a new audience for his tremendously valuable work on India but will, through this new exposure to the Arktos audience, become better acquainted with the ideas of those whites who, like Hindu nationalists, simply seek their own cultural and territorial sovereignty. It is certainly not only the Hindu mind that needs decolonizing.
1. Elst, Return of the Swastika, 151.
2. It should be noted to readers unfamiliar with modern Indian history that the Indian use of the term “secular” is rather different from its Western meaning. Secularism in India is not the separation of Church and State but rather shorthand for special privileges accorded to religious minorities, the most famous example being the separate law codes for Muslims regarding divorce and other social matters. This type of “secularism” has been highly controversial, as evidenced by the heated debate surrounding the Shah Bano case of 1985.
3. The Ayodhya affair is far too complex to deal with here but it involved violent tensions between Hindus and Muslims regarding whether or not a mosque had been built over a deliberately demolished Hindu temple, traditionally held by Hindus to be the birthplace of Lord Ram (Rama). Interested readers should consult Dr. Elst’s very informative websites: http://koenraadelst.bharatvani.org/ and http://koenraadelst.blogspot.com/
4. Koenraad Elst, The Saffron Swastika: The Notion of “Hindu Fascism” (New Delhi: Voice of India, 2001); Koenraad Elst, Decolonizing The Hindu Mind: Ideological Developments of Hindu Revivalism (New Delhi: Rupa, 2005).
5. Zeeshan Shaikh, “Row Over Indologists Anti-Islam Remarks,” Indian Express, December 21, 2014. http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/row-over-indologists-anti-islam-remarks/
6. Elst, 229.
7. Daniel Pipes, The Rushdie Affair: The Novel, The Ayatollah, and The West (New Delhi: Voice of India, 1998).
8. see Bal Gangadhar Tilak, The Arctic Home in the Vedas, 4th ed. (London: Arktos, 2011).
9. For the full text online see: http://sanjeev.sabhlokcity.com/Misc/We-or-Our-Nationhood-Defined-Shri-M-S-Golwalkar.pdf (accessed July 12, 2015).
10. Dipesh Chakrabaraty, Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000).
11. Elst, 127.
12. Elst, 151. It is worth reiterating here that this book was originally published in 2007. His assertion is probably without merit as of 2015.
13. Elst, 100.
14. Savitri Devi, The Lightning and The Sun, ed. R. G. Fowler (San Francisco: Counter-Currents Publishing, 2015): back cover.
15. Elst, 109.
16. Elst, 54.
17. Elst, 189.
18. Elst, 145.