Wednesday, 25 January 2017

ON FASCISM

A political aside. I've been wrestling with my conscience for a day or two, in the aftermath of the events depicted below, a still lifted from a newsreel that’s circled the globe numerous times, has been memed and re-tooled and set to music and greeted with triumphant whoops. On my part, a momentary rush of malevolent glee was superseded by guilt, and then sadness, and then confusion.

Image via metal injection, of all places
In case you have been asleep for the past four days, the image depicts Richard Spencer, a prominent alt-right white indentitarian [sic], previously famed for addressing a group of white supremacists with a Nazi salute and a cry of “Hail trump”. The man to the left of him, clad in black, has punched him in the face because he disagrees with his views. The event took place in Washington on Friday, when Spencer somehow found himself in front of a camera within spitting of a particularly volatile demonstration of anarchists in Franklin Square.

Spencer is a hateful figure. A white nationalist, he has called for a “peaceful ethnic cleansing” of Europe in order to restore the continent’s traditional culture (whatever that is), called for the creation of a white Ethnostate within the USA, and denied being a white supremacist on the grounds that he does not support slavery. He also denies being a neo-Nazi, despite repeatedly making oblique references to Nazi propaganda throughout his career in alternative media. Whilst his detestable, irrational and abhorrent views are not the most extreme one might encounter amongst that interminable shower of pricks that have labelled themselves the AltRight, the acceptance of such views amongst people within earshot of the leader of the free world represents a clear and present threat to social progress and hope of a better world. For that reason, for a second or two, that technically incompetent fist (although, in the replay, it looks a lot like an elbow to me) to the fascist’s mouth felt fucking great. For a second or two.

A recent piece in the Guardian asks “Is punching Richard Spencer inciting violence or as American as apple pie?”, documenting the flurry of gleeful internet activity that followed the footage’s release, and quoting the references of a number of people to the American tradition of punching Nazis, a practice which largely takes place in the fictional universes of Indiana Jones or Captain America. The piece concludes, however, with a tweet from one of Captain America’s current writers, Nick Spencer (no relation), who stated “Today is difficult, but cheering violence against speech, even of the most detestable, disgusting variety, is not a look that will age well.”, in turn leading some commentators to question whether he should continue to write Captain America stories at all.

This element of the debate- this comparison of real life actions with those of fictional characters, and the tangents that such discourse engenders- is significant. A good friend of mine once remarked that we (in the west) are “descending into trivial fascism” and this evidenced by our ongoing debate about what Captain America would have done whilst protestors in Seattle are being shot at by fascists. Nonetheless, Spencer’s (comic Spencer, not Nazi Spencer) remarks are well worth considering. Punching people in the face because you disagree with them is what fascism is all about.

"He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster.
                                                                                                                -Friedrich Nietzsche,
Beyond Good and Evil

Fascism is all around us, it is the enemy of humanity, of a just and fair world. For this reason it is not something that can be punched in the face and defeated. Fascism is the speech of Richard Spencer, but it is also in the fist of his assailant. It is the gleeful reaction of otherwise pacifist, liberally-inclined individuals, seeing a total chode receiving his just deserts. It is the outraged reaction of alt-righters, preparing to arm themselves in “self-defence”. It is the crowd falling in love with its own applause, as my friend also said.

The philosophical foundation of the libertarian (as opposed to the authoritarian) right is known as the non-aggression principal, which grew out of the philosophy of Ayn Rand, and later Murray Rothbard. If the very mention of Ayn Rand sends shivers down your spine, please hear me out (and remember, although an apologist for radical, unfettered free-marketeering she was also a rationalist, a feminist, an atheist and a [classical] liberal defender of human rights, AND an avowed anti-fascist). The non-aggression principal asserts that the initiation of force is immoral: a rational, reasonable human being does not use violence, except in self-defence (or in the prevention of immediate violence… which is the trickier part). Right libertarians extend this principal to the role of the state in society, which it considers to be immoral because it a) monopolises violence (through police, military and gun control) b) and confiscates property (“taxation is theft”). Although this contains within it some loony extrapolations, it is a concept that those on the libertarian left should take on board: violence is wrong! Seems so ludicrous to write that, and worship of violence is certainly not specific to the political left. It crosses the political spectrum.

To me, this is what fascism is: a worship of violence. It is about submission to violence, subjugation of the individually weak by the more powerful, the assertion of will by force instead of reasonable argument. It is the praise of superman, whether that be in the form of a master race, a strong leader, or a messiah figure. Its roots in the authoritarian right are understood, but there is most definitely a “fascism of the left” in the form of so-called “socialist” states around the world. There is a “fascism of the centre”, in the casual worship of violence and the ubermensch that permeates mainstream western popular culture, as well as the mainstream media bias that blighted the recent US election. There is fascism at the fringes of identity politics, embracing individuals at the expense of the collective and a postmodern fascism embracing the collective at the expense of the individual. Finally, there are religious fascists amongst all the world’s great religions- Christian Falangists, Moslem jihadists, Jewish Israeli settlers on the West Bank, Hindu nationalists in India, even Buddhist Sinhalese ultra-nationalists in Sri Lanka.

The greatest enemy, however, is the fascist that lurks within the individual. Deleuze and Guattari explore this notion in Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia: fascism is at once the fear of being subjugated and the desire to be subjugated. When we see a Nazi getting punched in the face, it is the fascist within us that rejoices.

I consider myself to be an anarchist. I believe that true freedom, prosperity and justice for all humans- and for our planet- will occur when we have relinquished our thraldom to state power, indeed to all power. Fascists, on some primordial level, desire a regression to subservience, to the rule of masses by elites, to division and subjugation. Victory will not occur through violence, but through the end of violence. This does not mean that anti-fascists should not defend themselves, and they should indeed defend others who are the victims of hate, with force if necessary. But we should all be wary of being subsumed within this terrifying machine, this chimera of corporate capitalism, militarism and pop culture that is almost inseparable from our conception of who we are... and when the argument can be won, via both objective rationality and from a position of compassion, what need is there to surrender to the fascist within? 
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