With and beyond anti-fascism (3): Georges Bataille and the anarchy of life

Fascism is not to be debated. It is to be smashed…

Buenaventura Durruti

It was one of the greatest errors in evaluating dictatorship to say that the dictator forces himself on society against its own will. In reality, every dictator in history was nothing but the accentuation of already existing state ideas which he had only to exaggerate in order to gain power.

Wilhelm Reich, The Mass Psychology of Fascism

Not only are the psychological situations of the democratic collectivities, like any human situation, transitory, but it remains possible to envision, at least as a yet imprecise representation, forms of attraction that differ from those already in existence, as different from present or even past communism as fascism is from dynastic claims. A system of knowledge that permits the anticipation of the affective social reactions that traverse the superstructure and perhaps even, to a certain extent, do away with it, must be developed from one of these possibilities. The fact of fascism, which has thrown the very existence of a workers’ movement into question, clearly demonstrates what can be expected from a timely recourse to reawakened affective forces. Unlike the situation during the period of utopian socialism, morality and idealism are no more the questions today than they are in fascist forms. Rather, an organized understanding of the movements in society, of attraction and repulsion, starkly presents itself as a weapon – at this moment when a vast convulsion opposes, not so much fascism to communism, but radical imperative forms to the deep subversion which continues to pursue the emancipation of human lives.

Georges Bataille, The Psychological Structure of Fascism

Nothing is more necessary and nothing is stronger in us than revolt.  We can no longer love anything, esteem anything, that has been marked by submission.

Georges Bataille, The Sovereign


Reflections on fascism, inspired by the work of Georges Bataille …

Sovereign authority is the prison through which the State and moral autonomy are constituted.  The sovereign sculpts a social body/a moral subject, aspiring to create unity and transparency, when what is, is multiplicity and opacity.

Rule demands unveiling light.  Darkness must be pushed back and away, for the sovereign to command.  The sovereign’s power judges darkness to be the equivalent of chaos, the very limit and end of its possibility of existence.

The State/the moral subject aspires to create clarity, legibility, homogeneity: the space or territory that renders law possible.  Chaos is disorder, confusion, lawlessness.  No State/moral subject can be within its midst, except through exclusion.

The State/the self generates the conditions for the possibility of law by defining and excluding those who lie beyond it: the “dark” Others, the enemy, against which the rule of law/the moral law is illuminated.

The State/the moral self are endless tasks; the perpetuation of either calls upon permanent surveillance, repression and destruction.

Yet the shadows and the cracks remain, wherein lurks the fear and terrors of the sovereign.  Haunted and obsessed by that which it has condemned, it is in turn condemned to a conflict without conclusion, to a war without end, against the excluded.

However extensive and intense the apparatuses of control are, they can never – except at the price of the sovereign’s own self-destruction – completely master the heterogeneity of the multitude.  And the fissures of society, of the self, if history is to be our judge, have always been assailed.

Whatever the logic and efficacy of the reproduction of social/psychic-somatic relations, “contradictions” within the social/psychic body find paths of expression that if given, or if capable of forcing, space, give birth to new relations: relations that redeem the authority of the past, create new sovereign power, or that break with sovereignty completely.  It is this last that we hold to as revolution.

In the shadow world beyond hierarchical power moves a radically different kind of sovereignty, a sovereignty of untameable energy and agency not beholden to State or Self, but that spills out and over the limits of the law and duty.  It is that from whence creation drinks and feeds itself, the source of religion, art, myth, the humus of transgression and sacred violence against the violent domestication of State and Self.

As the latter falter in their authority, as the dysfunctions and fractures increase and intensify, a “counter” political sovereignty can grasp for re-doubled authority.  Under modern capitalism, as political power loses its hold over social life, over the relations of oppression and exploitation that are its very raison d’être, fascism is a permanent political possibility.

The seduction and sway of fascism lies in its capacity to drink from the same source of creativity as revolution.  Erupting from the margins of “legitimate” authority, from the formal, repetitive and impotent tedium of capitalist-parliamentarianism, incapable in itself of responding to crisis except by perpetuating the ground for future or persistent crisis, fascism emerges as a movement, a transgressive movement of mythic re-foundation of political sovereignty.  It acts with unrestrained violence where before there was often cowardly hesitation, corruption and ineptitude.  The mask is removed, the political war machine is unleashed, and all that stands in the way of the unification of the nation must be enslaved, expelled and/or murdered.

Fascism however is a movement that arises from the heterogeneous multitude only to endeavour to create a more intense form of homogeneity, of hierarchical sovereign power.  Passionate (“religious”) in its origins, militaristic in its organisation, it is nevertheless not bereft of reason, as the conquest of political sovereignty demands thought, however uncritical of its final goal.  But then herein lies fascism’s failure as a revolutionary movement.

Paladin for the excluded of deterritorialised capitalism, the movement and its leader can only in turn exclude others (through racism, sexism, xenophobia, etc.), while guarding and intensifying the very capitalist social relations that systematically produce marginalisation.  The fascist revolution reveals itself then for what it is: a reactionary revanchism.

It would be naive to add, in a celebratory tone, that it is a revolution doomed to failure.  If it is, then in its most recent incarnations, its collapse may mean that of the human species.  Fascism’s motto could be summarised as “Total power or death!”, or, to cite the spanish falangist slogan, “¡Viva la muerte!”.

[Excursus: “If the war is lost,” Hitler told his Minister of Armaments, Albert Speer, “the nation will also perish. This fate is inevitable. There is no necessity to take into consideration the basis which the people will need to continue even a most primitive existence. On the contrary, it will be better to destroy these things ourselves, because this nation will have proved to be the weaker one and the future will belong solely to the stronger eastern nation. Besides, those who will remain after the battle are only the inferior ones, for the good ones have all been killed.”]

As a child of modern capitalism, fascism may assume different appearances.  Black and brown shirts may be unnecessary to announce its coming, when so many “democratic” states openly embrace politics of exception in the face of crisis.  As the latter deepens, such states may be capable of keeping society together, or not.  Should they fail, then fascism, in some form, can always rear its grotesque face.  Fascist government is but government in an explicit, permanent state of exception; something that most “democratic” governments are themselves embracing, without assuming that they are.

If fascism threatens, if its coming heralds the aggravation of crisis, then revolutionary anti-capitalism and anti-fascism must strike out at State sovereignty, the instrument that hitherto has served to secure the conditions for the reproduction of capitalist social relations.  But it cannot do so by aspiring to State power, by seeking to create a true “State of Law”, at least if it wishes to avoid the contradictions of fascism (trapped between its source in the heterogeneity of the multitude and its desire for deeper State authority and social homogeneity).  But it must as well learn from fascism, assume in part the shared, common source of wild life, and then imagine and live a radically different kind of sovereignty freed from the State and Self-identity.

[Excursis: “Every man is still, potentially, a sovereign being, but on condition that he prefer to die more than more than to live enslaved.” Georges Bataille, The Sovereign]

If we cannot live exclusively in the wild flux of human life, what forms we give it need not be hierarchised and sacralised.  Freedom and equality are then to be lived in the permanent possibility of profaning the law, of creating and being able to always re-create forms of life.  We may call this autonomy or anarchy.


“There is nothing in me that I could have recognised.  My gaiety is founded on my ignorance.  I am what I am: my being in my-self is played out, as if it were not, never is it what it was.  Or if I am what I was, what I was is not what I have been.  Being never means being given.  I can never apprehend in me what is noticeable and defined, but only that which rises up in the heart of the unjustifiable universe, and which is never more justifiable than the universe.  There is nothing less depressing.  I am to the extent that I refuse to be that, that which can be defined.  I am to the extent that my ignorance is unlimited: in depression, I would fall into the classification of the world, and I would take myself for the element that situates its definition.  But what does this force in me which refuses announce? She announces nothing.” Georges Bataille, Nonknowledge

Georges Bataille’s essay The Psychological Structure of Fascism, was published in english in 1979, with New German Critique, and is available on-line, in english translation, in pdf format.  Click here.

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