Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Towards a New Theory of Fascism or a Theory of Neo-Fascism or Something Else Entirely but Certainly Less Ambitious

These notes were inspired by a Twitter conversation (or what passes for conversation in bite-size sentence fragments). I was going to post this on Tumblr, but seeing as though I've already used this space to obsess about fascism and plug Wertkritik, it seems appropriate to pin it up on the wall here.

I asked if neofascism was on the rise, and got a range of responses from my faithful interlocutors @santacruztacean, @johnbcannon and @wurmnetz. The conversation, thus far, has centered on whether fascism/neofascism arises in the presence or the absence of a strong left. @johnbcannon, on one hand, thinks that an organized left is a kind of precondition for the rise of fascism.

On the other hand, @wurmnetz thinks that fascism can sometimes appear as a result of a failure of the left, or its weakness...

On this question, @santacruztacean falls somewhere in the middle.

I take a kind of outlier position here, because, like @wurmnetz, I believe that an organized left is not a precondition for fascism (the right will simply invent a phantom left--e.g. "Obama is a socialist"--in the absence of a concrete one), but I also question the notion that the left (absent or present, weak or strong) has anything at all to do with the appearance of fascist movements.

@johnbcannon will probably want to dispute this assertation; it's not really one I'm fully committed to (yet), but in the interests of debate I'll state it as strongly as possible: the historical possibility for the rise of either fascism or the radical left has nothing to do with political configurations, understood in terms of party dynamics, popular support, etc.

@johnbcannon wonders about my characterization of fascism as reactionary anticapitalism and wonders if I'm not rushing to conflate the two.

A brief explanation of my thinking on this point (which also serves as provisional support for my previous assertion) is simply to say that fascism is a form of reactionary anticapitalism that has succeeded in becoming socially general and that depends on essentialist views of national and/or racial "character" and a pervasive paranoia about "foreign" threats. These movements tend to coalesce around charismatic figures because, being based purely on affect and lacking any positive political program, they require a "prophet of deceit" (Leo Löwenthal) to give them moral and psychological guidance. Not all reactionary anticapitalism becomes fascist, but I think the "logic" of these movements pushes them inevitably in that direction. As an aside, I think that the "putsch" merely serves to consummate what is already the case: the fascist domination of one or more bourgeois (if we can still use the term) political parties. It's worth thinking about the fact that the Republican party and the business class it represents are not really in control of the Tea Party tendency they have conjured up.

I suppose I should say that my position is strongly influenced by Moishe Postone's essay "The Holocaust and the Trajectory of the Twentieth Century," which attributes modern anti-Semitism to an irrational reaction to the abstract dimension of capital, misidentified as the Jews. Since we are all in fact dominated by the "real abstraction" of capital, a kind of structural propensity towards conspiracy theories exists, because, absent a proper categorial critique of capital, one is left only with a desperate search for "guilty parties." Robert Kurz, of the Wertkritik circle, has also argued that a critique of capital that focuses exclusively on the financial system amounts to a "structural anti-Semitism." Both Postone and Kurz tend to pro-Zionist positions because of their diagnosis of this immanent tendency toward anti-Semitism in capitalism; I take a more critical position on Zionism and Israel, in part because I differ from Postone in that I see no reason to imply that reactionary anticapitalism manifests itself inevitably or exclusively as anti-Semitism. I think a whole host of ethnicities, religious creeds, political ideologies, and other identity formations can potentially become "biologized" as the target for irrational anticapitalism.

There were some other interesting points brought up, and I'd like to think about how they might be related to the rise of the right, but I suppose they are best left for another day or for the comments: @wurmnetz mentioned Keynesianism and arguments about overpopulation; @santacruztacean and @johnbcannon both reference constitutional frameworks, I think, implying a way to distinguish between Ur- and eigentlich fascism.