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Fascism in our times

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

Originally published by Autonomies. Written by Julius Gavroche.

Note: Enough is Enough is not organizing any of these events, we are publishing this text for people across the US and Europe to be able to see what is going on and for documentation only.

Men insofar as they are more than animal reaction and fulfillment of functions are entirely superfluous to totalitarian regimes. Totalitarianism strives not toward despotic rule over men, but toward a system in which men are superfluous. Total power can be achieved and safeguarded only in a world of conditioned reflexes, of marionettes without the slightest trace of spontaneity. Precisely because man’s resources are so great, he can be fully dominated only when he becomes a specimen of the animal-species man.

Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism

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

Pier Paolo Pasolini, L’Espresso

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

Gáspar Miklós Tamás, What is Post-fascism?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Below this article Autonomies shared an article by Mark Bray, which we republished earlier. You will find it: here.


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