… to make use of the weapons created by fascism, which has been
allowed to use the fundamental aspirations of people for affective exultation
and fanaticism. But we affirm that the exaltation… must be
placed in the service… of a grandeur quite different from that of the
Georges Bataille, Counter-Attack: Union of the Struggle of Revolutionary Intellectuals
The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the “emergency situation” in which we live is the rule. We must arrive at a concept of history which corresponds to this. Then it will become clear that the task before us is the introduction of a real state of emergency; and our position in the struggle against Fascism will thereby improve. Not the least reason that the latter has a chance is that its opponents, in the name of progress, greet it as a historical norm. – The astonishment that the things we are experiencing in the 20th century are “still” possible is by no means philosophical. It is not the beginning of knowledge, unless it would be the knowledge that the conception of history on which it rests is untenable.
Walter Benjamin, On the concept of history
Fascism was a desperate attempt to defend the bourgeois economy from the dual threat
of crisis and proletarian subversion, a state of siege in which capitalist society saved itself by giving itself an emergency dose of rationalization in the form of massive state intervention. But this rationalization is hampered by the extreme irrationality of its methods. Although fascism rallies to the defense of the main icons of a bourgeois ideology that has become conservative (family, private property, moral order, patriotism), while mobilizing the petty bourgeoisie and the unemployed workers who are panic-stricken by economic crisis or disillusioned by the socialist movement’s failure to bring about a revolution, it is not itself fundamentally ideological. It presents itself as what it is — a violent resurrection of myth calling for participation in a community defined by archaic pseudovalues: race, blood, leader. Fascism is a technologically equipped primitivism. Its factitious mythological rehashes are presented in the spectacular context of the most modern means of conditioning and illusion. It is thus a significant factor in the formation
of the modern spectacle, and its role in the destruction of the old working-class movement also makes it one of the founding forces of present-day society. But since it is also the most costly method of preserving the capitalist order, it has generally ended up being replaced by the major capitalist states, which represent stronger and more rational forms of that order.
Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle
When I see that young people are in the process of losing their old common values and absorbing the new models imposed by capitalism, running the risk of dehumanising themselves and being prey to an abominable aphasia, to a brutal absence of critical capacity, to a factious passivity, I remember that they were the characteristics of the S.S. – and I see spread over our cities the horrible shadow of the swastika.
Pier-Paolo Pasolini, Scritti corsari
How do we rid our speech and our acts, our hearts and our pleasures, of
fascism? How do we ferret out the fascism that is ingrained in our
Michel Foucault, “Preface” to Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari
The first of a series of reflections on fascism and anti-fascism, for our somber times …
A politics of capital
Capitalism’s ongoing survival rests upon at least two fundamental conditions. First, the extraction of profit/surplus value from human labour. (Or, stated differently, the integration-imprisonment of human creative activity in commodity production through the subjection of that creativity to the same commodity form: the human being is reduced to, and is valued according to its cost as, abstract labour power, bought and sold for the production of further marketable commodities. Money and its accumulation is then the ultimate expression of value, the end of all productive activity, and the cohesive force of all capitalist social relations). Secondly, creating, securing and reproducing the social conditions necessary for commodity production. Subjectivities consistent with and capable (even desirous) of contributing to the reproduction of capitalist social relations must themselves be produced, non-human resources must be appropriated, assured and consumed with the greatest degree of “externalisation” of costs, what can be taken or used without cost, is so, the channels for the relatively free and simultaneously controlled flows of commodities must be established and protected. All of this, and more, could be called, to borrow Marx’s term, “primitive accumulation”, if we however reject his idea that this form of appropriation was part of the “pre-history” of capitalism, when it is rather a permanent feature of capitalist society.
These two conditions are inseparable. And capitalism is grounded in and is structured by, both. If the commodity form is definitive of capitalist social relations, that form would be unimaginable without the permanent “primitive accumulation” which feeds it. The latter is the very life blood of the Moloch that is capital.
It thereby also follows that capitalism requires some kind of political authority – exemplified paradigmatically, until our own time, by the modern nation state – an authority sufficiently able and powerful enough to obtain the conditions of accumulation and profit. For without it, no social hierarchy is at all stable.
Those directly involved in commodity labour are distributed across ever changing political and social geographies of inequality (the unequal distributions of labour power costs), so as to provide moments, however fleeting, of intense profit maximization. And those directly subjected to “primitive accumulation” must be dispossessed, debased, forced to labour for little or no “compensation”, and finally, rendered superfluous, if necessary (the territories of sexism, racism, xenophobia, controlled migration, of internment, labour and extermination camps, of the anonymous death of those cut down to mere living creatures, naked life). These two spheres, and whatever divisions may exist within them, are not separated by impassable walls (one may play a roll in both, move/be forced to move between them, “up” or “down”, according to the making and re-making of social hierarchies). But walls there must be, for they are both what define and is defined by State power. Without them, there could be no hierarchies, and in this instance, no capital.
Power and violence are thus woven into the very warp and weft of capitalist societies. To then speak of a principled opposition between “democracy” and “authoritarianism” in the heart of such societies is entirely misleading. It is to fetishise constitutional form, ignoring the practices and functions of the State under capitalism; it is to confine political debate to the nature and role of law, neglecting the apparatuses of power and control that render the rule of law possible. “Law-making is power-making, assumption of power, and to that extent an immediate manifestation of violence”. (Walter Benjamin, Critique of Violence)
Democracy, in its capitalist-parliamentary guise, is not only fully consistent with types of authoritarianism; it is itself a kind of authoritarianism, barely hidden by the fig leaf of modest participation in elections. This has to do with the both the “nature” of democracy as a political form, and with “democracy” under capitalism.
In a time when everyone seems to be a self-proclaimed democrat, it is perhaps difficult to recall that democracy has always been the subject of intense debate and contest. And this, not because it was too good to be true, but because of its many perceived flaws.
As notions of democracy have varied over time and space, the criticisms of it have also found root in different sources. For the anarchist tradition, the posture towards democracy has been no less complex. Two general tendencies though can be identified: actually existing democracies have been condemned for their insufficiently democratic features, or democracy is denounced as yet another form of power that an-archy refuses.
What is to be the form of government in the future? hear some of my younger readers reply: “Why, how can you ask such a question? You are a republican.” “A republican! Yes; but that word specifies nothing. Res publica; that is, the public thing. Now, whoever is interested in public affairs — no matter under what form of government — may call himself a republican. Even kings are republicans.” —
“Well! you are a democrat?” — “No.” — “What! you would have a monarchy.” — “No.” — “A constitutionalist?” — “God forbid!” — “You are then an aristocrat?” — “Not at all.” — “You want a mixed government?” — “Still less.” — “What are you, then?” — “I am an anarchist.” (Joseph-Pierre Proudhon, What is Property?)
The idea of democracy has never been justified, merely glorified. None of the older criticisms of democracy has been refuted, and neither has any of the newer ones. They come from left, right, and center. … They establish that democracy is irrational, inefficient, unjust, and antithetical to the very values claimed for it: liberty, equality, and fraternity. It does not even, for instance, imply liberty. Rather, the instinctive tendency of democracy is “to despise individual rights and take little account of them.” Democracy not only subverts community, it insults dignity, and it affronts common sense. Not all of these violated values are important to everyone, but some of them are important to anyone, except to someone to whom nothing is important. (Bob Black, Debunking Democracy)
[Excursus: Errico Malatesta, Neither Democrats, nor Dictators: Anarchists (May 1926)
Theoretically ‘democracy’ means popular government; government by all for everybody by the efforts of all. In a democracy the people must be able to say what they want, to nominate the executors of their wishes, to monitor their performance and remove them when they see fit.
Naturally this presumes that all the individuals that make up a people are able to form an opinion and express it on all the subjects that interest them. It implies that everyone is politically and economically independent and therefore no-one, to live, would be obliged to submit to the will of others.
If classes and individuals exist that are deprived of the means of production and therefore dependent on others with a monopoly over those means, the so-called democratic system can only be a lie, and one which serves to deceive the mass of the people and keep them docile with an outward show of sovereignty, while the rule of the privileged and dominant class is in fact salvaged and consolidated. Such is democracy and such it always has been in a capitalist structure, whatever form it takes, from constitutional monarchy to so-called direct rule.
There could be no such thing as a democracy, a government of the people, other than in a socialistic regime, when the means of production and of living are socialised and the right of all to intervene in the running of public affairs is based on and guaranteed by the economic independence of every person. In this case it would seem that the democratic system was the one best able to guarantee justice and to harmonise individual independence with the necessities of life in society. And so it seemed, more or less clearly, to those who, in the era of the absolute monarchs, fought, suffered and died for freedom.
But for the fact that, looking at things as they really are, the government of all the people turns out to be an impossibility, owing to the fact that the individuals who make up the people have differing opinions and desires and it never, or almost never happens, that on any one question or problem all can be in agreement. Therefore the ‘government of all the people’, if we have to have government, can at best be only the government of the majority. And the democrats, whether socialists or not, are willing to agree. They add, it is true, that one must respect minority rights; but since it is the majority that decides what these rights are, as a result minorities only have the right to do what the majority wants and allows. The only limit to the will of the majority would be the resistance which the minorities know and can put up. This means that there would always be a social struggle, in which a part of the members, albeit the majority, has the right to impose its own will on the others, yoking the efforts of all to their own ends.
And here I would make an aside to show how, based on reasoning backed by the evidence of past and present events, it is not even true that where there is government, namely authority, that authority resides in the majority and how in reality every ‘democracy’ has been, is and must be nothing short of an ‘oligarchy’ – a government of the few, a dictatorship. But, for the purposes of this article, I prefer to err on the side of the democrats and assume that there can really be a true and sincere majority government.
Government means the right to make the law and to impose it on everyone by force: without a police force there is no government.
Now, can a society live and progress peacefully for the greater good of all, can it gradually adapt to ever-changing circumstances if the majority has the right and the means to impose its will by force on the recalcitrant minorities?
The majority is, by definition, backward, conservative, enemy of the new, sluggish in thought and deed and at the same time impulsive, immoderate, suggestible, facile in its enthusiasms and irrational fears. Every new idea stems from one or a few individuals, is accepted, if viable, by a more or less sizeable minority and wins over the majority, if ever, only after it has been superseded by new ideas and new needs and has already become outdated and rather an obstacle, rather than a spur to progress.
But do we, then, want a minority government?
Certainly not. If it is unjust and harmful for a majority to oppress minorities and obstruct progress, it is even more unjust and harmful for a minority to oppress the whole population or impose its own ideas by force which even if they are good ones would excite repugnance and opposition because of the very fact of being imposed.
And then, one must not forget that there are all kinds of different minorities. There are minorities of egoists and villains as there are of fanatics who believe themselves to be possessed of absolute truth and, in perfectly good faith, seek to impose on others what they hold to be the only way to salvation, even if it is simple silliness. There are minorities of reactionaries who seek to turn back the clock and are divided as to the paths and limits of reaction. And there are revolutionary minorities, also divided on the means and ends of revolution and on the direction that social progress should take.
Which minority should take over?
This is a matter of brute force and capacity for intrigue, and the odds that success would fall to the most sincere and most devoted to the general good are not favourable. To conquer power one needs qualities that are not exactly those that are needed to ensure that justice and well-being will triumph in the world.
But I shall here continue to give others the benefit of the doubt and assume that a minority came to power which, among those who aspire to government, I considered the best for its ideas and proposals. I want to assume that the socialists came to power and would add, also the anarchists, if I am not prevented by a contradiction in terms.
This would be the worst of all?
Yes, to win power, whether legally or illegally, one needs to have left by the roadside a large part of one’s ideological baggage and to have got rid of all one’s moral scruples. And then, once in power, the big problem is how to stay there. One needs to create a joint interest in the new state of affairs and attach to those in government a new privileged class, and suppressing any kind of opposition by all possible means. Perhaps in the national interest, but always with freedom-destructive results.
An established government, founded on the passive consensus of the majority and strong in numbers, in tradition and in the sentiment – sometimes sincere – of being in the right, can leave some space to liberty, at least so long as the privileged classes do not feel threatened. A new government, which relies for support only on an often slender minority, is obliged through necessity to be tyrannical.
One need only think what the socialists and communists did when they came to power, either betraying their principles and comrades or by flying colours in the name of socialism and communism.
This is why we are neither for a majority nor for a minority government; neither for democracy not for dictatorship.
We are for the abolition of the gendarme. We are for the freedom of all and for free agreement, which will be there for all when no one has the means to force others, and all are involved in the good running of society. We are for anarchy.
See also the series of critical texts on democracy that we have published at Autonomies]
Democracy and/or fascism: A family feud
The criticism of democracy under capitalism points to a further and perhaps more significant issue, especially as regards fascism.
To the extent that state authority has played and continues to play an indispensable role in the aggressive and violent constitution of capitalist social relations, then democracy and fascism, however different their ideological, organisational and institutional expressions, share deep family ties.
The capitalist State is a war machine (in increasing competition with other like machines) of capture and depredation, an ensemble of apparatuses for the appropriation of life and the consumption of energy necessary for its domination and exploitation. The latter are never stable; they cannot be, for life changes, metamorphosises, escapes, resists, as its needs and desires also change, along with the means of sustaining it.
In its ever expanding and intensifying efforts to extract energy, as measured by commodity production and profit, capitalism is forced inevitably to continually renew itself and grow. “Crises” mark both its temporary limits and the spur to prevail, emerging then with ever greater political and social power. This is capitalism’s “creative destruction”. Where there is life, it seeks it out, aspires to master it and the conditions that render its exploitation possible, while reducing at the same time all that lives to its instruments. Its hunger is insatiable. Like a mad Shiva, it knows no other reason for being than its own perpetuation. In its early years, it traveled over the surface of the globe, in conquest of uncharted energy to be marshaled and devoured. Now a global society, it can only further intensify its reign by more profound invasions of the life that assures its growth.
As a type of society, it is inherently mobile, deterritorialising, uprooting everything in its path; melting all that is solid into air, that is to say, into virtual money. There is thus an intrinsic instability in the system, for as it “frees” all from their land, from their local spatialities and provincial ways, from their gods, it must create its own forms of enforced location, so as to generate the hierarchies necessary to its own reproduction. In every cycle of “crisis and growth”, some populations become useful, others are marginalised, excluded, made superfluous, left to die, or killed. Capitalism exists within a macabre dance between biopolitics and necropolitics, with a seemingly religious like fate determining, at any particular historical moment, who flourishes and who perishes. But such a “fate” is nothing other than the alienated expression of political sovereignty under capital. “Sovereignty means the capacity to define who matters and who does not, who is disposable and who is not.” (Achille Mbembe, Necropolitics)
Democracy is one mask of this dance; it is the veneer of relatively normal and self-satisfied domination. But the contortions of obligatory expansion inevitably reveal cracks and fissures in the social bonds. These latter may be patched over by “good governance” and “competent leadership”, in the manner of democracy, or should they become the sources of defiant and dissident behaviour, of broadly and threateningly rebellious action, then those responsible may be arrested, incarcerated, exiled, tortured, killed, or simply erased. This is another mask, the mask of fascism. And between it and democracy, there is no conceptual, legal or institutional hiatus; there is only a constant, shifting movement between them, following the political needs of capitalist order. In other words, fascism is a permanent political possibility, along with its sibling democracy, of capitalist society.
From political fascism to the fascism of the commodity-spectacle
The mistake with regards to fascism is to see it both everywhere and nowhere: everywhere, when all “evil” politicians are judged as undemocratic fascists, and nowhere, when fascism is reduced to a mere past phenomenon, a possibility suspended by the rule of law.
In both instances, there is a mistake of blind excess. If fascism is the political expression of a capitalist order at risk, a political expression that feeds upon the most atavistic and “irrational” passions of self-preservation against and hatred for the threatening “Other”, this does not mean that all racist and xenophobic politics are fascist. Nor is fascism simply a curio of exuberance from some distant past; in some form or other, in moments when the privileges of hierarchy are threatened, it may always raise again its medusa like champion.
And if we then in turn extend “fascism” beyond its reference to a type of political regime, extend it to embrace broader forms of “totalitarian” power, then we may follow Pier Paolo Pasolini’s interpretation of modern industrial-consumer society as fascist.
[Excursus: Anti-fascism in spain (2): Reading events with Pasolini
La rivoluzione non è più che un sentimento.
Pasolini, Progetto di opere future
The eviction by the judicial police of the Hogar Social Madrid Ramiro Ledesma, in the neighbourhood of Tetuán, on the 19th of September, on order of the local government, brings to a close the effort to create a nationalist social centre, a “nonconformist patriotic occupation”, in the language of its’ protagonists. (Periódico Diagonal 19/09/2014) Announced on the 18th of August, by the neo-nazi Movimiento Social Republicano, the centre sought to respond to the needs of those affected by the economic “crisis”, on the condition that they were properly spanish nationals. (For an earlier post on the Hogar Social Madrid, click here).
The flurry of events following the occupation, with their attendant denunciations, manipulations and misinformation invite, after the eviction, further reflection; a reflection in which Pier Paolo Pasolini is called upon as guide, a Virgil to walk through our hell.
From mutation to genocide
Ai loro rioni,
Alle loro borgate, tornano su motori
Leggeri – in tuta o coi calzoni
Di lavoro, ma spinti da un festivo ardore –
I giovani, coi compagni sui sellini,
Pasolini, Il pianto della scavatrice
Altre mode, altri idoli,
La massa, non il popolo, la massa
Decisa a farsi corrompere
Al mondo ora si affaccia,
E lo transforma, a ogni schermo, a ogni video
Si abbevera, orda pure che irrompe
Con pura avidità, informe
Desiderio di partecipare alla festa.
E s’assesta là dove il Nuovo Capitale vuole.
Pasolini, A Glicínia
In a series of largely journalistic interventions, collected and published under the name of Écrits corsairs, Pasolini, writing essentially of the italy, his italy, of the 1960s and 70s, testifies as poet to changes in the social fabric of the world in which he lived. And in the reading of this work, it is the words of Joseph Conrad’s Kurtz that come continually to mind: the horror, the horror! Speaking initially of an anthropological mutation of italian society, Pasolini’s language will take on an ever more dramatic tone, speaking variously of degradation, repression, revolution, disaster, cataclysm, genocide. And what these words are witness to is the disappearance of pre-capitalist ways of life rooted in the worlds of the peasantry and the urban lumpen-proletariat and proletariat; the last depositories of multiple and magmatic social forms from which families, cultures, languages, institutions fed. With their passing, die old moral values, ways of being in the world, types of ethos distinct from those of capitalism. And the depth of the change is not to be read exclusively at a conscious or ideological level; it is present in codes and models manifest somatically, physically, linguistically, shaping and structuring new imaginaries and new subjectivities. Formerly, class based ways of life enjoyed a relative existential autonomy. They sustained ways of behavior, ethical models which gave life to expressions of pride and joy. If those who so lived did not live in what might be a called a “golden age” (Pasolini here is neither nostalgic nor romantic, for no return is possible or desirable), they lived in an “age of bread”, where their creativity and consumption was of first necessities; something that rendered their lives poor and precarious, but nevertheless necessary, whereas those lives given over to superfluous goods become themselves superfluous. (94-5)
Dear Calvino, … Everyone says that I regret something, making of this regret a negative value, and thus an easy target. …Me, regret the “Italietta”?… The “Italietta” is petite-bourgeois, fascist, christian-democrat; she is provincial and at the margins of history; her culture is a formal scholastic humanism and vulgar. And you want me to regret all of that? In what concerns me personally, this Italietta was a country of gendarmes that had me arrested, pursued, persecuted, tormented and lynched for what will soon be twenty years. … I had undoubtedly the minimum of dignity that allowed me to hide the anguish of someone who for years and years waited each day for the arrival of a subpoena and who avoided with terror to look at the newspaper kiosks, so as not to read from vile publications scandalous news concerning me. But if, I, I can forget all of that, you, you must not … (92-3)
The death of peasant and what Pasolini called paleo-industrial italy, leaves in its wake a vacuum; but a vacuum that is laboured and filled by the new social relations of a mass culture of hedonism and consumption. Peripheral class cultural forms are leveled and homogenized in a generalised petite-bourgeoisdom. Bodies and behaviour are formatted across class divides, habits are standardised, and dialects and slangs are marginalised and killed by increasingly impoverished and mechanical linguistic expression. In the neo-capitalism of Pasolini’s present, older social institutions reflective and at the basis of ancient social divisions are undermined, transformed, and swept away. Promoted by the rapid development of infrastructures and systems of communication, populations once historically diverse (it might be said, even “pre-historical”) and rich in cultural particularities are assimilated and normalised. No longer content with the merely occasional consumer, capitalism pushes aside and obliterates all other ways of life, for they become inadmissible. And again, this mutation does not operate exclusively at a conscious or cognitive level. Neo-capitalism moulds bodies, emotions, imaginaries, language and finally thought, rendering ridiculous the claims to free subjectivity as a last bastion against external oppression. “Even the marvellous right to “interiorisation” … no longer has any relation to reality today, because, evidently, one can only interiorise what is exterior. The average individual of the epoch of Leopardi could still interiorise nature and humanity in the ideal purity objectively contained in them; the average individual today can interiorise a Fiat 600 or a refrigerator, or even a weekend at Ostia.” (50)
The much celebrated virtue of tolerance born of these changes is illusory, for now everyone is obliged to be a normal and conforming “classless” consumer, and to enjoy themselves in being so. One is commanded to be happy, even as the poor continue to live this reality as mere fantasy. “Today, all young Italians do these same acts, have this same physical language, are interchangeable, which would be something as old as the world if it were limited to one social class, to one category. But the fact is that these cultural acts and this somatic language belong to all classes. In a square filled with youth, no one can any longer be distinguished – what was still possible in 1968 – from the outside, a worker from a student, a fascist from an anti-fascist.” (88)
The fever of consumption is a fever of obedience to an unpublicised order. In this our time of tolerance, never has difference been so fearful a fault; in this our age of equality, never has equality been so passively assumed and so little fought for. And all of this with so little thought.
The many poor are thereby suddenly deprived of their cultures, languages, freedoms, in sum, of the models of life the realisation of which expressed real social possibilities. As the bourgeoisie and the petit-bourgeoisie assumed consumption as a way of life, the children of the poor equally endeavour to live as the children of the rich. And because this last is never truly possible, the poor live this in frustration and anxiety, in humiliation and incapacity, in serious joylessness.
As the social model to be realised is no longer at present that of class, but another imposed by power, many people are not in a position to understand it; and that humiliates them terribly. I take a very humble example: before, the baker’s delivery boy, or “cascherino” – as they are called here in Rome – was always eternally happy, with true and radiant joy. He would pass through the streets whistling and sharing a good word. His vitality was irresistible. He was dressed far more poorly than today: patched trousers and very often a ragged shirt. All of that however was part of a model that, in his town, had a value, a meaning – and he was proud. To the world of wealth, he could oppose another that was equally valid. He would enter the house of the wealthy with a naturaliter anarchist laugh, which discredited everything, even if he was respectful. But it was the respect of someone profoundly foreign. And, in sum, what was important was that this person, this child, was happy. (107)
“What a marvellous country Italy, during the fascist period and immediately afterward!” (227) “Today … all is ugly and invaded by a monstrous sentiment of guilt.” (230) The fascism of the first half of the 20th century proposed a reactionary and monumental model of social life, a model that in many ways remained a dead letter. The many different cultures of pre-war italy (peasant, lumpen-proletariat, worker) continued imperturbably to identify themselves with their own codes and models, because the repression of the fascist state limited itself to obtaining their adherence in words only. (54) Italy, according to Pasolini, was never capable of having a grand Right-wing, because of the absence of a culture which it could be the expression of. What was then left to it was the grotesque, the ridiculous, the ferocious Right that was fascism. (54) If it defended order, patriotism, the family, religion, it did so only in a caricatural, false way, taking bits and pieces of italian life, an essentially agricultural and paleo-capitalist universe, and elevating them to national doctrine and institutions. Daily behaviour however remained largely untouched, disassociated as it was from any national-political conscience. Fascism, for most and at most, was but a mask, to be worn and removed as occasion dictated. And when it passed away (which for Pasolini did not come about with the end of the regime, as successive christian-democratic post-war italian governments were rooted in the same values and in the same social-class realities), the old forms of life simply re-affirmed themselves. A parallel example is offered by Portugal, when with the 1974 military coup which brought an end to almost fifty years of fascism, “the Portuguese people celebrated the 1st of May as if the last that had been celebrated the previous year.” (210) The souls of those governed by such regimes remained in other words unscathed.
Such an archaic fascism no longer exists, and cannot, because the social-cultural fabric which made it possible and upon which it fed, has vanished in the anthropological mutation described by Pasolini. And yet never has the extent and violence of power been greater than in our time, for the mutation of which Pasolini speaks has brought into being a new kind of fascism, the totalitarianism of consumer hedonism. No longer restorationist or reactionary, the new power erases the past in a revolutionary remaking of society, thereby laying the foundations for a truly mass society. Each is called forth to adhere to the new ideology, but not exclusively by appeals to consciousness. The mutation occurs clandestinely, surreptitiously, so to speak, through seductions and mouldings, thereby occasioning new desires and subjectivities amenable to national, even transnational, domination that is total and unconditional. This is a new fascism, anonymous and omnipresent, expansive and intensive. The older fascism did little to change the soul of people, “whereas the new fascism … has not only worn it down, but also lacerated, violated and dirtied it forever …” (57)
Fascism today is thus not to be found among columns of marching black or brown shirts. It is rather flourishing in the empty language of technocrats, in the general spectacle of commodities, in subjects made consumers, and increasingly indebted consumers, whose behavioural and moral codes originate from the very social relations that they construct and which in turn oppresses and exploits them. The new fascism is a brutal and totalitarian levelling of the world in which everyone who participates in it (and it is all of us) are equally superfluous to it: nihilism institutionalised.
Neo-fascist groups should consequently not be seen as simple reincarnations or replications of past forms. If they refer to themselves as “fascist”, or are so called by others, it is a similarity in name only. Socially or culturally, little distinguishes the youth membership of such groups from other youth, even “Leftist” youth. What separates them is an abstract “decision”, sustained by fragile apriorisms. Substantively, they are children of the same anthropological mutation, historical rupture, which affects the whole of the society. And as militant groups, they are active with the passive benediction, or active support, of governments, as instruments of war against anti-capitalist social movements.
Ho pietà per i giovani fascisti …
Pasolini, Poesie mondane
The new, mystifying, fascism of enforced consumer hedonism renders obsolete classical anti-fascism. Indeed, to the extent that anti-fascism focuses on neo-fascist groups, it is a false struggle, for under the reign of neo-capitalism, it is the fascism intrinsic to the latter, in other words, capitalism itself, that must be contested. And the violence of neo-fascists is therefore, for Pasolini, as much the responsibility of the state, as of anti-fascists. The latter have done, or do, little to prevent the expression of this violence. Theirs has been the attitude of the good soul, anti-fascism as a mere opposition of conscience, relegating fascist youth to fate. That is, the fascist today is a representation of evil, somehow destined to be fascist. When in fact, the decision to adhere to such groups was more than likely to have been completely fortuitous, a gesture without motives, irrational. These are adolescents who know nothing about nothing, who throw themselves head first into a horrible adventure out of despair, and who, with a few words, might have been led in other directions. (89) To ignore this is the moral failure of contemporary anti-fascism.
In an open letter to Italo Calvino, of 1974, Pasolini quotes from a newspaper article by the former, “The young fascists of today, I know them not and I hope never to know them”, to then respond: “But, 1) it is true that you will never have the occasion, for even if you should encounter them in a train compartment, in the queue of a shop, in the street or in a salon, you would not recognise them. 2) To wish for oneself never to meet young fascists is an enormity! We should, on the contrary, do everything to find them and seek them out. They are not the fatal and predestined representatives of Evil: they were not born to be fascists. When they became adolescents capable of choosing, according to who knows what reasons and what necessities, no one engraved on their backs in a racist way the mark of fascists. It is an atrocious form of despair and of neurosis that pushes a young person to such a choice; and perhaps a different single modest experience in his life, a simple encounter, would have been sufficient for his destiny to have been other. (98)
Anti-fascism in Tetuán, Madrid
In one of the few journalist interviews with the occupiers of the Hogar Social Madrid, the reporter describes a rather nervous young woman cautiously and with difficulty opening the lock on the entrance door. “In the neo-nazi imaginary that one carries, the ultras neither dress nor arrange themselves in this way: long and black moving hair, somewhat wild; worn cowboy shorts; black shirt with the sleeves and the neckline scissor cut, lips of a very violent red against a dark skin, tattoos on the arm and neck. Everything about her was more gypsy than aryan, more 15-M than Whermacht.” (Kaosenlared 03/09/2014) Three others who show later also testify to the absence of “old nazi, franquista or fascist iconography”, leading the journalist to ask, “Are you a 15-M of the right?” And though the answer is no, it is justified on the grounds that 15-M is Podemos, spain’s new political party that seeks to give institutional form to 15M as an “anti-political” movement.
Echoes of Pasolini’s comments on the contemporary indistinguishablility, at the somatic, behavioural and even moral level, of fascists and anti-fascists, are audible. Of course, any simple amalgam of the spain of 2014 with Pasolini’s italy of the 1960s and 70s would be purely mechanical. And yet, the similarities between the histories and societies of the two countries (and one could add portugal and greece) make comparisons tempting, and perhaps inevitably fruitful.
Pasolini himself comes to understand the anthropological revolution that was sweeping through italy as a global process of acculturation that destroys all divergent cultural models. (95-6) “The peasant universe (with which were associated the cultures of the urban lumpen-proletariat, and until a few years ago, that of the working class minorities, as in the Russia of 1917) is a transnational universe that did not happily recognise nations; it is what remains of an earlier society (or a sum of earlier societies all very similar to each other), and the dominant class (nationalist) modelled those remainders according to their own interests and political goals.” (94-5) If this is the case, then Pasolini offers us a lens or a filter through which to read fascism and anti-fascism in spain, and elsewhere, in our own time.
Spanish neo-fascists can then be seen in much the same light as Pasolini understood them in italy. In other words, they are but the epiphenomena of the deeper fascism of neo-capitalism, and serve as convenient instruments of power to respond to revolutionary social movements. If Madrid’s police first protected the neo-fascist occupation against protests, more disturbingly still was the description of the protestors, in the media and by public authorities, as extreme leftists; an identification that permits the assimilation of what was the 15M inspired popular neighbourhood assembly of Tetuán and its activities with neo-fascism. State intervention against the latter can then serve as the justification for intervention against the former. The local government’s threats to evict the neighbourhood Okupied Social Centre La Enredadera, and all Okupied Social Centres in the city, become an extension of the politics of order, irrespective of their nature and goals. (Kaosenlared 05/09/2014) A fascist occupation serves to legitimate the eviction of all okupations and the repression of all “illegal” protest or organisation.
The movement against the Hogar Social Madrid balanced itself between an archaeological anti-fascism, as Pasolini described it, and the broader anti-fascism that is called for by neo-capitalism. And if it sometimes failed, it has to be said, in its favour, that it grasped very quickly what was at stake; something perhaps ultimately due to the fact of the protests growing out of the anti-capitalist practices of 15M. In a statement from the Oficina de Vivienda de Madrid, the reference to the Hogar as an okupation is analysed and criticised:
To present the centre of the MSR as part of the okupy movement followed on a very clear objective: to reduce the problem to a conflict between bands. … what was important was to transmit the idea that all okupiers are violent and generate problems. Nevertheless, the most important was ignored: they were not okupiers.
The okupation movement as we know it today appeared in Spain at the end of the 1980s. It was at this time that the first self-managed social centres appeared; abandoned buildings that are recuperated to be given a collective use. Abandoned factories, empty plants/warehouses and public buildings in disuse, begin to be taken as spaces where neighbourhood populations and members of particular associations gather to develop all kinds of activites, from film screenings to workshops. Buildings destined to become piles of rubble become spaces of and for the neighbourhood. Instead of ruins, life.
However, okupation is not only a response to a concrete necessity. Self-managed social centres seek not only to struggle against the abandonment of neighbourhoods by institutions. In okupying an abandoned building, a model of the city in which there is either speculation or ruins is questioned, though not only. Through the recuperation of buildings, okupations also question two basic pillars of the capitalist system: private property and the laws which protect it. … Okupation recognises and respects possession (this is mine because I use it), but not property (this is mine, even though I want to destroy it, monopolise it, or reduce it to rubble). In this way, in questioning property relations, the okupation movement also questions the relations of domination that permit some to accumulate property and others to have nothing, that there be people without houses and houses without people. In struggling against domination, it struggles for a more egalitarian and more just society. (Oficina de Vivienda de Madrid 09/09/2014)
All of this was absent in the politics of the Hogar Social Madrid. Indeed, the occupation only served to strengthen all that the okupation movement is against (private property, inequality, racism, in sum, domination).
And yet, fascists they were called and as fascists they were condemned, as fascists they were protested against, and as fascists their eviction by state authorities was celebrated (even if not called for by the protest movement). The amalgam with an older, decrepit fascism is thus made easy, and to the extent that it takes root, it is the new fascism and the state manipulation of neo-fascist groups that win.
Anti-fascism as revolutionary politics
Ho un’infinita fame d’amore, dell’amore di corpo senza anima.
Pasolini, Supplica a mia madre
The destruction of pre-capitalist and paleo-capitalist cultures, for Pasolini, inaugurates the age of totalising fascism, the dictatorship of universal petit-bourgeoisdom. Class based cultural ways of life, which grounded politics hitherto, wane, and the political forms which they gave life to are emptied of substance. Parliamentary and constitutional democracies, even fascism, succumb to spectacle, where political choices are equivalent to the “choice” between the brand names of commodities, choices made with no expectation but the perpetuation of what already exists. But if the normalising acculturation of consumerism renders parliamentarianism and old fascism meaningless, it also signifies that “all hope of a workers revolution would be lost.” (59)
The new fascism breaks with old historical worlds, institutionalises a kind of epoché, in which history, reactionary or progressive, is itself lost. (79) The grand Leftist narratives of a redemptive history culminating in universal freedom collapse. Whatever possibility of radical politics endures is thus a politics without hope. But who or where are the agents of such revolutions? Pasolini can see only devastation (an “economic, ecological, urban, anthropological disaster.”) (213), and regret the passing of an “enlightened, pre-national and preindustrial peasant world that had survived up until a few years ago.” (95) At the end of history, what is to be done?
… But I with the conscious heart
of one who can live only in history,
Will I ever again be able to act with pure passion
When I know that our history is over?
(Pasolini, Le ceneri di Gramsci)
The beginning of an answer may lie in Pasolini’s refusal to morally condemn neo-fascists, in what may be described as a “moral non-violence”. (116) Recognising that political choice in our time is largely abstract, superficial, without substance, Pasolini even invites a kind of reaching out to fascist youth and condemns the moralizing attitude that would see a fascist as inescapably so. This is not to ignore the violence of neo-fascist groups (Pasolini also considers a far more heinous and more violent example of such groups, namely, neo-nazis, born of the failure of neo-capitalism to provide for the much promised consumer carnival; a kind of historical repetition of 1930s germany). (209, 300, 305) But it is to see that this violence is without ideology and it is to acknowledge that any anti-fascist/anti-capitalist politics can no longer fall back upon redemptive revolutionary histories, without self-delusion and self-defeat.
Part of the answer also lies in Pasolini’s complex understanding of language; that this last is not limited to verbal or written codes; that one can speak of language at somatic and behavioural levels, in other words, existentially. Accordingly, a radical politics must not only be a politics of words, but also a politics of bodies, gestures, agencies, actions, that together create worlds generative of desires and passions.
Pasolini’s politics begins in weakness, the weakness of sentiment, passion, poetry, against the violence of order and exploitation; a weakness that asks of us to speak to fascists, that asks of us to open ourselves up to others, to “infinite minorities”, (102) without assurance or security, so that new worlds may be slowly created. At the basis of such creation, ultimately, lie the passions of friendship and love, the only possible sources of human happiness. And is “it not for happiness that one makes the revolution?” (107)
Nella facilità dell’amore
il miserabile si sente uomo:
Fonda la fiducia nella vita, fino
a disprezzare chi ha altra vita.
I figli si gettano all’avventura
sicuri d’essere in un mondo
che di loro, del loro sesso, ha paura.
La loro pietà è nell’essere spietati,
la loro forza nella leggerezza,
la loro speranza nel non avere speranza.
Pasolini, Serata romana verso le terme di caracalla sesso, consolazione della miseria il mio desiderio di ricchezza trionfo della morte
(Unless otherwise indicated, all references are to Pasolini’s Écrits corsairs , Paris: Flammarion, 1976) ]
With and beyond anti-fascism
It would be ridiculous to affirm that fascism can be combated through formal, parliamentary democracy, when both political expressions share the same source.
We will also never condemn anti-fascist actions that go beyond impotent debate.
If anti-fascism, in isolation, is insufficient as idea and movement against fascism, it is not thereby redundant.
It points however beyond itself. If fascism is born out of the contradictions and disintegration of capitalist societies, without ever challenging the latter in essence, this same same soil can generate more radical forms of desire, of politics, that take us beyond capitalism altogether. However difficult it may be to accept the idea, fascism is revolutionary; but its promised revolution is always stillborn. The frustrated passions of fascism must thus be harnessed for other aims, those of destroying capitalism altogether, in all of its manifestations.
Envoi: Final thoughts with Hannah Arendt
Only where great masses are superfluous or can be spared without disastrous results of depopulation is totalitarian rule, as distinguished from a totalitarian movement, at all possible.
Totalitarianism strives not toward despotic rule over men, but toward a system in which men are superfluous. Total power can be achieved and safeguarded only in a world of conditioned reflexes, of marionettes without the slightest trace of spontaneity. Precisely because man’s resources are so great, he can be fully dominated only when he becomes a specimen of the animal-species man.
It is inherent in our entire philosophical tradition that we cannot conceive of a “radical evil,” and this is true both for Christian theology, which con- ceded even to the Devil himself a celestial origin, as well as for Kant, the only philosopher who, in the word he coined for it, at least must have suspected the existence of this evil even though he immediately rationalized it in the concept of a “perverted ill will” that could be explained by comprehensible motives. Therefore, we actually have nothing to fall back on in order to understand a phenomenon that nevertheless confronts us with its overpowering reality and breaks down all standards we know. There is only one thing that seems to be discernible: we may say that radical evil has emerged in connection with a system in which all men have become equally superfluous. The manipulators of this system believe in their own superfluousness as much as in that of all others, and the totalitarian murderers are all the more dangerous because they do not care if they themselves are alive or dead, if they ever lived or never were born. The danger of the corpse factories and holes of oblivion is that today, with populations and homelessness everywhere on the increase, masses of people are continuously rendered superfluous if we continue to think of our world in utilitarian terms. Political, social, and economic events everywhere are in a silent conspiracy with totalitarian instruments devised for making men superfluous. The implied temptation is well understood by the utilitarian common sense of the masses, who in most countries are too desperate to retain much fear of death. The Nazis and the Bolsheviks can be sure that their factories of annihilation which demonstrate the swiftest solution to the problem of overpopulation, of economically superfluous and socially rootless human masses, are as much of an attraction as a warning. Totalitarian solutions may well survive the fall of totalitarian regimes in the form of strong temptations which will come up whenever it seems impossible to alleviate political, social, or economic misery in a manner worthy of man.
The origins of totalitarianism