As it is April 16, 2020 I must make note of the ongoing collapse of the world economy at the hands of a tiny, but deadly, virus. As per usual here in the United States BIPOC, the poor, the working classes, the elderly, the weak and vulnerable are being hit hardest both by the spread of the virus and the resultant economic fallout. The rich are serenading one another across well-apportioned balconies and expansive vales, clapping while we die. We need immediate material support that in most places is not forthcoming. They need a fucking guillotine. Many of us have been waiting weeks for unemployment benefits, food aid, or that one-off-signed-by-a-sociopath-stimulus-check. If the pandemic has dramatized anything it’s the fragility of the neo-liberal consensus. But the left remains largely incapable of mounting a ‘counter-hegemony’. Perhaps the far right has a better angle on exploiting such fragility? I sincerely hope not, but that remains to be seen.
The most visible opponent to the current Republican Cult of Death is New York governor Andrew Cuomo, a soulless political prevaricator whose contributions to ending the pandemic include forcing Rikers Island prisoners to make hand sanitizer and scolding working class Americans to simultaneously ‘stay at home’ and ‘go get a job’–all without a hint of cognitive dissonance. Liberalism is dead. Don’t expect this sudden, half-assed, altogether pathetic expansion of the welfare state during the pandemic to revive it. Stick a fork in it already. The other Left Coast leading liberal light, California Governor Gruesome is no better. Behind every plutocrat and celebrity clapping on their doorstep for an essential worker risking their life is a lib-con telling us all to get back to work and appreciate the fact we have a job at all. We know the bar for humanitarian response is perilously low when these clowns are regarded as leaders. We leftists have always argued for re-valorizing essential work and the workers who perform it. This system of organized theft will cough up a begrudging acknowledgment of our humanity about the time there is no longer a humanity left.
The contrast between something so small having such a large impact is instructive here. Throughout human history radical political ideologies always, by definition, start on the outskirts of accepted public opinion. Then, that Overton Window we are all so fond of referencing suddenly and quite unexpectedly opens up, moves to another building or is shattered altogether by a projectile. Such ideas and the people who promote them grow in influence during times of major disruption. Twenty-six million unemployed in five weeks, mile-long lines at food banks and overflowing morgues are terrifying testaments to our current predicament. We just cannot say what is coming, only that it will likely be something different from whatever we have experienced before. The depth, breadth and velocity of the current economic upheavals are just too extreme not to produce some kind of political fallout.
The WWI era, for example, was characterized by a devastating inter-imperialist global war and was the hand maiden for both Bolshevism and fascism reaching for and grasping state power. However one chooses to understand and assess those radical ideologies, it is undeniable that they began among a few adherents and under certain circumstances became normative. So today, as we confront a pandemic driving an unprecedented economic contraction throughout the entirety of organized human life we should perhaps ask ourselves: What might be the character of any political upheavals that follow? What small group of conspirators–10 good comrades for Lenin, a handful of putschists for Hitler–might be waiting in the wings? How best to identify such actors so we can accurately assess their prospects and join or fight them?
By way of clarification, I don’t mention Bolshevism and fascism in the same sentence so as to suggest they are moral or political equivalents. That’s what lib-cons do–a fools errand that only perpetuates capitalist exploitation and domination or, worse, ensures the return of fascism. We need a revolution, but a deeply socialist, anti-racist and democratic one. My point here is that both movements came to power during times of extreme duress. We are now in the midst of such a global disruption, one without any precedence in human history. As the cliche goes, great peril is often accompanied by great opportunity. It’s a cliche because it’s true. For all its gruesome effects, this post modern plague has (miraculously) emptied out stadiums, office buildings, concert halls, NASCAR tracks, ocean liners, jumbo jets and golf courses. Behold: the bluest of blue skies and the brightest of stars at night, the re-wilding of diverse habitats, the disappearance of traffic overnight, the great grinding to a halt of capitalism and its ravaging effects on this habitat we call earth, albeit amidst great horror. One can marvel and dream of a different future without succumbing to eco-fascism. It might be possible to theorize an eco-socialism from the realization that the spread of this other plague (capitalism) can be arrested. Which brings us to my last point.
As working class, poor and vulnerable people struggle to survive this latest crisis of capitalism and the hollowed out democracy that provides its ever thinning legitimating narrative, we may find ourselves confronted with a choice that comes around only once every few decades. Whereas previous crises always involved some governmental intervention to temporarily discipline the capitalist casino class so as to reestablish an equilibrium of inequality that the poor and working masses could not find a way out of or around, today the shock is an exogenous one, although magnified a thousand-fold by wholly endogenous factors. It may be that no such equilibrium will be forthcoming in the aftermath. The wheels may have come off permanently. The center may not hold. Everyone is running for the exit. There are only two: socialism or barbarism.
Whatever consensus preceded this conflagration it will hold only on a steep upward incline such that it will be driven inexorably back toward fascism. If and when it slides it won’t slide half-way; it will smash back into the 19th century but with 21st century tools of repression to hold it there. Another way of putting this: if revolutionary socialists fail to effect a revolution this time we may all be doomed to fascism. Anyone who argues that that slide is already underway is probably correct; anyone who argues it is inevitable should be pilloried. The slide can be arrested, even reversed. Rosa Luxemburg wrote:
The “golden mean” cannot be maintained in any revolution. The law of its nature demands a quick decision: either the locomotive drives forward full steam ahead to the most extreme point of the historical ascent, or it rolls back of its own weight again to the starting point at the bottom; and those who would keep it with their weak powers half way up the hill, it drags down with it irredeemably into the abyss.
Neither the slide back to fascism nor a successful ascent to socialism are inevitable. It’s up to us.
Capitalism is the virus. To kill it we must enforce and extend the current shutdown. The only thing capitalism is congenitally allergic to is a limit on growth. It must expand. It must grow, preferably at exponential rates.
Our logic of revolutionary redistribution should be premised on a slowing down and de-commodification, on a decentralization together with a re-valorization, and on a democratization of equality. We must try and refocus our horizon from those narrow, two-party recapitulations of that which is possible forever chained to “There Is No Alternative” to the centrality of essential work and the essential workers who perform it: first responders, mutual aid providers, wage laborers, agricultural workers, gig workers, service workers, frontline fighters, etc. The only jobs worth protecting are those worked by essential workers. Think about that. What is the point of having ‘inessential’ jobs?Collectively, essential workers and the essential work they engage in comprise that which we cannot do without. In a collective sense such work is also desirable and, conversely, the work carried out at stadiums, golf courses, banks and so much more is inessential, that which we can (and should) do without.
What I mean here is that we should support social distancing and shelter at home policies not only because they are necessary to fight the pandemic at hand, but because they embody a better future. To that end, emerging from this crisis should be a robust challenge to the follies of perpetual growth and increased velocity that fuel inequality. We may have a unique opportunity to challenge, in a popular way, the commodity form and the logic of exchange value and pricing so central to it. In other words, the social distancing and stoppage of so much work is not only necessary to defeat the spread of Covid 19, it is necessary for any socialist future, perhaps any future at all.
Literally used now more than ever.
Joe Biden was criticized way back in 2012 for using the adverb ‘literally’ nine times in one speech. How quaint. I recently listened to a level 5 Google engineer use it nine times in the space of two minutes.
This particular soulless quant had another annoying habit: He would begin every other sentence by restating my name, “Jonathan, I understand what you are saying…” If such feigned familiarity is coupled with a light touch on the arm, I feel free to reach for a knife. Most people who do this are trying to overcome skepticism and inculcate credulity. As a mnemonic device it is annoying at best; more often it is cloying and insincere and is a sure sign of someone to distrust, even despise.
Honestly? Like. Literally. Actually.
While I don’t miss Obama much, I do miss his particular elocution, that patient, preternaturally calm, baritone voice and the halting ‘ums’ and ‘uhs’ that stitched together his verbal output. By today’s standards those pauses are pleasant by comparison. They don’t have any pretense; they are space fillers that allow him to think. While I have many disagreements with what he said, I could always understand it. He was thoughtful and nuanced to a fault; dithering on the golf course while fascism made a comeback. But in this he was not alone, nor particularly exceptional. Plenty of socialists, for instance practically the entire seven hear history of Jacobin Magazine and Blog, join him in this regard. But back to those adverbs.
With Trump it is as though every wealthy, entitled and neurotic teenager has suddenly been given carte blanche to release their own unfiltered insanity. While I think the parallels here can be overstated (Trump as a teenager) there is still something to it. Will Trump bomb Iran or just berate the housekeeper? Will he begin in earnest the rounding up of undocumented families or just do a stint in rehab?
His verbal diarrhea is pockmarked with superlatives such as ‘winner’, ‘terrific’, ‘tremendous’ and of course, ‘great’ and ‘greatest’. It’s as though his mother, or au pair, never stopped telling him how special he was, even when he was caught eviscerating the neighbor’s cat. Good boy.
If Trump were a pornography category it would be ass-to-mouth, mouth-to-ass, with all those A-list ruling class enablers from both political parties, across every imaginable capitalist enterprise, sucking and fucking to form one giant, unending, gangrenous human centipede, just like the horror film. Jeffrey Epstein is in there somewhere.
Today it seems that adverbs, and certain nasty ones in particular, have mounted an attack upon the nonviolence of ums and ahs, completing a scorched earth assault on the quiet dignity of anodyne place fillers so as to replace them with crutch words that, whether used correctly or incorrectly, amount to obfuscation and disorganization–i.e., bullshit. These lexical tics impulsively resorted to by the verbally disabled add emphasis where none is needed, assert drama where there is only triviality, state the obvious rather than the nuanced and (my favorite) suggest strongly that everything said beforehand was a lie (honestly?…). The standard Trump teenage verbal diarrhea disaster asserts a recklessness with meaning that can only be regarded as aggressive stupidity. This is the hallmark of the powerful, the invulnerable, the masters of the universe who say and do as they please without repercussions, and is the hidden in plain view secret behind Trump’s attraction to some people. We have heard it again and again: Trump ‘says out loud what we can only think to ourselves’. My own take on this is that Trump says out loud, in ways some people would never even hazard, the despicable ideas that belong in the basement. They generally stay there because someone will kick your fucking ass if you say them out loud elsewhere, which is as it should be, but, alas is no longer.
The terrifying ephemeral nature of Twitter is the dominant mode of communication for this viral and noxious hate speech. But together with the sheer hatred and assault of such verbiage there is something else underway: where everything is equally dramatic, nothing is important. Aside from links to longer written work, this platform, like instagag and snapcrap is useless for leftists. The ‘twit’ in Twitter is there for a reason. Those who are prolific in these mediums are the same shallow dipshits who prosecute juvenile intra-leftist fights. Tankies vs. insurrectionists, statists vs. anarchists, etc.
No complex thoughts or arguments are possible here, only half-ass hash tags, silly memes, and depraved gossip. Chomsky once remarked that in order to engage an audience about ideas which break with orthodoxy one must spend some time setting the groundwork to do so–you need at least 15-30 minutes to tear down presumptions that prohibit ‘out of the box’ thinking. If you are not afforded the opportunity to do this you sound insane. This fact alone means the instant ambush culture of social media and the talking heads that wallow in cultish Marxisant Zizekian nonsense ensures no such thinking is possible within such a format. Zizek and his ilk thrive there because they are full of shit. That’s why Chomsky didn’t go on cable news programs or engage in celebrity debates. Chomsky has all the more integrity because of that. More leftists, certain antifascists in particular, need a reminder on this point. Otherwise you are just engaging a debate on their terms. The only corrective to this sorry state of affairs is aptly provided in the wonderful allegory of revolution that is the film Snowpiercer, by Bong Joon-Ho. If you get to the front of the train, don’t listen to the conductor, don’t even allow him to talk–cut his tongue out and remember: Kronole is a bomb, you idiot!
This is why it is largely pointless to troll celebrities and engage in the shadow boxing preferred liberals and conservatives. The questions determine the parameters of possible answers. Liberals and conservatives, establishment types and pols consumed with issues and policies are congenitally allergic to our thinking and action. Are they concentration camps? Is Jeremy Corbyn an anti-semite? Was Brett Kavanaugh qualified for the Supreme Court? Is there a U.S. presidential candidate other than Bernie Sanders worth two shits? Did Jeffrey Epstein receive preferential treatment for his predations? If you debate these questions, you have lost before you begin because there is no debate. To debate what is obvious is the death of debate. It is to die a dithering death, full of thoughtfulness and nuance, that amounts to nothing. It won’t stop fascism or overcome capitalism. Enough already. Try a long form essay, ffs, and mind your adverbs
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.
Hate the good hate.
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.
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”
[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.
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.
If only in 1991 there had been a John Brown Gun Club, a Pacific Northwest Antifascist Workers Collective, a Socialist Rifle Association, or even a communist caucus within the Democratic Socialists of America, I wouldn’t have been visiting a Stalinist at a Victorian overlooking Delores Park, in San Francisco.
But then again, I wouldn’t have enjoyed that reefer in the park, either.
Somewhat delirious after frolicking in the Castro during Gay Pride, I sat in the parlor of a woman who was an aficionado of the great abolitionist, John Brown. In fact she called her organization the John Brown Anti-Klan Committee (JBAKC–what an acronym!). A committed Stalinist, she held forth at length about ‘Uncle Joe’, and was a militant and mostly nonsectarian (really) antifascist. But between the two of us–I am not in any sense a communist in the Stalinist tradition–we did what we could, from within a political environment vastly different from that of today, to stem the tide of fascism. We shared intelligence on fascists, protested fascists, and fought them in the streets, all the while hoping to ignite a prairie fire of resistance and rebellion. But all this we did at a time when radicals who were socialists, anarchists and communists, were not so frisky. Most people from these traditions split the difference as ‘progressives’, the remainder operated from radical grouplets. The most dedicated and principled among us did prison support work to honor and protect comrades on the inside.
Much of our conversation in that Victorian proceeded in the manner of a seasoned dialectician gently head-patting a skeptical neophyte:
“Kicking the shit out of Nazis seems to be at least somewhat effective,” I would say. My Stalinist friend would reply, “well, I agree with you in practice, and will even do it with you, but, look here,” pointing to a passage from Stalin’s Dialectical and Historical Materialism, “I’m not sure it works in theory.”
What the Antifa practices works, damn the theory.
The theory will come round, eventually.
After all these years, I remain hopelessly in love with you.
From our first meeting, I was head over heels.
The initial courtship, that labor of love called the Antifascist Archives Project, blossomed into a passionate love affair.
We became friends, comrades and lovers.
You would tutor me in the manner of a sober socialist dialectician. But, Oh!–how my heart would skip a beat and I would blush when you pronounced the word, “dialectician.”
So many late nights with comrades buried in newspaper clippings, pamphlets and balaclavas, it was a wonder we ever slept.
That cold call you insisted I make to an old Yippie–“castigate him for not sufficiently appreciating the legacy of the Black Panthers,” you exhorted. That same old Yippie would laugh uproariously at my chutzpah, then spend countless hours sharing trade secrets over latkes and coffee.
“Only from ignorance can the greatest leaps of wisdom be made,” you later said.
Thrumming your fingers on a wooden desk piled high with papers, you look up: “The best protection from being infiltrated by your enemies is to infiltrate them. Simple and irrefutable. Know what they are thinking before they think it; act before they act. Then crush them.”
You were always straight to the point.
Long before his posthumously published Millennium Trilogy, you claimed Stieg Larsson as one of our own–an international socialist and antifascist who lapped other researchers by practicing the dark arts of Antifa spycraft, all the while hewing close to your dictums.
Gazing up at the entrance to a segregated country club, you mused: “Pedagogy is important. Where the rich have been so shortsighted as to construct their temples of conspicuous consumption in close proximity to us, we will occupy them so as to provide a teachable moment.”
The Great Game, by Leopold Trepper, always at your fingertips.
“Trapped between the anvil of Stalin and the hammer of Hitler, Trepper chose an independent, antifascist communism. He also developed long term spies and a formidable intelligence network.”
Later: “Sometimes I feel trapped between the hammer of Trump and the anvil of Clinton.”
You were never so relaxed and jovial as with that knock-nosed miner from Northern England. The Godfather of the American Antifa (who, in keeping with tradition shall remain anonymous) dispatched this foul mouthed hooligan to disrupt fascist enclaves in the Pacific Northwest, and we sang songs about gay and lesbian liberation, armed strikes and Native resistance.
In 1996, over weird breakfasts and not a few pints in a baker’s dozen of cities throughout Germany you showed me the Antifa flag flying high.
“Look”, you pointed up. “There, hoisted high above that community center, the red and the black. The only flag the Antifa will ever fly–if it flies one at all.”
You were everywhere over there after the fall of that wall, from Stuttgart to Bremen, Wuppertal to Keil and of course Berlin and the wonderful organized chaos of Kreuzberg.
“What’s that smell?”, I asked in Leipzig. “Braunkohle”, you murmured, “distinctive and dirty.”
Defending refugees the urgent task of the day; fighting cops what the Antifa did on its lunch break.
“All cops are bastards,” you would spit, the taste of cayenne pepper fresh in your mouth.
Later: “Most cops are workers, too. Find a few still capable of cognitive dissonance; they will help us liberate their intelligence reports on fascists and identify racist cops.”
Then, after a shot and a beer, another tattoo, and dancing to LKJ at a meet up with the RABL, you woke up with a terrific hangover, then got back at it.
As you remember I continued to fight fascism, and fascists, but sometimes wound up in odd situations, occasionally a forum where I did not belong.
You never thought much of that cocky, droll southern lawyer and his legal sophistry; less of the television repairman and his White Aryan Resistance. Something was amiss during that trial and verdict. I have heard rumors of a fateful meeting at a Shari’s Restaurant that one day will provide a curious postmortem to this instance of American justice carried out in the little city known as ‘Little Beirut’.
Sometime thereafter I was drafted to appear before an unofficial meeting of some subcommittee or another of the United States Congress, where I read something about terrorists and white supremacists.
I lectured judges about ‘citizen militias’ and white supremacists, keen to know if any of them were sympathetic.
We always found a few.
I then became an unpublished footnote to a libel suit filed by a peripatetic Holocaust denier, a suit he lost to a scholar of the Holocaust.
“I see you are slated to provide testimony for the trial,” you casually noted.
“Will they be in wigs?” I asked.
“Yes,” you said, “but it won’t be as much fun as a drag show.”
I stayed home.
Finally, I was approached (not the first time) to expand my intelligence network to target a part of the left that was dancing with brownshirts. I refused.
The request came from an unlikely source, and its refusal was difficult. What’s more, the logic behind the request and its integrity were not without foundation. It was something I would not do, but, could not categorically state should not be done. That’s a conundrum.
Ugh. I was a mess. So was the left.
But I never betrayed you, a statement many comrades close to you then, and perhaps close to you now, cannot truthfully say.
Sometime later you passed me a note which read, simply “What have we become?”
I burrowed deep within my files.
The bloom was off the rose.
Then I left. Or was shown the door. Probably a bit of both. I cast myself adrift, but always found myself moored somewhere close to you. I thought perhaps you would be better off without me. I watched from a distance, and you were hardly aware of my existence.
Throughout many years I’ve never really had another proper lover; paramours, flings, but nothing serious.
After you, no one could compare.
Today things are much different. Today the fascists are on the march and there are more of them. But so too have the red and the black multiplied and spread.
When Trump noted that opposition to the Antifa would include cops, soldiers and “tough guys” no one leapt to your defense.
Radicals who should have leapt to your defense instead demurred.
Others, however, expressed their solidarity.
The Socialist Rifle Association through its slogan “Arm the Working Class”, is an antidote to both the National Rifle Association and David Hogg. They are organic allies to the Antifa, as I’m sure you would agree.
I see you deepening your ties to allied antiracist, anticapitalist, left struggles. Even the New York Times references you, once removed, in begrudging acknowledgement of your successes.
Recent efforts by Al Jazeera, Hate Not Hope and even The Stranger in Seattle to infiltrate fascist groups follow a template you established.
But the terrain will be tricky.
Recently you were bashing the fash when a comrade approached you wearing a button that read, “I Am George Soros”. You shrugged, “Billionaires can take care of themselves, until we do. And fuck Charlie.”
A few months ago you exclaimed, “Look here! There is a veritable cottage industry in doxing, outing, de-platforming, shaming, exposing and ostracizing fascists online.”
A bit later, “human intelligence is often the foundation for signals intelligence. Not the other way around.”
When discussion strayed and the autonomous nature of the Antifa in doubt, you would retort:
“The Antifa is a conspiracy: Small, local, anonymous, decentralized, and flexible, with both feet churning in para politics, holding a compass oriented to the red and black.
“It has a twofold mission.
“First, fight fascism by attacking fascists. Destroy their capacity and disrupt their organizing.
“Second, protect kindred movements from attack. As socialists, anarchists and communists, the Antifa places priority on left popular movements and communities targeted by fascists.
“Safeguard the political integrity and independence of the Antifa in part by never using spycraft against the left or targeted communities.”
Warming up to it, you would continue:
“The Antifa is not a mass organization. The Antifa is not a, much less the, vanguard.
“The Antifa does not base build, hold conferences on privilege, organize unions, coordinate voter registration drives or practice entryism. All of these can be fine activities, but are not the province of the Antifa proper.
Finally, channeling Lenin or Luxemburg:
“The Antifa is a defensive formation that fights a rearguard battle against fascists to clear and prepare the way for popular revolutionary movements.”
“The Antifa does not fight to preserve liberal democracy, nor on behalf of liberal democracy, nor even according to the norms of liberal democracy; only, when appropriate, alongside liberal democracy, in opposition to fascism.”
“Such support is provisional and never in support of capitalist war, only class war.”
I’m breathing heavy just remembering your off-the-cuff harangues.
“Having an intelligence advantage is often a prerequisite to everything else. If you don’t develop it, you will be dependent on the state or para state formations to do so. That’s a relationship of dependence that will corrode your principles.
“Be bold. Push the envelope. Be conspiratorial.
“When recruiting people to infiltrate fascist organizations, ‘already antifascists’ are always preferable to someone motivated by money, or a recent epiphany. Leave them to the ADL and SPLC.”
As I look upon you now, in an epic battle with fascism, my love burns anew, if a bit less bright.
Do you still consider me one of your ‘original gangsters’? An O.G. Antifa? After all, once a gangster…
I am also, of course, an Old Ghost of Antifascism.
Whatever I am to you, I will always love you.
“Two Roads For the New French Right” by Mark Lilla, New York Review of Books December 18, 2018.
Mark Lilla has written an essay on the French Catholic Right without using the term laïcité’, an achievement of sorts. It strikes me as a bit like writing an article about The National Rifle Association and not mentioning the Second Amendment, which you can do, but only if you are Sacha Baron Cohen, and its not an article you are writing, but a satirical sketch.
Come to think of it, Lilla also manages to explore a good chunk of the French far-right ecosystem without once using the term ‘fascism’. This will not do.
A liberal heavyweight of ‘populism’ studies and a critic of identity politics, Lilla writes that something is underway in France that is more than “xenophobic populist outbursts”. A “New French Right” is being assembled by some characters with questionable democratic credentials.
But what Lilla purports to identify as a new political phenomenon is not in any sense new to veteran anti fascists. It’s only new to him. Lilla, who understands not a bit of the essence of fascism, waxes cheerily about the hip, countercultural credentials of this latest iteration of the French far-right, as though this is the first time a political movement has raided the nostalgia box of May 1968.
For instance, what he describes as a New French Right owes much to the 1980-90s writings of Alain de Benoist, an obvious progenitor of the ideas that are the focus of his essay. de Benoist and his Nouvelle Droit (New Right) of the 1980s and 1990s was also influenced by Gramsci, and I think de Benoist coined the term ‘the right to difference’ way back when. The Génération Identitaire fascists of today, with their millionaire funders behind their slick tech savvy media stunts, are similarily fascsinated with Gramsci and hegemony, the counter culture, environmentalism, etc. So is it a new, new French Right? Let’s not go down this road, for I fear we will end up reinforcing what is already a lexical hell.
Through this critique of Lilla’s essay, I will try a different approach.
The 3rd generation neofascist from the Le Pen stable, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, (pictured above on her Granddaddy’s lap in a Riefenstahlesque National Front poster of yor) gets a treatment that reads like a human interest piece. She is a “stylish Frenchwoman” with a “slight, charming French accent” who politely opposes what she calls a “nomadic, globalized, deracinated liberal system”. “Deracinated” translates here as “uprooted”, but it works in the other sense, too.
Lilla writes that French intellectuals dismiss these new-right Gramscians as closet National Front supporters and therefore of little political significance. He then laments that “The left has an old, bad habit of underestimating its adversaries and explaining away their ideas as mere camouflage for despicable attitudes and passions.” We probably don’t agree on what is referenced above as “the left”, but what Lilla doesn’t understand is that it is not all of the left that is guilty of this, just part of the left.
Comrades within the Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vests) who beat the living shit out of a National Front organizer during a recent Saturday protest are not paralyzed by attempts to parse French fascism into naughty and nice. But that’s what Lilla trys to do here.
Lilla is wringing his hands, as all liberals do when they sense the salience of their ideas approaching a denouement. One solution, of course, is to hop in the sack with the fascists by calling them conservatives.
“One possibility is that a renewed, more classical organic conservatism could serve as a moderating force in European democracies currently under stress. There are many who feel buffeted by the forces of the global economy, frustrated by the inability of governments to control the flow of illegal immigration, resentful of EU rules, and uncomfortable with rapidly changing moral codes regarding matters like sexuality. Until now these concerns have only been addressed, and then exploited, by far-right populist demagogues. If there is a part of the electorate that simply dreams of living in a more stable, less fluid world, economically and culturally—people who are not primarily driven by xenophobic anti-elitism—then a moderate conservative movement might serve as a bulwark against the alt-right furies by stressing tradition, solidarity, and care for the earth.”
Note how encouraging the nice French New Right could have a positive effect on democracy. And that’s the crux of the problem here: if the liberal democratic state is “under stress” and in need of a “moderating force” then the possibility that capitalist democracy is itself the problem is out of the question. This is the key concept around which all descriptions of ‘extremism’–from right or left–are constructed. And it is dangerous for antifascists to traffic in this stupidity.
The other possibility, according to Lilla, is this:
“A different scenario is that the aggressive form of conservatism that one also sees in France would serve instead as a powerful tool for building a pan-European reactionary Christian nationalism along the lines laid out in the early twentieth century by Charles Maurras, the French anti-Semitic champion of “integral nationalism” who became the master thinker of Vichy.”
So we have a passive and an aggressive conservatism that are behind what he calls the French New Right.
Both of Lilla’s scenarios are bunk. What is underway, and has been for some time, is a continental project of neo-fascism that has outstripped and scrambled familiar liberal categories. The only way to unscramble them is to reject both using a theoretical framework that is antifascist and socialist–from the left and below.
Lillla’s second scenario unconsciously references what I call the political geography of white nationalism within which all of this is taking place. This, together with neoliberalism, are what condition and structure this ‘new’ expression of the French far right, not vague notions of a global economy about which peope feel a generalized anxiety.
Let’s call it what it actually is: a fascist international in formation.
Also, just because one political creature of the far right prefers terms like “culture war” or “social organicism” in place of “race war” and “white nation” doesn’t mean such efforts have any empirical value for antifascists. Such rhetorical flourishes cannot help us distinguish ‘good conservatives’ from ‘bad conservatives’.
All of this is ripped from history, as when Lilla writes “This is consistent with trends in Eastern Europe, where Pew [Research Center] found that Orthodox Christian self-identification has actually been rising, along with nationalism, confounding post-1989 expectations.”
Confounding whose expectations, exactly? Most antifascists I knew in the 1990s correctly predicted a profoundly destructive unleashing of far right forces once they were freed from the Cold War parameters that had previously limited their political options. Much of this neo-fascism had a Christian bent–not surprising at all if you understood the twin pillars of fascism to be white nationalism and the Chrisitian Right. If, however, at the time you believed in the righteousness and stabilizing influence of the post Cold War American led neoliberal order–the end of history, the universal utopia of the European Union, the expansion of ‘free markets’ and civil society, etc.,–there was no real threat of a renewed fascism, only a gradual diminishing of those ancient prejudices that would accompany progress. But that was never going to be the case.
Some of us were arguing way back when that a pan-European white nationalism was developing into what can only be described as a fascist international. The collapse of the Soviet Bloc didn’t unleash long buried ancient prejudices that ‘communism’ kept artificially suppressed, as some inept anthropologist or another wrote, it burst the Cold War anti-communist consensus and opened new horizons for fascism to challenge capitalist democracies and authoritarian states alike.
Perhaps most disturbing, however, is that Lilla, together with so many of his dim witted colleagues, never tire of fretting about the ‘anxiety’ and ‘xenophobia’ that supposedly accompanies (excessive) immigration. Exhausted from such intellectual turbidity, they have nothing left for an analysis of why people from the Global South move northward. To do so would mean bringing up the pulverizing wars, economic super exploitation and social dislocation that is always justified, when it is even acknowledged, by a zero-sum racism that says, effectively, “that’s the nature of the nation state. You can’t change that, only fight for your piece of the pie within it.” That successive French governments and corporations have played no small role in prosecuting these wars for profit and conquest is totally ignored.
In any case Lilla gets it backwards: immigration doesn’t drive xenophobia. The de facto racism of the French state (or American) and its beneficiaries drive the manufacture of immigrants, creating the finished product that becomes refugees. It’s a global killing machine, with an engine that uses humans as fuel. Liberals are incapable of getting this, which is why Hillary Clinton recently floated her ‘tough on immigration’ proposal, clearing the way for Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi to offer Trump $1.5 billion for construction of his border wall. Will Democrats provide a ceremonial signature brick in that wall? How convenient and despicable, yet predictable and predicted. But I aggress.
As everything continues to slip sideways, the ground shifting beneath our feet, yesterday’s comrade today’s foe, everyone is reaching, struggling to capture what the fuck is going on. Lilla’s fumbling about illustrates my point: precisely when everything appears to be up in the air, fascism begins to thrive and has an opportunity to arrive.
“In countries as diverse as France, Poland, Hungary, Austria, Germany, and Italy, efforts are underway to develop a coherent ideology that would mobilize Europeans angry about immigration, economic dislocation, the European Union, and social liberalization, and then use that ideology to govern. Now is the time to start paying attention to the ideas of what seems to be an evolving right-wing Popular Front. France is a good place to start.”
No, it’s not a “right-wing Popular Front”, but a fascist international.
“The prerequisites for a European Christian nationalist movement may be falling into place, as Hungarian president Viktor Orbán has long been predicting.”
Again, this is fascism in formation and we don’t need a Hungarian dictator to point it out. Lilla has no problem expressing awe for the supposed prognosticatory powers of Orbán, but he can’t bring himself to say as much about antifascists who have predicted as much for thirty years. Orbán, by the way, isn’t only ‘predicting’ such a social transformation, he’s actively bringing it about. That’s called a self fulfilling prophecy, not a prediction. And as long as academics such as Lilla continue to use the framework of liberalism vs populism to try and apprehend 21st century fascism, and comrades on the left ape that analysis, then Orbán and his fascist humunculi will be rendered as oracles, rather than the fascist meat sacks they actually are.
It’s good that Lilla is reaching for a way to apprehend this transformation of the European Right, but trapped as he is within the sociology of ‘populism’ and the liberal assumptions that go with them he does not have much to offer.
Yanis Varoufakis and Bernie Sanders are fumbling in a similar manner with their newly launched ‘Progressive International”, which is at once progressive, but not socialist, and international, but not internationalist. From this confused and confusing framework both continue to waffle on the so-called ‘issue’ of immigration, which is not an ‘issue’ at all, only an expression of racism vis a vis the eternal and inviolable right to movement, which it denies. In any case, about the time Lilla, Varoufakis and Sanders get their shit together to confront the so-called ‘populist threat’, the terrain has probably shifted again underneath their feet.
Academics and their postmortems.
In the mutilated discourse called ‘immigration’ the false binary of the ‘open’ or ‘closed’ border is often posed absent any discussion of the colonial and imperialist wars that shape these vast movements of people. Whenever one speaks of attacking the legitimacy of fortress Europe, the United States’ militarized border with the global south or the complex of security barriers that isolate the state of Israel, one is immediately said to be in favor of ‘open borders’ and then the resultant chaos such a calamity would bring. I am opposed on principle to the way those borders structure and deform human life–creating categories such as ‘migrant’, ‘immigrant’, ‘refugee’, ‘asylum seeker’, ’emigrant’ and my favorite, with all its racist and colonial baggage, ‘expat’. But even when one takes the high road and insists on ‘asylum seeker’ rather than ‘migrant’ the trend of upholding this vast movement of people as the problem remains.
The ephemeral exigencies of American electoral politics play only a minor role in this. Obama deported–what is that number?– 2.5 million souls? We must explode this absurd binary of open and closed borders. The European Union does not represent ‘open borders’ but rather the Troika managed regulation of human labor and bio power which must meet the demands of capital–austerity and restricted movement for the many, flexible and brutally disciplined labor markets to prop up the few. When ‘borders’ are discussed as ‘facts’ that cannot be challenged, as ‘reality’ or a feature of the ‘national question’ which must be observed and accepted, lest one engage in ‘aspirational’ politics, or wishful thinking, the door to fascism gets propped ajar as it cannot be with a political program of socialist internationalism, rooted in solidarity. To effectively fight fascism we must attack the very foundations upon which borders are maintained. But not all borders, just those that are essential to neoliberalism and fascism alike. The anarchist slogan of no borders is correct, it just needs better focus.
The only way to break free from the straitjacket of ‘migration’ as an ‘issue’ and the endless racialized taxonomy that goes with it is to stand steadfast on the principle of internationalist solidarity. The perimeter and internal borders that structure our lives are essential to both neoliberal and fascist domination. Any analysis or discussion that begins by accepting as legitimate that which is illegitimate simultaneously upholds a right to regulate human labor and bio power through its endless categories of fully or lesser humans. This process turns our gaze from the juridical, material and political constructs of borders to the question of whether those intent on breaching those borders have a right to do so–whether they have a good reason to ask for asylum. But it matters not at all why people from the global South are moving north, only that that are moving north and that there are people helping them do so. At this historical juncture the most radical and far reaching act a revolutionary within the global north can take is to materially support that flow of humanity, not only because it is the right thing to do, not only because it is a good thing to do, but because it is the first necessary detonation of a 21st century socialist revolution–it is both a signal that it is underway as well as the concrete expression of the direct action needed to bring it about.
It will only be through the successive development of the Four Loci Of Attack (or something like it) and their expression as a concatenation of mutually reinforcing events that any one locus comes into being; that these agents of history become classes for themselves. Each social class cannot come into being separate from the other three.
Border attacks need manse occupations. The next complimentary phase will be housing and rent protests–mass non violent direct action aimed at palatial estates, penthouses, resorts, yacht and golf clubs. Anywhere the elite live, reproduce and recreate.
From the NYT
“But 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.”
Oct. 22, 2018
My response, from the film Almost Mercy:
One day we will look upon these fortresses as so much concrete and steel that had to yield to the far more powerful force of human freedom. Walls are never a guarantor of freedom, but a singular impediment to that freedom.
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