Fascism in our times


Men insofar as they are more than animal reaction and fulfillment of functions are entirely superfluous to totalitarian regimes. 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.

Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism


Fascism is over since it rested upon God, family, homeland and the army, which are now meaningless words. There are no more Italians who get emotional in front of the flag. … I consider consumerism a worse fascism than that the classical one, because clerical-fascism did not transform Italians. It did not get into them. It was totalitarian but not totalizing. I’ll give you an example: fascism has tried for twenty years to eliminate dialects and it didn’t succeed. Consumerism, which, on the contrary, pretends to be safeguarding dialects, is destroying them.

Pier Paolo Pasolini, L’Espresso


I have coined the term post-fascism to describe a cluster of policies, practices, routines and ideologies which can be observed everywhere in the contemporary world. Without ever resorting to a coup d’etat, these practices are threatening our communities. They find their niche easily in the new global capitalism, without upsetting the dominant political forms of electoral democracy and representative government. Except in Central Europe, they have little or nothing to do with the legacy of Nazism. They are not totalitarian; not at all revolutionary; not based on violent mass movements or irrationalist, voluntarist philosophies. Nor are they toying, even in jest, with anti-capitalism.

Gáspar Miklós Tamás, What is Post-fascism?


The spread of openly racist, authoritarian governments raises the specter of 1930s fascism.  And while continuities can no doubt be found (and not necessarily at the seemingly obvious levels of discourse, tactics or paraphernalia), differences are also significant and ignoring the latter will carry a heavy cost for any anti-capitalist politics.

In its most radical expression, the fascism of the past was an openly revolutionary project, aspiring to the creation of a total state, untethered to any extra-political foundation or justification, while simultaneously submerging politics in movement (of the nation, the race).  Its ambition was the explicit creation of a permanent state of exception, sustained only by the desire for and reality of the power of those who share a common birth and life: the nationem.

Fascism was born from the womb of the failings of capitalist “modernism”.  Capitalism’s revolution broke down the barriers of “tradition” (of heteronomy), in all of its many forms, only to elevate above human freedom the commodity form and the universal value of money.  Autonomy was sacrificed to generalised alienation: the commodity, made the global fetish, fragments all other human activities and expressions into separate commodified spheres (today, the separate spectacles-labels of what can be consumed).  Fascism’s answer to the economic crises that capitalism engendered, and more profoundly, to capitalism’s incomplete (and impossible) emancipatory effects, was to “biologise” and “nativise” all politics.  Fascists sought to mobilise the “masses” produced by Capital into a vital movement of regeneration.  If these movements were “nationalistic” politically, this was as an instrument for biopolitical renewal (which could then project itself globally in the mass slavery and/or death of others).  Classical Fascism’s response to capitalism was to overcome it through what was conceived of as a more radical project of collective freedom.  That freedom however was never more than an illusion, for fascism was never able to overcome the divisions of capitalist social relations between the State and “civil society” (the latter’s role was but to submit to the State, the Party and finally the Leader), Capital and labour (this last reduced to slavery to an ever expanding State-capitalist war machine).  And to the extent that it endeavoured to unify national populations in a perpetual movement, it could only do so through extreme, self-destructive violence.

Contemporary “fascism”, by contrast, is reactionary (post-fascist).  Its posture is purely defensive, seeking but to defend national oligarchies, the gains of national welfare states (in Europe, at least), social order, all under the mantle of conservative, xenophobic and security ideologies.  (These last vary with context:  the rights to be preserved, the threatening and detested “other”, the external and internal menace, all reflect national historical fictions).  The revolution is dead, “fascist” movements and parties are given up for parliamentary politics, and the “Fuhrer” or the “Duce” of our times is but this year’s tasteless clown.

This is not to diminish or ignore the threats and violence of the new authoritarianism (or to defend simply giving over the streets to its more zealous militants), but it is to suggest that any simple amalgam of contemporary “right wing populism” with older fascism may obscure as much as illuminate.  And politically, at least as regards anti-capitalist politics, it may be self-defeating.

The new authoritarians offer a half response to those ravaged by global and financial capitalism.  However false it is, the discourse resonates with those who are condemned to redundancy by shifting centres and models of commodity production.  And if whole populations see in the control of State power a means to address their uncertainties and fears, it is because the State remains a principal actor in the construction of “neoliberal” capitalism, however much the latter ideologically disparages it.  That an Orbán, an Erdogan, a Trump, a Bolsonaro can come to power, it is in part because of the enormous failure of anti-capitalist movements to respond differently and radically to those same concerns.  And more fundamentally, it is because of the failure of these same movements to see that the social relations being generated by contemporary capitalism are themselves fascist, that is, increasingly large segments of the human population are reduced to mere precarious survival (even if they work) or simply made redundant and superfluous (and can do nothing better than die).  The fascism of our time is a biopolitics of intense life-energy extraction married to a necropolitics of exposure to death.  Anti-fascism can therefore only be anti-capitalism.  To limit the former to counter-demonstrations against present day brown shirts and klansmen is the contribute to the proliferation of fascist forms of control.

We share below an article by Mark Bray, published with Truthout (30/10/2018).

How Capitalism Stokes the Far Right and Climate Catastrophe

We are living in ominous times. Every week something new: white supremacist murders in Kentucky and Pittsburgh; the continued rise of the far right in Europe; Trump’s attack on transgender rights; the election of aspiring tyrant Jair Bolsonaro to the Brazilian presidency; the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that climate catastrophe is likely only about 20 years away. What’s next?

At a time when we should be uniting globally to reorganize our way of life to stave off climate disaster, many parts of the world are instead veering to the right, rejecting internationalism and demonizing marginalized communities. How did we get here? How can we escape annihilation?

Overlapping Roots of Fascism and Climate Catastrophe

Crucial to answering these questions is understanding how the rise of the far right and the imminence of climate catastrophe are related threats. Most obviously the far right promotes policies and perspectives that destroy the planet. Currently, the Trump administration is working hard to repeal Obama’s environmental protection policies. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has lifted a moratorium on mining exploration while pushing a constitutional change that would enhance multinational exploitation of the resources of the Philippines. The newly elected Brazilian President Bolsonaro is poised to allow agribusiness free rein to cut down the Amazon.

More fundamentally, fascist and far right forces promote notions of ultra-nationalism and xenophobia that block the essential task of putting the interests of the planet and all of its inhabitants over those of any single group. Nationalism has fueled not only opposition to the European Union but also a rejection of the Paris Agreement and widespread climate denial among European far right parties like UKIP, Front National and the Sweden Democrats. The threat of the climate catastrophe is far more imminent and egregious in the global south, and white supremacy clearly discourages caring about most of the world. There are “ecofascists” who coopt the concept of bio-regionalism to advance their genocidal politics, but their views do not have significant sway in actual far-right policy and their “environmental” solution is not worthy of reasoned engagement.

But our analysis cannot stop here. Centrist and even nominally “leftist” governments pursue anti-environmental policies. Major signatories to the Paris Agreement are not on pace to meet the agreement’s goals, and even if they were it would be too little too late. No, the roots of these crises extend much deeper.

We must recognize that the climate crisis and the resurgence of the far right are two of the most acute symptoms of our failure to abolish capitalism.

A capitalist system that prioritizes profit and perpetual growth over all else is the mortal enemy of global aspirations for a sustainable economy that satisfies needs rather than stock portfolios. “Green capitalism” was touted as a compromise that could allow humanity to keep the planet and eat it too. But scientific data show that incremental adjustments of pollution standards and banning plastic straws cannot compensate for the destruction wrought by the 100 companies that produce 71 percent of global emissions. Far too often, efforts to reel in pollution (or establish decent working conditions) are derailed by the ability of multinational finance to either run roughshod over local laws or divest from countries or regions that challenge their profitability.

Capitalist crisis, competition and manufactured scarcity also provide essential fuel for the growth of fascist and far right politics—especially when there is no viable left alternative. Early fascist and Nazi movements grew by exploiting economic insecurity during the Great Depression while the left tore itself apart. In the 1970s, the fascist National Front took advantage of economic turmoil in the UK and more recently, the emergence of parties like the fascist Golden Dawn in Greece owed a great deal to the 2008 financial crisis. In part, Bolsonaro rode to victory by harnessing popular disenchantment stemming from “the worst recession since the return of democracy.”

In times of crisis, we can either look outward in solidarity or turn inward in xenophobic, reactionary fear. Fascism and far right politics harness and promote fears of difference and anxieties about joblessness and financial ruin when left alternatives falter. When avowedly socialist political parties in Greece or Brazil enacted brutal austerity measures, they opened the door for the far right. In the United States, Trump managed to capitalize on opposition to free trade policies that had become the hallmark of the Democratic Party. In a context of economic anxiety, Hillary Clinton’s promise to “put a lot of coal miners” out of work — even if it was in the interest of saving the planet — played into the ability of the far right to generate support for Trump by taking advantage of the antagonism between working class livelihood and ecological sustainability that capitalism fosters.

System Change, Not “Civility”

Even the northern European welfare states that have avoided harsh austerity have failed to prevent the rise of the far right. In part, this stems from the rise of welfare chauvinism — the belief that welfare is beneficial, but should not be extended to “outsiders” — which demonstrates the limitations of “social democracy in one country” when such wealth is still produced by exploiting the resources and labor of the global South.

A very different analysis has been offered recently by centrist pundits and politicians in the US, who argue that the underlying root of threats to our society emerge from the growth of “extremism” at the expense of “moderation.” When Cesar Sayoc mailed bombs to Democratic Party figures, Chuck Schumer echoed Trump’s infamous “both sides” comments by arguing that “despicable acts of violence and harassment are being carried out by radicals across the political spectrum.” To Rachel Maddow, “Puerto Rican separatists” and the KKK are both simply “violent extremist groups.” The policy of interning migrant children in concentration camps spurred less of a public debate about institutional racism than it did about the “civility” of those who confronted the policy’s architects. Of course, this implicit argument — that no policy is ever more heinous than the “incivility” of one who violates common decorum in protesting it — paves the way for ascendant authoritarianism while curtailing the scope of resistance.

Centrist discourse has abstracted white supremacy and anti-Semitism into “hate,” depoliticized fascism and antifascism by caricaturizing them as mirror images of “extremism,” and ignored what should be one of the most important news stories: the fairly imminent destruction of the planet.

Debates about reformism vs. revolutionism have waged for generations on the left. But now we are on a deadline. Lesser-evilism among capitalist politicians may have some rationale when spending five minutes casting a ballot on Election Day, but we don’t have time for it to be a guiding strategical outlook. We need to organize movements to build popular power and shut down the industries that threaten our existence.

Fascism is ascendant. The world is on fire. This is no time to be patient. If we don’t abolish capitalism, capitalism will abolish us.

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