In the coming months, look for the first two parts of Proud for What? to appear in a single pamphlet edition. Also, look for the launch of the Edelweiss Pirates blog where this and other writing, both past and upcoming, will be posted.
The first part of “Proud for What?” explored some definitions and results of nationalism from an anarchist perspective. The context was the appearance of Patriot Prayer and the Proud Boys on the national scene which includes other Alt-Right and white nationalist activists since the election of Trump. The writing of Part 1 was catalyzed by a series of mobilizations by these groups and their openly fascist cohorts during the summer of 2018, including a demonstration on Aug. 4th in Portland at which, among other things, police attempted to murder an anti-fascist counter-demonstrator, seriously injuring them in the process.
Fast forward to November 17th, 2018: Patriot Prayer and the Proud Boys (PP/PB) held demonstrations in multiple cities: a pro-Trump, pro-America demo in Philadelphia, PA under the slogan “We the People,” and a hyper-misogynist #HimToo demo in Portland OR, organized by Patriot Prayer member Haley Adams in reaction to the #MeToo phenomenon on social media, a demo designed ostensibly to paint men as the victims of false accusations of sexual assault, but actually to promote the reigning patriarchal culture where men can abuse and assault people with relative impunity. As we see, the cover provided by the involvement of women like Adams or, similarly, the existence of queer fascists or reactionaries does nothing to detract from the male chauvinism of their venture.
Then, on Nov. 21, Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes posted a video on the internet suddenly tendering his supposed resignation from the Proud Boys, this fraternity of unapologetic “Western chauvinists” that he helped usher into being. This was done in the wake of the UK newspaper the Guardian revealing a few days earlier that the FBI considers the group to be composed of “extremists” with “ties to white nationalism.” The remarks of the FBI and the Guardian story breaking them, in turn, followed the Oct. 12th attack by several Proud Boys on a trio of anti-fascist protestors who were opposing a speech McInnis was giving at the Metropolitan Republican Club in Manhattan, for which at least six Proud Boys are facing a variety of rioting and gang assault charges. The resignation of McInnes is a political move apparently meant to deflate the allegation that Proud Boys are a gang following directives from a discrete leadership.
In his video, McInnes declares that he is quitting the Proud Boys “forever,” and then goes on to sing the praises of the group for several minutes, sentimentally recalling the history and rituals of the organization, repeatedly referring to the Proud Boys in the present tense with the pronoun “we.” At length and in plaintive tones he insists that the Proud Boys are nothing but a harmless fraternity with no affinites for white nationalism. In fact, McInnes insists loudly that white nationalists “don’t exist” and that “it’s unlikely than any of us will ever meet a white supremacist.”‘ These latter utterances are the standard refrains from white nationalists who are attempting to garner public respectability. They are particularly humorous coming from McInnes, who wrote rants about non-whites for the suit-and-tie nazi publication called American Renaissance (or “AmRen” for short, which describes itself as a “race-realist, white advocacy organization”), who got a job at Taki’s magazine thanks to white nationalist Richard Spencer, and who rubs elbows with Alt-Right leaders. McInnes’ statement was followed a day later (on Nov. 22) by a similar heap of accolades disguised as a token gesture of “disavowal” made by the disgraced Alt-Right darling Milo Yiannopoulos.
On Nov. 24th, the website of the official Proud Boys Magazine released a statement by its “Elders” chapter called “We’re Not Going Anywhere,” detailing some mundane structural changes in the leadership of the fraternity after McInnis’ departure and nervously attempting to quash any bids for independent leadership by the upstarts among the disaffected and agitated membership of the group. The comment section gives vent to a whole slew of hardcore racists, raging at McInnis’ for the treachery of his virtue-signalling, his “cucking” via the thin veil of his multiculturalism.
Faced with a fraction of the scrutiny reserved for earnestly liberatory movements and ungovernable individuals, McInnes appears to be hedging his bets with this consummately political and hollow PR maneuver, attempting as he has in the past to draw a hard distinction between fascism or white nationalism on the one hand, and his allegedly innocuous pet project of “Western chauvinism” on the other.
But what is this distinction really worth?
What is the Western tradition to which Gavin and his Boys (of whom he is obviously still quite fond) continually allude in order to contrast themselves with the real bad guys? The same bad guys they claim don’t actually exist? The droves of disillusioned ones bemoaning the cowardice of their former leading light even as the more tame or fawning of the fraternity praise his political acumen?
In brief: what tree is it that has borne the fruit of this “modern world” for which proud boys refuse to apologize? What, in a word, is there to be proud of?
A Culture of Alienation, a Relationship of Command: The West at a Glance
What’s that sound coming?
– At the Drive-In, “Catacombs”
Persons whom we would consider to be patriarchs, authoritarians, or reactionaries have existed as long as there have been rigidly hierarchical and state-based societies, perhaps longer, and exist wherever this form of society arises. In a book of unsurpassed lucidity and vision called Beyond Geography: the Western Spirit Against the Wilderness, author Frederick Turner furnishes ample evidence to the anti-fascist reader that the struggle against the kind of wanton, bigoted brutality that contemporary minds associate foremost with fascism may very well be only a recent manifestation of a more general struggle: the struggle against the colonizing entity known as Western civilization.
Paring away at the minutiae of intrigue and scandal, peering behind the endless back-and-forth of the pendulum swing of politics, we find that there is nothing short of a spiritual sickness impelling the juggernaut of “the West” and its armored servants forward on its path. The power, domination, and social control that mark all of Western culture, yielding increasingly widespread and irreparable experiences of misery, can be seen as symptoms of this sickness.
This social-biological virus of the West’s alienation may have been unleashed, if not as far back as the appearance of the first erectors of permanent fences and walls to keep out the wild, then at least as far back as those fearsome forerunners of western civilization and its relentless malaise: the first mounted pastoral raiders, those bellicose bands of men at the dawn of domestication who turned away from the earth and its gods and toward a punishing sky-father instead. The original protection racketeers– the horsemen of apocalypse– these pugnacious shepherds would eventually merge their subsistence base and cosmological view with that of the earliest agricultural settlements (the same ones whom they sometimes menaced), to create the mixed barnyard economy of plant production and animal captivity which would underscore all further campaigns in the war waged against the earth, a war known in civilized parlance as “development.”
It was they who offered up, in embryonic form, the first truly patriotic prayers to the angry and capricious gods of war and wrath: To defeat the enemy. To best the competitor. To control their flocks. To squeeze a few more drops of blood from the stone.
The emergent social contract of patriarchy, its little polity of important men, parlayed its initial spoils into the assemblage of the first true “megamachine” civilizations: not merely permanent agricultural settlements or enormous livestock herds, but massive apparatuses of divided labor to go with them, replete with dependent, subjugated work crews, maximal leaders and god-kings, soaring infrastructural projects and concomitant disasters for the land, monumentally displayed codes of law, standing armies, and specialized, privileged castes of clerics, record-keepers, and tax collectors. All of this was circumscribed by an apparently hostile cosmos and a battery of demonized foreigners offered up for the xenophobic gaze of the dominated, all of it underwritten by an increasingly separated, exploited, and gendered sphere of unremunerated domestic labor.
Here we can see a definite resonance with, and one of the origins of, contemporary incarnations of patriarchal and nationalist violence. Here may be glimpsed the beginnings of the macho rituals which are ubiquitous to civilized life. This is the tradition in which the Proud Boys are found. Rampant abuses such as rape or queer bashing are often events of narrative violence. They attempt to inscribe in the practitioners a reassuring sense of dominance and distinction from the targeted persons: an inclusion into a particular privileged identity. Men, bonding together in their bids for conquest, deployed a twisted, toxic mimic of the initiatic rites otherwise found throughout the human experience. The new, exclusively patricentric nature of the rituals was so important that in our own neo-colonial era the rituals may even embrace the existence of gay nazis and reactionaries (like those found in the original Nazi party) such as Douglas Pearce of the band Death in June, Milo Yiannopoulos, and the “androphile” Jack Donovan, and can easily be extended to the POC membership of the Proud Boys.
The visions of the warlords, their project of social dominance and the metaphysical vistas of never-ending loss and desolation which it yielded, had blossomed into the first patriarchal, monotheistic religions. The newly-literate classes of priests and administrators would eventually bequeath to their heirs the knowledge of how to lock up all the marvelousness of life in a book, and all the rewards of virtue and forbearance in an afterlife, a paradise reserved for another world. They picked up where the semi-nomads of the ancient Near East left off, breaking more totally with the seasonal and spiritual rounds of nature-bound mythic consciousness in favor of something brand new in human experience: a linear, progressive model of Time. It was the historical sense of time which would come to consume and replace myth as a way of understanding the world. It was the sense of time inherent to a spirituality not lived in the present with its attendant visions, with oral traditions of illuminated prophecy and inspired revelation… but rather with decrees and records given once in the past, and compelling it’s congregation ever after to expand, to seek out and make new converts– or else.
The rest is Christian history: flocks of followers striving to deny themselves earthly pleasures, never-ending cascades of blood spilled in Crusade after Crusade; masses of disloyal bodies tortured or burnt up during century upon century of Inquisitions and Witch hunts; entire worlds subjugated, plundered, and enslaved in colonial ventures, one after the other. The former mystery cult– the one-time outsiders of the decadent straits into which Greco-Roman civilization had gotten itself– made a bid for the status of state-sanctioned Church. It succeeded, and in the process it gained the footing necessary to give impetus to an entire imperial machinery. At this point in Western history, for all intents and purposes, Christianity, the State, and the civilizing impulse became co-terminus. And it was this Christendom and its Crusades which would later lay the physical, intellectual, and spiritual groundwork for the pageant of slaughter that historians euphemistically refer to as the “Age of Exploration.” It was the Christ-bearers who established the contours of the geo-political fiction called “Europe,” and gave content to its emergent category of Whiteness, the one which would earmark the dark hordes for extermination, slavery, and oblivion.
According to Turner and a great many others, every new enterprise in this chronicle of colonization and war was, at its roots, launched in pursuit of a sense of spiritual renewal which in practice was sealed off from the seekers at the moment of their setting out. All human cultures prior to and outside of civilization have ensured for their members access to this sense of renewal or regeneration by means of a panoply of cultural innovations and spiritual techniques, rituals acknowledging the cyclical nature of being which adapted each of the multifarious and wondrous iterations of humanity to their landbase. But, for the armored servants of Leviathan the inexorable march of Progress had already begun. Progress– that most maladaptive and racist of motivating ideas– ensured that the renewal so longed-for by these world-weary colonists, soldiers, cultivators, and believers was endlessly deferred, experienced only fleetingly and then swallowed up in the gaping maw of a humanized god who would have no others before Him. Going from high to momentary high, what was missing for them– and for us– is a renewal that no conquest can purchase.
In his book, at the outset of a chapter about the Lost Colony at Roanoke, Turner shows in detail how the Scientific Revolution of the West is, in point of fact, the direct offspring of this alienated worldview of Christianity. Despite the torrid claims of mechanistic atheists, the monolith of “Science”– its restless search for an “objective” Truth and its consignment of all phenomena outside itself to an empty realm awaiting its own specially-imposed illumination– gestated in the necrotic womb of Christian solipsism and hubris, descended from the same spiritual malaise and distance from the living. It portended, among other things, the replacement of the array of organic metaphors for the body with the metaphor of the body-as-machine. In an essay on Science by Alex Gorrion we find that “while the ascendance of Enlightenment rationalism constituted a rupture with Church power and doctrine, we would qualify this as an evolutionary rupture, incurring no more breakage or damage to Church structures and thinking than was strictly necessary for Science to gain its independence and make a qualitative leap as the hegemonic worldshaper, as the butterfly must break the chrysalis.”
So also– and importantly for our discussion– did the outgrowths of the capitalist work ethic, industrial discipline, and the varieties of nationalism of the past few hundred years spring from this world-shaping project, this stagnant pit of modern filth and hypocrisy, each indelibly shaped by a trajectory set in motion long-prior to the birth of any of them.
None of them has needed the innovations which fascism provides in order to make of this world a dilapidated wasteland of disenchantment, abject deprivation, capricious entitlements, massified cruelty, toxic poisoning, and ennui. In other words, while fascism as a system has needed to marshal all of these aspects of the Western tradition– its alienation, domination, exploitation, xenophobia, slavery, brutality, borders, police, prisons… its state power– none of these things has needed fascism to arise and persist.
So we see that anyone who has no beef with patriarchy, the state, or capitalism– anyone who has no beef with the supposedly harmless mantle of “Western Chauvinism”– has no business running their mouth about fascism.
So… What IS Fascism?
[…] “classical” fascism openly despised & promised to supplant the bourgeois culture of accumulating capital to live off of, the central fixation with money and soft living.The Nazi cultural model was not a businessman or politician, remember, but the Aryan warrior willing to fight & kill. Fascism was a movement for failed men: of the marginally employed professional, the idle school graduate, the deeply indebted farmer, the unrecognized war veteran, the perpetually unemployed worker with no chance of work. But failed not because of themselves, but because bourgeois society had failed them in a dishonorable way.
– J. Sakai, The Shock of Recognition
Fascism is one of the infernal children born of late modernity. It was forged in the crucible of a mass, mechanized slaughter which was inconceivable at any other time or place in history until then and there.
That crucible, that slaughter of millions was the apocalyptic cataclysm known to us now as the First World War. We are still living in its tumultuous wake. Historically speaking, the advent of fascism is impossible to fully understand without also understanding the Great War: its reasons and results, the cascading crises that set if off, and the habits of the “western” mind which set the stage for the war to resonate within and between people in the ways that it did.
As the 19th century– itself the theater of a thousand mass atrocities of colonization– drew to a close, there existed an undeniable upwelling throughout much of the strata of the “Europeanized” world. The intermittent waves of restive revolt by the dominated, exploited, and excluded formed one cacophonous chorus of the refusal. The dead of endless warmongering– the rivers of their blood, the scarred, denuded, and fouled lands– offered up more and more reverberations of the discontent. In some countries it manifested itself in the “Modernist revolt” in art and culture (some of which was affirming of modernization, some of it condemning), or in the widespread intellectual apostasy which turned a critical gaze or else turned away from the wretched results of Enlightenment rationalism, scientific positivism, crass materialism, bureaucracy, and the parliamentary system. A ubiquitous sense– expressed in many and often contradictory ways– was crescendoing; a sense that something had to give, something had to come and sweep all this horror away.
In the Great War, in the ordeal of the front line experience, the unimaginably traumatized men who would go on to help form the nuclei of the early fascist movement in the following years had found what they considered to be their true Community, an utterly transcendent experience with their comrades in a hellish reality. But when the state-orchestrated sacrifice of the mountains of human flesh and the devastated, nightmarish landscape of trenches which was its setting failed to deliver the renewal and regeneration so desperately believed in and sought, the veterans did not stop, but plodded on. As they failed to reintegrate into civilian or national life, as its institutions held out so little for them in the way of the life they now imagined, the healing they now desperately needed, or the revenge they now sought, what they would attempt was a resurrection of the culture of the front lines, casting the principle of trenchocracy (trincerocrazia in Italian) for the job. In the countries where insurgent fascist movements had most success, like Italy and Germany, this idea of an aristocracy of the trenches or aristocracy in action found a correspondent in the disaffected of the established militia or para-military traditions. These were the national movements where many veterans could be found before and after the war.
In the country of Italy, there was also the decades-long and politically-ambiguous tradition of the fascio, a word literally meaning bundle or sheaf, but figuratively referring to a “league” or “band”– these were guild- or union-like groups, convening in support of different political objectives, usually spontaneously and without party affiliation. First given this sense by revolutionary democrats in Sicily in the 1870’s, the word would later retain its revolutionary connotations even as nationalist fascio began to convene under its auspices in the interest of pressuring for intervention in World War I. The former socialist Mussolini headed up one such revolutionary fasci near the beginning of the war but by 1919, as dissatisfaction with the conclusion of the war skyrocketed, he would rename it Fasci Italiani di Combattimento (“Italian combat group”). The networked cult of energetic young nationalists would congeal into a movement and eventually into the National Fascist Party in 1921.
Furthermore, this coalescence of the early fascist movement was catalyzed in large part by concurrent efforts at repressing the Biennio Rosso, the “Red Two Years” from 1919-1920. The Biennio Rosso was a period of intense social upheaval in Italy after the conclusion of the war and following on the heels of the Russian Revolution. It saw industrial and rural strikes in exploding numbers, factory occupations, armed conflicts between militias, and the involvement of communist, socialist, and anarchist groups in all manner of direct action. Before Mussolini’s Blackshirts existed properly, there was the tradition of militia culture, there were the fascio, and, as the established institutions of middle class Italian society failed to quell the revolts of the Biennio Rosso, there was squadrismo. This new, mass movement of fascist squads, or squadristi, was not directly founded or controlled by Mussolini but sprung up around him and his burgeoning movement, mostly in rural areas under the leadership of local bosses, with the purpose of smothering the flames of the red two years. Squadrismo organized the breaking of strikes, tax abstention in socialist-controlled areas, and the murder and torture of socialist leaders and the burning of their shops. In 1920 and 1921, the fascist squads led a terror campaign in northern Italy in which several thousand people were killed, tens of thousands were injured, and tens of thousands were forced to leave.
In this period, the nascent fascism also drew upon the disgruntled of the Arditi, a special forces elite of the Royal Italian Army, a number of whom would join the incipient movement. Among others, they aided the attempted annexation of the Free State of Fiume for the Kingdom of Italy in 1919-1920, an attempt led by Gabriele D’annunzio– italian writer, war hero, and eventual “father of Fascism.”
Similarly, in Germany, the Freikorps (“free corps” or “free regiments”) were volunteer militia units with a long tradition as mercenaries. In the years after World War I, they and other veterans turned increasingly toward putting down communist uprisings like the Spartacist revolt of 1919. But the Freikorps, the main paramilitary formations of the Weimar Republic, were home to many who hated that liberal Republic as much as they hated the invading Soviets.
While the postwar wave of social upheaval may have momentarily increased the positioning and leverage of “the Reds,” some kind of awful pendulum swing (or was it a change of ideological register more subtle than this metaphor allows?) ensured that Mussolini’s March on Rome was not far behind.
Broadly speaking, given the historical circumstances of its rise, fascism was a confused but utterly sanguine reaction to the onrush of state-originated change, stagnancy, and tension. The Great War proved an anti-climax: the endless paroxysm of carnage had taken on epic mythic, religious, and mass psychological proportions but had failed to set anything right. The defeats were disastrous. All victories to speak of would end up Pyrrhic. The maelstrom had only begun to churn.
Yet the traumatized would call for more of the same, for a return to form. The failure of the war to renew the world did not mean that the resultant peace was any less fraudulent. The reinstatement of the fighting spirit, the return to a struggle guided by noble values and motivating myths, was key. This meant that the endeavors of the first fascists tended to be framed or infused by the martial style, the full suite of traits for which the culture of commander-and-followers– civilization’s great gift to the human experience– boded. But fascism was not limited to this only. It had various and sometimes conflicting expressions. Socially, it had supporters in many classes and walks of life. Nonetheless, politically and mythically speaking, fascism emerged as a fairly specific and super-potent variant of ultra-nationalism.
At root, the original fascisms were the war-torn castings of that restless, age-old search for renewal into the consummately modern terms of Race, Nation, and People. This phenomenon was fundamentally conditioned and inspired by the histories of colonization and capital, but this was no mere expansionist greed decked out as a principle, capitalist “reaction” orchestrated in the wings, or new shock troop of hardcore conservatism as is often imagined. At least on its surface or in its early phases as a movement (i.e. before achieving power), fascism differentiated itself from its nearest ideological competitors, such as the followers of various military dictators, royal crowns, clergy, or entrenched classes (although it would make alliances with any of them), and even from other new radical right ideologies of the time, by ostensibly seeking to involve the whole of its Nation in a vision of top-to-bottom, revolutionary change. Specifics were spelled out as often as they weren’t, and, when made explicit, were not consistent throughout the corpus of fascist thought. For effectiveness, they didn’t need to be.
Its vision was a populist one: the People, whether conceived racially (as with the Nazis) or culturally (as with the Italian Fascists until under Nazi pressure later on), were one body, even if that body did have a “natural” head to speak of, or the trunk of a faithful, structure-giving torso, limbs for building and fighting, or a proper place and conduct for extremities like hands and feet. Anyone falling outside the body of racial or mythic-national thought was as good as detritus– degenerates, invaders, immigrants, outsiders– responsible for sapping the strength of the living Nation and delaying its rebirth or renewal.
Fascism’s increasingly frenzied and provocative scream into the void was bound to be heard by many who found themselves disappointed in the political movements otherwise on offer, including the Marxist revolutionary Left and social democracy. Embarrassingly for liberal consensus, many and various persons were ready to lend an ear to this upstart ideology, the littlest sibling in the litter of Modernity. However strange to say, fascism exuded the appeal of the underdog or runt. It also possessed a kind of dual aspect– that is: a profound misgiving about where the degenerate Liberal version of Progress was taking them and a hostility toward major aspects of conservatism or the ancien régime. From this dual aspect came the legitimately insurgent or rebellious character to be found among the seeming hodge-podge of fascist thought, a rationale for a war of creative destruction against a particular status quo which saw it occasionally overlapping with certain iterations of other forms of radicalism, among them anarchism. Even when it was looking backwards for inspiration to supposedly great episodes in the Nation’s past, fascism always returned to its forward-looking gaze, toward the new height to be conquered. All who made common cause with the fascists were those who were susceptible to this vision of a Nation reborn, risen from the ashes like a phoenix.
It was a vision with profound appeal and affective power in the conditions of interwar Europe. It captured the attentions and fired the imaginations of people in society like none other. There is a lesson for the radicals of today contained in the fact that fascism has a significant cluster of its roots in socialism. It does not lay cleanly on one end of the Left-Right spectrum as once hoped, but cuts across it, reflecting its various priorities at oblique angles. In addition to the martial and reactionary pedigree outlined above, many other players threw chips into the pot to come up with fascism, which syncretically makes use of several traditions. Consider that none of its ideological rivals or siblings was so obsessed by the notion of Community as was fascism. (No other movement, for the record, made such fetishes of “virility” and a masculine principle either, and “No other movement professed such complete horror at the slightest suggestion of androgyny,” according to scholar of fascism Stanley G. Payne).
The origins of Mussolini’s political career among the socialists and syndicalists is sometimes remarked upon, but a meditation upon the emblem of Fascist Italy– the fasces itself– is instructive. The word shares a root with the fascio, the term for guild- or union-like council structures discussed above, from a root meaning bundle or band. The image of the fasces pre-existed the fascist movement: it was a symbol of Roman republican governmental power, a bundle of 12 rods with protruding ax blade, a weapon used in ancient Rome by the bodyguards, or lictors, charged with protecting the chief magistrates. With fasces in hand, the lictors intimidated the unlawful and passed sentence on criminals. It was therefore a symbol of coercion and state power as such, and of the supposed mandate for order emanating from a united people. It is found all over state buildings and materials in the United States, especially those whose construction dates from the 20’s and 30’s. Mussolini rebranded it, using it as his logo of rebirth: Making Italy Great Again was to be carried out under this sign of representative government, wedded to a kind of illiberal collectivism, a symbol conjuring the figure of the unscrupulous henchman carrying out the dirty work of judges– as endemic a picture of “Western chauvinism” as any.
The original Italian Fascism was formed by nationalized sectors of the revolutionary Left– syndicalists and other participants in the socialist movement who embraced extreme nationalism– when they combined with the novel forms of authoritarian right nationalism outlined above. When D’annunzio declared his short-lived “Regency of Carnaro” at Fiume, its charter had several aspects many would consider to be “progressive,” even radical. Relatedly, the wonderment that can still arise upon consideration of the juxtaposition in the term national socialism bespeaks the obscurantism which renders it incomprehensible that the name for which Nazi is an abbreviation is no accident: what the radical wings of the movement in Germany wanted was indeed a kind of socialism for those who belonged to its Nation. The varieties of fascism were, in part, inversions of the socialist project that was at the time largely internationalist, but also a co-optation of modern socialist methods and, in certain fringes, even its ideals. The jump from syndicalism to a national syndicalism was apparently not a long one, and the marxist party model was a key part of fascist form in most of its practice.
In the first part of this essay, it is posited that all forms of nationalism affect a replacement of some forms of conflict by others. Namely, engagement with the genuine conflicts occurring within a complex society between individuals or classes is replaced by engagement with the spurious or abstract conflicts between societies or cultures themselves, rendered or projected as monolithic identities, for which the energies and sacrifices of individuals are marshaled by centralized forces. Fascism was no different, starting with Mussolini and the early Fascists proffering the concept of the “proletarian nation” as the categorical agent of history rather than the proletarian individual or class. In its increasing haste to distinguish itself from materialist, Marxist communism and its struggle waged within class society, the chameleon-like philosophical bearing of Mussolini increasingly wove the threads of national news and happenings into a tapestry depicting a stalwart and industrious Italy, ever virtuous but ever taken advantage of, swindled by the bullies of the international community. The proletarian nation would ultimately need a cross-class idea of unity, for modern war would be its means of redress, the path back to its sacred vitality in a massified world.
Ironically, the most authoritarian and organized variants of communism served as another kind of competitor for the budding fascism, effectively competing for recruits but along different lines than the new right or the old school conservatives competed for the same. In striving for and attaining state power and hence becoming the guarantors of capital, even the most flagrantly Marxist regimes would end up jettisoning class struggle in a way not dissimilar to fascism. This starts to look more like a sporting rivalry, with all its attendant heated bombast, than a contention between irreconcilable visions of life. For all the contemporary social media posturing and idle fantasies of hammers-and-sickles pitted against the swastika, Hitler’s Germany was the non-Marxist regime which bore the closest resemblance to the regimentation of the USSR. Marxist-Leninists and Maoists would themselves come to privilege the monolithic identitarianism of national liberation struggles over the struggles unfolding everywhere (at least potentially) against class society itself. The fight for the future of a particular class, for the shoring up of its position, the creation of a class of party bureaucrats… these were the deranged caricatures of a more authentic fight to dissolve hierarchical class society, lock, stock, and barrel.
Fascism and National Socialism are every bit the workerist ideologies that syndicalism, communism, and some forms of anarchism are. But if the belief that “Work Makes You Free” is not enough on its own render these ideologies equivalent, then they may appear closer to one another when viewed in the perspective of other shared elements added to the mixture: allegiance to the State and Capital, pride in a national motherland, and the need to colonize ever new terrains and aspects of life to feed the machine. If it’s true that fascism imbues or charges the concept of “The People” or “The Nation” with a sort of energy that can be described as primal, in most manifestations its nimbus of primordialism has been wispy and fragile. Its pretensions of this kind tend to evaporate in the daylight of its modernizing ambition, which intends no such literal-minded reproduction of past circumstances, especially as power is achieved.
If it’s uncomfortable for the reader to admit that the revolutionary Left played an important role in the rise of fascism, let it at least provide a definitive rejoinder to those who doubt the nefariousness of Proud Boys, those who may be taken in or placated by the flimsy defenses of Gavin McInnis: if syndicalists and socialists can help bring fascism to power, it is obvious that the fraternity of Western chauvinism can do the same.
Turning toward contemporary US white nationalists, a look at their history from the era of World War II onwards shows that most have understood their mission as a civilizing one (or one to save patriarchal, white civilization), with adherents eager to trace their lineage back to various plantations and settlements on this continent and, further back, to identify themselves with the first civilizations and with an original civilizing impulse itself, against wildness and savagery. Topically, such grandiose notions may get us closer to the atavistic fringes but the priorities and values expressed fall within the mainstream of official Euro-American history and culture. Furthermore, in addition to the self-avowed and virulent racists, the history of white nationalism on this continent is chock full of examples of adherents who claim publicly, vehemently, repeatedly, and consistently to NOT be racists or white supremacists (the whining pleas of Gavin McInnis may be ringing in your ears). Paradoxically, many of the most committed and proud white nationalists blame the failures of white people themselves to recognize their own racial interests and agenda, pointing to their weakness, sinfulness, distraction, their allowing themselves to be manipulated by others, etc., as reasons for the declining fortunes of the world’s most prominent and successful historical colonizers. That is, the liberal assumption that it is prejudice, scapegoating, or some abstract “hate” for the Other which forms the sole or even the primary motivations for white nationalists– rather than a racial cosmology and ultra-nationalist worldview spiked with the expectation of rebirth– is quite possibly mistaken or woefully incomplete. The old refrain, “we don’t hate any other race, we just believe in protecting and celebrating our own heritage!” may bring to mind recent conflicts and controversies surrounding neo-folk and volkisch nationalist currents of crypto-fascism and its sympathizers. Meanwhile, the idea of Whiteness they affirm was invented just a few hundred years ago– the blink of an eye ago– and for no other purpose than oppression.
On the topic of the civil credentials of fascism, it should be noted that the current era of the “alt-right” and “Trumpism” is far from the first in which white nationalists have mobilized progressive or supposedly radical narratives about free speech and other figments of democratic discourse in order to advance their agenda. This is a strategy going back at least to the late 60’s, and even a central feature in the rhetoric of some white nationalist ideologues (see David Duke giving white supremacist speeches at Louisiana State University’s “Free Speech Alley” in 1969, or the 1988 demonstrations and defenses which advocated for free speech and the First Amendment in support of the defendants in a high-profile seditious conspiracy trial against the white supremacists Louis Beam, Robert Miles, Richard Butler, et al., etc.).
It should be clear by now that despite the seeming contradictions involved in capitalizing upon the republican governmental heritage that it shares with its alleged enemy Liberal Democracy, this is totally in keeping with fascism’s celebration of the Progress it hopes to re-tool and steer into different straits. Its progressivism is at variance with its prejudices and its air of barbarity not at all. The Western chauvinists à la Gavin McInnes embrace that governmental heritage. They are the consummate statists among the fascists, like Mussolini and his squadristi. They will alternate insurgent rhetoric with tail-between-legs, please-don’t-hate-us “resignations” and phone calls to the police, pledging their allegiance all the while. On the other hand, the more cutting edge of neo-fascism, with its emphasis on iconoclasm, atavism, and egalitarianism (for example, Jack Donovan), seem earnestly to desire the throwing over of significant aspects of Modernity and its state. But this is only in their quest for a more perfect White Man’s world, one in which the existence of non-white peoples and non-men is sheerly incidental to the perpetuation of an all-male fire circle. Their audiences, starved for rustic authenticity, may not be troubled that the particulars of this vision are really the fruit of the same Modernity, merely hearkening back to a prior incarnation of its values and logic.
No one is more enamored of identity politics or their own status as victims than the fascists. The shared pride in that heritage is what unites the modernizers and state-makers among them with the supposed outsiders gathered round the outskirts of empire and named in reference to its metropolis. This is why, despite seemingly irreconcilable planks in these platforms, between the fash who “refuse to apologize for creating the Modern world” and those who wish to “revolt against the modern world,” the latter will always make common cause with the former to squash genuine insurgency. Stopping a black insurrection will always be more important for them than taking on the culture that is destroying the whole of the world– primitive, ancient, and modern.
…and We Still Think that Nation-States are a Bad Idea
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, On the Concept of History, Thesis VIII
The cold has entered my mind that dreams of a future of warmth and sees it in the far distance, or, as someone told me, almost out of reach. How sad these words are. You say to the swallow that takes flight in search of the spring that she will never reach it; you will see her fold her wings lost, discouraged. I do not stop, I do not fold my wings. Who knows that the distant dawn cannot be reached; who knows?
– Bruno Filippi, The Free Art of a Free Spirit
There is an overarching battle for the souls of disaffected and alienated moderns that the anti-fascist side currently seems to be losing. We must go to the heart of the matter.
Fascism remains, along with entrenched State structures, a most urgent enemy. It is the most repressive, entitled, and brutal opponent that we are likely– indeed, certain– to encounter in direct physical combat as well as on the terrain of cultural interventions as we attempt to free ourselves. It is almost a caricature, a composite, of all the most patriarchal, authoritarian, and reactionary outgrowths which spring from the broader, older seedbed of this culture of command, suffused by the desperate thirst for a spiritual renewal that no further conquest of ever farther-flung frontiers will ever sate. But fascism is not the only danger in these woods. Far from it.
The fascists of our day, as of old, are absolutely opportunistic and will combine forces with any player in the field in order to nip any truly liberatory prospects in the bud. Clearly, our response cannot be equally opportunistic, cannot proceed without regard for principles, or our fight is lost in advance. We must bring other weapons to bear, ones that resonate on a different level. Concepts like “free speech” and “civil dialogue” mean less than nothing in a war. This is particularly true in this war between fascists and anarchists, a war whose spiritual aspect– and hence main aspect– takes place in a realm almost utterly divorced from the strictures of democratic polity, even if its battles are registered there, even if victorious fascists will always make full use of the might of the State. The lines are increasingly drawn between those fighters who seek total freedom for all and those who fully intend, in their futile and counterfeit version of the quest for renewal, to put into camps and ovens the masses of us who ostensibly belong to identity categories that cannot be assimilated into their totalitarian project– be it Jew, Black, Queer, or Anarchist. Meanwhile, the Uppity Woman will be disciplined and consigned to the unsightly housework and reproductive labor of the regime. The hearth and home fashioned after the cell of a prison, and prisons built to reproduce it all.
However, and for the vital importance of all this, fascism is only the jagged tip of the iceberg of the Western civilized tradition. The struggle must be against fascism in its various cloaks, but the struggle cannot be only against fascism. Other, more novel modes of subjugation are poised to consolidate their power over us, such as the mesh-work of extra-state technology and the inscription of the logic of the market into people in highly networked cultural terrains. Apparatuses of control that operate on the plane of desire and biopolitics, that neither carry a badge of the state nor bare the hakenkreuz, are as much the heirs of the Western civilized tradition as racist brutality or patriarchal double-standards. The enemy of our enemy is not necessarily our friend.
The failure to grasp this– a failure of vision– is a significant part of the reason for the deeper loss of ground that anti-fascists suffer, punctuated by the precious, too-few victories that we may speak of. History shows where it will land us if we fail to act swiftly and decisively, or remain forever willing to choose the lesser of the evils presented rationally to us by puppet-masters. But more than this: those potential allies of ours who are searching for a deeper, more coherent critique of the way things are and how they got to be this way will be increasingly unsatisfied with the prospect of playing nothing more than the guilty conscience of Western civilization, or cheerleading for those who merely want to divvy up the spoils of neo-colonization more evenly. Along with the aforementioned opportunism of the fascists and their alliances with entrenched powers, the deficit of creative thought and initiative on the part of their opponents, engendered significantly by Leftist precepts, forms a nexus of factors that may well prove insurmountable, and will see us acquiescing to structures we would rather destroy. We must not be content to applaud as the State mumbles in security documents or locks up those fascist enemies of ours who are the most unruly, uncouth, and murderous, and hence the most embarrassing for their own (unraveling?) consensus.
It is also important to see breeding grounds for fascism outside of the typical right-wing cesspools that are imagined. Democrats often enable fascists in the street and in the social. And they also perpetuate the state-brutality that is often called fascism in the government. The hand-wringing liberal rhetoric about so-called extremists, terrorists, and radicals who would go to the root of problems– which for the liberals is always too far– provides a gateway into reactionary and fascist politics as demonstrated by myriads of ex-liberal alt-righters on Youtube. “Moderates” jumping at the chance to condemn anti-capitalists, anti-racists, and feminists for ‘going too far’ are lead into the reaction via ressentiment and performances of rationality in pathways that are in part intentionally built by fascists. There are also those liberals who uphold free speech rights for fascists using “slippery slope” arguments and at the same time embrace the statist rhetoric regarding terrorism and extremism. These free speech arguments give fascists and their ilk cover to have public entry points and shows of force for their inherently violent projects while the narratives around terrorism not only feed into the racist narratives of nationalism, but also enable the state to turn whole ethnicities into targeted populations and make it socially viable for the state to use its most brutal and authoritarian tactics. Civil society and its liberal defenders are often the very things that render the ground fertile for the growth of the fascism. Not only in its rhetoric, but also in its eternal failure to meaningfully address the crisis of our times.
There is nothing to be proud of in the Western tradition. This was true one hundred years ago. It’s true now. But the Proud Boys and the broader movement of the Alt-Right of our day are, by and large, not the war-shattered veterans of unimaginable hardship that many of their fascist forebears were. They are not ensconced in the same kind of privation suffered in the subdued nation-states of the Great Depression era. What we find ourselves contending with in contemporary US and European culture, even as material conditions indeed deteriorate more and more for broader and broader swaths of society, is a different, updated privation and its reaction. The composition of this monster, which presents itself as the foil of perceived post-modern neo-marxist ineptitude and the entitlements of the nanny state, is marked significantly by the pampered little basement-dwelling trolls and bored, push-button soldiers who populate the post-modern, neo-colonial phase of this, the most dominant superpower to arise since the world began. At best, any gesture of wanting to leave behind “the central fixation with money and soft living” is pretense, laughable. The barest hint of a challenge to even a fraction of their privileges has been enough to inspire the raging bile of the Alt-Right and prompt their activation across social milieus and economic classes in order to put down the rebellions. The situation is unique, but the motivating myth is equivalent: old and new, they are marked by the same propensity for national rebirth and macho ritual, scandalized by the same androgyny. An Alt-Right rich kid may be sheltered, foolish, and soft… and he may still gun down nine people in a black church or drive a car through a crowd.
Not only is there nothing to be proud of in the Western tradition, but the idea of “the West” itself tends to come apart at the seams upon closer inspection. It’s time to face the music: the conception of history on which our struggle against fascism has rested is, in fact, untenable. The linear, progressive conception of history and the idea that the passage of time will, via progress, deliver us from the barbarism of reaction is part of that fabricated western tradition, shot through with contradiction. This would explain much about where we find ourselves now, after a century of camps and the dawn of the sixth mass extinction event has already confirmed which way the wind blows. Endless waves of moral outrage, lesser evils, and incremental reform have delivered us to the doorstep on which we now stand. We must accept that we cannot fight this enemy or erode its appeal on the grounds of faulting it for its lack of progressive decorum or ameliorative action. The manifold springs of its rancid effluvia must be choked off at their ultimate source. The telltale symptoms of the power virus– the landfills and mountains of bodies which underlie all the vaunted cultural “achievements” of the West– will be reckoned with, will be countered at the level of their very nature, or they will be repeated. To grasp the key to defeating fascism, we must grasp why the murder and regimentation of millions can never and will never bring renewal– but also why a White House bathed in rainbow hues or a more equal distribution of global internet access will ultimately not get us any closer either. To satisfy ourselves with being the Leftist or democratic version of the statist, world-building project ensures that those who do it with more honesty and less apology will always maintain or recover their appeal.
There is nothing in the Western tradition to be proud of– except in its subterranean channels of resistance, recalcitrance, and dropping out. All the true renegade traditions of the Western world bode for this culture and its relationships of exchange to be abandoned, cast into the fire, root and branch. Just as the early christians endlessly deferred any genuine renewal of their spiritual grounding in favor of further evangelistic hegemony, the endlessly deferred consequences of the shared hallucination of “civilized society” are coming to claim us all.
Against His-story, Against Leviathan, …Against Democracy!
Lure with bait; strike with chaos.
– Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Anarchy– our final hope for at least one last beautiful dance before we leave the stage of earth– is against the State in all its forms, against capitalism in any of its managerial modes, and against fascism– that false opposition to Modernity– in all of its guises. Despite persistent charges made against anarchists by the guards of the stillborn and largely performative Left-liberal “opposition” to fascism– charges of purism, privilege, naivete, adventurism, self-aggrandizement, myopia, and trivializing or equivocating about the fascist threat– the anarchists and their fellow travelers are practically alone among “the politicals” in apprehending the situation. The indications given by the beautiful losers of history have never been followed en mass, and perhaps never could be. Our strategies have never quite been tried on for size.
And so it is that we may share in the dark laughter of that young Filippi, after a short life of opposing the fascists and the state, before perishing in the events of the biennio rosso when he fought alongside the exploited and excluded, blown to bits in an attempt to bomb a meeting of the richest people in Milan. With him in his quest for another, non-fascist kind of renewal– the renewal that no conquest can purchase– we hear endless admonitions and doubts pass the lips of so many, those who say to the swallow that takes flight in search of the spring that she will never reach it. In haughty or plaintive tones come to us the vaunted pragmatism, the venerable pacifism, the credentials of democratic discourse, or the bogus militancy of the latest vanguard– all of whom will see the anarchist fold her wings lost and discouraged. And with our forebears we may offer the rejoinder: I do not stop, I do not fold my wings. Who knows that the distant dawn cannot be reached; who knows?”
One way or another, the dawn will be reached. The question is whether or not we are potentially on the verge of an outpouring of genuine resistance against this culture and its prerogatives, an outpouring which will render the fascist variant of the new dawn not just offensive or unpalatable, but unworkable and obsolete. What cocktail of meditation and action, what ensemble of the elements of refusal can bring about this flowering, bring on the rains?
Can it be done? Is there an alchemy which can bring a liberatory struggle to a mass dimension, or is it futile? To find out, which charts, which chronicles, which signs to read? Which odes to sing? Which battles to test our mettle?
His-story has borne out the lesson that so many have learned only too late: anti-fascism needs a ruthless, indeed, an utterly brutal side. But it needs much more than this. It needs much more because of this. If our own making of war and our own renewal are to be qualitatively distinct from that of our fascist enemy, if we are to trod a path out of the grey landscape of never-ending loss of which liberals make virtue and out of which Proud Boys and fascism spring, then we must make appointments. We must make the time and space for encounter with each other and with ourselves. We must learn or re-make the rituals for the true vulnerability, moments for the removal of the armor, of the mask. Any liberation movement which does not find a way to do this will end up becoming what it fights, lending its arms and legs to the animation of the un-living beast, its springs and gears.
They have brandished their fasces– their symbol of false unity, their undifferentiated mass, their bundled rods of the polis and its executioners. Now they don their red caps and their ill-fitting polo shirts.
We must answer with the chaotic and manifold vollies of our unbound arrows.
yuletide 2018///new year 2019
Read no more odes my son, read timetables:
they’re to the point. And roll the sea charts out
before it’s too late. Be watchful, do not sing,
for once again the day is clearly coming
when they will brand refusers on the chest
and nail up lists of names on people’s doors.
Learn how to go unknown, learn more than me:
To change your face, your documents, your country.
Become adept at every petty treason,
The sly escape each day and any season.
For lighting fires encyclicals are good:
And the defenceless can always put to use,
As butter wrappers, party manifestos,
Anger and persistence will be required
To blow into the lungs of power the dust
Choking, insidious, ground out by those who,
Storing experience, stay scrupulous: by you.
– Hans Magnus Enzenburger
not western civilization, but civilization itself
is the disease which is eating us
not the last five thousand years, but the last twenty thousand
are the cancer
not modern cities, but the city, not
capitalism, but ism, art, religion, once they are
separate enough to be seen and named, named art named
religion, once they are not
simply the daily acts of life which bring the rain, bring bread, heal, bring the herds close enough to hunt, birth the children
simply the acts of song, the acts of power, now lost
to us these many years, not killing a few white men will bring
back power, not killing all the white men, but killing
the white man in each of us, killing the desire
for brocade, for gold, for champagne brandy, which sends
people out of the sun and out of their lives to create
COMMODITY for our pleasure, what claim
do we have, can we make, on another’s time, another’s
life blood, show me a city which does not consume the air and water
for miles around it, mohenjo-daro was a blot
on the village culture of India, the cities of Egypt sucked
the life of millions, show me
an artifact of city which has the power
as flesh has power, as spirit of man
– Diane di Prima, revolutionary letter #32, 1971
Recommended Reading, etc.:
Check out the ContraPoints video on “the West” found here:
Beyond Geography: The Western Spirit Against the Wilderness by Frederick Turner
Against His-Story, Against Leviathan! by Fredy Perlman
Caliban and the Witch by Silvia Federici
Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture by Arthur Evans
Worshiping Power: An Anarchist View of Early State Formation by Peter Gelderloos
The Stifled Soul of Humankind by Paul Cudenec
The Witch’s Child
Science by Alex Gorrion
Blessed is the Flame: an introduction to concentration camp resistance and anarcho-nihilism by Serafinski
Slavery and Social Death: a Comparative Study by Orlando Patterson
Lose Your Mother by Saidiya V. Hartman
Rites of Spring: the Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age by Modris Eksteins
(see also, the essay “Origins and Meaning of WW1” in John Zerzan’s Elements of Refusal)
Modernism and Fascism by Roger Griffin
Fascism: Comparison and Definition by Stanley G. Payne
Modernity and the Holocaust by Zygmunt Bauman
Confronting Fascism: Discussion Documents for a Militant Movement by Don Hamerquist, J. Sakai, Anti-Racist Action Chicago, Mark Salotte
Blood and Politics by Leonard Zeskind
Antifa by Mark Bray
“Jack Donovan on men: a masculine tribalism for the far right” by Matthew N. Lyons
Beating the Fascists by Sean Birchall