Wine Country

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Such a strange mixture: Eucalyptus, palm and pine trees. This blending of old and new worlds, south and north, afforded by a most temperate clime, is a theme of Northern California wine country.

We can develop this theme well beyond flora.

The precise, computer rationalized and seemingly endless matrices of grape vines suggest progress, only to be disrupted by the altogether incongruous appearance of desperately poor and exploited farm workers, their bent backs evoking the cotton fields of the antebellum South, the rice paddies of Asia, the banana and coffee plantations of Central America, and the corporations and death squads that still rule so many of them. Little distinguishes this agricultural-industrial abomination, at least in its effects upon the poorest among us, from its obvious precursors.

The huddled port-a-potties an unintended admonition of the condition of the wage laborers that prop up the political economy of wine country.

Soon the grapes will make some room for endless rows of marijuana plants. The crops may vary; the port-a-potties are eternal.

Likewise the segregation between rich and poor, dark and white, so omnipresent as to be invisible, is a remarkable testimony to the continuity in forms of domination. There is virtually no mixing of social classes in Sonoma or Napa, and less upward mobility, only a seamless segregation reigns, the material base of a faux diversity no less a myth than those proffered the benevolent despotisms of yesterday.

So too the lavish estates of today, with names like Domaine Carneros and Chateau St. Jean, call to mind the landed aristocracy of France. This nod to the old world is found throughout the language of wine country. ‘Meritage’, a neologism coined by a plantation master with the name of Mondavi, is a clever linguistic transversal of the two worlds. To the novice it is pronounced “mer-i-tahzshe”, as a word of French origin might be. But it is not pronounced that way, rather as the word “heritage”. The confusion is by design, I think, so as to elicit a correction by an enthusiastic initiate, enhancing the prestige of the brand by way of deeper discussion.

However the wine is pronounced, farm workers can’t afford it.

In wine country the Kentucky Derby is celebrated without an ounce of irony, single vine varietals next to Mint Julip’s, parasols and wide brimmed hats flapping in the breeze, white leisure suits tended by servants at beck and call. All invited to the party wax nostalgic and are enthralled with that other breeding they are so in love with, that of an equestrian nature.

No surprise then that the ‘industry’ of grape cultivation also cultivates the most despicable values and social mores of an aristocracy, or Slaveocracy, even if they think of themselves as ‘cosmopolitan’ or celebrating the ‘modern South’.

But their ‘global culture’ is the damnable culture of a ruling class that steals everything, then forces us to reassemble it as a pastiche of conspicuous consumptions flaunted as the spoils of the class warfare it relentlessly prosecutes, yet denies.

Farm workers eat mangos and flavored ice from humble roadside stands, bittersweet reminders of how far away lie their homes and loved ones.

Wealthy oenophiles line up by the thousands at spittoons–a sure sign of a ‘healthy’ economy.

I agree, if we want economic development, let’s line them up.

END

Counterintuitives—Gun Control

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Counterintuitives–Gun Control

For many radicals firearms have no place in the home, nor the streets. They will not have a meaningful role in the revolution, either. For these radicals if revolution is even possible it cannot have a violent component because the state has an overwhelming monopoly on all forms of violence. They are just too powerful. Revolutionaries stand no chance with firearms, much less any other forms of direct action. Besides, we are making great headway in the ‘hegemonic’ struggle, and have but a few more key institutions to capture before the discursive discourse discussed divides the ruling class and we flow into the vacuum that results. We ease into the state, after a long period of leaning into it, until it warms up to our embrace. Or something like that.

There is also the fact that guns are used within poor Black and Brown communities to kill poor Black and Brown people, too often at the hands of other poor Black and Brown people. So guns need to be restricted, more heavily regulated, so as to save lives. That’s a persuasive argument, and makes sense, in a narrow sort of way, as bourgeois policies and the ‘issues’ they reflect so often do. The reactionary character of the firearms industry is also obvious. So guns and gun violence are reprehensible. They are morally and strategically a dead end.

The David Hogg approach, with a focus on the spectacle of school massacres, is a politically vacuous and celebrity centered mess that has no place in our movement. Democrats excel at this nonsense, with endless proposals about reduced gun capacities, background checks and regulation–and lots of tears.

We socialists point to the social and economic conditions that drive the use of guns–poverty, exploitation, domination–and the importance of the violence of everyday life in conditioning the violence of the gun in the streets. This context makes gun use perfectly reasonable. It follows a logic that is inescapable. It is impossible to understand gun violence without an understsnding of capitalism and its antipode, socialism. Allow me to explain.

Within poor communities the informal (illegal) economy is by definition outside of and stands in opposition to the legal system. It’s illegality is enforced by cops and courts. If you are engaged in the purchase, sale, distribution or consumption of illegal goods and services there is no way to safeguard your activity by recourse to the ‘protection’ offered cops, nor the ‘justice’ of the judicial system, save the ‘corruption’ of each, which amounts to a distinction without a difference. One must rely on other means, e.g., superior force, to ensure the safe and successful completion of a transaction. A gun is first and foremost a weapon that extends deadly force beyond arms length. It is, in its basic form, a radical extension of an arm and the fist at the end of that arm. It is a form of potentially lethal violence, small in size, easy to use, and in most respects superior to comparable forms of protection and assault. Hence, ‘you don’t bring a knife to a gun fight’.

So here’s the thing: To argue for the elimination of guns from poor people who make their living in the so-called ‘black market’ is to also effectively call for disarming those economic actors and leaving them to the tender mercies of their armed trading partners. Without addressing this aspect of gun control, all policies to restrict gun rights risk raising the costs of securing that protection and prescribing behavior that is irrational, even suicidal.

Of course if you are a patrician socialist, the ‘lumpen proletariat’ is by definition reactionary, and probably all wife beaters, so this is a non starter. They are all ‘criminals’ rather than ‘citizens’.

If you are a wild-eyed lunatic fringe socialist, like me, being down with the homies is a prerequisite to being a socialist. The two are inseparable.

While not specifically about gun control Louis Proyect, the Unrepentant Marxist, with whom I frequently disagree, gets it right when he writes the following:

“The mounting assaults against working-class interests will inevitably lead to neighborhoods or entire cities forming their own self-sustaining institutions and defending them by force of arms. By then, parliamentary style elections will have outlived their usefulness. It will be the hour of the American socialist revolution. I understand that for most people used to the meaningless bourgeois election circus this will sound like science-fiction. Maybe so but history has a way of sharpening the contradictions that make all this very real.(From “Left Strategy for the 2020 Elections and Beyond: a Critique” April 29, 2019).

Following Proyect above, the logical extension of his argument, with which I wholeheartedly agree, is best exemplified in the Socialist Rifle Association, to which I proudly belong.

In this sense the solution to gun violence is the Socialist Rifle Association and their motto, ‘Arm the Working Class!’

Parenthetically, the homies are workers, in and outside the formal economy.

That and those “neighborhoods” and “self-sustaining institutions” that Proyect wants us to defend must include the fabulous homes and workplaces of the rich, which must be occupied by us, because they belong to us, always and everywhere. After all, if our revolution only involves defending our shitty neighborhoods and the scraps we are forced to subsist on, what’s the point?

END

Counterintuitives—Hate The Good Hate

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An old comrade would often remind young antifascists of two sayings.

Nazis are people too.

Fighting Nazis can be fun.

The first I always understood as a reminder that even the most vile and violent fascists have all too human motivations at work, often quite pedestrian. In order to fight them effectively, one must understand them on their own terms. Not empathize with them, but understand them so as to defeat them.

I don’t agree, but I understand.

This, rather than a variation on what I gather to be the original saying, “kids are people too”. It was never meant to mean ‘don’t punch Nazis’, allow them platforms or that doxing is mean.

Which leads us to the second saying, ‘fighting Nazis can be fun’. Antifascist action, especially that work undertaken in the shadows, can be painstaking and laborious, with results that don’t yield immediate benefits. Rewards and plaudits will not be forthcoming, because Antifa activists, by definition, are anonymous. Some comrades will attack your work as adventurist or so much tilting at windmills. So what’s to recommend? Anti fascists fight fascists and uphold the red and the black. That, and at the end of the day, dance once in awhile, then do what LKJ said, so as to dance on their graves. Did you get that?

To these fine recommendations I offer a third that on first glance may appear cheeky, even disingenuous. But I mean it sincerely.

Hate the good hate.

Hate is a strong word. We have come to associate it with the foulest expressions of bigotry, as we should. But there is a flip side to this emotion and the language that expresses it that, if left only to the bigots, can render us monolingual. We should speak from love, but not always. Too often the language of love renders as false hope rather than daring audacity; surrender and victimhood are misrepresented as progress; tolerating that which is intolerable is upheld as a virtue.

We love our enemies, it is true, but that love must insist on our own common humanity, precisely that which they deny. When they deny even our basic human dignity, the bile will rise up in your throat. So as not to choke on it, you must spit it out.

Spit it back at them.

Hate the good hate.

Just be mindful of whom you strike, how and why.

If you can, live to fight another day; if not, leave us, and them, something to remember you by.

But strike back, nonetheless.

Strike back with fury, precision and devastating effectiveness.

Strike back.

Hate the good hate.

END

Counterintuitives—Xenophobia/Xenophilia

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Xenophobia/Xenophilia

The Urban Dictionary strikes me as a lexical sewer, what to language that toilet featured in the film Trainspotting is to basic hygiene. It should come as no surprise that the alt right contributes to it with relish. I think it can fairly be characterized as their dictionary. That it is not, strictly speaking, a ‘dictionary’ at all nor a reliable representation of anything ‘urban’ but rather a Rorschach Test for emerging political pathologies is beside the point. Or perhaps that is the point.

Here’s a prominent and representative entry for xenophilia:
“A mental disorder where a person has an irrational attraction to foreign cultures, races and peoples. Often to the point of working against the best interest of their own family, race and nation for the benefit of hostile foreign groups.
“Did you hear that Sweden is now the rape capital of Europe?”

Here’s one for xenophobia:

“Taken to the extreme, an irrational fear of strangers or more broadly, a fear of those who are different. Taken in a more moderate way, a rational fear of those who are different in some significant way, such as race, ethnicity, culture, politics, religion. Since people live together in families and communities where blood ties and cultural similarities foster cooperation those who are different undermine this social solidarity…Since people are naturally selfish, they will lend aid and befriend those whom they see as similar to themselves….[I]t is rational to foster laws, social and economic policy, and attitudes that preserve one’s own kind in power. To do otherwise is to hand power over to those who will destroy one’s own way of life, culture, and political system…”

If you look up ‘racism’ or ‘socialism’ in the Urban Dictionary you will find equally noxious material mixed with the occasional, and more often than not, feeble, alternative.

As a corrective some comrades valorize xenophilia as an antonym to xenophobia. This is surely an improvement over the alt right screeds above, which do the opposite. But here’s the thing. As a reference point for radicals it is useful, but limited. Much as the touchstone liberal shibboleths ‘diversity’, ‘equal opportunity’ or ‘race relations’, there is an element of bullshit here. Allow me to explain.

For working class peons in the tourism and service industries it is an inescapable fact that the overwhelming majority of interactions had with ‘diverse people’ is as their servants, their underlings, their step-and-fetch-its. The only people who take vacations to exotic lands are the well off with disposable income, or people without much disposable income who envy, and therefore emulate, those who have it. We poor and working people don’t travel much, so our interactions with ‘other people’ most often involve a power imbalance, summarized in that noxious imperative, “the customer is always right.” If you appreciate that phrase, you internalize your oppression, or enjoy inflicting it on others. I don’t. But that’s the nature of a tourist economy. The only thing I hate more than a tourist is a celebrity tourist.

I have therefore developed a very keen hatred. My stomach turns and churns when I hear the Queens English enunciated from a Hermès suit, the North Atlantic lockjaw pronounce ‘Maarthaa’s Vin-yaard’ from a Polo shirt, or perhaps an East Coast asshole snap their fingers for attention.

In this sense certain languages, dress, accessories, and behavior set me off. You could say I have become ‘prejudiced’ toward tourists–of all backgrounds. I know in a sense this is irrational; that I am ‘prejudging’ based on stereotypes. But in another sense it’s also a defense mechanism, one that is necessary for the preservation of my basic human dignity. So I own that prejudice by placing the burden of evidence to prove otherwise upon them. Is it possible then to have a positive prejudice?

My interactions with the globetrotting rich have been, on the whole, really distasteful. Wait, that’s not strong enough. They are scum and I hate them. That’s better.

These encounters then linger in my mind as dog shit I can’t scrape off the bottom of my shoe. I cannot begin to recount the number of times I’ve had a twit make a comment about the homeless, Asian drivers, Black kids with saggy pants, the lazy Latino road workers, the white opiate addict. They will often unthinkingly assume that because I am a white guy in my 50s, and at least not outwardly and obviously an opiate addict, I will laugh along with them and share their contempt and disgust. I must be a deplorable. So it is. I am a deplorable–just not their kind of deplorable.

If it’s a racist comment, what they get in return (when I’m feeling safe enough to do it, which is not often, because I am a coward) is as vehement a condemnation of their unfiltered ‘whitesplaining’ vitriol as I can muster. Sometimes I’ll cap it off with the phrase “I’m a race traitor”. That’s always a conversation starter.

I know that in spite of their wonderful diversity of languages, religions, cultures and identities they are also united by one singular difference from me: they have class power over me and my coworkers and wield that power, especially when on vacation, in a more unfiltered manner then they might otherwise. That’s another way of saying rich people are actually at their worst when enjoying their leisure time. What they say in private–and if I’m there serving them, it is private–has never really been adequately captured in film or novels, much less social science. The reality is a horror that changes even as it stays the same. But it’s always there, and I have no choice but to step in it again and again. That’s the important part to remember.

So here’s the rub. How does one inculcate an appreciation for different peoples from different cultures when all of ones experience is as degrading and dehumanizing as I’ve described above? Too often what is prescribed as an appreciation of difference is experienced as, and in a very real sense is, subservience and abject humiliation. That is not a deformity of the world we live in, an unfortunate and necessary by-product of progress; it is a constitutive element of the rule of the few over the many. So how to uphold the primacy of rebellion without collapsing into a destructive and pointless rage?

We must remember and point out, again and again, that we have more in common with that vast exploited and dominated humanity from all cultures than we could ever have with our masters, or their masters, whatever their language or ethnicity.

When my hate is pure it is sharpened by a critique informed by race, class and gender. Sounds kinda counterintuitive. So it is.

If you use frameworks of diversity and privilege, access and opportunity, xenophobia/xenophilia without social class, you are a liberal, or worse.

If you are forever fixated on rearranging the chairs at the table rather than upending the table, your politics amount to that of a banquet manager or event planner. If you think different faces in high places accomplishes anything other than cosmetic appeal, your politics are as that of United Colors of Benetton ads of yor. If you think philanthropic largess has any meaningful role in politics short of its extinction, you are a financial adviser, not a leftist, much less a revolutionary.

It’s all business. That fact must cease to exist. So long as it rests on the ill gotten gains stolen from us, which is, after all the foundation of all wage labor, it must be overthrown, in its entirety.

However much a philanthropic plutocrat spends down a fortune, however quickly it is spent, it won’t be enough and it won’t be fast enough. Why? Quite simply because it doesn’t belong to them in the first place.

It is not enough to argue for civility and safe places. One must affirm the right to righteous rebellion, and the uncivil, unsafe (for them) character of that rebellion. Then we can ask: Is that rebellion shaped by the power of a critique loaded with race, class and gender? Hopefully we can answer yes, always and everywhere. Then the right of all people exploited and dominated to be free can be upheld.

Our common circumstances should not be lost through a fixation on our differences, real and imagined, not least because it makes impossible the urgent task of theorizing an enemy. And there is an enemy, not just a ‘system’. That enemy is structural, institutional, and individual. They–the roles they play, the status they enjoy, the positions they occupy, the surplus value that accumulates to them, the mirrors they gaze longingly into–are also the meat-sacks we call our ruling class. If they are meat-sacks, they are mortal.

I’m getting some of that shit off my shoes, now. I feel better.

Anything less is sophistry, at best, delusion at worst; both thereby ensure our capitulation and defeat.

We’ve had enough of that; time for something different.

When I hear it, read it or watch it, I’ll let you know.

END

Fascism and Populism

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Fascism: A Very Short Introduction by Kevin Passmore

2002 Oxford University Press

As a primer on fascism this little book is useful. I’ll use it as a jumping off point for my arguments about fascism and populism. So don’t expect a thorough review.

Passmore opens with a series of historical vignettes set in France, Italy, Romania and Germany that illustrate the varied character of what have been called ‘fascist’ movements and regimes, their distinctiveness and specificity on display. He does this, however, with an eye toward upholding what is common between them, setting the stage for a later use of the term ‘fascism’ that has both general applicability and analytical clarity. This tension between the diversity of forms of fascism and what they all have in common and the seemingly contradictory nature of that relationship is an important problem Passmore identifies early on through a quote by the Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset that opens the book.

“Fascism has an enigmatic countenance because in it appears the most counterpoised contents. It asserts authoritarianism and organises rebellion. It fights against contemporary democracy and, on the other hand, does not believe in the restoration of any past rule. It seems to pose itself as the forge of a strong State, and uses means most conducive to its dissolution, as if it were a destructive faction or a secret society. Whichever way we approach fascism we find that it is simultaneously one thing and the contrary, it is A and not A…” (Sobre el Fascismo, 1927).

Passmore restates this problem in a more contemporary fashion:

“In the 21st century interest in the history of fascism and its cries is perhaps greater than ever. Yet how can we make sense of an ideology that appeals to skinheads and intellectuals; denounces the bourgeoisie while forming alliances with conservatives; adopts a macho style yet attracts many women; calls for a return to tradition and is fascinated by technology; idealizes the people and is contemptuous of mass society; and preaches violence in the name of order?” (p. 11).

The short answer here is racism. We will get to that.

Passmore then poses this seeming conundrum as one that has vexed scholars of and activists against fascism as ‘the problem of definition’. To solve this he outlines three broad approaches to fascism: Marxist (1935 Comintern, Trotsky), Weberian (Max Weber), and Totalitarian-nationalism (Hannah Arendt).

All three approaches don’t adequately handle what W.E.B. DuBois succinctly called “the color line”. Passmore does a somewhat better job of this than most when he seeks to borrow useful aspects from all three traditions, while dispensing with their limitations, so as to formulate a synthesis. He makes some progress toward this end, but fails. That failure has a name: Ernesto Laclau. But more on that in a bit.

My own definition of fascism proceeds from a different premise than that of Passmore: a definition of fascism that is analytically sound must serve human liberation. Another way of saying this is that there is no ‘true’ definition of fascism possible because we formulate that through struggle. Ours will be different from theirs. That struggle is not only carried out in the ‘marketplace of ideas’. If we want to define fascism our dream of the future and our belief in the desirability and possibility of that future must inform our definition of ‘fascism’ within a historical framework that can facilitate its defeat and our triumph. As an Anarcho-Communist, I believe the struggle against fascism is inextricable from those struggles against capitalism and the state and the exploitation and domination that are their defining features. A more or less useful definition of fascism can only be constructed from a theoretical framework that derives from a hybrid of anarchist and communist philosophies. Part of doing as much requires a recognition that the use of terms such as ‘populism’, ‘liberal democracy’, and ‘race relations’ is incompatible with that project. These terms usually dispense with the notion of a political right or left. When there is no right or left arranged along a spectrum informed by inequality, there is no possibility of analytical clarity in regards fascism or of much else. But there is a left, distinguishable from a right. Even when there isn’t a viable left, there still exists that wellspring of ideas and actions that we call socialist, anarchist and communist. If your dream of the future is limited to liberal democracy, your understanding of fascism will be bound up with the presumptions that undergird that philosophy. As fascism thrives within conditions liberal democracy depends, one must theorize the end of that system as a solution to the problem of fascism. Liberals, conservatives, purveyors of the ‘populist’ thesis all are forced to imagine the end of the very institutions that give meaning to their lives. Unfortunately for them, this is a prerequisite for the defeat of fascism. This they will not do; so we shouldn’t expect it of them. So I don’t of Passmore. But he does have much to offer, nonetheless.

If one’s frame of reference is democracy vs authoritarianism as liberal, Weberian, and totalitarian approaches utilize, there is virtually no way to account for the continuity fascism has with modernity, progress and capitalist institutions. Fascism, on this reading, represents a discontinuity with capitalist progress. It is an outlier, a deviation, an anomaly. On the other hand, if one follows the 1935 Comintern definition of fascism as “the open, terroristic dictatorship of the most reactionary, the most chauvinistic, the most imperialistic elements of finance capitalism” the relatively independent nature of fascism is lost. It shares too much in common with capitalism and cannot be distinguished from it. So too the role of racism as a primary structuring feature of fascism and the particular form of that in anti-Semitism is obscured. One cannot really account for the wholesale destruction of European Jews at the hands of Nazis and fascists throughout Eastern Europe well past the point of Aryanizing businesses, to the point where such activity undermined the general war effort and had no benefit to fascist regimes. A failure to understand eliminationist racism as a central feature of fascist ideology risks a misunderstanding of fascism as solely a product of a crisis within capitalism. Much of this is tricky, but it is not splitting hairs, so much distinction without a difference. It is important.

Passmore does hold racism as central to fascism, but he doesn’t really flesh it out, not least in how it continues to occupy a central role in contemporary fascism. This is the case today as well as 2002 when he wrote this book.

Here’s another humdinger: Fascism is a constitutive feature of a particular type of capitalism, that found in Europe and North America. In writing this I am not arguing, much as Ta-Nahesi Coates does, for the existence of what amounts to a ‘primordial’ white supremacy, that fascism somehow attaches itself to ‘white’ genes or that whiteness is somehow eternal in the imagination of white people. I am arguing that fascism has a political geography that roughly corresponds to what I call the ‘white belt’. In this sense there is a fascist international in formation, a social and cultural process within such geo-political formations as the European Union that made its construction possible. Racism was baked into its cooking, regardless of the lofty humanitarian principles that animate its pronouncements. This process of fascistization underway throughout ‘the West’ seeks to rectify regional differences between fascist programs (Catholic here, Protestant there; urban vs rural, worker vs capitalist, etc.) in favor of a pan European whiteness that can only be conceptualized as against a dark, swarthy, foreign other. This is as fundamental to understanding anti immigrant racism as labor markets and competition over jobs. It cannot be understood apart from the larger divide between North and South, Core and Periphery. This is key to understanding the appeal of and prospects for 21st century fascism. In a frightening way, the ‘super fascism’ of Julius Evola, the ‘Imperium’ of Francis Parker Yockey and the snarky postmodern ‘race realism’ of Generation Identitaire foreshadow much worse to come. The future of fascism is there. If much worse is to come, it will ride this horse, and not that of the German donkey or the Italian mule.

In response our struggle cannot be limited to the terrain of the national, according to the rules of liberal democracy, within the suffocating possibilities of the here and now. We fight here, on this contested terrain of the national, but from an internationalist standpoint. Solidarity is a non-negotiable principle. We also should not pretend social democracy is up to the fight; the ‘populist’ leaders of France Insoumise and Podemos are social Democrats, but without a strong base within organized labor, so they cannot lead this fight. We must. If the broad struggle remains within the confines of the social-democracy, and we are unable to envision and fight for a communist future, we will be trampled, staring at a digital jackboot forever.

In his attempt to offer a redefinition of fascism Passmore gets much correct. But his effort lacks a grounding within a liberatory communism and will therefore be stuck within one or another of the schools of thought above. His observation that the strength of the Marxist approach, as he understands it, is that it illuminates the relationship between capitalism and fascism that other approaches either dismiss or ignore, allows us to make a more important argument, that fascism is constitutive of ‘progress’. Just as poverty and exploitation are essential components of economic development, rather than unfortunate errors of that development, so too does fascism necessarily exist, always and everywhere, within the general capitalist mode of production. It never left, most people just didn’t pay attention.

This informs my insistence that fascism never went away and that a primary problem scholars and activists have with defining and fighting fascism is that they tend to begin and end their efforts with classical fascism, giving short shrift to the subsequent eras of the movement. Rather than yet another dense scholarly work about Hitler’s relationship to his German Shepherds, how about a monograph on how fascism persisted in the war between South Africa and Angola? How about a close reading of that extraordinary experiment in anti racist communist organizing that was the Sojourner Truth Organization? How about a treatise on American white nationalism and fascism? Is American white nationalism a unique form of fascism? Or is it part of a generalized development of fascism that is trans national, the peculiarities of Trump an expression of something much larger? Perhaps it’s not fascism at all? I have offered up my opinions about all of these questions; most radicals appear fixated on Trump’s style of rule, the latest trade tariffs, or the coming national elections. They seem unable to formulate a useful question. Better questions help us reach better conclusions.

Over its 100-year history, through its now three distinct eras (Classical, Cold War and 21st century) fascism is as much a permanent feature of capitalist society as it is a threat to that society. It is both, but not in the sense that Arendt used it, as a fundamentally ‘revolutionary’ reorganization of society that is the doppelgänger of ‘communist totalitarianism’. Passmore, writing in 2002, gets an important part about the uses and abuses of ‘totalitarianism’ correct when he writes: “as a scholarly idea the term enjoyed its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s, when anti-Marxist social scientists favoured a concept that discredited communism by linking it with fascism.” That link, by the way, is mostly bullshit and in any case not nearly as important as the link between capitalist democracy and fascism. That general academic project, always a political project in the sense it twists history to fit unsupported premises, is still operative today and informs virtually all non-Marxist interpretations of fascism. Most of that work, especially as it is rendered by journalists, is deeply flawed. Unfortunately, the Marxist rejoinder tends to remain stuck with scholarly work and frames of reference from the Classical period alone. Will the bourgeoisie fund the fascists? Will the fascists seek a red-brown alliance against monopoly capital? Yes, they are funding them. All capital is monopolistic. Meh. This will not do.

Passmore will end up articulating a ‘post-Marxist’ position on fascism, indebted to Ernesto Laclau’s theories of ‘populism’. My central problem with this is that Laclau’s theories are not transferable to the capitalist core–Europe, the United States, Canada, etc., because of the fascist element. Has anyone ever argued this? Someone should. One cannot construct a successful program for ‘populist hegemony’ on this terrain without dismantling the white supremacy, now expressed politically as white nationalism, within it. That demands a discrete fight that is not possible within the thought world of populism. Left wing hegemony cannot be achieved here through a program of populism because that program is both too reformist–it doesn’t offer anything to the most oppressed among us that addresses their particular forms of exploitation and domination (reparations, open borders,etc) yet is also too radical–it proposes universal programs that capitalist power will not accept. Furthermore the populist program is electoral, with a social movement component as an adjunct. Direct action movements must drive electoral politics, not the other way around. The discourse on discourse is too discursive, if you will, chasing public opinion and ideas as though the variability of their meanings float somewhere above and separate from the material conditions of existence. Sociotopes make the animal; the animal does not exist within conditions of its own making.

The limits of the ‘pink tide’ movements in Latin America, which ubdoubtedly owed much to this theory, are now evident everywhere. While acknowledging the contributions of Marxist theory Passmore seeks to articulate a theory beyond the centrality of class but he has picked a frame of reference that only applies, and in a limited way, to the global south.

I agree with Laclau and other ‘populists’ or ‘hegemonists’ however, that social class needs to be re-theorized beyond an industrial proletariat as the agent of history; beyond a peasantry that can surround the cities or a Black lumpenproletariat that can ignite an urban rebellion. Today, add or subtract however many agents of history to however many points of production however much one likes, it will amount to a pointless search for a vanguard that will never emerge. This then is what is different from then to now. What may have been possible in Russia of 1917 cannot be reproduced today. And it shouldn’t be. Something has changed. What is it?

My own unique contribution to this problem is to expand social class without diluting it; rather than an amorphous ‘people’ or ‘populism’ a new set of social actors could be theorized by examining the role of Border, Manse, Factory and Bit in our current mode of capitalist production. The fulcrum for these new social classes is the city, ground zero for insurrection. And, in what is surely to be regarded as a confusing twist, I think a central locus of rupture with capitalism is precisely where it is most wasteful–those centrally located, densely populated, impossibly tall, blindingly bright at night, giant penises we call skyscrapers. Here, where the most pointless of activity takes place in that utter waste of space called the office, by human beings so alienated from themselves and the products of their own labor they don’t even want a union because they prefer the taste of boot, under the watchful eyes of the permanent panopticon, is ground zero of the greatest insurrection in the history of humanity. Oh. That and our ruling class, holding their own dicks, are so blinded by hubris as to locate their primary loci of social reproduction in many of these same buildings. They live where their networking power is concentrated. It’s great that they have it all in one place. This fact will provide us with a wonderful teachable moment.

Today, borders and prisons create social class as much as a factory. So too the Manse is a point of social reproduction that shapes and conditions our existence. If social class is social, then it seems one locus of its reproduction is the home, where, apart from work, socialization takes place. Theirs and ours. While it is true that we live in the street, in a home much larger than theirs, we will take back that which is ours, which is everything.

Social Reproduction Theory is an essential tool for understanding this. The overarching theme here, and its the same one since 1968, is RCG–Race-Class-Gender.

The unification of anarchist and communist theory proceeds from here, where it must tackle the question of fascism.

END

Trump and the Ruling Class

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Marx and Trump

 

The election of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States was an epic shitting-of-the-bed with no parallel in American election history. The first, most important point to be made about this is that our corporate and political elites made that bed; we need to make sure they must now lie in it. When they blather about Russians stealing the election or the deplorable nature of the white working class, force feed them the truth. It was their hubris that fertilized a garden overrun with weeds that produced the super bug that is Trump.

According to virtually all prognosticators, once the Sanders ‘political revolution’ was dispatched the Unfiltered Orange Sociopath would surely lose, and the ship of state, with another captain Clinton at the helm, would continue on course. Only two newspapers with circulations above 100,000 endorsed Trump for President, while all other major media formats, excluding Fox News, and only after the primaries, either dismissed his candidacy with a shrug or actively campaigned against him. He was not from the establishment. He was not the first choice of the ‘smart money’. He wasn’t their 20th choice. He was not one of them. Trump arose from a social movement he did not create within conditions not of his making. He is more an expression of those developments–riding the wave, so to speak–rather than the wave itself. What produced that wave is most certainly a generalized crisis within capitalism and its ruling ideology, neoliberalism. But the wave is now large enough that it drives that crisis as much as it is a product of it. It’s important to call that wave what it is: white nationalism, or the American form of fascism.

If what happened on November 8, 2016 is best understood as a sharp departure from an otherwise healthy and democratic political culture, then the solution might plausibly be a restoration of democratic norms. But what took place was not a departure from the norm, but a logical outcome of that norm. What they call ‘progress’ will always invite the eternal return of fascism. What transpired was not a coup, a ‘stolen’ election, or an excess of American democracy that, if you listen closely, certain bloodless technocrats now argue requires an enlightened despotism as a corrective. This is, of course, how everyone from conservatives to progressives view things: Everything was more or less fine until–WHAM!–the impossible came to pass. The solution is to boot the bigot out of office, fix the damage and move on. But the problem is much more than that and much worse. Even Bernie Sanders can’t fix it now.

On this question of fascism and Trump much of the socialist left is mistaken in other ways. For instance, a rendering of Trump’s triumph as the ‘rotten fruit of the ruling class’ correctly locates the general responsibility for the world of shit that we live in with the rich and powerful, but it cannot explain two things about that world: first, Trump’s contradictory relationship to that ruling class and, second, his ability to command support from millions of (white) people manifestly not from that ruling class.

To understand how what happened came about and what, more than two harrowing years later, can be done in response, requires an understanding of Trump’s appeal, especially that ‘authenticity’ so often associated with his “saying out loud what some people only dare to think”. Part of what that something amounts to is the genuinely contradictory relationship he has with established centers of economic and political power–what we anarchists and communists call the ruling class. He is from their family but in their eyes he has always been and will always be something of an embarassment. They will never fully accept him, something that is, oddly enough, part of his strength. Trump was always invited to the party, but the hosts secretly hoped he wouldn’t show up. If he did appear, everyone would cringe, but they would not kick him out. Why is that?What is it about Trump that makes him a social outcast, yet a fixture at the same time? And why do certain people turn to a billionaire in order to punish a ruling class?

Sometimes wisdom can be found in unlikely places. The nooks and crannies of oppositional subcultures sometimes become the interstices that make history. It took Marx’s body of work decades to marinate before becoming a set of ideas followed by millions across the planet; but those ideas started on the fringe, within spaces in between what is and what could be. If we want to understand Trump and fascism here’s a source from the recent past that sheds important light on a particular dynamic of Trump’s ascendency and its relationship to fascism. Set aside that academic article, that peer-reviewed journal, the latest tweet from that celebrity intellectual. For the moment dispense with those shop worn terms: ‘populism’, ‘authoritarianism’, ‘monopoly capital’, and ‘privilege’.

Listen to some rap and read the lyrics.

The Oakland-based Hip Hop band The Coup released an album in 1994 called Genocide and Juice. It is my favorite work of art in that musical genre and is to hip hop what Alan Ginsberg’s Howl is to poetry, Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue is to Jazz, or Marx’s Das Kapital is to socialist theory. It is remarkable in many ways and anticipates band member Boots Riley’s film, Sorry to Bother You, released to critical acclaim last year. I will focus on two songs, “Fat Cats, Bigga Fish” and “Free Stylin at the Fortune 500 Club”. If you can, listen to these two songs and follow along with the lyrics. And remember, all of this was created prior 1994. Apologies in advance for any lyrics that are incorrect.

“Fat Cats, Bigga Fish”

Well, now haha, what have we here?

Come with it
Get down, get down, get down 2ce
Come with it
Get down, get down, get down 2ce

It’s almost ten o clock, see I got a ball of lint for property
So I slide my beenie hat on sloppily
And promenade out to take up a collection
I got game like I read the directions
I’m wishing that I had an automobile
As I feel the cold wind rush past
But let me state that I am a hustler for real
So you know I got the stolen bus pass

Just as the bus pulls up and I step to the rear
This ole lady looks like she drank a forty of fear
I see my old-school partner, said his brother got popped                                       pay my respects, “Can you ring the bell?” We came to my stop
The street light reflects off the piss on the ground
Which reflects off the hamburger sign as it turns round
Which reflects off the chrome of the BMW
Which reflects off the fact that I’m broke
Now, what the fuck is new?
I need loot, I spot the motherfucka in the tweed suit
And I’m on his ass quicker than a kick from a grease boot
Eased up slow and discreet
Could tell he was suspicious by the way he slid his feet
Didn’t wanna fuck up, the come on,
So I smiled with my eyes, said “Hey, how’s it hanging guy?”
Bumped into his shoulder, but he passed with no reaction
Damn this motherfucka had hella of Andrew Jacksons!
I’m a thief or pickpocket, give a fuck what you call it
Used to call ’em fat cats, now I just call them wallets                                        Getting federal, ain’t just a klepto
Master card or visa? I gladly accept those
Sneaky motherfucka with a scam, know how to pull it
Got a mirror in my pocket but that won’t stop no bullets
Story just begun but you already know
Ain’t no need to get down, shit, I’m already low

Come with it
Get down, get down, get down 2ce
Come with it
Get down, get down, get down 2ce

My footsteps echo in the darkness
My teeth clenched tight like a fist in the cold sharp mist
I look down and I hear my stomach growling
Step to Burger King to attack it like a Shaolin
I never pay for shit that I can get by doing dirt
Linger up to the girl cashier and start to flirt
All up in her face and her breath was like murder
Damn the shit I do for a free hamburger

“Well, you got my number, you gonna call me tonight?”
“It depends…is them burgers attached to a price?”                                                “Sorry, sorry, I’m just kidding, I’m a call you, write you love letters…”
“It’s all good…”                                                                                                           “Thanks for the burgers…um, hook me up with a Dr. Pepper?”
“That’s cool you want some ice?”
“Yeah, and some fries will be hella nice!”
“Damn, my manager’s coming, play it off, okay? Have a nice day!”
“I’m up outta here anyway”

I use peoples before they use me
‘Cuz you could get got by an Uzi over an OZ.
That’s what an OG told me
Gots to find someplace warm and cozy to eat the vittles that I just got
Came to an underground parking lot
This place is good as any, fuck, it’s all good
Walked in, found a car, hopped up on the hood

Ate my burger, threw back my cola
Somebody said, “Hey!” It was a rent-a-pig, I thought it was a roller
“Want me to call the cops?” I don’t want them to see me
Looked down and saw that I was sitting on a Lamborghini
It was Rolls, Ferraris and Jags by the dozen
A building door opened…Damn, it was my cousin!
Getting off a work, dressed up, no lie                                                     Tux, cumberbund and a black bow tie
I was like hey, “Who is it?” “Me”
“Oh, what’s up man, I just quit this company
They hella racist and the pay was too low ”
I said, “Right, what’s was up in there though?”
“A party with rich motherfuckas, I don’t know the situation
I know they got cabbage, owning corporations
IBM, Chrysler and shit, is what they said”

Just then a light bulb went off in my head
They be thinking all black folks is resembling
“Gimme your tux and I’ll do some pocket swindling”
Fit to change in the bathroom and I freeze off my nuts
Let’s take a short break while I get into this tux
Alright, I’m ready

Come with it
Get down, get down, get down 2ce
Come with it
Get down, get down, get down 2ce

Fresh dressed like a million bucks
I be the fliest muthafucka in an afro and a tux
My arm is at a right angle, up, silver tray in my hand
“May I interest you in some caviar, maam?”
My eyes shoot ’round the room there and here
Noticing the diamonds in the chandelier
Background Barry Manilow, Copacabana
And a strong-ass scent of stogies from Havana

Wasn’t no place where a brother might’ve been
Snobby ole ladies drinking champagne with rich white men
All right, then let’s begin this
Nights like this is good for business
Five minutes in the mix, noticed several different cliques
Talking, giggling and shit
With one mother fucka in betwixt
And everybody else jacking it, throttling

Found out later he owns Coca Cola bottling
Talking to a black man whose confused
Looking hella bougie, ass all tight and seditty
Recognized him as the mayor of my city
Who treats young black man like frank nitty
Mr. Coke said to Mr. Mayor, “You know we got a process like
Ice T’s hair, we put up the funds for your election campaign
And oh, um, waiter can you bring the champagne?”

“Our real estate firm says opportunity is arising
To make some condos out of low income housing
Immediately, we need some media heat
To say the gangs run the street and then we bring in the police
Harrass and beat everybody till they look inebriated
When we buy the land, motherfuckas will appreciate it
Don’t worry about the Urban League or Jesse Jackson
My man that owns Marlboro, donated a fat sum”

That’s when I step back some to contemplate what few know
Sat down, wrestled with my thoughts like a Sumo
Ain’t no one player that could beat this lunacy
Ain’t no hustler on the street could do a whole community
This is how deep shit can get
It reads macaroni on my birth certificate
Puddin-Tang is my middle name but I can’t hang
I’m getting hustled only knowing half the game
Shit how the fuck do I get out of this place?

——

Our protagonist is broke, hungry, and without transportation, while also a poet, a pickpocket, a thief and a flirt. He’s also not a worker, at least not in the formal economy but his epiphany is dependent on posing as a worker. In other words, understanding the deus ex machina of capitalism requires the vantage point of a worker. And yet when he poses as a worker he doesn’t so much as to gain access to a point of production, as to a locus of social reproduction, the leisure activities of the ruling class, where the ‘art of the deal’ really takes place out of the prying eyes of the public.

To rich white people all Black people look the same (“resembling”) which gives our protagonist the opportunity to infiltrate their posh gathering so as to pick some pockets. But what he overhears is shocking, and I don’t think this guy is shocked by much. The hustler, knowing but “half the game” is being hustled. The analogy here, between the hustle of the street and the hustle of capitalist exploitation and domination, posits a world where there is no in-between–you are either a pimp, a John or a ho. There is no way to act ethically within a capitalist system short of overthrowing that system; no way to be right with the world until those categories are utterly obliterated.

That’s as profound and accurate a portrayal of the exploitation and domination of capitalism as I have ever read. Here, in searing terms is the carceral state and gentrification, racism and urban pacification, the two-party system and elite command and control together with a breathtaking cynicism. It also upholds the humanity of a petty thief without romanticizing it and demonstrates how it is possible, and desireable, for that person to become a radical. There is no direct or easy path from “using people before they use me” to “from each according to ability, to each according to need”. But the possibility is there, it just needs a kickstart and guidance.

The revelation that corporate and political power are a hustle, but on a scale so vast as to be hidden in plain sight, forces us to “wrestle” with our thoughts. It challenges seemingly sacred convictions about the meritocratic principle, that competition leads to opportunity and the common good. But the reality is that a fair playing field is nowhere, to climb the ladder is to place one’s foot on a rung that is someone’s head. The song’s emphasis on an epiphany experienced by a member of the so-called ‘lumpen proletariat’, or Black underclass, challenges those sneering socialists who consider this consciousness raising on the part of ‘criminal classes’ virtually impossible. I don’t. I think it’s essential to our collective struggle. In a world increasingly characterized by the deterritorilized nature of the gig economy we need to theorize a terrain of rupture with capitalism at points other than those, strictly speaking, of production.

“Free Stylin at the Fortune 500 Club”

The first line of the next song is our protagonist leaving the party:
“Fuck no, I ain’t got no Grey Poupon!”
Our hero is replaced by the patter of a socialite in conversation with David Rockefeller.
[Socialite] Well anyway, I said, “That’s no burglar! That’s my butler!”
Mr. Rockefeller, let me in on the gossip
I heard you and Mr. Getty are getting into rap music or something?
[Rockefeller] Yes, we have this thing we do with our voices
We sing like authentic rappers.
[Socialite] Oh! David, you must do it for us!

[Rockefeller] Well if they could make this music more funky…
Let me see if I can get my voice like those rappers. Ahem. Ahem
Here we go.

“Well, if you’re blind as Helen Keller
You could see I’m David Rockefeller
So much cash up in my bathroom it’s a Ready-Teller
I’m outrageous, I work in stages, like syphillis
But no need for prophylactics
I’ma up you on some mean old mac shit
Ain’t buff, but my green gots amino acid
Keep my hoes in check, no rebellions
If your ass occur, shit
It wouldn’t be the first time I done made a massacre
Nigga please, how you figure these
Motherfuckers like me got stocks bonds and securities
No impurities, straight Anglo-Saxon
When my family got they sex on
Don’t let me get my flex on, do some gangster shit
Make the army go to war for Exxon
Long as the money flow, I be making dough
Welcome to my little pimp school
How you gonna beat me at this game? I make the rules
Flash a little cash, make you think you got class
But you really selling ass and ho keep off my grass
Less you cutting it, see I’m running shit
Trick all y’all motherfuckas is simps
I’m just a pimp”
Chorus
[Socialite] That is so cute! John Paul, why don’t you entertain us with something as well?
[Getty] Well, what should I do?
[Socialite] Why don’t you rap for us?
[Getty] No, I…
[Rockefeller] Come on, old boy, I did mine!
[Socialite] It’s so, tribal!
[Getty] Very well, then.
[Socialite] Oh goody!
[Getty] But, hold my martini, I have to do those hand gestures.
We will begin at the commencement of the next measure.
Now get ready, I’m J.P. Getty
I am tearing shit up like confetti
My money last longer than Eveready
Ain’t nothing petty about cash I never lose
This is just like the stroll
But the hoes don’t choose, I choose you
No voodoo can hoo-doo you
From getting treated like a piece of ol’ booboo who
Do you think want those niggas that don’t turn tricks?
The loco ho in ’94 is getting 86ed
And all about those rebellions, and riots and mishaps
I got the po po’s for their daily pimp slap
The motherfucker gangsta, rolling Fleetwood Caddy
I’m that mack ass already pimped his daddy
Lay you out like linoleum floors
I’m getting rich off petroleum wars
Controlling you whores, making you eat Top Ramen
While I eat shrimp, y’all motherfuckas is simps
I’m just a pimp
Chorus
[Socialite] Oh no, here he comes! Oh, don’t look at him!
[Trump] Are you fellows rapping? I can do that reggie, uh, ah reggae type of thing…You know, one, two, three…
[Socialite] Well actually, we were just leaving…
[Trump] I am Trump, Trump check out the cash in my trunk
Trump, Trump check out the cash in my trunk
I am Donald Trump me think you mighta heard about me
How me last wife Ivana come and catch me money
She want all, she want this, she want that, of fun
X amount of this like just like the gap hear me
Hol’ up your hand if you love the money
Hol’ up your hand if you love punanny
Gun pon mi side mi afi kill somebody
Because the money inna mi trunk dem wan fi come tek see.

Trump’s inside/outside status is captured perfectly by Riley through his representation as a reggae-rapper, something I gather was anathema to hip hop during the 1990s. The first two rappers in the song were meant to represent the then emerging feud between east coast and west coast rap traditions,  memorialized through the mortal conflict between Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur. Rockefeller is east coast, J.P. Getty west coast. Trump is the outlier. There was no reggae-rap. That just wasn’t done. Perhaps this is still so today, I’m not an expert on hip-hop.

In any case the rendering of corporate bosses and their political lackeys as pimps playing a cynical and profitable game is brilliant. ‘Punnany’, by the way, is slang for vagina, a further foreshadowing of Trump’s misogynistic ‘pussy grabbing’.

Trump is clearly an embarrassment but he’s still at the party. Begrudging acceptance is still acceptance. We are never at the party, unless we have a tray in our hand. At that time Trump was a millionaire, but not a member of the ruling class in good standing, just as the interloper in the song above is at the party, but not entirely welcome. So it is today. This dynamic, captured so well in the song above, also highlights a facet of fascism that is essential to understanding it and therefore fighting it effectively. Fascism, in its classical, Cold War and 21st century versions always theorizes a fight above and below and involves a relatively independent, or semi autonomous, racist and nationalist mobilization of large segments of a population. A fascist movement in formation cannot be understood primarily, much less exclusively through the prism of class, although it cannot be apprehended without it, either. Fascists fight ungrateful elites above and unworthy black and brown hordes below. That fight above is not disingenuous, either. All so-called ‘issues’ and ‘policies’ (trade wars, immigration, Supreme Court nominees, corporate power, etc.) need a theoretical framework that includes this element within the definition of fascism. Otherwise it is lost.

Fascism is not a product of capitalist crisis; it is the crisis.

The (often) missing element of socialist analyses of fascism is precisely a recognition of the relatively independent nature of fascism as a social movement. The second missing element is an understanding of an eliminationist form of racism that undergirds and binds together otherwise disparate factions into a social movement.

Trump follows, he doesn’t lead. Another way of stating this is that he is a symptom of a much deeper and entrenched problem: the slow, long term yet quickening growth of fascism throughout North America and Europe. Here, where I live, its particular expression is American white nationalism. It takes other forms elsewhere, but the family tree from which all variations descend can be identified and then fought.

The nature of fascism cannot be captured through attitudinal surveys, marketing pitches and polling preferences. Therefore, fascism can never be substantively defeated at the ballot box alone. Emasculate him through constitutional checks and balances, harass him with deep state democrats, impeach him, or defeat him during the 2020 elections–it will not be enough and will only serve to deepen the rot. Fascism is more than a form of authoritarianism counterposed to liberal democracy. If your frame of reference for fascism is bookended by these two concepts–authoritarianism and liberal democracy–as most conventional frameworks are, you will misunderstand it and be hapless to stop it. Only leftists have the theoretical framework to understand this, if only they would use it.

A defeat as epic as that of 2016 has produced precious little soul searching or self reflection. Instead, the tenuous and brittle state of neoliberal ideology has produced a default explanation for defeat that has settled on theft. Liberals and (neo) conservatives were predictably apoplectic about the Orange sociopath ‘stealing’ their election. Their wrath was directed outward, toward a mostly imagined conspiracy of a resurrected KGB that, whatever its influence on the 2016 Presidential election in no way whatsoever represented a significant deviation from the constant interference practiced by all states against one another as a matter of bourgeois routine since time immemorial. Besides, the United States is the undisputed world heavy weight grand champion of sovereign interference. Regime change is, after all, a particularly aggressive form of electoral interference that both Russia and the U.S. practice practically everywhere. The wrath of disenfranchised elites was directed internally, as well, at those ungrateful ‘deplorables’, a handful of utopian Jill Stein supporters and of course the millions of us who said ‘fuck you’ to both parties. Their own complicity–either through deliberate policy, as with Obama’s deportation of 2.5 million souls and Clinton’s reminder that Honduran children may have crossed our border but they didn’t get to stay, or a whoopsie such as neglecting to campaign in Wisconsin–is always rendered as a mistake to be corrected, a flaw to be remedied, a wrinkle to be ironed out, rather than something irredeemable at the core of their rule and the values that justify it. But their rule is irredeemable. This ruling class sips champagne while gazing over infinity pools of conspicuous consumption. When they fuck up, it is by definition our fault. Everything is our fault. They are gods. We are mortals. And what do we do with gods? Hold their heads under water until the bubbles stop and be sure that there are fascists at the bottom of that pool drowning with them.

END

Spring Is Coming.

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Spring Is Coming

“Trump and GOP Candidates Escalate Race and Fear as Election Ploys” New York Times, October 22, 2018.

The use of the term “ploy” in that headline is interesting. “A cunning plan or action designed to turn a situation to one’s own advantage.” Common synonyms for ploy include subterfuge, ruse, stratagem, contrivance, gambit and trick.

The implication here is that Trump and the GOP have an ulterior motive, an agenda that is cynically being foisted upon ignorant people for narrow electoral gains. He’s tricking them. The typical counter argument proceeds to expose the ploy to unveil the truth. The ploy is ‘the border crisis’, the truth is that there is no crisis. The counter argument, swaddled as always in statistics and eye candy, proceeds thusly: The border is strong. We are not letting in undesirables, the unworthy, the illegal. There is no crisis. Stop inventing one. Look! I’m a reporter at the border and everything is great! I’m eating a street taco. No national crisis. Trump is making up this nonsense to scare people into voting for Republicans.”

This engages the conspiracy theory on its own terrain, and thereby assists its growth. This is the overwhelming narrative fiction that poses as political analysis all around us.

Then there is the other assertion made in the headline, that of an escalation of fear and race. I can understand how Trump’s racist attacks on migrants escalate fear on the part of some people, however irrational that fear may be. But how, exactly, does one escalate race? This is a textbook example of using ‘race’ apart from the only concept that gives the term any meaning, namely ‘racism’. To use ‘race’ here without its prerequisite (racism) is to naturalize the former within that threadbare sociological construct ‘race relations’, something that brackets out racism and white supremacy in its very definition, together with class and gender.

My favorite delicious tidbit from this article:

“…Mr. Trump’s dystopian imagery has clearly left an impression with some. Carol Shields, 75, a Republican in northern Minnesota, said she was afraid that migrant gangs could take over people’s summer lake homes in the state.

“What’s to stop them?” said Ms. Shields, a retired accountant. “We have a lot of people who live on lakes in the summer and winter someplace else. When they come back in the spring, their house would be occupied.”

Spring is coming.

Just as Bill Maher, that sneering, smug, creepy jokester who locates the social base of bigotry within the consumer choice between “Chef Wolfgang Puck or Chef Boyardee”, liberals declaim ‘the wall’ but uphold the sanctity of the eternal border.

It is now March, 2019 and there is no let up with Trump’s ‘rhetoric’ on the border and immigration. Quite the opposite–he recently sent an additional 3,500 national guard troops there. But wait, there is no election. What about that cynical ploy? Why would Trump and the GOP persist with these policies if there isn’t a national election scheduled for almost two years? It must be the government shut down, a lazy liberal might say. But that’s over, too. What cannot be acknowledged is that the attacks are meaningful in and of themselves, and constitute a form of racism. Why is that so difficult to understand? Precisely because what Trump argues is not really any different from the actual function that the border serves; it differs not in kind, only degree. The border itself is a racist construct, a vast filter for the smooth accumulation of capital by the few.

What is it then that is so important to the far right that it pursues it, perhaps even to the detriment of electoral calculations? The answer is, quite simply, that they mean what they say. It is not a substitute for something else, nor a means to achieve something else. It is not a feint in one direction, so as to move in another. It is a project for a deepening of fascist tendencies within our economy, politics and culture. Increasingly that project resonates among elites within both major political parties. It was not too long ago that lazy leftists dismissed fascism in America on the grounds it had no base of support within the ruling class, no fraction of capital supported it against liberals or the left. Must I cite the stock market, Mercer and McGinnis, vast swaths of Europe and Brazil to drive home the folly of that position?

To Trump and Carol Shields it is an ongoing crisis irrespective of election politics. To understand this as principally a ‘ploy’ or as theatre is to say it is artificial, manufactured in a cynical fashion to accomplish other ends, to distract the gullible from the ‘real’ issue, which is the smooth functioning of that border. What does that look like? Perhaps the 2.5 million souls deported during the tenure of Obama is a good index to an answer. Obama is no fascist, but his policies and political philosophy seeded the terrain within which fascism grows. Liberals will cry for the popular front while they demolish the only force capable of giving it meaning, the left. Watch how low they go to undermine DSA and Sanders.

Spring is coming.

In order to understand what they say, one must understand the world view that informs what they say. At the center of that worldview is a picture of the United States of America, sometimes drawn with crayons, at other times rendered with more sophisticated instruments, but always clearly defined by borders.

Listening to liberal or conservative acolytes ‘debate’ immigration is the rough equivalent of a person standing on a street corner trying to decide between Uber or Lyft. The better choice would be a functioning public transportation system, something which ‘rideshare’ is hurriedly eviscerating. Your ‘choice’ is determined by the parameters set by someone else. That debate, between different styles of border is as that between McDonalds or Burger King, Pepsi or Coke.

The national crisis here is precisely how one understands ‘borders’.

These are not merely ploys that will disappear from right wing strategy just as soon as they win or lose an election. They will be back with a vengeance regardless of who wins.

It is a distinction without a difference–between raw, naked aggression that celebrates itself and the kind that is exercised quietly from a remote desk, using clever algorithms. The children of the undocumented have been and will continue to be housed in barbaric camps by both parties, then tossed aside as human refuse or put to work in their factories. Both accomplish the same thing: The regulation of the flow of humanity across borders so as to maintain the privileges and majesty of our ruling classes. However it is managed, the end result is largely the same, different only in degree, not kind.

The real crisis is the existence of those borders, in any form.

Spring is coming.

Liberals, conservatives and progressives will never say this; so we must. For to say otherwise is to tacitly accept that the accumulated wealth and power of elites has a legitimate place in organized human societies. It has no place. It is an abomination. Everything they have accumulated has been stolen from us. Therefore, we say to them: everything we want is in the end of you.

Besides, what these conspiracies take as their worst case scenario is, in many ways, our best case scenario. The values that inform the world we live in are upside down, almost entirely so. If that is the case, then a set of counter values cannot be found, much less articulated, within the language and assumptions that frame the world view of the dominant elite. Their values should never be our values; their utterances should strike our ears as so much gibberish. One does not debate the master; their tongues should be ripped from their mouths.

It is important to debunk these conspiracy theories, but in doing so one should not throw out the baby with the bath water.

One must be more than just right; one must have an impact apart from success in the circus that passes for reasoned debate. And it is a circus, dominated by clowns and jugglers who compete for our attention.

Don’t be a clown or juggler. Be a soothsayer by creating self fulfilling prophecies.

Spring is coming.

As fascism grows within any given society it can, if not properly checked, create its own facts on the ground such that its world view becomes dominant–however irrational it may be–and therefore normative. The conspiracy theory shapes the world to conform with its view. No amount of dispassionate, disinterested critique will change that awful reality, only a militant anti-fascism can do that.

Liberal antifascism, on the other hand, is based on a set of ideas that lead, quite expectantly, to a politics of centrism, a defense of capitalist authority from which no revolutionary politics is possible. The dream becomes anemic, and will quickly turn into a nightmare. Remember, popular frontism presumes a political alliance forged in response to a previous defeat of revolutionary left forces; its weakness is always to be found therein.

Some conspiracy theories need confirmation in resistance and rebellion. Let’s affirm that the nightmare about which they are terrified, is real.

For us, of course, it is a dream we work to bring about.

Antifascists must create our own facts on the ground, not shibboleths that render tribute to the powerful.

We are coming for your summer homes, but from much closer than Mexico. If necessary we will drag you from them, kicking and screaming. We just haven’t figured out how to effect this. We don’t deny it.

Spring is coming.

END

 

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Within the Marxist library the bookshelf on fascism has always been somewhat neglected. Socialists in the Marxist tradition tend to understand fascism primarily through the lens of economics and the clash of classes. Following this fascism is often rendered as a political strategy resorted to by elements of a beleaguered ruling class so as to preserve their rule, and nothing but that. This presumes an insurgent left that poses a threat to that rule. No insurgent left, no fascism.

Anarchists problematize the state as a vector of fascism and capitalism and counterpose new social subjects as a way to ground their struggle within class by expanding the definition of class. Following lessons learned during the ‘premature antifascism’ of the Spanish Civil War, if your solution to fascism involves the dictatorship of the proletariat, it will be, at best, a temporary fix. Conversely, and perversely, once fascism gains a foothold, such a solution may become the only fix available.

Liberals tend to emphasize the emotional aspects of fascist rule, the personality traits and psychology of fascists and the difficulty of managing ‘race relations’ and promoting ‘cross-cultural’ tolerance. Antisemitism is understood as an accelerant to what is always considered the irrational kernel at the center of fascism, its rejection of capitalist democracy. Liberals are virtually incapable of theorizing a ‘field of compatibility’ between capitalism and fascism because they don’t understand history as a struggle between classes, however construed, but rather as a smooth unfolding of progress occasionally interrupted by the siren calls of extremism from the right or left. It’s preferred terms of reference are ‘populism’ and ‘liberal democracy’.

Conservatives focus on the similarities between communist and fascist totalitarianism, with an emphasis on the state, even going so far as to argue that classical fascism was a reaction to Soviet imperialism, a riff in another key on the orthodox Marxist approach.

From Trotsky and Gramsci, through Rajani Palme Dutt to Nicos Poulantzas, to Ernst Nolte and Jurgen Habermas and the ‘Historians Debate” through to Jonah Goldberg’s preposterous “liberal fascism” and Roger Griffin’s “palingenetic ultranationalism” of today, however one defines it, everyone agrees that fascism existed. What is more difficult to comprehend is that it also never left. It has always been with us. It is here with us today, stronger than yesterday. It must be fought.

Dylan Riley’s “What Is Trump?” (New Left Review no. 114, Nov./Dec. 2018) takes issue with analyses of fascism across the political spectrum, from conservative to “anarchist insurrectionist”. For Riley, who has a contribution or two on that Marxist bookshelf, the central problem common to all who ask and answer ‘the question of fascism’ today lies in flawed analogies drawn between classical fascism and various contemporary movements of the far right, in particular Trumpism.

“The typical rhetorical device they [analysts of fascism] deploy is to advance and protect the identification of Trump with fascism by way of nominal disclaimers of it.”

The effort to compare and contrast is valid, only “their analogies are rarely placed in a properly comparative and historical perspective,” he writes.

Riley attempts to correct this error by offering what I gather he thinks is a proper comparative and historical perspective on the question. After doing so, Riley wrongly concludes that fascism does not exist today as a discrete political threat. Unfortunately he has two problems with which he is ill equipped to deal.

First, as with most of the analysts he disagrees with, his operative definition of fascism, drawn exclusively from the classical era, is flawed. His definition omits key terms necessary for apprehending fascism in any era.

Second, and also in common with most of the analysts he disagrees with, he will proceed, flawed definition in hand, one hundred years ‘back to the future’, skipping everything in between, to wrongly conclude that fascism is not a threat in 2019; that whatever Trump and Trumpism are, the ‘fascist’ label obscures more than it reveals and rather than the further development of fascism within the American body politic, this latest iteration of the far right might just be “a shot of adrenaline” to it.

I think it’s a shot of crystal meth.

What Riley is arguing is that Trump and Trumpism don’t represent anything different from routine capitalist rule; therefore, the general socialist project can continue as is without significant adjustments made for a new threat.

“Move along,” Riley seems to say, “nothing new here”.

His conclusion is driven by the purpose he believes fascism must always serve, rather than the conditions from which it derives that shape its nature. Marxists used to critique this as a ‘teleological argument’ but I guess in regards fascism it is given a pass. After all, it’s a pretty small shelf.

In any case this whole project of drawing analogies between classical fascism and whatever it is one thinks we are confronted with today is itself wrong-headed.

The yardstick is the problem; so too what you think you are measuring.

First, that pesky definition.

Riley doesn’t offer a formal definition of fascism, but he does write this:

“In sum, the interwar fascist regimes were a product of inter-imperial warfare and capitalist crisis, combined with a revolutionary threat from the left.”

All of which begs the question: What then is that “product”? Riley uses four comparative axes to tease out an answer.

These are “…geopolitical context, economic crisis, relations of class and nation and, finally, the character of civil society and of political parties.”

Having explored the global conditions and comparative axes within which fascism first developed Riley then turns to the sociologist Max Weber and his three forms of rule (the charismatic, patrimonial and bureaucratic) for a more focused treatment of Trump. This is probably the best section of Riley’s article where the contradictions between Trump’s style of rule and the ‘legal-rational’ state are made clear, but it tells us next to nothing about fascism in any era.

Riley’s unfortunate use of the term “product” further suggests that fascism is assembled, as a toaster or automobile, rather than emerges within history as a political and social movement. Here he is again confusing the conditions that structure the nature and political horizons of classical fascism for classical fascism itself. Using only the conceptual framework and terms on offer by Riley, one cannot grasp the nature of fascism. This approach to the question of fascism has a long and inglorious history, best exemplified by a recent precursor with whom I’m sure Riley is familiar.

“The Sunkara Trap” is my term of reference for the intellectual cul-de-sac entered into when one accepts the framework for argument about fascism put forward in an article by Jacobin founder and editor Bhaskar Sunkara, first published in the socialist journal New Politics in June, 2011. Coming on the heals of the tea party rebellion and just prior the Occupy movement, “A Thousand Platitudes: Liberal Hysteria and the Tea Party” was essentially the inaugural long form essay for Jacobin Magazine and Blog.

Sunkara made his bones with it.

The key argument made by Sunkara regarding the Tea Party and the left is as follows:

“The American left’s response to grassroots activity on the right has historically been punctuated by hysteria, exaggeration, and appeals to the coercive power of the state….Furthermore, an alternative reading of the Tea Party will be offered, a movement that is not fascistic, racist, nor particularly novel, but rather a new expression of a venerable American right-wing populist tradition.”

Drawing on critics of left identity politics such as Walter Benn Michaels, Ken Silverstein and the late and hapless (on fascism) Alexander Cockburn, Sunkara blasts the antiracist liberal-left for engaging in electoral theatre that abandons class analysis, thereby leaving regimes of accumulation intact. Its antiracism is so cynical it helps prop up ‘the other capitalist party’ through the ‘antifascism of fools’.

Sunkara’s key argument on fascism is this:

“Though many of its shock-troops have come from lumpenproletarian elements, fascism has historically been a petit-bourgeois movement that can only be understood within the context of a militant left. German and Italian fascists disrupted strikes and physically attacked left-wing meetings. This historically specific brand of reaction implies that there was a vibrant workers’ movement challenging capitalist class rule, forcing elements of those on top to attempt to gamble on empowering the fascists in order to ultimately preserve the existing class structure. The American left is a marginalized and besieged political force, not exactly ready to storm the barricades.”

Sunkara’s dismissal of the tea party uprising of that time was met with some dissent, as the article in New Politics was accompanied by critiques from the late Marvin and Betty Mandell that, while spirited, unfortunately largely reinforced the dynamics of the trap.

Here’s an interesting thought experiment. What kind of definition of fascism could one construct without the use of the following terms?

racism

white supremacy

white nationalism

whitest

antisemitism

the Antifa

Not a very useful or accurate one.

All of these terms should feature prominently in any discussion of fascism; none of them are discussed, much less developed by the two authors. Why?

For Sunkara this is fairly straightforward. All of those terms above no longer have any saliency within a form of 21st century capitalism (globalism) that embraces diversity of identities all the while enforcing class division. It does this without having to resort to the crass prejudices of bygone eras. Structural forms of discrimination exist, but they only serve to divide workers. They have no internal logic apart from this. Vigilante forms of racist violence, for instance, are also by definition a part of the past. The capable administrators of American capitalism are clever; they would never resort to such measures unless…you got it, there was an insurgent left. There is no insurgent left. Therefore there is no fascism. And so on.

Sunkara’s dismissal of the American racist right and his defense of the Tea Party are so blind that he ends up needlessly and callously impugning the integrity of civil rights icon John Lewis. In what should be regarded as his ‘Black Face Moment’, Sunkara treats insults hurled at Lewis by tea party militants as “alleged” expressions of “bigotry.” Now, I don’t care that Sunkara describes Lewis as a “doyen” of the liberal establishment, but if the veteran civil rights activist says Tea Party assholes were yelling “nigger” at him, I’ll take him at his word. Elsewhere in his article Sunkara uses the term “race relations”, a sure sign that he is out of his element here. He should stick to explications of the clever triangulating of Kautsky.

Nothing Sunkara has written in the past eight years remotely suggests he has changed this basic theoretical framework. The entire socialist project of Jacobin Magazaine and Blog has continued to reproduce this anemic debate; that project has been compromised as a result. For Sunkara, Trump and the Tea Party before him are merely excretions of capitalist rule and to fight them is to ignore “the true stakeholders of power.” It would seem to be a simple corrective to fight both, but the problem is deeper, more entrenched, and potentially disastrous. Moving from this set of presumptions about the nature of and prospects for contemptorary fascism directly to the democratic socialism of the Bernie Sanders 2020 Campaign means follies from the past, and those yet to be committed, will likely adversely effect the left.

For Riley these terms are subsumed within treatments of what he calls the inversion of nation/class relations, civil society and the interplay between economics and culture. Trump’s “racist messaging and general boorishness” is about as detailed a discussion of racism or white nationalism to be found here. They are addressed, in other words, through these larger conceptual constructs which actually have no room for them at all. For instance, after describing an American population that resembles that famous “sack of potatoes” described by Marx, and therefore ill suited for fascist mass mobilization, Riley then argues that if Americans are mobilized at all it will be “on the defensive basis of protectionist nationalism, rather than yet further imperial aggression.” Increasingly, in an era of neofascist mobilization, this is a distinction without a difference.

In a bizarre passage he also claims: “In the us today, a pro-globalist professional layer is pitted against a ‘nationalist’ white working class—a configuration that is almost the opposite to that of interwar fascism.” How to even untangle this? I think Riley is saying that professional layers during classical fascism tended to be nationalist as opposed to worker movements that were internationalist. This syllogism only works if by “globalist” one means “internationalist”. Globalism is not the equivalent, during any era, of socialist internationalism. What is the point of highlighting such a difference, manufactured though it may be, if not to accentuate his claim that fascism no longer exists in any meaninful way? What then is the logical conclusion from all of this? Do not fight fascism because it doesn’t exist.

Here is Riley again on Trump’s appeal: “Here it would be futile to separate ‘cultural’ from ‘economic’ issues: the two are inextricably linked. To the extent that Trump’s economic-nationalist agenda had a popular basis, it rested on workers and middle-class layers who had suffered from the offshoring of jobs and who feared competition from immigrants in employment, rather than welcoming them as a cheap source of labour.”

Notwithstanding his own disclaimer, notice how quickly the ‘cultural’ becomes the ‘economic’, entirely unrelated to that unending, unfiltered and noxious racist bile that has issued forth from ’45’ to his 56 million followers on Twitter.

What Sunkara and Riley both don’t understand is that when mobs of white people organize to attack migrants or scream racist epithets at Black people they are not only ‘protecting their jobs’ by responding to labor competition, they are engaging in activity that builds white identity and thereby fascism. When they attack George Soros it’s not just because he’s a billionaire, its because he’s a Jew. Soros can, of course, take care of himself, but we need to take care of the Nazis who hate him. Not for Soros, but for us.

There is a continuum along which this set of ideas ranges, blending into one another. From macro-economists who blather about ‘advanced economies’ to political scientists who wax nostalgic about the roots of democracy in ‘the west’; to neo-cons and their ‘western civilization’ to modern day culture warriors and their ‘christian west’; then onwards to what makes the west a civilization–whiteness–and the ‘organicism’ espoused by the neo-Nazis of Generation Identity. There is a political geography here within which whiteness embodies a key set of ideas that increasingly structures politics, economics and culture. It becomes the key reference point for many white people. It is no longer confined to the margins, it is transforming the mainstream.

Sunkara and Riley fail to theorize a relationship between capitalism and fascism that can account for the semi-independent nature of fascism as a mass movement. Riley hints at the fluid nature of fascism in its movement stages by alluding to a “field of compatibility” that existed between conservatism and classical fascism. But he quickly dispenses with this in his discussion of Trump. I prefer the term ‘semipermeable membrane’, something veteran antifascists have endeavored to monitor as an index to the development of fascism. Such political activity is not the same as routine expressions of racism, homophobia and sexism that undoubtedly characterize all forms of capitalism, even the most “advanced”. It represents something different.

Back to that pesky definition.

No definition of fascism that excludes the above referenced terms could possibly be cogent or complete; only misleading. Any definition of fascism that does include the above referenced terms is not, however, necessarily complete either; one needs a theoretical model that accounts for capitalism and fascism. Jacobin and New Left Review should be indispensable tools for doing as much. They have both largely abdicated this responsibility.

Here I will sketch out an alternative definition of fascism and periodize that definition so as to track it over time and space. I wrote ‘sketch’, so cut me some slack.

Fascism, in all its forms, across different continents and over the span of almost one-hundred years always involves an ideology rooted in racism and nationalism. Its most articulate exponents and most dedicated opponents know this. There is no point in engaging with any definition of fascism that excludes this remarkably simple observation.

Fascism has its vital center in a political geography located throughout the capitalist core. I call it the ‘white belt’. In order to understand this leftists must integrate the concepts of a ‘North/South’ divide and a core/periphery with that of a class analysis. Anti-immigrant racism has as much to do with expressions of whiteness as with labor competition. One cannot understand ‘white nationalism’ without untangling this and the tripartite concept of ‘Race-Class-Gender’, sometimes expressed through the term ‘intersectionalism’, should provide some answers. New Left Review, through its first editor, Stuart Hall, was founded in part to articulate a brand of Marxism that could do as much.

The social base of fascism is best captured through the metaphor of a marriage between the Christian Right and white nationalism which crosses class lines yet remains a mirror of the hierarchies that exist between those social classes. In other words there are fewer doctors and lawyers who are fascists principally because there are fewer doctors and lawyers in any given capitalist society. The social base of fascism cannot be counted, as beans in a jar, only understood in relation to the other aspects of its definition. But you can count on professionals and other fascists of means (Mercer, McInnes, Bannon, et. al.) accounting for an outsize share of their leadership.

Lastly fascism has a motor, what I call ‘the fight above and below.’ This motor must be engaged for a social movement to be reasonably characterized as fascist; this is what gives fascism it’s potentially popular, or mass basis. This ‘fight above and below’ is not a feint, or cynical ploy. It is real. While I agree with Riley that “fascist societies unquestionably remained capitalist societies” they also supercharged the racist, nationalist and imperialist elements of those capitalist societies. They do this in their movement and regime phases.

The last element of my definition involves periodizing it. Fascism has existed throughout three distinct eras. It can be characterized by what has ‘overdetermined’ its parameters, or political horizons, during each of these eras.

Classical Fascism (1921–1945)

Riley correctly identifies the major set of conditions that drove and shaped fascism in the classical era: capitalist crisis, inter-imperialist conflict, an insurgent left. But he misses the key concepts of racism, whiteness and the division between the global north and south.

Cold War Fascism (1945-1990)

Here fascism became the bastard step child of capitalism through the role it played in the anticommunist consensus. Christopher Simpson’s Blowback and Russ Bellant’s Old Nazis, the New Right and the Republican Party are required reading on this era. Where fascism thrived in Latin America, e.g., Argentina (1976-1983), Brazil (1964-1985; 2018-?) Guatemala (1954-1997) it is marked by a genocidal racism clearly inherited from its colonial past.

21st Century Fascism (2010-?)

While the Cold War is understood to have ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union, it is equally important to recall that this was accompanied by claims of ‘the end of history’. Few analysts of capitalism or fascism anticipated an expansion of the political horizons for fascism during the years following the end of the Cold War. Most assumed it would pass into the garbage bin of history. Instead, in retrospect, that time period was a crucible within which fascism was reinvigorated. With the ‘Great Recession’ of 2007-2010 it has vigorously shaken itself, much like a wet dog emerging from a rainstorm; no longer on a short leash, it is on the hunt covering terrain previously out of reach.

An expanded and modified framework for understanding this sweeping periodization might be constructed following ideas popularized by Immanuel Wallerstein. Capitalism cannot be theorized without reference to a ‘global north and south’ and a ‘core and periphery’. Neither can fascism.

To illustrate the flaw inherent to analogies that proceed directly from Classical fascism to the present, let’s turn to Chumbawamba and their 1994 anthem, The Day The Nazi Died (the Nazi is Rudolph Hess).

We’re told that after the war

The Nazis vanished without a trace                                            

But battalions of fascists

Still dream of a master race

The history books they tell        

Of their defeat in ’45

But they all came out of the woodwork                                  

On the day the Nazi died

They say the prisoner at Spandau                                    

Was a symbol of defeat    

Whilst Hess remained imprisoned                              

The fascists they were beat

So the promise of an Aryan world                                    

Would never materialize          

So why did they all come out of the woodwork                            

On the day the Nazi died?

The world is riddled with maggots                                      

The maggots are getting fat

They’re making a tasty meal of all                                                

The bosses and bureaucrats

They’re taking over the boardrooms                                      

And they’re fat and full of pride

And they all came out of the woodwork                                  

On the day the Nazi died

So if you meet with these historians                                  

I’ll tell you what to say            

Tell them that the Nazis

Never really went away

They’re out there burning houses down                          

And peddling racist lies

And we’ll never rest again    

Until every Nazi dies

Sunkara and Riley both extrapolate from a definition of classical fascism that is flawed not least because it omits or downplays key categories necessary for defining it. With flawed definition in hand, they then do what virtually everyone else does: proceed directly to the present, skipping Cold War fascism.

From here they will have difficulty understanding 21st Century Fascism, which began around 2010. The twenty years between the end of the Cold War and the beginning of 21st Century fascism is an interregnum, which I will explain in another article.

Riley has his own blind spot on display when he is discussing what animates the former attorney general, Jeff Sessions. “Sessions’s anti-immigrant fanaticism is rooted in a theory of us development over the past ninety years or so. According to him, the massive inequalities of the Gilded Age were an expression of uncontrolled immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe. With the passage of the National Origins Act of 1924, the European population was assimilated, becoming a homogeneous white working and middle class—the foundation for us world power and domestic tranquility in the twentieth century.”

To use Riley’s own turn of phrase, such a political philosophy could plausibly be cast in white nationalist terms.

The “extreme form of hybridity” Riley assigns to Trump is a feature of fascism, as well as a style of rule. Fascism scrambles familiar categories of the liberal and conservative thought world precisely because it insists upon white identity. The civil becomes the ethnic state (birtherism, attacks on the 14th Amendment, the border becomes a wall), economics is increasingly rendered as cultural (black crime imperils white neighborhoods, immigration undermines community cohesion, trade protectionism expresses a desire to care for one’s own), etc. It must do this because what drives fascism–racism, nationalism and the fight above and below–cannot be carried forward within traditional modes of capitalist command and control; they are not the same, although there is a great deal of overlap between them.

This is fascism in its movement stage.

How to account for this? In a footnote on NSDAP voting and membership data, Riley acknowledges the problem of identifying fascism in its movement stage: “…whether voting behaviour is a good indicator of the ‘social basis’ of fascism is an important question.” At least he recognizes the need to account for fascism in its early stages. But, as with so many others, he throws up his hands because it is apparently too difficult a task. It isn’t.

Here’s an example of what I mean drawn from yet another missed opportunity, this time from our preeminent political prognosticator, Nate Silver. In February of 2016, following breathless articles in the New York Times about disturbing levels of racism polled throughout the American South, Silver led a befuddled group of his colleagues in an attempt to address this. “Elections Podcast: Racism Among Trump’s Supporters”  was the first time Silver, or probably any of his colleagues, used the term ‘white nationalism’. Their unfamiliarity with the term, together with no particular follow through, opened a window through which to view the more general failure to anticipate the election victory of Trump. Aside from Michael Moore, most liberals and leftists failed as well. Again, the key term here is ‘white nationalism’.

Near the end of his article, Riley, having thus far successfully eschewed the term ‘populism’, then renders to it that which must be denied: analytical legitimacy. Trump, Riley argues, may not be any kind of fascist per se, but he exhibits ‘traits’ of the authoritarian and populist. Ugh.

About that “shot of adrenaline”. Here’s the full quote:

“In the 2018 congressional elections, there is no doubt that Trump bore much responsibility for a result unprecedented over the past fifty years—a 49 per cent turnout in a midterm. In this basic sense, Trump’s ascendancy has not resulted in the erosion of American democracy, but rather acted as a shot of adrenaline to a moribund system. Can the left succeed in turning this new terrain to its advantage?”

Yes, perhaps. But what will determine success or failure? If that “shot of adrenaline” turns out to be crystal meth the need for a vibrant, grassroots, militant antifascism will be essential to countering whatever new monstrosities are unleashed. The time for that is before such abominations gain a foothold.

What is it then that Sunkara and Riley prescribe?

More of the same.

Today while the left may not be a roaring tiger, it is certainly no longer a mewling kitten. Democratic socialism is on the lips of millions, but so is white nationalism. By their own logic Sunkara and Riley should understand this. So long as they deny even the existence of contemporary fascism, they will unwittingly hobble our efforts to both confront and offer an alternative to it.

Neither Sunkara nor Riley have anything to say about antifascism, much less the Antifa. It should be noted that the two signature tactics used by today’s antifascists in the United States–doxxing and deplatforming –have effectively crippled the further development of mass fascism. Antifascists throughout the global north deserve support–theoretical and political defense, legal aid, funding and platters of brownies. Where is it?

Last November, after Trump singled out the Antifa for attack by “cops, soldiers and tough guys” there were no statements of solidarity forthcoming from the left. Perhaps the International Socialist Organization or Democracy Now! stood up, but it wasn’t enough. Antifascists should not be hung out to dry; their accomplishments left for academics, ‘anti hate centers’, celebrities or the SPLC to cannabalize. The left needs an independent antifascist effort from the left and below, rooted in the red and the black. It has this in the Antifa, but it needs the political and theoretical defense necessary for continued development. Such efforts should be supported by comrades in positions to do so.

I have been terse, even harsh, with Jacobin and New Left Review. But I want to be clear: These are two of the most important journals I go to for theoretical and political clarity.

I’m yelling at you because I care.

In 2019 there is a growing sense among fascists that what they fight for is not a narrow nationalism, but a transcontinental ‘whiteness’ that stretches from Western Europe east through Russia, onwards to Canada and the United States. In this scenario the threat from Russia is not principally from its ‘authoritarian’ nature, but from its increasing alignment with a fascist international in formation. This ‘white belt’ cannot be understood within a framework of analysis that amounts to a ‘white out’. The solution, as always, is a hybrid of communist and anarchist ideas–the red and the black.

END

 

No Mercy: 1980s Reactionary Nostalgia

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Throughout its first four seasons Black Mirror, the science fiction series that features technology-driven dystopian futures, has largely managed to avoid the 1980s nostalgia trap. Black Mirror’s critique of science, technology and capitalism has been sharp and disquieting in welcome ways.

My favorite episodes from the first three seasons are “5 Million Credits”, “Nosedive” and “Hated in the Nation”. Although Netflix got involved in season four, the series still managed “Black Museum” and “U.S.S. Callister”, continuing a tradition of entertaining and socially conscious science fiction.

Now comes Bandersnatch.

Rather than fidelity to the social-science fiction of Issac Asimov, William Gibson, Ursula K. LeGuinn, or even Samuel Beckett (check out Lost Ones) Black Mirror, perhaps in keeping with the global civilizing mission of its adoptive parent, Netflix, has plunged down the 1980s memory hole. We will have to see if it can find its way out.

Which raises a couple questions:

What is it about the 1980s that has captured the imagination of corporate popular culture? What are the reactionary nostalgists nostalgic for?

Allow me to hazard some answers.

What is celebrated here is the golden era of the Cold War, where, as the story goes, capitalism, and to a lesser extent, democracy, finally triumphed over communism, and to a lesser extent, totalitarianism. Reagan said “tear down that wall!” and the wall came down. Every rose colored look back includes that scene in its rear view mirror, with a Hollywood sunset ahead.

This triumph of the anticommunist ‘democratic’ consensus claimed to have ushered in ‘the end of history’. No more class struggle, no more engine of history that didn’t run on wage labor, private property and free markets. Progress may be slow, we were told, but it was persistent, always bending towards justice. But history didn’t end, only ‘the end of history’ came to an end–in the killing fields of the Balkans, Rwanda and Iraq.

This is the ‘progress’ Walter Benjamin warned us about.

So here we are, in 2019, and one can smell fascism wafting through the malls, class struggle back on the streets, meaninglessness growing as a malignant tumor on the body politic. What went wrong?

How to fit this square peg into that round hole?

Efface, or reframe it.

The consolidation of political reaction, economic austerity and social backlash came about in the final defeat of the 1960s-70s global wave of upheavals. You know, what came before the 1980s. Buried within this nostalgia is a tacit celebration of reaction, or at least a begrudging acceptance of it.

For corporate interests and many liberals and reactionaries alike, the 1980s also represents the end of socialism, by which is meant class struggle, the true motor of history. The launch of the digital frontier coincided in the popular imagination with that ‘end of history’. They are linked.

But something sinister stalks the anti communist consensus and the tech revolution to which it is yoked.

Nostalgia always involves sentimental longing, often for something that never was. This longing for a mythical past has been described as a key feature of fascist ideology. It is, but it is not the only feature, although it shares this in common with neoliberalism.

What this nostalgia doesn’t efface, it reframes and co-opts. Note that the current wave of 1980s nostalgia does not (usually) include a revalorization of gay bashing, women in the kitchen or Black people at the back of the bus. It presents itself as inclusive of hard fought and won social and economic rights, but claims these victories for itself, then repackages them for sale to the highest bidder, thereby undermining the foundation for those gains. What is most important is that the narrative of how those rights were won be safely ensconced within the embrace of this nostalgia. Slowly, incrementally, while enjoying Kenny Loggins, Michael Jackson or Van Halen.

‘Everything’s gonna be alright’.

The return to the 1980s frequently presents these victories as having come about as a result of anticommunism, austerity, and extreme increases in corporate power, and not despite of or in opposition to them. It’s a difficult argument to make with a straight face, but plenty of people do it. The most persuasive arguments for such nonsense are those that have their roots in a playful naïveté leavened with a healthy dose of cynicism, preferably with very high production values.

Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One is a gleeful expression of this tendency. Bandersnatch plays the same tune, but in a different key.

Whereas Ready Player One employs a traditional action/adventure narrative structure, Bandersnatch is configured to scramble any narrative structure. Although they are dissimilar in this respect, they are united in their reactionary nostalgia.

The first element of attraction here is an effort to rediscover that magical moment when the twin totalitarianisms of fascism and communism gave way to capitalism and democracy. Or so the story goes. But capitalism and democracy are fundamentally incompatible, their clash engendering the eternal return of various strategies for an exit.

The second concept celebrated here is the birth (in a garage, rather than a manger) of a nascent cottage industry of personal computers. A bunch of sexually maladjusted teenage nerds fondling diodes and manipulating bits innovated again and again until voila! the personal computer was liberated from IBM, then plundered for profit by Microsoft and Apple.

Whatever trace amounts of creativity and public good remain from those garages was long ago gobbled up by metastasizing corporate power.

For Ready Player One this retreat from the public sphere into the garage is glamorized in the opening moments of the film, when the protagonist says, “he showed us we could go somewhere without going anywhere at all.” This is the perfect theme for a political philosophy that cannot acknowledge even the existence of a shared material reality, much less the gross inequality of that reality.

The first unforgivable sin of Bandersnatch is in its very conception and, predictably, its production costs. Because this movie/app involves multiple story lines, it takes hours to exhaust all the possible ‘endings’, so instead of four discrete science fiction pieces, we get ‘four in one’. “Look how much money we saved on actors and locations!” someone surely noted.

But the end result is a second sin: Bandersnatch takes on more than it can chew and succumbs to that dreaded art form, pastiche. Who in their right mind thought to combine the worst elements of an ‘on demand app’ such as Uber Driver or Deliv with a science fiction tradition that skewers such naked digital aggression? If that’s Bandersnatch’s snarky point, it’s well taken because I didn’t bother to finish it. Mission accomplished.

Here are three concepts useful in unpacking the reactionary philosophy at the heart of Ready Player One and Bandersnatch and for understanding my seething hatred of them both.

Commodity fetishism is a concept with deep roots in Marxist economics. It borrows from religion and anthropology to examine capitalist production. All capitalist production involves exploitation and domination. The processes and relations that are a part of producing the things we need and desire, and the inequality that ensues, must be hidden, the whole process represented as good, just and eternal. Where commodities come from, how they come to be, and what relations are involved with their production must be obscured or reframed, if they are even acknowledged. Why? Because the truth of the matter is a horror show.

In Ready Player One, as with seemingly all video games, keys and coins are fetishized. A commodity is represented as having magical properties in much the same way a talisman does for a priest.

The relationship between the Bit and capitalism is perfectly represented by keys and coins. One must develop skills (coding, for instance) in order to obtain and use keys; the keys unlock chests of coins, used to purchase more keys (skills) so as to unlock…and so on. Nowhere in this film is there even a glimpse of the material reality that underlies its world; only that sometime in the future there will still be trailor parks and Pizza Huts.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the scenario that takes place in a digital recreation of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. This craven homage is, to me, sacrilegious. But I aggress.

The second concept is possessive individualism. Here’s C.B. MacPherson, who coined the term, on what it means: “in which an individual is conceived as the sole proprietor of his or her skills and owes nothing to society for them.” The highest expression of possessive individualism today is the celebrity tech millionaire, worshipped for their genius. Originally, as with the case of Thomas Edison, genius was represented by the ‘invention’. Today we call this ‘innovation’, the difference in terms reflects a deeper transformation of things (inventions) into processes and relations (innovations) controlled by Bit logic. The power of the tech lord is not found in a thing so much as the ruthless cunning necessary to instrumentalize all those hidden relations of production that produce corporate profits. If tech titans wield a talisman, it is the Bit. This is what networking power is really about. Because corporations are inherently dictatorial, the celebrity tech titan is a prime source of authoritarianism. We know this, intuitively, and it causes anxiety. That anxiety, however, is neurotic: it loathes and loves the dictator. This is why there are usually good and bad corporate dictators, as in Ready Player One, from which one must choose. There is no alternative to this binary–one must choose one or the other. Both choices are bad.

The last concept, repressive desublimation, occurs when in order to satiate our thirst for change, we increasingly purchase or fund our rebellion, becoming thirstier.

Repressive desublimation can be broken down into its constituent components. Attributed to Herbert Marcuse, of the Frankfurt School, it borrows from psychology. Repressed, as in a desire that cannot be fulfilled, the deferment of which functions as both a defense mechanism and the source of pathology. When we say something is repressed, we usually assume it will bite back with a vengeance sometime later. The longer the repression, the harsher the bite back later on. But it is also a coping mechanism, where one learns to tolerate and accept intolerable and unacceptable things and get over it.

Desublimation occurs when a desire, say for sexual expression, is desublimated through, for instance the beauty myth. Sexual fulfillment can only be found through the sexual marketplace where strict adherence to a beauty regime and the wages of patriarchy are required. Each desire deferred is transmuted into a new desire, and so on. Desublimation occurs when the unfulfilled desire snaps back, without a mediating state, to a state which now contains within it both the original desire and the experience of its repression, thought to be its fulfillment. The snap back is not gradual, but immediate and harsh as when the purchase of a Land Rover is criticized as outdated, or your haircut is ugly.

As a thermodynamic process, desublimation is when a substance (here, steam) is transformed back to its original state (ice), reversing its sublimation from ice to steam.

This is the soul crushing cycle of consumer capitalism, where needs and desires are manufactured as much or more so than goods and services, through advertising. Workers are enlisted as consumers in administering their own poison. This is the essence of repressive desublimation, which is what framing Van Halen as rebellion is all about.

The Bildungsroman coming of age adventure story featured in both Ready Player One and Bandersnatch allows for celebrity worship, but of the right celebrity. This always features a poor, Horacio Alger type, preferably abused by a working class family that fails to appreciate his (it always is a boy-man) genius.

Here capitulation to pop culture is rendered (fat boiled off down to the bone) as resistance, even revolution.

But it is neither.

The only exercise of free will here is that of the corporation, a legally defined citizen with all the rights of a citizen, but none of the responsibilities. The only responsibilities a corporation has are those of a fiduciary nature, to shareholder value.

Perhaps this is one of the points the creators of Bandersnatch seek to make. But it’s difficult to extract that from an experience as loathsome as that of watching/playing Bandersnatch. Many of us are forced to endure such indignities on a daily basis and prefer that our intelligent science fiction be free of such cruelties.

The film Almost Mercy, by Tom Denucci is a flawed, but welcome antidote to this reactionary nostalgia. Almost Mercy is violent, gory and gruesome, yet surprises with deadpan humor and even manages tenderness and melancholy. The plot contains an initially disorienting look back to the bigotries of early American Christian fundamentalism. That disorientation later reveals itself as deeper character development and thematic exposition. The narration by the protagonist, an emerging militant feminist, is caustic and unsparing, but funny as hell.

There are problems, however, such as the well sprung role reversal near the end. If you watch closely, that role reversal is given away a bit too early. There are also several scenes with anachronisms, such as selfies with IPhones, not invented until 2007.

The casting of two icons of 1980s slasher horror films is brilliant, as they satirize themselves. The soundscape and soundtrack obliterate so much 1980-90s commercial pop music through thoughtful and searing vignettes, which owe more to that time period’s alternative rock.

Set in ‘South Greenwich, Rhode Island’ the social context for Almost Mercy is rooted in Northeastern American deindustrialization. The town used to have industry, but now downwardly mobile whites pursue “champagne lifestyles on gingerale budgets”, caught up in the familiar scourges of easy credit and indebtedness, addiction, meaninglessness and the disposable family. As if that weren’t enough, every possible institutional representative relied upon to protect the young protagonist, fails: parents, teachers, law enforcement, pastors, social workers, psychiatrists, peers, the media, etc. Each, in turn, is skewered in scenes of deep pathos and sarcasm, creating the conditions within which drastic means of redress become the only option.

It’s a brilliant film, but needs editing.

In summation:

The exit strategy for Ready Player One is the full embrace of the simulacrum; of Bandersnatch, that there are endless iterations of an exit; and of Almost Mercy, vengeance–kill your oppressors.

A socialist future is nowhere considered here, but there is little doubt that it cannot be constructed from the lessons of the first two; only, problematically, if at all, from the last.

END