Supporters of the far right march on Polish Independence Day, Warsaw, November 2017. via Pixabay.
This article was first published by State of Nature, as part of the monthly "One Question" series, which solicits responses to a single query from a variety of thinkers. This month's question — "Is fascism making a comeback?" — received responses from Chiara Bottici, Neil Faulkner, Rose Sydney Parfitt, Tim Jacoby, Charlie Post, Yannis Stavrakakis, William I. Robinson, Laurence Davis, Elena Loizidou, Cenk Saraçoğlu, Eva Nanopoulos, Chip Berlet, Stephen Hopgood, and Jessica Northey.
Associate Professor in Philosophy at New School for Social Research and Eugene Lang College (New York). Her recent books include Imaginal Politics: Images beyond Imagination and The Imaginary (Columbia University Press, 2014), Imagining Europe: Myth, Memory, and Identity(Cambridge University Press, 2013), co-authored with Benoit Challand, and the co-edited collections, The Anarchist Turn (Pluto 2013, with Simon Critchley and Jacob Blumenfeld), and Feminism, Capitalism and Critique (Palgrave 2017, with Banu Bargu).
In fact, fascism has never gone away. If by fascism, we mean the historical regime that created the name and embraced the ideology explicitly, then we have to conclude that the concept is only applicable to the political regime that reigned in Italy between 1922 and 1943. This, however, amounts to little more than a tautology: "the Italian fascist regime" = "the Italian fascist regime." History clearly never repeats itself, so any attempt to apply the category of fascism outside of that context would be doomed to fail. That may be a necessary cautionary remark for historians, but how about social and political theorists? Can fascism be a heuristic tool to think about and compare different forms of power?
If by fascism we mean a political model that was only epitomized and made visible by the Italian kingdom during 1922-43, then we arrive at a very different conclusion. Consider for a moment the features that characterize that form of power: hyper-nationalism, racism, machismo, the cult of the leader, the political myth of decline-rebirth in the new political regime, the more or less explicit endorsement of violence against political enemies, and the cult of the state. We can then certainly see how that form of power, after its formal fall in 1943, continued to exist in different forms and shapes not simply in Europe, but also elsewhere. We can see how fascist parties continued to survive, how fascist discourses proliferated and how different post-war regimes emerging world-wide exhibited fascist traits without formally embracing fascism.
Coming close to our times, we can see how Trumpism, as an ideology, embodies a neoliberal form of fascism that presents its own peculiar features, such as the respect of the formal features of representative democracy, the combination of free-market ideology and populist rhetoric, and the paradox of a critique of the state accompanied by the massive recourse to its institutions. But it also exhibits features, such as the extreme form of nationalism, the systematic racism, the macho-populism, and an implicit legitimation of violence, which are typical of fascism. In sum, we should consider fascism as a tendency of modern power and its logic of state sovereignty, a tendency that, like a Karstic river, flows underneath formal institutions but may always erupt in its most destructive form whenever there is an opening for it.
Historian, archaeologist, and political thinker. Author of numerous books, including A Radical History of the World (Pluto, forthcoming), Creeping Fascism: Brexit, Trump, and the Rise of the Far Right (Public Reading Rooms, 2017), and A People’s History of the Russian Revolution (Pluto, 2017).
Is fascism making a comeback? Perhaps. But history is not predetermined. It presents us with a succession of choices.
What does seem true is that the film of the 1930s is re-running in slow motion. We face a world capitalist crisis that is probably more intractable than that of the 1930s, with economic stagnation, growing social decay, a breakdown of the international order, increasing arms expenditure and war, and imminent climate catastrophe.
The political and business elite has no solutions to any of the major problems confronting humanity and the planet. Parliamentary democracies have been hollowed out by corporate power. Authoritarian nationalist regimes are in control elsewhere. Fascist organisations are gaining in electoral support.
Labour movements – the unions and the mass socialist parties – have been weakened by 35 years of neoliberalism. Most working people, battered by the crisis, lack effective mechanisms for fighting back collectively. Social life is characterised by atomisation, alienation, and anomie. This is the seedbed for nationalism, racism, fascism, and war.
The Right has no solutions and nothing to offer. The essence of its politics, therefore, is to turn working people against each other, making scapegoats of women, the poor, the disabled, ethnic-minority people, Muslims, LGBT people, migrants, refugees, and so on. It takes different forms in different places. Trump in the US. Brexit in Britain. Le Pen in France. The AfD in Germany. But the essential message is the same. And this has the potential to harden into all-out fascism — the violence and repression of armed thugs out to smash the unions, the Left, and the minorities.
But fascism could have been stopped in the 1920s and 1930s, and it could be stopped today. It all depends on what we do. The challenge is extreme: we need nothing less than a radical programme of economic and social change to reverse a generation of financialisation, privatisation, austerity, and the grinding down of working people.
To stop the fascists, we have to show the great mass of ordinary working people that an alternative is possible: that if we unite and organise and fight back, we can challenge the grotesque greed of the super-rich rentier class that is currently leaching the wealth of society to the top, and remodel society on the basis of equality, democracy, peace, and sustainability.
Professor at the Global Development Institute at the University of Manchester. Author of Understanding Conflict and Violence: Theoretical and Interdisciplinary Approaches (Routledge, 2008), and Social Power and the Turkish State (Routledge, 2004), and co-author of four other books.
Fascism is not making a comeback because it never left. Contrary to the thinking of some nominalist historians, it didn’t begin in the 1920s and end in 1945. It is not an artefact, but alive, well and continuing to thrive.
The United States’ Directive JCS 1779 of 1947 facilitated the reinstatement of over 90 per cent of those German officials previously purged under de-Nazification measures — including Hauptsturmführer Klaus Barbie (before he fled to Argentina in 1951). In Italy, concerns over the strength of the indigenous communist party led the CIA to allocate more than $10 million to a Christian Democrat Party riddled with unreconstructed fascists. Having worked with former Nazi operatives to defeat a communist insurgency in Greece in 1949, the United States extended Marshall Plan aid to Salazar’s Portugal and normalised relations with the Franco regime, which reportedly viewed the resultant 1953 Pact of Madrid as proof that it had been right all along.
Germany’s Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands, which received between 500,000 and 750,000 votes in the general elections of 2005-13, is a direct successor to the Deutsche Reichspartei (founded by General der Flieger Alexander Andrae in 1946). In Spain, the Democracia Nacional, emerged from the Círculo Español de Amigos de Europa which included the former commander of the Walloon Schutzstaffel, Standartenführer Léon Degrelle, for whom Franco provided asylum and obstructed Belgian extradition attempts thenceforth. Degrelle’s close associate, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who attracted five million votes in the 2002 French elections, formed the Front National in 1972.
In the United States, the second Klan had achieved an estimated membership of around 4 million people during the 1920s (making it one of the largest civil society organisations in world history). This did not disappear after the military defeat of European fascism. It forged links with groups such as the American Nazi Party (founded in 1959) and the United Kingdom’s National Socialist Movement led by a former member of the British Union of Fascists, Colin Jordan, and the future leader of the British National Party, John Tyndall (who appointed Nick Griffin to the party in 1995). The key figure behind this trans-Atlantic collaboration was Harold Covington — whose influence Dylan Roof cited as a motive for the 2015 Charleston shooting.
Rose Sydney Parfitt
Lecturer in Law at Kent Law School and an Australian Research Council (DECRA) Research Fellow at Melbourne Law School, where she leads a research project entitled "International Law and the Legacies of Fascist Internationalism." Her book on modular history and international legal subjectivity is coming out in 2018 with Cambridge University Press.
There is, I think, no question that fascism is making a comeback. Clearly, the language, symbols and logic of fascism are being deployed today more overtly than at any time since the early 1940s. That is not to say, however, that fascism ever went away, or — in the context of our once-European, now-global legal order — that the kernel of fascism has not been with us from the beginning.
This suggestion, that fascism may be lodged somewhere in the DNA of the normative system we now take for granted, might seem odd coming from a legal scholar. After all, law, with its emphasis on equal rights and non-aggression, was violated systematically by Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and their allies, and is usually understood as the most important weapon we have against far-right resurgence. We should remember, however, that inter-war fascism did not spring out of nowhere. On the contrary, fascism took almost 500 years of European colonialism, with its brutal expansionism and Social Darwinist logic (at the time, entirely "legal"), and turned it in on itself.
In the process of its transformation from a European to a near-universal system via decolonisation, "development," and the collapse of Communism, the law by which most states are regulated today is supposed to have abandoned these discriminatory and expansionist tendencies. Yet its core premises remain the same. Law’s primary subjects (states and individuals) may now be more numerous, but they are still recognised as free only in a negative sense ("free from" not "free to"), and equal only in a formal (legal not material) sense. Likewise, law’s non-state, non-human objects continue to be regarded as "natural resources," secured in unlimited supply by technology’s capacity to usher capital into ever-more obscure corners of the "market."
Yet the supply of "resources" is not, in fact, unlimited — as nineteenth-century imperialists and twentieth-century fascists insisted. As they also recognised — and celebrated — this means that the state cannot function as an egalitarian framework within which prosperous individual futures can be pursued in mutual harmony — or, at least, not unless some external "living space" can be found wherein to harvest meat, fish, oil, gas, water, dysprosium, avocados and other "essential" commodities. The state, in other words, is not a "level playing-field" but a collective vehicle — a battering-ram — available for appropriation by those who are already winning the endless war of accumulation in which only the fittest (wealthiest, most powerful) have a right to survive. In short, fascism, seemingly the antithesis of the rule of law, may in practice be its apotheosis.
Let me, then, respond to the question posed with another question. In the context of a global legal order which views famine, poverty, exploitation and planetary destruction as consistent with universal "freedom" and "equality," will fascism ever go away?
Long time socialist and activist in the City University of New York faculty union. Author of The American Road to Capitalism (Haymarket, 2012) and numerous articles on labour, politics, and social struggles in the US.
My answer is ambiguous. On the one hand, the social and political conditions for the re-emergence of fascism as a movement are ripening across the advanced capitalist world. The global slump that began with the 2008 recession has decimated the living standards of the working and middle classes — both self-employed and professionals and managers. The near collapse of the political and economic organizations of the labour movement, and the active collaboration of social-democratic parties in implementing neo-liberalism and austerity, have crippled the emergence of a progressive, solidaristic, and militant response "from below" to the crisis. Angry at both the large transnational corporations and seeing no alternative from labour, broad segments of the middle classes are drawn to racist and xenophobic politics that target both the "globalists" and "undeserving" immigrants and other racialized minorities. These politics fuel the electoral success of right-wing populist parties, which encourage fascist street fighters to target organized workers, immigrants, and others.
On the other hand, the social and political conditions for a fascist seizure of power are not on the agenda in any advanced capitalist country. Capitalists have handed power over to the enraged middle classes organized in fascist parties only when the labour movement threatened radical change, but failed to follow through. For better or worse, it has been over forty years since the labour movement anywhere in the global North has posed a threat to the rule of capital. Today capitalists have little desire to hand power over to right-populist electoral formations, and have no need for fascist gangs.
While the prospect of a fascist seizure of power is not on the agenda, the labour movement and the Left need to mobilize whenever fascist groups emerge — to crush them while they are still weak.
Professor of Political Discourse Analysis at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. Author of Lacan and the Political (Routledge, 1999) and The Lacanian Left (SUNY Press, 2007), and co-editor of Discourse Theory and Political Analysis (Manchester University Press, 2000). Since 2014 he has been director of the POPULISMUS Observatory: www.populismus.gr
Fascism is arguably making a comeback. There are places in the world where fascist or neo-nazi forces have managed to enter parliaments and install themselves as a more or less legitimate political option. Notice the case of Golden Dawn in crisis-ridden Greece! However, this does not necessarily mean that liberal democracy is currently facing a terminal danger due to this comeback, as in the 1930s. In particular, we should be aware of three crucial issues:
- The issue of conceptual clarity is paramount. Today, almost everything we dislike is summarily denounced as "fascism" — hence the conceptual confusion between fascism, populism, authoritarianism, etc. Notice the way the Donald Trump phenomenon is treated.
- Even more troubling than fascism seems to be a particular way of dealing with it by more moderate political forces, by adopting its main messages and tropes, the so-called "Mainstreaming" or "Normalisation" of fascism. These ideas can become quite appealing to many of us, thus posing once more the issue of "Authoritarian personality," of an "Inner fascism" potentially present in all of us — hence the importance of a psycho-socialapproach to study this phenomenon.
- Finally, it should not escape our attention that the main reason for the comeback of fascism and its increasing contemporary psycho-social appeal may lie elsewhere: in the reign of neoliberalism and the miserable failure of social democracy to offer any real hope to segments of the population facing incresing inequality and a downward spiral of social and economic mobility.
William I. Robinson
Professor of Sociology, Global Studies, and Latin American Studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara. His most recent book is Global Capitalism and the Crisis of Humanity (Cambridge University Press, 2014). Next year Haymarket books will publish his new manuscript: Into the Tempest: Essays on the New Global Capitalism.
Fascism, whether in its classical twentieth century form or possible variants of twenty-first century neo-fascism, is a particular response to capitalist crisis. Global capitalism entered into a deep structural crisis with the Great Recession of 2008, the worst since the 1930s. Trumpism in the United States, Brexit in the United Kingdom, the increasing influence of neo-fascist and authoritarian parties and movements throughout Europe and around the world (such as in Israel, Turkey, the Philippines, India, and elsewhere) represent a far-right response to the crisis of global capitalism.
Twenty-first century fascist projects seek to organize a mass base among historically privileged sectors of the global working class, such as white workers in the Global North and middle layers in the Global South, that are experiencing heightened insecurity and the specter of downward mobility in the face of capitalist globalization. Fascism hinges on the psychosocial mechanism of displacing mass fear and anxiety at a time of acute capitalist crisis towards scapegoated communities, such as immigrant workers, Muslims, and refugees in the United States and Europe. Far-right forces do this through a discursive repertoire of xenophobia, mystifying ideologies that involve race/culture supremacy, an idealized and mythical past, millennialism, and a militaristic and masculinist culture that normalizes, even glamorizes war, social violence and domination.
In the United States, emboldened by Trump’s imperial bravado, his populist and nationalist rhetoric, and his openly racist discourse, predicated in part on whipping up anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, and xenophobic sentiment, fascist groups in civil society have begun to cross-pollinate to a degree not seen in decades, as they have gained a toehold in the Trump White House, in state and local governments around the country, and of course in the Republican Party.
But fascism is not inevitable. We stand at a crossroads and whether or not we slide into fascism depends on how the mass struggles and political battles unfold in the coming months and years.
Reader in Law and Political Theory at the University of London, Birkbeck College, School of Law. Author of Judith Butler: Ethics, Law, Politics (Routledge-Glasshouse, 2007), and editor of Disobedience: Concept and Practice (Routledge, 2013), along with numerous articles and chapters on feminism, anarchism and the law.
We find ultra-nationalist and fascist parties in the representative assemblies of countries such as Greece (Golden Dawn), Cyprus (National Popular Front), Hungary (Jobbic) and India (Bharatiya Janata Party). In the US, the Alt-Right Movement and its white supremacist ideology has found expression in the views of President Donald Trump. On the 12 of November 2017, around 60,000 Ultra-Nationalists marched in Poland on the country’s independence day, chanting "white Europe of brotherly nations." We may conclude therefore that fascism or a contemporary version of fascism is gaining traction globally.
Still, whilst fascist parties and movements are on the rise we are yet to witness a widespread emergence of neo-fascist political regimes. We have not in other words seen the suspension of every democratic framework and the abolition of individual rights. Umberto Eco identified thirteen characteristics in authoritarian fascist regimes, amongst them the loss of individual rights, nationalism, the banning of critique, gaining traction through the exploitation of difference, and a call for traditional values. Of course, some of these characteristics have taken root in neo-fascist groups and ultra-nationalist parties, and even more disturbingly we notice that a growing number of people are becoming attracted to these types of thinking. Nevertheless, I would like to suggest that as long as people and political systems can counter such groups/parties, either by bringing them before the law or through debates that expose the irrationalism of their positions, then I think this interest in fascism may be just a passing trend.
We can counter the rise of fascism or totalising and undemocratic ideas within our societies. How? I agree here with Foucault that to do so we need to be vigilant of the fascist within us that makes us desire power and its promises. 1 We need therefore to be constantly questioning our very desires, either for political formations or figures that are lovers of power. In our contemporary western democratic societies, I would add the only way of sustaining a critical attitude requires us to find time and space to think alone and together. The biggest detractor of that is capitalism. If we are to stop the rise of fascism we need to retrieve the time that it is eaten up by capitalism and its various hands, managerialism, efficiency, profit, and so on.
Lecturer in Government and Politics at University College Cork, Ireland, co-editor of Anarchism and Utopianism (Manchester University Press, 2014) and The New Utopian Politics of Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed (Lexington Books, 2005). Editor of the Manchester University Press Contemporary Anarchist Studies book series.
Seventy-two years after the end of World War II, the spectre of fascism is again haunting the globe. The important questions we should be asking are why, and what can be done about it.
The evidence of history suggests that fascism thrives in periods of severe capitalist crisis by redirecting fear and anxiety about socioeconomic dislocation onto easily scapegoated "outsider" groups, who must be brutally repressed in order to reaffirm society’s "natural" hierarchies and enable national rebirth. Just as Mussolini and Hitler capitalised on the economic and political crises of their time, so too contemporary fascists are endeavouring to tap into a deep and racialised popular anger that has emerged out of the crumbling ruins of neoliberalism and market globalisation.
Many commentators of a liberal democratic persuasion have dismissed such warnings as scare-mongering, and insisted that the most appropriate response to "populist politics" is a renewed commitment to market globalisation with a "human face." I maintain, to the contrary, that the only effective antidote to emerging forces of fear and hate is not less popular democracy but more.
Whereas contemporary fascists are giving voice to the ugly authoritarian and reactionary face of popular opposition to the political and economic establishment, an egalitarian and inclusive left popular radicalism can and must expose the real roots of festering social problems by speaking plainly and directly to ordinary people’s needs, without pandering to their worst prejudices and fears. In practical terms, this will require grassroots democratic organising of the sort exemplified by political forces currently leading the struggle against fascism and working to construct viable community-based post-capitalist alternatives, such as in Rojava and Greece.
At the level of ideas, it hinges on a reconnection with radical democratic revolutionary roots. Historically, the revolutionary ideas and social movements that are the very antithesis of fascism, and the only sure defence against it, have tended to emerge out of, and given ideological coherence to, popular democratic social forms. However, in our time once revolutionary ideologies and movements like socialism and anarchism have grown increasingly detached from their radical democratic roots, leaving a political vacuum that right-wing populists and demagogues have been quick to fill.
Walter Benjamin’s observation that every rise of fascism bears witness to a failed revolution speaks poignantly to our current condition. It may be interpreted not only as a warning, but as a grimly realistic utopian hope that we still have a fleeting historical opportunity to act before it is too late.
Lecturer in Law, Queen Mary University, co-editor of The Crisis behind the Crisis: The Euro-Crisis as a Systemic Crisis of the EU (Cambridge University Press) and author of The Juridification of Individual Sanctions and the Politics of EU Law (Hart Publishing), both forthcoming.
It is important both not to overestimate and underestimate the extent to which fascism is making a "comeback." There are reasons not to overestimate the "comeback." Even in countries where fascist parties were legally banned, fascist movements did not disappear from the political scene and although their popularity was in relative decline over the second half of the 20th century, the neoliberal reforms of the 1980s and 1990s also coincided with the consolidation of major neo-fascist groups, such as the Front National in France or the Freedom Party in Austria.
There are equally reasons not to underestimate the "comeback." The war on terror, the global economic crisis, increased austerity, or military interventions have all created breeding conditions for a resurgence and consolidation of fascism. Socially, racist ideas have been, if not altogether legitimised, at the very least banalised, contributing to the "dehumanisation" of the migrant "other." Politically, not only has the far right made real gains, in places like Poland, it has already begun a more profound overhauling of liberal democratic institutions. Legally, resistance and unrest has been met with increased repression and authoritarianism, as the recent normalisation of the state of emergency in France shows. "Walls" or "policing" have moreover saturated public spaces with symbols of division and suspicion.
The question is further complicated by shifting incarnations of "fascism." Even parties like Golden Dawn, whose paramilitary violence, expansionist aspirations of a "Greater Greece" or open embrace of Nazi symbols map quite neatly onto 20th century fascism, continue to reject the label, and some of their economic policies borrow dangerously from the Left’s anti-austerity agenda. Elsewhere, the far right is undergoing a more explicit process of "modernisation." In that context, an analysis of the likelihood of a fascist take-over should seek to understand the specific forms of contemporary fascism in the wider context of their relationship to neoliberalism and the neoliberal crisis.
Associate Professor of Sociology at Ankara University, Turkey. Author of Kurds of Modern Turkey: Migration, Neoliberalism and Exclusion (I. B. Tauris, 2011) and numerous scholarly articles and chapters on politics and society of Turkey.
Let me first put the question in its historical context. To what extent could the recent rise of reactionary right-populism be designated as harbinger of fascism?
A fascist turn cannot be reduced to counter-revolutionary subversiveness, but it is a necessary and distinctive feature in fascism. By counter-revolutionary subversiveness I mean fascism’s tendency to mobilize and energize its support base through combining its chauvinistic and anti-socialist agenda with the promise/discourse of subverting the long-standing political/institutional and ideological arrangements of the bourgeois political establishment.
The crude anti-establishment discourse of such emblematic examples of right-populism as Trump, Le Pen, and Nigel Farage has not yet been combined with such a radicalism. They rather tend to organize their chauvinistic political discourse around bringing back the so-called "strong" and sovereign nation-state in an era of the crisis of neoliberal cosmopolitanism. They also do not build their political position on the emergent need to radically transform the existing balances of power in international relations.
The same does not necessarily hold true for the instances of populism in relatively "peripheral" countries such as Turkey, Hungary, and the Philippines. In these countries, counter-revolutionary subversive discourses and practices of the political powers are more obvious. However, there are some insuperable structural impediments for these political forces to fully "actualize" and prolong such subversiveness particularly in the international arena due to their economic and political dependence on so-called "great powers." If they had the chance to practise some elements of this "radicalism" in their domestic politics this owes to and is a symptom of the yet unending precarious state and crisis of international order.
These assertions do not mean to say that these movements are not dangerous enough. Indeed, they are the most striking epitomes and also catalysts of capitalism’s reactionary predispositions in the contemporary world and this does not exclude the possibility of them embodying a full-fledged fascist character when the crisis of capitalism deepens further and the course of social struggles reach a new stage.
Professor of International Relations and Pro-Director (International) at SOAS, University of London. Author of The Endtimes of Human Rights (Cornell University Press, 2013), and Keepers of the Flame: Understanding Amnesty International (Cornell University Press, 2006).
As an undergraduate in the late 1980s I recall one of my peers in political theory being told that his proposed dissertation title, "Fascism: A Closed Option?," was misconceived because one could no longer write about fascism as a serious political alternative in Europe. Would anyone say that now? We can see an increasing number of regimes embracing some aspect of the fascist playbook: the rhetoric, the techniques of division, the elimination of dissent, the glorification of aggressive and violent solutions to complex social issues. No one yet says they’re a fascist, the closest we have come being Viktor Orban’s "illiberal democracy." But from Trump, Xi Jinping, Putin, Duterte, Sisi, Erdogan — to name a few in power — to Le Pen and Wilders and ISIS, to name those who aspire to it, the language of blood and belonging, of purity, of crushing dissent, of sacrifice for the collective good, is visible once more. The macho politics of national or religious power and destiny have returned.
Why now? In some cases, fascistic government has never gone away even if it was legitimated in other terms — China, Russia, Egypt and Saudi Arabia would be examples. The shift is in the West where the seemingly invincible liberal social contract is foundering on the rocks of inequality, precarious employment, eroding white privilege, religious intolerance and demographic change. This has been fertile ground for those who would set "us" versus "them," who look for scapegoats amongst minorities and educated elites, who seek an end to political correctness and more open expression of feelings of distrust, dislike, and disgust.
Having said this, we must remember two things.
Fascism is a continuum. At the everyday level, social fascism has never gone away for those who are different, alternative, outside the tyrannous norm. That such intolerance would become a mainstay of national culture would mark a major shift, yes. But we are always somewhere on the line between difference and enforced conformity, between social disapproval and state-led policy to eliminate diversity. This we can find on the Left, too — fascism is historically but not intrinsically a feature of the right. President Xi Jinping’s emphasis on blood as the basis of borders in China, alongside repression of individual freedoms other than the freedom to consume, is as fascist as any other form of rule currently on display.
And second, fascism comes on by stealth. It doesn’t have to be jackboots and uniforms and purges, but the silencing of dissent, the taming of judges, the legitimation of intolerance and of the bullying of those who will not, or cannot, fit a narrow stereotype of what constitutes a proper citizen.
The liberal social contract relies on forms of structural violence and embedded inequality. It needs a healthy dose of revivified social democracy. But the alternatives will sunder any hopes for freedom and lead us, inexorably, into war.
Research Associate at the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations, Coventry University, and International Coordinator for the Green Party of England and Wales.
With the US President tweeting Islamophobic material, Marine Le Pen gaining a third of all votes in a racist election campaign, and Polish extreme nationalists marching through Warsaw, we are right to be deeply concerned about a potential comeback of fascism. Far-right parties have gained ground in Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Sweden, Greece and Hungary. In the UK, the slogan "Britain First" was shouted by the radicalized murderer of MP Jo Cox, in reference to the far-right organisation (whose videos were recently retweeted by Trump). Far-right movements have been mobilising, gathering support, and in some cases weapons, over the last decade.
Fascism is based on authoritarianism, and visions of a totalitarian, hyper-nationalist, all-encompassing state. In 2017, weakened states, self-serving bureaucrats and the failures of leadership by centre ground politicians, have disillusioned and damaged so many. The sense of betrayal and abandonment is clear and the far right’s fantasy of a fascist state feeds on it.
The threat of Islamist radicalization is also used by the far right — and by mainstream media — on a daily basis. For right-wing extremists, this plays into a toxic narrative of racial hatred. The focus on Islamist extremism, avoids discussion of the potentially far greater problem of violent right-wing extremism in the UK and beyond, with radical organisations such as Combat 18 or the Ku Klux Klan.
Tackling fascism will be the main challenge for all progressive, inclusive civil society movements and politicians across Europe. To succeed they will need to unite, to call out fascism, to listen to those left behind, and to build solidarity and an inclusive vision for the future.
Chip Berlet is an investigative journalist and independent scholar who coauthored (with Matthew N. Lyons) Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort (Guilford 2000); and the revised entry on “Neo-Nazism” in the 2nd edition of the Encyclopaedia Judaica.
Fascism is making a comeback in many countries, primarily through its precursor form of right-wing populism. Not all right-wing populist movements develop into full-blown fascism; and most fascist movements fail to grab and hold onto state power. Yet the rhetoric of right-wing populism is itself dangerous because it identifies scapegoats who are blamed for causing the decline of the nation, and the humiliation of the "real" people who are the "legitimate" and "proper" citizens.
Roger Griffin defines fascism as:
a revolutionary form of nationalism, one that sets out to be a political, social and ethical revolution, welding the “people” into a dynamic national community under new elites infused with heroic values. The core myth that inspires this project is that only a populist, trans-class movement of purifying, cathartic national rebirth (palingenesis) can stem the tide of decadence (1991 xi).
Matthew N. Lyons and I wrote a book in 2000 about right-wing populism in the United States. Our analysis flowed from the work of many scholars, especially Canovan (1980), Fritzsche (1990), Griffin (1991, 1993), Betz (1994), and Kazin (1995). Since then scholars and activist researchers have expanded earlier analyses linking populist rhetoric to apocalyptic aggression, violence, and fascism.
Neofascism remains woefully undertheorized. Too many influential public intellectuals rely on language blaming "extremists" and "hate groups" instead of focusing on structural inequalities in a nation based on race, gender, and class. For current useful analysis see Cas Mudde, Ian Haney López, and Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser.
Full citations and more resources at bit.ly/2nlOzrw.
1. "The strategic adversary is fascism … the fascism in us all, in our heads and in our everyday behavior, the fascism that causes us to love power, to desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us." (Michel Foucault, "Preface" to Anti-Oedipus, 1977, p. xiii)
In my last three essays, I detailed several aspects of Liberal Democracy and its current crisis. The first described the power-structure and myths which hold Liberal Democracy together, as well as its relation to Capital. The second explained the violence which is the essence of Liberal Democracy, and the way we become complicit in it. And the third essay delved into how the attempts by the non-revolutionary left to make Liberal Democracy more equal actually sustain the violence of the State and make it more powerful.
This essay’s about Liberal Democracy’s shadow: Fascism.
For most, whether conservative or liberal, left or right, Fascism seems like something in the far past, an unfortunate and inexplicable accident in the course of human civilization which was finally defeated. We think of the concentration camps, the mass imprisonment of dissidents and minorities, the bloody wars and mass political rallies…and we shudder, or shake our heads.
How could that have happened? How could it ever happen again?
Rather easily, actually.
The Fascism That Was
the early half of the last century, every Liberal Democracy was in a crisis not too different from our own now. Terrorist attacks in the middle of cities by foreign-born radicals–attacks meant to kill industrialists, bankers, and politicians–claimed hundreds of lives. Very wealthy Capitalists stopped investing in new factories and industry in their own countries, holding on to their money or looking abroad for less-risky ways to make a profit. Refugees from wars flooded the cities, pushing down wages for workers who were already struggling to afford necessities. Mass populist movements shut down streets and cities, racial and other minorities demanded more rights and threatened violence if they didn’t get them.
And then an economic collapse happened throughout every Western nation-state. The ‘Great Depression’ in the United States (and the similar collapses elsewhere) displaced millions, creating people so poor that laws about theft and private property no longer really mattered to them. The last great monarchist country in Europe, Russia, had just fallen to a popular revolt, and the ideas of that revolt were inspiring the lower classes elsewhere, while in other countries of Europe, a new popular movement was growing.
Born as a critique of both Liberal Democracy and Marxism, Fascists invoked a deep and mythic Nationalism to transform society and the State. Watching the chaos, strife, insecurity, and economic collapse of their countries, Fascists like Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler, and Francisco Franco created popular movements not based on Marxist egalitarianism and internationalism, but on strict hierarchies and national loyalty.
Though very right-wing, Fascism positioned itself as a new center, appealing both to disaffected people on the right and the left. Its Traditionalism and calls for a return to ordered and hierarchical society spoke deeply to conservatives who opposed Marxist and Anarchist movements, as well as their alienation from the ‘degeneracy’ and ‘decadence’ of the cities (where homosexuality, prostitution, occult and non-Christian religions abounded). Fascism also appealed to many on the left as well, by embracing some socialist policies like minimum wage, 40-hour work weeks, and equal footing for (fascist-led) unions and employers.
The appeal to both the right and the left didn’t end there, though. Both Marxists and Conservatives had become increasingly critical of foreign Capitalists, bankers, and international agreements (like the Treaty of Versailles) which increased immigration, crippled national industries and punished working-class people under the guise of Progress.
Liberal Democracy was the primary target of Fascism. The Weimar government in Germany was a masterpiece of Liberal Democratic ideals yet failed to create prosperity; in Spain, a left-wing coalition (made up of Communists, Socialists, Republicans, and Liberals) called The Popular Front founded a republic based on Liberal Democratic ideals but failed to stop right- and left-wing violence. And most of Mussolini’s manifesto, “The Doctrine of Fascism,” directly attacks the failures of Liberal Democracy to create the world it promised.
The liberal century, after piling up innumerable Gordian Knots, tried to cut them with the sword of the world war. Never has any religion claimed so cruel a sacrifice. Were the Gods of liberalism thirsting for blood?
From “The Doctrine of Fascism,” by Benito Mussolini and Giovanni Gentile
Hitler, Franco, and Mussolini each recognised what Liberal Democracy tries to hide about itself: the promises of peace, prosperity, and equality are actually contradictory under Capitalism. Nation-States need to subjugate weaker nations if their citizens are to have access to cheap goods, they must heavily police their lower classes to keep order, and there can be no true equality if Capitalism and the State are to function.
Anarchists and communists had been pointing to the same thing, but rather than abolish both the State and Capital (the anarchist answer) or put all Capital in the hands of a worker-led State (the Communist answer), Fascists argued for a State fully-aware–and unapologetic–of its violent and hierarchical nature.
In a Fascist State, Capitalism would serve the entire Nation: foreign Capitalists would no longer steal wealth from the people, and local Capitalists who served the nations’ goals would be backed up by a powerful State.
To appeal to Conservatives and Traditionalists, Fascism argued for a return to high moral ideals, including loyalty to family, to superiors, to ‘God,’ and to the State. All three Fascist states in Europe officially banned prostitution, homosexuality, and pornography, and initiated new cultural celebrations and programs. To appeal to the poor and workers, new social programs were instituted, wages were raised and work duties were standardized.
From this new ‘center,’ each of the fascist movements in Europe then manipulated the political goals of Liberal Democratic parties against an enemy both political movements shared: leftists.
Liberal Democracy’s Gambit
Every Liberal Democracy faced an internal threat from Marxists and critics of Capitalism. The United States headed off a revolt by implementing Nationalist social programs (the “New Deal”) while arresting anarchists and communists en masse, the United Kingdom faced off powerful left-wing unions; leftists managed to control the government in France for a few years before toppled by extremely organized Fascists. In Germany, Italy, and Spain, well organised anarchist and Marxist trade-unions consistently shut down factories, mines, and transportation.
In each of these places, ‘Liberal’ parties (be they Social Democrats, Liberals, or Progressives) found themselves with a decision: side with an increasingly radical left-wing movement and possibly find their countries going communist? Or side with the Capitalists who funded them, even when it meant using State violence to stop worker uprisings?
If Liberals took the side of the workers against the owners, Capitalists would withdraw their support of the State–and they had all the money.
Despite hating the goals of the Fascists, the supporters of Liberal Democracy in Italy and Germany sided with them against the communists and anarchists in order to protect the interests of Capital, even helping to arrest and kill left-wing activists (for instance, Jewish and Marxist revolutionary Rosa Luxembourg was tortured and executed by Social Democrats, not by Fascists).
Their choice to side with Capital over the workers drove significant support away from them so that, by the time Mussolini’s blackshirts seized power in Rome and the Nazis swept into power in Berlin, Liberal Democracy had no more allies.
Liberal Democracy tells a story about itself and the progress of humanity that, if we accept it, makes it nearly impossible to understand how Fascism could ever happen again. According to it, Liberal Democracy is the end-point of history, the final evolution of society from primitive and violent to modern and free.
In 1940, while hiding from the Nazis in occupied France, Marxist philosopher and Jewish mystic Walter Benjamin published his Theses on the Philosophy of History to address such a problem:
The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the ‘state of emergency’ in which we live is not the exception but the rule. We must attain to a conception of history that is in keeping with this insight. Then we shall clearly realize that it is our task to bring about a real state of emergency, and this will improve our position in the struggle against Fascism.
One reason why Fascism has a chance is that in the name of progress its opponents treat it as a historical norm. The current amazement that the things we are experiencing are ‘still’ possible in the twentieth century is not philosophical. This amazement is not the beginning of knowledge–unless it is the knowledge that the view of history which gives rise to it is untenable.”
Walter Benjamin, Theses on the Philosophy of History
Benjamin was attacking both the progress narrative of Liberal Democracy and the failure of historical materialism (which made him an enemy of Stalin as well as Hitler).
While Hegel had said that history repeats itself, Marx had expanded this, adding ‘first as tragedy, then as farce.’ But looking at history that way, we can easily miss dangerous events in the present because they don’t appear as precise repetitions.
Rather than looking at history as a cycle full of repeating processes and events, it’s better to see history as full of repeating forms. African slavery, for instance, wasn’t a repetition of Roman slavery, nor was Irish indentured servitude a repetition of either. However, all three were forms of slavery, and from such a view we can then see that slavery is a repeating form throughout history, while still comparing individual instances in their separateness.
Fascism now won’t look the same as any fascism that’s existed. We’d be making a mistake if we looked for the next charismatic fascist leader to be wearing a military uniform like Mussolini. But the forms that birthed fascism can birth it again. So, what are those forms?
A Crisis of Capital
The last time Liberal Democracies faced an existential crisis, there was a World War. Many theorists on both the left and the right resoundingly agree that the war of 1913-1919 was driven by the need of Capitalists to expand their markets. Each State involved faced crises of Capital that couldn’t be resolved through trade negotiations, and thus World War I became an imperialist trade dispute fought with chemical weapons and tanks.
That war meant the end of several empires, the birth of the first Communist State in Russia, and a powerful new enemy of Liberal Democracy, the Fascist.
Capital functions well within Liberal Democracies, because Liberal Democracy offers both a strong state apparatus to keep revolt in check while offering its citizens enough rights to make up for their loss of economic freedom. But these two tactics can clash when workers begin to demand more economic (that is, material) equality, rather than social equality.
In the early part of the 20th century, many leftist movements arose demanding exactly that. Unsatisfied with the ‘bread and circuses’ approach of Utopian Socialism and unwilling to wait for the messianic promise of better wages, workers threatened the profits of the Capitalists, and Liberal Democracy was forced to reveal its true alliance.
Nationalism as an Antidote to Chaos
The brutality of Fascism in Germany is most harrowing: millions of Jews deported, imprisoned, and then killed, along with Roma, disabled people, the ‘work-shy,’ and many others. In Italy, the concentration camps started later for Jews and other minorities, and in Spain they were reserved primarily for political dissidents.
The Nazis didn’t come up with racial hatred, though. European peoples had a very long history of targeting Jews, Roma, immigrants, homosexuals and others, and much of this violence was either initiated or later supported by rulers. The reason for this is quite simple: it creates order.
As Silvia Federici has shown in Caliban & The Witch, the scapegoating and violence against women during the birth of Capitalism helped pacify uprisings against the aristocracy and the rulers–so much so that city rulers would often legalize rape and strip women of rights in order to channel the rage of the poor towards an easier target. The outsider status and refusal to integrate of Jews and Roma likewise made them easy targets, facilitated by a moral regime (the Church) which taught such groups were primitive, sinful, evil, and dangerous.
Fascists used the same mechanism in Germany and Italy. Fascism doesn’t require anti-semitism or racism to function, but it made national unity a lot easier in Germany and Italy (Italy didn’t become fully united as a nation until 1871; Germany was born that same year and wasn’t a nation with its current borders until 1918).
Fear of the Foreign
Internal racism was used to create national identity, but so too was the fear of foreign economic and political threats. Anger over the imperialist demands of the Treaty of Versailles after World War I helped inflame nationalist hatred against foreign governments and economic interests. Foreign and international bankers (particularly those of Jewish descent) became favorite scapegoats for the economic and social ills in Germany.
In Italy, Germany, and Spain, the fear was also that of the Bolsheviks, who had recently overthrown the repressive aristocracy in Russia (and, horribly, later replaced it with something just as repressive). The threat of Bolshevik communism had both a xenophobic and anti-Semitic connotation….especially since so many Marxist philosophers were, like Marx himself, Jews.
The fear of international and foreign conspiracies to destabilize society were not conjured out of thin air: Lenin and later Stalin took over the international communist organisations and used their state power to influence radicals in Europe. But Fascists like Mussolini began before the Russian revolution, so their employment of conspiracy theories about foreigners were based instead on anti-Semitic conspiracy theories which produced propaganda like The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
In all cases, the existential threat to ‘the nation’ was an ever-shifting network of enemies who existed both outside–and within–the borders of the nation.
The Moral Decay of Society
All three fascist regimes mentioned share another common trait, one which gets much less mention than many others. All three sought a moral revival of the Nation against the ‘decadent’ and ‘degenerate’ trends found in cosmopolitan areas.
One photograph from the Nazi period, found in almost every history textbook in American schools, has become rather iconic of fascism:
The photo shows a massive book burning, but rarely do the books that were burned–or the collector of those books–get mentioned.
The image is from the Nazi-ordered destruction of the books contained in the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft, the research library founded by Magnus Hirschfeld. Hirschfeld started the field of sexology, studying and openly embracing homosexual, bisexual, transgendered, and many other variant forms of sexual and gender expressions which the Nazis saw as ‘degenerate.’
In Italy and Spain, similar moves to restore society to more conservative morality resulted in the arrests and deaths of academics, artists, homosexuals, queers, and many others. The political rhetoric which led to this repression focused heavily on the decadence of urban environments, particularly as opposed to the more folkish and morally-upstanding rural and village folk.
Berlin at the time of the Reichstag fire had a 1% church attendance rate, was an enclave of sexual, gender, occult, and social experimentation, and represented for the fascists all that had gone wrong with the Nation. People had become weak, feeble, consumerist, and polluted by the degenerate ideas of the cities. Civilization was in a fallen state, and both Mussolini and Hitler made great use of this ideology, iterated by ‘Traditionalists’ such as Oswald Spengler, Julius Evola and others now known as ‘esoteric fascists.’
The Crisis Now
Many Liberal Democracies have adopted extreme austerity measures in the last few years, aiming to decrease their social assistance budgets. In many of these countries, infrastructure like water, rail, and energy have either been privatized or decay in awful states of disrepair.
While many are quick to blame “neoliberalism” or Free Market faiths as the culprit for austerity and crumbling infrastructure, few delve much deeper than this. Why would Liberal Democrat governments abandon their promises and risk public revolt merely for an ideology?
The answer is that they have no choice.
As mentioned in previous essays, it is the Capitalists who primarily fund Liberal Democracies, either through the taxes they pay or through the taxes paid by their workers. If Capitalists don’t profit, they withdraw their support, and even the most progressive and socially-democratic government eventually has to do what they say or go bankrupt.
The wealthiest Capitalists profit either from financial speculation, resource extraction, or by selling consumer goods in wealthy markets that were made by workers in impoverished markets. In all cases, though, the workers in Western Democracies have less access to waged jobs, the only means by which one can legally make a living if you’re not a capitalist.
But if those workers have no jobs, they have no money to purchase products, which means the Capitalists earn no profit. But likewise, Capitalists won’t hire workers at traditional wages in Liberal Democracies for the same reason–they won’t profit. Capitalists, therefore, are holding the leaders (and the people they are supposed to represent) hostage, relying on the state to reduce the living standards of their citizens (and back this up with violence) in order to decrease wages.
“Immigrants Stealing Our Jobs”
One of the other ways wages are deflated is immigration, a fact non-Marxist Liberals and Progressives don’t like to talk about much.
Immigrants (and especially refugees) who come from poorer countries are willing to work for lower wages in their new countries (especially if they are without status). But as wages start to decrease and the sorts of jobs non-foreign workers were used to finding disappear, they blame what looks like to them the obvious culprit: the immigrants.
Liberal Democracies know they need more immigrants to keep Capitalism alive. But as poor workers grow increasingly resentful and the supporters of Liberal Democracy (including social justice advocates) side with Capital, only nationalist political parties seem to offer a ‘true’ analysis of the situation.
Thus, Brexit. Thus, also, the appeal of far-right parties in Europe, like the Front National in France or Golden Dawn in Greece. Thus, too, the increasing right-wing turn even of the traditional ‘liberal’ Democratic party in the United States, and the hard right-turn of Libertarians and other variants of conservative political parties.
Immigrants are caught in a horrible position. Brought in by Liberal Democracies to undermine the power of left-wing labor movements, leaving (and often fleeing) from countries devastated by trade and military policies coming from the same Liberal Democracies where they now live, they have very few allies.
The Social Justice narrative gives them some leeway, but in order to be fully accepted they must buy in to the rest of the program, including adopting cultural forms they lived their entire lives outside of. For instance, in Germany, a Turkish immigrant declined to shake the hand of his child’s female teacher, an event now repeated ad nauseum in German newspapers as proof that immigrants are anti-women and don’t belong in Europe.
If Liberal Democracy were truly the enlightened end-point of history as it claims to be, then such criticism of immigrants would be logical. But as mentioned in my previous essay, what Liberal Democracy (and particularly Social Justice) celebrates as freedom and enlightenment is hardly universal. A lesbian soldier from the United States now free to kill on behalf of the State could never be seen by the widows or children of the man she killed as a triumph of equality.
Terror in Our Midst
While anti-immigrant sentiment grows within every Liberal Democracy, terrorist attacks become more frequent. France–a stalwart of freedom and tolerance– has seen three such events since 2015, the latest just last week. Even before Daesh had claimed responsibility for this recent slaughter, the French government has already linked the event to Islamic radicalization.
The details are gruesome, the scores of videos taken by witnesses horrible to watch. Anyone who’s ever been in such a street celebration can imagine how awful it must have been, to be walking without care after a firework display and see your lover suddenly hit by a truck, to regard children and old people flying through the air like ragdolls when, just moments ago, they were having fun.
How do you fight such things? According to Liberal Democracy, you suspend civil rights, give police more powers, and attack an unrelated country. Consider the early response from the President of France, François Hollande:
…the president announced a three-month extension of the state of national emergency, which allows police to conduct house raids and searches without a warrant or judicial oversight and gives extra powers to officials to place people under house arrest.
He insisted: “Nothing will make us yield in our will to fight terrorism. We will further strengthen our actions in Iraq and in Syria. We will continue striking those who attack us on our own soil.” (link)
Passport controls were re-instituted between France and other EU countries (supposedly eliminated by the Schengen treaty), the number of military reservists were doubled, and the State of Emergency, due to expire in just a few days, was extended for another three months. But for political leaders on the far-right, these weren’t enough, and the President was loudly booed by mourners at a memorial service for the victims.
The problem is that Liberal Democracy cannot actually respond effectively to terrorism. It is impossible to keep people from enacting horrific violence, be it in the name of religion, ideology, nationalism, or mental-illness. Taking guns away doesn’t help when airplanes and trucks can be used as bullets and bombs, and there is no amount of police or military that can be everywhere at once.
So the promise of the Liberal Democratic State as the final arbiter of violence and justice is impossible to keep. The State doesn’t have a monopoly of violence, and can only become more repressive to combat potential terrorism. This, then, means that it can no longer claim to guarantee civil rights, either, without constantly invoking states of exceptions or emergency.
The State of Emergency
Fortunately, a man named Carl Schmitt outlined for them a legal justification for such suspensions of rights. His theory was that sovereignty (political power, or the right-to-rule) doesn’t derive just from the social contract that Hobbes outlines, but from the very fact that the government has the ability to suspend the contract at will:
Sovereign is he who decides on the exception
(At this point, I should probably also mention Carl Schmitt was the primary legal theorist for the Nazis.)
As his primary critics at the time (Walter Benjamin, Hannah Arendt) and a later critic (Georgio Agamben) all noted, Schmitt’s reasoning on the exception has already been adopted by Liberal Democracies. War, internal uprisings, natural disasters and economic crises have all been used by Liberal Democracies to suspend civil rights and guarantees.
This trend has only increased in the last 20 years in response to “Terror.” Endless ‘elevated threat levels,’ extensions of States of Emergency, extrajudicial killings (including drones), and increased repression of left-wing dissidents and minorities have all become not the exception, but the rule of Liberal Democracy.
That is, Liberal Democracy has adopted much of the political program of fascism already…but it’s not enough.
The Resurgence of the Fascist Right
Hollande’s response to the mass-murder of celebrants in Nice was met with intense criticism from the right and far-right political parties in France–not because it is too harsh, but that it is not harsh enough. Marine le Pen, the leader of the Front National (a racist, Nationalist, and anti-immigrant party with increasing membership in France) called for a declaration of war against Islamist Fundamentalists, the shutting-down of mosques, and the deportation and reversal-of-citizenship for those who hold radical views. Nicholas Sarkozy, the former right-wing president of France, has demanded that Muslim prisoners who’ve finished their sentences must then go to ‘de-radicalization’ centres until they’ve been certified as harmless. And other right-wing leaders are demanding the formation of new police agencies, stricter border controls, and more State power to suspend civil liberties.
All of this, of course, before any Islamist group had been shown linked to the attack.
In the United States, groups of armed men have been forming to protect a presidential candidate from Black Lives Matters protesters, calling them “a terrorist threat.’ A few weeks ago, three Pagan writers (two who have written for this site, a third for A Beautiful Resistance) attended a protest where a neo-fascist threatened the protesters with a loaded gun. And a Fascist Pagan candidate–Augustus Sol Invictus, is running openly for office in Florida.
In Europe, political parties such as PEGIDA, the Golden Dawn in Greece, the Front National and Nouvelle Droite in France, and the UKIP in the United Kingdom have increased their anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim campaigns, with their supporters often enacting violence against their targets.
In all cases, their criticisms are near identical to the early Fascists. The State is too weak on criminals, foreigners, degenerates, immigrants, and minorities. Likewise, they all share an intense hatred of Marxist and Anarchist critiques, particularly those regarding equality.
Many (though not all) employ some degree of antisemitism, though some (like the FN in France) have attempted to whitewash their earlier hatred by courting Jews against the Muslims.
Worst of all, they are all much better organized–and better funded–than most leftists groups in their countries. Part of their funding derives from their ability to court Capitalists who have become panicked about their ability to profit, but their superior organisation to leftists has much more to do with Liberal Democracy’s long suppression of anti-capitalists than anything they’ve done themselves.
It’s this last bit which should trouble us most.
When the Nazi party began actively recruiting, they were met with fierce and violent opposition from leftist groups, many of whom were the first to be arrested when the Nazis finally gained power. Similarly, Mussolini’s rise was constantly thwarted by Socialist and anarchist syndicalists in Italy until he made stronger alliances with the Catholic right. And when Francisco Franco attempted to overthrow the Socialist Republic of Spain, the result was a three-year civil war against an initially united front of anarchists, communists, and Liberal Democrats.
Where would such a resistance come from now? What hope could we possibly have of fighting the new fascists? To such a question I’m tempted to answer as Walter Benjamin did, quoting Kafka in his journal as he faced the choice of certain death at the hands of the Gestapo, the Stalinists, or his own:
“There is plenty of hope. But none for us.”
But I won’t end this here.
As I write these final words, I am sitting at a table in an apartment in Berlin, Germany. I’m the guest of an anarchist friend who curates a museum for refugees next to a refugee camp filled with the very same people the Fascists want us to fear.
It’s also Gay Pride week in this city. There are over a hundred gay bars, restaurants, cafes, clubs, darkrooms, cultural centers, and sex shops in this city, many of them located in neighborhoods with high Turkish and Muslim populations.
There’s art everywhere, graffiti and wild gardens. Grapevines and trees grow in the cracked pavement where once bombs fell to defeat a regime which saw Berlin as the height of degeneracy. The very way of living the Fascists tried to crush resurged back more fiercely than before.
The other day I walked with a friend through the holocaust memorials in this city (most of the pictures accompanying this piece are from there). One, particularly, has haunted me ever since I saw it.
It’s a large black monolith, flat and polished on all sides, with a small black window on one face. As you approach, you can see there’s something moving inside, a black&white film of two young men.
They’re standing in the same spot as the monolith, near the entrance to a massive park. You can see the same trees, the same massive rocks in the distance.
They’re facing each other. They look around, a little worried they might be watched.
But then their fear fades away, overcome by something more urgent. One whispers in the ear of the other and then they kiss as you watch through the black window, entranced, aware of how what they are doing is still dangerous despite all the promises of Liberal Democracy to protect them.
There is plenty of hope.
And also for us.
Next: Gardens From Ashes
Rhyd is the co-founder and managing editor of Gods&Radicals. He’s usually in a city by the Salish sea in occupied Duwamish territory, but he’s been trekking about Europe for the last two months, with more to go. His most recent book is A Kindness of Ravens, and you can follow his adventures at: PAGANARCH.
A Beautiful Resistance: The Fire is Here has a lot more essays, poems, and art like what you see on Gods&Radicals. Order it here.
History, Series, Theory
Black Lives Matters, Capitalism, Fascism, Franco, Hitler, Liberal Democracy, Mussolini, Rhyd Wildermuth, The Death of Liberal Democracy