It’s as if parts of the Left are frantically drawing a magic circle of auto-immunity around Trump rallies, without the ‘as if.’
In the wake of the beautiful Chicago shutdown of a Trump rally, parts of what passes itself off as Left have switched gear into a fully-blown, self-dragging, bluster. The US SWP are concerned that “freedom of speech” at Trump rallies full of “workers” is being undermined by “middle-class” thugs, and anyway, they’re not getting beaten up at Trump rallies. What could possibly explain this I wonder? Before anyone thinks that’s a glib implication too far, let’s take a moment to note that the SWP have certainly not been averse to denouncing others on the Left as fascists, and the precise circumstances in which they have done so. The theme of drawing political boundaries against antifascism (and anyone who does not reduce politics to elections) so as to reduce the issue to a contest between Trump or Clinton or Sanders is nothing new. Party hacks will indeed hack and straw-man everything down into a false choice between parties and personalities as the decisive elements of political agency — not because it makes much coherent sense or there is any evidence for such assertions, but because the methodical border-policing of the political (and, more simply, sectarian rubbish) is the embedded auto-immune response of authoritarian Left nationalism. Indeed, the accusation of “toxic” against feminist, anti-racist and queer Marxism — from the very same Left liberal (faux-Marxian) quarters over and over again — has been so recurrent that it’s become a well-known index of cowardly, tin-eared babbling that tells us more about those quarters than anything else. Bravo compagno, keep up the good work!
There are, thankfully, many others who do not flinch from confronting the thorny questions of fascism’s appeal. In “Nazism and the Working Class, 1933-93,” Sergio Bologna foregrounded one of the key indicators of a stupefying – indeed propagandistic – approach to understanding fascism and, by implication, antifascism. “If we adopt a monolithic concept of the working class” then, he argued, “inevitably our judgement on its behaviour in relation to the Nazi regime will end up being schematic – either for or against, either opposition or submission.”
Confronted with research which suggests that “the percentage of votes for the Nazi party deriving from the [German] working class showed a continual upswing in the period preceding the Nazis’ seizure of power,” how does one explain this without resorting to the self-aggrandizing, non-explanation that is a function of authoritarian rivalries, namely, the doctrine of ‘false consciousness’?
The point is not that people cannot be duped, stupid, misguided or malevolent. Or be some of those things on occasion, not on others, in some ways and not others according to repeated patterns. ‘False consciousness’ is not an explanation of why anyone or even a large group of people might persuasively and in an enduring way be any of these things, in that time and place, in these patterned ways. The idealist reliance on concepts of a decisive ‘consciousness’ and will — besides resting upon a liberal tenet that becomes amplified in fascism as ‘the triumphant will’ — contains no theory of material adhesion, of affections or disaffections.
Still, it is this question of the materiality of adhesion and disaffection that Bologna addressed in his paper “Nazism and the Working Class, 1933-93,” as do others such as those in the volume edited by Dagmar Herzog, Sexuality and German Fascism, in which she writes: “the Nazis also used sexuality to consolidate their appeal, [as with] … the inseparability of homophobia from injunctions to happy heterosexuality.” Among other things, Herzog et al are keen to go beyond the dichotomy between the Freudian repressive hypothesis and Foucauldian incitement, to arrive at an understanding of fascism that involves both the encouragement of one set of enjoyments and desires and the violent repression of others, at the same time.
Another exploration of the processes of identification that cuts through Machiavellian idealism is Götz Aly and Karl Heinz Roth’s, The Nazi Census: Identification and Control in the Third Reich, some of which can be read here. Bologna, Aly, Roth along with texts such as those by Mark Antliff, “Bad Anarchism: Aestheticized Mythmaking and the Legacy of Georges Sorel,” are for me crucial steps in understanding what I consider to be the inseparably mythic and calculative dimensions of fascism. A careful reader would note that this is a constant theme in Contract & Contagion, or most anything I’ve written — which indicates two things: firstly, a theory as to the socio-technical dynamics of capitalism (of systems of measure and logic and their mythic foundations) and, secondly, a theory about why fascism is not an anomaly but a periodic feature of the dynamics of capitalism and democracy, that is: the enumerative rule (the kratos) of a bounded demos (‘the people’).
The point is this: No one gets to pretend or insist we exist outside these dynamics in some vacuum, least of all does anyone get to pretend that there is some homogeneous and universal ‘we’ which feels the blows and dangers of fascism in the same ways.
Antliff’s essay raises another, related and important point, which is the selective reading of fascists such as Sorel and, by implication, a failure to address the implication of the so-called Left in giving credence and solace to fascist affections. As he puts it in the abstract:
I question the strategy amongst these thinkers [Walter Benjamin, Bart de Light, Frantz Fanon, Antonio Gramsci, Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe] to draw selectively from Sorel’s writings in an attempt to create a cordon sanitaire around those aspects of his thought that are problematic by virtue of their impact on proto-fascist and fascist ideologues throughout Europe. In addressing this issue I examine how Sorel’s anarchist theory of anti-Statism, constructed around the power of myths, led him to endorse anti-capitalist anti-Semitism as an extension of class struggle; and I critique his Janus-faced concept of aestheticized violence as it relates to his quest for moral regeneration through revolution.
Antliff is not alone in this attention to, as Deleuze and Guattari put it in A Thousand Plateaus, a microfascism, “a proliferation of molecular focuses in interaction, which skip form point to point, before beginning to resonate together in the National Socialist State.” Tina Chanter, in Whose Antigone? – The Tragic Marginalization of Slavery, is another who wonders about the practice of selective reading that either minimizes or frantically denies the constitutive elements of a recurrent misogyny, racism and queerphobia in ‘classical Western philosophy.’
The blunt answer to why anyone would undertake and insist upon such selective reading, or minimization or denial is no secret to anyone but those who compulsively engage in it. Admitting that racism, sexism or queerphobia gives one pleasure is a shameful thing to admit among so-called progressives or radicals because doing so would imply having to change rather than rolling out another faux-provocative and yet deeply conformist tract. Or, in terms of its political economy, the possibility that everyone’s affections might not be ‘naturally’ accessible and pointed toward oneself is considered to be a threat to one’s entitled call upon the affective labour and attention of others – so cue another tract on the importance of a (false) ‘unity’ and how ‘minorities’ are dividing ‘the working class.’ Yawn. Or, more pertinently for those who are privately say they are against all sorts of things but insist on public conformity and practical solidarity with the most powerful, there is a methodical practice of displacing the downside risks to those who do not pass as, among other things, faithful acolytes of a familiar politics. There is a material payoff to these economies of enjoyment and its calculus. It really is that simple. That these strategies are barely sustainable is another matter (as in, “no one really passes“), but there is nevertheless a sufficient crumb of a payoff and inducement for enough (new) people to keep that economy ticking over.
As Deleuze and Guattari put it:
The masses certainly do not passively submit to power; nor do they “want” to be repressed, in a kind of masochistic hysteria; nor are they tricked by an ideological lure. Desire is never separable from complex assemblages that necessarily tie into molecular levels, from microformations already shaping postures, attitudes, perceptions, expectations, semiotic systems, etc. Desire is never an undifferentiated instinctual energy, but itself results from a highly developed, engineered setup rich in interactions: a whole supple segementarity that processes molecular energies and potentially gives desire a fascist determination. Leftist organizations will not be the last to secrete microfascisms. It’s too easy to be antifascist on the molar level, and not even see the fascist inside you, the fascist you yourself sustain and nourish and cherish with molecules both personal and collective.
I guess we can be thankful that everyone’s now clear about where everyone stands. Though, it’s not as if it were any kind of secret.