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,
Ridenti, sporchi.

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)

Many fascisms

“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 [1975], Paris: Flammarion, 1976).

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