With the growth of the Alt-Right and the Trumpist movement in the US, the Left has grappled with how to understand and define fascism in the 21st century context. The conditions, players, and tactics are fundamentally different than its first manifestations, and so many antiquated studies have left inarticulate descriptions or inadequate culprits as roadmaps for understanding fascism today. Instead, these twenty-five statements are a proposal for how to understand the essential core of fascism–what binds it together as a modern impulse despite its different manifestations across cultures and time.
Fascism in the 21st century has direct continuity to the insurgent movements that tore apart Europe, culminating in the Second World War. The methods, tactics, and strategies have changed, but the potential of the genocidal-racialist machine remains, and the ideologies are linked through history.
Fascism does not necessitate a specific type of statecraft (or a state at all), nor does it require a particular party apparatus, a fixed demographic of finance capital, or economic depression. What it does require is mass politics, popular support, and the ongoing destructive upheaval of class society.
When inequality is sanctified, identities made to be fixed and essential, and a mythic past is demanded in a distinctly post-industrial, modern world, fascism is the manifestation of the “True Right,” a distinct political identity revolting against democracy and equality. This real right wing exists throughout history, with fascism acting as the “reactionary modernist” version of the tendency towards violent inequality and essentialized identity. Fascism represents the iconic manifestation of the “True Right,” which then presents itself as a repudiation of the founding principles of liberal democracy.
Nihilism, as an apolitical destructive force, is a part of the fascist process, one that requires a destruction of the old infrastructure of morality so that a new mythic one can be built. Fascism often tries to colonize methods used on the Left/post-Left to achieve this creative destruction, disingenuously adopting revolutionary deconstruction.
The impulsive nature of reactionary violence is stoked by fascist ideology and ideologues in an effort to center an irrationalist response to the unbinding rage of modernity. In a culture that trains the working class in systems of bigotry, energy is forced toward scapegoating rather than directing that alienation at the oppressive institutions that birth it.
Today, fascism is largely built on metapolitics rather than explicit politics. Fascist projects attempt to influence culture, perspectives, and morality as precursors to politics. This puts much of their work into the realm of art and music, philosophy and lectures, counter-institutions and counterpower. This is the development of a fascist value and aesthetic set, not simply a fascist political program.
The values set by fascists enable them to use methodologies traditionally associated with the Left, including mass politics, postcolonialism, anti-imperialism, and anti-capitalism. Fascists employ the power of the marginalized classes and redirect their anger against systemic inequality and alienation against other marginalized people, thus reframing the source of the crisis.
Because of their strategic and revolutionary orientation, fascists have historically been able to draw on disaffected areas of the Left. There is no revolutionary tradition that is free from far-right entry, wherein the flaws in radical Left analysis and practice allow for fascists to present an alternative and recruit.
Nationalism is itself considered the core motivating vision in fascism, yet it is actually only a subset of the larger identitarian trend. Tribalism, of which nationalism is only one type, is the key component of this assertion of essential identity. Nationalism is a version of this that will always be tied to the nation state, and therefore tribalism placed in a modern context necessitates itself through nationalism, but this is not universal. The modern fascist movement redefines itself consistently in praxis, and reimagining that tribalism means that how they divide up tribe, and the social authorities that reinforce the boundaries of that tribe, can change.
Ethnic nationalism is a foundational principle of fascism today, a type of racial tribalism, which is not relegated only to white nationalism or the civic nationalism of Western nations. This draws on an ethnopluralist ethic of “nationalism for all peoples,” which attempts to ally with nationalist components of Third World national liberation movements, minority nationalist movements, and those resisting Western imperialist powers. When racial nationalism is used as a component solution to confronting oppressive powers, it makes itself the potential ally of a fascist logic that sees the answer to capitalism and imperialism in authoritarian forms of identitarianism.
Fascism’s focus on immigration, founded on the desire for monoracial countries, draws on the anxieties that are often tied to Left organizing. The “offshoring” of jobs due to neoliberal globalization, isolationist rhetoric in the anti-war movement, labor institutions’ fears of immigrant workers driving down wages, environmental fears associated with population growth, the scapegoating of Islamic immigrants for supposedly repudiating liberal norms, and the smug liberal secularism of the US coasts, are all well mobilized by fascist movements attempting to use liberal modes of thought for their own anti-immigrant populism.
The Alt-Right is the most coherent and fully formed fascist movement in several decades. The mislabeling of all Trump supporters as true Alt-Right adherents, whether those in Patriot or militia organizations, or those in New Right or Alt-Lite projects of right populism, has created a fuzzy media spectacle that misses the Alt-Right’s true motivations. The belief in human inequality, social traditionalism, racial nationalism, and an authoritarian vision founded in the resurrection of heroic mythologies are what distinguish the Alt-Right as a self-conscious fascist movement.
Third Positionism, which draws Left ideas into fascist politics, is the dominant form of open fascism today. True fascist ideologues, the “idea makers” in these movements who currently make up the most radical element, necessarily consider themselves anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist, and opposed to current Western governments.
Fascism has often been described as a process of multiple stages, in the way that it starts from a radical cadre and develops to the point of acquiring political power. But this is a description of a particular historical moment of fascism, rather than a universal description of its operational trajectory. This understanding should be revised for different periods and countries where power, influence, and social cohesion appear differently. For instance, in interwar Europe, party politics developed coalitions for state power, but in other times and places power could also involve the church, the media, or cultural centers. In modern America, fascists are allying with an online culture that helped the Alt-Right grow and take over influential cultural spaces with the ability to influence essential parts of the larger society. In the 21st century US, party politicians have waning influence while internet celebrities are more influential than anyone could have ever dreamed.
While “The Five Stages of Fascism” described by scholar Robert O. Paxton outline the process by which fascism took power, and then went into decline in Europe before and during the Second World War, both the conditions and movements are fundamentally different now. Predicting the process for power acquisition and possible failure in a period when fascism remains primarily influential in culture and insurgent movements is impossible to predict fully in advance.
The crisis for fascists today comes from the contradictions in their approach to their own growth. Fascism of the interwar period relied first on political organizing, which then had to consider media representation. The Alt-Right of the 21st century developed almost entirely online through a culture of memes and hashtags. While this has given them a huge jump in the expanse of their messaging, they have since had trouble translating this into real-world engagement and subsequent organizing. The vulgarity of their language, the style of their approach, and the demographics of their retweeters does not necessarily extend to radical organization and organizing.
If fascists see cultural spaces as premeditating political ones, then the movement of fascists into cultural spaces is effectively political. If fascist public speech is intended to recruit and organize, then fascist public expression is indistinguishable from fascist organizing. If fascist organizing results in violence, whether explosions of “seemingly random” street violence, or genocide if they were to take power, then fascist organizing is fascist violence. Unlike other forms of revolutionary politics, fascism seeks to sanctify violence, built directly into their conception of identity and a correctly hierarchical society. Therefore, even the most muted fascist ideologue holds the kernels of brutality.
Fascism can only hide its violence for so long. The history of white nationalism has been the history of bloodthirsty terrorism, a point which marks all fascist parties and organizations in all countries in all times. While fascist intellectuals and movement leaders desperately want to decouple the image of identitarian nationalist ideas from street and state violence, this is impossible in the real world. Within a long enough time frame there will always be killing.
Fascism could not exist in a period before mass politics. While it is decidedly elitist–it believes that society should be run, in part, by an elite caste–it also requires the mass participation of the public. This means recruiting from large segments of the working class, requiring their complicity in increased oppression. Hannah Arendt described the way this works as the “banality of evil,” to characterize the casual complicity and bureaucratic malaise of the German people in the events of World War II and the Holocaust. This banality is a requirement for fascism to take power, for a mass to believe its benefits worth its cost. This is the unity of populism with elitism, resetting the mentality of the masses so that they can walk themselves to destruction.
The conditions that breed fascism, the unfinished equation of late capitalism, are only likely to become more ingrained and dramatic. Crisis is essential to capitalism and will increase as global economic markets continue to shake with instability. That penchant for crisis, mixed with the stratification built into capitalism and the state’s reliance on bigotry, makes fascist explosions inevitable.
The Left’s inability to provide a real and viable alternative to the current system, and its capitulation to institutions of power, are what give fascism its strongest rhetorical appeal. An effective anti-fascist movement would do more than simply oppose the fascists in order to then return society to its previous order. Instead, the Left should present a radically different vision that answers the same feelings of alienation and misery to which fascism presents itself as a solution.
Fascism’s ability to adapt to changes in technology, social systems, values, ethics, and the politics and practices of the Left is profound. As progress is made in Left circles toward confronting legacies of colonialism, white supremacy, patriarchy, heteronormativity, and other systems of oppression, fascist ideologues will find ways of manipulating those projects for their own advancement. Preventing this cooptation requires understanding the core ideology and methodologies of fascism while being consistent about the motivating ideas of Left organizing, always striving towards greater freedom and equality.
Donald Trump rode into the White House on the same kind of right populism that led to Brexit, the UK’s exit from the European Union, emboldened Marine Le Pen and the National Front in France, and allowed the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany party to enter the state. This creates the possible bridge between the mass populace and fascist or proto-fascist ideologues, who want to see a society of enforced inequality and essentialized identity. This bridging is a necessary precondition for a mass fascist societal shift, and should be seen as a part of the concentric circles that give fascism its ability to enact mass violence.
Resistance to fascism must then take on the form of mass politics as well, going after the macropolitics of right populism that bridge mainstream conservatism to the fascist cadre. This cannot be done only by a radical fringe, but should be done by mobilizing both the base that fascism recruits from and the mass marginalized communities that it targets (which make up the vast majority of the working class). The most effective counter to fascist recruitment is Left mobilization, and the only thing that stops mass violence is mass refusal.
White supremacy and social hierarchy are implicit in class society, but fascism seeks to make it explicit. The Left’s counter to this can also be to make that oppression explicit, to spell out the underlying hierarchies of civilization so as to undermine the fascist progression. The only thing that will end fascism in perpetuity is to destroy the mechanisms that allow it to arise in the first place. Destroying the impulses of authoritarianism and intrinsic inequality is a requirement for eradicating fascism from collective consciousness. The only thing that can do this is a revolutionary movement that goes far beyond simple reactions to the brutal movements of fascists.
 Robert O. Paxton, “The Five Stages of Fascism,” The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 70, No. 1. (Mar., 1998), pp. 1-23.
Shane Burley is the author of Fascism Today: What It Is and How to End It (AK Press, 2017). His work has appeared in Jacobin, In These Times, Waging Nonviolence, Roar Magazine, and Upping the Anti. You can find him at ShaneBurley.net and on Twitter @Shane_Burley1
8 thoughts on “Twenty-Five Theses on Fascism, by Shane Burley”
Reblogged this on Anti-Fascist News.
The primary thing to understand about fascism is that it is a form of corporatism — the belief that the corporate group, not the individual person is the fundamental unit of society. At no point does the article mention corporatism at all.
Fascism is the attempt to recreate the conditions of the Middle Ages, when a serf served on the estate of a lord. All of the benefits of society came to the serf only through his service to the estate. They did not have a notion of individual rights, but rather were raised with the value that the interests of the estate were the priority. This is known as “tory corporatism.”
Later, there was an Age of Enlightenment, and people started to adopt more humanist values. They started to have a sense of their own value as individual persons. This was a problem for the “lords” of the day. So they found an increasing need to use police force to create the conditions of a corporate political culture.
Whereas the tory corporatist political culture is established and on-going due to strong traditions, the fascist political culture requires police and military power to recreate the conditions of feudalism.
“inarticulate descriptions or inadequate culprits as roadmaps for understanding fascism today.”
You said it, buddy!
Thank for the post — I am also re-blogging!
This belief that somehow “fascism = corporatism” is completely unfounded, usually only derived from a false quote that is, for some reason, attributed to Mussolini. It makes zero sense, and has no uniform connection to fascism.
In a recent posting on the Institute for Anarchist Studies website Shane Burley, the author of Fascism Today: What it Is and How to End It, presents twenty five theses which seek to define and describe modern fascism. Unfortunately the work is flawed as he refuses to provide any kind of historical analysis to the subject, ignores previous theoretical work on fascism as either antiquated or inarticulate, provides a uniquely conflicted analysis, and fails to acknowledge the fact that he eventually concludes by encouraging the left to adopt, adapt, and refine the tactics used by fascism.
Burley fails to include any history of fascism for guidance in understanding its rise, development and in two cases at least, triumph. Rather he indicates that virtually any combination of social, economic and cultural conditions can give rise to fascism. Yet history is clear on this point there are certain general contours associated with the rise of fascism including the failed national aspirations of war, economic misery, a restive population, the saturation of culture with nationalist propaganda and a delegitimized, weakened government. The list goes on, and for Burley to discount such a historically consistent convergence of events and trends adds nothing to our understanding of fascism, either historical or modern. In fact, it obfuscates.
There is little attempt by Burley to use any of the previous theorists of fascism, and when, on occasion, he tries to do so he fails miserably. Two examples, he cites Arendt’s concept of the “banality of evil” in reference to fascist recruitment and,” to characterize the casual complicity and bureaucratic malaise of the German people in the events of World War II and the Holocaust.” What Arendt is really applying the concept to is Eichmann and her observations of him during his trial in Jerusalem. And what she is specifically referencing is Eichmann’s lack of ability to think independently, his braggadocio, his desire to join and participate in organizations, and what she described in her final interview as his “outrageous stupidity.” It is very much a subjective banality that Arendt develops not a social one as Burley infers. Second, Burley references the resonance between fascism and culture in Theses 6 and 17, in a clear attempt to channel Walter Benjamin, the citation however, while nominally correct, is deeply misunderstood. Burley says that fascism seeks to inhabit places of culture and by so doing to somehow infuse its ideals. Benjamin, alternatively, describes the fascist “aestheticization of politics” as the mixing of artistic sensibility with everyday life–that fascism seeks to breakdown the walls of the museum, the gallery, the reading room and to bring them down into the streets. The torchlight parades, the marching hordes in Nuremberg (or Charlottesville), and the book burnings are exemplars in this instance, not a portrait of Hitler in a toga nor Richard Spencer at the podium. Benjamin also takes a swipe at the left in this discussion when he points out that to counter the fascist aestheticization of politics the state-communists or the Social Democracy simply reversed the process by the politicization of art–and Burley conflates one for the other. Burley also ignores completely the work of the Frankfurt School, Reich, Guerin and others who bring insight to the psychology, economics and the realpolitik of fascism–leaving the reader with a desire for something more focused, with delineated arguments instead of tedious lists.
There is a shallowness and inconsistency in Burley’s Theses. They ring hollow.
Burley conflates surface phenomenon with ideology particularly when he discusses violence. In Thesis 18 he tells us that fascism seeks to hide its violence but that inevitably,” [w]ithin a long enough time frame there will always be killing.” The quote is minimally correct, but misses the point. The ideal here is not violence, though it is hardly hidden and is used by fascism to attract brawling converts, in addition to being a street tactic; the ideal is death– the fascist veneration of Thanatos. A quick perusal of history suffices in this case, the propagation by the Francoists of the slogan “Long Live Death,” the universal use of the death’s head in the fascist imaginary, and the virtual sainthood of fascist martyrs. At the level of cultural artifact–one of Hitler’s first building projects was the construction of a mausoleum for the dead of the Beer Hall Putsch. The fascist ideal of death is reflexive; it not only applies to the enemy—who impedes the fascist cause—but also the fascist who furthers the cause through a (hopefully) glorious demise.
At the level of politics there are a few significant mistakes as well. Burley states in Thesis 2,” Fascism does not necessitate a specific type of statecraft (or a state at all).” Nothing could be further from the truth. The article in the Treccani Encyclopedia on fascism signed by Mussolini, but likely authored by Giovanni Gentile, develops the Hegelian notion of the Absolute and Ethical State—ergo without the state, and a very specific type of state—there can be no fascism. The NSDAP, while less philosophically astute, engineered their state through the “coordination” of existing governmental bodies—and again it was the explicit capture of the state mentioned in Mein Kampf as the first milestone for fascism– that set the stage. Try implementing fascism without a nation-state (defined as the monopoly of force over a delineated geographic area); can’t be imagined, let alone done.
Burley pulls the nihilist canard out of the closet as well, though this time its use is unique. He states that fascists use nihilism which he describes as “an apolitical destructive force” in order to destroy morality so as to be able to reconstruct a new fascist morality. As a rejoinder one need merely point out that the nihilist rejection of morality is based in part, on the idea that history is directionless, and hence the idea of either an old morality or a new fascist one are equally meaningless. Without teleology, morality is a phantom…a tale told to a child to defeat misbehavior. And excluding vulgar marxist communism (and Fukuyama), no political philosophy or movement is more self-assured as to its place as the termination of Western history than fascism.
Shane Burley contends that fascism requires mass politics, popular support, and the ongoing destructive upheaval of class society in order to triumph. His cure for the fascist disease are fascist tactics– mass politics and popular support. Which leads to the final critique of the theses, that they basically also apply to the left. Excluding the discussions regarding ethnic nationalism, if you do a simple replace of the word “fascism” for “the left” in the text the result is an engaging description of all marxist and some anarchist tendencies. The same tactics, the same flaws, the same contradictions. The same bullshit.
There are some parts of the theses that work, there is much that doesn’t. As we begin to autopsy the past few months in order to ascertain what worked and what didn’t in the fight against fascism there is a real need for rigor and reflection. Analysis requires grounding, an understanding of history and previous theoretical constructs, consistency and looking to the enemy not to inform contestation but to inspire new creative ways to destroy. These requirements are not met by the Twenty-Five Theses.
During the late Soviet days, the bohemian dissident Alexander Dugin used to stay up late with an assembled group of aesthetes in the flat of Yuri Mamleev, situated just a few blocks from the great statue of poet Vladimir Mayakovsky. The circle of friends who trudged down Yuzhinsky Pereulok to Mamleev’s apartment building, ringing six times before gaining entrance and climbing six flights of stairs to his flat, engaged in what they called the “mystical underground.” Exchanging stories on ancient myths, esoteric secrets, and cosmic mysteries, the “Yuzhinsky Circle” embraced alcohol, guitars, and occult fascism. They participated in Satanist ritual, held séances, and hoped to reach a kind of reality-breaching mystical state through which everyday reality might break down and the delirium of fascist worship would bring the arcane from the ether all “Seig Heils” and “Heil Hitlers” (Clover 152-153).
A wild, freewheeling drinker, Dugin mistakenly left a collection of forbidden texts in his own apartment, and when KGB agents found them in a search of his house, he catfished on the Yuzhinsky Circle to save his own hide. Joining a KGB-connected “historical restoration society” (read: ultranationalist political organization) called Pamyat (Memory), Dugin wormed his way to the core of nationalist leadership advancing through the waning Soviet nomenklatura before another Russian fascist pushed him out for his ambition (Clover 161-165). Subsequently, Dugin moved to Western Europe in 1989 and took up with the so-called “European New Right” in Belgium and France, where he learned the networks of European fascism and the parlance of “geopolitics” (Shekhovtsov 37). Also in France was Eduard Limonov, a Russian punk who had lived dissolute in New York City before joining the European New Right in France in guest editing the left-right satirical periodical L’Idiot International (Lee 317-319, 478n74). After the fall of the Soviet Union, Limonov and Dugin returned to the Motherland, met amid red-brown circles, and designed the National Bolshevik Party while disseminating fascist precepts through other party organizations, such as the populist Russian National Liberal Party and the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (Atkins 81; Chaudet, Parmentier, Pelopidas, 54; Clover 209-213; Sedgewick 231-232).
Their ideology hinged on geopolitical notions of “large spaces”—a spiritual empire from Lisbon to Kamchatka comprised of ethno-states in which cultural minorities would be Verboten (Bar-On 205). Yet they insisted on other ideas for the spectacle—absolute power in the form of the man, whether Bakunin, Stalin, or Hitler (Shenfield 209). Sweeping, history negating deeds that could remake the past through a stroke of expurgatory violence. “A revolutionary has his own morality: it is the effectiveness and success of his struggle against global despotism,” Dugin would write in Eurasian Mission (158). Insisting that liberalism depends on techniques to the point of gutting meaning from life, Dugin’s Fourth Political Theory insisted, “the liberal discovers his way to [fascism] when he takes one step further and achieves self-affirmation as the unique and ultimate instance of being” (110). The uniqueness of the individual opens to affirmation not unlike what Heidegger discovered in Nietzsche’s later works called “positive nihilism”—the clearing and leveling process of destructive nihilism that opens to a movement toward philosophical recreation (poesis). “Logos has expired and we all will be buried under its ruins unless we make an appeal to chaos and its metaphysical principles, and use them as a basis for something new,” Fourth Political Theory continues. “Perhaps this is ‘the other beginning’ Heidegger spoke of” (211).
What stirs in the heart of these feverish words is the heart of revolutionary idealism—the deconstruction of the reality produced by the various moving pieces of everyday life through an act of symbolic sabotage that at once reveals the obscure meaning of life and death, the movement of the stars, the arcane. Yet the direction of this motion toward sublime truth is contaminated with ultranationalist presuppositions that manipulate revolution toward the ends of insidious interests. This is why it’s fatal for revolutionaries to ignore fascism in its germ—its summoning and deployment of revolution theory, its assessment of nihilism and usage of avant-garde constructions. Yet Paul Simons, with his captious review of Shane Burley’s 25 Theses on Fascism, does exactly this while seeming to promote the old canard that “the left are the real fascists.” We will see how a skewed reading of both Burley’s text and source texts facilitate this strange turn in Simons’s analysis, allowing him to conclude with unfounded attacks on left antifascists rather than carry out a concerted effort to locate and disperse fascism where it lies.
First, we might begin with an assessment of the more finicky claims Simons makes regarding Burley’s points. First on Arendt, Simons faults Burley for making her subjective hatred of Eichmann’s willingness to participate in genocide through bureaucracy into a general re-evaluation of the malaise of Germans when faced with that genocide. Yet are the two not coterminous? Eichmann’s behind-the-scenes consent to fascist genocide, channeled through bureaucratic punctiliousness, represented the crisis of modern alienation from not only the means of production, but the means of mass destruction. “The logic of the Eichmann trial,” Arendt wrote, “would have demanded exposure of the complicity of all German offices and authorities in the Final Solution — of all civil servants in the state ministries, of the regular armed forces, with their General Staff, of the judiciary, and of the business world.” However, Arendt contends that the trial “carefully avoided touching upon this highly explosive matter — upon the almost ubiquitous complicity, which had stretched far beyond the ranks of Party membership” (my emphasis) (Arendt 13).
For Arendt, as Judith Butler observes, the crimes of Eichmann were carried out by Germans throughout the land, largely emerging from “the degradation of thinking” and “the way in which the crime had become for the criminals accepted, routinised, and implemented without moral revulsion and political indignation and resistance” (Butler). Surely there is room within this larger critique of mass inaction during the Shoah for Burley’s comment on the “malaise” of the German public and bureaucracy — an observation similarly made by Baumann, among others (29). Why fault Burley for his interpretation, in line with the best literature on the Holocaust, rather than investigate more deeply the questions of why—why did the Shoah happen and do we not see a hauntingly similar degradation of thinking in modern society from today’s Executive Branch to the general public?
Continuing a sad refusal to confront material rather than wrestle with facts, Simons faults Burley for using Benjamin’s assessment of fascism as the “aestheticization of politics” by claiming, tendentiously, that Benjamin’s reversal in the form of Communism (politicization of aesthetics) is a “swipe” (!) rather than a restitution. In fact, Benjamin understood aesthetics as deeply political. Margaret Cohen’s text is vital here: “Benjamin makes use of surrealism, then, not only for its shocklike aesthetics but also because the movement provides a conceptual paradigm with the potential to explain why these shocklike aesthetics work to political effect” (197). Benjamin of course took option with the vulgarity of Marxists’ focus on economics, but still actively maintained a politicalizing approach to aesthetics and an open affinity with the left. The trouble here remains that Simons seems too quick to call foul because he wants to score points against the left instead of engage in genuine discourse.
Looking at these two crucial misreadings, we must observe that, after criticizing Burley for using two thinkers very close to, if not within, the Frankfurt School (Arendt and Benjamin), Simons faults Burley for ignoring “completely” the Frankfurt School. Clearly in a compact 25 Theses Burley will not be able to delve completely into every contention held by all manner of thinkers who have ever considered fascism. Because Burley did not mention Poulantzas or Malatesta or Simone Weil or García Lorca, for instance, does not mean that he has ignored those writers. Yet the way Simons, himself, ignores appropriate understandings and usage of Arendt and Benjamin speaks to a disingenuous and insensitive reading.
Contending with Fascist Statism
Perhaps more importantly, Simons privileges the statal attributes of fascism over its non-statal and even anti-state processes to the point of pretending the latter don’t exist. Fascism begins, as with Dugin’s “mystical underground,” as a kind of collection of different disenfranchised ideological formations focused on overthrowing liberal democracy and restoring a kind of archaic, mythical sovereignty. Simons does not recognize this and in fact references Giovanni Gentile’s famous entry in the Enciclopedia Italiana di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti, written in 1932 in efforts to sum up the Fascist ideology. Early formulations of fascism that emerged first in 1914 and then again following World War I are either avoided or revised in that publication. Fixed within the context between Mussolini’s solidification of the Italian Fascist state and the rise of Hitler to power in Germany, Gentile’s work presented a propaganda piece meant to show off the intellectual grandeur of Mussolini’s power rather than a descriptive assessment of the functional core of the movement. In point of fact, several years before Mussolini asked Gentile to produce the Doctrine of Fascism, he would insist that Fascism could have no doctrine, because it was an impulse rather than an ideology.
According to historian David D. Roberts, “Fascism was ‘anti-intellectual’ insofar as intellectualism suggested the need and the scope for some dogma, some finished ideology, some rational blueprint. The Fascists agreed that there could be no such thing precisely because history was open-ended in ways only now being fully grasped. Under the circumstances, the key was to create the instrument for ongoing action – action that was itself open ended – as opposed to laying out some intellectualistic blueprint. Mussolini often boasted that Fascism was modern in precisely that sense of eschewing doctrinal baggage, the better to keep up with the grand and mutable reality of life. And he took delight on turning the tables on liberal critics; skeptics had said that Fascism was ephemeral because it lacked a doctrine, ‘as if they themselves had doctrines and not instead some fragments adding up to an impossible mixture of the most disparate elements” (289).
It is unclear what happens when one approaches fascism “teleologically,” as Simons encourages us to do, because he has not explained what he means; however, if one approaches it historically, with Roberts or Paxton, for instance, one finds that fascism tends to undergo metamorphosis as it rises to power. First as a revolutionary phenomenon linking left and right through an aesthetic glorification of violence and destruction often associated by fascists, themselves, with nihilism, fascism gains the fidelity of a hardcore group of idealists in the middle classes, reactionaries among the ruling class, and military men hoping to use their skills for the nationalist cause. Gradually, as fascists organize and assemble larger bodies, their ideology is more firmly established in communication with other contending political powers in order to absorb them, compromise with them, or destroy them. Once fascists attain power, their ideology is concretized into a dogma that can interpellate subjects into a functioning economic and political system. These systems can vary depending on the place, as the Romanian Iron Guard state differed significantly from Italian or German fascism. However, this very concretization leads to a kind of inertia through which fascists abandon their revolutionary precepts and either effectively become conservatives or simply lose power (Paxton 23).
Most unsettling of all is Simons’s claim that fascism cannot exist without a nation-state. Firstly, fascism repudiates the Westphalian nation-state, searching for more mythical understandings of sovereignty than Althussian federalism and its like could offer. In the words of scholar Stephen Shenfield, “fascism has never been committed to the principle of the nation-state. Its ideal has been rather that of the multiethnic empire, within which to be sure one particular nation was to occupy the dominant position” (16). For this reason, Hitler looked down on the parliamentary system underpinning the Kaisership when compared to, say, Frederick Barbarossa or Frederick the Great (Kershaw 13-14); and similarly, Mussolini could not appreciate an messy Italian nation-state forged through the Risorgimento more than the glamour of Scipio Africanus (Quartermaine 210).
The point is that this sort of Imperium is the desiderata of fascists from Francis Parker Yockey to Troy Southgate to Dugin, all of whom demand a spiritual empire of federated ethnic territories constructed through a kind of traditionalist unity implied by the “daily plebiscite” assumed under patriarchal control. Denying the “anarcho-fascist” tendencies of Michael Moynihan and Jack Donovan, or the “national anarchist” tendency of Southgate, opens the door for the kind of entryism that has plagued radical milieux associated, unfortunately, with Anarchist News and Anarkismo. Given the fact that fascism, in its earliest phases, relies on insinuating itself within subcultures and left-wing factions to grow, those tendencies must remain actively aware of these basics, or else fall prey to its machinations. We have seen radicals’ susceptibility to incidental cooperation with fascists time and time again—whether it is La Vielle Taupe in Paris moving from ultra-left revolutionary center to a hub for Holocaust denial or, more recently, egoist Wolfi Landstreicher publishing his translation of Max Stirner’s The Ego and Its Own through a press run by a fascist who attends fascist meet-ups like the National Policy Institute, asserts eugenicist positions, and does art for books by Donovan and white nationalist leader Greg Johnson.
Simons’s ongoing denial is why his insistence that all attempts at mass organizing enlist the tactics of fascism (in fact, the fascists explicitly enlisted the tactics of leftists who came before them) appears so scurrilous and baseless. One might hope that a bit of clarity would be granted to the conversation by identifying tactics, themselves, as less the purchase and property of a given political organization than operationally useful for different reasons. From that point, we might begin a meaningful discourse on our successes and failures as antifascists. Otherwise, taking pot shots at the antifascist left is a lousy substitute for adept analysis.
Arendt, Hannah. 1965. Eichmann in Jerusalem. New York: Viking Compass Books.
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Fascists employ the power of the marginalized classes and redirect their anger against systemic inequality and alienation against other marginalized people, thus reframing the source of the crisis….. COUGH COUGH trump
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