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Note on the new fascisms

Two years ago we wrote the following on the question of a state fascization that is not only coming, but already exists: The “institutional preventive dispositive” that characterizes the current state, which for Poulantzas, however, also already characterized authoritarian etatism in the 1980s, has today been so smoothly and at the same time intensively ground into state and non-state apparatuses and institutions and has developed into a fundamental dispositive (alongside the official state of parliamentary democracy), that it is no longer possible to speak only of an osmosis between the preemptive dispositif and the official state, as Poulantzas still does, but of the temporary dominance of a creeping fascization process characterized by the preemptive logic, which is completely new in its structure and does not correspond to any previous historical period of statehood. Due to a specifically coded crisis scenario (the fight against terrorism) and, in particular, due to the hegemonic inscription of preventive logic, the security state, which relies entirely on executive power, is today taking political and legal measures that permanently alter the apparatus of the normal capitalist state and transform its rule of law, but without having to deny it itself.

Originally published by Non Copyriot. Written by Achim Szepanski. Image above: Sylvia John.

The questions of a new security or global police state (Robinson) are often negotiated, following Agamben, as those of an exceptional state. Bernard Harcourt, in his book Counter-Revolution, addresses the shortcomings of Agamben’s concept of the exceptional state, which is currently much discussed again precisely because of the Covid 19 pandemic. He writes: “The frame of reference of the state of exception is based on an imagined dichotomy between rule and exception, a myth that idealizes and reifies the rule of law.”

For Harcourt, the state of exception is merely a technique or modality of governance, but it does not necessarily indicate the systematics and strategies for the contemporary nature of state governance. Yet, he argues, it is precisely the goal of the state to make the constant postponements of emergencies and exceptiions effective and legal.

The conception of the permanent state of emergency, on the other hand, holds that a particular tactic of counterinsurgency is already the general rationality of the new political governance, whereas for Harcourt, the methods of counterinsurgency and exceptions (in the United States) are fully legalized and enshrined in the rule of law, through laws, legal memoranda, prosecutors, and legal debates. The Bush administration’s perpetual torture memos on issues of torture abroad (equivalent to judicial decisions and legal texts) are part of a formalized legal apparatus created by the U.S. to legalize counterinsurgency methods. The law is not suspended; rather, counterinsurgency is made a lawful strategy. The issue is not the binary of norm and exception, but a model that legalizes and legitimizes counterinsurgency practices and resolves the tension between violence and legality. Harcourt has raised objections to Schmitt’s dictum that “sovereign is who decides on the state of exception” and Agamben’s tracing of the state of exception back to sovereign power, which is precisely capable of suspending the legal order in the state of exception. (In Agamben, the concept of exception has become the rule when he speaks of its permanence. This brings him closer to Harcourt again).

Harcourt speaks of a coherent, legalistic system of counterinsurgency that is made permanent and can be applied at any time, thus eliminating the opposition of law and exception. In this process, there are always struggles over the demarcations of law, that is, the preservation of legality is mediated through strategies that oscillate between legality and illegality, using the gap to transform the elites’ illegalities into legalities. Gaps in the laws that set in motion all the mechanisms of control are transformed into laws through the circuitous route of documents, regulations, and memoranda. Harcourt points out that with the use of preventive system analysis to control the population, everything is justifiable and nothing is forbidden, if it serves the criterion of the efficiency of the controlling system analysis. The rule of law, he argues, is infinitely malleable.

Lazzarato argues in a similar direction in his new book Capital Hates Everyone, when he writes that we live in a time of blurring, of mixing the rule of law and the state of exception. Therefore, he argues, the hegemony of neo-fascism should not be reduced to the strength of its organizations, but should be related precisely to its ability to spill over into the state and the political and media system. With Harcourt, however, we are not only talking about encroachment on the state; rather, it is the malleability of the rule of law itself that allows for post-fascist transformations of the state apparatus.

For Harcourt, waterboarding, solitary confinement, NSA surveillance, the forcing of police operations, etc. are methods and strategies for a new entirely legal model of government that derives from the theory and practice of counterinsurgency warfare and is precisely not the transition from a state of law to a state of exception. Harcourt summarizes this in three points: The collection of all personal data, metadata, and its analysis using the latest digital technologies, and that of the entire population. Knowing everything is the goal. Proofs of identity such as IP addresses, smartphones and laptops are to be issued and monitored. Selfie, tweets and posts are constantly stimulated, controlled and valorized. Interrogations under torture are legalized by the formalism of law. Once a dangerous minority is identified, it must be isolated and fought. Finally, the allegiance of the entire population, along with its psyches and desires, must be obtained. One is dealing with the strategies of counter-revolution without revolution.

In the U.S., the executive branch even employs a kind of court system of its own. Camp inmates are reduced to bare life. Harcourt even speaks of terrorist methods that make counterinsurgency in the U.S. a paradigm of governance at home and abroad. The complex surveillance network consisting of Big Tech fiirs, platforms, web browsers, retailers, and smartphone apps collects the private data of the population and makes it available to intelligence agencies. At the same time, there is a desire among the population for self-dramatization and exposure. Harcourt writes, “Counterinsurgency, with its tripartite scheme (active minority, passive masses, counterrevolutionary minority) and tripartite strategy (gain total knowledge, eliminate the active minority, immobilize the masses), is a profoundly counterproductive self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Might not these methods, strategies, and signs that Harcourt analyzes as those of counterinsurgency be understood as those of a new fascism?

In his new book, Lazzarato deals, among other things, with the differences of the old and the new fascism. Adorno already suggested that the new fascism does not have to come with uniforms, boots and Nazi symbols. For Lazzarato, too, it is clear that after 40 years of neoliberal politics, what announces itself as a new fascism will not be a simple repetition of the interwar experience. For him, neo-fascism results from a twofold mutation, namely, on the one hand, from historical fascism and, on the other, from the organization of counter-revolutionary political violence. The historical fascism, after the revolutionary forces were destroyed, was quite an agent of the process of “modernization”, which, “integrated” socialism and eliminated by force any manifestation of the conflict. In Italy, he restructured traditional industry and created the film industry, reformed the school system and the civil code, and, like the Nazis, established a kind of welfare state. Adam Tooze points out that the history of the intimate relationship between capital and fascism was rewritten and distorted during the Cold War, omitting, for example, the fact that as early as 1935 important banks such as JP Morgan collaborated closely with people who were later treated as fascist criminals.

For Lazzarato, the new fascism is a mutation of historical fascism auh in the sense that it is national-liberal instead of national-socialist. The political movements that emerged from ’68, he says, are so weak today that the fascists don’t even need to take up their demands and twist them, just as the fascists and the Nazis did in the 1930s. Marlène Benquet and Théo Bourgeron, in their book on authoritarian finance, ask whether the capital class, precisely because it is not threatened by any other class or competing elite, is even interested in democracy today. The new fascism, then, no longer needs socialist dressings; on the contrary, it is ultra-liberal: it is in favor of the market, capital, and individual initiative, even as it calls for a strong state to exclude minorities and “foreigners,” a state that is supposed to simultaneously secure the market, business, and, above all, capital.

The new reactionary libertarians go further than the neoliberals in limiting the role of the state: The state is to be deprived not only of education, health care and infrastructure, but also of sovereign powers by further privatizing even the army, police and judiciary. Nevertheless, economic libertarianism, or the vanguard of the second financialization (asset managers and hedge funds), has extremely authoritarian tendencies at the political level. If an ultra-harsh austerity policy has to be pursued that no longer recognizes downward financial and social redistribution, then the social movements that may arise have to be prevented in advance by staging the restriction of freedoms and rights, and possibly, depending on the situation, only the suicidal use of violence remains to regulate social life. Freedoms are cashed in to preserve the fundamental freedom of the right to property and capital. Katharina Pistor has shown in her book The Code of Capital that representatives of capital can hijack state power by influencing the law (as a code of capital) without having to take over the state apparatus.

Moreover, it is important to note that even the fascist state cannot exist in the medium term without legitimacy or without recognition by the citizens; its power is based precisely on this recognition.

There was and is no incompatibility between dictatorships and neoliberalism. The libertarian von Mises declared that fascism had saved “European civilization” (by which he meant private property). One can read in him: “It cannot be denied that fascism and all similar dictatorship efforts are full of the best intentions and that their intervention has for the moment saved European morality. The merit which fascism has thus acquired will live on forever in history.” As for Hayek, he always preferred a “liberal dictatorship” to a “democracy without liberalism.” Dictatorship – he speaks of Pinochet – dismantles “political freedoms” but allows “personal freedoms” to proliferate (freedom of economics, freedom to buy and sell, to start a business, and above all freedom of finance, to invest, speculate and plunder).

The new fascism, however, is not only, national than Lazzarato assumes, because the historical dimension of world capitalism and its crises today is completely different from that of the 20th century. Thus, the fascism of the 21st century may also involve the fusion of transnational capital with national, repressive political forces. It appears as a pre-emptive strike against the proletariat, and it takes the form of the global police state (Robinson). The project of 21st century fascism seeks to establish a mass base among the privileged sectors of the global working class, such as white workers in the global North and the middle classes in the global South and North, who face increased insecurity and decreasing mobility, as well as socioeconomic destabilization. Trumponomics involved the slow dissolution of the regulatory state, the diminution of social spending, privatization, tax breaks for the rich, and so on. Contrary to the fusion of national capital with the fascist state, Trump kept producing new profit opportunities within the U.S. for transnational capital. “America is open for business,” was then the slogan alongside “America first.” At the same time, private security firms and racist security state were further upgraded.

The war rhetoric of the elites should not be underestimated. Even at Covid 19, they deliberately speak of war. With the dissolution of the concept of class into that of the population, risks, dangers, and sources of chaos are now assumed to be everywhere. There is no singular enemy to defeat anymore, there are only losers to rule and terrorists to neutralize. On this unstable ground, “security technologies” intervene with the aim of anticipating what cannot be anticipated, and state intervention proliferates precisely because of this impossibility. Global war, as a war against population, knows no peace. As the object of health policies, the population must inevitably remain the object of necropolitics. To the blockheads of the elites, any thought of a communal health policy is alien; they know only mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion. They want to and they cannot do otherwise.

The reality looks dramatic even just in the face of COVID 19. Illegalities of the elites are constantly transformed into legalities. Counter-revolution as a reconstruction of the state smothers potentially conflictual situations under a mountain of regulations, memoranda, formalisms, and bureaucracy. As Covid 19 shows, it is not the state of exception that is constantly perpetuated, but the system of surveillance and restriction of fundamental rights that is codified in law. (Infectious Diseases Act)

The only danger that could be shown historically for capital would be that of the autonomization of fascist politics, which could then turn into a self-destructive war machine; but this is a risk that capitalists and liberals have not hesitated to take when private property was in danger. Capital is not only economy, but also power, political project, strategy of political confrontation, the sworn enemy of political revolutions and uprisings (workers, poor, women, colonized subjects).

The new fascisms focus on reinforcing the hierarchies of race, gender and class; the political strategy remains neoliberal. The mission of these new fascisms is not to fight an opposition, but to carry through or even surpass the political project that underlies neoliberalism. The mutation of fascism that has occurred with neoliberalism is tantamount to a new transformation of the war against the population, whose intensity depends on the strength of the resistances that oppose it. It must be reproduced on a daily basis. Given the inability of capitalist forces to overcome the financial collapse that they themselves have caused, the “preservative violence” that Benjamin speaks of alongside fundamental violence must cross thresholds. For Lazzarato, this currently takes the form of the new fascisms. The recomposition of the people around its phantasmatic unity may involve a core of self-destruction and suicidal desire.

The new fascism is also a cyberfascism. It invalidates all the utopias that since the postwar period, and increasingly since the 1970s, propagated the promise of a new post-human subjectivity in cybernetic machines. Bolsonaro and Trump have taken advantage of all the available technologies of digital communication, but their victory does not come from technology, rather it results from a political machine and a strategy that combines a micro-politics of sad affects (frustration, anxiety, fear) with the macro-politics of a new fascism that seeks to politically and economically reconnect the subjectivities destroyed in financialization precisely qua credit to financialization.

Due to digitalization, the fascism of the 21st century occupies cultural apparatuses that were not available to classical fascism; it promotes a politics of resentment of bad affects. Media corporations flood the global public with ideological justifications for global capitalism, they control information flows as a new kind of censorship, they bombard the public with trivial information, and they shape events to normalize the system of global capitalism. 21st century fascism and the global police state ultimately involve the triangulation of the far right, neo-fascist forces in alliance with reactionary forces in the political state apparatus and transnational capital. It is war machines that cause these bombardments, orienting, actualizing and giving consistency to the “apparatuses” (including technological ones), and not the other way around.

The rupture that the new fascisms represent does not come from outside capitalism or only as a result of crises; in reality, fascism is very deeply rooted in the organization of labor ( indifferent to any use value, “labor” can be performed in the same way in the production of cars and the production of mass destruction), while the organization of consumption remains indifferent to all modalities of its production, including child labor or the slavish labor of millions of workers in the global South.

Given the racialization of poverty in the system of global apartheid (Federici), we are dealing with a new modality of the machine and a new modality of automated genocide. Fascisms have not only adapted to new media, but they have merged with them to some extent. Of course, the terms and names of genocidal regimes are changing. The global crisis of migration is one of the symptoms of the genocidal tendencies of the recent coalescence of the automated logistics of race, nation, and class. Today, moreover, racism is also a symptom of the computational unconscious as well as an operation of unconscious cognition, and yet always the expression of the selfish murderous willed stupidity that is the legacy of slavery, settler colonialism, and colonialism.

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